Guest Post: Professor Jenifer Van Vleck: Archives as Passports

[Nota bene: With permission of its author, Jenifer Van Vleck, Assistant Professor of History at Yale University, we’re happy to post the following comments from a presentation made by Professor Van Vleck at a meeting of the University Library Council in the Manuscripts and Archives reading room on Friday, December 11, 2015. The focus of the meeting was on plans for renovations to Manuscripts and Archives, driven in part by the need for flexible teaching space within the security perimeter of the department.]

Archives as Passports

Hiram Bingham III, notebook of general orders, circulars, and reference notes, 1914-1915. Yale Peruvian Expedition Records (MS 664), Box 20, Folder 36.

Hiram Bingham III, notebook of general orders, circulars, and reference notes, 1914-1915. Yale Peruvian Expedition Records (MS 664), Box 20, Folder 36.

The British novelist L.P. Hartley famously wrote, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” To extend the metaphor, archives are the passport to that country. Special collections at Yale play a unique and vital role in allowing students to engage with the past—and, through their engagement with history, to think more critically and constructively about the present. Yale’s collections—particularly extensive in my own field, the history of U.S. foreign relations—offer students the opportunity to learn and practice the historian’s craft. In using these collections, students work with a rich variety of primary sources, including correspondence, diaries, oral histories, policy documents, organizational records, creative writing, photographs, and memorabilia. (And that is just a partial list!)

Hiram Bingham III, notebook of general orders, circulars, and reference notes, 1914-1915. Yale Peruvian Expedition Records (MS 664), Box 20, Folder 36.

Hiram Bingham III, notebook of general orders, circulars, and reference notes, 1914-1915. Yale Peruvian Expedition Records (MS 664), Box 20, Folder 36.

While doing research in Yale’s special collections, students learn to reinterpret the lives and legacies of familiar historical figures—such as Charles Lindbergh or Eli Whitney, whose papers are housed at Manuscripts & Archives. However, they also meet new and sometimes unexpectedly fascinating characters—such as A.C. Gilbert, class of 1909. The creator of mid-20th-century America’s most popular toy, the erector set, Gilbert inspired literally millions of children to become interested in science and engineering. Today’s Yalies are unlikely to know Gilbert’s name or his historical significance—until they discover his papers here, as several students have done in my seminar on the history of technology.

Speaking of technology: Current and future Yale undergraduates are digital natives. They grew up with the Internet and email, and when they want to know something, they instinctively turn to Google or Wikipedia. This isn’t a bad thing, of course—Google and Wikipedia, among other online resources, are powerful tools. I use them every day. Yet, as I tell my students, Googling is a kind of “fast food” approach to research. You get to consume instant results, which can be satisfying but not always intellectually “nutritious.” And the word “consume” is fitting, I think, for we tend to skim Google search results quickly and selectively pick out what we want to find, usually from the first page or two of results. Archival research, by contrast, requires time and concentration. It’s not easy. It can lead to frustrating dead ends. Particularly when working with pre-20th century documents, it often requires reading nearly indecipherable handwriting. It requires careful attention to the contexts in which the contents of archives were produced, acquired, and organized. But, as my students discover, time spent in the archives, though at times challenging, is always intellectually rewarding. We sometimes don’t find what we expect to find. Yet we also find what we never even imagined to find. One of the greatest joys of my career is to witness my students becoming historians, and becoming excited about history through their archival research.

Dr. David F. Ford, photographs of Quichua individuals, 1915. Yale Peruvian Expedition Records (MS 664), Box 34, Folder 42.

Dr. David F. Ford, photographs of Quichua individuals, 1915. Yale Peruvian Expedition Records (MS 664), Box 34, Folder 42.

I teach students of all levels and academic interests: freshmen to Ph.D. candidates, STEM majors to history majors. In each of my courses, the resources of the Yale library—and Manuscripts and Archives in particular—are crucial to my teaching. I am immensely grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate with Yale archivists and librarians. Particularly because digitized archival databases are expanding so rapidly, it is difficult for professors to keep up with the latest developments and resources. In our own research, we rely upon librarians’ and archivists’ professional expertise in how to navigate the exciting yet often confounding and ever-changing landscape of archival resources. And we also rely on librarians and archivists in our teaching. Let me offer a few examples.

Dr. Luther T. Nelson, anatomical research notebook, containing records for individual native Peruvians, 1912. Yale Peruvian Expedition Records (MS 664), Box 20, Folder 28.

Dr. Luther T. Nelson, anatomical research notebook, containing records for individual native Peruvians, 1912. Yale Peruvian Expedition Records (MS 664), Box 20, Folder 28.

Freshman seminars. The History department, like many others, offers small seminars exclusively for freshman. These enable students to have frequent and substantive interaction with professors, and intellectual dialogue with their peers, at the very beginning of their Yale education. Last year, I co-taught a freshman seminar on U.S.-Latin American relations with History Ph.D. candidate Taylor Jardno, a specialist in Latin American history. Because our seminar was designed to introduce students to historical methodology as well as the particular topic, we required a research paper based on primary sources. Our students’ interactions with Yale’s archival collections was— according to their own evaluations of the course—an indisputable highlight of the semester. In collaboration with archivists Bill Landis and Maureen Callahan, we designed an interactive class session that focused on one particular Manuscripts and Archives collection: the Peruvian Expedition Papers, featuring Hiram Bingham, the famed Yale anthropologist and explorer whose expeditions to Peru in the early 20th century resulted in the rediscovery and excavation of the “lost” Inca city of Machu Picchu. (The swashbuckling professor, allegedly, is also the model, or at least a
model, for the character of Indiana Jones.)

Dr. Luther T. Nelson, anatomical research notebook, containing records for individual native Peruvians, 1912. Yale Peruvian Expedition Records (MS 664), Box 20, Folder 28.

