Women and Stems

A Flower pressed between two pages of Almira Hart Phelps' Familiar Lectures on Botany

This post comes to us from Discovery Fellow Hannah Whitaker

I entered this fellowship with an interest in children’s literature and natural history books, and quickly gravitated towards Victorian Era botanical texts written by women for children – a niche, yet important, genre. Historical Floridan literature also piqued my interest, as I delved into a research project based on Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings with manuscripts archivist Florence Turcotte – an opportunity only possible through this unique fellowship. One book that combined all of these interests was Familiar Lectures on Botany, a textbook developed by the renowned nineteenth-century American teacher and scientist Almira Hart Phelps. The Rare Book Collection has a copy that contains pressed flowers, signatures and inscriptions from two school-age girls in Alabama and in Gainesville who signed the book in 1853 and 1919, respectively.

As the fellowship progressed, we talked about how libraries can reach people during a time of social distancing and quarantines, and decided to produce an online exhibit based on my research using Scalar, a digital publishing platform which allows for many different types of content to be brought together online. This project was rewarding not only due to the information I gathered from scouring texts from the nineteenth century, because I learned how to translate it into new forms, navigating programming, publishing, and writing for exhibitions. Access to information is imperative, and I feel grateful to this fellowship for teaching me how to share findings on an intuitive, public platform.

Learning how to use Scalar was initially a challenge, as the program is designed to allow users to choose their own paths through a series of pages. The author must first program a natural flow of chapters, including text and import sources or, in my case, images, into the project database. Learning basic commands and operations in the program was difficult, but eventually clicked, which expedited and eased the process. I constantly edited and published, reedited and republished until my chapters – including research and scanned photos – fit squarely into a visually-pleasing, informative publication. The final product, titled Women and Stems, can be accessed by clicking the button below.

A basic path in Scalar, showing the starting page and the order of each subsequent step. Paths can go in multiple directions, and the different elements of each page can relate to each other in different ways.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Discovery Fellow in the Special and Area Studies Collections at UF. My time scouring century-old texts, handling authentic Rawlings letters, and working with curators in Special Collections impacted my post-undergraduate trajectory, as I now am applying to masters programs in Library Science in order to become a children’s librarian. I am indebted to Neil Weijer and Bridget Bihm-Manuel, who oversaw the Discovery Fellowship, Florence Turcotte, who trusted me to assist with her research, Professor Rae Yan, who encouraged me to apply, and to Joseph and Rebecca White for making the fellowship possible.

Another opening from familiar lectures of botany shows the imprint left by a pressed flower no longer preserved in between the pages.


Selling Wellness, pt. II – The Development of Public Health

A Collection of American Almanacs from the 18th to the 20th century

This post comes to us from Discovery Fellow Arianna Zhai

I began my research with a focus on how the public understands and communicates “public health knowledge,” with the acknowledgment that widely accepted remedies have changed greatly over the course of the 19th and 20th century. In the course of the Discovery Fellowship, I have looked at almanacs from the 20th century, specialized doctoral medical literature, and cookbooks that contained medical remedies from the 19th century.

An aspect that I found in 19th century literature is the idea of the importance of environment to the human health. Pierce’s The People’s Common Sense Medical Advisor in Plain English stated that the “purity and healthfulness of the atmosphere depend upon the warming rays of the sun, while our bodies require light in order that their functions may be properly performed.” The elements of light and sun and their essentiality to health is shown particularly in Florida’s history, where literature raved of its temperate climate and abundance of sunshine as a clear reason to move into the state. The supposed integral nature of sunlight and warmth to a healthy human psyche was disseminated in order to encourage population of these environments, and it is interesting to note that these ideas still influence public perception of health today.

A particularly interesting idea that I found in a medical book from the 18th century is the idea that intellectual activity and health shared an inverse relationship. William Buchan states in his book, Domestic Medicine, published in 1784, that “intense thinking is so destructive to health, that few instances can be produced of studious persons who are strong and healthy.” How ironic that today, medical professionals must study for years to work in their respective fields! This is a clear example of a bit of medical knowledge that has been completely refuted in today’s public knowledge.

I was able to see the changing of popularly accepted medical advice firsthand in my Wilderness First Responder Certification class that I completed this past week. While I had been taught to remove ticks by twisting them out with a pair of tweezers, I learned that this could cause the tick to break in half and they should be removed in a straight path. Bee stingers should be scraped out by a flat surface (like a credit card), not pinched out with tweezers. Cutting and sucking out the venom of a snake is ineffective and peeing on a jellyfish sting introduces a strong risk of infection. While good general public knowledge can spread widely, the same is true about ineffective medical remedies. Often, the updated knowledge of outdated remedies can have a harder time breaking into the base of knowledge that is already in place.

