August 25th, 2016

Stranger things…indeed

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items recently cataloged from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.


Sometimes it is uncanny how we find materials in the collection that relate to popular culture right now, this week in fact.  I recently watched the new Netflix series Stranger Things, a nostalgic 1980s show which features isolation tanks and the idea of exploring and focusing the self-awareness of the mind to do amazing things.  It all sounds very sci-fi, but imagine my surprise when I came into work and discovered that this basic idea is grounded in research that was conducted by John C. Lilly and features in his book The Deep Self.Img0033

Lilly was a notable scientist whose research interests spanned medical physics, biophysics, psychoanalysis, and neurology.  In 1954 he invented something called the Isolation Tank Method which was to research “isolation therapy” in order to understand and experience new degrees of self-awareness and personal harmony, in other words to explore the nature of consciousness.  In the 1960s with the introduction of LSD and ketamine he began to include psychedelics with the isolation tank often using himself as a subject, which is chronicled in Programming and metaprogramming in the human biocomputer : theory and experiments and The center of the cyclone; an autobiography of inner space both of which are part of the Santo Domingo Collection.  In 1973 there was an opportunity to expand the tank isolation work in Malibu, California with a house that could house five tanks.  Volunteers used the tanks and reported their experiences in these “tank logs.”

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The volunteer would climb into the tank and float on a solution of Epsom salts and water with no light and almost no sound.  Here are two experiences from the tank logs:

Lois Bateson, female, 44 yrs “Roamed and sauntered through a kind of cosmic park, full of density but infinite boundaries.  People’s images occasionally came in and out of this but nothing stuck around important to focus on.  Then as wondered on this, sudden enlightenment-there is no such thing as separate consciousness.  My roaming were a kind of total consciousness….”

Paul Brenner, male, 40 yrs

  1. Shouldn’t have shaved-salt is an irritant to the skin.
  2. How do they get O2 into this thing?
  3. I hope it works!- O2 that is.
  4. This must be the closest thing to death.
  5. Nothing’s happening-I’ll try hypnosis…

Two vastly different experiences to say the least.  The Deep Self also outlines standards and guidelines for building and maintaining your own isolation tank in case you want to try it out for yourself.

The deep self : profound relaxation and the tank isolation technique / John C. Lilly. New York : Simon and Schuster, c1977, can be found in Widener’s collection.

Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager for contributing this post.

August 17th, 2016

Houghton Incunable finds its Mate after Two Centuries

Not long ago, Houghton Library acquired a copy of the first half of an edition of the works of Thomas Aquinas printed in Basel by Michael Wenssler in 1485 (Inc 7508) – the first half, I say, because the collection was issued in three parts, of which the second itself consisted of two parts, and the Houghton volume contains part one and the first part of part two.

The Houghton volume is in a contemporary binding, with a title label and separate shelfmark label on the front cover, and the title of each part written boldly along the bottom edges.  There is a neat inscription, inside the counter of the first red and blue puzzle initial, identifying its original owner as the Carthusians of Würzburg.

Initial with inscription from Houghton Inc 7508.

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August 11th, 2016

Quite a card: Raymond S. Wilkins’ sheet music artist card files

Isn’t it always the way, that once one begins opening boxes, all kinds of surprising things appear. This was certainly the case with our recent Hidden Collections grant, to survey all of our historical sheet music collections. Our sheet music had for years been shelved in an end-of-Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark-warehouse-y kind of situation, awaiting the time and the money to do it justice. Once we began to sort and accession the collections, this being Houghton, of course we have discovered all manner of wonders.

One of my favorite discoveries was the gifts of Raymond Sanger Wilkins, Harvard class of 1912. Wilkins went on to graduate from Harvard law school, and serve on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1944-1970, the last fourteen years as Chief Justice. Hearing this one might imagine that he led a rather austere life, but Wilkins loved music: played several instruments, conducted and composed, and served as trustee of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New England Conservatory of Music (among others). Throughout the 1960s, he donated his personal collections of music to Houghton, which included a large collection of operetta and musical vocal scores, and … over 30,000 scores of sheet music. He kept his own card files (though by no means complete), with lyricist and arranger cards, and most importantly for our purposes, artist, and engraver/lithographer files.

Sheet Music 576 Cover

Sheet Music 576 cover, illustrated by John Brandard; from the Wilkins sheet music gift

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August 11th, 2016

Pict Ale


This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items recently cataloged from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.


As the title suggests this is an entertaining read on the history, legends, and facts regarding beer along with clever illustrations.  The self-proclaimed “beer king” Alan Eames covers everything from the invention of beer, drinking habits of various cultures, advice on the best suds in the world, as well as the representation of beer in poetry, song, and popular culture.