Dr. Luther T. Nelson, anatomical research notebook, containing records for individual native Peruvians, 1912. Yale Peruvian Expedition Records (MS 664), Box 20, Folder 28.

Since most of our first-semester freshmen had not done archival research in high school, we thought that focusing on this one particular collection—which offers such rich and fascinating insights into the history of U.S.-Latin American relations—would be a manageable way to introduce them to the process of research and the types of materials that they can discover in archives. So my co-teacher and I went through the collection and selected records for our students to look at. We wanted them to understand the diverse kinds of materials one can find in an archive, even within a single collection. And we wanted them to think through how to work with different types of historical documents. How do you analyze a photograph, for example, as compared to diplomatic correspondence, or a legal contract? How do you place sources in dialogue with one another? What does any given primary source reveal—and what does it not reveal? What other types of sources would you need to consult in order to answer your research questions? We grouped our chosen materials into four categories: Bingham’s diaries; official reports from the expedition; photographs; and contracts—e.g. legal contracts between Yale and the Peruvian government that authorized Bingham to conduct archaeological work in Peru. After Maureen gave a brief presentation on the Peruvian collection and its history, students spent the rest of the class exploring the different materials. At first, they gravitated to what seemed to be the most exciting and accessible stuff: the photographs and diaries. The legal contracts, in comparison, seemed boring and difficult to interpret. Yet, as they spent time looking at and talking about the records, they gradually realized that these contracts were absolutely key to understanding the history of the expedition: how it came about, and what was at stake for Bingham, for Yale, and for Peru. “Dry” legal contracts came to life when read in conjunctionin conversation—with the other types of archival records. As I watched my students’ amazement and excitement as they handled, read, and talked about the Peruvian Expedition Papers, I realized I was witnessing a kind of meta-process of discovery: my students discovering history—and how to do history—as they encountered, first-hand, these documents on the discovery of Machu Picchu.

Upper-level seminars—“junior” now departmental seminars. I also teach upper-level seminars designed for junior and senior history majors. In each of these seminars, I dedicate one full class (two hours) to an instructional session here at the library, in which librarians and archivists offer a presentation on research methodologies and resources. One of my most popular seminars, “The Global 1960s,” examines the dramatic events of that decade in countries around the world. In order to introduce my students to relevant sources, Bill Landis and David Gary created a website with information about and links to library resources—both physical and digitized. During the third week of the semester, I bring my class to the library, where Bill and David lead a discussion about research methodologies: how to find and use online databases, for example. They also introduced students to particular collections relevant to the course. To that end, Bill and I identify about twenty relevant collections and placed boxes from those collections on reserve. I require students to explore these materials in advance of our library session, and to choose one particular box to discuss in class. For more advanced undergraduates, this interactive method of training them to work with archival materials has been highly effective in 1) ensuring that their final 15-20 page research papers are the product of intensive, semester-long work, not a stressful all-nighter before the deadline, and 2) getting them excited about the contents of archives. In the words of one student’s email to me: “I had so much fun digging through various boxes this afternoon. I eventually claimed the one containing the Asia Foundation’s reports in the late 50s and early 60s, although I also found President Brewster’s archive about coeducation at Yale quite fascinating. It was hard to choose!”

And it IS hard to choose! There is so much here. Using Manuscripts and Archives’ collections, my students have written seminar papers and senior essays on topics such as: U.S. governance of the Philippines during the late 19th and early 20th century. General Motors’ role in Germany during and after World War II. World’s fairs, from 1893 through 1964. The scholarly and political career of H. Stuart Hughes, one of the most prominent intellectuals of the 20th century. The Cuban Revolution. The creation of American football. The history of American conservatism. Yale’s role in promoting public health education in New Haven. The Yale-China Association. Gay, lesbian, and queer history, at Yale and beyond. One of the most fascinating research papers I’ve read, which this student ultimately turned into her senior essay, was about Christopher Phillips, Yale’s first out gay undergraduate, who lived much of his life as a cosmopolitan expatriate in nations throughout Asia and Europe.

My lecture courses are relatively large—on average, 150 students—so it would be impossible to hold an interactive class session at the library, as I do in my undergraduate and graduate seminars. However, in my lecture courses, I use the resources of Manuscripts and Archives in two ways. First, I encourage my Teaching Assistants to bring small groups of students to the library and familiarize them with its collections. Second, I incorporate Yale’s archives into my own lectures. My course “Origins of U.S. Global Power” surveys the history of U.S. foreign relations—and I say foreign “relations” rather than the more narrow term foreign “policy,” because while the course deeply examines the history of American diplomacy, it also features international interactions that are “informal” or not government-directed: such as business and trade, tourism, and cultural exchanges. Accordingly, while we analyze the legacies of presidents and secretaries of state, we also meet less-known people, who nonetheless had great impact on the United States’ international history. So, for example, while I use the Henry Stimson papers in my lectures on World War II (he was head of the War Department), I also draw upon the papers of Louise Bryant when I discuss American reactions to the Russian Revolution. Bryant, memorably portrayed by Diane Keaton in the 1981 movie Reds, was a prominent bohemian and journalist who was one of the few U.S. citizens to be in Russia at the time of the revolution. Her writings about it thus offer fascinating and unique firsthand perspectives.

The Yale Library, then, does not only offer a passport to the “foreign country” of the past. It offers a passport to the world. THANK YOU.

LGBTQ Round-up at Manuscripts and Archives

One of Manuscripts and Archives major collecting areas is material from the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community. I was very much reminded of this in early September when we received several new collections or additions to existing collections, which explored many different aspects of these communities.  Gwyneth Crowley, the Librarian for LGBT Studies, made all of these additions possible by purchasing them from Queer Antiquarian Books.

