Category Archives: Columbia University Archives

Library Week Feature: what can we learn from Nella Larsen’s application to library school?

We see you every day, handing you a lockers key as you walk in each morning, and receiving it back toward the end of the day.
Most often you’re hunkered down over a particular archive, getting to understand a portion of one of our archives better than anyone who works in the RBML. We await the longer scholarly projects that you’re developing from this research but in the nearer term we thought it would be interesting to give a preview of your work.
 
In this brief interview, Professor Emerita Barbara Hochman of Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Foreign Literatures and Linguistics tells us about her research for her recently published article, “Filling in Blanks: Nella Larsen’s Application to Library School” (paywall). 
 

 

Working in an archive, one never knows which scrap of paper will be revealing.

What brings you to Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library?

I came to RBML to examine the library school application of Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen. I had been intrigued for some time by both her fiction and her career trajectory. She had successfully transitioned from nursing, to librarianship, to authorship in less than a decade, but although her novel Passing won substantial acclaim when it appeared in 1929, her story “Sanctuary” drew plagiarism charges just one year later. Larsen subsequently cut off her ties with the literary world she knew, stopped writing, and returned to nursing; she died alone and forgotten, leaving no papers. While working on an essay about the way Larsen used her reading in her writing (“Love and Theft: Plagiarism, Blackface, and Nella Larsen’s ‘Sanctuary,’American Literature [September 2016]: 509-540) I learned from George Hutchinson’s biography that Larsen was the first African American to be accepted to [Columbia’s] library school in the United States, and that her application was housed at Columbia. I was curious to see the material artifact in its entirety. Continue reading

New oral history collection available | Columbia’s LGBTQ Oral History Project

Newly available in the RBML’s reading room and oral history archives is a six-interview collection detailing the lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ people and allies affiliated with Columbia University. Low Library lit up with rainbow colored lights

The LGBTQ Columbia University Oral History Project includes interviews with noted alumni and affiliates John D’Emilio, Tony Kushner, Robbie Kaplan, Ann Kansfield, Laura Pinsky and Dennis Mitchell.

Read more about the project on the Center for Oral History Research’s website.

New and Updated Collections | January/February 2019

rows of archival boxes in a white room

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

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

Now available

Al Jaffee Papers
Al Jaffee (born March 13, 1921) is a comic artist best known for
creating MAD magazine’s iconic Fold-In feature. The collection
contains extensive original artwork, including sketches, tracings, and
proofs documenting Jaffee’s creative process. Publishing and
commission contracts, correspondence, clippings, and a small amount of
programs and ephemera from fan conventions and other public
appearances are also included.

Columbia College Records
This collection is composed of the general files of Columbia
College’s Dean’s Office and the correspondence of Columbia College
administrative officers during the years 1892 through 2019. A review
of this collection allows researchers to gain insights into the
interaction of Columbia College faculty and administrators with
students, fellow faculty members, parents of students, and
administrators of other colleges. Continue reading

Newly Available | All issues of alumni magazine, Columbia College Today (CCT)

All issues of the College’s alumni magazine, Columbia College Today (CCT) from its inception in 1954 through the Summer 2016 issue have been uploaded to the Internet Archive.

University Archives worked collaboratively with CCT’s staff to generate a full index to all issues of this publication from November 1954 through Fall 2018, which allows for directed searching of this incredibly useful content.

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Have students really changed that much since the 1800s?

Amidst older generations’ ritual grousing about the younger ones, despairing the lifestyle choices, learning habits, political commitments and foodways of the Millennial generation has reached a fever pitch.

In defense of students today, historian and “recovering academic,” Jenny Bann shared findings from her research that shows students have never been academic angels.

Have a look at Bann’s post to Twitter about student highjinx in the 18th century.

Browse digitized Columbia University publications for evidence closer to home that — across generations —  students will be students.

P.S. Avocado toast is delicious

 

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.”

 

 

Lorenzo Da Ponte returns to Columbia

etching of white man

Lorenzo Da Ponte from the Columbia Record, 10 May 1991, article announcing the exhibition “Lorenzo Da Ponte: A Vision of Italy from Columbia College” at Low Library.