I was fascinated to discover within the text something called Pict ale, which according to the author was the first beer brewed in the British Isles and famous for its strength and hallucinogenic potency.  It has been subsequently discovered that dwelling beneath the leaves of the heather plant is ergot fungus which contains LSD-like properties.  Heather ale was made using the flowers of the heather plant which were placed in the bottom of brew vats and combined with malt.  The specific type of heather was a closely guarded secret kept by the Picts, which was eventually lost when they were exterminated by the Scottish King Niall in the fourth century.  Heather ale has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years and is currently produced by a small number of Scottish breweries.

Fraoch FRAΦCH Heather Ale ~Sláinte | Flickr ...Fraoch is one of those contemporary heather ales that is brewed by the Williams Bros. Brewing Company in Scotland.  They suggest pairing this original craft beer with venison, haggis, or dessert.

Robert Louis Stevenson famously wrote about the heather ale and its connection to the Picts in his publication of Ballads in 1890.  Houghton has a copy that was once owned by Henry James and includes Heather ale: a Galloway legend where he writes:

“Was far sweeter than honey, 

Was stronger far than wine.”

heatherale_2Another section on beer, poetry, and song reveals that the Middles Ages had many songs written both about the joys and evils of beer.  European history shows that the control and taxation of beer resulted in some of the earliest satiric music.  This musical outrage commonly burst forth in response to the increased price of beer revealing the importance of beer with the general populace.  To learn more from this handy little volume you can find the Secret life of beer : legends, lore & little-known facts[compiled by] Alan D. Eames. Pownal, Vt. : Storey Communications, c1995 in Widener’s collection.  

Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager, for contributing this post. 

August 2nd, 2016

Nineteenth-Century Bound Sheet Music Volumes Part III: Thomas J. Kiernan volume of American vocal music, circa 1843-1871

Of the nearly four hundred bound sheet music volumes held in Houghton, many were owned by the same person – there are at least seven owned by Edith Forbes Perkins, for example, and over a dozen by Catharine Dean Flint. Just as interesting, however, are single volumes, one of which is highlighted below.

Inside front cover of the Thomas J. Kiernan volume of American vocal music, circa 1843-1871 (Tawa 8)

Inside front cover of the Thomas J. Kiernan volume of American vocal music, circa 1843-1871 (Tawa 8)

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August 1st, 2016

Nineteenth-Century Bound Sheet Music Volumes Part II: Souvenir of the Confederacy

Most bound volumes in our collection that are about one inch thick contain between thirty and forty individual pieces. This volume, unassuming as it is, contains ninety three.

Cover of Souvenir of the Confederacy (Tawa 70)

Cover of Souvenir of the Confederacy (Tawa 70)

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July 29th, 2016

Nineteenth-Century Bound Sheet Music Volumes Part I: Edith Forbes Perkins volumes

With one of this summer’s Pforzheimer fellowships came the opportunity for frequent trips to a remote corner of Houghton Library’s sub-basement level, where several hundred bound sheet music volumes lay waiting to be catalogued. Thanks to Dana Gee’s extraordinary work with the Hidden Collections Sheet Music project, tens of thousands of loose sheet music scores in the Theatre Collection have received preliminary identification and categorization. Bound sheet music volumes were next in line for attention, as their contents were not yet recorded beyond place of publication and genre. (For a general sense of the collection’s scope, see Kathryn Lowerre, “Some Uncataloged Musical Resources in the Harvard Theatre Collection with a Handlist for the Bound Music Volumes,” Notes 2006 Vol.62(3)).

An amateur musician in the nineteenth century could have sent his or her library of loose sheet music to a book binder for any number of reasons. Perhaps the owner wanted to display his or her wealth in an expensive, fancy binding. Maybe a mother intended to pass on her collected musical library to a daughter. Or, there simply might have been too much clutter on top of the piano.

Perkins volumes

Bound volumes in the collection which belonged to Edith Forbes Perkins, seven identified to date.

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July 29th, 2016

Undergraduates at Houghton, Part III: Iberian Books Project

A sure-fire way to learn just how rare the books in a rare book library can be is to try documenting potential evidence of their existence.  Since May, I have scanned images of 164 books and pamphlets at Houghton.  The demands of the task required me to call for items in batches, instead of attempting to gather all the target books at once.  When I wasn’t working on other projects or requesting anywhere between 10 and 20 books, I ventured to Houghton’s conveniently large overhead scanner to capture images.  I sought title pages, colophons, and anything else that appeared to hold clues about the book’s content and printing information.  Occasionally, I may have overestimated the number of images needed, but I thought, “Better safe than sorry.”  After all, I wasn’t collecting information for myself, but for someone else.

