Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

My Life with Lillian: The Year (And Then Some) I Spent Transcribing MS B173

July 14th, 2021

Last July, I mentioned in our ‘Spencer Public Services Working from Home’ blog post that one of my work from home projects was creating transcriptions of some of our handwritten collection materials. Well readers, a year later here is the follow-up on one of those transcriptions – the Lillian North diary – and a bit of the story of how a New York suffragist helped me through the pandemic.

Photograph of the first page of Lillian North’s diary with entries from January 1 and 2, 1915.
The first page of Lillian’s diary with entries from January 1 and 2, 1915. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

Who was Lillian North?

Lillian was born on August 17, 1881, in Stafford, New York, to parents George and Mary Thomas Radley. On September 26, 1906, Lillian married Frank North, a farmer. They were married for fifty-seven years before Frank’s death in October 1963.

Lillian’s diary entries span from January 1, 1915, to May 14, 1917, and detail her day-to-day life as a homemaker and farm wife. Her days were full of activity: cleaning and improving the house, washing and mending clothes, baking bread and pies, canning pickles and strawberries, and churning her prize-winning butter. I can confirm that I was motivated to clean on more than one occasion after working on this transcription; you would be, too, after reading about Lillian cleaning daily while your dishes stared at you from the kitchen sink.

Photograph of the entries in Lillian North's diary from September 21 and 22, 1916.
Entries in Lillian’s diary from September 21 and 22, 1916. She mentions spending the day at the suffrage tent at the fair and her butter being named first premium. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

Outside of her work managing the home and helping on the farm, Lillian attended social engagements and community events almost every week. In her diary she recounts automobile rides and dinners with friends, visiting with her mother and sisters, weekly church, and listening to various speakers and concerts in the area. She frequently attended meetings for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Ladies Aid Society, and The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. She was involved in the women’s suffrage movement as well – attending meetings and talks and even campaigning for the cause. It was her work as a suffragist that initially introduced me to her diary while I was conducting research for other projects related to the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Photograph of Lillian North's diary entry from October 13, 1915.
Photograph of Lillian North's diary entry from October 13, 1915.
Lillian’s entry from October 13, 1915, highlights a suffrage lecture given by Mrs. Phillip Snowden of London and Mrs. Keating from Colorado. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click images to enlarge.

Where did this project take me?

Working on this transcription took me on a bit of a journey; I found myself embroiled in some side research projects I was not expecting to do when I started. While the diary provides extensive details about Lillian’s day-to-day life for over two years, there was so much more I wanted to know about her and her family beyond 1917 when the diary ends. I began researching, trying to find whatever I could find based on the information in the diary, our published finding aid, and our records from when the diary was acquired. Eventually, I tracked down obituaries for Lillian, Frank, and Lillian’s mother Mary Radley via Newspapers.com.

In addition to wanting to know more about Lillian, my curiosity was piqued about some of the acronyms and abbreviations in the diary. What did all of them mean? Several of them I deciphered fairly quickly with the help of some online resources. Others were not so easy to interpret or did not seem to be related to any organizations I could find. By taking clues from the context in which these acronyms appeared and some additional research, I was able to make some guesses about possible meanings, but questions still abound.

All of these side projects did lead somewhere beyond satisfying my own curiosity: The additional information gleaned from the obituaries allowed us to update the biographical information in our online finding aid – providing a more accurate picture of Lillian’s life and family. We also added the list of possible meanings for the acronyms and abbreviations in hopes that this would help future researchers who are interested in the diary and Lillian’s many activities and organizations.

Photograph of Lillian North’s obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), December 19, 1963.
Lillian North’s obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), December 19, 1963. Courtesy Newspapers.com. Click image to enlarge.

Why did it take over a year to transcribe one item?

Now, I know many of you are probably wondering how I am just now finishing the transcription of Lillian’s diary – a full year after that initial blog post. After all, this is not the first item I have transcribed so this should be a faster process, right? Well, here are a few details to consider:

It’s a long story: Lillian’s diary is not quite like the other items the staff at Spencer have transcribed. We typically focus on transcribing shorter documents, primarily letters. Lillian wrote daily in her diary for over two years; there are over 700 entries and roughly 200 pages to transcribe. It was only because of the pandemic and working from home that I even had time to take on a transcription project of this scope. No matter how fast I worked, this was going to be a long project.

