Sunday, March 1, 2015

Roger Tory Peterson Photographs

“We are tinkering with the ecosystems of the world, and do not yet know enough about these natural systems to know how much tinkering they will stand, and whether we can retreat safely if we suddenly find ourselves overextended.”  - Roger Tory Peterson (1)

The striking beauty of nature is a major theme running through the Roger Tory Peterson Photographs collection. Peterson (1908 - 1996) was an American naturalist and ornithologist who is largely credited with making birdwatching accessible to non-experts with his seminal 1934 publication A Field Guide to the Birds: A Completely New Guide to All the Birds of Eastern and Central North America (2). The Guide’s remarkable influence and success was due in large part to Peterson’s original system of species identification as well as his more than five hundred painstaking species drawings and descriptions. Peterson went on to publish more field guides, expanding to birds of other regions, and to different organisms. The Peterson Photographs collection housed in Special Collections was donated to Brandeis by Arlan Ettinger in April 2014 and exhibits Peterson’s love of travel and wildlife. The fifty one-of-a-kind photographs of wildlife around the world it contains show each subject in its natural setting. While birds of all types, from penguins to pelicans, are the subject of most of the photos in the collection, other organismsincluding butterflies, seals, and even a capybaraare pictured as well.

Peterson was greatly concerned with the preservation of wildlife and though some of his early studies were based on bird study skins, he soon began to speak of photography as the ideal means of “capturing” a bird. He felt that, more than merely capturing an image, photography allowed one to engage with a bird in its environment, without hunting or harming it. A talented painter, Peterson included his drawings and paintings throughout his field guides, but wildlife photography was his true passion. Through photography, science and art could become one.

Peterson’s lifelong championing of wildlife preservation and conservation went beyond the realm of photography. Along with Rachel Carson he was a vocal critic of the use of DDT -- first cautioning against the use of the poison in 1948 after conducting a study with fellow scientists. Peterson noted that though DDT did not seem to harm birds in the study, it was dangerous to use such a chemical without knowing more about its wider effects. He was proved to be right; in 1957, Peterson observed the loss of young osprey in the population near his home in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and began experimenting to find the cause, eventually linking the decrease to DDT in eggs. By 1962, with the completion of his study and the publication of Carson’s Silent Spring, Peterson was fully convinced of the harmful effects of DDT, and started to fight for conservation in earnest. He appeared in front of government committees and even the Department of Agriculture, and would continue to monitor the osprey population for years after DDT was outlawed in 1972. During this time, he also broadened his conservation interests from birds and pesticides to include larger issues in wildlife conservation. For his environmentalist efforts, he won a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980 and was nominated for two Nobel Prizes.

Peterson’s love of photography and nature come through in his vibrant photographs. From sweeping landscapes to close-ups to lively group shots, the personalities and behavior of his subjects are made clear through Peterson’s lens. To create each shot, Peterson aligned himself with the environment of these creatures—and his photographs brings the un-staged natural world together with beautifully composed art. The Peterson photographs provide a glimpse into how Peterson himself saw nature, and how we wanted it to be seen. In viewing these photographs, one feels the wonder and awe Peterson must have felt toward his subjects, and one shares his appreciation of wildlife’s vivid and natural beauty.

(1) Peterson, Roger Tory. "Addressing the Needs of All Our Wildlife." New York Times, June 15, 1986. General OneFile. web, accessed February 112015.

(2) Peterson, Roger Tory. A Field Guide to the Birds: A Completely New Guide to All the Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980. 4th ed. available at Brandeis (QL681 .P45 1980)

For more information, see: Carlson, Douglas. Roger Tory Peterson: A Biography. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007. Online access via Onesearch

Description by Brittany Joyce, Classical Studies and Italian Studies undergraduate student and Archives & Special Collections assistant.
Photographs by Roger Tory Peterson.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologica

Endeavoring to avoid these and other like faults, we shall try, by God's help, to set forth whatever is included in this sacred doctrine as briefly and clearly as the matter itself may allow” [1]With these words, Thomas Aquinas concluded his brief introduction to his Summa theologica (written between 1265 and 1274), which remains one of the most important documents in the history of Christianity. In the text, Aquinas applied Aristotelian philosophy to Catholic theology, outlining a philosophical framework supporting Catholic belief. Brandeis is fortunate to hold a beautiful example of the third part (Tertia pars) of the Summa. This part of Aquinas’s text treats the subjects of the incarnation and life of Christ, explicating the Catholic mystery of the union of the divine and the human, before turning to a philosophical defense of the sacraments. This mid-fifteenth century manuscript of the Summa contains one hundred fifty-seven leaves written in a single hand, and spent several centuries in the library of a Carthusian monastery in Bavaria. It was donated to Brandeis by Peter H. Brandt [2]

