Head Archivist Kevin Schlottmann shares collections newly opened or updated by RBML’s Archivists.
New finding aids
Yehudah Joffe papers, 1893-1966, bulk 1920-1945
“The collection consists of Joffe’s correspondence, manuscripts/notes, and newspaper clippings. Joffe’s correspondence in Yiddish in English is both personal and professional, covering communication with institutions he was working at or hoping to work at. Joffe’s manuscripts contain drafts for lectures and notes on university seminars and lectures he attended under Prof. Roman Jakobson and others. Joffe’s newspaper clippings contain a selection of clippings relating to Prof. Peck, his undergraduate advisor, and miscellaneous clippings.
Agudath Israel Records, 1933-2008, bulk 1940-1947
” This collection consists of autograph signed letters, typed signed letters, postcards, telegrams, printed material, programs, newspaper clippings, and written public announcements pertaining to the Agudath Israel movement in America, Eretz Israel/Palestine, and Lithuania. Most materials are dated during the 1940s (wake of WWII). Most letters are addressed to Rabbi Aaron Ben Zion Shurin. The materials are mainly in Hebrew and English with some in Yiddish. Most materials concern the role of Orthodox Jewry in the wake of the Holocaust.”
Andrew Alpern Collection of Edward Gorey Materials
“A collection of original artwork, published books, printed ephemera, and branded merchandise by the writer and artist Edward Gorey (1925-2000), assembled by Andrew Alpern.”
In 1927, an Italian medievalist and prominent Fascist named Piero Misciattelli gifted to the Columbia University Libraries an autograph letter written by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello in 1821. Jefferson’s letter to Parisian booksellers DeBures Frères placing an order for his burgeoning library was, according to an extract from the Columbia Trustee Minutes of October 3, 1927, “hitherto unpublished and unknown.”
Such a remarkable gift prompts several questions: What was the connection between Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler and a Fascist university professor? How did this Italian scholar of medieval mysticism and literature acquire an American president’s epistle sent to Paris in the 19th century? Why would Misciattelli, a loyal Fascist, express open admiration for an American champion of democracy like Jefferson?
Though the letter’s provenance and its pathway to Misciattelli’s possession remain a mystery, the esteem for Jefferson and the relationship between Butler and Misciattelli hinges upon the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP). An international think tank founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1910, CEIP was, and remains, dedicated to the cause of advancing world peace. While also serving as Columbia’s President, Nicholas Murray Butler steered the CEIP for 20 years, 1925-1945, through the entire Fascist ventennio and the ravages of WWII. Misciattelli, a member of the European Committee of the Division of Intercourse and Education of the CEIP and thus known to Butler, shared Mussolini’s ironic Fascist policy of peace through disarmament. In a New York Times article from October 1931 announcing Misciattelli’s visit to New York to lecture on Dante at Columbia’s new Casa Italiana, he is quoted parroting Mussolini’s rhetoric:
“Disarmament is the first condition of peace, wealth and real progress for the whole world. Of course, no country can have social peace without order and discipline and all of the other old Roman virtues. Mussolini believes, as does bold young Italy, that the spirit of Roman laws, of Roman civilization, is immortal. …Mussolini is a sincere advocate of international peace.”
The NYT article also includes Misciattelli’s thinly-veiled attempt to assert a long-standing amicable relationship between Italy and the United States by referencing an 1853 message sent by President Abraham Lincoln to famed Italian physicist Macedonio Melloni. So perhaps it’s not surprising that Misciattelli would have acquired the Jefferson letter and then gifted it to a prestigious American university such as Columbia, particularly since Misciattelli and Butler were supposedly proponents of the same peaceful ideology.
Despite his status as a professor at the University of Siena, Misciattelli, also a Marquis, lists his address on the letter to President Butler as Piazza Venezia 5, in Rome. Piazza Venezia was the literal heart of the Fascist regime, as the Palazzo Venezia’s infamous balcony (located at number 10), was the site of so many impassioned Mussolini orations to the Italian people. If Misciattelli’s base in Rome was located just steps from Mussolini’s office then we can safely surmise that he was in favor with Il Duce, perhaps because of the inroads he was making in spreading Fascist ideology through his lectures, his work on the CEIP, and his strategic gifts of friendship to universities like Columbia.
What brings you to Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library?
[I’m here to] rummage archival properties for information that describes the challenges, path and journey taken to build a profile for Norma Merrick, the first African American female to graduate from the Columbia University School of Architecture (1946 to 1950) and become licensed that same year. I learned from Avery Library that the type of information that I was seeking (e.g. architectural course offerings, access to student activities, events, residential spaces, building and grounds, campus newspapers, correspondence records of attendance, etc.) could best be found in RBML. In particular I wanted to know the structures in place that helped Merrick continue enrolling in a program that had few women and possibly no other people of color. Above this, I was impressed that she was able to graduate on-time — that is, in four years.
How long have you been using RBML materials?
I arrived in early January 2019, after an Avery Hall librarian, informed me to further inquire on the 6th Floor of Butler. As a matter of fact, she directed me to the Rare Books and Manuscripts desk where I explained briefly why I was there and I was given the card of Ms. Jocelyn K. Wilk. I sent Ms. Wilk an email with much of the above mentioned information. Her immediate responding put me in the library within days. I attend the library twice a week. Continue reading
Getting to tell your own story is a gift, but it means that you have to contend with other people’s stories, and I guess that can mean arguing, maybe for 50 years straight. And that’s O.K. – Who Threw the First Brick at Stonewall? Let’s Argue About It
The RBML’s archival, manuscript, oral history and University Archives are full of materials from people who were out and proud, recently revealed queer collections and likely materials and people still somewhat closeted by historical forces and past archival practices rooted in homophobia.
You’re invite during PRIDE month, and every other month, to explore the collections we have on offer that begin to demonstrate the range of LGBTQIA people, voices and experiences. Some materials to start with include, but aren’t limited to:
- ephemera related to the LGBT movement in Croatia,
- the Alexander Gumby papers,
- the Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman papers,
- the oral histories of Bayard Rustin, Harry Hay, Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall,
- the Columbia LGBT Records, 1961-2013,
- and the Robert L. Wilbur Protest Literature Collection.
And, by all means, if you come across items in our collections that show evidence of LGBTQIA histories, let us know so that we can update our records accurately.
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
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.
Head Archivist Kevin Schlottmann shares collections newly opened or updated by RBML archivists.
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
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.
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.
I transcribed a collection of 18thC student disciplinary records once. Let me give a quick overview of the things that generation were doing… 1/ https://t.co/RZ5aTTJ7N0
— Jenny Bann (@calluna_) July 19, 2018
Browse digitized Columbia University publications for evidence closer to home that — across generations — students will be students.