By Sebastian Modrow, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts
The history of libraries or archives could easily fill a whole sequence of courses. During the 2019 spring semester, a group of 12 Library Science students from Syracuse University’s iSchool and their instructor set out (very ambitiously!) to cover the major developments of these two types of information repositories, starting out at the geographic fringes of the Western World (the ancient Near East and ancient Egypt) and moving geographically and chronologically through Europe and North America all the way into the supposed ‘placelessness’ of cyber space. Their quest centered around studying the role and development of libraries and archives in their historical context. The course was called “The History of Libraries and Archives in the Western World.”
While variations of this type of course might address the history of libraries and archives individually, a joint perspective merged into one course has not yet come to my attention. Separate treatment of libraries and archives artificially disentangles a much intertwined history of these two repository types. This entanglement can still be felt today in the collection development of special collections departments, the ongoing struggle for emancipation of archival theory and practice from library management doctrine, as well as the widespread occurrence of employing trained librarians in archivist positions.
Why study library and archives history at all? An obvious benefits of the historical perspective is enabling aspiring librarians, who will engage with the ongoing discussions about the orientation of their professions, to understand the crucial role that libraries and archives play as selective information repositories in a society’s (re)construction of the collective past. Far from being the once proclaimed pristine and untainted springs of objective information, libraries and archives have come under scrutiny for their ‘curatedness’; that is, for the impact of their collection bias as it relates to the maintenance of power structures over time. In order to understand “history,” it might not hurt, therefore, to step back for a moment or a semester and – instead of studying Clio’s sources – to study the history of two of her most important source repositories – libraries and archives.
During the course, the participants learned that this sometimes confusing relationship goes back all the way to the beginning of textual repositories in ancient Mesopotamia. At the center of the course was a discussion on the centuries-permeating mythology surrounding the Library of Alexandria. Each century, the mythos grew and changed in service of the needs of librarians and historians of the time. For example, it strongly influenced the development of public libraries in the nineteenth century, thereby making the history of libraries and archives into a history of (often very powerful) ideas. The course also traced the relationship between information access and maintenance of power structures from the text repositories of the kings of Assur, democratic Athens, Republican and Imperial Rome, monastic libraries and early modern patrimonial archives all the way to the politics of modern archives and libraries.
Focusing on developments in the Western World was one way to reduce the ground that needed to be covered in this course. The course met at SCRC in order to make ample use of SCRC’s holdings: from cuneiform tablets, a papyrus fragment, medieval manuscripts and early prints to digitized material online. Primary source-based learning brought these future librarians and archivists in (literal) contact with the work of their professional ancestors and allowed a first-hand experience of the physicality and thereby, the organization and preservation demands of bygone information media. When discussing, for example, the content and physical arrangement of Mesopotamian archives, students were able to study original clay tablets aided by secondary literature, archival finding aids, and related metadata from the tablets’ digital surrogates in the database of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI). When discussing medieval and early modern library security, a binding bearing traces of a chain lash exemplified the practice of chaining books to shelves and desks. More recently, a card catalog drawer could help students understand the labor of librarians and researchers of the analog age.
As part of their assignments, students gave a presentation on a selected case study of either an important information repository, such as the Library of Alexandria, the Venetian Archives or the Library of Congress, or influential figure, such as Edward Edwards or Andrew Carnegie. A final research paper brought together the students’ understanding of their future profession’s past. Paper topics ranged from “Aristotle’s Library: On Preservation and Information Control” to “Leibnizian Conceptions of the Ideal Library” to “Queer Archives as Agents of Change and Responses to Oppression.”
While working with rare books and archival materials, students were frequently asked to research and briefly present on pulled collection items. These group project-based in-class assignments, which involved searching for and researching collection materials online, introduced students to the structure of rare book related catalog records and archival finding aids. Engaging students with primary source research methodology gave occasion to discuss the workings of a special collections department, which ultimately proved to be the ideal setting for teaching a course on library and archives history.
