Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Paul Iribe's Le Témoin

The French journal of political satire Le Témoin [The Witness], created by Paul Iribe, was not only a scathing report on every aspect of French political life, but also a magnificent display of Iribe’s artwork in its most mature state. The journal, while short-lived—it was distributed weekly from December 10, 1933, to June 30, 1935 (at a price of 1.50 FF), for a total of 69 issues—is noteworthy in its richness and complexity. Le Témoin stopped production during its regular summer hiatus at the end of June 1935, and was never to appear again, as Iribe died shortly before the fall issue was to be released.

It is exceedingly difficult to find any issues of this fascinating journal, let alone the full run, which Brandeis is fortunate to hold. The journal will be of interest to researchers from a wide range of disciplines, including politics, French, history, fine arts, and journalism.

The First Témoin

The 1933-1935 run of Le Témoin owned by Brandeis is in fact the second journal by that name put out by Iribe. Iribe published the first Témoin from 1906 to 1910. This original moin was the first of several newspapers and journals Iribe was to publish and to which he would contribute in his lifetime (including Le Temps, Le Cri de Paris, Le Canard Sauvage, L’Assiette Au Beurre, and Le Mot). The 1906-1910 run is also a wonder of both political satire and art, and a myriad of famous artists (Hermann-Paul and Lyonel Feininger, among others) contributed to its pages, in contrast to the 1933-1935 run, which was illustrated solely by Iribe. It is unclear how many others contributed to the text of the two versions of Le Témoin, although it is quite clear that Iribe was the driving force behind both.

Paul Iribe

While Le Témoin alone can provide endless avenues for scholarship, it is worth noting that it cannot and probably should not be separated from its director and sole artist. Iribe, an intriguing figure in his own right, was known internationally for his early contributions to Art Deco, his illustrations for the fashion industry, his work with the film industry, and, perhaps most famously, his love affair with Coco Chanel. Unfortunately, despite his renown during his lifetime, Iribe and Le Témoin have both been overlooked by the academic and artistic communities. In addition to the rich artistic and intellectual contributions of his published work, Iribe created advertising campaigns for, among other businesses, Ford Motors and Nicolas (the wine merchant); worked extensively with clothing designers, including Paul Poiret, where he first displayed his innovative style of depicting designs worn by active women in the midst of everyday activities, rather than by stiff and posed fashion models; had his own studio, where he focused on decorative art designs, including furniture and fabric; and moved briefly to the United States, where he worked as both costume and set designer on several Hollywood movies (including The Ten Commandments as artistic director for De Mille). The second appearance of Le Témoin can rightly be called the capstone to a varied and successful career.

Le Témoin

Le Témoin, unlike many other politically oriented papers of the period, is witty as well as cutting. Both the art and the text are intelligent, informed, and cleverly designed. There are several basic patterns to Le Témoin: all of the major illustrations (of which there were at least three in every issue) were drawn in the blue, white, and red of the French flag, with the major pieces located on the front and back covers and in the centerfold spread. The main recurring character is Marianne, the anthropomorphized symbol of the nation of France, who was drawn to resemble Coco Chanel in both physical appearance and design aesthetic. The front cover generally depicts the main focus of Iribe’s political critique for that week and is usually straightforward, topical, and political-cartoon-esque in style. Highly stylized, and often shockingly stark, the centerfold illustration focuses on the larger issues faced by France at the time (Marianne features prominently in these) and was rendered in a more thought-provoking and punch-line-driven style. The back cover is always a plug for French industry; whether touting a particular French product, such as the silk of Lyon, or promoting the general importance and vitality of French business, both large and small, these cover illustrations are the most blatantly propagandistic of Iribe’s work. The remaining illustrations Iribe drew in either black and white or using just two of the three tricolors. Recurring text pieces include the inside cover, which contains a letter from the editor/essay (unsigned after the first issue, which was signed only “Le Témoin”).

