Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Investigating 19th-Century Criminal Enterprise on WHYY

Curator Wendy Woloson talks with WHYY's Peter Crimins about the Library Company's current exhibition "Capitalism by Gaslight: The Shadow Economies of 19th-Century America." 

Visit the WHYY website to read the full article.

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Exhibition Looks at 19th-Century Criminal Enterprise

“Capitalism by Gaslight: The Shadow Economies of 19th-Century America,” which opens January 17, shines light on underground urban commerce in early America.  Drawing on books, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, prints, photographs, and ephemera in the Library Company’s collection, guest curator Wendy Woloson showcases the many ways in which Americans earned their livings through economic transactions made beyond “legitimate” spheres. Entrepreneurs in this realm included prostitutes and card sharps, confidence men, mock auctioneers, pickpockets, and fences of stolen goods.

Crime was certainly not a new development in the 19th century.  Reports of highway robberies and stolen goods appeared in newspapers from their first issues on colonial soil. Yet the profound and relatively rapid shifts in the country's economic structure and demographic patterns after the Revolution contributed to the flourishing of both legal and illegal commerce.  While the shadow economies featured in the exhibition may have unfolded “off the books,” they were crucially important parts of the mainstream economy, bound up in the development of commercial and industrial capitalism in nineteenth-century America.

Woloson explores these changes using the Library Company's rich collections of Americana. An interactive portion of the exhibition will allow visitors to page through pamphlets, including a recipe book with instructions for making homemade whiskey. Each visitor will leave the Library Company with a small trade card containing the biography of someone who operated in the commercial underworld.  The exhibition will open on January 17 and run through August 24.  Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Readex to Digitize Afro-Americana Spring, Readex, a division of the NewsBank Company, will launch a digital edition of Afro-Americana, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia.  This unique online resource will provide researchers with more than 12,000 searchable books, pamphlets, and broadsides relating to African American history. Subjects covered will include the West’s discovery and exploitation of Africa; the rise of slavery in the New World along with the growth and success of abolitionist movements; the development of racial thought and racism; descriptions of African American life—slave and free—throughout the Americas; and slavery and race in fiction and drama. Also featured are printed works of African American individuals and organizations.

“The Library Company’s Afro-Americana Collection is one of the most comprehensive and valuable archives of printed material by and about people of African descent anywhere in the world,” says Professor Richard Newman of the Rochester Institute of Technology. “From early descriptions of African society and culture to the black struggle for justice in the Americas during the 19th century, it remains a touchstone for scholars and students alike. To have it available online and at your fingertips in a searchable format will be a dream come true.”

The works in this collection, many of which are quite rare, span nearly 400 years, from the early 16th to the early 20th century. Examples include David Walker’s 1829 Appeal . . . to the Colored Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly to Those of the United States of America, a militant attack on both southern slavery and efforts to colonize free blacks; Lydia Maria Child’s 1833 essay, An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans; William Still’s The Underground Rail Road: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, &c., Narrating the Hardships, Hair-breadth Escapes, and Death Struggles of the Slaves in Their Efforts for Freedom (1872); William J. Simmons’ Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising (1887); and Booker T. Washington’s The Story of the Negro: The Rise of the Race from Slavery, published in 1909.

Also included are such important but lesser-known works as Joseph Sidney, An Oration, Commemorative of the Abolition of the Slave Trade (New York, 1809) and Russell Parrott, An Oration on the Abolition of the Slave Trade . . . First of January, 1814 (Philadelphia, 1814), two works by African American authors celebrating January 1 anniversaries of the end of the slave trade; Grand Bobalition of Slavery! (Boston, 1820), a satire of such celebrations, one example of a long-overlooked genre; Robert B. Lewis, Light and Truth (Portland, Maine, 1836), which champions the central role of black Africans in laying the basis for ancient civilization; William Wells Brown, The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements (an 1865 republication in newly-liberated Savannah of an 1863 collective biography of prominent blacks, many still alive, and most, like the author, former slaves); Martin R. Delany, Principia of Ethnology: The Origins of Race and Color, with an Archeological Compendium of Ethiopian and Egyptian Civilization (Philadelphia, 1879), a work by an African American analyzing the origins of color and race and championing black creativity; Charles Carroll, “The Negro a Beast” or “In the Image of God” (St. Louis, 1900), one of many savage works by whites denying the humanity of blacks; and three works by the preeminent African American sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois: The Atlanta Conferences (Atlanta, 1902); Some Efforts of American Negroes for Their Own Social Betterment (Atlanta, 1898); and A Select  Bibliography of the Negro American (Atlanta, 1905).

