Friday, April 29, 2016

Brandeis Special Collections on the Internet Archive - Part II in an occasional series

We at Brandeis University Archives & Special Collections are dedicated to the preservation of the materials within our collecting remit. We are equally dedicated to making these materials freely and widely accessible. One of the ways we have been expanding this accessibility is by making many of our materials available online. As a member of the Boston Library Consortium, Brandeis University participates in the Open Content Alliance (OCA) project, which digitizes public-domain works from around the world. These digitized items are then made available on the Internet Archive (IA) ("a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, and more") where they are beautifully presented, free, and openly accessible to anyone with an internet connection. This occasional series will highlight some of the 1,836 (and growing) valuable, unique, and highly requested research materials owned by Brandeis and scanned through the OCA project.

Isaac Leeser. Sefer Torat ha-Elohim/The Law of God. First edition. 1845.

Isaac Leeser was a nineteenth-century American Jewish leader and the leader of Philadelphia’s Sephardic synagogue Mikveh Israel. In addition to publishing many textbooks for children and translating the Sephardic prayer book, Leeser founded the first American rabbinical school and the newspaper The Occidental. In 1845 he published the first Jewish translation of the Bible in the United States. Leeser’s work was based primarily on German Jewish translations and on traditional Jewish Bible scholarship, while aiming to make its style as close to the King James translation as possible. The Leeser translation soon became widely accepted and remained the standard Jewish translation until the publication of the Jewish Publication Society translation in 1917. In 1996 the Brandeis University National Women’s Committee (now known as the Brandeis National Committee) donated a copy of Leeser’s 1845 translation of the Five Books of Moses, Torat ha-Elohim / The Law of God, to the Library. The Law of God was the millionth book added to the Brandeis Libraries' collection in 1996. We thought it fitting that this volume would mark our one thousandth contribution to the Internet Archive.

Click here to view this work on the Internet Archive.

Clarence Cook. Art and Artists of our Time. 1888.

Art and Artists of our Time is a six-volume set written by the distinguished nineteenth century critic Clarence Cook. Cook (1828-1900), considered to be the first professional art critic in the United States, was editor of the Pre-Raphaelite journal The New Path and longtime art critic for the New York Tribune. The six volumes of Art and Artists of our Time are profusely illustrated with engravings that reproduce the works of the most admired artists of the period (the book was published in 1888) and present a revealing glimpse into contemporary artistic taste, with its emphasis on aesthetics and morality over formalism.

Click here to view this work on the Internet Archive.

Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. First edition. 1847.

The first edition of Jane Eyre, published on October 16th, 1847, sold out within a few months, which was unprecedented at the time. A first edition of this book is extremely rare, because most copies of this edition were read to pieces. A second edition was published in January, 1848, and the third edition in April of 1848. The three-volume format was a popular one for novels at the time of publication.

Click here to view this work on the Internet Archive.

The History of the Boston Theatre, 1854-1901.
Compiled with the assistance of Quincy Kilby. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1908. xv, 550 p. illus., ports. 26 cm.

The History of the Boston Theatre is a four-volume set describing and illustrating the productions mounted by theater companies in Boston, season by season, between 1854 and 1901. The copy in the Brandeis collection, digitized and available on the Internet Archive, is unique: bound in with the existing pages are portraits of actors (many with original inscriptions), theater programs, theater reviews clipped from journals, and hand-written correspondence, making the set even richer for research. Some of the correspondence, programs, portraits, and signatures tipped in to the Brandeis set after it was published indicate that the additional materials might have been added by Wilmot Evans, a prominent Boston banker and politician. The set was given to Brandeis by Mr. and Mrs. Herman A. Mintz; Herman Mintz was a Boston attorney and founding partner of the prominent law firm Mintz Levin. Mr. Mintz had a special interest in Boston theater.

