A Student’s Journey through Special Collections and the Creation of “Fields of Hay”

A student-driven project led by undergraduate Shira Buchsbaum ’19, the recently launched website Fields of Hay offers students a guide for making use of the John Hay Library and Brown’s special collections resources.

Written by Shira Buchsbaum ’19

Mary Elizabeth Sharpe and My First Foray into Special Collections

My journey to the John Hay Library was meandering and inconsistent. My first semester at Brown, my writing professor, Kate Schapira, assigned a piece that required drawing from any archive in Brown’s libraries. I picked the Mary Elizabeth Sharpe collection, which ended up being 20 boxes of letters, blueprints, photographs, contracts, and designs from Sharpe’s life.

Mary Elizabeth Sharpe was married to Henry Dexter Sharpe, the Chancellor of Brown from 1932-1952, and she was a go-getter. Sharpe designed much of the landscaping on campus, including for the then-new Sharpe Refectory and, later, the Sciences Library. She was a critical player in establishing India Point Park and fighting oil money in Providence.

I learned all of this about Sharpe in a few afternoons at the Hay, sitting with her papers and imagining the fierceness of this lady who took meticulous notes about trellises and leaf piles on our campus greens. I kept Mary Elizabeth Sharpe in the back of my head throughout my first two years at Brown, marking the John Hay Library as the place where I learned about our highly manicured campus and the woman behind it.

“Howard terrace, Pembroke College, Providence, R.I.” (1960). Landscaping directed by Mary Elizabeth Sharpe. Images of Brown. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.

A Reintroduction: Shakespeare’s First Folio and Working at the Hay

My junior fall, I stumbled back into the building during a reception and met William Shakespeare’s first Folio on the second floor of the John Hay Library. Brought to tears as I turned the pages of this nearly 400-year-old volume, I asked the lady behind the table, “Do students, like, work here?” The serendipity of that moment landed me in the midst of archives and collections once again, this time as a collections assistant.

John Hay Library’s copy of Shakespeare’s first Folio. Photo by Shira Buchsbaum.

Fields of Hay: An Undergraduate Research Guide to the John Hay Library

In our first conversation, Heather Cole, my new boss, and I discussed creating a guide for undergraduates to access the John Hay Library with more ease. I spent the next 18 months chatting with curators, requesting materials, conducting research, and honing how to convey the richness and variety of the materials here and their availability for student scholarship.

On March 7, 2019, World Book Day, we launched Fields of Hay, the undergraduate research guide to the John Hay Library. On Fields of Hay, students can learn about materials housed at the Hay, read about standing collections, find information on how to request materials, see featured projects by other students, and register student academic or activity groups for programs at the Hay. Fields of Hay aims to demystify the Hay by demonstrating its accessibility and breadth of materials to all students. It also seeks to promote student scholarship by showing that working with primary resources need not be an elite, selective process: it is as simple as finding one compelling item and spending time with it. The website aims to transform haphazard, wayward discoveries of the Hay into a far-reaching, common experience for Brown students. Fields of Hay is home base.

The Impact of Special Collections and an Invitation

I wish I hadn’t treated my interaction with Mary Elizabeth Sharpe as a one-off experience designed for a single class with no lasting implications on my life at Brown. Had I been able to return to the Hay through mechanisms designed for me – through a website that clarified how I could ingratiate myself with these materials – I would have returned sooner. As soon as students arrive at Brown, Fields of Hay can guide them to original, exciting research, or simply enjoying items connected to their interests – no strings or requirements or assignments necessary. Come on in and get started.

Shira Buchsbaum ’19 studied Anthropology and English Non-Fiction Writing and was the primary creator of Fields of Hay, under the advisor-ship of Heather Cole. She wrote her senior thesis about curatorial decision-making for the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays as reflective of changing conceptions of American literature. Any inquiries about Fields of Hay and materials or programming at the Hay can be sent to shira_buchsbaum@brown.edu.

New Film Streaming Service on Trial

The Library is running a trial of Film Platform, a streaming video service.  Film Platform brings relevant and highly regarded films from the festival circuit to the Library. Their aim is to bring these important stories to the forefront of the global academic conversation. The collection is meticulously curated by film experts and leading academics to showcase critically-acclaimed documentaries of social, political and cultural importance.

Try Film Platform at the link below:

https://login.revproxy.brown.edu/login?url=https://www.filmplatform.net/universities/brown-university

Exhibit | Spectacular Listening: U.S. Air Guitar

Photo courtesy of Whitney Young via Hidden Darkroom

This exhibit by ethnomusicology Ph.D. candidate Byrd McDaniel displays some of the memorabilia central to air guitar playing in the United States and the U.S. Air Guitar Championships in particular.  Advertised as the “greatest thing you’ve never seen,” the contemporary U.S. Air Guitar Championships stem from a long line of related practices throughout the twentieth century—such as pantomime, musical comedy, and dance—that crystallized in the late 1970s and early 1980s around air band and air guitar competitions. Byrd argues that we should think of air guitar as a type of listening—a practice in animating, translating, and transmitting rock recordings.

Air guitar competitions not only reproduce and revisit some of the classic moments in rock guitar history, but they also revise these moments, sometimes sustaining and sometimes challenging the often racist, sexist, and ableist narratives that litter the genre’s history. It can also undermine these problematic discourses as well, subordinating guitar greats and lofty values (like authenticity or virtuosity) to the tastes and talents of the amateur air guitarist.

