The University of Kansas

Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

That’s Distinctive!: African American “Women of Distinction”

June 16th, 2023

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

This week on That’s Distinctive! we highlight a book from Special Collections titled Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction by Hallie Q. Brown. The book, published in 1926, highlights notable African American women of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by, in the words of a Google Books summary, telling the stories of “[enslaved people] and social workers, artists and activists, cake makers and homemakers.” In so doing, it offers “unusual insight into female networks, patterns of voluntary association, work, religion, family life, and Black women’s culture.” The book highlights many notable figures such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Dinah Cox, Matilda J. Dunbar, and Martha Payne (mother of Daniel Alexander Payne).

Dark green background with the title, the author's name, and a woman's silhouette in gold.
The poem "Ode to Woman" by Sarah G. Jones, accompanied by a silhouette of Martha Payne.
Four black-and-white headshot photos of Mrs. Sarah H. Fayerweather, Mrs. Dinah Cox, Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth Tanner, and Mrs. Charlotta Gordon Pyles.
The first part of a biography of Matilda J. Dunbar, accompanied by a black-and-white photo of her sitting in a rocking chair holding a cane.
Black-and-white photo of a plaque dedicated to Harriet Tubman.
The front cover of – and selected pages from – Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction by Hallie Q. Brown, 1926. Call Number: Howey C6221. Click image to enlarge.

According to Britannica, author Hallie Q. Brown was an

“American educator and elocutionist who pioneered in the movement for African American women’s clubs in the United States. In 1893 Brown was a principal promoter of the organization of the Colored Woman’s League of Washington, D.C., which the next year joined other groups to form the National Association of Colored Women. In 1893 she was appointed professor of elocution at Wilberforce University, but her teaching duties were limited by her frequent and extensive lecture tours, notably in Europe in 1894–99. Her lectures on African American life in the United States and on temperance were especially popular in Great Britain, where she appeared twice before Queen Victoria. She was a speaker at the 1895 convention of the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in London and a representative of the United States at the International Congress of Women there in 1899. Browns other works include Bits and Odds: A Choice Selection of Recitations (1880) and First Lessons in Public Speaking (1920).”

Black text - and a black-and-white photo - on a cream background.
The title page of Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction with a picture of author Hallie Q. Brown. Call Number: Howey C6221. Click image to enlarge.

Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction is a part of the Howey Collection within Special Collections at Spencer Research Library. The Howey Collection houses many books that originate from the Gerritsen Collection. Spencer’s copy of this volume originally came from the library of physician and women’s activist Aletta Jacobs (1854-1929) and her husband C. V. Gerritsen, who collected books, pamphlets, and other materials on women’s issues. Acquired by the John Crerar Library of Chicago in 1903, the Gerritsen collection was purchased with other Crerar Library materials by the University of Kansas in 1954. The collection was microfilmed and is now available digitally through subscription to libraries worldwide.

Black-and-white illustration of a man surrounded by books, plants, and the words "great is the gift that bringeth knowledge."
The John Crerar Library bookplate in Spencer’s copy of Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction. Call Number: Howey C6221. Click image to enlarge.

A digital copy of the book can be found at Documenting the American South, or the library’s physical copy can be viewed in the Reading Room, Monday through Friday between 10am and 4pm.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

Physical/Digital Archives: Teaching with Spencer Manuscripts

April 2nd, 2019

This week’s post is by Dr. Whitney Sperrazza, Digital Humanities Postdoctoral Research Fellow at KU’s Hall Center for the Humanities.

Digital methods offer a new way to teach with and in the archives. I designed my Fall 2018 course, “Digital Feminist Archives,” around this conviction, aiming to build a class that worked at the intersection of archival and digital practices.

For sixteen weeks, twelve students from a wide range of KU departments (English, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies [WGSS], History, Humanities, Museum Studies, and Theater) met at the Spencer Research Library to study, transcribe, and develop projects on one object from the library’s holdings: Elizabeth Dyke’s Booke of Recaits (dated 1668).


Image of ownership inscriptions in the front board and first page of "Elizabeth Dyke, her Booke of Recaits 1668" (MS D157)

Family Ownership inscriptions in “Elizabeth Dyke, her Booke of Recaits 1668.” England, approximately 1668.
Call Number: MS D157, Opening 2. Click image to enlarge.

