First Floor Exhibitions Explore Slavery and Abolition

The Harrison/Small First Floor Gallery is excited to announce our two summer exhibitions: “My Own Master: Resistance to American Slavery” and the mini-exhibition “‘Read, Weep, and Reflect’: Creating Young Abolitionists through Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Together these two exhibitions extend some of the themes explored in our Harrison Gallery exhibition, “Who Shall Tell the Story: Voices of Civil War Virginia. ”  Come in out of the heat and spend some time with these marvelous exhibitions. Some images to tempt you follow…


The larger exhibition, “My Own Master,” is of particular note because it is the first exhibition in memory that the University of Virginia Library has mounted on the topic of slavery (a fact discovered in discussions with long-time Special Collections staff). Though artifacts relating to slavery have been included and the topic discussed in past exhibitions, slavery has not been the sole subject of an exhibition here.  We are very pleased to end that tradition this summer. Even more exciting, in 2018 we will mount a major exhibition on the topic of slavery at the University of Virginia in the Harrison Gallery, in support of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University.

“My Own Master” showcases thirty remarkable items from the collections demonstrating some of the ways that blacks–slave, free, and freed–fought against slavery. Curator Petrina Jackson describes the exhibition’s project as follows: “When the white abolitionist Sydney Howard Gay published his four-volume A Popular History of the United States in 1876, he covered slavery and abolitionism in the final volume. He wrote, ‘the African in America whether bond or free had learned the habit of submission and had rarely shown any spirit of revolt.’ Gay wrote this even though he labored closely with black abolitionists who risked their freedom and their lives to secure the freedom of their enslaved brethren. He likewise documented the harrowing stories of fugitive slaves, who wagered everything to gain control of their personhood, their bodies, their lives. “My Own Master” challenges the notion of black passivity and shows African Americans as active agents in breaking the bonds of slavery.”

mom3The exhibition displays artifacts that document a variety of forms of rebellion: running away, planning insurrections, writing abolitionist works and manifestoes, and buying one’s own and one’s family’s freedom. It concludes with a recently acquired broadside printed by African-American leaders in Richmond a year after the city surrendered.


Portraits of black abolitionists from books in our collections are featured in the gallery and on the poster.

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Our mini-exhibition, “Read, Weep, and Reflect: Creating Young Abolitionists through Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was curated by undergraduate Wolfe Docent Susan Swicegood (CLAS 2015, Curry 2016). Curator Molly Schwartzburg asked Susan to develop an exhibition around a recently acquired early puzzle about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, which is our second such puzzle. Susan tracked down a wonderful range of children-related publications and “tie-in products” from the nineteenth century. It is not to be missed!


The new puzzle is on the left.


Games, theater tickets, and more!

uncle3Come on by and take a look!

The Media Studies Experience: Plantation Tales and Seeds of Change

We are pleased to feature a guest post by Emily Caldwell, Fourth-Year English major/Media Studies minor and blogger for The Media Studies Experience.

Although I have not spent an extensive time studying Uncle Tom’s Cabin throughout my academic career or my current course on the literature of the South, in the class, we briefly touched on the cultural significance this work had in sculpting the perception of race and racial relations in American society during the late nineteenth century.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or Life Among the Lowly is an American anti-slavery novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe published in 1852. And yes, I was lucky enough to hold a first edition. The novel was a best-selling book in the 19th-century and is credited with fueling the abolitionist movement in the United States throughout the 1850’s.

Cover of the first edition, first issue of Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1852.

Cover of volume 1 of the first edition, first issue of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852. (PS2954 .U5 1852b v.1-2. Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature. Photograph by Emily Caldwell)

Cover detail of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Cover detail of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (PS2954 .U5 1852b v.1-2. Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature. Photograph by Emily Caldwell.)

Spine of the first edition, first issue of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Spine of the first edition, first issue of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (PS2954 .U5 1852b v.1-2. Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature. Photograph by Emily Caldwell.)

