Follow our Creative Fellow’s Research!

PPL’s 2018 Creative Fellow, artist Becky Davis, has been poring over books, pamphlets, letters, and ephemera from our Fiske-Harris Civil War Collection, and looking through historic magazines and newspapers.

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If you’re interested in seeing some highlights from Becky’s research and learning more about her process, you can read her blog! She also started an Instagram account featuring photographs of materials she finds here at the library, alongside related materials from other repositories.

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153 Years of Thanks

First, a quick note: tomorrow (November 22nd), the library is closing early, so our Special Collections open hours will be abbreviated, running from 3:00-5:00 (instead of the usual Wednesday hours of 3:00-7:00).

Second: Have you been sitting at your computer thinking, “gosh, I wonder what people in Sheffield, Mass. were doing 153 years ago on Thanksgiving?” Well, are YOU ever in luck! Today we’re featuring a pamphlet with a discourse delivered in Sheffield on Thanksgiving Day during the American Civil War. (It’s not very exciting-looking, admittedly.)

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As you likely already know, Thanksgiving has been celebrated in the United States as a harvest celebration since a presidential proclamation in 1789, and became a federal holiday in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln called for a nationwide day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” (In the interest of historical accuracy regarding early Thanksgiving celebrations, we’d like to recommend the article from today’s New York Times entitled “Most Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving is Wrong.”)

The discourse in the pamphlet above was delivered one year after Lincoln’s proclamation by D. Dubois Sahler, the pastor of Sheffield’s Congregational Church. (It’s unclear whether it was delivered in the Congregational Church, but that seems likely. Sheffield’s Congregational Church building was erected in 1760 and still stands–check out their website, or look at this not-very-beautiful street view of the beautiful church from Google maps):

 

Sahler’s discourse is like a hit parade of popular 19th century Christian topics. He praises the United States for its beauty and its fertile land, gifts from God to remind us of His Heavenly intent and to keep us secure from famine:

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In the North lies a chain of lakes or inland seas. They claim, after their kind, preeminence in beauty and extent. Our coasts present inviting harbors to the mariner. The Hudson, with an easy grace, carries away the crown for attractiveness from other rivers… In the center and heart of our country are found the almost unlimited prairies. We see them in the flowery bloom of spring, and in the green and gold of their summer attire. Once beheld, they can never be forgotten… From east to west, ten thousand valleys, springs, and rivulets reflect the smiles of Heaven. Mountain chains traverse the country and vary the landscape…

The hit parade continues with a good dose of xenophobia, as Sahler praises the Pacific Ocean for keeping the United States at a great distance from Asia and its purported atheists:

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Upon our Western borders… the Pacific rolls for ten thousand miles its silver tides. Beyond, lie those mysteries of human existence, the nations of Asia. It is well that their crowded and suffocating millions are not at our doors. The characteristics of these nations are insatiable avarice and ututterable atheism. Their proximity would be the omen of a moral and physical struggle of portentous magnitude and duration. Our virtue and our patriotism might not save us from terrible disaster or destruction. The widest expanse of water on the earth is made to separate between us and them.

Phew. He then discusses slavery as a familiar yet immoral institution, and describes the Civil War as a moment for “a nation’s ruin or regeneration.” Sahler’s language here is especially interesting in light of current media focus on political polarization in America:

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We are here reminded we can not be mere spectators of this national drama. We are actors in these scenes. There are things for us to determine and to do. Present duty demands our attention. Let us attempt to follow its direction.

As a nation, we are evidently entering upon a new era. The time has, therefore, come when those who have been opposites as to governmental policy should be reconciled, and mutually forgive. Let, therefore, the past be past. Let the bitterness, the partisanship, and the sectional feeling which have arisen sink forever in the depth of generous forgetfulness.

Unfortunately, the tensions from the Civil War have not exactly sunk “forever in the depth of generous forgetfulness,” even 153 years after Saleh delivered his discourse. I’m also fairly confident that many of us will be discussing these same issues at our Thanksgiving tables later this week.

If you’d like to read more of this pamphlet, or any of our many other pro- and anti-slavery Civil War pamphlets, please visit during our open hours or make an appointment!

 

Announcing our 2018 Creative Fellow

Those of you who read PPL’s Facebook have already heard, but we wanted to make it blog-official:

We’re pleased to announce the recipient of PPL’s 2018 Creative Fellowship–Becky Davis, an interdisciplinary artist living in Wakefield, RI. You can see some of her past work and read her artist’s statement on her website. We love the ways in which history informs her work, which is intelligent, challenging, and accessible.

During her Fellowship, Becky will create new work related to the topic of hair as part of our 2018 HairBrained exhibition and program series. We think she has a lot to add to the conversation, and are extremely excited to see what she creates!

 

“Yes, type is sexy…”

We’re just over a week away from this year’s Updike Prize award ceremony, and we’re excited to welcome our featured speaker, Nina Stössinger, to Providence. If you want to get a head start and read a short article by Nina, try this one. Or maybe check out this interview with her and then follow her on Twitter.

But whatever you do, be sure to join us on Monday, October 23rd, at the RISD Metcalf Auditorium and hear from Nina in person!

Bad Children of History #33: Struwwelpeter in Russia

Today we were deep in a pile of uncataloged Russian children’s books and found… another version of Struwwelpeter, published in Moscow and illustrated by Boris Zvorykin!

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So slovenly! Look at that droopy sock!

Here’s Struwwelpeter refusing to let his grandmother sponge off his shirt cuffs…

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…leading him to weep silently alongside some semi-domesticated boars.

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This book doesn’t contain all of the stories from the original, although it does have a few select favorites, including the sad story of the thumb-sucker accompanied by a thumb-removal illustration so ghastly that we will not include it here.

Instead, look at these sweet before-and-after vignettes from The Dreadful Story of the Matches:

Confetti Distribution Devices

Instead of featuring a dashing magician, this week we’re featuring a delightful celebratory page from a catalog of magic supplies.

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The 1898 Martinka & Co. catalog from which this page is taken is part of our John H. Percival Magic Collection. (The “German” mentioned in the descriptive text references an 18th or 19th century social dance accompanied by plays and games.)

Also, I’m pretty sure a confetti flute is just any flute stuffed full of confetti. Readers are encouraged to try stuffing fancy-looking flutes with confetti and report back with their results.