Special Collections Showcase February 2024

Special Collections Showcase February 2024

Once a month, five objects from across Special Collections’ vast holdings will be on display in the lobby of Firestone Library for anyone to come and see. Here are the objects featured in February 2024:

Object 1: Black Orpheus (1957-1975)(B-002036)

Published in Ibadan, Nigeria, for nearly a decade, Black Orpheus featured poetry, art, fiction, literary criticism, and commentary from luminaries including Chinua Achebe, Gabriel Okara and Alex La Guma. Translations of Francophone African writers were made available to readers, sometimes for the first time in English. The impact of the journal’s success on English literature in Africa cannot be understated – the publication was sought after and respected worldwide, buoying and legitimizing African voices across the globe and making room for an African literary public. The aesthetics of the journal too, from the distinctive covers printed by Susanne Wenger to the art inside, influenced art and design for decades to come. In 1967, the first run of the journal ended, halted by the onset of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). Princeton is incredibly proud to hold the only known complete run of Black Orpheus, providing an invaluable opportunity to explore literature, art, printing, politics and more.

Handwritten letter

Object 2: The Peter M. Page Papers (1941-1943) (MC211

The Peter M. Page Papers contain letters written by Princeton alumni Peter Page ’41 to his fiancée Ann Pearman (neé Aiguier) during his pilot training at bases in Philadelphia, New Orleans, Pensacola, and Miami, Florida, where he was commissioned in the Marine Corps on September 1, 1942. There are also telegrams and letters from San Diego, where Page was assigned to a torpedo bomber squadron, and one letter written from the South Pacific on January 29, 1943. The letters themselves range from the mundane to the romantic to the cheeky (in one, he desperately requests Ann send him photographs of her in a bathing suit). Tragically, Page lost his life near the island of Efate during a tropical storm on the night of February 14, while he was flying his 303rd hour. In a letter to his parents earlier that day he had written: “There is a flight planned for tonight. This should be great fun if the storm holds off.” All planes ordered to Guadalcanal that night were lost.

You can read more about these love letters in a post by my colleague, Christa Cleeton, on the University Archives blog.

Page of text under the header, "The Female Husband"

Object 3: The female husband or, The surprising history of Mrs. Mary, alias Mr George Hamilton by Henry Fielding (1746) (18th-187 RHT)

Based on the true life of Charles Hamilton, Henry Fielding’s The Female Husband was an anonymously published pamphlet detailing the life of Charles Hamilton, a person whose sex was female and gender was male. Described by scholars as “one part fact, ten parts fiction”, Fielding characterizes Hamilton as duplicitous and predatory, tricking women into marrying him before they learn his gender identity. In truth, Hamilton was tried for vagrancy after being outed by his last wife, Mary Price, but there is little evidence to support Fielding’s depiction otherwise. Hamilton’s case was very much the sensation in 18th-century Britain, giving rise to the now derided term “female husband” and recalling other queer historical figures of the time such as the “Ladies of Llangollen” – Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler. Hamilton’s story and Fielding’s dramatization both speak to the long presence of gender fluidity in the West, but also the tight grip of heteronormativity.

Object 4: Great Britains Wonder (1648) (Flat file / Drawer 07 RHT) 

Damaged newspaper page with "Great Britains Wonder or Londons Admiration" showing a drawing of an open air market

In 1650, the Little Ice Age swelled to cover Europe in a brutal frost, the worst on record. As a result, the Thames, 66 feet deep and 750 feet wide at London Bridge, froze almost a foot down for two months. Taking advantage of the new real estate, residents set up a Frost Fair. You can see in this woodcut that the fair featured bull baiting, vendor stalls, livestock, games, and other merriment. To commemorate the occasion, printer Robert Walton drafted this poem and woodcut image on a broadside, meant to be posted in public spaces. As we consider a future in the grips of man-made climate change, documents like Walton’s can help historians and meteorologists not only understand the effect of past weather events on the environment but also humanity.

Object 5: Manuscript receipt book (1655) (2022-0004N)

Medieval Manuscript recipe books are very different than the cookbooks you might find in your kitchen today. These books, written in hand, often by anonymous authors, do contain recipes for food (or “cookery”) but also alchemy, spells, and remedies. This book is mostly white or benevolent magic and contains information like the steps needed to make women dance naked in the streets, find lost or stolen things, or ward off thieves. There are also close-up magic tricks, lines from scripture, and a list of rare books. Prior to the professionalization of medicine, there was a much more blurry line between doctor, healer, mage, and cook, particularly when a woman was the one who held these skills. These books have become a site of renewed fascination today, speaking to histories of mysticism but also gender, medicine, astronomy and science.  

Join us at the next showcase in the lobby of Firestone Library on March 28 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. for a new round of objects!