Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Today in the Lab, Installment 1

March 5th, 2019

There is a hashtag – #todayinthelab – that conservation and preservation professionals on social media attach to posts that allow followers to look over the conservator’s shoulder at what they are working on at the moment. My post today is in this vein, taking a look at and around my workbench to see the materials from Spencer’s collections that are currently awaiting or undergoing treatment. I hope to make this a semi-regular feature, since the supply of wonderful Spencer materials crossing my bench is constantly changing.

Items from Spencer Research Library awaiting treatment on the special collections conservator's bench.

My newest “patients,” materials picked up from the Processing department, with notes from archivists and catalogers indicating problems they have identified. Click image to enlarge.

A few times a week, I will make the rounds of Spencer to collect items that have been identified as needing conservation treatment or assessment. Spencer staff will deposit fragile or damaged materials in a designated area, along with a slip on which they will note each item’s condition issue. Sometimes staff will email conservators with information about materials that need attention, or they will hand-deliver them to the lab. In any case, I record basic information about all items that come to my bench on a paper log. We have a number of spreadsheets and databases where we document our treatments, but for my day-to-day purposes, I love my low-tech list!

Truck at the special collections conservator's bench, with items awaiting return to stacks after treatment and boxing.

A truck at my bench loaded with completed items awaiting return (top) and a stack of materials being prepared for a document rehousing project. Click image to enlarge.

Behind my workbench I keep my brand-new but already-beloved green truck. It is rarely empty! Today its top shelf holds recently treated materials, beautifully boxed and labeled by our student employees, that I need to check off my log and return to either Processing or the stacks, as the case may be. Below are some materials I am preparing for a small but delicate rehousing project – I am making flat, safe enclosures for a group of medieval parchment documents with large seals. After working out some logistics with the curators and manuscripts processing coordinator, I have begun to pre-cut and stage as many of the components as can be prepared ahead of time in order to streamline assembly of the enclosures.

A newly acquired scrapbook awaits treatment; archival folders are kept at hand for rehousing collections.

A drawer in my workbench cabinet containing archival folders and a scrapbook that is awaiting treatment. Virginia Lucas Rogers scrapbook, call number RG 71/99/43. Click image to enlarge.

There is so much to love about our new lab space, but I am especially fond of our big workbench cabinets. These feature shelves on the top half, and an assortment of shallow and deep drawers below. Most of the drawers in my cabinet hold supplies, but I keep two in reserve for materials that I am treating. I am in the midst of a months-long project to mitigate (old, not active!) mold on a large archival collection. As I treat each box, I am replacing the old boxes and folders, so I keep a stock of fresh folders available. The folders are sharing the drawer with a scrapbook (made by a KU student prior to her time at KU) that awaits treatment.

Six boxes of material at the special collections conservator's bench await return to Processing.

Underneath my press table are six boxes of material almost ready to be returned. John C. Tibbetts Portrait Collection. Call number: MS Q74. Click image to enlarge.

Next to my workbench I have a beautiful press table, with two spacious shelves below. These currently hold six boxes of material from the recently acquired John C. Tibbetts Portraits Collection. The gouache paintings in this collection had been matted and framed, and I have been working to remove the mats prior to processing. I have just about completed the work on this third phase of the acquisition and look forward to having clear shelves again, if only until the next treatment comes along.

The special collections conservator's cabinet contains materials from Spencer collections before and during treatment.

The upper section of my cabinet, which contains materials from across Spencer’s collections in various stages of treatment. Click image to enlarge.

Finally, here are the upper shelves of my cabinet. Among the materials currently under my care, there are items from Special Collections (rare books, artists’ books, parchment manuscript documents), Kansas Collection (a Socialist newspaper from the Wilcox collection, a rolled and torn certificate), and University Archives (so many student scrapbooks!). There are also a few enclosure models that I’ve been working on (I’m in the process of writing up instructions for an enclosure I’ve modified, so that I can share it with other conservators), as well as diagrams and notes on other enclosures that I haven’t made often enough to have memorized yet.

Thank you for visiting my workbench!

