Category Archives: American History Collections

RBML is hiring a Curator of Literature

bookstore shelves with levitating book

This is not how RBML handles books. Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

We’re pleased to announce an opening here in Columbia University Libraries’ Rare Book & Manuscript Library for a new Curator of Literature.

The ideal candidate is an accomplished and creative professional with an MLIS or PhD in English, American Literature or related fields.

Primarily, the Curator develops, manages and actively promotes the use of RBML literature collections through programmatic outreach, awareness, public programs and instructional activities.

The Curator is responsible for developing holdings in literature in all formats (e.g., print and archives) through purchase and donation.

Key to the Curator position are archival and/or librarianship skills related to stewarding literature collections that are in place, prioritizing their organization, description, conservation, digitization, and security.

Though very broad in scope, RBML’s Literature collections concentrate around the history of publishing, “obscene” or erotic literature, poetry between the World Wars, the European realist novel, the Beats, African-American literature of the twentieth century, and contemporary poetry, as well as eighteenth-century belles lettres, the novel, fine press and artist books, and twentieth-century small press production.

Columbia University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer and strongly encourages individuals of all backgrounds and cultures to consider this position.

Please see the full advertisement for more details, qualifications and how to apply.

rows of archival boxes in a white room

New and Updated Collections | November 2018

Head Archivist Kevin Schlottmann shares collections newly opened or updated by RBML archivists.

Ian and Betty Ballantine Books and Business Records
“Ian and Betty Ballantine were book publishers who contributed to the
growth of paperback book sales in the United States between the 1940s
and the 1990s. The Ian and Betty Ballantine Books and Business Records
include the Ballantines’ materials related to Penguin Books USA,
Bantam Books, Ballantine Books, and Peacock Books. Administrative
documents cover the management of these presses as well as the
editorial, sales, inventorying, and advertising processes. In
addition, the collection contains the bulk of the editorial libraries
of Penguin Books USA, Bantam Books, and Ballantine Books.”

Pamela Moore Papers
“Pamela Moore (1937-1964) was an American novelist, best known for
Chocolates for Breakfast (1956). The papers contain correspondence,
clippings, contracts, diaries, drafts, manuscripts, memorabilia,
photographs, notebooks, notes, outlines, proofs, school materials,
sketch books, and a collection of published editions of Moore’s

Li Huang papers, 1928-1981
“The Li Huang papers contain manuscripts of his political writings
dating from 1929 to 1971, as well as reference materials for his

Kwang Pu Chen papers, 1936-1958
“The Kwang Pu Chen papers consist of documents and printed materials
assembled during Chen’s career in banking and finance, including his
negotiations for American loans (1938-1940), his affiliation with the
Universal Trading Corporation (1938-1958), Foreign Trade Commission
(1939-1940), Burma Road (1939-1940), Chinese Currency Stabilization
Fund and the Stabilization Board of China (1939-1943), and Foreign
Exchange Equalization Fund Committee (1947-1948)”

William Lambert Papers
“This collection consists of journalist William G. Lambert’s
(1920-1998) collected investigative materials such as correspondence,
news clippings, notes, notebooks, photographs and transcripts related
to his award winning reporting for The Oregonian, Portland, and for
Life magazine. In 1957, Lambert and his colleague Wallace L. Turner
(1921-2010) received the Pulitzer Prize for their reporting, which
uncovered widespread vice and corruption within the municipal Portland
city government that involved labor union officials of the
International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and
Helpers of America, Western Conference. In 1970, Lambert accepted the
George Polk Award for his 1969 Life magazine reporting, which revealed
that U.S. Associate Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas (1910-1982)
accepted and later returned a suspect $20,000 fee, spurring Fortas’

Laura Engelstein Collection of Research Note Cards on Social and
Cultural History of Late Imperial Russia, bulk 1982 – 1992
“This collection is a wonderful glimpse into the research process of
distinguished professor Laura Engelstein, and also brings a great deal
of otherwise scattered (in Russian archives) material together on
topics of human sexuality in Imperial Russia. ”

New Exhibition | Dynamic Archives: renaming and identifying collections

Why would an archivist change the name of a collection? That’s the central question behind a new RBML exhibit.

Dynamic Archives features examples of archival collections and materials whose naming, identifying and meaning have had to keep up with historical, social and political perspectives, as well as translation practices and epistemologies. Continue reading

Newly available RBML collections – September 2018

Head Archivist Kevin Schlottmann shares collections newly opened by RBML archivists.