Highlights include:

  • The Good Vibrations Collection (MS 2025), which covers the feminist, sex-positive sex toy shop based in San Francisco, California. Founded in 1977 by sex educator Joani Blank, it was opened as a response to requests for a “clean, well-lit place” to shop for sex toys and books. They also have a mail order catalog, a production company for making erotic videos, and educational workshops on all sorts of sexual activities. While men are welcome in their shops, it developed its marketing and products to primarily appeal to women. They are also extremely LGBTQ friendly, with workshops and products aimed at people regardless of their gender or their partner’s gender. While I may disappoint you by reporting that this collection does not include any products sold in the shops, it does contain printed ephemera from it, including fliers that advertise their workshops, a catalog from the 1980s (with hand-drawn pictures of their products), and a booklet with stories of people’s first time using toys purchased from Good Vibrations.

    Good Vibrations mail order catalog

    An early Good Vibrations mail order catalog

  • An addition to the Transgender Collection (MS 1848). While generally made up of printed ephemera from Northern California events and services, approximately half of the fliers are from drag queen events and the other half are from events and services for transgender and non-binary people. Represented in the drag queen events ephemera are theatrical parodies (personal favorite: one involving a parody of the film The Silence of the Lambs renamed The Silence of the Trans and starring drag queens Peaches Christ and Sharon Needles as Trannibal Lecter and Buffalo Jill) and charity events led by drag groups such as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Represented in the transgender and non-binary ephemera are fliers for health services (including transitioning care and mental health care), marches and protests, and artistic events such as film screenings and gallery showings. It’s interesting to see the difference in tone.


  • An addition to the Physique Collection (MS 1850). Champion Studios operated in the 1950s and 1960s, creating artwork of athletic, nearly nude men and selling them to the interested—in many cases the interested were men sexually attracted to men. Since gay pornography was illegal and therefore straightforward, commercially produced work was unavailable, magazines and artwork were developed around “fitness” and “physique” themes with the models in minimal clothing as they could not pose nude. Manuscripts and Archives received order forms with sample images for prospective customers. The artwork is definitely eye-catching, but also of interest is how they worked to keep the theme going as almost every photo set includes the “story” of how the subjects came to be photographed, or drawn, or sculpted.


  • The Gaylesta Brochures Collection (MS 2024), which takes us back to San Francisco, California’s LGBTQ communities. Gaylesta is an organization that refers LGBTQ identified people to mental health professionals that give culturally competent care. The brochures included in this new collection cover issues and experiences that can impact mental health such as HIV/AIDS, gender identity, biphobia and bisexual erasure, body image and eating disorders, coming out, queer parenting, domestic violence, stress and anxiety, and trauma. There are also brochures covering kink-aware therapy for those who are interested in BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism) and/or fetish practices, and polyamory-aware therapy for those interested in or involved in ethical non-monogamous relationship structures.

    Gaylesta brochures

    A sampling of Gaylesta brochures

  • An addition of ephemera and newsletters to the AIDS Collection (MS 1834) from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s California branch. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is based in Los Angeles, California and works in 36 countries, providing healthcare to those sick with HIV and AIDS, advocacy for the sick, and research studies and clinical trials. Much of the ephemera is made up of educational brochures on different aspects of HIV/AIDS care. There are also fliers for their medical centers, their pharmacies and their California thrift store, Out of the Closet, that uses its proceeds to fund the foundation. Among other preservation challenges with this collection: finding a box that could house its safer sex kits with condoms.

For those interested in working with these collections, you can find links to their finding aids in the descriptions above.

For information on using our collections, visit our website here.

Saving the Day for All: Queer Superhero Comics

Superheroes have long been a staple of comic books. While the first comic books were reprints of humor and adventure comic strips from newspapers, by 1938 the tone became even more fanciful. That’s when Detective Comics (who would later become DC Comics) published Action #1, featuring a costumed hero with amazing strength. This, of course, was Superman. Other writers and artists turned to superhero stories, creating such characters as Batman, Captain Marvel, and the Green Hornet. Superhero comics still continue to endure in their popularity today, as the top selling comic book of 2014 was issue number one of the rebooted Amazing Spider-Man, whose characters originated in 1963.

These superhero comics have little in common with the first lesbian and gay comics that were created in the 1970s. The first documented lesbian and gay comic in the United States was published in 1972 by San Francisco, California artist Trina Robbins. Called “Sandy Comes Out,” it told the story of a young woman discovering her sexuality when she moved to San Francisco. Other lesbian and gay artists and writers continued to follow this trend of independently publishing comics with lesbian and gay characters, some as lighthearted as “Sandy Comes Out,” others more erotic in nature. Gay-themed comics broke out of the underground in 1980 with the publication of Gay Comix, published and edited by Denis Kitchen and Howard Cruse, respectively.

The Gay Comics Collection (MS 1851) in Manuscripts and Archives contains over a hundred lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender-themed titles. A small number of the titles were received in 2005 and date from 1976 to 1996; these very much echo the description of the above gay and lesbian comics. This year (2015), additional comics for this collection were purchased from Prism Comics by Gwyneth Crowley, the Librarian for LGBT Studies. While some of these comics date back as far as 1985 (Kitchen’s Gay Comix and Donna Barr’s The Desert Peach for instance), the majority of them date from 2000 to 2014. The shift in tone and topic area in the recently acquired comics is striking. For one thing, it is more accurate to refer to them as queer comics. Several of these comics feature transgender characters and gender shifting themes as well as characters that are not attracted to only one gender. Another thing to notice is the higher amount of comics that are not self-published—one title is none other than Kevin Keller from Archie Comics, whose 2012 publication debuted one of the first mainstream comics centered on a gay protagonist (Kevin Keller the character first appeared in Veronica #202 in 2010). A more subtle shift that is apparent is the significant number (more than 25 percent) of science fiction and fantasy comics. Some involve aliens (Bakersfield, Earth), others involve zombies (Avant-Garde, Junkyard Angels) and a few focus on robots and transfer of minds between inorganic bodies (Anatta, Disconnect, Love Machines, O Human Star). However, the most common sci-fi/fantasy feature of these titles is superheroes.

