Special Collections Thanksgiving break hours


Special Collections will be closed Thursday, November 26-Sunday, November 29 for the Thanksgiving break.

We will re-open at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, November 30.

Enjoy your break!

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Scientists finally get under the skin of a 13th century publishing mystery

Non-invasive sampling extracting protein from parchment using eraser crumbs. Photograph: Reproduced by courtesy of The John Rylands Library University of Manchester.

Non-invasive sampling extracting protein from parchment using eraser crumbs. Photograph: Reproduced by courtesy of The John Rylands Library University of Manchester.

Using an off-the-shelf pencil eraser and electrostatic technology first pioneered 2,500 years ago, University of York scientists have settled one of the great puzzles of pre-Gutenberg commercial publishing.

Pocket Bibles, painstakingly inscribed by hand in their tens of thousands in the universities of Paris, Oxford and Padua, were made of vellum taken mostly from the hides of calf, sheep and goats, and then made ultra-thin by a process still unknown.

But since at least 20,000 pocket Bibles were delivered by professional scribes working with quill pens and ink made from oak gall and iron salts centuries before the milling of

paper or the invention of moveable type, the supply of unborn animals would have been unsustainable. So suspicion turned to squirrels, rats and rabbits as possible thin-skinned sources of the ultra-fine vellum.

Sarah Fiddyment and Matthew Collins of the University of York and colleagues report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have now identified the signature biochemistry of the different species that perished to become 13th-century pocket copies of the Vulgate Bible.

The Greeks knew by 500BC that if they rubbed the hardened resin known as amber against fur, the hair would stand on end. The Greek word for amber waselectron, which became the etymology of electricity.

Read more here

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Marilyn Gaddis Rose, 85, distinguished service professor, dies

Photograph: https://binghamton.edu/harpur/perspective/faculty/marilyn-gaddis-rose.html

Photograph: https://binghamton.edu/harpur/perspective/faculty/marilyn-gaddis-rose.html

Marilyn Gaddis Rose, 85, distinguished service professor of comparative literature and co-director of the Translation Research and Instruction Program (TRIP), died Sunday, Nov. 15.

Gaddis Rose received her bachelor’s degree in English from Central Methodist College in Fayette, Mo. in 1952, the same year she completed a Fulbright at the Université de Lyon in French civilization. She earned her master’s degree in French from the University of South Carolina in 1955, Phi Beta Kappa, and her PhD in French from the University of Missouri in 1958. In 1987, she was recognized by Central Methodist College with an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

She taught at William Jewell College, the University of South Carolina, the University of Missouri, Indiana University and Stephens College prior to joining the faculty at Binghamton University in 1968. In addition to her leadership in translation studies at Binghamton, she served as chair of comparative literature for two terms, as undergraduate advisor for a dozen years and as director of the Center for Research Translation. She was promoted to distinguished service professor in 1991.

Read more here

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Browse Hundreds of Documents Submitted by Enslaved People Petitioning for Freedom


A redesigned website now offers access to hundreds of freedom petitions brought by enslaved people in Washington, D.C., in the first half of the 19th century. The site—O Say Can You See: Early Washington, D.C. Law and Family—showcases the diversity of strategies that black people living in D.C. used to gain freedom through the courts in the antebellum period.

Many of these freedom cases were previously difficult to access, since a major source used in writing the legal history of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has been the case reports of William Cranch, who served as chief justice of that court from 1806 to 1855. “Cranch excluded the last names of nearly all African-Americans,” William Thomas, a historian at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln who headed the team that put together the website, explained to me.

Working at the National Archives a few years ago, Thomas came across an index of court cases called Black Washingtonians, which had been put together by archivists working from original case documents (rather than Cranch’s summaries). Looking at the index, Thomas realized how much more information was available.

The site offers access to those primary documents. Browsers can explore it by looking at a group of annotated cases; by checking out stories of families who petitioned the court over several generations; or by picking a single person, like lawyer Francis Scott Key (yes, that Francis Scott Key), and looking at their connections to other people in the database.

People doing genealogical research can search for family names. As the site’s team adds more documents from civil and criminal cases in the coming year, its usefulness for researchers looking to fill in their family histories will expand.

