“Where there is no imagination, there is no horror…”

Happy Halloween from SCRC!

In anticipation of the upcoming holiday, here are some staff selected spooky materials from SCRC’s collections:

Paul Barfoot, Library Technician

Phobia by John Vassos.

The illustration for Necrophobia, or “fear of the dead” in Phobia.

The cover of Vassos’ Phobia.

John Vassos (1898-1985) was an American illustrator and industrial designer whose style influenced cinema, theater and advertising. He also wrote and illustrated several books. Phobia, produced in a limited edition of 1500 copies, is a study of some of the fears that affect modern life. The gouache illustrations are in black and white. Vassos wrote in the introduction to the book, “A phobia is essentially graphic. The victim creates in his mind a realistic picture of what he fears, a mental image of a physical thing.”

Phobia by John Vassos (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) is part of the Special Collections Research Center’s rare books collection.

Nicolette Dobrowolski, Assistant Director of Collections and Access Services

Danse Macabre from the Adolph Bolm Papers.

Creepy Jack Pumpkinhead from L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” books.

Jack Pumpkinhead.

The Adolph Bolm Papers is one of my very favorite collections we have here. It includes the film Danse Macabre with Adolf Bolm and Ruth Page. It is amazing to see the dance performance synced with the music. I watch it every Halloween. We don’t have a digitized version up, but the Chicago Film Archives has a version online (from Ruth Page Collection), so you can see how ours would look.

As added fun, here are several images of Jack Pumpkinhead from The Marvelous Land of Oz and other L. Frank Baum books, because he creeps me out!

The Adolph Bolm Papers (Adolph Bolm Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections; the L. Frank Baum Papers (L. Frank Baum Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections and The Marvelous Land of Oz (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) is part of the Special Collections Research Center’s rare books collection.

 

Jim Meade, Audio Preservation Engineer

Transformation scene from “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”.

The wax cylinders for the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” recording.

The transformation scene from R. L. Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, by famous recording artist Len Spencer, 1904. Len Spencer died in 1914. His funeral was particularly spooky in that he himself was the speaker! Spencer recited the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd psalm to assembled mourners from beyond the grave, having recorded them earlier specifically for that purpose.

Transformation scene from “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”(Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) is part of the Special Collections Research Center’s Belfer Audio Archive.

 

Colleen Theisen, Chief Curator

Liber Chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel, 1493.

five skeletons dancing

Dance of Death, Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493.

Hatto II was the archbishop of Mainz from 968 to 970 and some legends say he was eaten by rats.

Hatto II was the archbishop of Mainz from 968 to 970 and some legends say he was eaten by rats.

My go-to book for spooky content is the Nuremburg Chronicle. Since it attempts to depict all of history from the creation of the world to contemporary events in Germany in the 1490s, history is full of destruction, decay, deformity, and death.

 

 

 

The Nuremburg Chronicle (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) is part of the Special Collections Research Center’s rare books collection.

Grace Wagner, Reading Room Access Services Supervisor

Bradbury’s “Homecoming,” published with some spooky illustrations, in Mademoiselle.

Homecoming by Ray Bradbury, published in the October 1947 issue of Mademoiselle.

Ray Bradbury began his career as a writer by contributing stories to fanzines and pulp serials, including the Street & Smith publication, Super Science Stories. Mademoiselle, another Street & Smith publication, published Bradbury’s short story “Homecoming” in October 1947 after Truman Capote, who was working as an editor for the magazine at the time, rescued it from the submission pile.

Bradbury received an O. Henry Award for the story about a normal boy’s feelings of estrangement from his family of supernatural beings.

The October 1947 cover of Mademoiselle.

An author index card for Bradbury from Street & Smith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mademoiselle (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) is part of the Special Collections Research Center’s rare books collection. The Street & Smith Records (Street & Smith Records, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections.

The main image for this post comes from the cover of Teatr “Letuchai︠a︡ myshʹ” (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) in the Special Collections Research Center’s rare books collection.

Shedding Light on Illuminated Manuscripts

By Nora Ramsey, Reference Assistant

A page of music, text, and annotation from the Weiss Antiphoner.