The Library Company’s Afro-Americana Collection began to gain international renown for its size, range, and significance in the late 1960s as scholars, influenced by civil rights activism, initiated fresh studies of slavery’s part in the American story. “As researchers rediscovered the importance of the long-neglected writings of African Americans, they told us that our collection was vital to new scholarship in African American studies,” says Librarian James N. Green. The Library Company mounted the path-breaking exhibition “Negro History, 1553-1903” in 1969, and followed that with the publication in 1973 of the magisterial bibliography Afro-Americana 1553-1906: A Catalog of the Holdings of the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Since then, Afro-Americana has been a priority of the Library Company, and the collection has grown with each year. A second edition of the Catalog, including 2,500 works acquired since 1973, was published in 2008, preserving and extending the legacy of this landmark work and now providing the bibliographic control for Readex’s online edition. Afro-Americana, 1535-1922 will be fully integrated into America’s Historical Imprints for seamless searching with Early American Imprints, Series I and II: Evans and Shaw-Shoemaker, 1639-1819 and the recent Supplements from the Library Company of Philadelphia, which have added nearly 2,000 newly discovered items. In addition, Afro-Americana Imprints, 1820-1922 will be cross-searchable with all Archive of Americana collections, including African American Newspapers, 1827-1998 and African American Periodicals, 1825-1995.

Researchers around the world have praised advance word of the partnership between Readex and the Library Company to digitize this landmark collection. UCLA Emeritus Professor Gary Nash writes, “The benefits to scholarship and teaching that will come when the Library Company’s Afro-Americana Collection is made into a digital database are virtually immeasurable. This will be a major step in infusing American history in general with its vitally important African American component. Teachers at all levels will find this a gold mine.”

And University of Michigan Professor Martha S. Jones says, “Today, early African American studies is a global enterprise that includes researchers throughout the United States as well as Europe, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America. This collaboration between the Library Company and Readex will bring new resources into reach and enrich this still expanding field of research and study.”

With the creation of the Program in African American History in 2007 (currently directed by Erica Armstrong Dunbar, an associate professor of history at the University of Delaware), the Library Company has expanded fellowships, conferences, exhibitions, publications, public programming, teacher training, and acquisitions to help achieve the full potential represented by its holdings in this area. For more information about this Program, see

About Readex
For more than sixty years, the Readex name has been synonymous with research in historical materials and government documents. Recognized by librarians, students, and scholars for its efforts to transform academic scholarship, Readex offers a wealth of web-based collections in the humanities and social sciences, including the Archive of Americana, a family of historical collections featuring searchable books, pamphlets, newspapers, and government documents printed in America over three centuries, and the World Newspaper Archive, created in partnership with the Center for Research Libraries. Also available are the Foreign Broadcast Information Service Daily Reports and the Joint Publications Research Service Reports, two of the U.S. government’s fundamental sources of political, historical and scientific open source intelligence during the second half of the 20th century.

LCP Joins the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA)

The Library Company has become a member of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA).  An initiative of the Library of Congress, the NDSA is charged with ensuring the stewardship of our nation’s digital archive as well as employing standards, technology, and collaborations to advance digital preservation. 

Information Technology Manager Nicole Scalessa and Print Department Assistant & Digital Collections Manager Nicole Joniec attended the first joint meeting of the National Digital Information Infrastructure & Preservation Program (NDIIPP) and the NDSA, held in Washington, D.C., this summer. Hosted by the Library of Congress, the meeting addressed the pressing need for sustainable preservation of digital content through collaboration, education, and outreach. The mission of the meeting was to assemble a representative group of experts from international institutions to share their broad perspectives on and lend their influence to the future of digital preservation.

The Library Company is the first special collections library in Philadelphia to join the NDSA. Mrs. Scalessa and Ms. Joniec will continue their involvement with the NDSA through participation in a variety of working groups including Infrastructure, Standards, and Outreach. Their participation will allow the Library Company to remain at the forefront of the nation’s digital preservation initiative. More information on the NDIIPP at the Library of Congress can be found here:

Help Put Us on the Map!

In 2011 the Library Company received a bequest that included 96 rare and extraordinary maps from the estate of Robert L. McNeil, Jr. In 2012 the Library Company will make high resolution digital images of those documents and catalog them using geolocation information to enable the maps to have a wide variety of uses on-line—and we would like your help. 