At a first glance, a great number of these books had languages in common: Spanish, Portuguese, and sometimes Latin.  However, I also came across a book printed in Hebrew (Heb 2000.79), the only one of its kind from my long list.  Equally varied were the subjects, which spanned works related to agriculture (Typ 560.63.450) and colonialist ventures in Mexico (SA 3404.5).  There were books discussing Catholic-Protestant relations in Ireland (Br 11920.21) and showcasing variations in script (TypW 532.94.225).

TypW 532.94.225-1

Title page from Promtuarium variarum scripturarum, ca. 1594. TypW 532.94.225

My quest later led me to a peculiar sammelband (SC6.A100.B650a) containing many pamphlets, printed and manuscript, bound together; I scanned images for 33 of those works.  The most common works appear to be treatises on prayer, theology, and religious history: one such book is Typ 560.21.867, whose title page boasts one of the few, if not the only colored woodcut of the bunch.  What links all of these books together is their significance to the Iberian Books project based at University College Dublin in Ireland.

Typ 560 21.867-1

Title page from Flos sanctorū, ca. 1521. Typ 560.21.867

According to the main Iberian Books webpage, the project aims to “produce a foundational listing of all books published in Spain, Portugal and the New World or printed elsewhere in Spanish or Portuguese during the Golden Age, 1472-1700.”  Books are classified according to the availability of surviving copies and the bibliographic evidence of their existence.  I have scanned images of books that not only meet the criteria (in particular, those printed in 1472–1650), but that may also be unique copies.  From the project staff’s perspective, there is currently a lack of substantial evidence that these items exist.  Scans could help confirm whether the books truly exist or whether their records were inadvertently produced.  If a copy of a book exists only at Houghton, it may become all the more important to the library’s efforts to strengthen the visibility of its holdings.  The insight that book could provide readers of the present and future can be preserved, rather than lost to the ages.

Alicia Bowling is a rising senior at Smith College and a summer intern in Early Books and Manuscripts.

July 28th, 2016

Catnip not just for cats

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items recently cataloged from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

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Plantas que curan y plantas que matan written in Spanish by Arias Carbajal certainly makes a splashy impression with its pulpy cover.  The title translates to “plants that cure and plants that kill” and includes both theoretical and practical information regarding medical botany for curing various diseases.  In one section I discovered hierba de los gatos or catnip.  Img0011The text counsels that it can be used for nerves, headache, suppression of menstruation, scurvy, and people suffering from general weakness (whatever that means).

Since the 1700s catnip tea has been used for many mild ailments including nervous conditions, stomachaches, hives, and even the common cold.  More familiar with catnip as a stimulant for actual cats I was curious if people today still use catnip for any of these ailments.  I discovered that people still brew up catnip tea though there appears to be little hard scientific evidence that these problems are being cured by the catnip.  During the 1960s it was apparently smoked for the euphoric effects many claimed to experience and most people agree that it can be a good insect repellent when used in an oil form.  Img0012

On the other end of the spectrum we have the very poisonous tartago or spurge.  Native to southern Europe, northwest Africa, and throughout most of Asia the seeds, flowers, leaves, and roots are all poisonous and because the plant produces latex it can cause skin irritation when handled.  One animal that appears to be immune to the toxin from spurge are goats who sometimes eat it.  But watch out if you are going to milk your goat because the toxin can still be passed along in the goat’s milk!


Plantas que curan y plantas que matan :tratado teórico práctico de botánica medicinal para la curación de todas las enfermedades /por el Prof. Pio Arias-Carbajal, ex-medico de S.M. Mexico : [publisher not identified], [date of publication not identified] can be found at the Botany Libraries.

Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager, Gretchen Wade, Judith Warnement, and Chris Robson of the Botany Libraries for contributing to this post.

July 27th, 2016

Join the Conspiracy!

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items recently cataloged from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

Conspiracy Capers/Join the Conspiracy

In late summer 1968, delegates gathered in Chicago for the 35th Democratic National Convention. It had been a year of war, assassinations, and riots. The North Vietnamese launched the Tet offensive in January. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in April, sparking riots in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Chicago. Andy Warhol was shot and Robert Kennedy was killed in June. Mayor Richard J. Daley was determined to show a strong force against the protesters flowing into Chicago. In addition to more than 10,000 policemen, he enlisted the aid of some 15,000 Army troops and National Guardsmen. This force clashed with protesters on the streets and in parks outside the convention, sparking five days of violence that overshadowed the contentious convention.
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