“Processing the Andrew Sarris Papers or ‘Is Harry Too Dirty?’”

Megan Darlington, RBML Intern (summer, 2012)

As an intern at RBML this past summer, I had the pleasure of processing the papers of prominent film critic and Columbia professor, the late Andrew Sarris (1928-2012).  The papers reveal a rare glimpse into Sarris’s life and work, and document major trends in theory and criticism during a period in which film gained exceptional traction as a true artistic medium.  These developments are especially apparent in Sarris’s correspondence, which include letters between other critics, scholars, fans, and a considerable handful of notable actors, actresses, and directors.  Among the most fascinating pieces I found in processing this collection is a 1977 letter written by Clint Eastwood.


Printed on the letterhead of Eastwood’s own production company, The Malpaso Company, the actor-director-producer thanked Sarris for his article, “Is Harry Too Dirty?” Appearing January 24, 1977 in the Village Voice, the reputably liberal Sarris revisited the 1971 film and employs a decidedly less scathing tone in comparison with his contemporaries.  Departing from the diatribes of adversary Pauline Kael, who admonished the film as a fascist attack on liberal values, Sarris understood Eastwood’s character to be more complex and symbolic.

Although Sarris was not necessarily an admirer of the film, Eastwood thanks him nonetheless for “understanding” him from a liberal perspective.  Perhaps Eastwood’s political leanings were less conspicuous in 1977, because as he claims in this letter he does not consider himself to be “politically aligned”.  It is clear today, however, that this is a friendly discourse between two filmic figures on seemingly opposite ends of the political spectrum.



Journalists at Risk in the Former Yugoslavia: The Committee to Protect Journalists Records

Catherine Carson Ricciardi

In processing the records for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), I’ve found many files that document the challenges for journalists covering the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. For example, records relating to a project to create a safety handbook for these journalists provide additional insights into the dangerous conditions surrounding their work.

Founded in 1981, the CPJ works to promote press freedom and to defend the rights of journalists to cover and report the news around the world. The war in the former Yugoslavia inspired the CPJ to explore new ways to assist journalists.  In this case, the CPJ began a project to publish an advisory guide for journalists covering events there. CPJ had never issued such a guide, but felt that the unprecedented casualty rate for journalists covering the war created a need for reliable advice and safety information. The CPJ felt that its role as a monitor of press conditions put it in a unique position to fill this void by gathering such information and providing it to journalists.

As I continued processing, however, I discovered that the records included not only the guides, but also the correspondence and interview notes of CPJ Publications Director Greg Victor. Victor interviewed many journalists about their experiences in the former Yugoslavia, including Al Horne of the Washington Post, Jim Dutton of ITN, and several journalists at CNN. Notes below from an interview with Carol Williams and Al Horne illustrate  the working conditions


Carol Williams

and methods of journalists covering the war.  A separate file deals with the subject of body armor and vests, which were recommended for journalists covering the area. The observations and recommendations obtained through these interviews and other sources ultimately were compiled into the guides.


Al Horne

The guide went through at least four editions. I found the first edition, “Journalists Advisory on the Former Yugoslavia: How to Survive and Still Get the Story”, issued in November 1992, and an update, issued less than six months later in March 1993. These first editions were produced and printed on simple paper stock. Another edition, “Journalists Survival Guide: The Former Yugoslavia”, was reformatted and published in November 1994.


Made to fit easily into a pocket or case, these guides were widely used by journalists at the time. One additional edition was produced in 1999 by students in former CPJ Executive Director Anne Nelson’s Elements of International Reporting Class at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

This project, in the end, did not remain an isolated idea. The idea of providing basic safety advice to journalists covering conflicts still remains important at CPJ, and the CPJ still produces a guide, entitled, “On Assignment: Covering Conflicts Safely”, which is available on the CPJ website.

“Mr. Farley! This is War!”

