Thursday, September 1, 2016

Zora Neale Hurston’s Jonah’s Gourd Vine

University Archives & Special Collections proudly announces the recent acquisition of a first edition of Zora Neale Hurston’s debut novel Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1934). Hurston (January 7, 1891 – January 28, 1960) was an American author, folklorist, and anthropologist whose work is closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance. She published several pieces on black folklore and culture in the American South and her work includes four novels and over fifty plays, short stories, and essays. Her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is widely considered to be a vastly influential work of both African-American and women’s literature.[1] Hurston inscribed this particular copy of Jonah’s Gourd Vine to Kate Thompson, daughter of anthropologist Harold Thompson, with the words “To/ Kate Thompson/ A gold throne-angel/ with shiny wings/ Zora Neale Hurston.”[2] This book, along with its restored, rare dust jacket was procured through the generous support of the Ann and Abe Effron Fund.

Jonah’s Gourd Vine is a semi-autobiographical narrative of a philanderingAfrican-American preacher named John Pearson as his family travels from Alabama to Eatonville, Florida (Hurston’s hometown).[3] Hurston wove into the text of the novel elements of her parent’s life and marriage, as well as her own education and anthropological research. The book’s title is derived from a passage from the Book of Jonah, which describes a vine being eaten away by a serpent.

This first edition of Jonah’s Gourd Vine is a beautiful artifact of the art, literature, and society of the Harlem Renaissance. Its stunning, pictorial dust jacket vividly portrays detailed scenes from the novel. The introduction is by Fannie Hurst, a noted Jewish-American author and activist of the early twentieth century, and writer, photographer, and fellow cultural luminary Carl Van Vechten is quoted on the dust jacket. Both Hurst and Van Vechten had close ties to many members of the Harlem Renaissance.

Hurst served as Hurston’s patron, while Hurston was Hurst’s trusted confidant, also sometimes working as Hurst’s chauffer, maid, and secretary. Though the relationship between the two was complex and often fraught with racial and socioeconomic tensions, Hurst, along with Van Vechten, was strongly supportive of the extremely intelligent and talented Hurston. Hurst’s and Van Vechten’s patronage included ensuring Hurston’s admission into Barnard College, where she finished the degree she had begun at Howard University.[4] Hurston went on to conduct graduate work in Anthropology at Columbia University.

On its own, this novel is an excellent addition to Brandeis University’s Special Collections, but its research value is greatly enhanced due to its multiple connections to other holdings in the department. Special Collections is home to a large collection of Fannie Hurst’s papers, and included among these materials is a letter from Hurst to Hurston. In addition, Special Collections’ Carl Van Vechten photographs collection includes images of Hurst, Hurston and a number of other figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Lastly, Special Collections is home to other literary works of the Harlem Renaissance, including several works by Langston Hughes, with whom Hurston collaborated on the 1930 play Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life.

1. Wikipedia: Zora Neale Hurston.
2. Bookseller's note.
3. Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. Jonah's Gourd Vine (novel, 1934)" (digital exhibit).
4. Jewish Women’s Archive Encyclopedia: “Fannie Hurst.”

Description by Matthew Chernick, Masters Student in Comparative Humanities and Archives & Special Collections assistant.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Dr. and Mrs. Bernard H. Kessner Collection of Doughty Birds

It sometimes surprises our visitors to learn that Special Collections is home not just to books and papers, but to objects as well. Objects, just like books, can tell important stories—stories about their creators, stories about their owners, stories about the world in which they were made and used—and we can learn from objects in much the same way that we can learn from textual documents. Take, for example, our collection of Chinese snuff bottles...which is both visually stunning as well as utilitarian in nature, as these bottles were originally meant for daily use. Thus, in one collection we simultaneously learn about popular customs and class distinctions as well as about the artistic methods employed in China during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

One particularly fascinating set of objects proudly housed in Special Collections is the Dr. and Mrs. Bernard H. Kessner Collection of Doughty Birds. This collection consists of seven hand-crafted bone china sculptures of birds (and one bee!) designed (and signed) by famed British sculptor and potter Dorothy Susan Doughty (1892-1962). Doughty, known mainly for her American bird models, also designed models based on English birdlife during the second half of her life. The seven porcelain sculptures were fired at the Royal Worcester Ceramic Works in Stoke-on-Trent, England, a city famed since the 17th century for its industrial-scale pottery manufacturing. Royal Worcester is one of the oldest remaining English porcelain brands in existence today and has been granted Royal Warrants three times since its founding in 1751. Donated in 1972 by Dr. and Mrs. Bernard H. Kessner, the sculptures are: Female Yellow-headed Blackbird and Spiderwort, Male Yellow-headed Blackbird and Spiderwort, Bee in Apple Blossom, Female Yellowthroat and Water Hyacinth, Male Yellowthroat and Water Hyacinth, Female Scarlet Tanager and White Oak Spray, and Male Scarlet Tanager and White Oak Spray.