A large addition to the New York Clearinghouse records was processed,
and the finding aid substantially improved: “New York Clearing House Association (now The Clearing House Association) was founded in 1853 as the first banking clearing house
in the United States. The records include amicus briefs, constitutions
and amendments, letter books, meeting minutes, financial ledgers and
statements, photographs, publications, and reports. ”

The finding aid for the Nicholas Murray Butler papers has been
encoded, with over 33,000 names of correspondents listed.

Columbia University Cuneiform Collection
“The collection consists of 625 cuneiform tablets (dating from circa
3100-539 BCE), and some ancient clay objects. Accompanying these are
some twentieth century casts, and a collection of catalogs of the
collection, articles about various parts, especially Plimpton 322, and
correspondence about the tablets, including a number of letters,
mostly from Edgar J. Banks, to George A. Plimpton, and others about
tablets now in the Columbia collection.”

A. J. A. Symons papers
“A small group of materials, chiefly consisting of English writer and
bibliographer A. J. A. Symons’ correspondence and records related to
the First Edition Club, which Symons founded in 1922. Stuart B.
Schimmel collected the materials.”

Susan Orlean papers
“This collection documents Orlean’s career as a writer and a
journalist, and also includes some personal materials and school
papers. The collection includes address books, appointment books,
audio recordings, clippings, computer files, contracts,
correspondence, drafts, interviews, notes, notebooks, photographs,
proofs, publications, research materials, school records, and video
recordings. ” Continue reading

What is this place? A short intro to RBML

That is the question we hear a lot at the beginning of the new academic year as students explore Butler Library and end up here, in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, aka “The Pink Palace.”

pink castle design and acronym rbml

Is there difference between a “castle” and a “palace?”

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) is Columbia’s principal repository for primary source collections.  The range of collections in the RBML spans more than 4,000 years and includes rare printed works, cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets, papyri, and Coptic ostraca; medieval and renaissance manuscripts; posters; art; comics & cartoons, and oral histories.

Forming the core of the collections: 500,000 printed books, 14 miles of manuscripts, personal papers, archives and records, and 10,000 (and counting) oral histories.

Continue reading

New Collection | Morningside resident’s papers document her fight against CU’s 1960s gentrification

On October 7, 2018 Marie Runyon passed away at 103. Rachel Klepper, a summer intern with RBML’s archives, shares what she’s found through processing the Marie Runyon collection.

In the early 1960s, Marie Runyon received notice that she and her young daughter would have to leave their Morningside Drive apartment building just a few years after moving to the neighborhood. Columbia College of Pharmacy, the owner of the building until it was later sold to Columbia University, planned to move its campus from Lincoln Center to Morningside Heights and would be evicting the tenants.  Runyon quickly began what would become an intense, decades-long legal battle to keep her apartment and those of her neighbors, which would bring her to the forefront of conflict over real estate and gentrification in Morningside Heights.

A collection of Marie Runyon’s papers, newly available in the Columbia University Archives, documents her life and her fight against Columbia through court records and through letters, articles, and flyers documenting the work of neighborhood and student activists. These papers reflect Runyon’s outspokenness and the tenacity she brought to her personal life and her organizing work. They also demonstrate her commitment to highlighting critical questions about the impact of Columbia University’s expansion in Morningside Heights and Harlem on individual residents and on the racial and economic makeup of the neighborhood. Continue reading

In the alcoves…of your mind with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

The RBML is home to a number of Carnegie Corporation collections, including the records for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) organizational records. The CEIP, established in 1910, was dedicated to advancing cooperation between nations and promoting active international engagement by the United States.

In this post , Steven Witt, an associate professor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, takes a look at The Mind Alcove: “The International Mind Alcoves (1917–1954) aimed to change global perceptions regarding armed conflict and international peace. Central to this goal: the idea that a sustained peace requires cultural understanding engendered by education and exchange.”

handrawn graph of book donations

This handwritten bar chart represents the distribution of approximately 156,000 books under the auspices of the International Mind Alcoves, comprising 1,567 collections spread across the United States and around the world between 1925 and 1951. | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Records, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University

Read the full post on the Carnegie Corporations’ blog.


Grant Awarded | CLIR Bob Fass

fass in recording studio with musicians

“Radio Unnameable” host Bob Fass with a group of in-studio guests. Courtesy of Lost Footage Films.

Columbia University will preserve and provide access to almost two decades’ worth of audiotapes from the archive of groundbreaking broadcaster Bob Fass. Through a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources, the RBML and Columbia’s Preservation and Digital Conversion Division will preserve Fass’ broadcasts from the 1960s and ’70s.