Cover of Issue #1 of Pride High

Issue #1 of Pride High

What I found interesting while working with these comics is how they approach the concept of a superhero. Pride High for instance utilizes a similar plot line to the X-Men comics, in which teenagers with superhero powers attend a special school. However, there is a twist: a group of these teens are LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) identified and face bullying and harassment from other students. Similarly, Friend of Dorothy features a gay boy who must save the world of Oz. While it is also a straightforward superhero comic, part of the transformation of the protagonist is being barred from seeing his boyfriend by the protagonist’s parents, being signed up for a conversion therapy camp, and his attempt at suicide.

Also present are comics that actively parody the genre and the tropes present in classic superhero comics. These superheroes have the powers and costumes like their traditional counterparts, but how they behave and how they use said powers are not exactly the same as Batman saving Gotham, or even Scott-John, the protagonist of Friend of Dorothy, saving Oz.

Cover of Glamazonia, the Uncanny Super-Tranny

Glamazonia, the Uncanny Super-Tranny

One such hero is Glamazonia, the main character of the Glamazonia, the Uncanny Super-Tranny, which has faced controversy and censorship at times as some members of the trans* community find it offensive. Glamazonia has such powers as super vision, super hearing, and flight. She in theory tries to save the day, such as when a scientist is threatened by visitors from the future, but she also has no problem attempting to murder President John F. Kennedy when he cheats on her with multiple women and a rival drag queen. Issue number 3 of Reignbow and Dee-va features a gay man superhero, his lady sidekick, and his boyfriend battling a vampire queen who is attempting to make the men straight. Of course, the fighting includes their blows being powered by pop culture references from action movies and songs, a time out in a rainbow colored bouncy castle, and defeating werewolves with a very special face powder.

More serious themes are present in The Power Within. Written with the “It Gets Better” project in mind, it follows an eighth grade boy named Shannon. Shannon is constantly bullied by his peers for being gay. It doesn’t help that his father and the school principal blame Shannon for his mistreatment by believing he calls too much attention to himself. To help tolerate this, Shannon imagines himself becoming a superhero when bullied and being able to fight off his attackers. Perhaps that’s why so many of these comics use superheroes—they save the day and make a difference and it doesn’t matter how different they are. If anything, they are celebrated for their differences. It’s a way it can get better.

Cover of The Power Within

The Power Within

The Gay Comics Collection, including the new addition, is open to researchers. You can look at the finding aid here. If you would like more information on using collections in Manuscripts and Archives, you can visit our website here.


Benton, Mike. Superhero Comics of the Golden Age. Dallas: Taylor Publishing, 1992.

Goulart, Ron. Ron Goulart’s Great History of Comic Books. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1986.

Virtue, Graeme. “Marvel and DC Comics Dominate Sales Helped Along by Big-Screen Boost.” The Guardian, January 14, 2015. spiderman-guardians-of-the-galazy

Wells, Charlie. “‘No Straight Lines’—Gay Comics History.” SFGate, August 20, 2012.

Daniel Pinello’s Gay Marriage Interviews Coming to Manuscripts and Archives

Manuscripts and Archives and the Yale University Library are excited to receive nearly

Cover image, Daniel R. Pinello, America's Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage, Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Cover image, Daniel R. Pinello, America’s Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage, Cambridge University Press, 2006.

300 in-depth recorded interviews and transcriptions on the topic of gay marriage. The interviews were conducted between 2004 and 2012 with lesbian and gay couples and their families in eleven states. Daniel Pinello, a professor of political science at the John Jay College in New York City, conducted the interviews as part of his research on U.S. law, gay marriage, and discrimination by state and federal governments in refusing to give legal standing to gay and lesbian relationships.

The interviews represent a rich set of primary sources on gay marriage and families that will be available for use by Yale faculty and students, and by researchers from around the world.

Additional information on Daniel Pinello’s scholarly work and interview donation cane be found in a recent John Jay College of Criminal Justice online news release.

Student Research at Yale University Library Exhibit Features MSSA Student Assistant

Student Research at Yale University Library student exhibit curators at the reception in Sterling Memorial Library: Andrew Cordova, History, Silliman College '15; Caroline Sydney, Humanities, Silliman College '16; Miranda Melcher, Political Science, Branford College '16; and Scott Stern, American Studies, Branford College '15.

The exhibit corridor in Sterling Memorial Library currently features an exhibit celebrating Student Research at Yale University Library. The exhibit will be on view through the end of October 2015, and features research projects by four Yale students, shown here left to right at a reception for the opening of the exhibit: Andrew Cordova, History, Silliman College ’15; Caroline Sydney, Humanities, Silliman College ’16; Miranda Melcher, Political Science, Branford College ’16; and Scott Stern, American Studies, Branford College ’15.

Andrew Cordova, Class of 2015, and the first panel of his senior essay research exhibit case, 13 May 2015.

Manuscripts and Archives is happy to highlight the work of Andrew Cordova, who has worked in the department as a student assistant for the past two years, digitizing collection material for patron requests and doing quality control for the Kissinger Papers digitization. Andrew’s senior essay, “Re-Engineering the Environment: Chester Bowles and Indian-American Relations During the Cold War,” was done under the supervision of Associate Professor of History and American Studies Paul Sabin and heavily engaged the Chester Bowles Papers (MS 628) in Manuscripts and Archives. Several images from the Bowles Papers, including two used in Andrew’s student research exhibit case, are viewable in the Manuscripts and Archives Digital Image Database.

"Re-engineering the Environment" exhibit case featuring senior essay research by Andrew Cordova, Class of 2015, 13 May 2015.

Bowles, among other public service posts, served as United States ambassador to India and Nepal from 1951-1953 and again from 1961-1969, and it is on this aspect of his career that Andrew focused in his senior essay research. He argues that Bowles “criticized the military as an instrument to influence foreign policy during the Cold war [and] that it damaged America’s reputation as the protector of freedom.” Cordova explores Bowles’ desire “to build partnerships that satisfied the needs of foreign governments while ensuring U.S. national security issues.