Annalisa Pesek, RBML Intern (summer, 2011)

Today’s climactic moment as an RBML intern arrives at that time in the day when your fingers are beginning to tingle from the constant re-foldering and you start to question whether or not the demise of your career as an archivist will be the result of your enduring curiosity.  As my fits of laughter interrupt the silence resonating in the basement of the Lehman Library, I can’t help but share the contents of an impassioned fan letter addressed to Mr. Walter Farley, author of The Black Stallion series. I’d been waiting for this moment after spending the past two months assembling some order to approximately 22 boxes of Farley’s personal papers (only 22 or more to go) and now I am perhaps discovering more about the man’s shortcomings from his readers than from what I find to be often queer but informatively creative stories involving so far not only a Great Stallion, but also a Great Dane, and now a Girl.  Farley’s series has and continues to attract readers of all ages.

However, stumbling upon this particular correspondence between Farley and a devoted fan, who describes herself as, “ . . . a girl, a 13 year old girl in love with horses” deserves a second, third, and even fourth reading. Writing in a voice reminiscent of a youthful Cleopatra ready to wage war, the writer confronts and demands revision if not at least reconciliation regarding Farley’s decisions for the actions of his main character, Alec, (Farley’s leading man) who appears in nearly every book.

The Black Stallion and the Girl, one of his later stories published in 1971 received more attention than his previous works, according to my knowledge from his archive. For some, the book was considered sexist, for others, not sexist enough as was in the case of the letter you are about to read.


This fan letter prompted Farley to write a semi-curt reply, defending his book and encouraging the haughty youth to relax and reread the content due to her lack of fully understanding the context.


His reaction leads the girl to feeling remorse (unfortunately) which leads to her confession – the truth behind her angry words was her imagination and her desire for young love with ALEC, thus her impulsive jealousy of The Girl, Pam who gets to be with Alec prompted her war bent pen to the point of raising hell!

As a newbie archivist opening box after box of unsolved mysteries and untold stories, I will never know anything more about this reader or the influence Farley’s books may have had on her life, but I am certain the three of us in Lehman that day, including Chris, Carrie, and myself strongly identified with the spirit of the 13 year-old girl in love with a fictional character, sharpening her sword, wishing she was the one Alec loved, wishing she was The Girl.

C’mon, haven’t we all experienced or imagined we experienced unrequited love with a fictional character(s) or a living/dead author(s)? I know I have plenty of confessions . . .

Researching Poor Children and Society: The New York Juvenile Asylum Records

Catherine Carson Ricciardi

Since the New York Juvenile Asylum (NYJA) records were processed two years ago, the RBML has received many inquiries.  In handling these queries, I’ve become quite familiar with this collection and its wealth of information.

While many inquiries come from genealogists, the records also provide primary source material for historians interested in social institutions and the backgrounds and living conditions of orphaned children.

The NYJA was founded in 1851 to house, educate, reform, and find placement for poor, runaway, and homeless children in New York City. Some children came from families undergoing hardship, and were able to return home after a time. Many children, however, were ultimately placed in apprenticeships and sent west on “orphan trains”. The NYJA, in turn, kept a permanent agent in Illinois to arrange for their placement.

The case of a child can be traced through several types of records. To illustrate, information on new arrivals is found in the registers of the House of Reception, which includes basic data on the child’s age, reason for commitment, family, education level, health, and place of birth.  For example, a record for Martin Malone, who arrived in 1860, is shown here:

Martin, like many children, was ultimately apprenticed to a farmer in Illinois. The agent’s record includes his date of placement, age, and employer. In another record, case notes detail his difficulties in Illinois:

The records can also be used to look at several cases grouped by time or in some cases, by place. The agent’s record lists groups of children that were placed together in the same area, while the case notes are arranged in a roughly chronological order by the date of the child’s initial placement. This page from the agent’s record has basic notes on a group that was placed in Sterling, Whiteside County, Illinois, in December 1863:

Placement did not mark the end of their relationships with NYJA, as the institution made efforts to track these children, sometimes arranging new placements, until they reached adulthood. The surviving records include an agent’s register (1862-1868) and case notes (1854-1906) that may detail the case of an individual child for several years. Although the related correspondence has been lost, these records still provide a wealth of information about the experiences of these children.

In all, researching genealogy requests in the NYJA records has helped me to become more familiar with the records and the possibilities for research. The collection also provides an interesting glimpse into the lives of poor and orphaned children, and their difficulties, in the latter half of the 19th century.