I work as a reference assistant in the Special Collections Research Center on the 6th floor of Bird Library. If you have ever met me, I talk a little too much about how much I love my job. As a reference assistant, I am able to help people from all around the world to explore our collections. By doing so, I am able to familiarize myself with the many interesting and unique collections within the SCRC. Being able to experience history in a multitude of different ways is the best part of my job. Most recently, I have been captivated by our collection of  illuminated manuscripts.

A detailed letter from a page of the Antiphoner.

Illuminated manuscripts are handwritten books that have been adorned with vibrant colors, artwork, and even gold. These embellishments sometimes include small and large illustrations, initials, borders, or other decorative elements. Initially, monasteries created illuminated manuscripts as tools for church services such as prayer books, hymnals and daily devotions.  While many of these manuscripts are religious in nature, there are many different variations that can be used personally or practically. Books of Hours, for example, were personal books meant to inspire these devotions in daily life while antiphoners were practical books for music performance.

Manuscript books were created by and for the use of individuals and no two copies are exactly the same. Historians and librarians work from the physical pages themselves to fill in the blank spots of the book’s history. As a student working towards a career in special collections, I find that this is the most interesting part of working with manuscripts. History is embedded into the pages, and the fun lies in the mystery.

A page of the Antiphoner featuring a large repair on the lower right hand side of the page.

The Gradual of Saints, also known as the Weiss Antiphoner, contains liturgical music of the Church which consists of Gregorian chant or monophonic harmony. This music was used to accompany the text of the mass and the canonical hours. The codex is a surprisingly large and evidently well-loved Dominican Gradual of Saints which can be dated c. 1484-1524 most likely originating from Castile, Spain. 

As a musician myself, it is extremely interesting to see early musical notation and how performers approached practice. The Antiphoner’s pages are well worn— evidence of many years of use. Unlike music used for entertainment in later eras like the Romantic Period, this use of music was used exclusively for Church services. Musicians either worked for the church or for the nobility; they did not create music to be consumed by the general public like today. The large and extensive repairs indicate that this text was important enough to preserve its functionality. Also indicative of its practical nature is the size of the original writing. This text can easily be seen from several feet away by a moderately sized choir. In addition to the original text, there are also many marginal notes from the various church musicians using the text. These notes exist in a variety of different handwriting and most often refer to the function of the music. Sometimes, the notes will extend or edit a line of music. Many times, the handwriting is concerned with “naming the saint, time of the calendar or liturgical year, a specific service connected to the chants on the page, and sometimes additional cross references to chants in other books” (Harden). These comments are almost exactly what I would write in my own music, although I doubt that mine will exist 500 years from now.

Although the manuscript was well used, the decoration of the text implies that it was also meant to be elegant— this is the Church we’re talking about after all. The illuminations consist of detailed and intricate designs in red and  blue ink. While there are no miniatures, animals, floral designs or gold leaf, this manuscript was likely an expensive asset to the Church.

A page from Le Louchier Hours featuring elaborate decorations, including illuminated borders and gold leaf.

Comparatively, manuscripts commissioned by wealthy patrons instead of the Church stand out as more personal and remarkably embellished books. For example, within the collections at SCRC, Le Louchier Hours, otherwise known as The Syracuse Hours,  is a great example of personalized details within commissioned manuscripts. The manuscript itself is relatively small, indicating this book could travel with its owner easily, unlike the Gradual of Saints where size was an important factor in its functionality. However, in a Book of Hours, a patron is able to tailor special supplemental devotions to themselves or their family. These books are more diverse in artwork, ranging from a few painted initials to gorgeous illuminated borders and full-page pictures. In manuscripts such as these, illuminators would pound gold into thin leaves that they would then use to decorate pages in the book. The gold leaf in the Le Louchier Hours is extremely evident; there are pieces of gold on almost every page and the book even has gilded edges. The Le Louchier Hours is truly a no-expense-spared codex, evident in the detailed marginalia and gold leaf within the artwork. 

The crest belonging to Le Louchier-De Buillemont family which also incorporates the insignia for the Croquevilain family.

Personalized details in the book are also examples of the extravagance expected from wealthy patrons. This manuscript contains a crest belonging to the Le Louchier-De Buillemont family which also incorporates the insignia for the Croquevilain family. The combination of the crest and insignia imply the union of the families, so the book could have been created after the marriage of Robert Le Louchier (c.1407) and Anne Croquevilain of Tournai (b. ca.1416; d. 1503) in 1435. However, this conclusion is at most only speculation because we have no other sources other than the crest itself. 

