The Future of the Past

As we’ve mentioned in passing, we’re hard at work preparing for our upcoming 2016 exhibition and event series, Portals: History of the Future.

While combing through our collections, we’ve come across a few futuristic gems that aren’t a great fit for the exhibition, but are just too good to pass by. For instance, this excellent and patriotic book cover:

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Forecast 2000 was written in 1984, mind you, so the predictions aren’t terribly far-fetched.

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The only-slightly-older, also-patriotic-looking Seven Tomorrows (from 1982) provides “seven scenarios for the eighties and nineties”. (Is one allowed to predict life in the eighties when one is already living in the eighties? That seems like cheating.)

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Seven Tomorrows has lots of fun charts and imaginary statistics, and its scenarios provide a surprisingly good read.

(Apparently if we experience “apocalyptic transformation”, there will be a rise in demand for mediators, and a decreasing demand for astronauts.)

The oldest book of this stellar batch is the 1977 Future File, a slightly sci-fi compendium of information for the forward-looking thinker.

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One section of this book has predictions by year, culled from all kinds of past official publications.

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2000: year of nuclear electric spacecraft. 2015: replacement organs harvested from farmed animals. 2024: lunar colony and extraterrestrial farming. Isn’t the future grand?

Bad Children of History #16: The Recalcitrant Tomboy

I’ve been trudging my way through Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, a book about which I can’t articulate anything positive or negative that hasn’t already been said more thoroughly and eloquently than one could manage in an introductory paragraph to a blog post. However, in light of discussions around the book, I’ve been thinking about girls and women who defy society’s rigid expectations, those truly wonderful spinsters of fiction and their tomboyish counterparts— including, of course, “Romping Polly”, the free-spirited star of this week’s Bad Children of History.

Romping Polly is another of the ill-fated children from the classic Struwwelpeter, a book last featured in our first-ever Bad Children of History post. The illustrations of Polly below are again taken from the 1890 English translation of the book, published in Philadelphia by Porter & Coates.

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At the very beginning of “The Story of Romping Polly”, we see her receiving a stern warning about her inappropriately-feminine styles of play:

I know that you will often see
Rude boys push, drive, and hurry;
But little girls should never be
All in a heat and flurry.

Nodding her tomboy-ish head, Polly acknowledges her aunt’s lecture, and then promptly scurries down some sort of decorative border and leaps toward her jumping and running playmates. Looks like fun, right?

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WRONG! There’s nothing fun about falling down such that your leg detaches like a lizard’s tail. (Mind you, the text simply says that “her poor leg was broken”, but the illustration leads me to believe that it was something infinitely more drastic.)

Polly is carried away on a makeshift stretcher, while her detached leg (or should I say “the limb all wet and gory”) is carried away by her tearful brother.

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Let’s choose to ignore the butcher’s knives in the lower left of that illustration, shall we?

What happened to poor, rough-playing, enthusiastically-frolicking Polly? How did her life turn out, in the wake of her inattention to compulsory 19th century feminine behavior?

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Full many a week, screwed up in bed,
She lingered sad and weary;
And went on crutches, it is said,
Ev’n to the grave so dreary.

Yep. Little ladies, don’t try to play with the boys, or else you may end up a hunched woman in an unflattering bonnet walking with crutches toward your own gravesite. You wouldn’t want that, would you?

Art//Archives Sneak Peek: Weird, Old Science

This week’s Art//Archives Visual Research Hours will also serve as our first sneak preview of some items that will be featured in the upcoming 2016 exhibition and program series, Portals: History of the Future.

We’ve been poking through scores of old science magazines from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and we’ve picked a few highlights for your pleasure and entertainment.

An odd shout-o-phone! A potato-like Arctic face mask! A royal coach made out of pipe cleaners! If you’d love to spend some time with this fabulous 1940 issue of Popular Science or similar magazines, swing by Special Collections on Tuesday between 10:30 and 1:00.

Art//Archives Sneak Peek: Storms!

The weather outside is borderline-frightful, but look how delightful these weather and storm books are!