From his exhibit case introduction panel: “Specifically with India, Bowles centered his policies on the maximization of agricultural production. Understanding that India’s lack of food resources could cause political instability that threatened the young democracy, the ambassador persuaded the state Department to export grain to India, finance the construction of irrigation projects, and provide new agricultural technologies to Indian cultivators.In doing so, Bowles contended that India’s young democracy would be strengthened and stabilized, which translated to the decreased likelihood that it would adopt communist ideologies. India is often disregarded as a commanding actor in Cold war international politics. As a key endorser of the non-alignment movement, India is seen as particularly removed from the United states’ mission to limit the spread of communism in Asia. Moreover, U.S.  food exports to India have rarely been seen as a diplomatic tool used to gain influence in a region that largely objected to U.S. initiatives. Chester Bowles, however, harnessed the power of agriculture to influence India, which he saw as the linchpin to U.S. strategic interest in Asia. Bowles’ divergence from military engagement allowed the United States to achieve its interests in a region marked largely by American failures.”

Student Research Exhibit reception attendees in the corridor at Sterling Memorial Library, 13 May 2015.

Student Research Exhibit reception attendees in the corridor at Sterling Memorial Library, 13 May 2015.

The reception for student curators that marked the opening of the exhibit was a relaxed send-off to Andrew and co-curator Scott Stern, both of whom will be graduating from Yale College this coming Monday. Andrew will be heading for Alaska for a year of non-profit work in fisheries management before starting law school, focusing on environmental law.

Party Diplomacy: The Ravi D. Goel Collection on Henry Roe Cloud

Thanks to the generosity of donor Ravi D. Goel (Yale College, 1993), Manuscripts and Archives has received a collection created by Henry Roe Cloud, the first self-identified Native American to graduate Yale University.

Henry Roe Cloud was born on a Winnebago reservation in Nebraska in the mid-1880s. Like many Native American children born on reservations in that time period, Cloud went to an Indian school to learn how to read and write in English as well as a trade. Cloud was an exceptional student, moving on to a private boarding school in Massachusetts before starting Yale College in 1906. While at Yale, he was adopted by the Roe family, missionaries that spent some of their time preaching among Native Americans. He received his bachelors in psychology and philosophy in 1910 and his masters in anthropology in 1914. He became a Presbyterian minister, an official within the Office of Indian Affairs, and a lifelong advocate of modern education for Native American youth.

Manuscripts and Archives already holds a collection with some of Cloud’s letters in the Roe Family Papers (MS 774). However, with this new collection, we received more correspondence, including a set of letters addressed to Cloud’s daughter, Marion Roe Cloud Hughes.

The letters were written when Cloud was traveling on behalf of the Office of Indian Affairs. One letter in particular stood out to me because of its familiarity of situation to most: being stuck at a fancy party, unsure what to do.

That’s not to say that Cloud was particularly shy. At Yale he was part of a fraternity (Beta Theta Pi), the debate club, and the Elihu Club. He also regularly talked to people in the course of his work. However, it must have been daunting to be invited to tea with the ambassador to the United States at the Chinese embassy. While Cloud and the ambassador were classmates at Yale together, this was still a far more formal event than Cloud was used to.

Getting to the tea was the first difficulty as neither Cloud nor the taxi driver had change for Cloud’s five dollar bill. Cloud wound up having to ask around the embassy for change before giving the driver $3.00 for a 50 cent fare. When he finally entered the embassy and was received by the ambassador and one of his daughters, Cloud was not quite pleased when the ambassador commented on “how stout” Cloud was and asking what Cloud ate. Embarrassed, Cloud found himself moving on and then lost amongst the 400 or so guests.

Cloud did find a solution to feeling lost. He took refuge at a nearby table with cocktails. After imbibing a bit, he then found his courage to try to find the Chinese ambassador’s other daughters. His purpose, he explained to Marion, was to show the ambassador’s daughters a picture of her and her three sisters so as to have occasion to speak with them further:

“I even went so far as to vie with other ambassadors for the Central and South America republics by saying I was representing the North American Indians! At this the Embassy cohorts lifted eyebrows as much as to convey the thought to me—‘Yes, I duly feel your importance.’ To one I said, ‘I am anxious to meet the other daughters of the Ambassador’…Soon I was face to face with the daughter and I pulled out your picture with your sisters.”

The daughter wrote her sisters’ names on the envelope of the picture for Marion and her sisters at Cloud’s request, but otherwise did not seem interested in Cloud’s photograph. Thankfully, he discovered food nearby and wound up in the company of another Chinese citizen who split a taxi with him home from the tea—Cloud would have walked home otherwise, “even if it took me till midnight.”

While the party probably didn’t go as Cloud would have liked, at least he had an adventure to relate to Marion. We now also have the letter so we can share in it as well.

The first page of Henry Roe Cloud's letter to his daughter Marion.

The first page of Henry Roe Cloud’s letter to his daughter Marion.

Researchers interested in seeing the Ravi D. Goel Collection on Henry Roe Cloud (MS 2008) can now do so via the finding aid located here. To learn more about using Manuscripts and Archives collections, you can visit our website here.

Coalition for People and the West Rock Youth Leadership Program

Manuscripts and Archives recently completed work on a collection of records created by the Greater New Haven Coalition for People (MS 2007). The Greater New Haven Coalition for People was founded in 1981 as an umbrella group of different community agencies and organizations that were concerned about the effect of budget cuts on programs here in the city of New Haven, Connecticut. Soon it evolved into a grassroots organization that focused on organizing and addressing a variety of issues that impacted the low and middle income residents of the city. Some important issues to the group include conditions and safety of public housing, health care and low-cost prescription medication availability for low-income patients, especially those who are uninsured, public transit safety and availability, and programs for children and adolescents.