For the last few years, the Syracuse University Archives has been steadily at work preparing some exciting exhibitions and programs to celebrate Syracuse University’s sesquicentennial. In conjunction with celebrating this monumental milestone, I have been busy processing collections that have significance to the University. The first and most significant of these collections were the Chancellor William P. Tolley Records and William P. Tolley Papers.
Chancellor Tolley served as Syracuse University Chancellor from 1942 to 1969, beginning in the midst of World War II and ending during the Vietnam War and amid the rise of counter culture. Beginning in January 2018, and ending 12 months later in January 2019, I delved into the life and work of arguably one of our finest Chancellors.
When Tolley took over as Chancellor of the University in 1942, the country was in the midst of World War II, and Syracuse University was suffering declining enrollments. Upon taking leadership, Tolley went about establishing a university that met the needs of its student body. In a message to students in 1943, Tolley wrote, “While the war has reduced [Syracuse University’s] enrollment, it has greatly increased our responsibilities.” These responsibilities included preparing young people for war and his administration established war training courses and a Nursing School.
Additionally, Tolley assisted drafting the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or GI Bill, and welcomed thousands of returning veterans at war’s end. Syracuse University continues its commitment to educating veterans based on Tolley’s example. The influx of veterans after World War II spurred exponential growth for the university, and by the time Tolley retired in 1969, his administration had transformed the university from a small private institution into one of the largest universities in the nation.
As I worked through Tolley’s papers and records I developed a deep admiration and respect for him (my coworkers will attest to this – I’d often talk endlessly of the great accomplishments of Tolley and my latest discovery from his materials). There’s a lot to admire about Tolley: his indefatigable work ethic, sincere passion for learning, and unrelenting pursuit of excellence. He cared deeply about Syracuse University, and it showed. He was at times accused of being a micromanager, but he believed that the little details mattered (he once complained in one of his letters to custodial staff that he witnessed too many instances of litter in one of the buildings, and he was uncomfortable with the sloppy appearance that it gave). He had close relationships with many members of the Syracuse University community, including students, staff members, professors, and donors. One student remembered that when she informally stopped in his office to invite him to a sorority event, she was astounded when he welcomed her warmly, and then surprised her by actually attending the event.
But more than any other of Tolley’s fine accomplishments and character traits, I was personally drawn to his commitment to fairness and equity. One of the more treasured items I discovered in Tolley’s papers was a letter from Warren Tsuneishi ‘43. Tsuneishi was a Japanese American student who attended Syracuse University during World War II. In 1943, Tolley quietly admitted to Syracuse University roughly one hundred Japanese Americans from internment camps, including Tsuneishi. The move, at the time, was seen by some as aiding the enemy, but Tolley rightfully argued that the people in the camps were in fact Americans, despite their country of origin.
In the letter, dated July 4, 1983, Tsuneishi wrote, “Your act of moral courage in the face of opposition immeasurably strengthened my own belief and confidence in American democracy. I knew then that despite temporary setbacks under extreme provocation in wartime, the champions of constitutional rights, equity, and fair play for all Americans would in the end prevail.” Tsuneishi stated that he took advantage of the opportunity granted to him by enrolling in an accelerated program at Syracuse University, serving in the United States Army, attending graduate school at Columbia and Yale, and then serving as a librarian at Yale and the Library of Congress. “I recount these accomplishments,” Tsuneishi wrote, “not to boast but to observe that none of these could have been accomplished had you not given me that first chance in 1943.”
I’d like to highlight one more story that emphasizes Tolley’s commitment to equality. In January 1960, the Syracuse University football team defeated the University of Texas at the Cotton Bowl and won the national championship. Days after the event, there were reports that the African American members of the team (including the great Ernie Davis) were subjected to racial slurs and discrimination. The accusations of discrimination included banning the African American players from attending the awards ceremony that immediately followed the game.