Now we come to the crux of Le Témoin’s political message. Iribe most often depicted Marianne (i.e., France) in relation to the various leaders of the major Western powers, particularly the United States (Franklin D. Roosevelt), Great Britain (Ramsay MacDonald), Germany (Adolph Hitler), Russia (Joseph Stalin), and Italy (Benito Mussolini). These relationships lay at the core of Iribe’s political agenda, which was distinctly and perhaps myopically nationalistic. Iribe perceived France as allowing itself to be bullied by these other countries, and his nationalism took on a particular cast: less about the superiority of the French nation (its greatness, certainly), and more about the importance of its independence and strength in the face of overbearing foreign influence. Interestingly, Iribe tended only to mock these foreign heads of state qua leaders, as political players rather than as stand-ins for the nations they ran. And while Iribe was not above satirizing these men, he reserved his sharpest critiques for France’s leaders, whom he saw as capitulating to the hegemony of these other nations and leading France into a spiral of weakness and subjugation.

Iribe also had much to say on the domestic front, often about the way in which the state and national infrastructure were being run—recurring themes including the misery inflicted on French people by the “taxman” and the embarrassing obsolescence of the rail system. The French government, its ineptitude and its weakness in the face of foreign intervention, and the specters of Communism, Fascism, and Freemasonry were all constant grist for Iribe’s mill, and Leon Blum and the conspirators of the Stavisky Affair hold a vaunted place throughout Le Témoin’s run.

But in a small piece at the end of the third issue, Iribe offered his readers a close look into his political mind. In this piece, Iribe addressed several letters received from readers, calling for him to denounce the Jewish population of France as outsiders. Iribe responded in a tightly worded, unapologetic note that any man who was willing to take up arms on behalf of France was his “brother,” and as such he had no problem with Jews. This brief note of Iribe’s seems a perfect exemplar of the man’s nationalistic stance. Unsentimental and unprejudiced, his nationalism was positive rather than negative in nature. Iribe focused his energy and concern on what was good about France, rather than on what was wrong with other countries. And while he never seemed to make a sustained case for inclusion, Iribe certainly seemed to find it a waste of time to bother with exclusion. If you would fight for France, how were you not a Frenchman?

The full run of the 1933-1935 Le Témoin documents a vital moment in the history of France and the Western world. Its commentary and illustrations are not only stunning and evocative but provide an additional view into an arena in which much of the world was lining up for the major conflict to come.

For further information, please see:

Raymond Bachollet, Daniel Bordet, Anne-Claude Lelieur. Paul Iribe. Art Books Intl Ltd, 1982.

Raymond Bachollet, Daniel Bordet, Anne-Claude Lelieur. Paul Iribe: precurseur de l’art deco. Art Books Intl Ltd, 1983.

description by Surella Evanor Seelig, Archives & Special Collections Assistant and PhD candidate in the Comparative History program

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pimander, sive De potestate et sapientia Dei

Pimander, sive De potestate et sapientia Dei is the title of a Hermetic work in Latin that comprises all of the known Corpus Hermeticum with the exception of the last three tractates. The Corpus (and this translation) is a series of Hellenistic Egyptian mystical works attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, whose tradition may have begun with the veneration of the Egyptian god Thoth1; he was later identified with the Greek Hermes. The Corpus is one of the most important sources of inspiration for the Western Esoteric Tradition.

The latter sections of the Corpus were well known throughout Europe and the Near East during the Middle Ages, making Pimander a novelty to Renaissance scholarship when it was first published in 1463. The Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections at Brandeis is home to an example of the third edition, one of the eight editions of the Corpus published before 1500.2 This edition of Pimander, printed in Venice by Lucas Dominici (1481), was rebound in 1700, according to the description and provenance narrative inserted when the incunable was given to Brandeis. This edition was a gift of Bern Dibner, an early donor to the university and chairman of the Society of Bibliophiles at Brandeis.

