Guest Post: Abolitionist Sentiments Meet Profit Motives

This guest post is by Connor Williams, a second-year graduate student in the Yale History Department, who has been working as a graduate assistant on a project in Manuscripts and Archives to identify more collection materials relating to slavery, abolition, and resistance in the 19th-century United States.

I had great hopes for the William and George, the Woolsey brothers.  At first glance, their resumes seemed impeccable: they were New York merchants who at times served as presidents of both the New York Chamber of Commerce and the New York Manumission Society. William also fathered Theodore Dwight Woolsey, Yale’s anti-slavery President during and after the Civil War, and through his service their surname graces Yale’s grand concert hall and war memorial, where the walls bear the names of the 114 Yale men who died for the Union.  (For full disclosure, 54 Yalies also died for the Confederacy, and their names are intertwined alphabetically with their Yankee classmates, providing a troubling reminder of how far the Lost Cause spread).  On more esoteric matters the Woolseys also appealed to my northeastern biases—they were early blockade runners when Jefferson forced his myopic Embargo Act upon the merchant classes, and savvy operators in international trade.  William even petitioned that Congress include black and foreign-born seamen in its 1795 act guarding against sailors’ impressments, acknowledging that though not U.S. citizens, they nonetheless sailed for American merchants and deserved “the protection of the American flag.”  Taken in sum, the Woolseys presented that which so often eludes a student of the New Republic and the 19th century: pro-union, anti-slavery federalists who were civic minded and strove to enhance the lives of many.  In short, some early Americans who we can celebrate without reserve, and in whose eponymous concert hall the Yale Glee Club can perform without regret.

Yet maxims exist for a reason: and that which seems too good to be true almost always is. Reading through the Woolsey’s business records, slight patterns start to emerge.  Though noble in purpose, the manumission society’s practices leave something to be desired for the modern researcher: one manumission was contingent on the slave’s faithful service as a deckhand aboard two dangerous voyages to the East Indies and back, while another master manumitted his slave only after the slave finished eleven years service as a hired hand (the master received the wages).  That man, twenty-seven years old at the time, would not receive his freedom until close to his fortieth birthday.  A similar document, for a five-year-old girl whose owner calls her a “wench,” withholds freedom for twenty years.

In matters of trade, some troubling anecdotes also appear: most notably, in the summer of 1796, William Woolsey seemed reluctant to investigate claims that New York merchants were bringing enslaved men and women to Cuba in order to take away the valuable sugar products being created there.  Despite being reminded that it was “a crime against humanity and the law of the United States” by a petitioner and receiving evidence of nine New York vessels plying the illicit trade, Woolsey only lukewarmly consented to form a committee to investigate future claims, and to act only if “any cases should be discovered sufficiently clear so as to warrant them to commence a suit.”

One of three plantation mortgages the Woolseys underwrote soon after the Louisiana Purchase. As with many documents issued in New Orleans, the text is entirely in French.

One of three plantation mortgages the Woolseys underwrote soon after the Louisiana Purchase. As with many documents issued in New Orleans, the text is entirely in French. Woolsey Family Papers (MS 562), Box 69, Folder 26.

Perhaps Woolsey’s reluctance to investigate New York’s commercial ties to slavery was prophetic: seven years later the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France, and the Woolseys were some of the first major investors in the plantation products—especially cotton and sugar—that New Orleans now offered the nation.  In 1805 George Woolsey even went so far as to employ New Orleans denizen George Phillips as his agent in the port to buy and ship slave-grown sugar and cotton up north: William signed on as a silent partner.  From the start Phillips’ letters to Wolsey indicate an ambition that borders on avarice: he repeatedly asks for more buying power, fewer restraints on his agency, and more money. This process culminated in Phillips’ entry into three mortgages with the Woolseys for  $75,000—at least $1,500,000 in today’s dollars, and almost certainly more in real value—to expand his New Orleans operation.  For one of the mortgages, Phillips offered 41 slaves as collateral to secure a $23,000 loan.

Not uncommon at the time, and increasingly common during the antebellum era, one $23,000 mortgage was secured by 41 slaves.

Not uncommon at the time, and increasingly common during the antebellum era, one $23,000 mortgage was secured by 41 slaves. Woolsey Family Papers (MS 562), Box 69, Folder 26.