In 1994, Coalition for People focused heavily on the last item. As they often did fundraising and work with other community organizations, they were included in a Request for Proposals for advanced youth leadership training programs by the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. The Community Foundation had been developing these programs with groups like the Coalition for People for the past two years and wished to provide funding and direction for another year. The focus of the 1994 programs was on younger adolescents in the Fair Haven and West Rock neighborhoods. The core curriculum was focused on such things as “Communication (Individual/Group), Planning and Problem Solving, Cognitive/Academic Support, Conflict Resolution/Mediation, and Diversity/Cultural Awareness.” Other aspects of the program included placing participants with mentors, a neighborhood event planned by the participants and special recreation trips.

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven specifically named Coalition for People to lead the program for the West Rock neighborhood. Coalition for People devised a complete program that was approved and put into action in the summer of 1994. This program was called the West Rock Youth Leadership Program.

In this document from a March 16th meeting, you can see the Coalition brainstorming many aspects of the Leadership Program, including possible community events, recreation, placements for participants, and what they expected from the staff they hired for the program.

Planning for the West Rock Youth Leadership Program.

From MS 2007, Box 19, Folder 10.

Planning for the West Rock Youth Leadership Program.

From MS 2007, Box 19, Folder 10.

This draft of the program’s schedule gives you an idea of what they were planning for the adolescents.

Proposed schedule for the West Rock Youth Leadership Program.

From MS 2007, Box 19, Folder 3.

The program was just as much an opportunity for parent involvement as for involvement by the teenagers. Coalition for People regularly sent updates to parents, asking for their help with events and initiatives by the program.

Letter to the parents.

From MS 2007, Box 19, Folder 2.

For the mentorship aspect of the program, the Coalition worked hard to get a large variety of businesses to participate, as can be seen from this list of prospective mentors.

Prospective mentor list.

From MS 2007, Box 19, Folder 9.

Part of the program was planning a community event for the neighborhood. The members of the program chose to host a community fair, with games, food, and tables with representatives from different groups that could provide resources for the community. The adolescents in the program sent out this letter to groups to ask for help.

Letter for the community fair.

From MS 2007, Box 19, Folder 5.

The Community Fair came together on August 27, 1994. By then, the 20 teenagers who participated had gotten a chance to observe, ask questions, and work with role models, take classes, and enjoy day trips that could be as simple as going to the local water park to trips to other cities to see what their museums offered. It is clear that the Coalition had worked hard to help these teenagers. It is equally clear that these teens had a lot to offer.

Flier for the community fair.

From MS 2007, Box 19, Folder 5.

Researchers wishing to work with the Greater New Haven Coalition for People Records can view the finding aid here. Researchers can also visit our website for more information on visiting Manuscripts and Archives and using our collections.

Humor in the Court: The Edward R. Becker Papers

Recently in Manuscripts and Archives, work was completed on the Edward R. Becker Papers (MS 1929). Judge Becker was a Yale Law School alumnus who served in two federal courts, the District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania and Court of Appeals, Third Circuit. He was renowned for his due diligence on cases and his voluminous opinions that could range up to hundreds of pages. He was referred to as the “101st senator” by friend Arlen Specter for the amount of influence he had on legislation, especially with his work on compensating victims of asbestos. He was also devoted to many civic causes, especially those involving the preservation of Philadelphia’s history and making it accessible to all. While all of this is apparent in his papers, I couldn’t help but notice something else engaging: Becker and his colleagues’ sense of humor.

For instance, Matsushita v. Zenith Radio Corp was one of Judge Becker’s cases when he was with the District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania, and the one that made his reputation as an expert in antitrust law. It was a very lengthy case for the court, starting in 1974 and finally reaching a judgment in 1981. After working with it for so long, I’m sure Becker and the other judges were getting rather tired with it. That might explain how a court order was written for “a period of relaxation” in the form of a softball game between the plaintiffs and the defendants, with the only instances of inclement weather allowed to stop the game being “blizzard, volcanic eruption, small pox epidemic, or invasion of the body snatchers.”

First page of the "Softball Order" memorandum

First page of the “Softball Order” memorandum. (MS 1929, Box 9, Folder 6)

The second page of the "Softball Order" memorandum.

Second page of the “Softball Order” memorandum. (MS 1929, Box 9, Folder 6)

Humor was not only reserved for court business. The judges delighted in making digs at each other as can be seen in their memorandums and related documents. In this October 20, 1995 memo, Judge Becker had sent out a memo with a wanted poster attached picturing a fellow judge, Anthony J. Scirica, saying he had seen him in the lobby and how “this guy worries me.”

Judge Becker expressing his "worries" about "this guy Tony."

Judge Becker expressing his “worries” about “this guy Tony.” (MS 1929, Box 16, Folder 1)

The "dangers" of Judge Scirica.

The “dangers” of Judge Scirica. (MS 1929, Box 16, Folder 1)







Judge Becker was not the only one with a sense of humor. Another correspondent known only as “Bernice” from Washington D.C. told him about her frustration with her day being lifted by his jokes. She was no slouch at cracking jokes either as demonstrated by the puns that keep the note going.


Note to Judge Becker with political puns.

Not only full of puns, but an excellent primer in political figures. (MS 1929, Box 2, Folder 6)

The Edward R. Becker Papers is now available for research and the finding aid can be viewed here. You can also visit our website to learn more about our collections and services, including how to request materials located in our finding aids.

“Onanism, or self pollution”: Timothy Pickering on Masturbation

There is a vast trove of medical related collections in the Manuscripts and Archives of Yale University Library. I recently had a chance to go through some of these materials for an instruction session I co-taught for a class on the history of mental illness in America. One collection I examined was the Clements Collard Fry Papers. From 1930-1955, Fry was the head of the Department of Mental Hygiene at Yale, the office responsible for the treatment mental health problems among members of the Yale community in the early 20th century. In addition to his work with mental illness, Fry was an avid collector of historical medical documents, and the letter transcribed below is from that collection.