The content of Pimander is philosophical, theosophical, astrological, magical, and alchemical, and was likely assembled during the second and third centuries CE. In addition to this fifteenth-century translation, Coptic fragments of the Corpus were found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945.3 The provenance of this incunable indicates that it was owned by the physician Georgius Kloss. This copy is in excellent condition, although it appears to have been trimmed to be rebound. The typography is in the Roman style, with spaces left at the beginning of leading paragraphs for illuminations that were never added. There are a number of pages that contain handwritten notes in Italian. The margin notes are likely from before the eighteenth century, given that some of them were lost when the book was trimmed and rebound.

Pimander, also known as “The Divine Pymander” or Poimandres, is a diverse system of mystical writings influenced by Egyptian, Jewish, Greek, Gnostic, and Christian ideas, but commonly accredited to the mystagogue Hermes Trismegistus. In Greek, the name of this enigmatic figure means “Thrice-Great Hermes” (Mercurius ter Maximus in Latin); he is believed to have lived just after Moses, although the fundamental principles contained in these writings may represent a very ancient Memphite tradition dating from at least the eighth century BCE.4

Florentine Duke Cosimo de’ Medici commissioned Marsilio Ficino to translate Pimander into Latin from a Greek manuscript brought from Macedonia. Ficino was a leading force within the newly established Neo-Platonist Academy, a respected scholar, a Catholic priest, and, by his own and other accounts, openly homosexual. It is striking that Ficino was placed in such an important scholarly and religious capacity given his sexuality, and it is noteworthy that the ideas contained within Pimander provide an understanding of humanity that was markedly more inclusive than the prevailing atonement theology of the day.

Ficino finished his translation in 1463. Within a few years Ficino translated several other pivotal texts that would lay the foundations for Humanist studies, including the works of Plato and the Christian Neo-Platonist Dionysius the Areopagite.5

Hermes Trismegistus was respected and referenced by early Christians such as Augustine of Hippo and Lactantius.6 Augustine wrote:

As regards philosophy, which professes to teach men something which shall make them happy, studies of that kind flourished in those lands about the times of Mercury, whom they called Trismegistus, long before the sages and philosophers of Greece, but yet after Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and even after Moses himself. At that time, indeed, when Moses was born, Atlas is found to have lived, that great astronomer, the brother of Prometheus, and maternal grandson of the elder Mercury, of whom that Mercury Trismegistus was the grandson.7

For this reason the translation of the Corpus was given the highest priority by Medici. Ficino named the entire work “Pimander,” a title meaning “Shepherd of Men,” but in fact that name is but one chapter in the entire Corpus.8 Both Medici and Ficino were convinced that the works attributed to Hermes Trismegistus were far older than those of Plato, whose works were put aside to complete Pimander. Ficino’s translation cultivated a theme within Renaissance scholarship that identified the Egyptian roots of this Hellenistic philosophy. The essence of the mystical teachings contained within Pimander articulates a divinity that may be understood and experienced through nature. Moreover, the spirit of Pimander clearly describes the material universe, including the human body, as a model for a creative process, and not the source of damnation.9 This concept flourished in the new arts and sciences characteristic of Ficino’s age.

Expanded knowledge of the ancients gave rise not only to alchemy, astrology, and, later, to their corresponding physical sciences, chemistry and astronomy, but also to Humanism and the dramatic shift of European thought towards a human-centered perspective on spirituality, science, ethics, and politics. The printing of Pimander, among which this incunable is a very early example, sent shockwaves of conceptual progress throughout the continent, shaping the way we think even today.

description by Rev. Donald Donato, Assistant Rector at the Parish of St. Sarah the Egyptian of the Apostolic Johannite Church

1. J. Robinson, ed., “Asclepius,” in Nag Hammadi Library in English, introduced and translated by J. Brashler, P. Dirkse, and D. Parrott (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1977; San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988): 330.