Though dubious, this in itself is not especially damning.  Successful mortgages never see the security brought into question; instead, the debts are paid on time to the benefit of both parties.  The Woolseys, an apologist might say, faced the same dilemma that investors face today: diversifying their portfolio across varied interests, even those that may cause controversy.   In this sense, a mortgage secured with slaves was no different than an investment in shipping cotton.  Slavery existed somewhere in the process, but there was little that William and George, as merchants and creditors, could do about it.  Besides, their work with the manumission society, however faulty, demonstrated that their intentions were in the right place.

As their business dealings worsened, the Woolseys began to consider the possibility of actually acquiring the slaves as a security, and made plans to sell them.

As their business dealings worsened, the Woolseys began to consider the possibility of actually acquiring the slaves as a security, and made plans to sell them. Woolsey Family Papers (MS 562), Box 69, Folder 27.

Yet the events that transpired removed any of these ambiguities.  By 1807, Phillips proved to be overwhelmed in his new venture, and rumors came back to George that the debtor was unable to meet his upcoming financial obligations.  Woolsey wasted no time in dispatching another agent to the New Orleans, with instructions to press the Woolseys’ claim with all haste to recover whatever funds might remain.   He expressed his desire for the agent to avoid collecting the slaves as payment, but tellingly instructed his new agent to “dispose of them in the most summary way possible” in case nothing else could be collected.  By 1808, Woolsey was actively pursuing their collection, before Phillips “[sent] them away to Baton Rouge” or another difficult to reach part of the territory.  The Woolsey brothers, whatever their intentions at the outset might have been, had become slave owners and slave-sellers.

Ultimately, money trumped morals. Fearing that the slaves would be moved inland to Baton Rouge, Woolsey ordered his agent to collect them at once.

Ultimately, money trumped morals. Fearing that the slaves would be moved inland to Baton Rouge, Woolsey ordered his agent to collect them at once. Woolsey Family Papers (MS 562), Box 69, Folder 28.

Ultimately, this is meant neither to sensationalize the Woolsey family story, nor to insinuate that the accomplishments of the Woolsey family—and their works at Yale—are necessarily invalidated by this moment in two of their lives.  A trove of much needed scholarship over the last decades has outlined the prominent roles northerners and northern institutions played in the trading and financing of enslaved people and the plantation goods they produced.  A dozen years ago Craig Wilder’s Ebony and Ivy focused the issue on venerable academic institutions, and Yale continues to grapple with its past relationship with slavery and slaveholders to this day, as highlighted by the debate over the name of Calhoun College during the 2015-2016 academic year.  Moral judgments on matters like this depend on more factors than could possibly be listed in this blog post.

Yet the facts of the case present us with a compelling historical case study that reminds us that American slavery was not confined to the plantation, and that though the heartless cruelties of the lash and the auction need to be remembered by all, they are far from the only instances in which slavery interacted with our society during the New Republic and antebellum years.  The story of this pair of manumission-minded brothers from New York, who inadvertently acquired absolute control over the lives of 41 humans and sold them for cash rather than granting their freedom is a telling reminder that rather than a “peculiar institution” within American society, chattel slavery was a foundation upon which that entire society was built.  The question is not whether the Woolseys could have absorbed the $23,000 loss that would have come with emancipating or manumitting their suddenly acquired slaves; for whatever it matters, their record books, which often reached six digits, suggest that it would have been a manageable loss.  The right question should be how a society could exist in the Land of the Free that saw human beings enumerated, valued, and mortgaged as property, and how their otherwise liberal-minded new owners could wish for them to be quickly “disposed of” as though they were a sub-par shipment of any other commodity to be sold at whatever price could be salvaged.   For while there are many rubrics for what constitutes a slave society, it’s difficult to think of one where this story, preserved in Yale’s Woolsey Family Papers, would not fit.

Note on quotations in this post that are not accompanied by an image of the quoted document: Quotations in this post relating to manumission and illicit trade with Cuba are taken from letters in the Woolsey Family Papers (MS 562), Manuscripts and Archives, Box 67, Folders 2-3. The discussion of the growing precariousness of George Phillips’ financial dealings in New Orleans are drawn from correspondence that can be found in the Woolsey Family Papers (MS 562), Box 68, Folders 11-12.