Read more here

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New trial database: Archives Unbound


Archives Unbound presents topically-focused digital collections of historical documents that support the research and study needs of scholars and students at the college and university level. Collections in Archives Unbound cover a broad range of topics from the Middle Ages forward–from Witchcraft to World War II to twentieth-century political history. Collections are chosen for Archives Unbound based on requests from scholars, archivists, and students.

To access this database, visit the BU Libraries Trial Databases page.  Trial expires November 18, 2015. Please contact Julie Wang with comments.

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14,000 drawings of the French Revolution posted online


Guillotines and numbing satire figure strongly in an archive of images from the French Revolution, made available by Stanford University and the Bibliothèque nationale de France

About 14,000 high-resolution images are in the set, which is divided into Parliamentary Archives and Images of the French Revolution and neatly organized by event and category.

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Alumni Speaker Series: Jenna Wolfe ’96


Jenna Wolfe ’96, former NBC TODAY Lifestyle and Fitness Correspondent, will speak to students at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11, in AM-189. Faculty and staff are invited, and those planning to attend should RSVP online.

During this program, Wolfe will talk about her career path from intern to accomplished broadcast journalist, and what is in store for her next in her career and life. Wolfe graduated Binghamton University in 1996, having double majored in English and French. She started her career at Binghamton’s Fox news affiliate during her senior year, and then moved on to networks such as MSG, ABC, Fox, NBC and the TODAY Show.

Wolfe’s program is part of the Cool Connections, Hot Alumni program and is being co-sponsored by Harpur Edge, Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development and Alumni Association. For more information on this program, e-mail the Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development.

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Undelivered letters shed light on 17th-century society

Undelivered letters shed light on 17th-century society

by Maev Kennedy

Thousands of pieces of correspondence, many still unopened, were stored away by Dutch postmaster and are now being examined by academics
Hague letters
The collection includes letters from aristocrats, spies, merchants, publishers, actors and musicians. Photograph: Hague Museum for Communications

An appeal for help from a desperate woman has been opened and read more than 300 years after the man it was sent to refused to accept delivery – not surprisingly, since the wealthy merchant in The Hague must have suspected it contained the unwelcome news that he was about to become a father.

The letter is part of an extraordinary trove of thousands of pieces of correspondence, never delivered, many still unopened and sealed closed, found packed into a leather trunk and stored away for centuries in the Netherlands.

The collection includes letters from aristocrats, spies, merchants, publishers, actors, musicians, barely literate peasants and highly educated people with beautiful handwriting, and are written in French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Latin.

One of the letters that has been transcribed and translated is from a woman writing to a Jewish merchant in The Hague on behalf of “a mutual friend”. The friend was a singer with the Hague opera who had left for Paris, where she discovered the disastrous truth. She needed money from the merchant to return.

“You can divine without difficulty the true cause of her despair. I cannot put it into so many words; what I ought to say to you is so excessive. Content yourself with thinking on it, and returning her to life by procuring her return,” it says.

The letter is marked “niet hebben”, indicating that the man refused to accept it. The fate of the poor singer is unknown. Daniel Starza Smith, of Oxford University, said the man was undoubtedly the father of the child – the true cause of the singer’s departure.

The trunk in which the letters were kept
The trunk in which the letters were kept Photograph: Hague Museum for Communication

The linen-lined leather trunk, covered in official seals, was presented to a postal museum in The Hague in 1926, but the 2,600 letters it held, 600 of them unopened, are only now being studied by an international team of academics, including scholars from Leiden, Oxford, MIT and Yale.

Special scanning techniques will be used to examine the contents without opening the sealed letters or damaging the ingenious variety of ways in which the pages were folded to so that the letter became its own envelope. The letters were sent between 1680 and 1706, a time of constant war and political upheaval in Europe, and were kept by a married couple, Simon de Brienne and Maria Germain, the postmaster and mistress in The Hague.

They were a canny business couple who spent a period in England as court officials to the newly crowned William III before selling their positions for £1,550 and a barrel of Burgundy and returning home.

At the time the delivery of letters was paid for by the recipient, and many may have been undeliverable because the recipient had changed address – one had been forwarded to a series of different addresses, in vain – or even died. Smith believes that they were kept in the hope that one day they would be collected and paid for.