Handwritten = hard: Reading someone’s handwriting can be a challenge (how many of us frequently wonder if our doctors are writing actual words on those prescription pads?). Add in factors like age, access, and series of acronyms and abbreviations and, suddenly, handwriting can become practically indecipherable. You have to learn to look for patterns in how someone shapes their letters and rely on context clues frequently – a process that takes time to do.

Photograph of entries in Lillian North's diary from June 23, 25, and 27, 1916.
Entries in Lillian’s diary from June 23, 25, and 27, 1916. These more crowded pages show some of the reading difficulties associated with this transcription, including Lillian’s use of abbreviations. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

There is only one of me: Working on transcriptions was only one of my work from home projects during the pandemic. I was also revising training documents, updating instruction plans, participating in professional development opportunities, and conducting research and creating content for other projects, most notably other blog posts and an online exhibit – to name a few things. Some of these activities had scheduled times and due dates; creating a transcription for general use did not so it was the project to fill hours and provide breaks instead of the top priority.

Opening up: Spencer Research Library re-opened at the beginning of the school year in August! With the re-opening came an end to my full-time work from home status. I was back in the building several days a week and helping with paging, shelving, reference, and instruction. Even though I was still working from home some days, my focus shifted to other projects that supported what was happening onsite. Again, a transcription without any specific deadline was moved to the back burner more often than not.

Saying good-bye: The world turned upside down in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic brought unimaginable stress, trauma, and heartbreak to so many. In the last year and half many lost their lives, their livelihood, and their loved ones. I recognize that I am incredibly fortunate that I was able to continue working and that my family and friends were largely spared from any serious health issues related to COVID-19. However, that does not mean 2020 was without difficulties for me – particularly related to mental and emotional health.

I live by myself in a one-bedroom apartment. Honestly, I am quite the homebody and pretty introverted so prolonged periods of time in my own space and on my own are welcome. But despite my introverted tendencies, I also have people I enjoy seeing and spending time with regularly – family, friends, colleagues. And then poof! I really could not see anyone, especially not frequently, for quite some time. That gets lonely after a while and I could feel the effects. All of this was on top of the anxiety I was feeling about work and school and life in general during the pandemic.

During that time Lillian’s diary became a distraction from the uncertainty and isolation I was experiencing. After reading increasingly grim outlooks on public health, I could turn to this diary and read about Lillian taking the family horse to get re-shoed or working on a sewing project with a friend. Reading and transcribing Lillian’s diary was like talking with one of my friends about their week when our lives were not consumed by COVID-19; it was a welcome break. As time went on and I became more invested in Lillian’s life, I began to procrastinate on this project – prolonging the point when I would finish the transcription and lose this source of comfort at a time when I really needed it.

Photograph of the last page of Lillian North’s diary, 1917.
The last page of Lillian’s diary, written on the inside of the back cover. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

At the end of Lillian’s diary, she ran out of pages and began writing on the inside of the cover. Why? The reason is likely pretty practical – to save money, to use up all the available space, etc. – but the appearance gives the sense that she was trying to put off saying good-bye to this little book for as long as possible. It is a feeling I am all too familiar with as I reach the end of this project and, more importantly, my life with Lillian.

Emily Beran
Public Services

For the Birds: Color Our Collections – Round 4!

February 2nd, 2021

A little bird told us that the fifth-annual Color Our Collections week has arrived! Started by the New York Academy of Medicine Library in 2016, Color Our Collections is a week of coloring fun where libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world share coloring pages featuring their collection materials.

We are happy as larks to share KU Libraries’ fourth coloring creation – and it is definitely one “for the birds” this year! Featuring artwork from the John Gould Ornithological Collection at the Spencer Research Library, our newest coloring book is full of birds from around the world; the images are all pre-publication illustrations related to three of John Gould’s books: A Monograph of the Trochilidae, Birds of Asia, and The Birds of Great Britain.

You can download and print a PDF copy of the coloring book via the Color Our Collections website. While you are there, be sure to check out the submissions from our birds of a feather at other institutions! As a preview, here are three pages from the book. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Are you a fan of the collections at Spencer? Has your eagle eye ever come across an image in our materials that would make a great coloring page? Tell us about it in the comments or email us at ksrlref@ku.edu!  

We hope that this coloring fun will help you feel free as a bird even when you cannot fly the coop during the pandemic! Happy coloring, everyone!