2. see George Sarton, review of Hermetica by Walter Scott in Isis 8, no. 2 (May, 1926): 343-346, at 345.

3. W. Barnstone and M. Meyer, eds., “Poimandres,” in The Gnostic Bible (Boston: Shambala Press, 2003), 502.

4. Karl W. Luckert, Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), 100-102.

5. Charles Garfield Nauert, Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 61.

6. Frederick Purnell, Jr., “Hermes and the Sibyl: A Note on Ficino’s Pimander,” Renaissance Quarterly 30, no. 3 (Autumn, 1977).

7. Augustine, De Civitate Dei (The City of God), ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Rev. G. Wilson & Rev. J.J. Smith (New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886), Book VIII, 39.

8. Peter French, John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, Ltd., 1972, 1984), 66.

9. Michael Allen and Valery Rees, eds., with Martin Davies, Marsilio Ficino: His Theology, His Philosophy, His Legacy (Leiden and Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2002), 291.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Leo Frank Trial Collection, 1909-1961

The Leo Frank Trial Collection at Brandeis University documents one of the most notorious capital-punishment cases in early twentieth-century America. Leo Frank, a pencil-factory superintendent in Atlanta, Georgia, and a northern Jew, was at the center of a murder trial and lynching that continues to reverberate almost ninety-five years later.

Frank was born in Texas in 1884 but spent his formative years in Brooklyn. He attended Cornell University, graduating with an engineering degree in 1906, and married Lucille Selig, a Georgia native, four years later. The Franks lived in Atlanta, where Leo was the superintendent of the National Pencil Factory and active in B’nai Brith. In April of 1913, a young employee of the National Pencil Factory named Mary Phagan was found murdered. Frank was accused and convicted based on circumstantial evidence; the trial was widely considered a mockery of justice, with crowds shouting “hang the Jew” outside the courtroom. Frank was sentenced to death. While he was in prison, new evidence came to light; in response to this and to widespread public outcry and petitioning (represented in the collection at Brandeis), Governor John Slaton commuted Frank’s sentence to life in prison. Slaton’s decision instigated a mob—composed in part of prominent individuals including a former state governor—to kidnap Frank from prison and lynch him on August 17, 1915. Commemorative postcards were printed displaying Frank’s hanging body. The events surrounding the Leo Frank case were instrumental in the founding of the Anti-Defamation League; they also spurred the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Leo Frank Trial Collection at Brandeis includes letters written by Leo Frank, the majority of them from prison, as well as correspondence to and from his wife, Lucille, and correspondence to and from Governor Slaton, Frank’s lawyer, and others. The collection also contains related articles, pamphlets, and legal documents. Within these categories are letters of support, death threats to Governor Slaton, petitions on behalf of Frank, news clippings, thank-you letters from Lucille Frank to various supporters, and anti-Semitic as well as pro-Frank publications.

At the heart of the collection is the correspondence. Many of Leo Frank’s letters to his wife describe the day-to-day needs and doings of prison life, the state of his health, and his affection for her. In the last letter contained in the collection from Frank, he writes to his mother-in-law after an attempt on his life was made by another inmate: “I hope you did not yesterday or today hear the rumor I heard—viz: that I was dead. I want to firmly and decisively deny that rumor. I am alive by a big majority.” This letter was written on August 4, 1915, two weeks before Frank was murdered.

Some of the letters express support for Frank and affirm his innocence. One letter to Frank in prison, postmarked April 20, 1915, did not reach him before his death. In it, a person signing himself “A Friend of Connelly’s” wrote: “Sir I know in my very heart and soul that it was Connelly that killed the Phagan girl…” It goes on: “the white folks never did treat me good so I need not cair [sic] whether you live or die but before me and my god Connelly [sic] killed Mary Phagan as true as death he did.” Jim Conley, the pencil factory’s custodian and an early suspect in the case, gave damning testimony that ultimately sealed Frank’s conviction. (Many years later, Conley’s lawyer proclaimed his belief in Frank’s innocence.)