Spencer Research Library and Archaeology

February 19th, 2019

This month’s temporary exhibit in Spencer’s North Gallery – titled “Spencer Research Library and Archaeology”features a collection of materials available through Spencer that could or have proven to be useful in archaeological research. Spanning from tomes written during the developmental days of archaeology as a science to modern articles on the forefront of archaeological investigations, the collections at Spencer Research Library offer a broad assemblage of knowledge not available through most library settings.

The first display case demonstrates the spectrum of resources available to archaeological researchers by highlighting a sample from each of Spencer’s collections. This includes documents of early Old World archaeology, books on regional archaeology, archaeological reports, and serial clippings and publications featuring archaeological findings and collections. Such materials are often used as supplementary materials in extant studies, though there is plenty potential for new studies to be conducted as well.

Image of pages from Archaeologia cambrensis, January 1846

Archaeologia cambrensis (Welsh Archaeology), volume 1, number 1, January 1846.
Published by the Cambrian Archaeological Association with the goal of interpreting cultural significance
over material value, Archaeologia cambrensis illustrates a transitional period
in the development of archaeology as a science. Call Number: C16530. Click image to enlarge.

Cover of the book Kansas Archaeology, 2006

Kansas Archaeology, 2006. This work offers a broad perspective of the
archaeological history of Kansas. It is accessible to those with or without a
strong background in archaeology. Call Number: RH C11685. Click image to enlarge.

The second display case features materials available at Spencer Research Library that have been used in archaeological projects. One such project is the Douglas County Cellar Survey, known colloquially as the “Caves Project.” The Caves Project is a survey funded by the Douglas County Natural and Cultural Heritage Grant Program with the goal of locating and documenting stone arched cellars. The cellars (referred to as “caves”) – constructed from the 1850s into the 1920s – represent a cultural phenomenon unique to the region; thus, archaeologists hope to properly document these caves before they are lost to time. The Caves Project has utilized Spencer Research Library materials such as plat maps, deed records, and topical books on regional history.

Map of Lecompton Township, 1909

Plat map of Lecompton Township in Plat Work and Complete Survey of Douglas County, Kansas, 1909.
This map was used in the Caves Project to locate potential cave structures. In addition to
revealing site locations, the map was also superimposed with older plat maps of the same area to
indicate images that were no longer extant. Call Number: RH Atlas G32. Click image to enlarge.

Also included in the second display case is an artifact, known as a projectile point base, that comes from the Clovis Paleoamerican culture of North America. Likely a broken spear tip, this artifact is likely around 13,000 calendar years old. Found during a 1976 pedestrian survey of site 14DO137 near Clinton Lake in Douglas County, Kansas, this point base is one of the only remaining items left by some of – if not the – first people to ever walk in eastern Kansas. Reviewed as part of an ongoing survey of literature for the Caves Project, multiple archaeological reports indicated that the point was donated to the University of Kansas Archaeological Research Center. Thanks to their cooperation, the point has been loaned to Spencer Research Library for this current exhibit and, as seen below, three-dimensionally scanned. The point has been used in a number of archaeological investigations, including a report on the presence of Clovis people in southeastern Kansas by KU’s Dr. Jack Hofman.

Frank Conard
Spencer Research Library Public Services Student Assistant and KU Anthropology Major

January 1, 1804: Haiti Declares Independence

January 1st, 2019

January 1st is celebrated in both the United States and Haiti as the start of the New Year, but it is an important holiday in Haiti for another reason. January 1st is the day in 1804 that Haiti declared its independence from colonial rule. Freeing itself from French control, Haiti became the first nation to be founded by formerly-enslaved people having successfully revolted through a series of uprisings starting in 1791.

Haiti is the focus of the 2018-2019 KU Common Book, a shared reading experience that is part of the university’s First-Year programming. In the selected book, Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, the author Edwidge Danticat points out that the United States did not immediately recognize Haiti as a free state. Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States from 1801 to 1809, expressed concerns about the impact the slave revolt in Haiti might have on the U.S. A brief overview of the American political perspectives on the Haitian Revolution is available online from the Office of the Historian of the United States Department of State.

