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May Wrap Up

By Grace Wagner, Reading Room Access Services Supervisor

May marks the one-year anniversary of SCRC’s first blog post, which went live just over a year ago, on May 7, 2019. We’ve been posting weekly ever since! Take a look back at our first post below:

All month long, we’ve been celebrating National Photography Month through our blog post coverage of special collections and University Archives materials in our collections. To finish out the month, our Plastics and Historical Artifacts Curator, Courtney Asztalos, who regularly teaches with SCRC’s photography collections, provides a glimpse at SCRC’s transition to teaching digitally with these materials.

Teaching Remotely with Photograph Collections

By Courtney Asztalos, Plastics and Historical Artifacts Curator

Teaching with our photography collections across campus and regionally is part of the regular instruction provided by SCRC. As we transitioned to remote work in mid-March, teaching with our photography collections continued online.

During April, I was excited to join Art History Professor Margaret (Maggie) Innes’ class for a shared  session on utilizing SCRC Online resources. I joined Anneka Herre’s Transmedia Studio class to share options for researching our digital collections as students were working with archival materials for an assignment.

Another exciting opportunity for teaching with photographic materials occurred when Light Work Lab invited Nicole Westerdahl, Reference and Access Services Librarian, and me to share SCRC digital collections and other online archives for photographers. Nicole and I put together a session that spanned how to use SCRC Online collections and our more extensive digital collections, the Plastics Collection, and the Marcel Breuer Digital Archive. We shared information about Fair Use and Creative Commons resources, as well as a variety of other institutions’ online archives and digital resources for artists to browse and explore.

For National Photography Month, I wanted to share a few digitized objects available for viewing digitally. This is just a small sample of items we regularly pull and display for our in-person photography sessions. Enjoy!

  • Did you know that daguerreotype cases were made from ‘plastic’?
  • Speaking of daguerreotypes—see this engraving of Frederick Douglass made from one. Did you know Douglass was one of the most photographed Americans of his time? This engraving, made by engraver John Chester Buttre, is from the first edition of Douglass’s “Autographs for Freedom”. Read letters from Douglass in our Gerrit Smith Papers!
  • This Baby Brownie Kodak Camera was one of the first fully plastic cameras marketed by Kodak and designed by Walter Dorwin Teague. And, if, you’re interested in his work as an industrial designer, you’re in luck! SCRC has his papers!
  • View “Blind Woman” a photograph by Paul Strand straight from the printed page inside one of the most historically significant photographic publications of the 20th century, Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work, no. 49/50, July 1917.

Looking Back at April & May Events

April 26, 2020. University Archive shares SU traditions in Daily Orange

April 27, 2020. SCRC provided photos for story on Syracuse 8 legacy.

April 29, 2020. The Syracuse University Archives is seeking to record and preserve the personal responses of Syracuse University students, faculty, and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. Take a look at our website page on this project for more information.

May 6, 2020. SCRC graduate student Isabel McCullough was awarded the Kathy and Stanley Walters Student Scholarship Fund for her work at Bird Library in SCRC.

May 8, 2020. SCRC graduate student assistants Sheridan Bishoff, Natasha Bishop, and Elisabeth Genter presented at the 2020 Annual Art History Graduate Symposium. Julia Jessen, who conducted research with SCRC’s American Book Company Records for her paper, also presented.

May 11, 2020. SCRC Plastics and Historical Artifacts Curator Courtney Asztalos received honorable mention for the 46th Annual Light Work Grants in Photography.

May 18, 2020. An item in SCRC’s collection is mentioned in a blog post titled “The Cookbook not for Cooking,” published by Medium.

May 19, 2020. Authors Scott Pitoniak and Rick Burton present the story of “Forever Orange: The Story of Syracuse University,” in a virtual book talk. The publication is filled with photographs and research from SCRC’s University Archives collections.

Newly Processed Collection


Highlight from Social Media

This past Saturday the Archives and Syracuse University Alumni celebrated a virtual get together for the Syracuse…

Posted by Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives at Syracuse University on Monday, May 18, 2020

May Blog Roundup

The photograph featured in the header image of this post is from our Jackie Martin Papers (Jackie Martin Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections.