Emily Beran
Color Our Collections

Treatment and rebinding of MS E279, part 2

January 22nd, 2021

All the way back in October 2019, I wrote about starting on the treatment of MS E279, Historia flagellantium…De recto et perverso flagrorum usu apud Christianos…Ex antiquis Scripturæ, patrum, pontificum, conciliorum, & scriptorum profanorum monumentis cum curâ & fide expressa, by Jacques Boileau. This volume is the manuscript, dated 1691 and with annotations believed to be in the author’s own hand, for the printed version of the same title published in 1700. Spencer also holds a copy of the printed edition at Summerfield B2655.

The volume was weakened by past water and mold damage and so required especially careful handling throughout the treatment process. After photographing the volume in its pre-treatment condition, I first cleaned the residual mold using soft brushes and low-suction HEPA vacuum, working in our bio-safety cabinet to reduce my exposure to the mold (and prevent contamination of other collection material). After the volume was cleaned, I removed the damaged binding and took apart the sewing.

A damaged folio from MS E279 before treatment, at left, and being mended during treatment, at right.
A damaged folio from MS E279 before treatment, at left, and being mended during treatment, at right. Click image to enlarge.

The most time-consuming part of the treatment involved mending tears, filling losses, and guarding the sections (adding a reinforcing strip of thin Japanese tissue along the fold to strengthen it prior to sewing). The manuscript also has numerous notes and additions pasted in which needed reinforcement or reattaching. Once all the mending was complete, the volume was ready to be sewn and bound. In discussions with Special Collections curator Karen Cook, we considered different options for rebinding the book and settled on a conservation paper case binding, which would provide gentle support for the fragile text.

I sewed the volume with fine linen thread over three cords, adding new endpapers, and added sewn endbands of the same linen thread around rolled paper cores. After lining the spine with Japanese paper, Western laid paper, and linen, I attached a new case of medium-weight handmade paper. The case is attached only by the linen spine linings and by the sewing and endband supports which are laced through the case. The result has an appearance that is similar to and visually compatible with historic limp bindings. This structure has the added benefit of being easily removed if future caretakers of this volume wish to rebind it in a different fashion.

MS E279 after treatment in its new paper case binding, with linen spine lining and laced sewing supports.
MS E279 after treatment in its new paper case binding, with linen spine lining and laced sewing supports. Click image to enlarge.
The title page of MS E279 shown before treatment, at left, and after treatment, at right.
The title page of MS E279 shown before treatment, at left, and after treatment, at right. Click image to enlarge.

The newly-bound volume is housed in a clamshell box along with the old boards. While this manuscript is still fragile, the repairs and new binding will allow it to be consulted by researchers in the reading room, which was not possible in its prior condition. To view this manuscript or any of Spencer’s collections, you may make an appointment to visit the reading room during our updated hours.

“I Cannot and Will Not Recant Anything…”

January 13th, 2021

“ …for to go against conscience is nether right nor safe.”

Martin Luther, Diet of Worms, April 18, 1521

Five hundred years ago, on January 3, 1521, the Catholic Church excommunicated Martin Luther, a German priest and professor of theology, due to the ideas expressed in his Ninety-five Theses (1517) and the content of some of his subsequent writings. While considered an outlaw in many regions of Europe after his excommunication, Luther’s beliefs served as a primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

Original copies of some of Luther’s works can be viewed at Kenneth Spencer Research Library today. Two of the earliest are Von Kauffshandlung und Wucher (On Commerce and Usury) and Warnunge (Warnings), published in 1524 and 1531, respectively.

Image of the title page of Von Kaufshandlung und Wucher by Martin Luther, 1524
Title page of Von Kauffshandlung und Wucher by Martin Luther, 1524. Call Number: Summerfield B1360. Click image to enlarge.
Image of the title page of Warnunge by Martin Luther, 1531
Title page of Warnunge by Martin Luther, 1531. Call Number: Summerfield B1359. Click image to enlarge.

Both items are written in German and feature elaborate title pages with decorative woodcut borders. Warnunge also shows evidence of annotation throughout – including the use of a manicule, or a “little hand” to highlight aspects of the text.

Image of two annotated pages of text in Warnunge by Martin Luther, 1531
Two annotated pages of text in Warnunge by Martin Luther, 1531. Note the use of a manicule – or a “little hand” to highlight aspects of the text – in the upper left-hand corner. Call Number: Summerfield B1359. Click image to enlarge.