The Chancellor’s office received several angry letters about the perceived slight. Responding to a concerned Syracuse University alumnus, Tolley clarified that when the African American team members were asked to leave, Coach Schwartzwalder, Dean Faigle, and himself left out of protest. In hindsight, Tolley wrote, he wished he went even further and had all of the team leave as well. In the future, Tolley promised, the team would not “return to the Cotton Bowl without assurance of complete non-discriminatory practices.” This instance, like Tolley’s reaction to the Japanese American students during World War II, demonstrates his character.
I sincerely valued my year processing Tolley’s records. He inspired me to work harder and to be more empathetic. I invite the public to visit the Special Collections Research Center to learn more about his life and achievements.
The photos in this post are part of our Chancellor William P. Tolley Records (Chancellor William P. Tolley Records, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) and our William P. Tolley Papers (William P. Tolley Papers, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).
Stan and Jan Berenstain are famously known for their Berenstain Bears series of children’s books. SCRC’s Stan and Jan Berenstain Cartoons collection includes original artwork for some of their adult titles from 1950’s-1960’s including strips like Sister (1950’s) and All in the Family (1950’s) and book titles such as Flipsville Squaresville (1966), Call me Mrs. (1961) and several titles in the Lover Boy series.
Stan and Jan were both attending the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art when they met and began producing cartoons collaboratively after the Second World War. Prior to the 1962 publication of their first Berenstain Bears book for children, The Big Honey Hunt, Stan and Jan were producing cartoons that were targeted at an older audience. From illustrated manuals, such as The Berenstains’ Baby Book (1951) which gave new parent’s advice on raising a baby, to illustrated commentaries, such as Tax-Wise (1952) which presented their humorous perspective on the IRS, the Berenstains’ careers began by engaging with adults, their lives, and their problems.
The transition of their target audience from adults to kids was due to their own children, who were Dr. Seuss fans. Stan and Jan had a desire to tell them stories that were their own but more age-appropriate. Ted Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss, became their editor when Random House agreed to be the publisher for their first Berenstain Bears book.
SCRC’s holdings in the Lover Boy series include the titles Lover Boy (1958), Bedside Lover Boy (1960), and Office Lover Boy (1962). These were comedic reads for adults making fun of cliché relationship behavior. For example, these particular pages below from Office Lover Boy are part of a series introducing stereotypical types of secretaries. Similar views and treatment of secretaries are familiar in recent work looking back on the time like the show Mad Men.
While completely opposite from the Lover Boy series on the surface, the Berenstain Bears stories do show remnants of these same types of behavior. The Lover Boy series joked about relationship stereotypes and parenthood. Since the Berenstain Bears features a husband and wife and their family, sometimes these themes carry over, only made suitable for a younger audience.
For example, the last page of TheBig Honey Hunt (1962) shows a goofy Papa Bear purchasing honey from the store after a long, and failed journey with Brother Bear to search for it in the wild. Mama Bear stands in the doorway with her all-knowing smirk, as she had told Paper Bear to simply buy it from the store at the beginning of the book. These stereotype roles – the mother who is always, and often passively, right and the bumbling family man whose ideas and plans rarely work out – were familiar and funny.
In a section on home improvement in Lover Boy (1958), these generalizations are prevalent as well. While the wife certainly looks more annoyed than Mama Bear, she stands behind her husband, who is speaking to their friends, with a facial expression that implies she knew they should have hired a contractor from the very beginning. The husband then jokes about the work he attempted to accomplish by taking on the task himself. Both of these stories poke fun at Papa Bear and the husband for their predictable behavior. In particular, these parent/husband types have persist in examples like Marge and Homer Simpson, or Ellen and Clark Griswald.
Some of the moments within these cartoons did not age as well as others though. The gender roles for each character are clearly defined and stereotypes are certainly perpetuated that have felt more restricting than helpful as time has passed. These comics are able to give us a glimpse into the social hierarchies of marriage and office culture in the 1950s-60s as well as the Berenstains’s unique writing and artistic style. The original drawings and first edition copies of the Lover Boy series are held within our collections and can be accessed in the Reading Room should the early career of the Berenstains interest you.
The comics referenced in this post are part of our Stan and Jan Berenstain Cartoons (Stan and Jan Berenstain Cartoons, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).