Historic maps often interestingly reflect a particular political perspective. The map shown below is from Spencer Research Library’s Special Collections. It is a map of the United States published in 1816 (and “improved to the 1st of January 1818”) in Philadelphia. The map includes “the contiguous British and Spanish possessions” and has an inset of the West Indies.

Image of the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816

Image of the title of the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816 Closeup of the title of the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816

The map (top) with closeups of its title (bottom), which reads as follows: “Map of the United States with the
contiguous British & Spanish possessions / Compiled from the latest & best Authorities by John Melish / Entered
according to Act of Congress the 6th day of June 1816. / Published by John Melish Philadelphia. / Improved
to the 1st of January 1818.” Call Number: N8 Orbis #127. Click images to enlarge.

An inset showing the West Indies on the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816

St. Domingo shown on the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816

An inset showing the West Indies (top) and a closeup of “St. Domingo” (bottom).
Modern-day Haiti occupies the western side of the island of Hispaniola.
The eastern side is the Dominican Republic. Hispaniola is part of the Greater Antilles
in the West Indies. Call Number: N8 Orbis #127. Click images to enlarge.

Although Haiti had established itself as a republic in 1804 and had discarded its former name as the French colony of Saint-Domingue, this American map from 1816 shows the entire island of Hispaniola labeled as “St. Domingo.” A “Statistical Table of the Several Countries Exhibited on the Map” (shown below) includes the states and territories of the United States and other countries with the subcategories of British possessions, Spanish possessions, and an unlabeled grouping that lists St. Domingo as controlled by “Natives,” Guadaloupe controlled by the French, St. Bartholomew controlled by the Swedes, and St. Thomas and Santa Cruz controlled by the Danes.

A statistical table shown on the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816 Closeup of a statistical table shown on the "Map of the United States with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions," 1816

The map’s statistical table. Call Number: N8 Orbis #127. Click images to enlarge.

It was not until 1862, during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, that the United States government officially recognized Haitian independence.

Stacey Wiens
Reference Specialist
Public Services

Holiday Hosting with “The ‘Home Queen’ Cook Book”

December 7th, 2018

December has arrived and with it the winter holiday season! Since the holiday season means holiday parties, I wanted to look into hosting an oft forgotten type of affair – a lovely, elegant dinner party!

Personally, I do not have much experience with dinner parties so I decided to go to the best source I could find: The “Home Queen” Cook Book. Compiled during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, The “Home Queen” Cook Book features recipes, etiquette, and entertaining suggestions from “over two hundred World’s Fair lady managers, wives of governors, and other ladies of position and influence.” Armed with the advice of these many esteemed ladies, I set out to see if I could recreate an elegant dinner party from generations past. What follows is a story of research, abandoned dreams, and a final feeble attempt to do anything I had originally hoped to accomplish.

Image of the cover of "The 'Home Queen' Cook Book," 1901

The cover of The “Home Queen” Cook Book, 1901.
Call Number: Galloway C35. Click image to enlarge.

Now, I do not know what everyone else pictures when they think of a dinner party, but I was envisioning an elegantly set table with beautiful linens and fine china to hold a magnificent multi-course meal. With that image in mind, I immediately began examining the section on “Party Suppers” in The “Home Queen” Cook Book. That sounds like the place to start, right? And what did I learn? First, a “party supper” and a dinner party are not synonymous. A party supper is much less formal than what I was expecting when I read the heading:

An evening party… would assemble quite early in the evening. This would give plenty of time for social intercourse, music and innocent amusements. Refreshments might be carried around on trays, and the guests served with cake, coffee or lemonade. Fine large napkins should first be handed around. These should be spread on the knees to receive the plates afterward furnished. Delicate sandwiches of chopped tongue, spread thinly on sandwich biscuits, or the white meat of turkey or check are very nice for such entertainments. Ice cream, confectionery, and ripe fruit of any kind may be served.