An Incomplete History of the Inn Complete

By Isabel McCullough, Reference Assistant

In my work as a Reference Assistant at SCRC, I answer a lot of reference questions about University history. This was especially true last year as everyone was preparing for SU’s sesquicentennial this spring. One of my favorite projects from sesquicentennial preparations was researching the Inn Complete and the history of its current building on South Campus. Even though the Inn Complete has only been in this location since the 1990’s (it was originally located in the Sky Barn), the structure has had a storied life over the last 100 years. 

The building was originally constructed as a barn on the University Farm, which was a 100 acre farm when Syracuse University acquired it in 1910.

Buildings on the University Farm with fields in the background. Photo captioned as “Agricultural College Farm Buildings”
View of the University Farm and the College of Agriculture. Syracuse University Photograph Collection.

It’s unclear if the Inn Complete barn was one of the structures from the original farm or was added around 1913 when Mrs. Russel Sage, the wife of an SU alumnus,  donated funds to construct new barns on the University Farm. In either case, the building is one of the oldest on South Campus. 

Two horses pulling a wagon of hay bales with the driver sitting on top of the hay bales
Hay wagon on the University Farm. Syracuse University Photograph Collection.

The farm remained fully operational in partnership with the College of Agriculture until the college closed in 1934. The farm continued to operate in a limited capacity until the influx of students after World War II necessitated that the land be used for additional student housing.

Aerial photograph of South Campus with temporary housing structures.
Aerial view of South Campus with temporary housing, September 21, 1955. Syracuse University Photograph Collection.

In 1947, the barn was renovated into a Ski Lodge which supported SU’s very own ski slopes, skating rink, and other outdoor winter activities on South Campus.

Map of South Campus labeled Syracuse University 1949.
Map of the temporary housing and recreation area on South Campus, September 8, 1949. The Ski Lodge and accompanying outdoor facilities can be seen in the bottom left corner of the map. Syracuse University Photograph Collection.
Group of skiers and ski coach gathered outside ski lodge
Ski Coach George Earl with fellow instructors and students at the ski lodge, c. 1950s. Syracuse University Photograph Collection.

The renovations added picture windows and a stone porch, and they provided facilities for a snack bar, dormitory, first aid room, classroom, locker space, ski repair shop, waxing room, and offices. Skiing at SU can trace its origins back to the Outing Club, founded by College of Forestry professor Fay Welch in 1935. The club sponsored SU’s first ski team, and skiing was officially added as an intramural sport at SU for the 1937-1938 season. The following year, Welch helped to found the Ski School, which later was adopted as a part of the Department of Athletics in 1947, when skiing became an official sport at SU. Outside of competitive skiing, students were able to attend Ski School for credit, and the Ski Lodge and accompanying facilities were also open to students, faculty, staff, and their families for recreational use.

One person helping another put on skis in the ski storage facility at the Ski Lodge
Ski storage at the Ski Lodge. Syracuse University Photograph Collection.
A group of skiers inside the Ski Lodge preparing for the slopes
A group of skiers preparing for the slopes. Syracuse University Photograph Collection.
Skiers on tow pull going up the ski slopes on South Campus.
Tow pull on South Campus. Syracuse University Photograph Collection.

In addition to looking up the history of the Ski Lodge and skiing at SU, my research included finding historical photographs as well. Through that exploration I discovered some pretty spectacular photos of ski jumps and found out that, during a thaw, skiers use roller-skis to keep up their training. 

A skier wearing number 79 mid-air on the ski jump on South Campus
A skier mid-air on the ski jump on South Campus, 1974. Syracuse University Photograph Collection.
Skier training on roller-skis
Skier training on roller-skis during a thaw. Syracuse University Photograph Collection.

But my favorite activity I researched was the Winter Carnival. What began as a half-day carnival in 1933 evolved into a full weekend of events, including skiing and skating competitions.

Trio of figure skaters in the Winter Carnival’s Ice Review
Trio of figure skaters in the Winter Carnival’s Ice Review. Syracuse University Photograph Collection.