This fellowship has given me an opportunity to be able to look into materials that give a glimpse into the knowledge present in the 19th and 20th centuries and compare information between sources. I hope to be able to continue looking at the evolution of public medical knowledge. As an extension of my research, I would like to see how current events have influenced general medical knowledge over a shorter time frame and pinpoint how societal events could affect the dissemination of knowledge.

Swimming from The Peoples Medical Advisor

The Art of Animals, pt. II

Bairei finch
Bairei finch

This post comes to us from Discovery Fellow Stepheny Pham

As my fellowship finishes up with the semester, I am able to thoroughly reflect on my journey. I have had the opportunity to look at a diverse range of books from Special Collections, including American ornithology books, animal husbandries, almanacs, emblem books, and catalogues and travel journals from the Colombian World Fair. All of these items provided valuable insight into lifestyles and scientific knowledge in the 1800s, from European domestication practices to global, cultural artworks. It was fun and fascinating to read about these topics and uncover the rich histories behind each photo. Even if I did not incorporate every element into my final project, I enjoyed interacting with the materials.

My research project revolved around Kono Bairei’s “Book of One Hundred Birds,” and one aspect I found fascinating were the species of birds featured in his book, mainly crows and owls. From the ornithology books and further secondary literature, I learned the differing perspectives of these birds from a western and eastern point of view. Crows, for instance, are the most known and least beloved bird to Americans. They are viewed as thieves and vagabonds, meanwhile, according to Japanese mythology they are warriors and masters of magic.

Owls might be bad omens in the west but good luck symbols in the east. These contrasts are interesting to me: how does Bairei’s art portray Japanese attitudes towards different bird species, to further the differences between American perspectives? And conversely, is there any overlap in symbolism with bird species? Given the diversity and number of bird paintings, I would imagine there would be at least one bird that fits the description. I would have liked to further explore this discussion on bird symbolism in cultures.

Furthermore, I was able to explore the life of Kono Bairei himself, the iconic artist, teacher, and trendsetter. I learned that many of his works were experimental in brushstrokes and color, and his art appeared heavily western-influenced. These aspects made him and his art stand out compared to the other kacho-e artists in the Meiji Era, but subsequently made him unpopular among his colleagues. I find it interesting that upon historical reflection, we as an audience appreciate Bairei and his unique aesthetic paintings, but during his time period, his art elicited the opposite reaction. He also taught younger artists the way of kacho-e and opened an art school and his own studio. The actions reflect his confidence and faith in his work as well as his nature for teaching others.

A collage of illustrations from the Book of 100 Birds
Detail from a photo collage made using research images from the Book of 100 Birds.

The Art of Animals

Water Cranes from Kono Bairei's Book of 100 Birds

This post comes to us from Discovery Fellow Stepheny Pham

Over the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity to dive into the world of Special Collections. More specifically, I have been studying the works of Kono Bairei, a painter and art teacher of the Japanese Meiji period. He was famous for his picturesque application of kacho-e, translated as “bird and flower art.” At the beginning of this fellowship, my heart was set on a project about animals in Asia because it combined interests within my major and minor. I was introduced to Bairei through his Book of 100 Birds, which uses woodblocks and watercolor to produce the images of birds in their natural settings.

After hours of browsing the six volumes in awe, admiring the aesthetics and realism of the drawings, I knew it fit my ideal vision.

As time passed, my project evolved to focus on the books themselves and the content’s comparative roles across other cultures. Recently, I’ve been exploring American ornithology books and reading about birds from an American perspective. I wanted to learn how birds in the same time period but across the world were interpreted, studied, and portrayed. One outstanding example is owls: they are a bird species prevalent in both eastern and western cultures. There are several drawings of various owl species in Bairei’s kacho-e books and also detailed in the American ornithology books. According to ornithology books, owls are typically seen as an omen, bad luck if you stumbled upon one. Conversely, in Japanese folklore, owls are signs of good luck and wisdom. Using Bairei’s art, we can draw conclusions about Japanese culture in the 18th century. 

My goal for this project is to study the different cultural resonances of birds. Although Bairei’s Book of 100 Birds is primarily visual, versus the narrative and textually descriptive American books, I aim to find connections between the two distinct cultures. It is intriguing to see how one common symbol may vary, in meaning and in presentation, depending on cultural context.