We have books and manuscripts on meteorology, storm-related shipwrecks, the 1938 Rhode Island “tidal wave”, and urban flooding, as well as a book with a superb etching of “Lightning above a Volcano”.

Stop by Special Collections today, Tuesday, between 10:30 and 1:00 to hang out with these weather-related items!

Bad Children of History #15, with Essential Etymological Preface

Essential Etymological Preface: The English language is an ever-shifting beast, with corresponding changes in the meanings of words. That said, through at least the 18th century, the word “slut” was used to refer to an ugly, slovenly, unkempt person, often a woman. (For examples of this usage, check the OED2.) The Online Etymology Dictionary describes the word’s likely origins from the colloquial German schlutt, meaning a slovenly woman, and claims that its contemporary usage wasn’t cemented until some time in the 1960s. Sam Bovill has a blog post describing the word’s semantic shift, and Malcolm Jones, in an article in The Daily Beast, notes that over the centuries, “slut” has been used to refer to “men, women, dogs, and light fixtures”.

Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at today’s featured book, a very tiny volume entitled The Merry Andrew: or, the Humours of a Fair. Here it is, with my smaller-than-most hand included for scale:

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The title page doesn’t have a publication date, but my best guess is some time between 1810 and 1820.

The author includes his own cautionary preface at the start of this tale, noting that the “humours of a fair” aren’t all levity and entertainment– for instance, the surging crowds there can easily trample a small boy.

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For little boys are often trod upon, and even crushed to death by mixing with the mob. If you would be safe, by all means avoid a crowd. Look yonder, Dick Wilson there has done the very thing I cautioned you against.

It’s a little hard to see his head down there at surging-crowd-knee-level, but Dick Wilson is definitely there, full of his usual bad ideas. He’s not today’s primary bad child of history, but he is, according to the author, an “impertinent little monkey”, which is definitely one of my new favorite insults.

As long as you’re not like Dick Wilson, you can see all kinds of fascinating and entertaining things at the fair. You can visit the Wheel of Fortune, pre-Vanna White:

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You can see these entertaining gentlemen:

You can ignore your mother’s good advice and ride these dangerous-looking carnival rides:

(Sidenote: the text around that second illustration mystifies me. “You know what I mean by the Up-and-down? It is a horse in a box, a horse that flies in the air, like that which the ancient poets rode on.” Is that a reference to Pegasus? Did ancient poets love carnival rides? Clarifying comments encouraged.)

Because The Merry Andrew is a historical children’s book, this catalog of delights is followed by brief discourses entitled “Descant on Time”, “On Learning”, “On Business”, and “On Idleness”, and the book closes with two short rhymes, “To a Good Girl” and “To a Naughty Girl”.

Below are said good and naughty girls, looking suspiciously like the exact same lass with a slightly different hat and bustle:

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So, pretty Miss Prudence, you’re come to the Fair,
And a very good girl they tell me you are.
Here, take this fine orange, this watch, and this knot,
You’re welcome, my dear, to all we have got.

So, pert Mistress Prate-a-Pace, how came you here?
There is nobody wants to see you at the Fair.
Not an orange, an apple, a cake, or a nut,
Will any one give to so saucy a slut.

(Did you keep our etymological preface in mind this whole time? Good, good.) Lesson: don’t be brazen or dirty, or you won’t get any snacks. If you’re pretty, however, you’ll get lots of desirable things, including but not limited to a “fine orange”. Now, children, go forth to the fair, unless there are crowds. Just be careful on the Up-and-down!

Bad Children of History #14: A Macabre Maiden

Today’s story comes from Dolly and I, an 1872 volume penned by the improbably-named Oliver Optic.

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The star of our tale is a ten-year-old girl named Katy, daughter of a factory agent, and a “pretty good girl”, although we’re told from the get-go that she was a demanding baby and, as she grew older, “she did not like to see others have any thing which she could not have.”

The text of Dolly and I is full of the detailed goings-on of dolls (I imagine this is appealing to the book’s intended audience), but to make a long story short: Katy is gifted a beautiful wax doll, and she doesn’t want to share it with her sweet-tempered sister Nellie, who must make do with numerous broken-ish dolls.