Aquinas (1225-1274) was a Dominican friar and theologian who created the Summa to aid beginning theology students. His text is highly structured, a masterwork of the scholastic method. It is divided into questions, each of which is discussed through a series of objections to that question, followed by an answer to the question and answers to each objection. As it dealt with the whole of Catholic theology, this approach provided a philosophical, logical basis for Catholic belief, and represented a monumental shift in Catholic theology. Aquinas, of course, did not exist in a vacuum. The general structure of his philosophy was Aristotelian; while much of the classical tradition had been largely lost in the West, it had been preserved in the Islamic world. Aristotelian thought in particular played an important role in the intellectual life of the Muslim world. There it had become a subject of study for numerous scholars, some of whom are cited in the Summa (most notably the Andalusian polymath Averroes, referred to as “the commentator” by Aquinas). Because of the novel intellectual exchanges taking place between the Christian and Muslim worlds occurring as a part of the Reconquista of Spain, Aquinas was able to take advantage of newly accessible Aristotelian literature and commentary.

Compared with other theologians or philosophers, Aquinas’s continued importance more than seven centuries after his death is extraordinary. In 1910, Pope Pius X underlined the continued importance of Aquinas to the Catholic Church: “St. Thomas perfected and augmented still further by the almost angelic quality of his intellect all this superb patrimony of wisdom which he inherited from his predecessors and applied it to prepare, illustrate and protect sacred doctrine in the minds of men...The reason is that the capital theses in the philosophy of St. Thomas are not to be placed in the category of opinions capable of being debated one way or another, but are to be considered as the foundations upon which the whole science of natural and divine things is based; if such principles are once removed or in any way impaired, it must necessarily follow that students of the sacred sciences will ultimately fail to perceive so much as the meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are proposed by the magistracy of the Church” [3].

The Summa thus remains a keystone of both Christian theology and Western philosophy. In the words of a leading Thomist scholar, “the ‘luck’ of the Summa was that it was a textbook...its durability can be explained by the generations of professors and students who read and reread it, pored over it, commented on it, and made it relevant, keeping it alive” [4].  Aquinas’s proofs for the existence of God, termed the “Five Ways” (Quinque viae), were debated by such thinkers as Hume and Kant, and contemporary writers such as Richard Dawkins have been compelled to engage with and contest Aquinas’s proofs in order to legitimize their own arguments about the place of Christianity in our time.

Aquinas, through his Summa, re-conceptualized Christian theology in Europe by connecting Christianity and classical thought. His popularity created a new school of philosophical inquiry, called Thomism. In the Western tradition, he outlined the notion of a “just war” and advanced novel arguments about the meaning and purpose of human life – all intertwined with and based in his Catholicism. The Summa was a revolution in European thought and can be easily viewed at the Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections, as a part of the pre-1850 Western manuscripts collection, alongside several different editions of the Book of Hours, a biography of Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia), and a number of stunningly illuminated medieval manuscripts.

Description by Sean Beebe, doctoral student in History and Archives & Special Collections assistant. 

[1] For English translations of the Summa, see or

[2] For a detailed description of the manuscript and its history, see the Spotlight by Adam Rutledge, “The First Bookplate,” 

[3] Pope Pius X, Doctoris Angelici, 29 June 1914.

[4] Torrell, Jean-Pierre. Aquinas’ Summa: Background, Structure, and Reception. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2005, p. 132.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

¡Jovenes! (circa 1937)

An anti-Fascist poster from the Spanish Civil War entitled ¡Jovenes! is a remarkable new addition to Brandeis University’s Archives & Special Collections. Donated by Gaillard T. Hunt, this poster is notable for its artistic and historical content. It has recently undergone significant conservation work by the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC).

Depicting a naked man and woman holding aloft a globe, ¡Jovenes! (Youth!) proclaims the titular youth of Spain as the hope for that country’s future, and calls on them to join the Transport Workers’ Union. It is a stunning piece of graphic public art which includes many signs and symbols of the Republican faction (including the words “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality” and a black and red dove inscribed with the initials of two major anarchist and union organizations).

The poster joins roughly two hundred fifty other anti-Fascist Spanish Civil War posters (brought or sent to the United States by American volunteers in the War) held by Archives & Special Collections. While the poster’s text and imagery have lost no power, the physical item itself has suffered damage over the roughly eighty years since it was first printed (circa 1937). Posters are not created to last, and, as with most items of that type and age, it has yellowed and become fragile and brittle. Having been stored folded, it has torn and been abraded along the fold lines and it arrived at Brandeis in two large pieces. While a significant artistic and historical item, this piece was in no shape to be used by visitors and researchers. Additionally, the damage made it difficult to store the poster in such a way as to prevent further degradation and tearing. As such, the decision was made to have it repaired.

In the world of archives and special collections, conservation work is fairly unusual. This may seem odd – why not repair everything? In the first place, this work is expensive and time consuming. In the second, as a guiding rule, archivists attempt to present historical artifacts without commentary or bias, and this includes displaying items as they are, rather than through a filter of repair. It is understood that the damage an object has experienced is a part of its history, and to remove or disguise that damage would be untruthful to the story that object has to tell. That being said, archivists and special collections librarians are also strongly invested in providing free and open access to holdings, and if an item is too damaged to be handled, there can be no such access for our visitors. So, when conservation work is called for, it is almost always to restore the item, not to its prime, but to a stable state where it can be safely seen and used by visitors, researchers and staff, and where it can be stored without being in danger of any further damage. Equally important, all conservation work must always be reversible.