Early Women’s Recipes

Are you interested in learning more about early Western remedies for headaches? What about the effectiveness of rose water in preventing plague (56)? Did you know that pickled cucumbers were made frequently in seventeenth-century English households (86) and that powdered hazelnuts were used to stanch bleeding (43)? Or, as Elspeth Healey asks in her blog post on the manuscript, are you simply looking for some seventeenth-century dietary advice?

Image of remedy using hazelnuts to stanch bleeding in Elizabeth Dyke, her Booke of Recaits 1668." (MS D157)

Hazelnuts to stanch bleeding? From “Elizabeth Dyke, her Booke of Recaits 1668.” England, approximately 1668.
Call Number: MS D157, Opening 43. Click image to enlarge.

This is just a taste of the wealth of information we collected from Dyke’s Booke of Recaits, which contains over 700 culinary and medicinal recipes. But the manuscript is so much more than a recipe archive. It is a document of familial and social networks and a record of cultural practices.

On the manuscript’s opening page (see photo above), several women catalogued their ownership of the book—Sarah Dyke, Dorothy Dyke, Elizabeth Dodsworth—suggesting that the text was passed down through the family’s female line. Like many surviving recipe books from the period, the titles of the recipes themselves also include names of women and men, either to note the original creator of the recipe (“Lady Rivers’ recipe for orange or lemon cakes”) or to mark the recipe’s effectiveness (“A very good green salve and ointment proved often times by goodwife Wesens”).

The Spencer Library acquired the manuscript in 1977 from UK bookseller, Henry Bristow Ltd, and it was recently featured in an exhibition titled, “Histories of the English Language” (Summer 2017). While the manuscript has long been available for visitors to the Spencer, it is now available as part of the KU Libraries digital collections and as a fully searchable (original spelling only) transcription on the “Digital Feminist Archives” course site.

Collaborative Close Reading

I designed the course syllabus to build gradually toward the students’ final digital projects, so the first eight weeks were dedicated to close study and transcription of the manuscript’s content. The students became experts on this archival object through their transcription work and their conversations with each other on the manuscript’s content and structure.

The students each transcribed and encoded a section of manuscript pages and, one day per week, we structured the class as a large-scale text encoding project meeting. Students came to class with examples and questions from their assigned pages and we dedicated these class sessions to collective conversation about encoding standards and transcription problems. We started with basic observations—things like, “this is what Dyke’s r looks like”—but the conversations quickly became more complicated and critically rich: should we include content that’s been crossed out? how should we note text that’s been lost due to page damage?

Examples of loss of text in Elizabeth Dyke's Booke of Recaits (MS D157)

Photograph of crossed out text in Elizabeth Dyke's "Booke of Recaits" (MS D157)

Example of lost text (top) and crossed out text (bottom) in “Elizabeth Dyke, her Booke of Recaits 1668.” England, approximately 1668.
Call Number: MS D157, Openings 95 and 99. Click images to enlarge.

As an instructor, it was thrilling to participate in these student-driven discussions and listen as the students grappled with the critical and methodological decisions that go into transforming a physical object into digital content. Our focus was on the process rather the product, and part of that process was working together to really know this archival object. In addition to giving students insight into the logistics of digital project development, these lab sessions became opportunities for collaborative reading of the manuscript’s content as students shared interesting passages, unexpected recipe titles, and common ingredients.

Interdisciplinary Networks

The students’ collective transcription work became the basis for their final project development. Through their projects, the students animated this archival material. One group transformed Dyke’s medicinal recipes into a crowd-sourced ailments and remedies platform modeled on WebMD (WebED).

Screenshot of WebEd, a crowd-sourced ailments and remedies platform modeled on WebMD.

WebEd, a student project centered on Elizabeth Dyke’s Booke of Recaits for ENGL 590 | ENGL 790 | HUM 500 | WGSS 701: Digital Feminist Archives, Fall 2018. Click image to enlarge.

One group tried their hand at making some of the recipes, using Dyke’s directions to capture the historical experience (Cooking 17th-Century Recipes). Another group developed teaching resources and updated versions of the recipes to explore how Dyke’s recipes remain relevant for today’s audiences (Using Early Modern Recipes Today). Finally, one group mapped the availability of several of Dyke’s ingredients, tracking how the ingredients would have been traded across different parts of the world (Mapping Elizabeth Dyke’s Recipes).