Class Days and Alumni Reunions

Garry Trudeau (left, Class of 1970), Class Day speaker, May 1991. Photograph by Mike Marsland. RU 690, Accn 2009-A-070, Box 12.

Garry Trudeau (left, Class of 1970), Class Day speaker, May 1991. Photograph by Mike Marsland. RU 690, Accn 2009-A-070, Box 12.

With Yale’s Commencement 2016 just past, and the appearance of crowds of Yale alums and their loved ones celebrating reunions over the next two weekends, we thought we’d take a look through the collections in Manuscripts and Archives and see what was going on in 1991, since the Yale College Class of 1991 is holding its 25th reunion this year.

Yale’s senior class gets to invite someone to address them on Class Day, which occurs on Old Campus the Sunday before Commencement each year. The Class of 1991 invited Doonesbury cartoonist, and member of the Yale College Class of 1970, Garry Trudeau to give its Class Day address. Trudeau began cartooning while a Yale undergraduate, and contributed the strip Bull TalesDoonesbury’s precursor, to the Yale Daily News.

In recalling the days of his Yale College career, and reflecting on the “good intentions of the young,” Trudeau delivered some sage words of advice to the class of 1991, as relevant today as they were then. His address is preserved in RU 236 in Manuscripts and Archives, but here’s an excerpt to give you a taste:

Garry Trudeau (Class of 1970), Class Day speaker, May 1991. Photograph by Mike Marsland. RU 690, Accn 2009-A-070, Box 12.

Garry Trudeau (Class of 1970), Class Day speaker, May 1991. Photograph by Mike Marsland. RU 690, Accn 2009-A-070, Box 12.

My advice to you: make a break for it. Take off. Cut your own swath. Stride out from under the longest shadow ever cast by a generation. Ask your own impertinent questions. There are many at hand.

Wonder aloud what war is like for all its participants. Check out the accounting, what it cost us as a nation. Was it the same war for you as it was for the Army engineers who, away from the cameras, bulldozed 100,000 dead conscripts into the pits left by collapsed bunkers?

A focus group of college students told a reporter last winter that they all supported the war, but not one would consider it his duty to join. “It may sound selfish,” said one student, “but I don’t think the best and the brightest should be on the front linesdepends on its

Wonder, too, about the homefront agenda that got overlooked; the energy policy that may have made the war inevitable; an environmental agenda that has been all but abandoned; a business culture so moribund that even 70% of the high-tech components used in our Gulf War weapon systems were produced in Japan.

These questions, when given a public voice, are all part of the ongoing dialogue between those who lead and those who would be lead. Ours is a system whose very vitality depends on its raucous dissent, its competing visions of how it should work. America is still very much a work in progress, and one of the things that has always distinguished it from other countries is that we’ve always been open to reinventing ourselves for the common good.

One interesting bit of contextual information. The day after Trudeau’s Class Day speech, at the Yale’s 1991 Commencement exercises, then-President George H.W. Bush was given an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Yale University.

The Henry A. Kissinger Papers

KIssingerCollage2Manuscripts and Archives is pleased to announce the availability of the papers of Henry A. Kissinger, former Secretary of State (1973-1977) and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (1969-1975). The papers document Dr. Kissinger’s pre-government, government, and post-government careers and are comprised of correspondence, memoranda, writings, speeches, photographs, films, videos, sound recordings, and other material. The papers have been digitized and the collection overview page provides information on collection content, research strengths, access to the digital collection, and ownership and copyright. Please consult:

Pioneers in Family Planning: Margaret Sanger, Rose Pastor Stokes, and Emma Goldman

The women’s rights movement was one of the most significant of the Progressive Era.  In addition to the right to vote, women advocated for equal rights to access to higher education, the professions, and other occupations; for marital and property rights; and for freedom of information on family planning.  While the media focuses on the centennials of World War I-related events, it is important to note other historic milestones.  In 1914, “Birth Control,” was a new term coined by the movement’s leader, Margaret Sanger.  And in 1916, a new wave of women’s activism led to the opening of the first public birth control clinic in America.  Important groups of papers of Margaret Sanger’s colleagues, socialist (later Communist) Rose Pastor Stokes and anarchist Emma Goldman (in the Harry Weinberger Papers) are in Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.