Other letters express outrage at Governor Slaton for commuting Frank’s sentence. On June 24, 1915, a letter to Slaton expressed the vow of “a body of reliable citizens” of Fulton County “to kill you regardless of time or your where-abouts, we expect to hang you by the neck with a rope until you are dead and riddle your body with bullets, no matter where you go, or where you stay, we intend to kill you and then kill Frank…” The letter is signed “Yours to destroy, The life takers.”
After Leo’s death, Lucille’s entry in her daily planner read: “My darling is buried; what has life for me now?” The following month, she wrote a letter to Thomas Loyless about her husband. “I only pray that those who destroyed his life will realize the truth before they meet their God—they perhaps are not entirely to blame, fed as they were on lies unspeakable, their passions aroused by designing persons….” she wrote. “But those who inspired these men to this awful act, what of them? Will not their conscience make for them a hell on earth, and will not their associates, in their hearts, despise them? … If there is a God—and I know there is—truth will prevail.” It was another seventy-one years before Leo Frank was pardoned by the State of Georgia, in 1986.

The Leo Frank Trial Collection is widely used by researchers from all over, including theater groups preparing for performances of the musical Parade, students researching the history of anti-Semitism in America, documentary filmmakers, and many others. This collection was donated to the University in 1961 by Harold E. and Maxine Marcus. These materials were given to them by Mrs. Lucille Frank, widow of Leo Frank, and the aunt of Harold Marcus. The Marcuses were also active donors to the University (starting in the 1950s), and Mrs. Marcus was a founding member of the Atlanta Chapter of BUNWC and a permanent member of the National Board.

Finding aid to the Leo Frank Trial Collection, 1909-1961

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Joseph Heller's Catch-22 manuscript and correspondence

A year after his first novel appeared, Joseph Heller got a query from his Finnish translator, who needed to solve the following riddle: “Would you please explain me one thing: What means Catch-22? I didn’t find it in any vocabulary.”[1] By 1974 the translator could have consulted Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language (2nd College Edition), which classifies “catch-22” as a common noun. Yet only an uncommon author could coin so indispensable a term, and indeed much about his book is unusual. It was the first novel Heller ever tried writing, and though the first chapter had been published in a journal in 1955, six more years were needed to finish the book. Had he known how long it would take, Heller later remarked, he might not have started writing it.[2]

Catch-22 never came close to making the New York Times bestseller list, and at first lived precariously as a word-of-mouth “cult” novel. But as the military intervention in Vietnam gained momentum, as that disaster helped to spawn a counterculture, the novel became a phenomenal popular success, guaranteeing that Heller would never need to dig for quarters out of car seats. A decade later Catch-22 was more popular than immediately after publication, and dwarfed the later, growing success of other serious novels that had appeared around the same time-—like Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (1963). In fact, Catch-22 has become one of the most popular novels ever written, with perhaps twelve million copies sold in hardcover and paperback.[3] Such phenomenal success makes Heller’s manuscripts and correspondence archived at Brandeis University of unusual value and interest. The original manuscript of Catch-22, written on yellow legal pads, is frequently used by students and scholars interested in its myriad corrections and editorial changes.

Catch-22 is populated with “characters whose antics were far loonier than anything ever seen before in war fiction—or, for that matter, in any fiction,” literary scholar John Aldridge observed. From Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos down to Norman Mailer, war novels were supposed to be written in the vein of spare, austere “documentary realism.”[4] But what was Heller getting at? Was he joking about the most horrifying of all themes, turning on laughing gas to get rid of the stench of death? The characters he had invented were mostly cartoons, and some were grotesque. The situations were outlandish. Lip-readers might well have inferred that the men who defeated the Axis in the most awful of wars were uncomprehending buffoons whose commanding officers were either mad or moronic. Infantry platoons were often celebrated as rainbow coalitions, yet why would the protagonist of Heller’s novel be an Assyrian and the chaplain an Anabaptist? No wonder then that Aldridge claimed that critics and other readers had to learn to become more sophisticated, to fathom the striking originality of Heller’s novel.