There were several other events for the less athletically inclined as well. Over the years, a snow sculpture competition became one of the main attractions for the carnival as groups of students teamed together to craft colorful sculptures that, in some cases, occupied the entirety of their front lawns. As much as SU students can grow tired of the snow, it was great to see that there were traditions that embraced the joys of winter as well.

Three students working on a snow sculpture
Students working on a snow sculpture of Johnny Walker, c. 1930s. Syracuse University Photograph Collection.

In a similar spirit of whimsy, the carnival included an informal dance called the Stockingfoot. According to tradition, students attended this dance without shoes and, in later years, sporting their very own handmade stockings. There even was a competition for best socks. Supposedly, this all began in 1936 when the carnival organizers had difficulty finding a venue. The only space available had just had the floors replaced, and so the manager allowed the dance to be held there under the condition that students not damage the floors. The organizers saw this as no problem and promised that the students would even remove their shoes. And so, a tradition was born. Not long after, in 1942, the Sno Ball, a formal dance which included the crowning of the Snow Queen, was added to the final evening of Winter Carnival events.

Students show off their homemade stockings at the Stockingfoot Dance
Students show off their homemade stockings. The Stockingfoot Dance, an informal dance at which students traditionally did not wear shoes, included a competition for best stockings. Syracuse University Photograph Collection.

The Winter Carnival was a major event at SU until it hit a lull in the 1960’s. Not long after that, South Campus was redesigned to create more student housing, including the Skytop Apartments.

Aerial view of South Campus
Aerial view of South Campus, including the Skytop Apartments, c. 1970s. Syracuse University Photograph Collection.

The Ski Lodge was left presumably unused, or possibly used for storage, until it was renovated again and the Inn Complete took over the space in January 1994. As the Inn Complete, the barn today is a pub and event space for graduate students, faculty, and staff.

I’ve spent a lot of time with the SU Photograph Collection through my reference work over the last couple of years, and during that time it’s become one of my favorite collections at the SCRC. There is always something to be said for putting a picture to words and using photographs to supplement text-based research. This project was no exception. Not only did I get to see the University Farm and the Ski Lodge in their full glory, but there are also the smaller details that add richness to the history — the styles of clothes, hair, and shoes, the changing landscape of SU’s campus, and even the quality of the photographs themselves. Then there are the photographs that convey details, such as the roller-skis, that often don’t make it into the written record through event programs or press clippings. Seeing people in action brought the narrative to life, and a research project that was ostensibly about a building became a project about the history of the SU community.

The Syracuse University Photograph Collection (Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) is part of our University Archives collections.


New Acquisition: Rare 19th Century Photograph Album Featuring African Americans

May is National Photography Month. Over the course of this month, we will be highlighting special collections and University Archives materials that specifically relate to the history of photography. This week, we highlight a new photography acquisition in a post by our Chief Curator.

By Colleen Theisen, Chief Curator

The Special Collections Research Center is excited to announce the acquisition of a unique photo album that opens up several avenues for further research. The photo album contains 20 cabinet card albumen photographs of fashionably dressed well-off people from the late 19th century, the majority or possibly all of the images featuring African Americans.

A selection of portraits from a 19th century photo album
A selection of portraits from the photo album. Detroit Photograph Album.

The photographs do not have any names written identifying the subjects, but they do all have identified photographers. More than half of the portraits have Detroit photographer’s marks, including “Sr. Clear”, “Willard”, “Eisenhardt”, and “Hughes”. Others include “J.B. Dettmer” (Cincinnati), “Wilson” (Chicago), and “Kruse” (New Bedford, Mass.) While the date and names are unknown, this album opens up many avenues for our students and faculty to research and find out more about the photographers, the fashions, and the album itself, which may reveal the date and the story of the community represented in this album.