Being the English Literature book nerd that I am, while I sat holding this text, I thought about how powerful a piece of literature can be as an agent of social change. However, as I looked through the crinkled and age-spotted pages, I noticed many startling passages. Since I’m currently studying Southern Literature, these classic examples racial discourses in America are fascinating to me, and I love studying how these perceptions have changed over time. In the case of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, although the novel was meant to be a force for anti-slavery, itl unfortunately introduced and reinforced many black stereotypes including “mammy,” “pickaninny,” and even “Uncle Tom” himself, who is portrayed as the faithful servant who remains loyal to his master despite his endured suffering as a slave.

Title page image from volume 1 of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Title page image from volume 1 of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (PS2954 .U5 1852b v.1-2. Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature. Photograph by Emily Caldwell.)

However, I also found many promising excerpts that indicated an undertone of great social change on the horizon. In the preface of the novel, Stowe writes,

The object of these sketches is to awaken sympathy and feeling for the African race, as they exist among us; to show their wrongs and sorrows, under a system so necessarily cruel and unjust as to defeat and do away the good effects of all that can be attempted for them, by their best friends, under it.

I found it interesting that Stowe does not outright condemn the South for these wrongdoings, but instead said, “…Both North and South have been guilty before God; and the Christian church has a heavy account to answer.” Although these words may be familiar to those who have studied the text, it is the fact that this single book, the best-selling book, second only to the Bible when it was published, is a vehicle that planted the seeds for a great shift in American society change. Even Abraham Lincoln joked that Stowe and her revolutionary ideas fueled the Civil War.

As a native Virginian (a designation some might argue today is not truly “southern”), I feel a sense of pride when it comes to where I come from. In my Southern Literature course, we discussed how there is almost a longing for an ideal south that was never really there. There is a sense of pride in what the south represents, yet also a sense of embarrassment and shame for what hateful crimes and prejudices its culture harbored in America. I believe that Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a prime example of cultural and literary history that not only began a discourse about the corrupted sociology of the South, but also reinforced disturbing, harmful and misrepresented stereotypes of African American culture that still resonate in our culture today. Although there are some aspects of our country’s history that we would rather overlook or erase altogether, they still compose our own American story.

I feel honored as a student of U.Va. to have access to first-edition copies of some of the most influential texts in the English language and Southern Literature. Literature and physical books themselves are often overlooked as important agents of exchanged thoughts and ideologies, and I can’t help but wonder where our country would be without this and other published plantation tales.

Title page detail of Uncle Tom's Cabin. ( PS2954 .U5 1852b v.1-2. Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature. Photograph by Emily Caldwell)

Title page detail of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (PS2954 .U5 1852b v.1-2. Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature. Photograph by Emily Caldwell.)

The ABCs of Special Collections: C is for

Welcome to our third installation of the ABCs of Special Collections!  We give you the letter:

C is for Condensed French, which is one of 75 alphabets represented in Frank H. Atkinson’s Atkinson Sign Painting up to Now: A Complete Manual of Sign Painting. Chicago: Frederick J. Drake & Co., 1915 (not yet catalogued. Gift of Nicholas Curtis. Photograph by Caroline Newcomb).

C is for “Calithump”

Webster’s defines “calithump” (variant spellings callithump and calathump) as a somewhat riotous parade, accompanied by the blowing of tin horns and other discordant noises.

Philena Carkin was a young schoolteacher from Massachusetts who came to Charlottesville, Virginia in 1866 as a representative of the American Freedmen’s Aid Commission to teach the newly freed slaves during Reconstruction.  Her Reminiscences of my Life and Work among the Freedmen of Charlottesville, Virginia, from March 1st 1866 to July 1st 1875 (MSS 11123) is a no-nonsense description of Charlottesville, its inhabitants, the University of Virginia, and the surrounding area.  In Chapter five she describes the “calithump” tradition among the University students:

Young men from all parts of the South and some parts of the North came here as students. Anyone living near the University would soon become impressed with the idea that it was a pretty wild and reckless crowd judging from appearances.   Probably the larger part were orderly and studious but the disorderly and reckless elements are always more in evidence from the very fact of their disorderliness, and our experience of them as neighbors did not tend to raise them in our estimation as a whole.  Woe to the unfortunate individual, be he professor or citizen of the town who in any way gained the ill will of one of these students. With faces masked, and torches made of brooms dipped in tar and lighted they would march to his house to the music of tin pans and tin horns, and surrounding the building make night hideous as only yelling demons can.  The victim might not always escape with only a Calithump.  Injury to person and property were not uncommon, and murder not unknown.

