On View Now: “The Aviator: Remembering James Rogers McConnell”

When students arrive at UVA, they learn about Thomas Jefferson, the Rotunda, and the academical village through the art and architecture on grounds. In between Alderman, Clemons, and the Special Collections libraries, there is a sculpture of a winged man, leaping into the sky, called “The Aviator.”  In their rush to classes, students often pass by the statute without noticing. However, “The Aviator” is an important part of UVA’s history. It is a memorial to alumnus James Roger McConnell, who served in the American Ambulance Corps and the Lafayette Escadrille in France during the World War I. A new exhibition at Albert & Shirley Small Special Collections Library commemorates McConnell’s legacy and serves as tribute to his brief life. The exhibition tells the story of the real person behind “The Aviator”: the man who gave his life in a brutal war that left 17,000,000 dead and that radically transformed international politics.

A 1937 image of The Aviator, with the UVA Chapel in the distance on the right. The sculpture has been somewhere near its present site since it was first placed in 1919 (University of Virginia Visual History Collection).

McConnell matriculated at UVA in 1907. He spent two years in the College and one in the Law School, withdrawing at his father’s request in the spring of 1910 to enter business. While at Virginia, he led what appears to have been a dazzling social life. He was a member of Beta Theta Pi, Theta Nu Epsilon, O.W.L., T.I.L.K.A., the New York Club, and the German Club. He was King of the Hot Foot Society (precursor to the Imps); Editor-in-Chief of the yearbook, Corks and Curls; Assistant Cheer Leader; and founder of the Aero Club.

In 1915, McConnell left his position as a land and industrial agent for a small railroad in North Carolina to enlist in the French service. Through the spring and summer of that year he drove for Section “Y” of the American Ambulance, in the thick of the fighting on the Western Front around Pont-à-Mousson and the Bois-le-Prêtre. He was cited for conspicuous bravery and awarded the Croix de Guerre. He was one of many young men from UVA who served the French in the early years of the war.

McConnell was given a Croix de Guerre for his bravery while driving ambulances on the Western Front. This particular Croix de Guerre was awarded to UVA alumnus George Brasfield, who also served in the Ambulance Corps (Section 516).

In 1916, McConnell left the Ambulance Corps to join the Lafayette Escadrille, a newly formed flying corps of Americans serving under French military command. He completed his flight training in February of that year and participated in the squadron’s first patrol in May. Later, he would take part in aerial actions during the great German offensive at Verdun in June and the Allied counteroffensives in July and August, with the symbol of UVA’s Hot Foot secret society on the side of one of his planes.

McConnell used his UVA education to urge the United States government to join the war. He published articles and letters about the Ambulance Corps, the Lafayette Escadrille, and the sacrifices of allied forces in The Outlook and The World’s Work. Later, his articles and letters were gathered into Flying for France, a book that joined the stream of popular war volumes appearing in American bookstores for readers of all ages. McConnell’s articles in The Outlook and Flying for France are some of the many treasures in the exhibition.

Shown here is a copy of The Outlook containing McConnell’s articles on the Ambulance Crops and the Lafayette Escadrille.

March 19, 2017 marked the one hundredth anniversary of McConnell’s death. On that day in 1917, McConnell was shot down by German enemy planes as he flew a patrol mission high in the clouds above France. He was last seen by a fellow pilot as they split up to battle German planes they encountered on patrol. When his plane was discovered, it had crashed at full throttle. Several bullets were found in his body, and it was likely he died before the plane hit the ground. His body had been stripped of identification and valuables by the time it was discovered by the French, but a piece of his airplane’s fabric fusilage was recovered, and appears in the exhibition. McConnell was the last American of the famed Lafayette Escadrille to die in combat before the United States entered the war on April 6 of that year.He was the first of sixty-four men from the University of Virginia to give their lives in World War I.

The exhibition features artifacts from McConnell’s time in the ambulance corps and the flying corps, as well as a section on monuments and memorials to his and UVA’s service to the French cause. The exhibition will be on view from until May 30th.

One of the two galleries of materials on display.



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Patron’s Choice: Letters from Liberia and American Postal Policy

This week we are pleased to feature a guest post by Christy Pottroff, who was in residence at the library last year as a Lillian Gary Taylor Visiting Fellow in American Literature, Mary and David Harrison Institute. Christy is an Andrew W. Mellon Dissertation Fellow in Early Material Texts at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. candidate in English at Fordham University. Her dissertation is entitled “Citizen Technologies: The U.S. Post Office and the Transformation of Early American Literature.” Thanks so much to Christy for sharing with us her experience studying in our marvelous collections of letters from Liberia.

In 1833, Peyton Skipwith and his family set foot on African soil for the first time. After enduring decades of slavery in the United States, the Skipwith family was eager to start a new life in Liberia. But, after a harrowing fifty-six day journey across the Atlantic Ocean, they soon discovered the conditions were much more difficult than they had been led to believe. The Skipwiths endured disease, harsh climate, inadequate supplies, and conflict with local African tribes–experiences chronicled in a small collection of letters held at the University of Virginia Special Collection Library. These letters, addressed to the Skipwiths’ former owner General John H. Cocke, are at times relentlessly hopeful and at other moments filled with despair. This dissonance between hope and despair is in many ways representative of Liberian Colonization.

[Life Membership Certificate for American Colonization Society], ca. 1840. Certificate. American Colonization Society Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, progressive Southern slaveholders founded the American Colonization Society to promote the resettlement of free-born and formerly enslaved African Americans to West Africa. This strategy emerged, largely, because white reformers could not imagine the viability of a racially diverse society post-slavery. Most African Americans, however, did not support the colonization plan. The United States was their home and they wanted to work toward justice rather than emigrate. Despite the controversy, the American Colonization Society began sending African Americans to West Africa in 1822 where they established Liberia. By 1867, over 13,000 free African Americans, including the Skipwiths, had emigrated to Liberia through the American Colonization Society.

Each new Liberian had deep roots in the United States; many left behind friends and family they would never see again. And yet, despite the strong ties between Liberia and the United States, very few letters passed between the two countries. The Skipwith letters housed at the University of Virginia Special Collections Library are special indeed.