Timothy Pickering (1745-1829)

Timothy Pickering (1745-1829)

The 1827 letter is from the cantankerous Federalist Timothy Pickering, a former Secretary of State and Senator, and addressed to Loammi Baldwin, Jr., a well-known civil engineer who designed canals and dry docks in early America. In this epistle, Pickering offers Baldwin advice on the cause of the “derangement” of one of his brothers (it is not clear if it is Benjamin or George Baldwin), pointing to the “self-pollution” of masturbation. This was a typical view for the early 19th century and Pickering cites the highest authority for this belief, the 1760 pamphlet L’Onanisme by Samuel Auguste André David Tissot (an 1832 English translation can be viewed here. Onanism takes it name from Onan, son of Judah, who refused to impregnate the widow of his brother and practiced coitus interruptus with her. This later became associated with masturbation. See Genesis chapter 38 for the story of Onan). In that work, Tissot argued that semen was important bodily fluid that provided strength for the body and that its reduction through masturbation led to various disorders like epilepsy, poor memory, and insanity.

Loammi Baldwin, Jr. (1780-1838)

Loammi Baldwin, Jr. (1780-1838)

This letter is particularly fascinating for Pickering’s relation of Benjamin Rush’s opinion on masturbation. Rush thought that those who were most virtuous, especially young clergymen, were most susceptible to it, and he had warned his sons to avoid the vice. Pickering agreed with that assessment, reporting that his own sons died early because of their predisposition to onanism. He reported that the only cure for the “derangement” would be regular sex inside marriage or hard work. These types of views mirror the Federalist notion of control — it starts with the individual body and translates its way up to the body politic. This might be one reason why Pickering expressed curiosity about vegetarianism at the beginning of the letter. If people show restraint in their lives, either through eliminating meat or sexual urges from their lives, a republic based on virtue emerges.

[Transcription of Timothy Pickering to Loammi Baldwin, Jr., 27 October 1827, Clements Collard Fry Papers, Box 1, Folder 6.  Period dashes have been silently omitted. Transcription does not follow the exact layout of the manuscript]

Pickering to Baldwin, October 27, 1827, Page 1 of 3

Pickering to Baldwin, October 27, 1827, Page 1 of 3

Boston Octr. 20, 1827

Dear Sir,

            Since I have been in Boston, I have heard that one of your brothers, an engineer & ingenious draughtsman, had been deranged; but had happily recovered. That is derangement had been ascribed to a violent fever; and the latter brought on by a too intensive application to the Sedentary part of profession. When lately I was at Philadelphia, I visited & repeatedly saw a worthy friend (perhaps forty years old) who appeared to be in high health, as I had before known him to have enjoyed; But taking a meal with him, I then for the first time learned, that he never ate any meat; or rather, for many years past, had entirely abstained from animal food.  Mentioning this, afterwards, to another friend, the latter explained the motive of this abstinence. Some of his family had been liable to derangement of their understandings; and it was apprehended that the Stimulus of animal food, tended to produce an undue excitement, and this a disposition to become derangement.

But there is another, and a fatal cause of derangement in young and unmarried men – Onanism, or self pollution. The consequences [2] are not suspected. The celebrated Dr. Tissot wrote largely on the Subject; and described those consequences, the result of his experiences. consequences really most afflictive. epilebsy [sic], consumption, and the most dreadful of all, Derangement of the understanding. I have at different times conversed with some distinguished physicians, on this Subject – among them, with Dr. Rush.  Many years ago he mentioned the matter to me; and the numerous applications to him, for medical relief; some from young clergymen; the most virtuous [inserted: being] the most liable to that selfish indulgence, which I remember he called “a monkish practice.”  He added, that t[e]aring off the names of the writers, he used to give the letters to his Sons, a warning to abstain from that vice. I have become more conversant with the Subject, because the derangement, and early deaths, of my Sons William & George, arose from that fatal indulgence.

Tissot, L'Onanism, 1797 edition.

Tissot, L’Onanism, 1797 edition.

Perhaps Tissot’s pamphlet may be found at some bookstore – or if not, with some physician of your acquaintance. A short account you may find the Encyclopedia [3] Britannica.

I do not know your brother; but tis enough to have known you, to determine me to give to you the hints herein noticed; being with respect and affection yours.

T. Pickering.

I always ascribed Mr. Bushminter’s epilepsy, and premature death to the cause above suggested.  My only brother lived to a considerable age: but his epileptic fits, for 20 or 30 years, I never doubted, originated in the Same cause. A young man in New Hampshire, grandson of my brother Wingate, was a physician. He was subject to epilepsy. By accident, he met with a woman whom he married. During her life, for 2, 3 or 4 years, he was well. After her death, the fits returned: and he has now quitted the practice of medicine, and gone to work on his father’s farm; which has proved salutary.

Loammi Baldwin Esqr.

[address leaf:]

Loammi Baldwin Esqr.


Timothy Pickering Oct. 20, 1827

Yale History Department’s Report on the Library in 1969

I’m somewhat of an interloper on this blog. I often work with special collections material from MSSA, but I am based in the Humanities Collections and Research Education (HCRE) department in Sterling Memorial Library. While going through an old filing cabinet in my office space, I came across an excellent find that will soon be available in MSSA – the “Report of the Library Committee of the Department of History” dated April 16, 1969.