A pioneer of “free form” radio for seven decades, Fass is best known for his late-night program Radio Unnameable. During the sixties it featured unscripted appearances by poets and musicians like Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan, and social activists like Abbie Hoffman and Timothy Leary – a forum where listeners could interact with their idols and one another.

In 1968 alone, Fass broadcast live events like the “Yip In” at Grand Central Station, Columbia University student protests, and the Chicago Democratic National convention. Once digitized, these recordings will be a major resource to study mobilization of dissent via mass-media in late-twentieth century America.

And happy birthday, Mr. Fass! Today (June 29th) is his 85th birthday.

Marking Juneteenth in the words of formerly enslaved Africans

Mary Freeman, a doctoral student in Columbia’s History Department and a valued student employee here in the RBML, shared a few of her findings related to the Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, holiday.

Mr. D.N. Leathers Sr., Walter Leathers’ Father Celebrating Juneteenth | DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University

Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery on June 19, 1865, presents an opportunity to highlight a rare resource at Columbia’s RBML in the Frederic Bancroft Papers. Bancroft’s notebooks include interviews he conducted with former slaves during trips he took to the South in the early 1900s. Bancroft recorded their answers to questions he asked about their experiences under slavery as well as many of his own observations about life in the Jim Crow South.

During the Great Depression, the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration assembled an extensive collection of narratives told by former slaves. Despite its biases and limitations—the interviews were conducted almost entirely by white researchers, who often used racist dialect to record the words of their subjects—historians have come to rely on the WPA collection as one of the few archival resources that tells the story of emancipation from the viewpoint of former slaves who experienced it. Frederic Bancroft, who received his PhD in history from Columbia, interviewed former slaves during his travels in the South in 1902 and 1907, thirty years before the WPA conducted its interview project. Bancroft used these research notes when compiling his book, Slave Trading in the Old South (1931).

Bancroft’s interviews suffer from some of the same interpretive issues as the WPA sources. Bancroft grew up and was educated in the North, but he, like most white Americans of his time, held racist views. Furthermore, many of his notes are in shorthand, which presents a challenge to modern-day readers. Even so,  they offer a rare glimpse into the experiences and memories of former slaves and their descendants.

Collection Update | The Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman Papers Come Out

In 1990, Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman donated a collection of papers to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. It was small—just a few boxes of correspondence, literary manuscripts, and publications. Duncan and Chapman nevertheless asked that it be closed to researchers until both of their deaths. What great secret was contained therein?

Ben Duncan typed finding aid summary

RBML’s collection summary for the Ben Duncan Papers, circa 1997, concealed nearly as much about the collection as it revealed.

Not many more years passed before Duncan and Chapman spilled the beans themselves. They were a couple, and had been for decades. The story of Ben Duncan, Dick Chapman, and their papers illustrates the ways that gay men living on both sides of the Atlantic formed communities, found love, and told their stories as they navigated the dramatic social and political changes of the second half of the twentieth century.

Dick Chapman typed letter description of San Remo Cafe in Greenwich Village

Dick Chapman visited the famous Greenwich Village Bohemian hangout San Remo Café in January 1957, which he called “95%” a gay bar. (This letter was written more than twelve years before the Stonewall riots.)

Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman met at Oxford University on New Year’s Eve, 1951. A mutual friend had set them up on a blind date. Several months later, overlooking Christ Church meadow at sunset, Ben proposed that they spend the rest of their lives together.

Ben Duncan was an orphan who had spent most of his childhood in group foster homes in Alabama. Dick was Ben’s only family, as they both understood. Ben Duncan to Dick Chapman, February 7, 1957.

In the 2005 edition of his memoir, The Same Language, Ben wrote, “We made the decision in the way we would continue to make so many of them in the future. I dream up some outlandishly unlikely plan, in the teeth of reality. Dick explains that it is quite impossible. Then, somehow, we do it.” Ben was an American who had just completed his degree at Oxford, had no job, and thus had no legally compelling reason to remain in England. Dick still had a year left at Oxford. The immigration benefits associated with marriage were as inaccessible to the two of them as the moon.

Ben Duncan typed letter to Dick Chapman during geographical separation

While Dick Chapman worked in New York City, Ben Duncan stayed in the London flat he and Dick had shared. He wrote eloquently to Dick about how it felt to stay behind, in this excerpt from February 10, 1957.