Letter from Peyton Skipwith in Monrovia, June 25th 1846. Cocke Family Papers (MSS 640). Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. Topics covered in the portion shown here are his wish for more farming knowledge and  for books other than the Bible, which is widely available.

The dearth of letters between Liberia and the United States is curious. In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the United States postal system delivered more letters than ever before, and an increasing number of those letters were from countries across the globe. The U.S. Post Office Department facilitated international mail by entering into bilateral postal treaties that guaranteed easy and inexpensive communication and commerce beyond the nation’s borders. In 1851, the United States maintained postal treaties with every country in Europe. The Postmaster General was proud to report new treaties with Algeria, Hong Kong, St. Kitts and Nevis, Beirut, and many more.

The United States did not enter a postal treaty with Liberia until 1879 (when Liberia was admitted to the newly established Universal Postal Union). Despite the special relationship between the two countries in the first half of the nineteenth century, there was no standardized way to send a letter between them. Liberia did have a rudimentary postal system, though its origins and development are difficult to track. In the 1850s, the Liberian government entered into postal treaties with Great Britain, France, and Germany. It was through these roundabout channels that the existing Liberian letters to the United States traveled. As a contemporary American Colonization Society member writes:

Great Britain…sends a weekly line of steamers to the Western Coast of Africa, which touch at Liberia. In fact, by a postal treaty, the mails between Liberia and America go by these steamers, and then by the British steamships between England and the United States!

This roundabout mail channel between the U.S. and Liberia meant that letters were twice as expensive (as they needed postage in two different postal systems) and were at much greater risk for delay, loss, or misdelivery.

Advertisement for mail transport in The New York Herald, November 12, 1844. (Source: Readex Early American Newspapers Database. Accessed: October 23, 2016)

For Peyton Skipwith and his family, the absence of a postal treaty had great consequences. They left behind their homeland, friends, and family–and had no reliable way to communicate with loved ones left behind. One of the most striking things about the Skipwith family letters is the frequent reference to lapses in communication. In an 1835 letter, Peyton writes “This is the third letter that I have wrote to you and have received no answer.” And a year later, he expresses frustration because “I write by almost every opportunity but cannot tell how it comes to pass that only two of my letters have been received.” Later, in 1839, he writes “Reverend Colin Teague should have brought [your letter] to me but he did not reach his home but died…which was a great disappointment to me…I am always anxious to hear from you all.”

Top:  Letter from Peyton Skipwith to John Hartwell Cocke, June 25, 1846. John Hartwell Cocke Papers 1725-1949 ( MSS 640, etc. Box 117).  Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
Center: Letter from Switzerland, via France, to U.S. Schaefer Collection. (Source: Frajola Philatelist. Accessed: October 23, 2016. http://www.rfrajola.com/sale/RFSaleP6.htm)
Bottom: Letter from Judy Hardon to Howell Lewis, Dr. James H. Minor, and Frank Nelson, February 27 1858. Letters From Former Slaves of James Hunter Terrell Settled in Liberia. 1857-1866 (MSS 10460, 10460-a). Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

The absence of any American-Liberian postal treaty is perplexing. Both countries had entered into other postal treaties during the period, and the United States was sending mail steamers across much greater distances for postal purposes. This unsettled postal state was most likely the result of an ideological problem.

The same rationale for sending free African Americans to Liberia likely permeated into contemporary international postal policy. Free people of color were thought to threaten the stability of slave society, and their proximity to enslaved Americans was considered dangerous. A single letter cannot collapse geographical distance, but it can do a great deal to shrink ideological distances. With a postal treaty, new Liberians would have had the freedom to send letters to free and enslaved friends and family members in the United States. They could have shared ideas, money, or other resources with privacy, dispatch, and ease. The thought of regular correspondence between free and enslaved African Americans is very likely what kept the United States Post Office Department from opening up any reliable public channel of communication to and from Liberia.

The absence of an American-Liberian postal treaty did not solve a real problem; the likelihood of conspiratorial international communication between African Americans was quite slim. Instead, the treaty’s absence created countless problems for the Skipwiths and their fellow Liberian emigrants. Peyton, for example, tried in vain to send a letter to his brother George before his death. Another Americo-Liberian, William Douglass, desperately sought $50 that had been lost in transit between Liberia and the United States (worth over $1,300 in today’s currency). Without a reliable international postal treaty these instances of lost letters and impossible communication were dishearteningly common. In light of these institutional barriers, that these letters from Liberia ever arrived at the University of Virginia Special Collections Library is itself a small miracle.


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On View Now: “Jorge Luis Borges: Author, Editor, Promulgator”

We are pleased to announce the opening of a new exhibition in the First Floor Gallery, curated by Nora Benedict, a student assistant in Special Collections. Nora is a PhD Candidate in Spanish-American Literature and Analytical Bibilography, and has recently defended her dissertation on Jorge Luis Borges. Nora’s work concerns Borges’s publishing history, and we were thrilled to have her curate an exhibition on many of the items she studied while researching in our deep Borges holdings. Here are just a few images of the exhibition to tempt you. Also, keep an eye out for an upcoming in-depth post by the curator herself.


Nora (in red sweater) tours a Spanish class through her exhibition on opening day–entirely in Spanish. [Blogger’s note: it’s hard enough to do an exhibition tour in your mother tongue. We were suitably impressed!]

The exhibition runs through July 7, 2017. Come on by and take a look!

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Staff feature: On curating “Faulkner: Life and Works”

This week we feature a guest post from George Riser, special collections staff member and one of the curators of our current exhibition, “Faulkner: Life and Works.” George was responsible for the “Works” portion of the show, and we asked him if he would reflect on the experience.

Last spring, I was asked to participate in the upcoming exhibition, Faulkner: Life and Works, and I accepted with enthusiasm and some trepidation. For I knew Faulkner’s reputation as one of the most celebrated writers of the twentieth century would mean that he is as well one of the most scrutinized. I was charged with displaying the nine holograph manuscripts of Faulkner’s novels the University of Virginia Library holds, as well as dedicating exhibition cases to poetry, to short stories, and an array of ancillary materials — letters, drawings, early drafts, and commentary that relate to each novel, story, or poem displayed. And there was an incredible wealth of material from which to choose at the University of Virginia Special Collections — “an obscenity of riches,” as former curator Joan Crane once noted.