On October 15 and 17, the Cagliari Opera House will present the first modern rendering of the opera L’Ape Musicale (The Musical Bee) in the Rotunda of Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library, at 7:30pm. The performance is part of a symposium, Lorenzo Da Ponte and the Birth of Italian Opera in New York. Both events are free, ticketed and open to the public.

L’Ape Musicale is Lorenzo Da Ponte’s final libretto and the first Italian opera conceived and staged in the United States. Da Ponte, author of Mozart’s best known librettos (The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787) and Cosi fan tutte (1790)), was the first Professor of Italian at Columbia.

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Old-school Columbia freshman fashion

young white men in beanies on college campus

Freshmen students in beanies leaving a building on campus. Source: Historical Photograph Collection, Columbia University Archives.

“Never neglect to say ‘hello’ to a man who wears a Freshman cap, whether you know his name or not.” – Columbia Blue Book, 1917-18

Proudly worn as symbols of a freshman’s distinctive but lowly position on campus, these caps helped the new classmates forge a close allegiance amongst themselves and against their greatest detractors: the sophomores. The wearing of the beanies was mandatory and a bareheaded freshman was an outrage to sophomores. The 1927-28 Columbia Blue Book (a handbook for first year students) contained freshman rules – including the requirement to wear your freshman cap at all times – and noted that rule-breakers would be “summarily dealt with.”

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Alice was here

Tomorrow, October 6th, is Mad Hatter Day! University Archivist Jocelyn Wilk shares a Columbia connection to the day, which celebrates the Hatter, a key character in Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland.
Bronze statue of the Mad Hatter

Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland, Llandudno.

 

Did you know that Alice in Wonderland came to visit Columbia and was awarded an honorary degree?

You may think us mad to suggest such a thing, but, indeed, this actually happened!

In May 1932 Alice Pleasance Hargreaves, the “Alice” of Lewis Carroll’s works, came to New York City and Columbia University, in particular, to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s birth. Festivities at the University included an exhibition held in the Avery Library of “Carrolliana” assembled from collectors throughout the country.

Mrs. Hargreaves’ participation took two forms. On May 2, in a private ceremony, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler in the Rotunda of Low Memorial Library. In her acceptance speech, Mrs. Hargreaves said: “I shall remember it and prize it for the rest of my days, which may not be very long. I love to think, however unworthy I am, that Mr. Dodgson – Lewis Carroll – knows and rejoices with me.”

woman and man in graduation caps and gowns

Columbia University Honors the Original Alice of “Alice in Wonderland”. New York City.- Mrs. Reginald Liddell Hargreaves, for whom Lewis Carroll wrote the book which is now one of the world’s classics, with President Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia University after the private ceremony in which she was given the degree of Doctor of Letters. 5/3/32.
Source: Historical Photograph Collection, Columbia University Archives.

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New Resource | Notable Columbians

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg leading a seminar discussion at the School of Law, ca. 1975 (Scan 4330) Historical Photograph Collection (Box 46). University Archives, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.

At the University Archives, working with researchers allows us to learn about a wide range of Columbians.

From a researcher, we learned about Otelia Cromwell, the first African American woman to receive a PhD at Yale. (Cromwell received a Master’s degree from Columbia in 1911.)

Another asked us about Anni Weiss-Frankl, one of the early researchers working on what is now known as autism. (Born Anni Babette Weiss, she was a student and an Associate of Child Guidance at Columbia University’s Teachers College in the late 1930s.)

But there are certain Columbians whom researchers frequently ask about.

In response to a recent flurry of requests about certain individuals associated with Columbia we’ve added a new section to our research guide: Notable Columbians. This guide provides information on what and how you can find materials related to these three amazing individuals: Bhimrao Ambedkar, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and V.K. Wellington Koo. We provide links to digitized resources (including PDFs of documents scanned for previous users) wherever possible and direct users to relevant analog collections across our holdings and those of the RBML.

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