Yet private correspondence with Heller, available in Brandeis Special Collections, cannot be perfectly squared with Aldridge’s argument. Many of Heller’s fellow writers were quick to understand and to welcome what he accomplished. From Here to Eternity (1951), for example, barely resembled Catch-22. Yet James Jones praised it as “a delightful and disturbing book. Its weird comedy is marvelous, and underneath this on an entirely different level, its pathos for the tragic situation of the men is equally fine.” Two years after it was published, Dos Passos himself, then a conservative and a Republican, also spoke highly of so subversive a text. The author of The Young Lions (1948), Irwin Shaw, also raved about Heller’s new novel. The legacy of John Steinbeck includes The Moon is Down (1942), set in World War II; no American novelist did more for social realism. Yet the Nobel laureate realized that Catch-22 merited re-reading, that “a good book” the first time around proved to be “loaded with things that must be come at slowly…. My wife says she knows when I am reading Catch-22 because she can hear me laughing in the next room and it is a different kind of laugh.”[5]

Old-fashioned sorts of writers were thus quick to pick up the radically disorienting portrayal that this first novel was presenting. This essay would be incomplete, however, if it did not mention the impact that Catch-22 exerted on a 23-year-old unknown whom Heller’s agent claimed was “the only other genius” she had the privilege of representing. From the future author of another novel set in World War II, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), Candida Donadio received the following letter: “You thought I’d LIKE it. Jesus. I love it. I won’t tell you how much, or why,” Thomas Pynchon wrote, “because I always sound phony whenever I start running off at the mouth like a literary critic. But it’s close to the finest novel I’ve ever read….Who is this guy Heller.... [?]”[6]

This guy also received unsolicited fan mail from Nelson Algren (“the laughter is hard-won… Thanks for writing Catch-22”), from novelist and political activist Jeremy Larner ’58 (“I read every word of Catch-22 with great delight and ended up scared and moved and happy”), from the British drama critic Kenneth Tynan (“a bloody masterpiece”), and from Stephen Ambrose, who would become a prolific military historian: “For sixteen years I have been waiting for the great anti-war book which I knew World War II must produce. I rather doubted, however, that it would come out of America; I would have guessed Germany. I am happy to have been wrong.” In some ways, Ambrose added, Catch-22 is superior even to All Quiet on the Western Front (1929).[7] The enthusiastic appreciation of other writers Heller earned at the outset.

Such responses are even more striking when the structure of his novel is considered. If reduced to plot summarization, Catch-22 is rather thin. It recounts the conflict between a bombardier and a superior officer over how many missions should be flown. Rearranged in chronological order, Catch-22 seems rather uneventful: three missions to Avignon, to Bologna, and to Ferrara have all occurred before the time of the first chapter, and M & M Enterprises has been formed. As characterizations, Heller’s three dozen servicemen do not exactly bulge with the three-dimensionality that is often credited to the finest fiction. Most—but not all—are caricatures, and even what protagonist John Yossarian looks like is sketchy. For all of its scale, this novel lacks lyrical descriptions, or precise evocations of the natural world, or metaphysical depth.