On display in George’s section of the exhibition: Faulkner’s list of acquaintances who might be interested in “The Sound and the Fury” (MSS 6271).

While working on the label text for these works, I thought about the affinity I felt for these stories and novels, and for the hundreds of characters that populate Mr. Faulkner’s fictional county of Yoknapatawpha and his town of Jefferson. And I knew that part of the appeal for me came from a familial connection to the geography and the people of Faulkner’s Mississippi.

My grandfather, Conrad McRae, was born in 1897, the same year as William Faulkner, and grew up in Brandon Mississippi, about two hours south of Faulkner’s hometown of Oxford. They both had connections to the railroads — my grandfather as a ticket agent and conductor, Faulkner through his paternal great-grandfather, who started one of the first railroad lines in Mississippi. I have imagined Faulkner riding the train to, say Clarksdale, my grandfather taking his ticket as he strolled down the aisle, and I’ve wondered if they might have passed each other on the back streets of Memphis on their way to seek out bootleg whiskey during the dry Prohibition era.

My grandfather’s people, the McRaes, came to Mississippi in a wave of nineteenth-century Scotch-Irish immigrants, the same as Faulkner’s McCaslins and MacCallums, and it was no stretch to see members of my extended family fitting quite snugly within the pages of any number of his stories, poems, and novels. As I was growing up, we spent three weeks each summer in Mississippi, and I got to know many of my “Faulkner” relatives — my mother’s Uncle Dick in his falling-down shack back in the remote pine forests east of Jackson, or Uncle Cap, the wall-eyed bachelor who raised goats and lived with his sister, Maggie, who kept a few cows and a henhouse full of laying hens, (a few who had taken up residence on her back porch). And there were many others, as my extended family included a number of would-be Compsons and Snopes, Sartorises and Bundrens, and I sometimes wondered if I too, though now far-flung, might still be considered a Faulkner descendant. And then the realization — we all are.

The romantically torn first page of the manuscript for “A Rose for Emily” (MSS 6074).

“Faulkner: Life and Works” runs through July 7 in the Harrison-Small main gallery. To learn more please visit https://faulkner2017.lib.virginia.edu/

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John O’Brien’s Literature Incorporated Wins the Louis Gottschalk Prize

It is one thing to write a book. It is quite another for that book to receive widespread acclaim from one’s peers, as is the case with Literature Incorporated: The Cultural Unconscious of the Business Corporation, 1650-1850, the most recent work by John O’Brien, NEH Daniels Distinguished Teaching Professor in U.Va.’s Department of English. Literature Incorporated has been awarded the Louis Gottschalk Prize, presented annually “for an outstanding historical or critical study on the eighteenth century” by the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies.

One need not be aware of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United or of Mitt Romney’s statement that “corporations are people” to benefit from a close reading of Literature Incorporated. Its subject is the corporation, “an abstraction that gathers up a long history of institutions and practices as varied as city governance, guild organization, state-sponsored colonial exploration, money lending, insurance, slave trading and university funding.”  Its method is to trace the trope of incorporation in a wide range of Anglo-American texts, including “economic tracts, legal cases, poems, plays, essays, novels, and short stories.” And its goal “is to discover some of the ways in which language has ‘repeated’ the influence of the corporation to us, given it form in our imaginations.”

The U.Va. Library is proud to have earned a place in the book’s Acknowledgements. Indeed, most of the works discussed in Literature Incorporated (and many more that inform and amplify its arguments) can be found in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. Here is a modest selection, which we invite you to come explore in more depth.

King as corporation, comprised of the bodies of his subjects. Detail from the engraved title page to Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (London, 1651). (E 1651 .H658; Tracy W. McGregor Library of English Literature)

Literature Incorporated begins with Thomas Hobbes’ work of political theory, Leviathan (1651). Its famous engraved title page “offers an image of incorporation, of the people of a realm incorporated into the sovereign.” Although Hobbes viewed private corporations as potential rivals to government, O’Brien shows how Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall, among others, appropriated Hobbes’ language in support of corporations.

The Carolina Company’s vision for its American colony, drafted in large part by John Locke. The Two Charters Granted by King Charles IId to the Proprietors of Carolina (London, 1698). (A 1698 .G746; Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History)

Among the earliest English corporations were entities such as the Carolina Company, chartered by the sovereign to promote colonial settlement and trade. The philosopher John Locke was instrumental in developing the English mercantilist system, and O’Brien traces Locke’s crucial role in drafting the company’s Fundamental Constitutions (1669; final edition 1698), in which the Carolina proprietors envisioned the society they hoped to establish in the New World. Indeed, Locke’s empiricist philosophy permeates the document.

Frontispiece and title page to an early edition of Richard Steele’s The Conscious Lovers (London, 1735). (PR3704 .C66 1735)

Another such company, the South Sea Company, was at the heart of one of the greatest financial bubbles of all time, the South Sea Bubble of 1720. The speculative frenzy and resulting financial crash can be traced in many contemporary literary works, such as Sir Richard Steele’s play, The Conscious Lovers (1720). To the familiar plot lines of marriage and mistaken identity Steele added innovative complications concerning property rights. Steele also found himself accused publicly, through his involvement with the Drury Lane Company, of creating a theatrical equivalent of the South Sea Bubble to unfairly inflate the play’s ticket prices.

Tobias Smollett on why a novel needs a “principal personage,” from The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom (London, 1753). (PR33694 .F54 1753 v.1)

The 18th century also saw the rise of insurance companies, which offered protection from risk and the fickle winds of divine providence. O’Brien demonstrates how contemporary English fiction’s “well-known investigations of risk and reward look different when they are read in the context of insurance history.” A perfect example is Tobias Smollett’s Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1751), in which the plot is driven by Peregrine’s involvement with two different insurance policies. O’Brien also invokes Smollett’s famous statement, in the preface to The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom (1753), that a novel requires “a principal personage to attract the attention, unite the incidents, unwind the clue of the labyrinth, and at last close the scene by virtue of his own importance.” In O’Brien’s words, the protagonist of a novel “resembles the corporation itself, a prosthetic person who helps bring the broader organization of a specific kind of economic activity into representation.”