The creators of these beautiful books would never have predicted that these two books would ever be in the same room together. As a student at Syracuse University and an employee of SCRC, I count myself lucky that I get to experience these materials in such unique ways. If you are interested in materials such as these, I recommend visiting SCRC to see them yourself.

The Gradual of Saints (Weiss Antiphoner) and Book of Hours are part of our rare books collection (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).

Additional Sources:

Stein, Wendy A. “The Book of Hours: A Medieval Bestseller.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/hour/hd_hour.htm. June 2017.

“Gregorian chant.” Britannica Academic, Encyclopædia Britannica, 9 Mar. 2007. academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Gregorian-chant/38014. Accessed 11 Oct. 2019.

Harden, Jean. “The Weiss Antiphoner.” Paper for IST 509, History of Recorded Information, Syracuse University, July 17, 1990.

 

Ninth Street Women and New Books at SCRC

Every year, Special Collections incorporates new books featuring research and materials from SCRC collections into its own collections. This past year, author publications touched on a number of different subjects, ranging from illuminated manuscripts to a biography of the art collector and businessman Archer Milton Huntington. One of the books that joined our collections this year is Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel, an immersive look at the post-war modern art movement from the viewpoint of the women who helped shape it.

The cover of Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel.

Gabriel’s book takes on this subject by focusing on the lives and work of five artists: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler. Gabriel’s research stretches far and wide, incorporating documents and testimony from a number of archives and eyewitnesses. One of the sources Gabriel draws upon is the Grace Hartigan Papers, a manuscript collection held at Syracuse University. Gabriel employs Hartigan’s diaries, correspondence, photographs and other writings from this collection to help tell Hartigan’s story and the story of the Abstract Expressionist movement in her book.

Grace Hartigan standing next to her self-portrait in 1953.

The five artists, or protagonists, of the story, encompass the range of years of the modern art movement, from 1929 to 1959, and Gabriel brings in each new character in the order she naturally appears in the course of the art movement historically. Because Gabriel’s scope is broad — five artists and 30 years of history, she chooses to take a ‘horizontal’ rather than ‘vertical’ approach to the history and focuses on the intersections between these five artists and the movement as a whole, rather than extensively covering individual backgrounds, upbringings, and lives post-1959, when the movement had largely come to a conclusion (xvi). This approach helps keep her 700-page bright yellow tome moving at a surprisingly brisk, easy pace.

Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning dominate the early pages of the book, detailing the early years of the art movement in the 1930s and Krasner’s involvement with the WPA, and “second generation” Abstract Expressionists Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler, both formally educated in art schools and programs, appear towards the latter part of the movement in the early 1950s. Sandwiched in between the two groups, and, in some way, acting as a bridge between, Grace Hartigan’s story is told. Hartigan’s work is informed both by her Great Depression upbringing and her early married years which took place amidst the United States’ involvement in World War II. Hartigan experienced her first taste of the art world at this time, working at an aeronautical factory in New Jersey in the drafting department.

Grace Hartigan painting in a peasant blouse and skirt, her artistic uniform in the early days of her career.

Hartigan struck out on her own at 26, separating from her husband and leaving her son with his grandparents in New Jersey. She began to negotiate how she would become an artist on her own, first traveling west and taking art classes and then living and working among other artists in a freezing apartment building in New York City for a decade, working as an artists’ model to support herself and using flimsy pretexts to keep from being evicted from her living space. Gabriel underscores Hartigan’s complicated journey and transformation into an independent artist with reference to Hartigan’s changing wardrobe, from peasant blouses and skirts to jeans, army fatigues, and work boots.

Even as the story focuses on the women of the movement, gender dynamics are never entirely absent from the narrative. The book takes its name from the Ninth Street Show, a 1951 art exhibit that marked the first time the five central painters all exhibited work together. Ninth Street also refers to the area where these artists lived and worked together, frequenting the same bars and cafes, notably including the dingy, and later famed Cedar Bar located between 8th and 9th streets. At the time of the 1951 exhibit, however, Grace Hartigan, taking her cues from writers George Eliot and Georges Sand, was exhibiting her work under the name “George Hartigan.” She was not hiding her identity as a woman (most artists, buyers, and writers were aware that Grace was behind the works exhibited), but her choice underlined the difficulties women faced as artists in a largely male-dominated field.

