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An Act of Moral Courage

By Dane Flansburgh, Assistant Archivist

“This is a forty year letter of gratitude.” This first sentence of a letter that had been stored with thousands of other letters in an archival box, jumped out at me. When processing so much loose material, archivists rarely have time to read individual letters, but this opening line immediately captured my attention. I couldn’t resist reading on. The letter continued, “I have never explicitly thanked you and Syracuse University for accepting me from the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming.” With this line, I understood that this was not an ordinary letter.

In January 2018, I started processing the records and papers of Syracuse University Chancellor William P. Tolley. Shortly before starting the project, the University Archivist, Meg Mason, told me a story of Tolley surreptitiously admitting Japanese American students to Syracuse University from internment camps during World War II. She explained that Tolley wrote of admitting the students in his memoir, yet no primary source material has emerged to support the story. She hoped I could find further documentation on this remarkable story, since it is so under documented. And that is precisely why I understood the importance of this letter.

The letter was from Warren Tsuneishi, a 1943 graduate of Syracuse University. In the letter, Tsuneishi praised Tolley for accepting Tsuneishi and “some of 100 of my Japanese American colleagues” to the University, defining this as an “act of moral courage.” Tolley’s decision to admit students from internment camps, Tsuneishi wrote, “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.” Tolley’s decision to allow the writer into the University, he wrote, had profound consequences for his life: after graduation he served in the US Army with honors in the Pacific Theatre as a translator of intercepted Japanese internal documents, received post graduate degrees from Columbia and Yale, and a long career working at Yale and the Library of Congress. “I recount these ‘accomplishments’ not to boast,” he wrote, “but to observe that none of these could have been accomplished had you not given me that first chance in 1943.”

The letter moved me, and as I began to show it to my coworkers, they were moved as well, not only by Tolley’s act of generosity when it was unpopular to do so, but also because Tsuneishi took the opportunity to live a life of distinction. I was also excited that we had a little more documentation of an event about which we know so little.

Considering that I found the letter so early in processing Tolley’s records and papers, I was hopeful that I would find more regarding the Japanese American students he had admitted, but unfortunately I was unsuccessful in doing so.

Tsuneishi’s extraordinary letter spurred my interest in these students, and I was able to find some additional pieces of information. For example, the local Syracuse Herald-Journal reported that in 1943 two Japanese American students, Frank Watanabe and May Ohmura, made public speeches defending their presence at Syracuse University. “We are as American as anyone else,” Watanabe told a crowd at the Hotel Syracuse. “We have the same cultural background and like swing, ice cream, and baseball as do all Americans.”

I was also able to find a photograph of Warren Tsuneishi from 1945, during his time in the Military Intelligence Service from the archives of the Monrovia Historical Society located in Monrovia, CA, linked here: https://cityofmonrovia.pastperfectonline.com/photo/0DB2BF34-41A9-4128-BDE3-644225736421.

Clippings and photographs like this were exciting to find, but overall, we have very little information on these students and how the University admitted them. Other than Tsuneishi, Watanabe, and Ohmura, we are unaware of even their names. We don’t know about their personal stories, their journeys from the camps to our campus, and their experiences at the university. As an archivist, I am interested in these stories and want to preserve them.

As the university celebrates its sesquicentennial, we have an opportunity to pause and reflect on our history and values. Chancellor Tolley’s admittance of Japanese Americans when it was unpopular to do so reflects our values of fairness, inclusion, and equity. The lack of archival documentation about this important part of the University’s history is disconcerting. Thus, the University Archives welcomes from the Syracuse University community any information or materials that shed light on this remarkable story.

The Chancellor William P. Tolley Records (Chancellor William P. Tolley Records, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) and the William P. Tolley Papers (William P. Tolley Papers, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of our University Archives collections.

Additional Source:

“Warren Tsuneishi and Lt. General Hodge in Seoul.” Monrovia Legacy Project. Monrovia Historical Society. https://cityofmonrovia.pastperfectonline.com/photo/0DB2BF34-41A9-4128-BDE3-644225736421.


Writing over Medieval Texts in Renaissance Europe

By Tiffany Miller, Reference Assistant

         MS 47 located in the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University is a breviary on vellum, or a book that contains daily services recited by members of the Roman Catholic Church. This manuscript is spectacular in that it contains its original 12th century text underneath a more recent 16th century writing, which are both visible together almost in a double-text display. The idea of re-using and writing over older texts is known through the palimpsest, a manuscript page that has been scraped away and removed of its text in order to be re-used. The term palimpsest comes from the Greek word palímpsēstos, meaning, “again scraped” as this was a commonly practiced technique throughout the ancient world. The 16th century scribe of this palimpsest attempted to erase its 12th century origins through scraping; however, this manuscript clearly shows traces of the past.