For classroom use, this album greatly expands SCRC’s documentation of African Americans in photographs in the 19th century. While an album with identified subjects would have opened up more immediate avenues for research, portraits of African American subjects in the 19th century who likely chose to be photographed and the had agency in their portrayal are more rare. Many of our photography collections in SCRC are from journalists and photographers who traveled around the world with an ethnographic eye, photographing people as “types” or circus advertising photographs from performers, as those were produced in greater numbers and therefore survive in larger numbers. In the classroom these portrait photographs can add complexity to the discussion, and inspire students to imagine the lives of prominent African American families in Detroit in the 1880s-1890s.

19th century photo album with celluloid cover.
The unique celluloid cover and decorative binding of the photo album. Detroit Photograph Album.

Another interesting feature of this acquisition is the unique materiality of the album itself. The decorative celluloid cover is a fascinating early example of a form of plastic being used as a “book” cover. SCRC’s Plastics Artifacts Collection has a few examples of religious books like prayer books and Bibles, as well as examples of autograph books dated to the early 1890s with celluloid covers, but none so large and with such an elaborate color image.

Early plastic and celluloid covers.
Three examples of celluloid bindings from 1895, 1910 and 1892. Plastics Artifacts Collection.

Finally, the album opens up other avenues of historical exploration, including using digital crowd-sourcing to identify some of the subjects of the portraits. Take a close look at the faces featured in these photographs and let us know if think you recognize a family member or someone from your research. When we return to on-site access in the Special Collections Research Center, the Detroit Photograph Album can be called up in the SCRC Reading Room.

Portrait of 19th century woman.
A portrait of a woman in a very fine dress. Detroit Photograph Album.
Photographs from Detroit album.
Two page spread of portraits as they appear in the album. Detroit Photograph Album.
Photographs from Detroit album.
Two page spread of portraits as they appear in the album. Detroit Photograph Album.

The Detroit Photograph Album (Detroit Photograph Album, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) is part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections and the 1895 prayer book, 1910 prayer book, and 1892 autograph album with celluloid covers are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s Plastics Artifacts Collection (Plastics Artifacts Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).


Charles Eisenmann’s Circus Photography and the Cartes de visite Collection

May is National Photography Month. Over the course of this month, we will be highlighting special collections and University Archives materials that specifically relate to the history of photography. This week, we highlight a research post from one of our graduate student workers.

By Aisha Pierre, Reference Assistant

As a museum studies grad student, I have partaken in several fantastic opportunities to attend networking workshops and conferences, meeting incredible professionals in the field. The more networking opportunities I experience, the more I realize the importance of business cards, and how a simple design can help make an impression. This semester, I am taking “Material Identification” (MUS 500), and our first lecture centered on photography processes. For another one of our lectures, we learned about cartes de visite (cards of visit), which were patented by French photographer Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi in 1854. Imagine during one of these networking events if I handed a potential employer a small 2 ½ by 4 inch card with a photograph of myself dressed in my Sunday best, staring straight ahead, with no emotion on my face. There is no doubt about it, that would make a lasting impression.

Older man photographed with hand on face.
William Cullen Bryant, 19th century American poet and editor of the New York Evening Post. Cartes de visite Collection.

Initially, only those who could afford the cost of photographs were having their pictures taken in photography studios. As photographs become more easily accessible, more photographers took advantage of their audiences’ interest in the new medium and created and marketed an affordable souvenir. At SCRC, we have a Cartes de visite Collection that consists of one small rectangular box with a total of 322 images. The photographs are grouped together into protective sleeves that are ordered alphabetically by the photographer and geographic location. Because of their size, many cartes de visite were stored into albums, and depending on who the subject of the image was, the card could be traded and added to different collections.

To create the cartes de visite, a collodion wet-plate process is used, and printed on albumen paper. First, paper is washed with sodium chloride and fermented egg whites that are mixed with acetic acid. Once the paper has dried, it is dipped into silver nitrate and water, which makes the surface sensitive to UV light. Once dry, the paper is placed into a frame under a negative and exposed to UV light. To secure the image to the paper, it is washed with water to remove any lasting salts. The photos are then secured to thick card stock with contact information for the photographer on the back.

White scroll surrounded by flower illustrations.
Photographer’s information on the verso of a carte de visite. The card reads “Darnell, Photo. Artist, Woodstock Va.” Cartes de visite Collection.