Whimsical, natural, beautiful, delicate, and strong, Doughty’s sculptures were clearly meant to be viewed from several angles – each angle providing the viewer with a different perspective of the bird in its natural habitat. Doughty posed her birds in an array of emotive attitudes and always depicted both the male and female of species. Upon close inspection, the viewer is able to see the lifelike expressions on the birds’ faces, to notice the distinction between their individual markings, and to find the hidden details. It can be easy to lose yourself in the tiny world surrounding each bird, similar to the way you might lose yourself in the glory of a birdwatching excursion.

The Kessner Collection is not the only gateway to nature visitors will find in Special Collections, and in fact, it nicely complements two other collections held in this department. One of these collections is a set of spectacular wildlife photographs taken by famed naturalist, avid photographer, and editor of the Peterson field guides, Roger Tory Peterson. Special Collections is also home to naturalist and painter John James Audubon’s stunning set of life-sized, hand-coloured prints entitled Birds of America (these are bound in a four-volume set of double-elephant folios, each as large as one of our Reading Room tables!). Doughty, Peterson, and Audubon each portrayed the birdlife of America, not in isolation, but in the context of its natural habitat. All three artists portray their winged subjects surrounded by the flora and fauna among which they existed—some perched near shrubs, some standing half in the water, some with bees buzzing nearby.

The Doughty bird sculptures, like Peterson’s and Audubon’s works, do more than merely depict American birdlife. They are pieces of art, pleasing to the eye as well as to the mind. They should prove interesting to art historians, botanists, ornithologists, and amateur birders alike, and all three serve as primary source examples for the study of art, birds, and plant-life in America over the past 200 years.

The Kessner Collection of Doughty Birds is open to all researchers and visitors, whether you are looking for a little natural beauty to brighten up your day, or to conduct a study of the flora and fauna of America. While several of the statues are on-site in the University Archives & Special Collections Department (Goldfarb Library, Level 2), a few are on loan and can be viewed at the Rose Art Museum as part of Mark Dion's permanent installation “The Undisciplined Collector.”

Description by Chloe Morse-Harding, Reference Archivist and Surella Evanor Seelig, Archives & Special Collections Outreach Librarian.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Franz Lehman letters and other material, 1943-1949

The ninety-one letters and official documents that make up the Franz Lehman letters and other material collection at Brandeis University’s Robert D. Farber Archives & Special Collections provide a fascinating, touching, and rare personal look at the myriad experiences of Franz Lehman and his family during and after the Second World War. Franz Lehman served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946, first as a Private First Class and then as a Corporal. His German language skills helped to qualify him for service in the American military government that was tasked with administrating a conquered and devastated Germany in the months and years after the war. Lehman’s letters home detail his experiences at Fort Ord, California, in England preparing for Operation Overlord (1944), and during the Allied advance across France, Luxembourg, and finally into western Germany. His letters contain detailed descriptions and opinions on the conduct of American and French military governments in postwar Germany. They also address the process of finding and prosecuting members of the Nazi party and the efforts of the “Monuments Men” to locate documents, art, and cultural artifacts in the ruins of Germany. His letters, as well as those of his family and friends, also address the Lehman family’s quest to help their relative, Franz’s Aunt Hedi, who was held captive at the German concentration camp Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia.

Lehman’s attempts to help his aunt are evidence of a lesser-known but no doubt common experience for Jewish families during and after the Second World War. On July 19, 1944, Lehman received a letter from the “Help the Deportees Committee” of the British Jewish charity Union of Self-Aid Organisations for Relief and Rescue of German and Austrian Nazi Victims. The letter informed Lehman that it was impossible to send money to Theresienstadt, as Lehman had apparently attempted to do, due to an agreement between the Portuguese and German governments. That agreement also stipulated the types of parcels that could be sent to the camp, and required written evidence that the person to be helped was in fact in the camp.[1] This red tape was an additional humiliation imposed by a Nazi regime that by then was in terminal decline, and once that regime was defeated Lehman himself set out to try to find and help his aunt. His visit to Theresienstadt (which took him through Munich, Ulm, and Nuremberg) appears to have been fruitless and he concludes a July 4, 1945 letter about the trip by saying: “But unfortunately of aunt Hedi, nothing can I report yet. That I have to move now the next few days is also unfortunately [sic] for her, if to Neustadt, she wanted to come.”[2]

Also of interest is Lehman’s account of his military unit’s travels across France and Luxembourg and into Germany, as well as his account of the setting up of the American military government in Gau Westmark, a region of Germany that included portions of the contemporary states of Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate. Lehman reflects at length on the situations of the French, Luxembourgish, and German peoples in the wake of the war, on the social displacement caused by collaboration and postwar purges of those who collaborated with the German occupations of France and Luxembourg, and on the situation of Jewish, Russian, and other displaced persons in postwar Europe.

