Archive for October, 2012


Nostalgia collection on Old New England

   Posted by: rring    in Gifts

We would like to thank Honorary Board member James B. Lyon for his recent gift of 41 books on old New England, most of which were produced by Samuel Chamberlain (1895-1975), a veteran of World War I, an architecture professor at MIT, and a photographer/printmaker who produced a series of excellent and popular books on New England locales.  Most of these books were signed by Chamberlain, and are welcome additions to the Watkinson’s collections relating to architecture, photography, and New England-ana.


What to Expect from your 19thC doctor

   Posted by: rring    in Classes

Yesterday we hosted professor Karen Miller’s class on ” Female Bodies in the Nineteenth Century,” and the students examined a myriad of sources, including frontier newspaper ads from the 1880’s, issues of Harper’s Weekly from the 1860s and 1890s, huckster medical guides, and legitimate obstetric manuals spanning the 19th century.  The students took turns presenting sources they were given (at random), and generally agreed that the parallels and the differences between Victorian-age and modern advice on beauty, child-rearing, and proper behavior for women were fascinating.


An assortment of sources, all printed in 1812, relating to events and issues around the world, are currently on display to show off the breadth of the Watkinson collection.  There are 39 items grouped into topics (war, religion, literature, science, economics, American travels, world travels).  The image to the left is from a popular edition of an account of the Lewis & Clark expedition.

The following is one of my favorite items in the exhibition:

Robert Southey, Omniana; or Horae otiosiores (London, 1812)

Robert Southey, the son of a linen draper, was born in Bristol in 1774.  After his father’s death an uncle sent him to Westminster School but he was expelled in 1792 after denouncing flogging in the school magazine.  In 1794 Southey met and befriended  Samuel Taylor Coleridge; the two developed radical political and religious views and planned to emigrate to Pennsylvania to set up a commune, which was predictably abandoned.  Southey gradually lost his radical opinions.  In 1807 he was rewarded with an annual allowance by the Tory government, and in 1813 he was appointed poet laureate.  Lord Byron and William Hazlitt accused him of betraying his political principles for money.

Essentially a writer’s notebook, this volume is comprised of 246 broad-ranging anecdotes derived from observation and reading—including such topics as “Mexican tennis,” chess, biography (deploring the “sharking booksellers” who dissect a “great” man’s life immediately on his death), stationers in Spain, and longevity.  The contents are always surprising, shedding light on contemporary concerns, and displaying the ironic wit and curiosity of the poet.


Budding Curators from the Freshman Class!

   Posted by: rring    in Classes

Yesterday afternoon we were happy to host Erin Valentino’s First Year seminar (“The Information Age & the Digital Divide”), as the students cover a unit on print culture and book history.  Each student has picked a book from the Watkinson (which range in date from ca. 1400 (a medieval Book of Hours) to 1860 (a guide for sailors) as a focus for their research.  Each student will write a contextualizing label, and all of the books (or scans, for the most valuable) will be placed on display in the Main Library’s atrium.  The “opening” event of this exhibition will be held during Common Hour on Tuesday, October 23rd.


“This little bird was by mistake engraved, and named after my friend W. Swainson, Esq., during my absence from London, one drawing having been accidentally substituted for another.  It is in reality the young of the Black and Yellow Warbler, and was intended to form part of the Plate which will represent the adult male and female of that species.  My good friend will, I know, excuse this mistake, as I have honoured a beautiful new species with his name.

… you will permit me, kind reader, to postpone the habits of this species until you see the whole group together.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 260 [excerpted].