Frontispiece to The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (London, 1789). (CT2750 .E7 1789; Gift of Mrs. Emily D. Kornfeld)

During the late 18th century, the London Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade waged a successful abolitionist campaign. O’Brien traces how “the society became a corporate voice that found itself emulating the very entities that it sought to attack,” for example, through its frequent use of an emblem featuring a supplicatory slave on bended knee. However, one key abolitionist publication—The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789)—deliberately separated itself in form and content from this corporate voice, instead establishing itself “as a kind of corporate representative [of] ‘the African.’”

Beginning of Edgar Allan Poe’s story, The Gold-Bug, which leads off his Tales (New York, 1845). (PS2612 .A1 1845 copy 3; Gift of D. N. Davidson)

Literature Incorporated concludes with a discussion of Anglo-American literary responses to the fiscal and banking crises of the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s. In particular, O’Brien offers a close reading of The Gold-Bug, the lead-off story in Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales (1845) and his most popular with contemporaries.

And to wrap up: hold the date! Another recent recipient of the Louis Gottschalk Prize—David Hancock, Professor of History at the University of Michigan—will deliver this year’s Thomas Jefferson Foundation Lecture on Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at 4:00 p.m. in the auditorium of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. His talk, “The Man of Twists and Turns: Personality, Portrait & Power in the Re-Shaping of Empire,” concerns the 2nd Earl of Shelburne, the British prime minister who helped negotiate an end to the American Revolution. The lecture is co-sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and the U.Va. Library.

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Collaborative Curation: Cori Field on Student Exhibitions

This week, we are pleased to feature a guest post by Cori Field of the Women, Gender & Sexuality Program. Cori is an exceptional colleague who really “gets” what an exhibition can do for her students. We are so lucky to have worked with her on the exhibition described below.

The “Sounds and Silences of Black Girlhood” exhibition resulted from a remarkable collaboration between undergraduates in the Women, Gender & Sexuality Program and Library staff. Finding archival sources by and about black girls is difficult even for professional historians because most collections are organized around the concerns of white adults. Undaunted, UVA students eagerly stepped up to the challenge. With the help of Molly Schwartzburg, Holly Robertson, and Erin Pappas, they identified a wide range of materials in Special Collections related to the global history of black girlhood, researched the significance of those items, and designed a compelling exhibit focused around the core themes of identity, resistance, and voice. In addition to curating the exhibit, they wrote longer articles about each item.

A screenshot of the blog that accompanies the exhibition. We encourage visitors to check it out to see the students’ hard work.


The key to this project was advanced planning. When I first decided to teach an advanced undergraduate seminar on the “Global History of Black Girlhood,” I met with Molly Schwartzburg to ask if it would be possible to produce a public history project from materials in Special Collections. Molly eagerly embraced the idea, volunteered her time, and most importantly, advised me on how to structure assignments so that students could complete the separate components of an exhibit on time. This early consultation enabled me to write an effective syllabus structured around the final project.

Because WGS is an interdisciplinary program, I knew most students in the seminar would not be historians and would likely be unfamiliar with archival research. To further complicate matters, sources on black girls are often hidden in larger collections and difficult to locate. It was therefore essential to provide students with some preliminary guide to relevant sources. The best resource was the expertise of Molly, Edward Gaynor, and other staff who pointed to numerous collections with promising material. Over the summer, Angel Nash, a Ph.D. student in the Curry School, worked with Edward and Molly to identify more sources and construct a bibliography of archival holdings at UVA related to black girlhood. By handing out this bibliography on the first day of class, I was able to give students the information they needed to hit the ground running.

Molly then met with class to discuss strategies for locating other types of sources. This became a history lesson in itself as students discussed the changing language of race and the complications of searching for people categorized variously as African, Negro, colored, African American, or black. Molly helped students to think about how different types of sources—for example, eighteenth-century travelogues, nineteenth-century wills, or early twentieth-century photographs—might prompt different types of research questions. Finally, she helped students figure out how to pursue their own interests by studying the past.

The best part came next as students went into Special Collections. Within two weeks, everyone in the class had identified a primary source that interested them and developed a plan for further research. The range of sources was amazing. For example, Nodjimadji Stringfellow found a 1820 memoir by a British official stationed on the Gold Coast. Dhanya Chittaranjan located a deed from a planter who presented his young granddaughter with the gift of an enslaved girl—”Martha Jane about six years old.” Diana Wilson, Emma McCallie, and Ivory Ibuaka all picked very different photographs from the Jackson Davis Collection. Lucas Dvorscak focused on a 1972 children’s book that retold the story of Alice in Wonderland with a black protagonist.  Samantha Josey-Borden found an original edition of Ntozake Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. Other students found sources exploring black girls’ labor; resistance to sexual violence; creativity; and political organizing.

Some of the curators of the exhibition at the opening celebration with their instructor, Cori Field (far right).

The next challenge was to combine these materials into a coherent exhibit. Once again, Molly provided guidance, encouraging students to begin with the exhibition space. We went to the exhibition hall, looked at the cases, and talked about how different items might fit. We then returned to the seminar room and discussed organizational strategies. Students quickly rejected a geographical or chronological approach and decided to organize the exhibit around key themes—but what themes? Together, students brainstormed ideas, eliminated some, voted for others and grouped their items into three broad categories of identity, resistance, and voice. They also thought about the physical properties of the items themselves and came up with the idea of enlarging two particularly striking images and hanging these on the wall as the entry to the exhibit.

Two of the three exhibition cases that make up the exhibition.

The next challenge was locating secondary sources that would provide some historical context for every student. The subjet liaison for WGS, Erin Pappas, consulted with the whole class and then worked with individual students facing particularly difficult challenges. Some students who initially thought they couldn’t find any relevant information experienced the thrill of locating material, as when Erin helped Emily Breeding find information about the Lynchburg NAACP at Emory University. A quick call to Emory produced the information Emily needed for her article.