Beyond these featured items, Spencer’s collections include a sizable number of materials related to the people and conflicts associated with the Protestant Reformation. While many of the library’s items are not printed in English, the value of these holdings is in their connection to this chaotic time in history and how the Reformation shaped the future of Europe and Christianity. Items include additional published writings by Martin Luther as well as writings and sermons in defense of both Protestantism and Catholicism.

Emily Beran
Public Services

John Gould (1804-1881): Birdman in the Australian Bush

December 22nd, 2020

When John Gould set out with his wife Elizabeth and eldest son (three younger children remained in England with their grandmother) in 1838 on the five-month sea voyage from England to Australia, his goal was to observe birds in the wild, collect specimens and enable Elizabeth, an artist, to make drawings for their planned book about Australian birds. Their first stop was Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land), where the Goulds were befriended by the governor, Sir John Franklin, and his wife. Elizabeth, who was pregnant, stayed with the Franklins and made drawings of plants and animals. Meanwhile, Gould explored the bush in Tasmania and on the Australian mainland in New South Wales and South Australia, including Kangaroo Island. After the birth of another son, the Gould party travelled to New South Wales, where Elizabeth’s brothers, Charles and Stephen Coxen, had settled. Following the Goulds’ return to England in 1840, The Birds of Australia appeared in 36 installments, the first on December 1, 1840 and the last in 1848. Elizabeth had died in 1841, so the later parts were illustrated by another artist, Henry Constantine Richter, working under Gould’s close supervision. The lithographic crayon drawings, printed in black and hand-watercolored by hired colourists, contributed to the success of this landmark early book about Australian ornithology.

Gould also wrote the descriptive text accompanying each illustration with assistance from his accomplished and devoted secretary, Edwin Charles Prince. The comments about many of the birds of southeastern Australia were based on Gould’s own observations. Although John Gilbert, an assistant who accompanied the Goulds to Australia, had supplied specimens and notes about birds from other parts of Australia (before being killed by Aborigines near the Gulf of Carpenteria), the examples discussed here are firsthand accounts that reveal Gould’s keen observational skills, deep interest in birds, and nascent ambivalence toward the killing of birds for sport, food, and scientific collection.

Image of the Rose-breasted Cockatoo / Cacatua eos in The Birds of Australia (1848)
Rose-breasted Cockatoo / Cacatua eos in The Birds of Australia (1848), vol. 5, plate 4. Call Number: Ellis Aves H141. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Gould’s text enlivens this static picture of Rose-breasted Cockatoos by describing the breathtaking experience of seeing flocks in motion. “The Rose-breasted Cockatoo possesses considerable power of wing, and like the house-pigeon of this country [England], frequently passes in flocks over the plains with a long sweeping flight, the group at one minute displaying their beautiful silvery grey backs to the gaze of the spectator, and at the next by a simultaneous change of position bringing their rich rosy breasts into view, the effect of which is so beautiful to behold, that it is a source of regret to me that my readers cannot participate in the pleasure I have derived from the sight.”

Image of the Spotted Pardalote / Pardalotus punctatus in The Birds of Australia (1848)
Spotted Pardalote / Pardalotus punctatus in The Birds of Australia (1848), vol. 2, plate 35. Call Number: Ellis Aves H141. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

The nesting habits of Australian birds were also intriguing. Gould writes that the Spotted Pardalote’s nesting habits differ from known members of its genus in nesting underground; “availing itself of any little shelving bank that occurs in its vicinity, [it] excavates a hole just large enough to admit of the passage of its body, in a nearly horizontal direction to the depth of two or three feet, at the end of which a chamber is formed in which the nest is deposited. The nest itself is a neat and beautifully built structure, formed of strips of the inner bark of the Eucalypti, and lined with finer strips of the same material.”

Image of the Spotted-sided Finch / Amadina lathami in The Birds of Australia (1848)
Spotted-sided Finch / Amadina lathami in The Birds of Australia (1848), vol. 3, plate 86. Call Number: Ellis Aves H141. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Above ground, Gould was surprised to find that Spotted-sided Finch nests are “frequently built among the large sticks forming the under surface of the nest of the smaller species of Eagles…both species hatching and rearing their progeny in harmony. He observed “little finches…sitting on the small twigs close to their rapacious but friendly neighbor…a Whistling Eagle.”