Rose Pastor Stokes (1879-1933), political activist and author, at her desk in her New York City apartment.

Rose Pastor Stokes (1879-1933), political activist and author, at her desk in her New York City apartment. Rose Pastor Stokes Papers (MS 573), Box 10, Folder 20.

Born in 1879, Stokes vividly described her early life in her autobiography, I Belong to the Working Class.  The drafts in her papers were edited and published in 1992.  A poor Jewish immigrant from Russian Poland, at the age of eleven Stokes went to work in a Cleveland cigar factory and struggled to educate herself at the public library at night.  In 1903 she moved to New York City and became a feature writer for the Jewish Daily News.  On an assignment she interviewed the “millionaire socialist” James Graham Phelps Stokes, whose brother, Rev. Anson Phelps Stokes was the Secretary of Yale University.  When they were married in 1905, the tabloids dubbed her “the Cinderella of the sweatshops.”   Working with her husband in the socialist movement, Stokes moved progressively to the left and eventually became the highest-ranking woman in the American Communist Party.  Highly talented, she was a charismatic political speaker, writer, dramatist, poet, artist, and singer.  Her fearless dedication to reform causes is reflected in her correspondence and subject files.

Workers at Gleichmans Cigar Factory in Cleveland. Rose H. Pastor is in back row, third from left.

Workers at Gleichmans Cigar Factory in Cleveland. Rose H. Pastor is in back row, third from left. Rose Pastor Stokes Papers (MS 573), Box 10, Folder 20.

In January 1916 Stokes supported Sanger, who was facing federal charges for distributing “obscene” literature on birth control, by organizing a dinner to raise funds for her defense at the historic Brevoort Hotel on lower Fifth Avenue.  Margaret Sanger described it in her autobiography as follows:

As we were about to go in to dinner, Rose Pastor Stokes, the Chairman, took me aside and said, “Something very disturbing has happened. We’ve just been talking to Dr. Jacoby. He has a speech ready in which he intends to blast you to the skies for interfering in what should be a strictly medical matter. Remember he’s greatly admired and he’s speaking here tonight for the doctors. We meant to have you come at the end of the program but now we’re going to put you first so that you can spike his guns.”  My trepidation was increased. Nevertheless, I plunged into my carefully prepared maiden speech in behalf of birth control.

In October 1916 Sanger opened the Brownsville Clinic in Brooklyn where her pamphlet What Every Girl Should Know was distributed.  She was arrested and served 30 days in jail, but nonetheless in December the New York Birth Control League was established.  In 1921 Sanger united the growing number of state leagues into the American Birth Control League, renamed “Planned Parenthood” in 1942.

Emma Goldman, an early mentor of Margaret Sanger and the author of Why and How the Poor Should Not Have Many Children, was arrested in 1916 for her birth control lectures and public instruction.  On December 22, 1916 she wrote to her attorney, Harry Weinberger on her “Mother Earth Publishing Association; Mother Earth – Monthly Magazine of Anarchist Thought” letterhead stationery:  “Please write a letter to the Judge… Tell him about Dr. Robinson’s book and the Margaret Sanger pamphlets that are being sold everywhere and go through the mail…. Then tell him about the birth control campaign, of the people in different professions sponsoring. …Write to the judge that none of us who are engaged in the birth control campaign stoop to sneaking in a leaflet in a book.”

Blog post author: Judith A. Schiff

Nuclear Formation: The Foundation of the International Festival of Arts and Ideas.

Residents of New Haven, Connecticut are most likely aware of the International Festival of Arts and Ideas. The International Festival of Arts and Ideas was founded in 1995 and incorporated in 1996, bringing lectures, art shows, and performances to the people of New Haven. Types of performances include theater, solo performance work, music, puppet work, slam poetry and photography exhibitions. Ideas related programs are equally as varied and has included such programs as comparing and contrasting literature in the United States and China, analysis of music about wars and soldiers, using the arts to help high-risk youths, and the state of the ecosystem of Long Island Sound. The city of New Haven is heavily utilized for the festival, with venues including Yale University, the Shubert Theater, the New Haven Green, shopping centers, and even street corners. There is also family programming, tours of different neighborhoods and institutions in the city, and master classes on a variety of topics.

