September 26th, 2016

A picture is worth a thousand words

423811256We have all heard it. If you think of googling it, by the way, don’t—nobody really knows who said it first. We have all said it. Ironically, even writers are fond of it. “The drawing shows me at one glance what might be spread over ten pages in a book,” says Evgenii Bazarov, the revolutionary-inclined youth of Ivan Turgenev’s novel, “Fathers and Sons,” to Anna Sergeevna Odintsov, a noble woman of considerable beauty and ability to make men fall in love with her. It is perhaps worth mentioning that in his case, the words come from the mouth of a nihilist and a cynic.

But say that to a cataloger and you are unlikely to get a favorable response—more like a severe glance and pursed lips. A thousand or not, but words are the stuff cataloging is made of. And being neither cynics nor nihilists, in cataloging we believe in words. The question is what made us start using pictures in our cataloging?

For I have been doing exactly that. I am now attaching images to the short cataloging records for costume and set designs in the Harvard Theatre Collection. The records are short out of necessity: our holdings are vast, and the goal is to provide access to as many items as possible, and quickly. So, we are adding images—“pictures”—to the description, in the hope that they will tell researchers more than words in a brief record can.

This project is part of a larger initiative to add reference scans to HOLLIS records at the point of cataloging. At Houghton, we’re scanning not only visual material, but also annotations, broadsides, sheet music, book covers, and tables of contents.capture1

Next time you search HOLLIS+, look for an image thumbnail in the results list. Open one of these catalog records and scroll down to see the linked image(s). Clicking on an image will enlarge it further (unless the image is copyrighted). I use an iPhone 6 with minimal editing, so the iPhone is now officially a cataloging tool.  

Here are just a few examples of recently cataloged designs:

Nozze di Figarro set designs, circa 1780
Ida Rubinstein dans Cléopâtre: drawings, 1921
Walkyrie lighting set design, circa 1925

Irina Klyagin, Rothschild Project Archivist, contributed this post.

September 22nd, 2016

Bear’s foot?

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

Img0002I have to say as we have processed this immense collection one of the things that never ceases to delight me are the names of various plants.  For example Bear’s foot, which is named because it has an extremely fetid smell, which only leads me to wonder how does one get close enough to a bear to smell its foot?  Is this a common occurrence for botanists?  The leaves from bear’s foot are very bitter and acrid so if chewed it will actually abrade the mouth.  Why might you be chewing the leaves?  The leaves will cause vomiting so in the past it was administered to children to expel round worm, but is counseled against in this text because it can be dangerous when given too high of a dosage.

Img0004Authored by George Spratt, a surgeon, the Medico-botanical pocket-book was published in London around 1836.  It is a pocket sized reference tool containing plates that illustrate specific plants, some of which are beautifully hand colored.  The cardinal flower which is native to Virginia was introduced to America by the botanist Ray.  The root of this plant has a taste resembling tobacco and in the not too distant past it was often used to help treat fever sores, cramps, and again induce vomiting if one ate something poisonous.  Apparently the Native Americans often used cardinal flower for both medicinal and ritual usage.  It was both used as a type of ceremonial tobacco and thrown to the winds to ward off storms as well as an ingredient in love charms.


Something that was unexpected in this volume was the appendix which relates information about poisons.  This section gives diagnostic and general symptoms, treatment, and morbid appearances.  Included are various tests for each poison complete with these amazing little drawings that illustrate the experiments.  This particular illustration displays how to test for arsenic in various chemical compounds and the actual colors that result when arsenic is present in them.

The medico-botanical pocket-book : comprising a compendium of vegetable toxicology … ; to which is added an appendix, containing practical observations on some of the mineral and other poisons, illustrated with tests / by G. Spratt. London : Published for the author by J. Churchill, [1836].  Pp Sp7m 1836. can be found in 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.

September 16th, 2016


Sheet music 618 caption detail

Dance notation is one of those tricky subjects which has been discussed for centuries: no matter how you write it down, you’re sure to miss something important. I’ve discussed some examples here in in the blog, particularly regarding Feuillet notation (which was a particular interest of Professor Ward’s). But sometimes folks just take things into their own hands.

Sheet music 618 cover

Sheet music 618 cover

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September 14th, 2016

New on OASIS in September

Four finding aids for newly accessioned or cataloged collections have been added to the OASIS database this month.

Newly cataloged by: Irina Klyagin and Christine Jacobson

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana papers on Soviet theater and film and university lecture notes, 1902-1955 (MS Thr 402)

Minimally Processed by: Melanie Wisner

Tina Howe papers, circa 1958-2015 (MS Thr 1487)

Bernth and Judith Lindfors collection concerning Ira Aldridge, Paul Robeson, African, and African American performers, circa 1780-1938 (MS Thr 1507)

Violette Verdy papers, circa 1952-1992 (MS Thr 1493)

September 8th, 2016

Dope is falling from the sky

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


Marijuana monthly is a periodical unsurprisingly devoted to all things marijuana.  Smuggling, growing, dealing, legal cases and aspects, and even some curious adventures that the staff experienced.

One of the included articles reveals a story of aerial marijuana smuggling between Mexico and the United States.  Martin Houltin who the author says is the “grandaddy of marijuana aviation history” had a particularly interesting story.  Houltin lived in Columbus, New Mexico in 1968 which is just north of the border and when he wasn’t smuggling grass seemed like most other citizens of the small town.  Houltin reportedly didn’t deal or smoke the large quantities of marijuana but only transported them.  By 1973 he was running one of the largest air smuggling rings and though most people in the town were aware of what he was doing no one seemed to care, however U.S. Customs was the exception.  When the DEA was formed in late 1973 Houltin became a “special project” and they focused major resources to bust him.  Operation “Skynight” cost about $2 million and resulted in the arrest of Houltin who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1974.


The people involved in the publication were extremely active in the marijuana movement as editor Rick Sanders outlines their daily lives in his monthly column “From the Head Head.”  In issue no. 5 he reveals to readers that during the previous month they were busted at the border for a joint and he thanks US Customs and the DEA for not giving them 50 years in jail.  Sanders also encourages everyone to join the movement and write to their elected leaders in order to change the drug laws.


I’ll leave you with the words of Rick Sanders- Be Right On.

See the evolution of the various publication issues with digital scans of the covers from Marijuana monthly. Panorama City, Calif., Sanders Pub. Co., 1975- which can be found in Widener’s collection.

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

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.”

Img0034 Img0035

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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