The U.S. Third Army’s advance across Europe initially took Lehman to France and Luxembourg. On January 18, 1945, shortly after his arrival in Luxembourg, Lehman had the chance to compare his impressions of the two countries. “The French remind me now of when I had to read De Bello Gallico. In it Caesar said about the French that they were “cupido rerum novarum,” hungry for changes, and maybe that makes them the advance guards of all things pleasant and good to live for. Here in the funny little concoction of a country [Luxembourg], their motto is “Mir wolle Beiwe wat mir sin,” [“I want to remain what I am”] the veritable glue that ties them down from ever changing.”[3] If Lehman was struck by the austerity and conservatism of Luxembourg’s culture, he was more pleased by their treatment of those accused of collaboration, which he compared favorably to the purge then occurring in France. In a January 23, 1945 letter he notes the “realistic” manner in which the Luxembourgish dealt with suspects, which included “no public shavings of women’s heads like in France.”[4]

Upon arriving in postwar Germany, Lehman’s letters begin to describe the process of putting in place a U.S. military government and the army’s efforts at bringing former Nazis and war criminals to justice. His descriptions of his own work in the military government and the conditions in postwar Germany are richly detailed and contain many insights and observations. The U.S. military government headquarters were set up in what Lehman describes as the “palace” of former Gauleiter Joseph Bürckel. Lehman writes of how some Germans would approach the occupiers to ask for help or offer services at the beginning of the occupation, insisting that they had been opposed to Nazism all along and speaking in “a sort of petulant tone and so “bieder” [respectable] it burns me up [so] that I just turn them out.”[5]

Lehman was struck by the sheer quantity of files kept by the Nazi administration, stating that “there are records, files and what not to float a battleship in.” Lehman’s work put him in close contact with the German population, as well as with Displaced Persons (probably former forced laborers) from throughout Hitler’s fallen European empire. He writes that he and two other soldiers were responsible for moving these files with the help of twenty-five “Poles, Russians, Italians and French” from a nearby Displaced Persons camp.[6] In addition to dealing with the human consequences of Nazi policy, the U.S. military government sought out qualified Germans to administer the region. In an April 24, 1945 letter, Lehman describes some of these characters. One was a famous history professor who had a lot to say about the history of Germany, and whom Lehman described as “the ideological dreamer.” “Another much more refreshing type was a tall slightly stooped young doctor with glowing eyes and a tremendous forehead and a young voice that could vibrate over the weariness of the figure that we had considered as the new potential leader,” Lehman writes, noting the contrast between generations. He stresses the difficult circumstances facing these men as they try to create a functioning German government while still “having to lean on our [the U.S. military government’s] power and our good will.”[7]

Lehman’s letters show his efforts to come to terms with the harm that Nazism and the war had done to German culture and social life. In a May 10, 1945 letter addressing the end of the war in Europe two days earlier, Lehman has this to say about the effects of Nazi propaganda: “Germany has not only lost the war, it has lost its future and its past ceased to exist since 1933. […] But now, even the German language was made a servant to diabolical double talk that one cannot use the language without being conscious of all of its devious misconceptions that have been created by the Nazi language that was further coaxed and cultured in the steamy plants of the Propaganda Ministry. I cannot conceive an indigenous German government that could issue its ordinances or a German paper talking about things that would mean just what it says.”[8]

Lehman’s letters contain detailed and critical reflections on many aspects of the occupation, including several interesting observations regarding the behavior of the United States’ French allies. He criticized the French authorities harshly for their “noncompliance with orders given by Eisenhower, strife and continuous confiscations of civilian goods” as well as rapes by French troops and his sense that the French lacked a consistent policy toward Germany.[9] His concerns intensified in July 1945 when the French took over the occupation of the former Westmark from the Americans. On July 16, 1945, he complained that the French were replacing the German administration chosen by the Americans with a government that would be a “rubber stamp” for their military government, and France was angling to annex the Saarland on the basis of “historical and racial points.”[10]

Franz Lehman’s letters are full of information, emotion, wit, and insight, and will be an invaluable source for those seeking to understand the experience of American soldiers in Europe during the Second World War, the experience of American Jews during that time, and the processes of military occupation, Denazification, and reconstruction in early postwar Germany. This collection provides a striking and deeply personal glimpse into one man’s unique and unusually broad experience of World War II and its aftermath.