Yet by this book we as well as our posterity are likely to know Heller, the way we also know Cervantes and Swift and Voltaire—which is by one book, and only one book. The cauterizing humor and pungent politics that Heller stirred together have been enduring enough, after nearly half a century, to catch the reader’s attention; and that’s some catch, that Catch-22.

description by Stephen J. Whitfield, Max Richter Professor of American Civilization, Department of American Studies

Finding aid to Joseph Heller Collection, 1945-1969
BrandeisNOW video on Stephen Whitfield and the Catch-22 manuscript
WGBH "Greater Boston with Emily Rooney" segment on Stephen Whitfield and the Catch-22 manuscript
Brandeis Twitter feed on the 50th anniversary of Catch-22


[1] Markku Lahtela to Joseph Heller, April 12, 1962, folder I.ii.9, Joseph Heller Collection, Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections, Brandeis University; Sam Merrill, “Playboy Interview: Joseph Heller,” reprinted in Conversations with Joseph Heller, ed. Adam J. Sorkin (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1993), 173.
[2] George Plimpton, “Joseph Heller,” and Chet Flippo, “Checking in with Joseph Heller,” in Conversations, 115, 234.
[3] George Mandel, “Literary Conversation with Joseph Heller,” and Seth Kupferberg and Greg Lawless, “Joseph Heller: 13 Years from Catch-22 to Something Happened” (1974), in Conversations, 68, 122; Sarah Lyall, “For Joseph Heller, It’s Finally Catch-23,” International Herald Tribune, February 17, 1994, 20.
[4] John W. Aldridge, “The Loony Horror of It All—-Catch-22 Turns 25,” New York Times Book Review, October 26, 1986, 3, and “Catch-22 Twenty-Five Years Later,” Michigan Quarterly Review, 26 (Spring 1987), 381.
[5] James Jones to Nina Bourne, October 9, 1961, folder I.ii.20; Georges Cuibus to Joseph Heller, July 13, 1964, folder I.ii.10; Art Buchwald to Max Schuster, September 1961, folder I.ii.12; John Steinbeck to Joseph Heller, May 7, 1963, folder I.ii.17, Joseph Heller Collection.
[6] Thomas Pynchon to Candida Donadio, November 2, 1961, folder I.ii.15, Joseph Heller Collection.
[7] Nelson Algren to Joseph Heller, December 7 [1961], folder I.ii.11; Jeremy Larner to Heller, March 28, 1962, folder I.ii.29; Kenneth Tynan to Heller, July 26, 1962, folder I.ii.14; Stephen E. Ambrose to Heller, January 23, 1962, folder I.ii.3, Joseph Heller Collection.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Experiments and Observations on Electricity Made at Philadelphia in America

Originally published as a series of pamphlets in 1751, the first collected edition of Experiments and Observations on Electricity Made at Philadelphia in America by Benjamin Franklin was the fourth publication of his groundbreaking experiments in this field. It is clear that the work was written with the intention of conferring with like scientists working overseas, not of publishing its findings. The original publisher of Franklin’s experiments was one such colleague, an English Quaker named Peter Collinson, who produced the pamphlets “without waiting for the ingenious author’s permission so to do,” as he wrote in the preface to the first edition. Collinson explained that he published the work because it would be an “injustice to the public, to confine [the letters] solely to the limits of a private acquaintance.” The collected one-volume edition was the first published with the consent of Franklin and was edited, revised, and expanded by him. One of these rare first collected editions is currently housed in Brandeis University’s Special Collections, part of the Bern Dibner Collection on the History of Science.

The title Experiments and Observations on Electricity Made at Philadelphia in America may give the impression that the book is solely an exploration of Franklin’s work with electricity. In fact, the book covers an assortment of topics, including mathematics, natural phenomena (such as theories on the source of aurora borealis, hurricanes, and shooting stars), economics, population growth, and the 1752 outbreak of smallpox in Boston.

The book also evinces some of the iconic Franklin wit and charm celebrated in American folklore, most evident in the correspondence to a “Miss S–n” (Miss Stephenson) whose letters are the most familiar and affectionate in style (“Adieu, my little philosopher”). Even Franklin’s affinity for turkeys comes out in the book—although there is also mention of an experiment in which Franklin delivered an electrical shock to a turkey, finding as a result that turkeys killed by this method “eat uncommonly tender.” In the process of this experiment, Franklin inadvertently discovered, from personal experience, that a human could withstand a higher-voltage electrical shock than he had previously thought. It was in this book that Franklin published some of his most famous discoveries and inventions, such as the Franklin stove and the experiment with the key and kite.