Selling Wellness

Cover of JH Kellogg, Ladies' Guide to Health and Disease

This post comes to us from Discovery Fellow Arianna Zhai

I have a passion for reading psychology and the “self-help” genre of books, which look into why people think and behave in patterns.  At the beginning of my research, I aimed to look into the broad category of medical advice literature. Public attitudes toward mental health and health in general has changed so much, that practices that were considered reliable and standard are viewed now as nonsensical. By working in Special Collections, I hoped to learn more about the remedies and recipes from the 19th and 20th centuries that reflect the evolution of public understanding of people’s health.

Citrus Fruit and the Nation’s Health (undated), from the PK Yonge Library of Florida History

I started with almanacs from the 19th and 20th centuries. Almanacs were printed and distributed by pharmaceutical companies and were used by the public as a “one stop shop” of information. Many different publications of almanacs contained overlapping medical knowledge pertaining to common accidents, such as burns, drowning, and animal bites. It was very interesting for me to note how prescribed treatments changed over time and were affected by historical events.

For example, an almanac published in 1914 prescribed using “some stimulant such as whiskey or brandy” in order to revive someone after an accident. However, this treatment was no longer (publicly) recommended after the onset of Prohibition in the 1920s.

A folding anatomical model inside The Ladies’ Guide to Health and Disease (1893)

I also looked through a medical book about Ladies’ Health that was published by John Harvey Kellogg in 1893. It was interesting to see how societal expectations of women differed at the time of the book’s writing. Kellogg recommended for girls to be allowed to play outside in the sun like boys and to receive a similar education, which surprised me in a book that was written long before the Women’s Rights Movement in the 1960s. Kellogg also condemned the use of corsets in women’s fashion, complete with diagrams of organs in the torso. This contrasts with the Shakespearian Annual Almanac that was published in 1870, which wrote that women seeking equality “claim for the elevation of her sex that which would be its greatest ruin and depression.” Comparing these two sources was interesting because it shows just how much public perception and knowledge can change over a few decades.

Currently, I am reading recipe books from the 19th centuries and learning more about medical recipes that are listed for different illnesses. I am hoping to also be able to read more about mental health and the perceptions towards it during the time period that these works were written.

Nature’s Wonders

This post comes to us from Discovery Fellow Hannah Whitaker

Through my Discovery Fellowship I have accessed dozens of unique and beautiful pieces of literature. My focus has primarily been on natural history; I am interested to see how natural history texts have evolved over time. I began in the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, reading books about insects and animals written for children in the Victorian Era.

My favorite was Birds and Insects by Jane Bragg, which features a young girl with boundless curiosity waltzing through her garden and conversing with each critter she finds.

The creatures speak back, of course, responding with factual information about themselves in an almost Lewis-Carrollian way. This ability to freely converse with animals is pervasive in Victorian Children’s literature, I have found, and while less common in 20th century American literature, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings maintained this magical ability in her posthumously released children’s story The Secret River.

Cover of the book The Look About Club

These natural history books emphasize the intrinsic value of each creature,

whether written primarily for pleasure or education. Thomas Say’s reference book, American Entomology, is inscribed with the Stillingfleet poem “Each moss/ Each shell, each crawling insect, holds a rank/ Important in the plan of Him who fram’d/ This scale of beings.” This poem illustrates the author’s fondness for all creatures, regardless of shape, size, or species. Birds and Insects (1844) and The Look-About Club (1887) each highlight the importance and value of each animal. In Birds and Insects, the animals are imbued with feelings, begging the reader to discontinue hunting. The father in The Look-About Club beseeches his children to be gentle with the animals they study.

Despite evolution in writing styles, authors recognized the fragility and beauty of the natural world nearly two centuries ago; a haunting and timely warning to modern-day readers. More recent texts, such as Forest in the Sand by Marjory Bartlett Sanger (1983) and Voices of the Earth: Florida’s Environmental Storybook with Pictures to Color by Kristin Farquhar (1992) also detail the necessity of maintaining the balance of the ecosystem.

Marjory Bartlett Sanger, Forest in the Sand (1983) , from the PK Yonge Library of Florida History

Meet our New Discovery Fellows

We’re excited to have three new faces around the collections this semester, working on some very different projects. They’ll be posting more about how their research is going in the near future, but here are some early directions they’re headed in.

Arianna Zhai (’24) is interested in following the ways that different people share knowledge and tell stories in the collections. She’ll be investigating the ways that medical knowledge and ideas about public health evolved in 19th century America and Florida, with the help of our Florida History Collections.