Click here for the Finding Aid to the Franz Lehman letters and other material collection

1. Franz Lehman to family, 25 December 1944, Box 1, Folder 38, Franz Lehman letters and other material collection.
2. Franz Lehman to family, 4 July 1945, Box 1, Folder 70, Lehman collection.
3. Franz Lehman to family, 18 January 1945, Box 1, Folder 40, Lehman collection.
4. Franz Lehman to family, 23 January 1945, Box 1, Folder 44, Lehman collection.
5. Franz Lehman to family, 11 April 1945, Box 1, Folder 57, Lehman collection.
6. Franz Lehman to family, 3 April 1945, Box 1, Folder 55, Lehman collection.
7. Franz Lehman to family, 24 April 1945, Box 1, Folder 59, Lehman collection.
8. Franz Lehman to family, 10 May 1945, Box 1, Folder 61, Lehman collection.
9. Franz Lehman to family, 31 May 1945, Box 1, Folder 64, Lehman collection.
10. Franz Lehman to family, 16 July 1945, Box 1, Folder 72, Lehman collection.

description by Drew Flanagan, Archives & Special Collections Assistant and PhD candidate in History

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Burmese Palm Leaf Manuscripts

The Brandeis Archives and Special Collections Department is fortunate to own two 19th-century Burmese Buddhist texts, handwritten on palm leaves. Donated by Philip Pinsof, these make up part of the department’s Rare, Non-Western Manuscripts collection. The language of both manuscripts is Burmese but the exact dates and origins of the manuscripts are unknown. The more complete of the two manuscripts in Brandeis’s collection (#38) is composed of, literally, sixty-six leaves – rectangular, dried, cut, and smoked Palmyra palm leaves, or peisa – on which, using ink, a scribe has copied what is most likely a Buddhist text. The handwriting is beautifully clear, with little decorative flourish. The leaves measure roughly 5 cm wide by 50 cm long, and the manuscript is bound on each side with a wooden board. The edges of the two protective boards have been painted in red and maroon, and the edges of the manuscript leaves themselves have been gilded. The whole piece is held closed with two fabric cords which pierce the leaves and wood at either end, and allow the reader to open the manuscript like a fan. The second manuscript, #39, is a fragment of 25 palm leaves, tied with fabric cords threaded through the leaves, but without the protective boards. This is believed to be a Buddhist history of priests.

The use of palm leaves as material for manuscripts has a long tradition, dating to the pre-paper era - it is believed they were being used as far back as 5 CE. Likely having originated in India, palm-leaf manuscripts have appeared throughout South and Southeast Asia. It is believed that the initial durability and toughness of palm leaves made them ideal for Buddhist monks and others to use them as a writing surface, and, “unlike wood and bamboo, palm leaves require a simple manufacturing process of boiling and drying to render them suitable for writing.”(1) Unfortunately, due to the high humidity of the climate in Southeast Asia, palm leaves decay rapidly, and therefore it is rare to find examples of these delicately constructed manuscripts that are more than 200 years old. In fact, it was common practice to copy the manuscripts to new palm leaves as the old ones weakened and began to disintegrate. This practice only came to an end relatively recently, in the 19th century, with the advent of industrial-scale printing presses.(2) Most of the older examples which have been preserved are generally those that were carried by Buddhist missionaries to Central Asia, where a colder, drier climate – one less destructive to the materials – was prevalent. The earliest surviving palm-leaf manuscript dates to 9th century Nepal, and the most recent examples to be found date (like Brandeis’s manuscripts) to the 19th century.

Some scholars believe that the physical nature of the palm leaves was actually a central factor in the development of rounded scripts in Southeast Asia. Rounded writing would have been easier to copy onto leaves without causing damage to the writing surface, while more angular scripts were likely to split the leaf. (2) As well, the shape of the palm leaf itself was copied and can be seen in manuscripts made from a wide variety of materials, such as birch-bark (India), cotton cloth (Burma), and copper-plate charters (South and South-east Asia). “After the introduction of paper to India by the Muslims in the early 13th century, certain types of manuscripts retained the characteristic oblong shape of palm-leaf manuscripts and even the blank space in the text, originally left by the scribe to provide room for the cord; this became a focal point for decoration.”(3) Compared to the more ornamental Kammavaca palm manuscript (generally used for formal monastic ceremonies), the palm leaf manuscript is rather plain, yet still beautiful in its own way. Brandeis’s two palm-leaf manuscripts are available to all visitors to be viewed by appointment.

(1) and (4) Ward, Gerald W. R., (editor). The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art. Oxford University Press, Oxford: 2008, p. 356.
(2) Wikipedia. Palm-leaf Manuscript. Accessed June 6, 2016.
(3) Steever, Sanford “Tamil Writing;” Kuipers & McDermott, “Insular Southeast Asian Scripts,” in Daniels and Bright, eds., The World's Writing Systems, Oxford University Press, New York: 1996, p. 426, 480.

Description by Max Close, recent History graduate and former Archives & Special Collections assistant.