An advertisement for the Ninth Street Show, featuring artwork by “George Hartigan,” the nom de guerre Grace Hartigan initially assumed when exhibiting her work as an artist.

Works like Gabriel’s highlight the complexity of individuals like Grace Hartigan and provide context for unexplored historical perspectives. One of the most exciting parts about facilitating the research of scholars and writers in the archives are the articles, books, and publications that are produced from this interaction. Incorporating works that touch significantly on collections in our holdings ultimately makes our collections, and our understanding of them, richer.

The Grace Hartigan Papers (Grace Hartigan Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections. 

Recent Publications using SCRC Material:

  • Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art by Mary Gabriel, including research from the Grace Hartigan Papers.
  • Transatlantic Networks and the Perception and Representation of Vienna and Austria Between the 1920s and 1950s by Waldemar Zacharasiewicz, including research from the Dorothy Thompson Papers.
  • Archer M. Huntington by Patricia Fernandez Lorenzo, including research from the Archer Milton Huntington Papers and the Anna Hyatt Huntington Papers.
  • Hacia El Centenario by Carolina Rodriguez-Lopez, including research from the Anna Hyatt Huntington Papers.
  • Manufacturing Modernism/Transitional Moments by H. Reynolds Butler, including research and photos from the Marcel Breuer Papers.
  • Titian, Friendship, and the Vienna Ecce Homo for Giovanni d’Anna by Alison Luchs in Artibus et historiae an art anthology, including research from illuminated manuscript 7, Book of Hours.

American and Soviet “Truth”: Pravda in Special Collections

By Natasha Bishop, Reference Assistant

SCRC is home to the collections of many prominent twentieth-century American cartoonists and journalists, some of whose works deal with one of the century’s most omnipresent forces: the Soviet Union. Three of these figures, Communist activist Earl Browder and political cartoonists Bill Crawford and Don Wright, engaged with the Soviet Communist Party’s daily newspaper, Pravda in their articles and cartoons. In doing so, the three men showcase the distinctly different ways propaganda and bias emerged in Soviet and American presses at this time.

While multiple newspapers were published in the Soviet Union, none was more far-reaching than the Soviet Communist Party’s central organ, Pravda (Russian for “Truth”). The publication powerhouse ran under Communist control from 1912 to 1991 and, at its height of circulation, reached 11 million people daily. Through Pravda, the party disseminated official policy while also presenting a strictly controlled image of communism’s reception abroad.

Front page of Pravda featuring a state officials group photograph with Josef Stalin standing center, March 2, 1947.

In efforts to present an image of widespread international support for the Soviet Union, Pravda employed American writers and cartoonists living abroad as foreign correspondents, some of whose collections are now held in SCRC. Noted American radical artists William Gropper and Fred Ellis, for example, both worked for the newspaper while living in Russia in the 1920s and 1930s, respectively. And in 1966, SCRC acquired the papers of one of Pravda’s most prominent American correspondents, Earl Browder.

The Earl Browder Collection contains the activist’s manuscripts, correspondence, memorabilia, and photographs, in addition to over 1,350 titles from his personal book and pamphlet collection. It is a critical collection because Browder was the General Secretary of the Communist Party USA from 1930 to 1945 and a two-time U.S. presidential candidate. He was a seminal party member until being expelled in 1956 for promoting a peaceful coexistence between socialism and capitalism. Browder continued to write for Pravda in the years after his excommunication and remained a committed socialist until his death in 1973.

SCRC holds a number of articles Browder wrote for Pravda, all of which are exaggerated accounts of socialism’s influence in the United States. A potent example of this is the 1939 article, “Lenin and his Influence in America,” which Browder begins by declaring: “Fifteen years after the death of Lenin, the influence of his ideas in America has grown to the proportion of a major factor in the life of the country…Lenin’s penetrating vision revealed the many affinities existing between the people of the Soviet Union, land of socialism, and the people of the United States.” This faithfully reflects the serious manner in which Browder wrote his Pravda reports, amplifying the Soviet Union’s impact on the American general public.

Being a state-run political apparatus, the heavily regulated and serious Pravda existed solely to push Communist policy. SCRC’s issues of Pravda contain few images and no cartoons; the editors clearly prioritized policy over entertainment. Through Browder and other foreign correspondents, it kept the Soviet public abreast on American news, although always biased in favor of the Communist party.