Hannah Whitaker (’21) is an English major with a focus in American and British Literature. With this fellowship, she is finally living out her dream of becoming Matilda, and she hopes that her magical powers will manifest themselves soon. In the meantime, she’ll be exploring nineteenth-century newspapers, pamphlets, and wood engravings. Hannah loves autumn, local coffee shops, children, and her cat, Hemingway.

Stepheny Pham (’22) is a Zoology major who is looking forward to applying her interests in animals and digital storytelling to some of the global materials on natural history in the Rare Book Collection. She will be looking at the different ways that humans relate to animals across time and place, as well as their many social and cultural values.

We’re glad they’re here, and as they work through their projects this semester, we know you’ll agree. Congratulations to Hannah, Arianna, and Stepheny, and thanks to all those who made the start of this program possible!

Meet Megan Wilson, University Scholar in Special Collections

“Little Red Cap,” illustrated in a 1933 edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales

My name is Megan Wilson and I am a senior English Major at UF! I come from a really small town in southern Illinois, but UF has definitely become my home away from home. When I am not studying or working, I love spending time with my foster dogs, reading any Stephen King book I can find, drinking coffee, and watching Dance Moms.

After I graduate, I hope to go to law school and then advocate in the courtroom for the various environmental issues that our planet faces today. While my interests are broad, the one thing I appreciate most about researching with the University Scholars Program in Special Collections is the opportunity to pick any topic that you want for your research project. This freedom alleviates some of the pressure and makes the research that much more enjoyable because it is something that you want to be researching. Initially, it was difficult for me to choose because there are so many different avenues to go down, especially in the extensive archival collection that UF has. Ultimately, however, I chose fairy tales.

In the Grimm tale "the Valiant Tailor" the tailor plays a violin to calm a bear.

Early fairy tales are interesting to me because of the strange underlying messages that accompany them.

The stories, although they may seem happy, are often much more sinister if you look closely enough. There is an uncanniness in them, whether it be in the protagonists, the settings, or both. I find the uncanny to be a fascinating way to look at shifting attitudes towards children and the supernatural, and fairy tales tend to have this plurality of themes and genres within them.   

An early Gothic parody of “Mother Goose:” Tales of Terror (1801)

Discovery Fellowships in Special Collections

Illustration of the Crystal Palace, London, under construction

We’re thrilled to announce that we are taking applications for our first cohort of Discovery Fellowships in Special Collections. Applications are due Monday, November 30, 2020, for fellowships beginning Spring of 2021

Initiated through the generosity of Joseph and Rebecca White, Discovery Fellowships will provide students them with the assistance and mentoring necessary to bring new life to the collections through their research or creative projects. Over the Spring semester, Discovery Fellows will work with the curators of Special & Area Studies collections to identify and explore materials in the collections at UF.

Fellows will will have the opportunity to share their project with the university community through presentation, exhibition, or other means, and their work will be featured on the Storied Books project. They will receive a $500 stipend at the completion of their fellowship.

Application information can be found on our fellowships page.

Welcome, Gators!

A printing plate and imprint telling you to check us out

It’s a bit of a different start this year, but we’re looking forward to the first full year of our project!

Next week, the libraries will be holding their second annual Fall Festival, which is a chance to get a quick look into the different libraries on campus. This post is a rewind to last year’s activity, where we turned an illustration in a fine press edition of the Canterbury Tales into an exercise in handpress printing.

We started with the illustration of Chaucer’s squire from the Golden Cockerell Press. The engraving was done on wood from a drawing by the British artist Eric Gill. Gill’s block was then set in a matrix with the type and borders.

The beginning of the Squires Tale, from the Golden Cockerell Press' Canterbury Tales

To make it into a printable block, we had to reverse-engineer the process. In earlier periods, an artist might have been brought in to re-draw an illustration and transfer the image to a new block. Fortunately for me, that didn’t involve any drawing.

Likewise, there was no cutting for me either. After the image was set, it was engraved on a metal plate and set on wood so that it would be tall enough to line up with metal type if it was being printed at the same time. Again, modern technology let me cheat and just put the type on the image I sent to the engraver…

And it was finally ready to be printed, on a press that was designed for use by DIY printers in the 19th century. You can see it below, locked up in its metal frame, in which a printer could also set and align type.

The trial run was a success!

All in all, it was an interesting experience. For all the time that I have studied books, I have never had to actually print anything. Fortunately, we have a great team here in special collections, including our book arts curator, who teaches letterpress printing in the School of Art. I hope that we get to do more of this when people can meet in person again.

I’d also like to give a special welcome to our inaugural student researchers. You’ll be hearing more from them soon.