From the Archives #45 — August 2019

Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

It is August, when students and faculty are beginning their return to Ann Arbor for the new academic year. Soon all these people will settle into the familiar routine of classes and meetings and deadlines. It will all be different, and yet still the same.

During their time away, these people were off scattered about the globe. They were studying, excavating, visiting with colleagues, and advancing their research. However, during their summer, they took the time to find moments for themselves. To vacation, to enjoy the various locations where they found themselves. To live where they had traveled.

Many of the archival photographs the Kelsey Museum possesses were taken by University of Michigan people, such as Easton Kelsey, E. E. Peterson, but primarily by George R. Swain. These photos show the work they were undertaking in locations such as Antioch, or Karanis, or Carthage. However, not all the photographs in the archives are of buildings, artifacts, or of U-M people at work.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a single roll of photographs taken in 1919 when George Swain was traveling for work. He turns his attention to the city he finds himself in, Istanbul. No longer simply photographing the work they are doing, he captures moments in the city, random events, interesting scenes. We see a train, the boats along the Golden Horn, people on the Galata Bridge, and an umbrella mender working on the street.

In those days, there were no digital cameras or cell phones to capture these views. Instead, Swain was using the equipment he brought with him. Most “professional” photographs were captured with a view camera using glass plates. These were heavy and cumbersome to carry. Swain also carried a smaller Kodak that used film. This was used for additional photographs, not the professional ones of artifacts and architecture, but everything or anything else. That choice is captured in the archival numbers given to these photographs (KS for Kodak Swain, KP for Kodak Peterson, KK for Kodak Kelsey, depending on who was using the camera at the time). For these, the “43” refers to the arbitrary film roll number assigned. At the time, rolls of film only had 12 frames. Swain knew he was limited in how many photographs he could take before he ran out of film.

The first frame of this roll, KS043.01, is, unfortunately, missing from the archives, so there is no image to show. However, we do have Swain’s notes, and thus know he captured the following: “Dining car with all the metal letters removed to get brass in the war presumably.”

Years from now, current students and researchers will go through their collection of photographs from their travels in the summer of 2019. Not everything was work-related, and memories will be rekindled of the adventures they went on this year.

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“The Galata Bridge, looking toward Pera.” KS043.12.

From the Archives #43 — June 2019

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

It is June, and many students at U-M have graduated, or have at least completed their courses for the academic year. Soon, local schools will be letting out as well, and thus will summer truly begin. For many, this is the time to find fun and entertaining things to do with friends and family. Festivals will pop up throughout the country, and county fairs will have rides available for children and adults alike.

This desire for fun is not limited to American students and families. People across time and throughout the world seek out such amusements. For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present an example of people creating their own entertainment.

In the mid-1920s, a team of University of Michigan archaeologists lived in Egypt as they undertook the excavation of the site of Karanis. The team’s photographer, George R. Swain, would often turn his camera on the locals to capture life in the Fayum region, where Karanis is situated. It is for this reason that candid photographs of animals, neighbors, and people playing and attending weddings dot the collection of photographs of the buildings and artifacts uncovered at the site. It is these photographs of daily life that add color to the Kelsey’s archival record of the Karanis excavations and gives us a glimpse into the lives of people in the Fayum region in the early 20th century.

Group of people around and on a homemade Ferris wheel.
“A native ferris wheel for the Moulid at Qasr Raswan.” Photograph by George R. Swain, 1920s. KM 0150.

KM 0150 is one photograph in a series of images that are largely unattributed and undated. It shows us a glimpse into the local preparations for the festivities of the Moulid, or Mawlid, the observed birth of the Prophet. Swain’s note for the photograph reads, “A native ferris wheel for the Moulid at Qasr Raswan.” Though it does not look exactly like a Ferris wheel as we might imagine one, the concept is the same, albeit on a smaller scale. This image shows us the kind of fun people were creating for themselves in Egypt in the 1920s. People were riding, spinning around, enjoying themselves. The children in the photograph are smiling.

As summer commences, many of us will seek out similar thrills. Whatever form the fun takes, the joy is universal, transcending time and space.

From the Archives #41 — April 2019

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

On Monday, 15 April 2019, the world watched as the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris caught fire and burned. Thankfully, firefighters were able to stop the flames and keep the entire building from burning down. There was much damage, but over time repairs will be made.

As soon as news hit the world of this tragedy, social media was inundated with images of people’s experiences and visits to Notre Dame, bringing the world together. 