Ultimately, air guitar playing reminds us how gesture and listening sustain important aspects of our cultural identities. It calls on us to rethink the origins of our current interactive and haptic technologies, which stem just as much from technological innovations as they do from a desire to take music recordings into our own hands.

Dates: February 12 – April 12, 2019
TimeLibrary Hours
Location: Orwig Music Library, 1 Young Orchard Avenue, Providence

Exhibit | Music Publishers Association (MPA) Paul Revere Award exhibit

The Orwig Music Library is hosting a traveling exhibit: Winners of the Paul Revere Awards for Graphic Excellence, awarded by the Music Publishers Association of the United States. The MPA gives prizes in several categories of music publishing, including different types of notesetting, design in folios, and cover design.

For more information about the Music Publishers Association and the Revere Award, please visit: https://www.mpa.org/paul-revere-awards/


Dates
: December 1, 2018 – January 25, 2019
TimeLibrary Hours
Location: Orwig Music Library, 1 Young Orchard Avenue, Providence

Exhibit | Works from “A Global History of Art & Architecture”

A course with Professors Sheila Bonde and Lindsay Caplan

Examine models and artwork created by students in Sheila Bonde’s and Lindsay Caplan’s lecture course, “A Global History of Art and Architecture”, which presents art, architecture, and material culture from cave paintings to installation art.  The works exemplify forms studied in the class.

Dates: December 20, 2018 – May 31, 2019
TimeJohn D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library Hours
Location: John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library, 10 Prospect Street, Providence

Exhibit | Entwined: Botany, Art and the Lost Cat Swamp Habitat

The exhibit showcases the rich history of art and science in Providence and provokes you to consider the consequences of environmental change on local biodiversity.  Premiering original watercolors of plants by Edward Peckham together with matching specimens from the Brown University Herbarium, collected by William Bailey and others, explore the lost Cat Swamp habitat of the Wayland and Blackstone neighborhoods on the East Side.

This exhibition is the collaborative work of the Brown University Herbarium, Rhode Island Historical Society (RIHS), Rhode Island Wild Plant Society (RIWPS), and John Hay Library.

Opening reception:  Thursday, January 10th, 4-6 PM

Dates: January 10 – April 30, 2019
Time: John Hay Library Hours
Location: Exhibition Gallery, John Hay Library, 20 Prospect Street, Providence

Exhibit | Transcultural by Design: Iranian Ceramics

Transcultural by Design: Iranian Ceramics from the Minassian Collection
Curated by Rhodes Scholar Rhea Stark ‘18.5.

From where exactly do the Islamic arts originate is the question at the center of this exhibition. While the answer perhaps seems intuitive— the Islamic Middle East—the reality is far more complex. The Islamic arts have from their beginnings existed in circulation and conversation with an array of work originating in China, India, and Europe.

Explore Iranian ceramics from the Joukowsky Institute of Archaeology’s Minassian Collection and learn about their transcultural aesthetic references.

Exhibit Lecture

Expanding the Field, Disrupting Canons:
Iranian Ceramics, Trade, and Collecting Practices

Martina Rugiadi, Associate Curator of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art will explore the historical techniques and trading practices of Iranian ceramics.

Please join us for the talk and Q&A. The lecture and exhibit are free and open to the public.

Exhibit Dates: December 14, 2018 – December 16, 2019
Exhibit TimeJohn Hay Library Hours
Exhibit Location: Willis Reading Room, John Hay Library, 20 Prospect Street, Providence

Lecture Date: Friday, December 14, 2018
Lecture Time: 5 – 6:30 p.m.
Lecture Location: Lownes Room, John Hay Library, 20 Prospect Street, Providence

Exhibit | Mail carried by Murier, an enslaved person

Letter from Christopher Scott to Nathan Nield, December 31, 1792
Brown University Library, Special Collections

This piece of paper, sent from Christopher Scott of Petersburg to Nathan Nield of Mercer County, served as both letter and, when folded, as envelope, with a red wax seal.

Known today as “slave carried mail,” this letter was carried by “a Negro woman Murier” and contains information about an exchange of Murier for another enslaved female named Christian.

The Library invites you to parse the contents of the letter. What does this artifact tell us about the history of the country? Of commerce in the U.S.? What does it tell us about the struggles women have faced as well as the fraught nature of relationships? Why is preserving items like this so important to contemporary research?

Dates: October 2 – 31, 2018
TimeJohn Hay Library Hours
Location: Second Floor Landing, John Hay Library, 20 Prospect Street, Providence

Interested in Genealogy?

The Library has added two new genealogy databases:

With more than 1.5 billion names in over 4,000 databases, Ancestry Library includes records from the United States Census; military records; court, land and probate records; vital and church records; directories; passenger lists and more!

Fold3 provides convenient access to military records, including the stories, photos, and personal documents of the men and women who served. The Fold3 name comes from a traditional flag folding ceremony in which the third fold is made in honor and remembrance of veterans who served in defense of their country and to maintain peace throughout the world.

Check these out on the Database A-Z list!

Exhibit | Japanese Ceremonial and Other Vehicles, 1890

Matsuoka
Japan: Unknown, 1890
Brown University Library, Special Collections

Selected 19th Century prints with captions from a collection of 28 double-page wood engravings of two-wheeled ceremonial and other vehicles.

Dates: July 9 – 31, 2018
TimeJohn Hay Library Hours
Location: Second Floor Landing, John Hay Library, 20 Prospect Street, Providence