Conversely, the American public maintained an awareness of information being circulated by Pravda throughout the twentieth century, as evidenced in two works in SCRC collections by prominent cartoonists, Bill Crawford and Don Wright. While Soviet news contributors wrote from a serious standpoint, American cartoonists could afford to be more glib in their presentation of foreign matters. No major periodicals were controlled by political factions and because the American press operates within the free-market economy, its news publications have always had the dual task of informing and entertaining to attract readers. Rooted in comedy, the cartoon remains a staple of American newspapers. It is an effective tool wielded to deliver sharply critical commentary made more palatable through humor.

Cartoon criticizing the two-faced nature of Soviet officials by Bill Crawford, ca. 1958-52.

Crawford’s cartoon, published sometime between 1952-58, shows Josef Stalin holding a mask in his right hand. “‘We are devoted to strengthening peace and cooperation with the U.S.’…New Soviet Ambassador Zarubin,” assures the mask to the American audience. Meanwhile, Stalin faces the opposite direction and speaks directly to the Soviets (as quoted in Pravda) “‘U.S. Ambassador is a slanderer disguised as a diplomat’…Pravda”. This showcases the deep cynicism of what Americans believed were false promises being made by the Soviets. Its message was clearly that the Soviets were not to be trusted, which stoked the flames of fear being nurtured during the Red Scare era.

Cartoon by Don Wright featuring a newspaper merchant selling two Soviet and one American publications, undated.

 Although less explicit than Crawford’s cartoon, Wright’s still plays into the fearmongering aspects of anti-Soviet propaganda. This undated cartoon published in the Miami Herald shows a dejected man at his newsstand in Moscow selling three publications: Pravda, Izvestia, and the Wall Street Journal. The paranoia-imbued message Wright delivers says that the Soviets were closely monitoring the American economy.

The American and Soviet presses would keep their readerships informed on the current events of each other’s countries throughout the Cold War. Their delivery styles were markedly different due to the nature of state-run versus free-market publications, yet similarities are found in the biased and propagandistic nature of their foreign news content.

The William Gropper Papers (William Gropper Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), Fred Ellis Papers (Fred Ellis Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), Bill Crawford Papers (Bill Crawford Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), Don Wright Papers (Don Wright Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), and Earl Browder Papers (Earl Browder Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections. Additional issues of Pravda are also available on microfilm at the Bird Library.

Additional Sources:

Dallin, Alexander. “America Through Soviet Eyes.” The Public Opinion Quarterly, vol. 11, no. 1, 1947, pp. 26–39.

Gruliow, Leo. “The Soviet Press: ‘Propagandist, Agitator, Organizer’.” Journal of International Affairs, vol. 10, no. 2, 1956, pp. 153–169.

Moore, Barrington. “The Communist Party of the USA; an Analysis of a Social Movement.” The American Political Science Review, vol. 39, no. 1, 1945, pp. 31–41.

White, James D. “The First Pravda and the Russian Marxist Tradition.” Soviet Studies, vol. 26, no. 2, 1974, pp. 181–204.

Voices from Attica

Student workers join the Special Collections Research Center over the summer to work on focused projects and internships. For the month of August we will be highlighting student work and student research projects from summer 2019. This week, we highlight a research post from one of our public services graduate student workers.

By Chris Barnes, Public Services Assistant

Cover of the Broadside Press publication Betcha Ain’t: Poems from Attica.

As part of its large collection of activism and social reform materials, Syracuse University’s Special Collections Research Center holds nearly 170 titles from poet Dudley Randall’s Broadside Press, a small press that sought to publish books by African-American poets such as Nikki Giovanni and Audre Lorde at affordable prices. The book of poetry Betcha Ain’t: Poems from Attica exemplifies the press’s commitment to publishing voices that may not otherwise exist.