Click here to view the History of the Boston Theatre on the Internet Archive website

Monday, April 4, 2016

Langston Hughes treasures in Special Collections

James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, columnist, war journalist, leader of the Harlem Renaissance, and one of the early innovators of the literary art form called jazz poetry. Born on February 1, 1902 in Joplin, MO, Hughes was a prolific writer whose works are regularly anthologized. He authored vast amounts of poetry, short stories, novels, operas, non-fiction essays and books, plays, and children’s literature. Over his lifetime Hughes served as an archivist of the beauty, struggle, and pain of his own domestic struggles as well as those of the Negro (to use the language of his time) in post-Emancipation America, and those struggling in the wars abroad. With his words, he was able to embody the complexity of revolution and its attendant hope and despair. In a time when the circumstance of his being born a black man in a virulently racist country lent a precarity to his own existence, much of Hughes’s work was propaganda for the furthering of the mental, emotional, and physical freedom of Negros. Langston Hughes died on May 22, 1967 in New York City, NY.(1)

In addition to the many of Hughes’s works which can be found in the library’s general collection, Brandeis University’s Special Collections proudly counts among its holdings a signed, first edition (second printing) of The Weary Blues (Hughes’s first published collection of poetry), a Spanish Civil War publication called Romancero de los Voluntarios de la Libertad, in which Hughes’s poem Song of Spain appears, I Hear the People Singing: Selected Poems of Walt Whitman, for which Hughes wrote the introductory essay "The Ceaseless Rings of Walt Whitman," and Braithwaite's Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1926 and Yearbook of American Poetry, which features several of Hughes’s poems. As well, the Carl Van Vechten Photographs collection contains several photographic portraits of Hughes taken by his close friend, Van Vechten.

“I would liken you
To a night without stars
Were it not for your eyes.
I would liken you
To a sleep without dreams
Were it not for your songs.”
--­­­ Ardella

First published in 1926, this poem (which can be found in The Weary Blues) gets to the heart of Hughes's work and to one of his main goals in writing: to create a language with which to express the beauty he saw in the world. Ardella also illustrates Hughes’s commitment to pro­Black (pro­Negro) politics. In this poem, Hughes addresses the social reality of Blackness being associated with darkness, despair, and a profound hopelessness and in comparison, offers a new ideology of beauty as blackness’s sole attribute.

Hughes was invested in the uplifting of oppressed people, especially those of African descent. He served as an activist poet and journalist in the Spanish Civil War. During this war, Hughes continued in his tradition of uplifting the marginalized through his moving language. He writes:

“Flamenco is the song of Spain:
Gypsies, guitars, dancing,
Death and love and heartbreak,
To a heel tap, and whirl of fingers
On three strings
Flamenco is the song of Spain”
-- Song of Spain

The juxtaposed imagery of dancing, death, and heartbreak in this poem creates a portrait of a wartime existence too complicated to be seen as one-dimensional: Hughes illustrates the complexity of struggling with the realities of war while also maintaining joy and light in the midst of darkness. This contradiction echoes Hughes’s own complicated existence, having been born to a white father and a black mother in a time so close to the period of slavery.

Hughes’s artistic and political agendas were not mutually exclusive and it is fascinating to hone in on those aspects of Hughes’s work that render it Jazz Poetry. Rebecca Gross writes: “Hughes felt that jazz poetry could be a uniquely African American literary form, distinctive among the venerable—and very white—poetic canon. When he wrote about jazz, Hughes often incorporated syncopated rhythms, jive language, or looser phrasing to mimic the improvisatory nature of jazz; in other poems, his verse reads like the lyrics of a blues song. The result was as close as you could get to spelling out jazz.”(2) Here, Gross not only illuminates the music in Hughes’ work but also its political and racial subtext. This video of Hughes reciting The Weary Blues, with a backing jazz band, gives a sense of the rhythm inherent in many of Hughes's works.

Emulating the grammar of a song by one of the great jazz musicians, Hughes writes:

“Does a jazz band ever sob?
They say a jazz­band’s gay
Yet as the vulgar dancers whirled
And the wan night wore away,
One said she heard the jazz band sob
When the little dawn was grey”
-- Cabaret

Scholars and lovers of poetry, music, language, and history will find great food for thought in the Hughes treasures held in Special Collections. These materials are open to the public and we welcome all who are interested to come and see these special and rare editions of the works of this great thinker, poet, social activist, and wordsmith.

1. Langston Hughes, Wikipedia entry.

2. Gross, Rebecca. "Jazz Poetry & Langston Hughes." April 11, 2014.

Description by Kesi Kmt, undergraduate student in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Archives & Special Collections assistant.