During the 1880s, cartes de visite were superseded by cabinet cards. These were typically 4 inches by 6 inches and received their name because they were the perfect size to fit into a cabinet. With cabinet cards, people were able to collect photographs of noteworthy people, including actors, writers, and politicians and display them publicly in their homes. Although cabinet cards and cartes de visite were popular at different times, their function and subject matter did not largely differ from one another. In the Cartes de visite Collection, there are several photographs of indigenous people and travel photographs from Singapore, Egypt, and China. European and American photographers made these images readily available, as their clients were becoming interested in the appearances of different cultures. In her book titled, Vision, Race, and Modernity: A Visual Economy of the Andean Image World, author Deborah Poole discusses how the relationship between the subject and the photographer of these photos at times were strained, and this uneven power dynamic often meant that the stories behind the images could be manipulated by the photographer.

Woman standing resting hand on book
Malay woman, standing. Cartes de visite Collection.

The issue of stories being modified among cartes de visites continues with the Ronald G. Becker Collection of Charles Eisenmann Photographs. The SCRC collection consists of over one-thousand cartes de visite portraits of circus performers (there are also cabinet cards in this collection), including those from the P.T. Barnum and Bailey Circus. Charles Eisenmann emigrated from Germany in 1870 and owned a photography shop in the Bowery area of New York City. It was in New York that he discovered his interest in circus performer photography. Eisenmann opened his shop to the performers to help promote their acts in the shows.

Jojo the Dog Faced Boy.
Charles Eisenmann publicity cabinet card of Jojo the Dog Faced Boy. Ronald G. Becker Collection of Charles Eisenmann Photographs.

During the Victorian Era, these performers were popular subjects because people were fascinated with admiring – more like gawking – at the physical abnormalities of the circus entertainers. Each performer had an elaborate backstory arranged by their employer that was used to spark excitement in the audience. For example, the famous Jojo the Dog Faced Boy’s circus backstory recounted how he was allegedly discovered in Russia living in a cave before being civilized by Barnum. Jojo’s real name was Fedor Adrianovich Jeftichew and he had hypertrichosis, which causes an excessive amount of hair to grow all over the body. Although the Becker collection has many photographs of performers with real birth defects, like Fedor, many of the images were staged by Eisenmann to depict abnormalities that were not genuine. Some images depict people with three or four legs, which Eisenmann would have staged using props in his photography shop. Eisenmann’s carefully composed photographs of Jojo and other performers brought audiences to the circus and helped people like P.T. Barnum make a fortune.

It has been fascinating to look through the various historic photographs within these collections and see how visiting cards quickly took on the form of souvenir and trading cards in a short period of time. Viewing the cartes de visite and cabinet cards, I have also been able to witness how subjects of photography changed due to the interests of the public and how photographers helped shape how individuals were presented to the public through their own lens. During this time of social distancing and shut downs as a result of COVID-19, I highly encourage visitors to view the entire Ronald G. Becker Collection of Charles Eisenmann Photographs on SCRC Online.

The Ronald G. Becker Collection of Charles Eisenmann Photographs (Ronald G. Becker Collection of Charles Eisenmann Photographs, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) and the Cartes de visite Collection (Cartes de visite Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections.

Additional Sources:

Gaffney, Dennis. “Antiques Roadshow.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 9 Jan. 2006, www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/stories/articles/2006/1/9/who-were-circus-freaks/.

George Eastman Museum. “The Albumen Print- Photographic Processes Series- Chapter 6 of 12.” YouTube, 12 December 2014. Web. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JDfdHWBVG4.

“Homepage: George Eastman Museum.” George Eastman Museum, www.eastman.org/.

Kennel, Sarah, et al. In the Darkroom: an Illustrated Guide to Photographic Processes before the Digital Age. Thames & Hudson, 2009. Print.

Poole, Deborah. Vision, Race, and Modernity: A Visual Economy of the Andean Image World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1997. Print.

Volpe, Andrea L. “The Cates de Visite Craze.” The New York Times, 6 August 2013, https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/06/the-cartes-de-visite-craze/.