On September 9, 1971, over 1,200 prisoners at the Attica State Correctional Facility in upstate New York took 39 corrections officers hostage and occupied the prison’s main yard for four days, demanding long-awaited improvements to the prison’s deplorable conditions. The standoff drew international attention as inmates negotiated for these changes with State Corrections Commissioner Russell Oswald. The negotiations eventually stalled, and on September 13, when Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered state troopers to retake the prison by force. Some troopers dropped tear gas from helicopters while others stormed the prison and fired their rifles into the smoky yard killing hostages and inmates alike and ending with more than 40 casualties

Edited by Celes Tisdale three years after the rebellion, Betcha Ain’t contains poems by Attica inmates. Tisdale held multiple eight-week poetry workshops in Attica in 1972, working with 15 men chosen by a lottery system. In the workshops, the men discussed various poetic forms and workshopped their own original writing, honing their poetic voices. Tisdale then submitted the poems to the Broadside Press editor Dudley Randall, who then made the final selections. 

The poems are about an array of topics, such as prison life, societal racism, and celebrations of blackness. And, not surprisingly, many are about the Attica uprising and its bloody aftermath. For instance, in his poem “1st page,” Daniel Brown imagines himself physically freed from Attica, but still mentally gripped by it: “I’ll find a house or hut to live in / In a lonely countryside / With Atticka on my mind.” Such feelings of loneliness not only stem from the physical isolation of incarceration, but also the sense of being forgotten or disregarded by the outside world. John Lee Norris’s poem “Just Another Page (September 13-72)” grapples with similar themes, as it expresses the sense that a year after the uprising, the world beyond prison walls has already forgotten about the rebellion:

A year later
And it’s just another page
And the only thing they do right is wrong
And Attica is a maggot-minded black blood sucker
And the only thing they do right is wrong
And another page of history is written in black blood
And old black mamas pay taxes to buy guns that killed
    their sons
And the consequence of being free…is death
And your sympathy and tears always come too late
And the only thing they do right is wrong
          And it’s just another page.

Daniel Brown’s poem Just Another Page from Betcha Ain’t: Poems from Attica

Also included in Betcha Ain’t are excerpts from Tisdale’s personal journal about the workshops, along with individual biographies of each poet. The journal entries depict a relationship founded in a shared sense of respect and intellectual camaraderie: “The men joke with me as we enter and leave, but I still detect great respect, almost an awe, a stand-offish attitude. I see them as the men I relate to every day in the world outside. How it pains me when they go back to their cells, but linger and talk before the guard hurries them along. If I could only stay here a few days more.” His entries also attest to the difficulties of running the workshops in Attica, as he must compete with the vagaries of prison life that affect the poets. He describes one attendee who has become “unusually despondent these days. His cell was ‘raided’ by officials and his poetry and books confiscated. He has been very tight, recently.”  

The poems in Betcha Ain’t challenged contemporary media depictions of the rebels as a monolith of dangerous, radical leftists. But as my time working in the SCRC Reading Room reminds me, archives are not only a repository of materials, but are also institutions that help shape historical and cultural memory. Indeed, the historian Heather Ann Thompson explains in her book Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy that a comprehensive history of Attica has been difficult to write, as many of the important documents about what happened during the chaotic retaking of the prison have remained sealed in state archives or are available only in heavily redacted form through Freedom of Information Act requests.

1974 issue of the student publication The Syracuse Sun.

With important documents still inaccessible, a way of learning more about Attica rebellion is through the voices of those who helped shape the publication of texts such as Betcha Ain’t. For researchers interested in these voices, SCRC also holds Syracuse University student publications such as The Syracuse Sun, which covered trials against Attica inmates and also featured letters written by them that tell readers about the ongoing conditions in the prison. These materials offer a look at the ways local activists attempted to rally support on behalf of Attica inmates and to spread the word about the grave injustices continuing to take place at the prison.

The Special Collections Research Center is dedicated to providing opportunities for student learning and research. Stay tuned for more updates from our students throughout the month of August.

Betcha Ain’t: Poems from Attica and the Broadside Press publications are part of SCRC’s rare books collection (Rare books, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) and the student publication The Syracuse Sun is part of SCRC’s Syracuse University Student Publications Reference Collection (Syracuse University Student Publications Reference Collection, University Archives Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).

Additional Sources:

Leasher, Evelyn. “Broadside Press of Detroit.” Michigan Historical Review, vol. 26, no. 1, 2000, pp. 106-123.

New York (State). Special Commission on Attica. Attica: The Official Report of the New York State Special Commission on Attica. Bantam Books, New York, 1972.

Thompson, Heather A., 1963. Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy. Pantheon Books, New York, 2016.