This unique gem in Special Collections sparked my interest from the moment I heard about it. As a graduate student in art history and museum studies here at Syracuse, my specialization is in Italian Renaissance art and the history of objects in museum or library collections. The utilitarian writings in these institutional books fascinate me in how they read today in the 21st century. They inspire us to place ourselves into the mindset of the original readers. This manuscript offers a unique glimpse into the past in two ways: through the 21st century view of Renaissance Europe and the Renaissance view of Medieval Latin texts.

The manuscript leaf in the above photograph provides a great example of the overlapping texts. There is almost a sfumato effect, or a smokiness, about the page. There are approximately 106 leaves on vellum and 2 leaves on paper, rebound in 1514 when the manuscript was re-written. At 31 by 24 centimeters, it is slightly larger than a piece of standard letter paper. Keeping the size in mind, it is marvelous how much text is placed on each page; the scribe(s) was obviously skilled in calligraphy. There are also occasional music annotations on the pages that tell us how lines of text would have been sung. This manuscript does not contain the gilding and illuminations of other manuscripts in our collections, but as an art history student, I found beauty in the pages that had been scraped away and in the holes and blotches in the text. Multiple individuals had written and designed these texts for religious institutions or noble patrons, and the patrons ultimately decided how they wanted the pages to look. Due to the condition of this manuscript, it can be inferred that the text has been held and used by many over the centuries, which demonstrates its necessity.

This type of manuscript can be read today in many ways. One way is through the mind of the average citizen during the Renaissance. The other is contemporarily through the 21st century. For example, with current technological advancements such as radiography, institutions are now able to piece together information to learn more about manuscripts in hopes of learning more about the past. Through this technology, fingerprints could become legible, along with the textual changes, in order to see how they were made on the pages to create the final result. It would be fascinating to see what this process might reveal about the breviary at SCRC, should we ever get the chance to try this process at Syracuse University.

The use and reuse of this text continues today as it has been rebound with a 20th or 21st century binding. This manuscript has been altered multiple times over approximately nine centuries, which is incredible, and gives this text a rich history. Studying and handling this palimpsest, I realized how much it could provide insight into the lives of both the Renaissance and Medieval population, especially members of the Catholic Church. My art history background and my training here have allowed me to perform this research at the capacity of a graduate student staff member, which has in turn helped me prepare for a career working with collections.

The palimpsest manuscript is part of our rare books collection (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).

Sources:

Bailey, Geoff. “Time Perspectives, Palimpsests and the Archaeology of Time.” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 26:2 (June 2007): 198-223.

Bornstein, George, and Ralph G. Williams. Palimpsest: Editorial Theory in the Humanities. Ann Arbor (Mich.): University of Michigan Press, 1996.

Dillon, Sarah. “Reinscribing De Quincey’s Palimpsest: The Significance of the Palimpsest in Contemporary Literary and Cultural Studies.” Textual Practice 19.3 (Fall 2005): 243-263

“Palimpsest, n and adj.” Oxford English Dictionary.

Marchant, Jo. “Archaeologists Are Only Just Beginning to Reveal the Secrets Hidden in These Ancient Manuscripts.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, December 11, 2017.  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/archaeologoists-only-just-beginning-reveal-secrets-hidden-ancient-manuscripts-180967455/.


Happy New Year from SCRC!

By Grace Wagner, Reading Room Access Services Supervisor

Happy New Year from SCRC! We are excited to ring in the New Year and new decade at SCRC! The featured party invitation comes from our William Wallace Denslow Collection. Denslow was an artist and illustrator, best known for his collaborations with L. Frank Baum on Father Goose (1899) and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900).

Denslow sent this invitation to Baum for a party held on December 31, 1900 to ring in the “New Century,” as there was some confusion at the end of the nineteenth century whether the new century officially began in the year 1900 or 1901.

The full text of Denslow’s invitation to the new century reads:

A Happy New Century to You: 1900 – 1901

Time! – Wind up! The 20th century starts at Rector’s Tavern between the hour of 12, 1900 & 1901, come & assist Ann Waters & Hippocampus Den. to help the Old Man out. Time will be called promptly at 11:30 Dec. 31st 1900.