Condensing all of the information students had found into succinct labels was the greatest challenge of the course. Students were shocked to realize how little can be said in 150 words. Through multiple drafts, rigorous peer editing, and feedback from Molly and Holly, students all succeeded in crafting labels that draw the viewer in to the exhibit without providing too much detail. Writing longer articles enabled students to develop their insights in more detail for the accompanying blog.

Throughout this course, the students worked incredibly hard both on their own projects and on their thoughtful contributions to the collective project. I have never seen undergraduates edit each other’s work with such care and insight. The knowledge that this work mattered, that the exhibit would be available to the general public and visiting scholars, inspired a level of commitment and mutual support that is truly rare—in undergraduate seminars and in workplaces more generally. The students learned important skills in managing a complex project, working with others, and contributing to a shared product. At moments, they got incredibly frustrated, but then pulled together and took the project to a higher level. It was a true joy to be involved in this project.

Visitors interact with the blog on an iPad and peruse the artifacts on display during the exhibition opening party.

“The Sounds and Silences of Black Girlhood” will be on view in the first floor gallery at the Harrison-Small building through March 24, 2017.

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MLK Day Special: Black Girlhood Exhibition is now open!

We are so pleased to announce that our latest mini-exhibition, The Sounds and Silences of Black Girlhood, is now open. This exhibition was coordinated by Cori Field and curated by her students in her class last fall, “Women and Gender Studies 4559: A Global History of Black Girlhood.” It was a real pleasure working with these talented and driven students.

This exhibition is associated with two events that are open to all:

  • Final Friday Exhibition Opening, hosted by the students!: Friday, January 27, 2017, Harrison Small First Floor Gallery
  • The Global Black Girlhood Conference, which is taking place in the Harrison Small Auditorium March 17-18. Details at the conference website.

Below are some tantalizing images of the exhibition. Come by the gallery and check it out! The exhibition runs through March 24.


img_8178 img_8179 img_8180


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Researching William Butler Yeats in Special Collections

(Note: This is the second of three posts by students enrolled this past Fall in ENNC 3240: Professor Andrew Stauffer’s course in Victorian Poetry. The three students–Heather Jorgenson [read her post here], Ann Nicholson, and Eva Alvarado–elected to participate in a U.Va. Library “Libratory.” Originally proposed by the University Library Committee, and coordinated by Chris Ruotolo, Director of Arts and Humanities for the U.Va. Library, a Libratory is a one-credit library lab attached to selected courses each academic term. Participating students work with their professor and a librarian to undertake a course-related research project involving extensive use of library materials. Heather, Ann, and Eva spent considerable time in Special Collections studying books and manuscripts by a Victorian poet of their choosing. Then each prepared a 20-minute class presentation accompanied by a special exhibition of selected Special Collections materials. They have kindly agreed to share their experiences here. In this post, Ann Nicholson discusses her work on William Butler Yeats.)

As a supplement to Professor Stauffer’s Victorian Poetry class, I had the opportunity to work in the Special Collections Library, where I conducted research on William Butler Yeats, one of the poets that we discussed in class.

My first approach to exploring Special Collections was to look for differences between the “Irish Yeats” and the “English Yeats,” for he moved back and forth between England and Ireland throughout his life. Yeats was born in Sandymount, Ireland on June 13, 1865, and he was proud of his Irish heritage, which is reflected in his early writings, such as The King’s Threshold (1904), a play written for the Abbey Theater in Dublin. Although this play was both published and performed in Ireland, the two editions found in Special Collections were not published in Dublin, but rather by the Macmillan Company in New York and London—showing Yeats’ ability to reach a wider audience beyond simply the people of Ireland.

Front cover of William Butler Yeats, The Tower (London: Macmillan, 1928) (PR5904 .T6 1928)

Front cover of William Butler Yeats, The Tower (London: Macmillan, 1928) (PR5904 .T6 1928)

Another work published by Macmillan and found in Special Collections is The Tower, Yeats’ first major collection as a Nobel Laureate after receiving the Nobel Prize in 1923. The title refers to the Thoor Ballylee, a Norman Tower that Yeats purchased and restored in 1917, and where he spent his summers until 1928. Thomas Sturge Moore, an English poet, artist, and long-term friend and correspondent of Yeats, created the cover design. On the light green cloth cover there is a gold woodcut-style image that portrays Thoor Ballylee and its reflection in the water.

A typical Cuala Press title page. (PR5904 .W5 1917)

A typical Cuala Press title page. (PR5904 .W5 1917)

Characteristic Cuala Press typography: a page from W. B. Yeats, The Wild Swans at Coole (Churchtown: Cuala Press, 1917) (PR5904 .W5 1917)

Characteristic Cuala Press typography: a page from W. B. Yeats, The Wild Swans at Coole (Churchtown: Cuala Press, 1917) (PR5904 .W5 1917)

I was particularly interested in finding books published by the Cuala Press, the printing press founded and operated by Yeats’ sister Elizabeth in Dublin. The books printed by the Cuala Press are distinguished by their uniform specifications, such as Caslon Old Face 14-point size font, 22-centimeter height, and blue-grey Ingres paper for the binding. Another characteristic of these books is the use of red ink, such as for the unicorn device found in The Wild Swans at Coole (1917) in Special Collections. This image of a sleeping unicorn was drawn by Robert Gregory, an Irish artist. Another image of a unicorn can be found in Last Poems and Two Plays (1939). An exception to these specifications is On the Boiler (1939), which is a political essay written by Yeats and printed commercially in Dublin by Alex Thom and Co., Ltd. for the Cuala Press. There is a drawing by Jack B. Yeats on the front cover.