Screenshot of "Mapping Elizabeth Dyke’s Recipes" site.

Mapping Elizabeth Dyke’s Recipes,” a student project for ENGL 590 | ENGL 790 | HUM 500 | WGSS 701: Digital Feminist Archives, Fall 2018. Click image to enlarge.

The students’ transcription work and project development built on ongoing digital work on early modern recipes (for instance, the Early Modern Recipe Online Collective and The Recipes Project), connecting the students’ original research to wider networks across the country. Most crucial, though, were the lessons we gained from the interdisciplinary networks at work in the classroom. With this archival object as our focal point, we all found ways to draw on and expand our particular areas of interest and expertise.

Digital projects require significant time, labor, and resources. If I learned anything from designing and leading this course, it’s that one semester is not long enough for such an endeavor. We merely scratched the surface of what’s possible with such a rich archival object and, hopefully, our efforts will be a starting point for much more work to come.

Whitney Sperrazza
Digital Humanities Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Hall Center for the Humanities

[Thank you to everyone at KU who worked hard to make this class possible and offered support for the students’ work at various stages: Elspeth Healey, Brian Rosenblum, Whitney Baker, Jocelyn Wehr, Erin Wolfe, Jonathan Lamb, and Scott Hanrath. And, of course, my sincerest gratitude to the “Digital Feminist Archive” students, all of whom brought so much energy to this process: Brianna Blackwell, Gwyn Bourlakov, Mallory Harrell, Yee-Lum Mak, Jodi Moore, Sarah Polo, Elissa Rondeau, Kate Schroeder, Phoenix Schroeder, Suzanne Tanner, Rachel Trusty, and Chris Wright.]


Throwback Thursday: Mary Evelyn Ransom Strong Edition

March 9th, 2017

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 34,500 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

This week’s photograph was selected in honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.

Photograph of Mary Evelyn Ransom Strong in a suffrage parade, 1912

Mary Evelyn Ransom Strong, sitting in the back seat with a dark coat,
campaigning for women’s suffrage in Lawrence, 1912.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 2/8 Family 1912 Prints:
Chancellors: Frank Strong: Family (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

Throughout her life, Mary Strong (1870-1953), the wife of KU Chancellor Frank Strong, was active in the suffrage movement, especially in Kansas. She was “integral” to Kansas voters approving the Equal Suffrage Amendment to the state constitution on November 5, 1912, making Kansas the eighth state to grant full suffrage to women.

Preliminary evidence suggests that the photograph was taken on Vermont Street just north of Tenth, looking east toward Massachusetts Street. According to notation on the back of the print, the “Methodist Church [is] at right and back of car.” In his book Across the Years on Mount Oread, Robert Taft captioned the image by noting that “the photograph was taken on Vermont street and looks towards Massachusetts” (124). These two pieces of information, checked against the 1912 Lawrence Sanborn fire insurance map, suggest that the church in the background is the First Methodist Episcopal Church, now the First United Methodist Church.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Melissa Kleinschmidt and Abbey Ulrich
Public Services Student Assistants

Austen-tacious and (Por)ter-rific: NEH Seminar visits KSRL

July 30th, 2012

On a hot July morning two Mondays ago, a bus pulled up in front of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library and out stepped seventeen scholars.  The erudite visitors were participants in Jane Austen and Her Contemporaries, a five-week NEH Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers held at the University of Missouri and led by Dr. Devoney Looser. After some much-needed tea and victuals in Spencer’s North Gallery (the bus had left Columbia, MO at 5:45 am, after all), the scholars settled in for a day of workshops and research.  No time for pianoforte or leisurely games of cards for these visitors!  The morning’s activities included sessions with Spencer Library staff addressing genres of documents prevalent during Austen’s time, 18th- and 19th- century handwriting, and reference resources for working with rare books and manuscripts.

NEH Seminar "Jane Austen and Her Contemporaries" at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Say “Northanger Abbey!”:  Participants in the NEH Summer Seminar “Jane Austen and Her Contemporaries”
with Spencer Library staff.

In the afternoon, the scholars retired to the reading room where they threw themselves into conducting research with some of Spencer’s late 18th- and early 19th-century manuscript collections. Read the rest of this entry »