The presentation of Franklin’s experiments with electricity in the form of correspondence gives the reader insight into more than just the details of his experimentation; it reveals the course that led to his status as the first internationally known American scientist. The letters begin with Franklin’s humble thanks to Collinson for the equipment that allowed him to begin his experiments: “your kind present of an electric tube, with directions for using it, has put several of us on making electrical experiments, in which we have observed some particular phaenomena [sic] that we look upon to be new. I shall, therefore communicate them to you in my next, though possibly they may not be new to you, as among the numbers daily employed in those experiments on your side the water, ’tis probable some one or other has hit on the same observations.” While Franklin supposes in these early letters that his discoveries have long since been known to and accepted as truth by European scientists, it becomes clear throughout the detailed letters that Franklin was not lagging behind Europeans working in the same field but was rather at the forefront, influencing their experiments. Franklin includes a letter informing Collinson that his experiments were recreated—at the request of King Louis XVI—by French admirers of Franklin’s work. What starts as the unassuming account of a lay scientist ends with Franklin’s acceptance into the scientific intelligentsia.

description by Nora Epstein, undergraduate student in European History

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Radical Pamphlet Collection

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a new generation of American radicals protested the Vietnam War, proclaimed black power, and demanded women’s liberation. Partly in response to the era’s political ferment, the Brandeis University Special Collections library began to collect radical literature from throughout the twentieth century. The resulting Radical Pamphlet collection contains over four thousand documents that help illuminate the history of transatlantic radicalism, especially Anglo-American labor radicalism, during the first seventy-five years of the twentieth century. Not limited to national politics, the collection includes a large number of radical documents from the state and municipal level. With its primary emphasis on radicalism in the first half of the twentieth century, especially the period between 1930 and 1950, the collection complements Brandeis University’s Hall-Hoag collection of Extremist Literature in the United States, which holds similar material for the period between 1950 and 1990.

Containing a wide array of printed materials including pamphlets, magazines, journals, books, and campaign advertisements, the collection holds an especially extensive catalogue of British and American Communist Party literature published between the 1930s and 1950s (highlighting the Party's response to the Great Depression, World War II, and the war's aftermath).

The material produced by American Communists shows the way the party tried to attract African Americans and women by emphasizing (what were then considered) its radical positions on gender and racial equality. At the same time, the materials show how the Party attacked its socialist enemies and vigorously defended Stalinism and the Soviet occupation of Eastern and Central Europe
Civil libertarians, who defended the rights of communists and radicals as they faced repression from both state and federal authorities, are also well-represented in the collection. The collection contains a number of pamphlets defending civil liberties during the McCarthy Era, but also holds many pamphlets produced by the American Civil Liberties Union from the 1920s through the 1950s.

In addition to pamphlets and political tracts, the collection also holds a number of radical and artistically inventive magazines from the first half of the twentieth century, including Mother Earth, Americana, The Masses, The New Masses, Class Struggle, and Labor Defender.

Complementing its focus on left-wing radicalism, the collection holds a number of documents related to right-wing anti-communism. These include published reports from state and federal House Un-American Activities Committees and pamphlet collections such as the staunchly anti-communist “The Truth about Communism.”

Chronologically, the collection shows the trajectory of American radicalism during the twentieth century, from its height during the Popular Front of the 1930s to its relative decline during the McCarthy era to its rejuvenation with the movements of the New Left during the late 1950s and 1960s. As a whole, the collection provides invaluable insights into the intellectual, political, and social worlds of twentieth-century American radicalism.

The Radical Pamphlet Collection finding aid is available here.

description by Julian Nemeth, graduate student in American History