N.B. As usual, no speeches will be tolerated, so come unprepared: to enjoy yourself and in “Ali-Baba”-full-levant.

W.W. Denslow

The William Wallace Denslow Collection (William Wallace Denslow Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections.


An Act of Moral Courage

By Dane Flansburgh, Assistant Archivist

“This is a forty year letter of gratitude.” This first sentence of a letter that had been stored with thousands of other letters in an archival box, jumped out at me. When processing so much loose material, archivists rarely have time to read individual letters, but this opening line immediately captured my attention. I couldn’t resist reading on. The letter continued, “I have never explicitly thanked you and Syracuse University for accepting me from the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming.” With this line, I understood that this was not an ordinary letter.

In January 2018, I started processing the records and papers of Syracuse University Chancellor William P. Tolley. Shortly before starting the project the University Archivist, Meg Mason, told me a story of Tolley surreptitiously admitting Japanese American students from internment camps during World War II. She explained that Tolley wrote of admitting the students in his memoir, yet no primary material has emerged to support the story. She hoped I could find further documentation on this remarkable story, since it is so under documented. And that is precisely why I understood this letter was so important.

The letter was from Warren Tsuneishi, a 1943 graduate of Syracuse University. In the letter, Tsuneishi praised Tolley for his “act of moral courage” of accepting Tsuneishi and “some of 100 of my Japanese American colleagues.” Tolley’s decision to admit them from internment camps, Tsuneishi wrote, “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.” Tolley’s decision to allow the writer into the University, he wrote, had profound consequences for his life: after graduation he served in the US Army with honors in the Pacific Theatre as a translator of intercepted Japanese internal documents, received post graduate degrees from Columbia and Yale, and a long career working at Yale and the Library of Congress. “I recount these ‘accomplishments’ not to boast,” he wrote, “but to observe that none of these could have been accomplished had you not given me that first chance in 1943.”

The letter moved me, and as I began to show it to my coworkers, they were moved as well, not only by Tolley’s act of generosity when it was unpopular to do so, but also because Tsuneishi took the opportunity to live a life of distinction. I was also excited that we had a little more documentation of an event about which we know so little.

Black-and-white photo of Chancellor William P. Tolley
Chancellor William P. Tolley using a dictaphone, circa 1950.

Considering that I found the letter so early in processing Tolley’s records and papers, I was hopeful that I would find more regarding the Japanese American students he had admitted, but unfortunately I was unsuccessful in doing so.

Tsuneishi’s extraordinary letter spurred my interest in these students, and I was able to find some additional pieces of information. For example, the local Syracuse Herald-Journal reported that in 1943 two Japanese American students, Frank Watanabe and May Ohmura, made public speeches defending their presence at Syracuse University. “We are as American as anyone else,” Watanabe told a crowd at the Hotel Syracuse. “We have the same cultural background and like swing, ice cream, and baseball as do all Americans.”

Newspaper article about Japanese-American students.
The 1943 Syracuse Herald-Journal article containing information about two Japanese American students, Frank Watanabe and May Ohmura.

I was also able to find a photograph of Warren Tsuneishi from 1945, during his time in the Military Intelligence Service from the archives of the Monrovia Historical Society located in Monrovia, CA, linked here: https://cityofmonrovia.pastperfectonline.com/photo/0DB2BF34-41A9-4128-BDE3-644225736421.

Clippings and photographs like this were exciting to find, but overall we have very little information on these students and how the University admitted them. Other than Tsuneishi, Watanabe, and Ohmura, we are unaware of even their names. We don’t know about their personal stories, their journeys from the camps to our campus, and their experiences at the university. As an archivist, I am interested in these stories and want to preserve them.

As the university celebrates its sesquicentennial we have an opportunity to pause and reflect on our history and values. Chancellor Tolley’s admittance of Japanese Americans when it was unpopular to do so reflects our values of fairness, inclusion, and equity. The lack of archival documentation about this important part of the University’s history is disconcerting. Thus, the University Archives welcomes from the Syracuse University community any information or materials that shed light on this remarkable story.

The Chancellor William P. Tolley Records (Chancellor William P. Tolley Records, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) and the William P. Tolley Papers (William P. Tolley Papers, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of our University Archives collections.

Additional Source:

“Warren Tsuneishi and Lt. General Hodge in Seoul.” Monrovia Legacy Project. Monrovia Historical Society. https://cityofmonrovia.pastperfectonline.com/photo/0DB2BF34-41A9-4128-BDE3-644225736421.