1969 History ReportThe 86-page report was a massive effort by Yale’s history department to offer constructive criticism to the library and to suggest ways that collections and policies could be improved. The history department created a committee of 23 faculty members (nearly one-quarter of the department in 1968-1969) that was further divided into eight sub-committees by area of study: Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern, Modern European and Russian, British, United States, Latin America, Asian, and African history. The committee consisted of both senior scholars and young historians and included many familiar names like Michael F. Holt, Daniel Walker Howe, Edmund S. Morgan, Howard R. Lamar, and Robin Winks, among others. The lone woman on the committee was the Mary C. Wright, the celebrated historian of China who was the first woman to gain tenure in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

List of 23 members of the Yale history department's library committee of 1968-1969.

List of 23 members of the Yale history department’s library committee of 1968-1969.

The Eastern and Central European historian Piotr S. Wandycz, the chairman of the committee, wrote the introduction, where he stated the committee had surveyed the holdings of the library and that they were “[d]eeply concerned about the problems of the Library,” which appeared to be in decline because of budgetary issues (p. 1). In light of this, the committee called for closer cooperation between the library staff and the history faculty, since the library was an essential partner in helping the history department retain its top-tier status.  Wandycz noted that, “historians are the prime producers and users of the contents of libraries,” and deserved greater attention from librarians as a result. (p. 2)

The committee made ambitious demands. The United States, Modern European and Russian, and Latin American sub-committees called for a doubling of collections budgets, exclusive of labor costs. Some sub-committees had specific numbers in mind. For example, the African committee called for $50,000 to backfill gaps in collecting (the African collections budget had been $15,000/year since 1963) and a $5,000 annual increase in the African book fund (pp. 84, 86). The Asian sub-committee called for nothing less than a $100,000 acquisitions budget for their area along with a demand “to stop the purchase of trivia, memorabilia, de luxe edition, and pretty books.”  (pp. 78-79, quote on 79).

While the Asian sub-committee worried about poorly made decisions by the library’s acquisition staff, some sub-committees were more concerned with lacunae. Ramsay MacMullen, chair of the Ancient history sub-committee, noted that at least one-quarter of the books published in Roman history since 1950 could not be found in the stacks (pp. 10-11). The report also noted gaps in the microfilm holdings of American, British, and Continental newspapers that were especially galling.

Partial List of Broken Sets of Periodicals for Medieval East Central Europe, 1969.

Partial List of Broken Sets of Periodicals for Medieval East Central Europe, 1969.

But the historians thought books were the most important materials for the library.  They wanted the library to purchase all publications from American and British university presses while paying greater attention to university presses around the world. That being said, the committee decried the gaps in serials and demanded retroactive buying. The library was also called upon to collect the papers of all major national and federal governments in the world. The committee insisted upon a slow down of deaccessioning and and the need to accept all gifts – claiming that space issues and their costs should not trump the value of the collections. In addition, the historians expected cataloging and cross-referencing had to be improved, the essential core of material for every history field had to be purchased regardless of current faculty interest, and better listings of special collections had to be created.

The demands were immense, and while I can’t say what came of this report at the moment, one has to assume it was an impossible agenda to carry forward in full. Things have certainly improved since 1969 – for example, the library can gain electronic access to just about any academic journal in the world if it is willing to pay. Also, Yale has massive collections of newspapers on microfilm and in electronic form, especially improving the gaps in Midwestern newspapers the United States sub-committee mentioned. Filling in the periodical and newspaper gaps has become easier. The easily accessible online used book market makes retroactive book purchases easier, although not perfect.

Advertisement from 1970.  Microfilm sets were the databases of their day.  Translated into 2013 dollars, this set had a real price cost of $294,000 (from

Advertisement from 1970. Microfilm sets were the databases of their day. Translated into 2013 dollars, this set had a real price cost of $294,000 (

But some of the problems still remain. The cost of library materials keeps growing, as does their diversity. Today the library has to manage the cost of e-books and print books. In many cases, the print version comes out first and the electronic version appears months later. If an institution goes e-preferred, how does it manage that lag time? At Yale, and no doubt elsewhere, use of e-book packages far outstrips the circulation of print materials.  The yearly content updates for Project MUSE’s UPCC and Oxford’s UPSO add new strains to budgets that were not contemplated even five years ago, but it’s clear from usage data that we must continue to support those purchases. We’re currently between two worlds and being forced to duplicate purchasing and it will be increasingly difficult to sustain.

Collection budgets in the humanities are also feeling pressure from the increased subscription costs of science and medical material. How can the library sustain the ever-rising increases of scientific publishers and keep up with the materials in the humanities? The numbers are startling. According to Robert Darnton, the average subscription to a chemistry journal is now over $4,000. It was $33 in 1970. In 2012, the Journal of Comparative Neurology cost $30,860 (click here for citation). But even humanities journals can be crushingly expensive.  Some electronic subscriptions to history journals can reach into the four-digit realm.

Beyond those budgetary pressures, the library has to deal with the purchase of humanities databases from the big six (ProQuest, Readex/Newsbank, Gale Cengage, Alexander Street Press, Adam Matthew, EBSCO). These databases are often extraordinarily powerful, yet costly – and in most cases carry yearly maintenance fees that can be high. Licensing agreements, along with their associated costs, also have to be managed. To say nothing of the cost of the purchase and preservation of the raw data from databases required by those in the digital humanities (some publishers/companies provide their raw data for free, while others have associated fees).

And more and more databases keep being produced. Dozens of small and medium sized collections and archives are now scanned in full and offered for sale each year. For example, Gale Cengage offers digitized archival collections in their database Archives Unbound and they could conceivably keep doing this perpetually. ProQuest has History Vault. Adam Matthew has entirely digitized the Gilder Lehrman Collection, an important collection of Americana on deposit at the New-York Historical Society. When do we say enough is enough? Should we be spending less on databases and more of our funding on rare and special collections materials that differentiate our collections from other institutions?

Yale’s history department currently does not have a library committee. It’s fair to say that a new document like the 1969 “Report of the Library Committee of the Department of History” would be immensely helpful to not just history, but the humanities as a whole at Yale. I know I would read a 2015 report avidly.

David J. Gary
Kaplanoff Librarian for American History