By now, New Haven residents have gotten used to seeing festival flags on light posts, signs on the street pointing to venues and parking, and the massive soundstage that takes over the Green. However, a lot of folks may wonder how the Festival became such an event in the city. The answer is documented in Manuscripts and Archives recent acquisition of their records from 1988 to 2013 (International Festival of Arts and Ideas Records, MS 2021). Among fundraising records, staff files, board meeting materials, festival programs and ticket sales, and video recordings of several festival events, I found a group of files marked “Nucleus Committee.” Dating mainly back to 1995, it contains correspondence, reports, and presentations about bringing the festival to life.

The festival was started by a group of three community leaders: Anne Calabresi, Jean Handley and Roslyn “Roz” Meyer. Anne Calabresi is a social anthropologist and writer, with many philanthropic interests. She has ties with the Yale community as the wife of Second Circuit Appeals Court judge Guido Calabresi, who also serves as Sterling Professor Emeritus of Law and Professorial Lecturer here at the Yale law school and used to serve as their dean. Jean Handley, who sadly passed away in 2010, worked in public relations and corporate relations with companies such as the Southern New England Telephone Company (SNET) and AT&T. She also served on the Executive Board of the Long Wharf Theater. Dr. Roslyn Meyer is a psychologist who received her doctorate at Yale and decided to stay in New Haven, and worked with her husband to donate and help with many philanthropic causes in the area. She also tutored children in the community.

The three women had experience working in their communities.  Calabresi and Meyer had also already collaborated on bringing another group to life, Leadership, Education and Athletic Partnership (L.E.A.P.), which provides counselors to children in need in the New Haven area. Handley became involved in that organization as well. However, what interested the women just as much was bringing an arts festival to the New Haven area. They also were not content to leave it as simply an arts festival. They were also interested in bringing in academics and authorities on different topics to discuss ideas of historical, cultural, literary, political and scientific natures.

The women had a feeling that the New Haven area could and would sustain a festival of large size, especially after seeing the success of the Special Olympics World Games in town in 1995. According to the Festival’s website, Jean Handley started work before the Games, commissioning market research to figure out potential for a festival and even researched the time of the year where the weather would be best for such an undertaking. The data from this research was encouraging. In 1995, the women began reaching out to various contacts to help get this festival off the ground.

Contact List

The organizers, having experience in community work, had a fair idea of who they needed to speak to.


The reason why they decided to form it in the first place was from both a community building standpoint and an economic standpoint. The women in their various professional and philanthropic positions and roles in the community had seen the variety of people in New Haven and the variety of problems as well. They felt the arts could be a strong unifier for all. Additionally, they were interested in the impact the ideas part of their festival could have on the wider community. Economically, the founders had studied the impact of arts festivals like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland and the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. Both festivals had transformed their host cities from sleepy towns to tourist attractions with increases in business, employment, and income all around. The women felt this could help New Haven, which often has large amounts of residents struggling financially.  There was also simply the fact that they could allow artists and thinkers the chance to present and perform to a wide audience made up of many different people who come from many walks of life.

Logo design

One of the prospective logo designs for the festival

The three leaders formed what they called the Nucleus Committee. These committee members started considering budgeting, fundraising, types of programming, structure of staffing, and even naming and logos. By August of 1995, the committee had 19 members. They had made the decision that the festival would last five days the first year (1996) and would continue to grow larger as they continued to fundraise and establish stable financing. Many of the larger institutions and venues of New Haven were approached about programming, including Yale University and the Shubert Theater. They also hired a Festival Director, Norman Frisch, who kept resigning repeatedly because he did not think they could mount a festival in a year and a half with the lack of funding and staffing.  However, when he finally settled into a consultant role, the committee moved forward despite his fears and mounted their festival with performers such as the Shanghai Quartet, Le Cirque Baroque, and Bread and Puppets Theater. It turned out to be a success.

In 2015, the Festival celebrated its 20th year in New Haven and lasted from June 12 to June 27. It’s safe to say that the people behind the organization have not flagged in their drive, passion, or intensity.

Festival programs

Programs from the 1997 and 2006 festivals.

Researchers who wish to use the collection may view the finding aid here. To learn more about researching at Manuscripts and Archives in general, visit our website here.

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.