Among the maps that will be made available to scholars around the world through this process are:

·         William Berry’s North America Divided into Its Principall Parts from approximately 1681—the first map to identify Pennsylvania on the North American continent. 
·         William Faden’s Plan of the Operations of General Washington, against the Kings Troops in New Jersey, from the 26th of December 1776 to the 3rd January 1777 which details the ten days following Washington’s historic crossing of the Delaware River and the march to Princeton. 

Can you help put us on the map?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Spring Events

Capitalism by Gaslight: The Shadow Economies of 19th-Century America (on view until August 24)
Exhibition Opening Reception, Tuesday, January 24, 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.
Drawing on books, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, prints, photographs, and ephemera in the Library Company's collection, guest curator Wendy Woloson explores underground urban commerce in the 19th century in our current exhibition. From pick-pocketing to gambling, counterfeiting to prostitution, “Capitalism by Gaslight” describes the myriad ways people participated in an earlier, shadowy realm of commerce that required a surprising degree of creativity, cunning, and financial acumen.

Black Gotham: African American Family History in the 19th Century
Wednesday, February 15, Reception at 5:30 p.m., Program at 6:00 p.m.
Carla L. Peterson, Professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park, and author of Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in 19th-Century New York City, will speak about Philadelphia’s 19th-century African American elites. Black Gotham is Peterson's riveting account of her quest to reconstruct the lives of her 19th-century ancestors.

Members-Only Tour of Girard College and Mother Bethel AME Church
Thursday, February 16, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Join us for a guided tour of Founders Hall, Girard College’s original classroom building, by Director of Historic Resources Elizabeth Laurent, and visit the museum collections and Girard archives housed in this National Historic Landmark. Following lunch (provided), there will be a guided tour of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded by Bishop Richard Allen in 1816. Call 215-546-3181 for more information about costs and transportation.

Before Madison Avenue: Advertising in Early America
Visual Culture Program Conference, Wednesday, March 15, and Thursday, March 16
Speakers at this conference will present new research on advertising in North America before the rise of the modern advertising agency (late 1870s). Co-sponsored by the Center for Historic American Visual Culture at the American Antiquarian Society. Free of charge for Library Company members, $50 for the general public, and $25 for students.

Freedom’s Cap: The United States Capitol and the Coming of the Civil War
Tuesday, March 27, Reception at 5:30 p.m., Program at 6:00 p.m.
The history of the modern U.S. Capitol, the iconic seat of American government, is also the history of America’s most tumultuous years. As the majestic new building rose above Washington’s skyline, battles over slavery and secession ripped the country apart. Author Guy Gugliotta will speak at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Co-sponsored by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Teachers may receive Act 48 credit. 

Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Orality in 19th-Century American Visual Culture
Thursday, April 12, Reception at 5:30 p.m., Program at 6:00 p.m.
Visual Culture Program Fellow Catherine Walsh explores the text-image relationship in how viewers saw, described, and “read” original art and popular print depictions of storytelling.

Members-Only Annual Meeting & Public Lecture
Tuesday, May 15, 5:00 p.m. and 5:45 p.m.
Join us for our Annual Meeting (5:00) followed by a talk by Wendy Woloson, guest curator of “Capitalism by Gaslight” (5:45). Dr. Woloson will discuss legitimate but marginal ways that people earned money in the 19th century and will focus on seamstresses, rag pickers, beggars, dog catchers, newsboys, and street sellers.

Capitalism by Gaslight Symposium
Thursday, June 7, and Friday, June 8
This two-day symposium will highlight the many ways Americans earned livings through economic transactions made beyond the spheres of “legitimate” commerce and explore the crucial importance of the shadow economy to the development of commercial and industrial capitalism in 19th-century America. Co-sponsored by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Thursday, June 7, at 3355 Woodland Walk; Friday, June 8, at the Library Company.

Making Freedom in the Atlantic World
Saturday, June 16, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.                                                 
A one-day conference exploring the process and impact of emancipation across the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. The conference celebrates Juneteenth, commemorating the news that slavery had ended. The program will include a panel discussion featuring Gary Nash, Roseanne Adderly, Jasmine Cobb, and Edna Medford; a roundtable discussion on collecting Afro-Americana; and a keynote address by James Stewart of Macalester College.

For more information  please visit or call 215-546-3181.

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