An image of a sleeping unicorn, drawn by Robert Gregory, appearing in W. B. Yeats, The Wild Swans at Coole (Churchtown: Cuala Press, 1917) (PR5904 .W5 1917)

An image of a sleeping unicorn, drawn by Robert Gregory, appearing in W. B. Yeats, The Wild Swans at Coole (Churchtown: Cuala Press, 1917) (PR5904 .W5 1917)

Another unicorn image, from W. B. Yeats, Last Poems and Two Plays (Dublin: Cuala Press, 1939) (PR5900 .A3 1939)

Another unicorn image, from W. B. Yeats, Last Poems and Two Plays (Dublin: Cuala Press, 1939) (PR5900 .A3 1939)

Front cover of W. B. Yeats, On the Boiler (Dublin: Cuala Press, 1939) (PR5904 .O6 1939)

Front cover of W. B. Yeats, On the Boiler (Dublin: Cuala Press, 1939) (PR5904 .O6 1939)

One of Yeats’ poems that we had discussed in class was “When You Are Old,” and so, I was also hoping to find books in Special Collections that contained this poem. In addition to finding it in multiple sources, including The Macmillan Company’s Poems (1895) and T. Fisher Unwin’s Early Poems and Stories (1925), I discovered that Special Collections also has an autograph manuscript. I also noticed discrepancies between the different publications of the poem, which sparked another area for me to explore.

A manuscript of the poem "When You Are Old," written and signed by William Butler Yeats sometime during the 1930s, per the printed address. (MSS 4243)

A manuscript of the poem “When You Are Old,” written and signed by William Butler Yeats sometime during the 1930s, per the printed address. (MSS 4243)

Yeats wrote the poem “When You Are Old” following the rejection of his marriage proposal by the beautiful actress Maud Gonne in 1891. The poem first appeared in The Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics, which was published in 1892 by T. Fisher Unwin in London, and reprinted in 1893 by Roberts Bros. in Boston. In both publications the poem stands alone as an uncollected work. However, the lyrics were revised and collected under the title “The Rose” before the first edition of Yeats’ Poems was published 1895 by T. Fisher Unwin. Yeats again revised the poem for the 1899 edition of Poems. Poems was reprinted again in 1901, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1913, 1919, and 1920 with no revisions made to “When You Are Old.” In the prefaces to the 1912 and 1920 editions of Poems, Yeats writes that “he ha[s] not again retouched the lyric poems of my youth,” thus the 1901 text of the poem “When You are Old” became the standard version. This can be further confirmed in other publications of the poem, such as Macmillan and Co’s Early Poems and Stories (1925), which contains the same version of the poem.

Original version of the poem, "When You Are Old," as it appears in W. B. Yeats, Poems (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1895) (PR5900 .A3 1895)

Original version of the poem, “When You Are Old,” as it appears in W. B. Yeats, Poems (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1895) (PR5900 .A3 1895)

The autograph manuscript in Special Collections of “When You Are Old” lacks a date, but it contains a telephone number in the top left corner and the address Riversdale, Willbrook, Rathfarnham, Dublin—the address of Yeats’ last Irish home that he signed the lease for in July 1932. He lived at this home with his wife, George, and two children Anne and Michael, and it was also the setting for his last meeting with Maud Gonne in the summer of 1938. In addition to Yeats’ home address being an indicator of time, letters written by Yeats on the same stationery can help confirm the date of the manuscript. For example, there is a manuscript currently located at the National Library of Ireland that is a 1935 correspondence between W.B. Yeats and Lennox Robinson. Furthermore, another factor used in determining the manuscript’s date is the text itself, for it is the standard version.

Revised version of the poem, "When You Are Old," as it appears in W. B. Yeats, Collected Works in Verse and Prose (Stratford-on-Avon: Shakespeare Head Press, 1908) (PR5900 .A3 1908 v.1). Note the changes in the last stanza.

Revised version of the poem, “When You Are Old,” as it appears in W. B. Yeats, Collected Works in Verse and Prose (Stratford-on-Avon: Shakespeare Head Press, 1908) (PR5900 .A3 1908 v.1). Note the changes to the last stanza; the same changes appear in the manuscript (shown above).

Above are images of the poem “When You Are Old” as it appears in Poems (1895), in The Collected Works in Verse and Prose (1908), and in the manuscript (post-1932).

― Ann Nicholson

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Patron’s Choice: Readers Reading Hannah Foster’s The Coquette

This week, we are pleased to feature a guest post from Amanda Stuckey, who visited the collections earlier this year as a Lillian Gary Taylor Fellow in American Literature Mary and David Harrison Institute

In an undated (ca. early 20th-century) letter tucked into the first edition of Hannah Foster’s bestselling novel The Coquette (1797) in the Small Library, reader Robert Taylor questions the judgment of the novel’s heroine. Taylor writes that he perused the story of Eliza Wharton, found it “interesting reading,” and even shed a tear or two when he reached the novel’s final lines consisting of the unfortunate protagonist’s epitaph. Yet, Taylor notes, even as he mingled his tears “with those shed upon the tombstone of the ill-fated Eliza; and observe her age as inscribed therein, I am constrained to contend that she was old enough to know better.”

Even though “the book” seems to have all but disappeared in an age of digital reproduction and online catalogues, as contemporary readers we nonetheless exist in a world saturated with text. So much text to be scrolled, contemplated, “liked,” re-tweeted, or simply ignored, that the line between “seeing” text and “reading” it can become unclear. Yet the act of requesting and opening a book like The Coquette from a library that so values the material and physical presence of words, of texts, reminds us that we are here to read. Only seventeen first editions of The Coquette remain, and like many first editions, UVA’s copy has an aura surrounding it; carefully lifting it out of the box cut to fit its exact dimensions, an eager reader might wonder how many other people like Taylor have lifted the unassuming, dulled brown cover to turn tenderly through the weathered but still-sturdy pages. How many others have read on those very pages the story, over two centuries old, of Eliza Wharton, who struggles on the marriage market during the years after the nation-defining struggle of the American Revolution.