Contributed by Margaret Hrabe, Reference Coordinator

Carte de visite of Philena Carkin taken by William Roads. (MSS 11123. Photograph by Petrina Jackson)

Philena Carkin Reminiscences, 1910. (MSS 11123-a. Photograph by Petrina Jackson)

C is for Chinese Seals

Chinese seals are personal name stamps or signatures used on art, contracts, documents, etc. to signify authorship. Seals are created from a variety of materials, including stone, wood, and ivory.  The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library holds well over 300 Chinese seals, representing individuals from the richest and most powerful (such as emperors) to the ordinary (such as merchants). John Maphis donated the collection in memory of his uncle, Charles Gilmore Maphis.

Contributed by Petrina Jackson, Head of Instruction and Outreach

Chinese Seals, 800 B.C. – 1800 A.D. (MSS 6678. Gift of John Alan Maphis. Photograph by Petrina Jackson)

Chinese Seals, 800 A.D. – 1800 A.D. (MSS 6678. Gift of John Alan Maphis. Photograph by Petrina Jackson)

C is for Cotton

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a runaway best-seller, second only to the Bible in the number of copies sold in the nineteenth century. Stowe’s publisher commissioned John Greenleaf Whittier, a stalwart abolitionist, to write a poem about the character Little Eva and subsequently printed the words and music on a cotton handkerchief. This artifact of fervent capitalism shows just how deeply slavery was entrenched throughout American society: even the most zealous abolitionist message shamelessly profited from slave labor.

Contributed by Edward Gaynor, Head of Description and Specialist for Virginiana and University Archives

One score of Little Eva Song, printed on a cotton handkerchief.  The words are by John G. Whittier, and the music is by Manuel Emilio. 1852. (Broadside .S68 Z99 1852c. Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature. Photograph by Petrina Jackson)

C is for Harry and Caresse Crosby

Perhaps no couple epitomized the Lost Generation in Paris of the twenties more than Harry and Caresse Crosby. Famously wealthy, the two hosted many social events for their artist friends, and pushed the limits of acceptable behavior to the delight of a scandalized public. In 1928 they founded The Black Sun Press in Paris. This highly influential small art press published, among others, James Joyce, Kay Boyle, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Hart Crane, and William Faulkner, as well as editions of their own work. Caresse Crosby continued publishing after Harry’s dramatic suicide in 1929. Special Collections houses more than two dozen titles published by the press.

Contributed by George Riser, Collections and Instruction Assistant

Shown here is an edition of Hart Crane’s The Bridge, 1930, and Harry Crosby’s Mad Queen: Tirades, 1929. (PS 3505 .R272B7 1930b and PS 3505 .R883M3 1929 and, respectively. Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature. Photograph by Petrina Jackson)

 C is for Cross-Hatching (sometimes called cross writing)

Cross-hatching was a letter-writing practice popular in the nineteenth century.  In a hand-written letter, the correspondent wrote across the paper in one direction and then turned the paper sideways to write across it at right angles to the original writing on the same page.  This both conserved scarce paper and saved on postage costs.

C is also for cross, which is how an archivist trying to read cross-hatched letters feels at the end of the day.

C is also for cross-eyed; see above.

Contributed by Sharon Defibaugh, Manuscripts and Archives Processor

Cross-hatching used in a letter written by J. S. Wilson to Miss E. E. Richards, no date (MSS 5410. Photograph by Petrina Jackson)

Don’t forget to catch us next time when we cover the letter “D”!