I liked the idea of this informal gathering, which was meant to “facilitate conversation, ease, and the choosing of congenial companions out of mixed gatherings at large parties.” What more could you want from a festive holiday party? However, I still had the aforementioned picture of a dinner party in my mind. This prompted me to look to the sections on “The Mid-Day Meal” and “The Evening Meal” in the book, hoping to find any information that might be of use. Lo and behold, I found exactly what I was picturing in “The Mid-Day Meal” section! In it was everything I could ever want to know about table settings, the most appropriate food choices, even how to properly invite your guests to the affair. Before spending a great deal of time on the overwhelming amount of food described, I decided to focus first on the most basic aspect of the evening: a proper table setting.

After reading the descriptions of the proper linens, plates, crystal, and silver, I realized that just setting the table would cost a small fortune. The proper “snow white” table linen made of the suggested “handsome Irish damask” would easily cost over $100 for a small tablecloth. Any attempt at recreating the quality of a proper dinner table setting was clearly out of reach.

“Ok,” I thought to myself, “If the expected quality is unmanageable, what can I do that would dress up a somewhat subpar table setting so that it at least looks elegant?” Returning to the book, I found the perfect remedy: an artfully folded napkin. Aided by the “Folding Table Napkins” section, I began my attempt to create anything that might give me the air of sophistication I had hoped to achieve when I originally formed this brilliant plan of mine.

Image of the instructions for the Escutcheon napkin fold in "The 'Home Queen' Cook Book," 1901

Escutcheon napkin fold diagram and instructions in
The “Home Queen” Cook Book, 1901.
Call Number: Galloway C35. Click image to enlarge.

The “Home Queen” Cook Book features no less than twenty-one different napkin-folding techniques to help ensure that “the dining room, the table and all that is placed upon it shall be made as attractive as possible.” With such a plethora of options – all with detailed instructions and pictures to guide me – I thought I had finally found the perfect starting point on my way to my dream dinner party. Unfortunately, my optimism and confidence were quickly destroyed after attempting only two of the possible folds: the Escutcheon (picture above) and the Chestnut Pocket (pictured below).

Image of the instructions for the Chestnut Pocket napkin fold in "The 'Home Queen' Cook Book," 1901

The Chestnut Pocket napkin fold diagram and instructions in
The “Home Queen” Cook Book, 1901.
Call Number: Galloway C35. Click image to enlarge.

The Escutcheon: Described as “the easiest of all the ornamental foldings,” the Escutcheon was the beginning of the end for me. It was here I learned that the instructions to starch and iron the napkins immediately before folding was not a suggestion but truly an absolute requirement. After close to a half an hour of intense labor and a great deal of swearing, I finally managed to produce… something.

Photograph of an Escutcheon napkin fold attempt

My attempt at the Escutcheon napkin fold. Click image to enlarge.

The Chestnut Pocket: My attempt to regaining any semblance of dignity after being so embarrassingly defeated by the Escutcheon finally yielded a positive result for me! I even took it a step beyond the Chestnut Pocket and created the Pocket Napkin. I found that the secret to success lay in finding a napkin-folding technique that did not need to stand up. With this revelation, I managed to produce the following creation:

Photograph of a Pocket napkin fold attempt

My successful attempt at the Pocket napkin fold
(a variation on the Chestnut Pocket napkin fold).
Click image to enlarge.

So after all of this – the research, the numerous disappointments, the defeat, and eventual triumph – I am sure you must be wondering: will I be hosting my envisioned elegant dinner party this holiday season? To put it succinctly, absolutely not. There is only so much embarrassment by fabric I am willing to put myself through in the name of holiday entertaining.

Emily Beran
Public Services

Throwback Thursday: Reading Room Edition

December 6th, 2018

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Good luck on finals next week, Jayhawks! Spencer’s Reading Room and lounge are great options for quiet places to study.

Photograph of Special Collections Reading Room at Spencer Research Library, 1968

The Special Collections Reading Room at Spencer Research Library, 1968.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 32/37 1968: University of Kansas
Libraries: Special Collections (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

Spencer Research Library opened to researchers on December 2, 1968 – a couple of weeks after the dedication ceremony (November 8th) and public opening (November 15th). At the time, the Kansas Collection, Special Collections, and University Archives had separate Reading Rooms on the second, third, and fourth floors, respectively. Today, Spencer has one Reading Room for all researchers, and the above photo was taken from roughly where the reference desk is now located.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services