The custom box holding the library's copy of the first edition of The Coquette (Taylor 1797 . F68 C6). Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg

The custom box holding the library’s copy of the first edition of The Coquette (Taylor 1797 . F68 C6). Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg

Eliza, an unmarried woman from Connecticut, finds herself caught between two suitors: the rational, respectable Reverend Boyer and the dashing but reprehensible Major Sanford. Just as Eliza’s friends – and her readers – think she is going to make the “right” decision and accept Boyer’s hand in marriage, he catches her in compromising circumstances (by late eighteenth-century standards, at least) in a secluded garden with Sanford. Boyer rescinds his marriage proposal, and by the end of the novel Eliza finds herself pregnant, close to death, and all but abandoned by Sanford, the seducing rake who never planned to marry her in the first place. The catch to which reader Robert Taylor referred? Eliza was thirty-seven when she became pregnant and subsequently died, seemingly bereft of the innocence, virtue, and education that almost four decades of sound friendship and parental guidance sought to instill in her. Eliza’s fatal carelessness in her choice of suitors seemed, to Taylor at least, befitting of a younger woman, one less familiar with the treacherous wiles of men. Indeed, Eliza Wharton could have been mother of her fictional contemporary Charlotte Temple, whose similar fate of seduction, pregnancy, and death at the ripe age of fifteen was the subject of another bestselling novel of the late eighteenth century. “Old enough to know better,” perhaps, Eliza nonetheless is doomed from the novel’s start. Even Foster’s title, a reference to behavior that eighteenth-century audiences associated with flirtatiousness, promiscuity, and an inability to commit, seems to belie the years Eliza had to walk a straight course.

Whenever I read The Coquette, I find myself frustrate–not with Eliza’s seeming inability to make the “right” decision between two men of completely opposite character, but more so with the fact that even now, ten years after I first read the novel, I still read it with a sense of dread, with the feeling that if she’d just settle down with Boyer, she might have a shot at making it out of the novel alive. The genre of seduction fiction into which The Coquette falls is a supremely predictable one, and Eliza is perhaps its most famous example. Each time I read the novel I ask myself, how can I possibly read this differently? How can I assign new meaning to Eliza’s doomed thirty-seven years? What more can I say about her all-too-certain fate, a fate that even Eliza seems to sense as the novel comes to a close?

With those questions in mind, I pondered each of the novel’s 242 pages, seeking answers and new clarity. It was not until I reached very last page that I sat up a little straighter in my chair, pulled out of my contemplations by three simple characters in ink:

The final two pages of "The Coquette," which include a rendering of the text on Eliza's gravestone.

The final two pages of “The Coquette,” which include a rendering of the text on Eliza’s gravestone. Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg



A detailed image showing where a reader has edited Eliza's age from 37 to 27. Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg

A detailed image showing where a reader has edited Eliza’s age from 37 to 27. Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg

Twenty-seven? One reader felt so convinced that a woman of thirty-seven could not possibly have fallen victim to one man’s practiced, seductive wiles that this reader had to “correct” the official record of Eliza’s age? So convinced that this reader not only altered Eliza’s epitaph but also felt the need to write it again, to underline it, in case we had any doubt that thirty-seven is way too old to be hanging out in gardens with a known libertine.

Whenever I teach an early American work of fiction, one that is likely digitized through my institution’s library or other vast internet repository, I encourage my students to seek out a physical copy of the book, preferably a first or early edition, housed in a nearby archive or in their university’s own special collections. If we’re lucky, the university’s special collections library will have a first edition, and I ask students to first read a digitized or contemporary scholarly edition of the work and to think about the experience of reading in their present moment. Then students venture out to their special collections library to request a first or early edition of the same novel, to gently lift the cover softened by wear, to delicately turn the pulpy yellowed pages, and to imagine what it might have meant to be reading this work in, say, 1797. Afterward, they write up a brief comparison of the two reading experiences, discussing what surprised them or caught their attention in reading the same book two different ways. These assignments repeatedly demonstrate to me the importance of paying attention to the experience of reading, an experience that today can take so many forms that we almost don’t even notice that we’re reading something when we’re reading it. These assignments have taught my students and me that the experience of reading means different thing to different people, and that we bring our own frames of reference to the text each time we read a book. There is a saying attributed to a Greek philosopher that you can’t step into the same river twice, and the archive continually shows my students and me that you can’t always step into the same book twice. It is different each time we read it, and often that difference comes not from the answers we demand from the book but from the way we let the book speak to us.

And, as it turned out, I’d been asking the wrong questions. I needed to start not with “I” the reader, but with a broader sense of readership, of a recognition that this novel, though it has ridden high crests and low troughs of popularity throughout its life, nonetheless has been read for over two hundred years. The solitary figure of the reader – the “I” – shrinks before The Coquette’s well-worn pages in recognition of just how many fingers have turned them. From the copy in Small Special Collections, modified so minimally yet so insistently, I find myself asking questions that start not with “I” but with how. How have people read this novel? How might previous ways of reading this novel change, affect, influence, the way we read –not just this novel but any text, any book, periodical, or blog? These interjections from the past into our present invite us to look at a familiar text differently, and moreover they invite us to consider the act of reading itself. In a world saturated with multimedia text, the physical presence of the book makes us aware that we’re reading.

That’s what these two numbers, three inked characters, did when I finished up the first edition of The Coquette in Small Special Collections. They spoke to me, caught me off guard, even in the final, oh-so-predictable (I thought) words of the novel. They made me envision another person holding that volume, made me wonder about someone so certain that Eliza just had to be twenty-seven, while I had paid at best scant attention to her age. I have other questions for this novel and its reader(s) – why, for example, was it Eliza’s responsibility to “know better?” For that matter, is thirty-seven really old? Why aren’t we talking about how old Sanford is here? But more important, once I turned the final page, was the way in which this volume – with Robert Taylor’s enclosed letter and the marginalia of an unknown reader – generated these questions from a book I had stepped into once again, a book made almost entirely new thanks to the readings of other readers.

Thanks, Amanda, for sharing your reading room “aha” moment with the blog!