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Despite Katy’s meanness, Nellie is still kind to her. As a reward for her kindness and good nature, Nellie herself is gifted a wax doll– and this one has eyes that open and close!!

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Wow.

As I’m sure one can imagine, Katy is 100% furious. How dare Nellie have a blinking doll, when Katy only has a beautiful non-blinking doll? (Mind you, Nellie is so empathetic, she feels guilty about her doll’s niceness and her sister’s anger.)

What does Katy, blinded by her envious rage, do? She stumbles up the dark stairs after dinner one evening, makes her way into her poorly-lit play room, and then:

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Golly. The accompanying narrative makes it even creepier:

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‘Your dolly shall not be better than mine any longer,’ she said to herself. As she said this, she took the scissors from the work basket on the bureau, and finding one of the eyes with her fingers, she struck one of the points right into it. Then she turned the scissors, so as entirely to destroy the eye. Not content with this, she spoiled the other eye in the same manner.

Sneaking the defiled doll back into her drawer, Katy slinks downstairs and tries to act cool. When dear, sweet Nellie suggests some pre-bedtime doll-playing, Katy demurs, feeling “just as though she should sink through the floor”. Nellie, completely unaware of her sister’s inner turmoil, runs upstairs, grabs her blinking doll, brings it down to the table, and…

…wait for it…

Nellie’s doll IS TOTALLY FINE and HER EYES HAVEN’T BEEN POKED OUT BY A SEWING IMPLEMENT.

Is it magic?

No, it’s the retributive tendency of the otherwise marvelous universe, for in her jealous frenzy, Katy accidentally poked out the eyes of her very own wax doll.

Our story ends with Katy’s mother scolding her, Katy crying herself to sleep, and the non-blinking wax doll being “utterly ruined”. Tell us, Oliver Optic, what’s the moral of this sad, sad tale?

When you envy others, although you may not punch out the eyes of your own doll, you hurt yourself more than any one else.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Bad Children of History #13: All the World’s a Stage (for Badness)

With all the grumbling about “kids these days”, one has to wonder: are kids worse now? Was there a golden age when children were well-behaved and sweet? How long ago was that? Maybe 500 years? What were children like in the 16th century?

I know who can tell us: Shakespeare. Take a look at this monologue from As You Like It:

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Old Will, describing the “seven ages” of man, begins with the infant, “mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms”, followed by “the whining school-boy, with his satchel, and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school”. (If you keep reading, you can see that Shakespeare is a firm believer not just in bad children of history, but also in bad young men, hotheaded soldiers, annoying middle-aged guys, and helpless senior citizens.)

Shakespeare’s seven ages of man have inspired countless artworks, including a series of paintings by Robert Smirke, a totem-pole-like sculpture in London, a chaotic painting by William Mulready, and a woodcut by Rockwell Kent. They also inspired a series of colored lithographs by Henry Thomas Alken, printed in 1824 and released in book form.

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The first print in Alken’s book is a beautiful representation of the innocence of early childhood:

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Look at that smart little child methodically disassembling a doll! Look at the welcoming chaos of enriching reading material strewn about on the floor! Look at that energetic baby developing his motor skills, and that little boy getting his hair styled while his mother gives him some serious side-eye! Delightful, I tell you.

Alken shows an equally appealing scene of the next stage of childhood, when children begin to gain some independence and roam about the countryside unsupervised.

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Here you can see a very young Uncle Sam carrying a sack and a chalkboard across a bridge. He’s maintained the inquisitive nature of early childhood, gazing thoughtfully at the water below him where a young scallywag and a shepherd without pants are rushing toward an unidentifiable swimming animal. (Is that a nutria? Is it about to get raked with some twigs? Why is the shepherd rushing from the river’s right bank while his pants are heaped on the opposite shore? What is that weird-looking tree to the left of the picture?)

I can’t actually confirm the badness of the children pictured above, aside from the fact that two of them are carrying big sticks and definitely don’t seem to be headed to school, “creeping like snail” or otherwise. But, hey, at least they’ve moved on from “mewling and puking”, am I right?