‘Something about these letters frozen in transit makes you feel like you’ve caught a moment in history off guard,” he said. “Many of the writers and intended recipients of these letters were people who travelled throughout Europe, such as wandering musicians and religious exiles. The trunk preserves letters from many social classes, and women as well as men.

“Most documents that survive from this period record the activities of elites – aristocrats and their bureaucrats, or rich merchants – so these letters will tell us new things about an important section of society in 17th-century Europe. These are the kinds of people whose records frequently don’t survive, so this is a fantastic opportunity to hear new historical voices.”

A paper dove included with one of the letters
A paper dove included with one of the letters. Photograph: Hague Museum for Communication

Many of the letters, he said, even preserved the quality of spoken language of the day, frequently written down without punctuation.

Many of the letters refer to the political turmoil of the time, with reports of highway robbery, religious discrimination and other perils. One man wrote from Nancy, in France, in 1702 warning his musician brother not to attempt to travel via Paris as a fellow musician had been conscripted into the army there. He added the warning: “If you come here, do not bring your instrument or anything else.”

Often the anguish was more personal than political. One woman wrote enclosing a cut-out paper dove holding a flaming heart, bitterly recalling “the fidelity which you promised me and which I have given with all my soul”. Whoever the faithless lover was, he never got the letter.

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“Guy Fawkes or the Gunpowder Treason” is the November Book of the Month


Guy Fawkes : or, The gunpowder treason by William Harrison Ainsworth. London : G. Routledge and sons, limited, [18--?].

Call number:  PR4002 .A1 1876 v.6 Rare Book Collection.

This book is housed in the Special Collections department of the Binghamton University Libraries, and available to be viewed by all.  The department is open to the public,   Monday – Friday from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, and by appointment.


It’s Guy Fawkes Day–here’s his signature before and after he was tortured  by Adam Taylor the Business Insider

On this day, the UK celebrates the foiling of a plot to kill King James I in 1605 by lighting fireworks and, in a morbid twist, burning an effigy of poor Guy.

It’s easy to forget that this celebration has grim roots. Guy Fawkes was part of a Catholic plot to kill a Protestant king and his English lords.

The plot failed, which was particularly unfortunate for Fawkes. He was the one guy in the plot unlucky enough to be discovered late on November 4 with dozens of barrels of gunpowder hidden under where the king would sit the next day. The discovery came after a tip-off to a Catholic politician led to an inspection of the cellars under parliament.

Fawkes was swiftly taken into custody at the Tower of London and interrogated until he eventually gave up his coconspirators.

While we’ll never know precisely what happened to Fawkes during that period, it seems pretty likely it was bad. There is speculation that Fawkes was tortured using a rack during his stay in the Tower of London.

For a visual on the effects of torture, look at the document below. You can see Fawkes’ signature, before the interrogation (he signs as Guido Fawkes, a name he had taken on later in life):

Guido Fawkes signature

(National Archives)

Now contrast that with his signature on a later confession, made after eight days of interrogation. As you can see, Fawkes’ signature is a barely legible scrawl:


Guido Fawkes signature

(National Archives)

“His signature on his confession was that of a shattered and broken man, the ill-formed letters telling the story of a someone who was barely able to hold a quill,” the BBC writes.

Even once the torture was over, Fawkes still had to meet a grisly end.

After his confession, he was to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. However, Fawkes leapt from the gallows before he could be hanged. The fall broke his neck and, according to the BBC, saved him from being disemboweled while still alive.

His remains were cut up and sent to the four corners of the kingdom as a warning to future plotters.

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The Times…They Are a Changing, Harpur College in the Mid 1960s

new resizedThe Times…They Are a Changing, Harpur College in the Mid 1960s explores the newly completed campus and student life, their traditions, events and activities through publications, yearbooks, photographs, and memorabilia.  The exhibit was created in honor of the mid 1960s classes who recently celebrated their 50th anniversary reunion during the 2015 Homecoming.  The exhibit is located in the Special Collections and University Archives Department of Bartle Library and will be on display through the fall semester.  Special Collections is open from 10am to 4pm, Monday through Friday.  For additional information about the exhibit please contact the University Archivist at 777-6459 or deligato@binghamton.edu

Homecoming 2015

Nearly 100 alumni attended the Mid 60s reunion composed of graduates from the Classes of 1964, 1965, and 1966. [Photograph by Steve Seepersaud.]

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