Amelia Earhart’s Adventurous Side

Carrie E. Hintz

Alright, so the images here are a bit fuzzy but what they show is a young Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) perched on top of the domed roof of Columbia’s Low Library.


Earhart attended Columbia University’s School of General Studies from 1919-1920 (and again, briefly, in the spring of 1925) intending to go on to medical school. Though discovering aviation shifted her career goals away from medicine, she did make full use of her time at Columbia to explore the campus.

In her memoir, The Fun of It, Earhart recalls: "I was familiar with all the forbidden underground passageways which connected the different buildings of the University.  I think I explored every nook and cranny possible. I have sat in the lap of the gilded statue which decorates the library steps, and I was probably the most frequent visitor on the top of the library dome. I mean the top".  (p. 22).



These pictures, taken in 1920 by Earhart’s college friend Louise De Schweinitz (1898-1997) (later Louise De Schweinitz Darrow, MD), prove that she wasn’t lying about her illicit explorations of the campus.  These images show Earhart on the top of Low Library with Morningside Heights spread out below her.

Clearly, even before she took her first flight, Earhart was already exploring her adventurous side (and proving she didn’t have a fear of heights)!


Royal Connections…

Jocelyn K. Wilk
Public Services Archivist

This past March, I was asked to entertain a group of visitors from The Royal Oak Foundation – the American supporters of The National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The National Trust is one of the world’s largest and most progressive conservation organizations.

These guests were on campus for an architectural walking tour and it was thought that they might find a visit to the University Archives an interesting way to end their day.  For their entertainment, I directed them to a University Archives exhibit (“Alma Mater: Origins”) on display in the RBML’s Chang Octagon as well as some historical items related to Columbia’s British royal visitors which I pulled together, just for them, in the University Archives reading room. I figured if anyone was going to be intrigued by these royal ties, it would be The Royal Oak visitors!

I decided to display items related to two events: the June 10, 1939 visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (better know today as the "Queen Mother”) and the Queen Mother’s honorary degree which was awarded to her on October 31, 1954 as part of Columbia University’s bicentennial celebrations. As I gathered up the usual array of photographs, arm bands, pins, programs, and invitations related to the 1939 event, I decided to also check the Trustee Minutes for 1939. I had never looked in them for anything related to this royal visit and I was very glad I decided to this time!

 In the April 3, 1939 minutes I found a transcription of a letter dated March 30, 1939 that was sent to President Nicholas Murray Butler from George T. Summerlin in the State Department’s Division of Protocol. In the middle of explaining the upcoming royal visit and all that would entail I saw a paragraph which, in light of the recent movie The King’s Speech, suddenly held much interest:

“For your confidential information, the King, on account of the impediment in his speech, should not be expected to make an address.  If any talking pictures are taken, the President suggests that you and the King move your lips but that the King should not speak.”

Before the movie came out this past winter I had never known about King George VI’s speech impediment and suddenly, right in front of my eyes, there was a direct reference to it sitting in the Columbia University Trustee minutes all this time!

Just goes to show, you never know what you’ll find in the archives until you start digging around.

 Queen Elizabeth, King Edward VI and President Nicholas Murray Butler

(left to right)  Queen Elizabeth, King George VI, and President Nicholas Murray Butler walking across the Low Library Plaza.

It All Starts When You Open a Box

It All Starts When You Open a Box

A story begins when a box is opened.  From family photos to dirty socks, from political struggles to breakthrough ideas, from humorous oddments to poignant pieces, archivists and reference librarians have the unique opportunity to see them all. 

The professional staff at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University have processed tens of thousands linear feet and answered thousands of reference questions in their professional careers, and the collections in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library presents a unique opportunity for them to make discoveries.  The Rare Book & Manuscript Library is Columbia University’s principal repository for unique manuscripts and rare books.  Spanning 5,000 years, the repository stewards cuneiform tablets to modern artists books, from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts to the organizational records of human rights organizations.

To work with material this diverse and significant is not only challenging, but it is truly a privilege.  Join us on our journey. 

Susan Hamson
University Archivist
Head, Access Services and Operations