Nevertheless, the longest separation Ben and Dick would ever endure was from October 1956 to October 1957, when Dick’s advertising career took him to New York for a year. The letters they wrote to each other, almost daily, form the heart of the Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman Papers.

typed letter from Dick Chapman to Ben Duncan

Four months into his year in the States, Dick Chapman found himself “spell[ing] American.” Dick Chapman to Ben Duncan, February 10, 1957.

Duncan and Chapman kept their letters in a sealed box until 1989. That year, they met Kenneth A. Lohf, who was then Librarian for Rare Books and Manuscripts at Columbia University. A mutual friend, the book collector and Columbia alumnus Dallas Pratt, arranged the meeting in London. In addition to sharing Duncan and Chapman’s love of English literature, Lohf had also lived with his long-term partner, Paul Palmer, for nearly forty years. Perhaps this was why Duncan and Chapman felt comfortable offering their letters to Columbia University. Lohf suggested that they include Duncan’s literary manuscripts as well.

Lohf’s firsthand understanding of the ways that romantic relationships between men could be hidden in plain sight doubtless influenced the way in which the Ben Duncan Papers were originally processed in 1990-1991. Calling the collection the Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman Papers might have been too obvious, but the addition of Duncan’s manuscripts allowed it to be presented as Duncan’s papers alone. Thus the collection’s original name: the Ben Duncan Papers. The collection’s original summary likewise hinted at the importance of the letters without giving anything away. The archivist wrote, “The correspondence consists chiefly of letters between Duncan and Richard Chapman, during 1956 and 1957, when Duncan, an American, was working in advertising in England, and Chapman, an Englishman, was working in advertising in New York. These letters provide a perspective on daily life during the mid-1950s, including such topics as books, plays, current events, and customs of that period.”

typed letter from Ben Duncan to Dick Chapman about spotting closeted men in public

In commenting on a mutual friend’s romantic woes, Ben Duncan also provides a glimpse into the ways gay men carefully identified each other in mixed settings, as well as the necessity of conforming to masculine gender norms in order to avoid being “obvious.” Ben Duncan to Dick Chapman, February 7, 1957.

The idea of closing the collection to researchers during both donors’ lifetimes was also Lohf’s.

Lohf retired in 1993. By the time of his death, in 2002, the pace of change had picked up. Duncan began working to revise his 1962 memoir to include details of his life and relationship with Dick that would have been unprintable at the time—five years before homosexuality was decriminalized in England. He and his editor, John Howard, revisited the 1956-1957 letters as they prepared the manuscript.

Blue, gold and maroon Cover for revised Ben Duncan memoir

Cover for revised Ben Duncan memoir

Duncan gave another handful of manuscripts, including an as-yet unpublished sequel to The Same Language, titled Late Starter, to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 2003. He did not, however, alter the restrictions on the collection.

Duncan and Chapman were not ashamed of their relationship, and, as Duncan wrote to Lohf in 1989, “there is nothing in any way scandalous or sensational” in the letters. In his revision of The Same Language, Duncan identified himself explicitly as a gay man, and described frankly the way that aspect of his identity shaped his experiences. I think he and Chapman simply preferred to live quietly, as they had done for fifty years.

Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman became the first couple in Cambridgeshire to form a civil partnership, when the Civil Partnerships Act came into effect in 2005. By that time, they had become icons in Cambridge’s gay community. Duncan was keenly aware how important their example was to younger generations of LGBTQ youth. “They wanted to hear, for a change, a story with a happy ending for people like them and us,” he wrote.

They finished their life together as a married couple when Chapman died in 2012. Duncan died four years later, in 2016. Now that the terms of the donor agreement have been fulfilled, their papers are open to researchers in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Much as Duncan and Chapman revised the way they presented themselves to the world, I have also revised the collection’s description. Recognizing the donors’ original understanding of the collection’s historical significance (and the name they continued to use for it in correspondence with the Rare Book and Manuscript Library) I renamed the collection the Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman Papers. I updated the biographical note to include information about both of its donors, and to make their relationship to one another clear. I also updated the scope and content information to highlight the letters’ value to scholars interested in LBGTQ history. In short, the collection came out of the closet. (Though it is, like all archival collections at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, still stored in closed stacks.)

When the revised edition of The Same Language was published, Ben told a reporter for The Guardian, “It was an absolute joy to write. I can’t tell you the sense of release. I wanted our lives put on record. I didn’t want the moment to pass and be forgotten. I didn’t want the bad things that happened to us to happen to anyone else.” I hope he would feel similarly about the opening of the Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman Papers. — Celeste Brewer, Processing Archivist Ben Duncan signature

Dick Chapman signature