Author Archives: Thai Jones

Championing the Causes of Chinese Americans: The William Yukon Chang Papers

By Hong Deng Gao

This month, on September 4, William Yukon Chang (鄭玉安), died at the age of 103. Born in Honolulu in 1916, Chang earned a B.A. in Journalism from St. John’s University, Shanghai. In 1947, he left his job as the editor and columnist of The China Press, a daily English-language newspaper, in Shanghai, and moved to New York City.

From 1955 to 1972, he almost singlehandedly wrote, edited, and published the Chinese-American Times (CAT), a monthly English-language newspaper that drew the world’s attention to what was going on in New York’s Chinatown. The newspaper also provided a venue through which Chinese American communities everywhere — from Maryland to Tennessee, from Oregon to Vancouver — could read and write about their own lives.

A typical front page of the Chinese-American Times.

The Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s recently acquired William Yukon Chang Papers contains a variety of rich materials on Chang’s extraordinary life and career. Chang’s grandparents emigrated to Honolulu from China. His family prospered from raising coffee and running a grocery store. They sent Chang to attend college in Shanghai after he had graduated from McKinley High School in Honolulu. Just before the Communist takeover, Chang left his job at The China Press and hitched a flight to the U.S. En route through Minnesota with an American friend, Chang met Tang Kou Mei (湯國梅), the first daughter of the Nationalist general Tang Enbo (湯恩伯) and an exchange student at St Mary’s College, Winona. The two got married in 1952 and raised three daughters, Dallas, Marina and Priscilla. Continue reading

A Ghost in Philosophy Hall

The Columbia University Archive’s spookiest (and only) documented ghost story begins on a dark and dusty evening in 1945, when Professor Jeffery related to Columbiana curator Milton Halsey Thomas a harrowing tale that he had heard nearly a decade earlier from John D. Prince, a professor of East European Languages. Thomas took notes on the story, and later attempted to sleuth out the details as Jeffery had narrated them:

Philosophy Hall, Early 20th Century

On the night of May 22, 1936, Prince was walking the lonely corridors of Philosophy Hall, en route to a meeting with President Butler. While descending a darkened stairway he experienced a distinctive but familiar feeling — “a smart pat on his kidneys” — that he associated with Richard Gottheil, a professor of Semitic Languages, who had long occupied the office next door to his, and who “used to deliver” that exact sort of friendly nudge “from time to time.” When Prince turned to look for his colleague, he found only an empty staircase.

A few minutes later, during Prince’s meeting with the president, secretary Frank Fackenthal entered the office to inform them of some sad, and — in the context — spooky news: Professor Gottheil had just died at his home on the Upper West Side.

An Obituary for Professor Gottheil

Returning, shaken and saddened, to his office, Prince encountered a graduate student, Harriet Levy, “in hysterics.” She too had just had a spectral encounter with the deceased professor. She had been sitting at a desk that evening, and had seen him in the hallway. Since she had the key to his office, she got up and followed after him. As she went to unlock his door, Gottheil had glided by her in silence, “passed through the closed door, and disappeared.”

In the days after hearing Professor Jeffery’s dramatic narrative, the Columbiana curator worked to authenticate the story. He interviewed Frank Fackenthal, who would soon be named university president, about his memories of the incident. His terse summary of their conversation says only that “Mr. Fackenthal cannot confirm any part of this.”

But this non-denial denial only raises more questions about the “Ghost in Philosophy Hall.”



Eric Foner Discusses the “Record of Fugitives” at the RBML, Jan. 29, 6pm

Thursday, Jan. 29th, 6pm. Butler Library, Room 203, Columbia University.

Record of Fugitives

“Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad and the Record of Fugitives”

A discussion of his new book by Eric Foner, Dewitt Clinton Professor of History, Columbia University.

Please join us for a conversation on research, discovery, and the “record of fugitives,” a unique archival portrait of the true story of the Underground Railroad.

Thursday, Jan. 29th, 6pm. Butler Library, Room 203, Columbia University.

“Live from the Columbia Archives” is a speaker series featuring scholarship based on archival sources discovered in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University.

Foner Author Pic

One-Dimensional Man at 50: Herbert Marcuse & the Legacy of the Book that Inspired a Generation

An all-day conference, Sept. 29th, 9am – 5pm
Butler Library, Room 523

Free and open to the public. No reservations required.

Columbia Marcuse Conference Flyer low-res

“A comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom prevails in advanced industrial civilization…” Thus begins the opening chapter of Herbert Marcuse’s landmark study of modern ideology, One-Dimensional Man, first published in 1964.

On Sept. 29th, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library will be hosting an all-day interdisciplinary conference to commemorate and discuss the 50th anniversary of a book that influenced critical theorists and social activists around the world.

An international array of speakers will discuss Marcuse’s legacy for a diversity of fields, including gender, labor, politics, and haute cuisine.