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Robert Browning as Seen from Special Collections

(Note: This is the first of three posts by students enrolled this past Fall in ENNC 3240: Professor Andrew Stauffer’s course in Victorian Poetry. The three students–Heather Jorgenson, Ann Nicholson, and Eva Alvarado–elected to participate in one of the U.Va. Library’s initial “Libratories.” Originally proposed by the University Library Committee, and coordinated by Chris Ruotolo, Director of Arts and Humanities for the U.Va. Library, a Libratory is a one-credit library lab attached to selected courses each academic term. Participating students work with their professor and a librarian to undertake a course-related research project involving extensive use of library materials. Heather, Ann, and Eva spent considerable time in Special Collections studying books and manuscripts by a Victorian poet of their choosing. Then each prepared a 20-minute class presentation accompanied by a special exhibition of selected Special Collections materials. They have kindly agreed to share their experiences here. In this initial post, Heather Jorgenson discusses her work on Robert Browning.)

Throughout one’s college experience, academic opportunities present themselves and allow for a more creative, enriching, and memorable learning environment. The 2016 Fall semester sparked the first Libratory independent study and provided three students in ENNC 3240 with the opportunity to prepare a twenty-minute presentation on a topic in Victorian Poetry using the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library’s nearly boundless resources and fantastic staff.

The system used to find and request specific works from the library is called Virgo, and it proved instrumental as a catalogue of all available works by Robert Browning—the particular Victorian poet I chose. Special Collections happens to hold over one hundred of Browning’s works, which both lengthened the research process and led me to seek additional assistance from David Whitesell, a curator at the library. My only qualm with Virgo lies in the lack of visual representation—with David’s help I could view all of Browning’s work at the same time to identify any underlying themes and to investigate the hidden gems found in the library.

What I decided to include in my presentation were eighteen volumes dating from 1835 to 1910, showcasing the many forms and levels of craftsmanship present in these separate works. Some of these differences arose from multiple copies of the same book. By comparing and contrasting these copies, my presentation illustrated the unique nature of these older volumes, as well as the close relationship between reader, writer, and bookmaker which seems to have been stronger in the past than it is today.

Original pencil sketch in Robert Browning, Poems (1897), copy 2. Number 119 of 125 copies.

Original pencil sketch in Robert Browning, Poems (1897), copy 2. Number 119 of 125 copies.

I saw many books with personalized details—many of them had inscriptions, while others included letters or sketches. These made each book feel more special and the entire research process more exciting as I knew I would likely find something interesting in almost every one I looked at.

Original pencil sketch in Robert Browning, Poems (1897), copy 2. Number 119 of 125 copies.

Original pencil sketch in Robert Browning, Poems (1897), copy 2. Number 119 of 125 copies.

The library has 2 copies of the 1897 edition of Browning’s Poems. Copy 2 features original pencil sketches, but it also includes a cut and pasted Robert Browning signature, while copy 1 features a leather binding by the Guild of Women Binders with flowers, figures, and words from Browning’s work on the covers. In comparing both copies, I saw a sharp contrast between the amount of attention placed on the outside and the inside, since copy 1 does not include other features in its first few pages and copy 2 has a plain red leather binding with gold accents, in contrast to the detailed leatherwork found in copy 1.

Robert Browning, Poems (1897), copy 1. Number 116 of 125 copies. This copy features a binding by the Guild of Women Binders with fantastic leather-work on the covers.

Robert Browning, Poems (1897), copy 1. Number 116 of 125 copies. This copy features a binding by the Guild of Women Binders with fantastic leather-work on the covers.

I also found books containing letters. In fact, while reading volume 2 of The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, I encountered a facsimile on page 567 of a letter from Elizabeth to Robert Browning with a small note at the end directing the reader to page 443 of volume 1. After seeing this note, my curiosity was piqued and I rushed to look at volume 1, but at that point the library was about to close and I could not request any more items. Having to wait until the following day, I requested the book as soon as I could and opened it to page 443 to find: a printed version of the facsimile letter. I found this to be thought-provoking because, although not the first handwritten letter I had encountered, it was the only inter-volume communication I has seen in my research thus far.

The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (1868), volume 1. Pasted-in letter from "Louise" to R. h. Collins.

The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (1868), volume 1. Pasted-in letter from “Louise” to R. H. Collins.

This copy reflects an attribute of many of these books in that it was originally given as a gift. Per the presentation letter pasted in the front, “Louise” gifted it as a Christmas present to R.H. Collins in 1868, the year of its publication. I found this particular book fascinating because it also includes detailed inscriptions written by R.H. Collins—we know they were written by her because she wrote her name after the pictured letter and the other writings are in the same handwriting. In the front of the book she quoted several passages, presumably her favorites, with page numbers. Then, in the back of the book, she wrote what appear to be responses to the text. This amazed me because I could see the level of connection she had to this book in her inscriptions and also in the letter which originally went along with the gift.

The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (1868), volume 1. Pasted-in letter from "Louise" to R. h. Collins.

The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (1868), volume 1. Pasted-in letter from “Louise” to R. H. Collins.

I have seen many amazing books in my research—I have held a first edition of Paracelsus from the McGregor Library, a fully illustrated copy of Pippa Passes, and an original Robert Browning signature—and discovering what makes them unique and powerful has made this experience worthwhile and enjoyable. The process of turning through each and every page can seem grueling at first. However, the more you look the more you will find, and where else can you feel like a detective, a scholar, and a little kid at the toy store all at the same time?

Here is the complete list of featured works from my presentation; I strongly recommend visiting the Special Collections Library and requesting these items, or any others that interest you.

  1. Paracelsus (E 1835 .B76 P3)
  2. Sordello (E 1840 .B76 S6)
  3. Bells and Pomegranates (PR 4202 .M68 1841  copies 1-2)
  4. Christmas Eve and Easter Day (PR 4222 .C49 1850  copies 1-3)
  5. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (PR 4200 1868   1)
  6. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (PR 4202 .T3 1872   1)
  7. Asolando (PR 4222 .A7 1890  copy 1)
  8. The Complete Poetic and Dramatic Works of Robert Browning (PR 4200 1895)
  9. Poems (PR 4202 .G37 1897  copies 1-2)
  10. The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett (PR 4231 .A3 1899  1-2)
  11. Pippa Passes (PR 4218 .A1 1900)
  12. Browning Year Book (PR 4203 .T8 1909)
  13. Robert Browning’s Complete Works  (PR 4200 1910)

― Heather Jorgenson

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