Archive for January, 2013

“These birds become at once so abundant, that it would be more difficult not to meet one, than to observe a dozen or more, during a morning walk.  Their motions are as animated as their music.  They pass from twig to twig, upwards or downwards, examining every opening bud and leaf, and securing an insect or a larva at every leap.  Their flight is short, light, and easy.  Their migrations are performed during the day, and by passing from one low bush to another, for these birds seldom ascend to the tops of even moderately tall trees.  Like all our other visitors, they move eastward as the season opens, and do not reach the Middle States before the end of April, or the beginning of May.  Notwithstanding this apparently slow progress, they reach and disperse over a vast expanse of country.  I have met with some in every part of the United States which I have visited.

…The figure of a male has been given on a branch of the tree called in Louisiana the Pride of China, an ornamental plant, with fragrant flowers.The wood is extremely valuable on account of its great durability, and is employed for making posts and rails for the fences.  Being capable of receiving a beautiful polish, it is also frequently made into various articles of furniture…”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 328-329 [excerpted].


Old textbooks used again!

   Posted by: rring    in Classes

Tonight we hosted Jack Dougherty’s EDUC 300 course entitled Education Reform: Past & Present.  The students spent an hour or so examining an array of titles from the Henry Barnard collection.  Among those the students used were McGuffey’s readers and spellers from the 1850s; geographies by Jesse Olney from the 1840s and ’50s, and those of David Camp and Joseph Colton of the 1860s and ’70s; Samuel Goodrich’s The young American; or, Book of government and law (1842); and several readers for both young men and women form the 1840s and ’50s.

As is often the case, more interesting conversations come from pairing the students up with a book and giving them a list of questions to answer, rather than standing in front of them and talking for an hour.


Student Exhibitions!

   Posted by: rring    in Classes, College Archives, exhibitions

Despite the snow this evening, we had a gratifying turnout for the opening of our two graduate student exhibitions: the first on Trinity and Bates College ca. 1890-1930, and the second on Christmas traditions represented in the Watkinson. This exhibition (and the two printed catalogs which accompany it) were part of the requirements which the students fulfilled in American Studies 835: Museum & Library Exhibitions.

Brent Bette, a history teacher at Simsbury High School who is currently completing an M.A. in American Studies at Trinity, discussed his exhibition comparing Trinity and Bates Colleges.  Bette is a graduate of Bates, and has been collecting ephemera relating to his alma mater since graduation.  His items are placed along side those he selected for comparison from the Trinity College Archives.

Jenn Brasfield, also in the American Studies M.A. program, was inspired to put up a Christmas-themed exhibition when she discovered that the Watkinson held an array of British and American Christmas cards dating back to the mid-19th century.

The catalogs (covers below) were written by the students, designed by Michael Russem of Kat Ran Press (Cambridge, MA), and printed at Trinity College.


[NB:  This bird, numbering in the billions in Audubon’s time, is now extinct.  The last one died on Septemer 1, 1914, at the Cincinnati Zoo.]

“The Passenger Pigeon, or, as it is usually named in America, the Wild Pigeon, moves with extreme rapidity, propelling itself by quickly repeated flaps of the wings, which it brings more or less near to the body, according to the degree of velocity which is required . . .

The multitudes of Wild Pigeons in our woods are astonishing . . . In the autumn of 1813, I left my house at Henderson, on the banks of the Ohio, on my way to Louisville. In passing over the Barrens a few miles beyond Hardensburgh, I observed the Pigeons flying from north-east to south-west, in greater numbers than I thought I had ever seen them before, and feeling an inclination to count the flocks that might pass within the reach of my eye in one hour, I dismounted, seated myself on an eminence, and began to mark with my pencil, making a dot for every flock that passed. In a short time finding the task which I had undertaken impracticable, as the birds poured in in countless multitudes, I rose, and counting the dots then put down, found that 163 had been made in twenty-one minutes. I travelled on, and still met more the farther I proceeded. The air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse, the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose.

Whilst waiting for dinner at YOUNG’S inn at the confluence of Salt river with the Ohio, I saw, at my leisure, immense legions still going by, with a front reaching far beyond the Ohio on the west, and the beech-wood forests directly on the east of me. Not a single bird alighted; for not a nut or acorn was that year to be seen in the neighbourhood. They consequently flew so high, that different trials to reach them with a capital rifle proved ineffectual; nor did the reports disturb them in the least. I cannot describe to you the extreme beauty of their aerial evolutions, when a Hawk chanced to press upon the rear of a flock. At once, like a torrent, and with a noise like thunder, they rushed into a compact mass, pressing upon each other towards the centre. In these almost solid masses, they darted forward in undulating and angular lines, descended and swept close over the earth with inconceivable velocity, mounted perpendicularly so as to resemble a vast column, and, when high, were seen wheeling and twisting within their continued lines, which then resembled the coils of a gigantic serpent.

Before sunset I reached Louisville, distant from Hardensburgh fifty-five miles. The Pigeons were still passing in undiminished numbers, and continued to do so for three days in succession. The people were all in arms. The banks of the Ohio were crowded with men and boys, incessantly shooting at the pilgrims, which there flew lower as they passed the river. Multitudes were thus destroyed. For a week or more, the population fed on no other flesh than that of Pigeons, and talked of nothing but Pigeons.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 319-321 [excerpted].

[This lovely plate will be on view until January 11]

“It is during the placid serenity of a beautiful summer night, when the current of the waters moves silently along, reflecting from its smooth surface the silver radiance of the moon, and when all else of animated nature seems sunk in repose, that the Great Horned Owl, one of the Nimrods of the feathered tribes of our forests, may be seen sailing silently and yet rapidly on, intent on the destruction of the objects destined to form his food.  The lone steersman of the descending boat observes the nocturnal hunter, gliding on extended pinions across the river, sailing over one hill and then another, or suddenly sweeping downwards, and again rising in the air like a moving shadow, now distinctly seen, and again mingling with the sombre shades of the surrounding woods, fading into obscurity.  The bark has now floated to some distance, and is opposite the newly cleared patch of ground, the result of a squatter’s first attempt at cultivation, in a place lately shaded by the trees of the forest.  The moon shines brightly on his hut, his slight fence, the newly planted orchard, and a tree, which, spared by the axe, serves as a roosting-place for the scanty stock of poultry which the new comer has procured from some liberal neighbour.  Amongst them nests a Turkey-hen, covering her offspring with extended wings.  The Great Owl, with eyes keen as those of any falcon, is now seen hovering above the place.  He has already espied the quarry, and is sailing in wide circles meditating his plan of attack.  The Turkey-hen, which at another time might be sound asleep, is now, however, so intent on the care of her young brood, that she rises on her legs and purrs so loudly, as she opens her wings and spreads her tail, that she rouses her neighbours, the hens, together with their protector.  The cacklings which they at first emit soon become a general clamour.  The squatter hears the uproar, and is on his feet in an instant, rifle in hand; the priming examined, he gently pushes open his half-closed door, and peeps out cautiously, to ascertain the cause by which his repose has been disturbed.  He observes the murderous owl just alighting on the dead branch of a tall tree, when, raising his never-failing rifle, he takes aim, touches the trigger, and the next instant sees the foe falling dead to the ground.  The bird is unworthy of his farther attention, and is left a prey to some prowling opossum or other carnivorous quadruped.  Again, all around is tranquility.  In this manner falls many a Great Horned Owl on our frontiers, where the species abounds.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 313-314 [excerpted].