Image of the Piping Crow-shrike / Gymnorhina tibicen in The Birds of Australia (1848)
Piping Crow-shrike / Gymnorhina tibicen in The Birds of Australia (1848), vol. 2, plate 46. Call Number: Ellis Aves H141. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Some birds could co-exist with European settlers. Gould comments that the Piping Crow-shrike (Gymnorhina tibicen) “…is a bold and showy bird which, when not harassed and driven away, greatly enlivens and ornaments the lawns and gardens of the colonists by its presence, and with the slightest protection from molestation becomes so tame and familiar that it approaches close to their dwellings, and perches around them and the stock yards in small families of six to ten in number. Nor is its morning carol less amusing than its pied and strongly contrasting plumage is pleasing to the eye. To describe the notes of this bird is beyond the power of my pen, and it is a source of regret to myself that my readers cannot, as I have done, listen to them in their native wilds…”

Image of the Allied Kite / Milvius affinus in The Birds of Australia (1848)
Allied Kite / Milvius affinus in The Birds of Australia (1848), vol. 1, plate 21. Call Number: Ellis Aves H141. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Equally bold but less welcomed by colonists, a raptor, the Allied Kite (Milvius affinis), has a “confident and intrepid disposition [that] renders it familiar to every one, and not unfrequently costs it its life, as it fearlessly enters the farm yard of the settler, and if unopposed, impudently deals out destruction to the young poultry, pigeons, &c. tenanting it. The temerity of one individual was such, that it even disputed my right to a Bronze-winged Pigeon that had fallen before my gun, for which act, I am now almost ashamed to say, it paid the penalty of its life; on reflection I asked myself why should advantage have been taken of the confident disposition implanted in the bird by its Maker, particularly too when it was in a part of the country where no white man had taken up his abode and assumed a sovereign right over all that surrounds him.”

Image of the Partridge Bronze-wing / Geophaps scripta in The Birds of Australia (1848)
Partridge Bronze-wing / Geophaps scripta in The Birds of Australia (1848), vol. 5, plate 67. Call Number: Ellis Aves H141. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

While “a most delicate viand for the table,” the Partridge Bronze-wing (Geophaps scripta) is less endangered due to its isolation. “It is to be regretted that [it] should be so exclusively a denizen of the plains of the interior that it is available to few except inland travelers…It is withal so excessively tame, that it is not unfrequently killed by the bullock-drivers with their whips, while passing along the roads with their teams.”

Image of the Adelaide Parakeet / Platycercus adelaidiae in The Birds of Australia (1848)
Adelaide Parakeet / Platycercus adelaidiae in The Birds of Australia (1848), vol. 5, plate 22. Call Number: Ellis Aves H141. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Gould’s regret for the predicted disappearance of the Adelaide Parakeet (Platycercus adelaidiae) did not curtail his specimen collecting. “This beautiful Platycercus…may in a few years be looked for in vain in the suburbs of this rapidly increasing settlement [Adelaide], as it…is even now much persecuted and destroyed by the newly arrived emigrants, who kill it either for mere sport or for the table; for, like the other Platycerci, all of which feed on grass seeds, it is excellent eating. It was only by killing at least a hundred examples, in all their various stages of plumage, from nestling to the adult, that I was enabled to determine the fact of it being a new and distinct species.”

We may disagree with him, but Gould was a man of his times, and his views are part of the history of ornithology. Although the science of ornithology has since moved on, aided by technological innovations not dreamed of in Gould’s lifetime, the artistry of the beautiful illustrations in his books still attracts modern viewers. These illustrations allow us to see the birds through the eyes of Gould and his artists, and it is equally worthwhile to read Gould’s eloquent written observations about them. The John Gould Ornithological Collection, accessible at the University of Kansas Libraries website, offers the opportunity to pair pictures and descriptive text while reading digitized copies of Gould’s books on the Internet. A nearly complete set of John Gould’s publications, along with about 2000 pieces of preliminary art from his workshop, was bequeathed to the University of Kansas in 1945 as part of Ralph Nicholson Ellis, Jr.’s natural-history library. The Gould books and artwork were digitized with funding support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Karen Severud Cook
Special Collections Librarian
Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Hugh Orr
Member, Royal Geographical Society of South Australia