Keynote Panel. Marcuse and Critical Theory: Individuals, Movements, Moments. 5:15pm, Butler Library Room 523

  • “One-Dimensionality and Organized Labor in America,” Craig R. Christiansen, University of Kansas.
  • “One Dimensional Man 50 years On: Neoliberalism and the ‘Historical Fate of Bourgeois Democracy,’” Terry Maley, York University.
  • “Gender and the Radical Potential at the Moment of Consumption: Marcuse’s Notion of Delivering of the Goods Through a Gendered Lens,” Patricia McDermott, York University
  • “The Relevance of an Untimely Book: One-Dimensional Man, Critical Theory and Radical Movements in the Global Age,” Raffaele Laudani, University of Bologna.
  • Closing Remarks, Douglas Kellner, UCLA.

The complete conference program is available here: One-Dimensional Man at Fifty Conference Program

Sept. 8th, 6pm — A Panel Discussion with Former Gov. David Paterson and Leading Scholars and Community Organizers

political-memories-v4A conversation on libraries, government, and activism, with:

  • Former-Governor David Paterson.
  • Jim Neal, Columbia University Librarian.
  • Dr. Khalil Muhammad, Director, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
  • Ester Fuchs, Professor of International and Public Affairs and Political Science, SIPA.
  • Peggy Shepard, founder director of West Harlem Environmental Action.

    Monday, Sept. 8, 2014, 6pm.
    The Kellogg Center
    1501 International Affairs Building



Comedy, Censorship, Policing — April 21st, 6pm

On Monday April 21st, at 6pm, the Rare Book and Manuscript Library is hosting a significant — and hilarious! — discussion to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the arrest in New York City of comedian Lenny Bruce on charges of obscenity.

Lenny Bruce and Censorship Event (April 21)

Our Speakers for the Evening:

  • Martin Garbus, one of the country’s top trial lawyers, who served on the legal team that defended Bruce in New York in 1964.
  • Joan Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship
  • Also starring: Lenny Bruce!




Lehman Center Event Review

Tracking Changes: Harlem through the lens of Vergara

By Elydia Barret


Girls and Barbies, East Harlem, 1970

A group of black girls is sitting on the stoop of a building whose crumbled facade is covered in graffiti. They are so absorbed in their play that they practically do not pay attention to the photographer. Their movements create a loop that ends with a white blonde Barbie doll, echoing a row of others Barbies carefully arranged on the steps, in the center of the image. Camilo José Vergara’s photos are not only beautiful, they are extraordinarily meaningful. In a fresh and lively way that confers a great value to his photographs, he succeeds in capturing and encapsulating an everyday-life scene together with a whole society’s state of mind.

On February 19, 2014,in the context of its spring lectures, the Herbert H. Lehman Center for American History invited Vergara to introduce his newly released book, Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto (The University of Chicago Press, 2013).

Born in 1944 in Chile, Vergara moved to New York in the early seventies and, inspired by the work of Helen Levitt, devoted himself to street photography. When jumping into graduate work in sociology (he earned an M.A. in sociology from Columbia University in 1977), he became aware of the close and complex connections between urban environment and social behavior.

This emerges as a turning point in the work of Vergara who, adopting sociological methodologies, began to use the process of “re-photographyfrom then on. By photographing the same locations at regular intervals over the course of decades in a systematic way, Vergara tracks and records the incremental urban as well as socioeconomic changes of poor neighborhoods in major urban centers of the United States such as Los Angeles, California; Detroit, Michigan; Chicago, Illinois; the South Bronx of New York City or Camden, New Jersey.

Harlem hasn’t escaped from his sensitive lens. Through enthralling sequences of pictures, Vergara intermingled Harlem folks’ individual stories with the last 40 years of Harlem’s history. This visual chronicle emphasizes the incredibly rapid changes this district has experienced since the late seventies, as this series of photos of 65 East 125th St. illustrates.

As Vergara explained it himself, his book intends to keep records and, with some kind of nostalgia, to resuscitate a disappearing Harlem. But his work also provides powerful material that allows comprehending the nonlinear development of this vibrant neighborhood in geographical, urban, social or intellectual terms. Browsing the shots, we get a strong sense of the heterogeneous and unpredictable nature of Harlem: some areas decaying as longtime businesses close, while other areas gentrify with chain stores setting up.

Captured by the photographer, the built environment turns out to be a strong medium of expression for Harlem voices. Buildings, storefronts, monuments, graffiti, and streets in general let Harlem’s community be heard, and thus witness its evolving approach to crucial topics as racial issues or the African-American past.

Elydia Barret is currently in training at the Ecole Nationale des Sciences de l'Information et des Bibliothèques, the French national school for library and information sciences based in Lyon, France. She is delighted to be hosted as an intern at the RBML for three months and to get the opportunity to be involved in its projects.