At the NEDCC the poster was analyzed and assessed for treatment and in consultation with our staff, including our preservationist, the extent of the conservation work was planned. Images were taken before, during and after the process, which included dry cleaning methods, a filtered water bath, and mending of tears and insertion of fragments with wheat starch paste. Finally, the poster was lined with toned Japanese paper and wheat starch paste, humidified, stretched dry and encapsulated.

Because of this conservation work ¡Jovenes! is now able to be an active part of our collections and can be safely seen and used by our patrons who wish to investigate the political, economic and artistic history it so splendidly represents.

Brandeis University's Archives & Special Collections holds a significant amount of material relating to the Spanish Civil War, including over 4,700 books, close to 400 periodicals and roughly 250 posters. In addition, the Charles Korvin photograph collection comprises 244 black and white images taken during the War. Follow the links below for further information about these holdings:

Description by Surella Evanor Seelig, Archives & Special Collections Coordinator.

Photos by NEDCC.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Le Istitutioni Harmoniche by Gioseffo Zarlino, 1558

One of the most important works in the history of music theory, Gioseffo Zarlino’s 1558 treatise Le Istitutioni Harmoniche sought to unite music theory with the craft of composition. In his text, Zarlino teaches composers to study music using both reason and the senses in order to make their compositions more perfect. It was not enough to merely write music with a pleasing sound; Zarlino believed that a composer should also understand the scientific principles determining traits which make music appealing. As part of the The Walter F. and Alice Gorham Collection of Early Music Imprints, Brandeis University’s Special Collections holds a unique copy of this groundbreaking treatise.

Although not an uncommon text to find in university libraries, this particular copy--a second printing--is made uniquely fascinating by the handwritten annotations found throughout the text. The margins of 96 of the volume’s 347 pages contain notes from the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century in at least two different hands. In some places, the writing has been crossed out using the same brown ink. These comments provide early responses to Zarlino’s theories. Unfortunately, the outer edges of these annotations have been lost. This particular copy of Le Istitutioni Harmoniche was originally held in the library of Gualfardo Bercanovich, an Italian composer of the late nineteenth century. Each book in Bercanovich’s library was identically bound. In the case of this Zarlino text, the trimming required for binding removed some of the commentary.

The text of Le Istitutioni Harmoniche is divided into four books. Book One reviews the “philosophical, cosmological, and mathematical basis of music” (1). Aside from summarizing traditional classifications of music, Zarlino’s main focus in this section is the proper handling of mathematical proportions in music. Book Two builds upon this foundation by establishing Zarlino’s preferred tuning system, syntonic diatonic tuning. This method was based on ratios proposed by Ptolemy and allowed for a greater number of in-tune consonances than the Pythagorean system also in use at the time. By dividing the string of a monochord into six parts instead of four, additional perfect consonances could be formed (2).

Arguably the most lasting portion of Zarlino’s treatise, Book Three presents rules for counterpoint that were passed down through generations of composers and are still in use today. In this section, Zarlino adapts existing contrapuntal methods to allow for more modern tuning. He divides the useable intervals into specific groupings based on degrees of perfection, and establishes rules for voice leading and the placement of specific types of intervals. These are not rules invented by Zarlino, but passed down to him from his teacher, Adrian Willaert. However, Zarlino was the first to clearly articulate these rules in writing (3).

In the final section, Book Four, Zarlino discusses his twelve-mode system. Again based on Willaert with significant influences from Glaurean, Zarlino expands the traditional Greek modal system from eight modes to twelve. He also strips the modes of their traditional Greek names, simply identifying them by number. He discusses each mode in detail before ending his treatise with a rare discussion of the finer points of composition, such as text expression and underlay.

Aside from his work as a theorist, Zarlino served as the maestro di capella of St. Marco’s Cathedral in Venice from 1565 until his death in 1590. He composed motets and madrigals and was the teacher of several important theorists, including Artusi, Merulo, and Galilei. Although the majority of Le Istitutioni Harmoniche would eventually become outdated as compositional styles and theories of harmony shifted, Zarlino’s rules for counterpoint are still relevant. His treatise laid the groundwork for the musical development to come.

Click here to read the Spotlight on the entire Walter F. and Alice Gorham collection.
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of the Walter F. and Alice Gorham collection.

(1) Claude V. Palisca, “Zarlino, Gioseffo,” Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, Accessed Nov. 25, 2014.
(2) Claude V. Palisca, introduction to The Art of Counterpoint, by Gioseffo Zarlino, trans. Guy A. Marco and Claude V. Palisca (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), xiii-xxvi.
(3) Ibid.

Description by Hannah Spencer, graduate student in Musicology and Archives & Special Collections assistant.