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we share the Kelsey Museum’s connection to Notre Dame. On 23 March 1924, U-M photographer George R. Swain was in Paris and had the opportunity to visit the church. The images he took nearly a century ago are now in the Kelsey Archives. In addition to the iconic exterior views of Notre Dame, we get a glimpse of happenings outside as Swain turned his camera around to show canaries for sale in the bird market. 

Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame, Paris. Photographed by George R. Swain (undated). Kelsey Museum Archives GL00677.
Notre Dame, Paris
“Views. Facade of Notre Dame.” Photographed by George R. Swain, 23 March 1924. Kelsey Museum Archives KS234.02.
Birdsellers outside Notre Dame Cathedral
“Views. Canaries for sale at the bird market near Notre Dame. Cité.” Photographed by George R. Swain, 23 March 1924. Kelsey Museum Archives KS234.01.

In time, Notre Dame will be rebuilt, and tourists and Parisians alike will continue to pose before it. There are many photographs to remind us of what this structure looked like at various stages in its long history. Archives around the world, including ours here at the Kelsey, will preserve these memories, and will continue to document this important history.

As a keepers of history and supporters of collections, museums, history, and culture, we here at the Kelsey are grateful that Notre Dame was saved and will survive for future generations to admire.

From the Archives #40 — March 2019

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

A recurring theme in the “From the Archives” blog posts is coming across random materials and being surprised by what turns up. Often, the archives provide a fun opportunity to learn about the history of the Kelsey’s excavations and of the museum itself. As we have shown, sometimes within those papers are random tidbits that were not expected, such as a recipe for rice.

cigar box

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present this interesting cigar box. It is labeled “Spanera” and “Havana Cigarillos.” Of course, the Kelsey Museum would not normally collect cigar boxes — or cigars — but that’s not what we find when we look inside.

open cigar box

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When we open the box, we see that it was used for storing thirteen glass plate negatives. From an archaeological standpoint, we may be most interested in the images that show ancient Egyptian artifacts: Bes amulets, fish, various other gods and images, scarabs, and hieroglyphs. However, it is the plates that show people — people posing and having fun — that draw our attention. There is no information in the images about these objects and people. The clues to this puzzle are on the box itself.

As the reader can see, the cover of the box has some handwritten notes on it. First we see “Komter Scarabs I,” followed by “Egypt,” “Maria Luz,” and finally “Scheveningen.” “Komter” refers to Douwe Komter, a Dutch artist who ran an art dealership in Amsterdam from 1902 to 1926. “Scheveningen” is a region of The Hague, Netherlands. Added with the knowledge that Spanera was a Dutch cigar company, we see more evidence that this is all taking place in Netherlands. But how did the Kelsey come to have this box of images?

When we took a closer look at the pictures of people, we saw a familiar figure that is perhaps a clue to the source of the images. The kneeling man at the left in image 001, the face peeking out at rear center in 002, the man on the floor, at left, in 003 — all are a young Samuel Goudsmit (1902–1978), U-M professor of physics from 1927 to 1946, amateur Egyptologist, and friend to the Kelsey Museum. Goudsmit, his wife Irene, and daughter Esther have donated many beautiful and wonderful materials to the Kelsey over the years. In these photos we see Goudsmit in his early days in the Netherlands, his place of birth.

On page 6 of A Scientist Views the Past, the catalogue of a 1982 exhibition celebrating the Goudsmit collection, we find notes from Goudsmit about how in the early 1920s he was searching the art and antiquities dealers in Amsterdam for ancient Egyptian amulets. He couldn’t find any until he came across a small collection in D. Komter’s shop. Komter allowed Goudsmit to borrow the amulets to study, even though he did not purchase them. Are these the scarabs we see in the images?

These plates likely came into the Kelsey collection in 1981 with other Goudsmit donations. They have not yet been catalogued or incorporated into the archives. We will continue to research the images and try to figure out who the other people are. Unfortunately, a search for “Maria Luz” did not reveal much, as it is a common name. However, we hope to provide more information in the future. And we will of course continue to stumble upon more interesting finds like this.

 

From the Archives 35 — October 2018

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

Every year at this time, children and adults start dressing up as goblins and ghouls and monsters of all kinds, scaring their neighbors and friends, and decorating their homes with skulls and witches and other Halloween trends. There is a focus on the deathly, the afterlife, the things that go bump in the dark. We look to be frightened, calling upon the wicked and evil to come give us a spark.

This is not a new phenomenon. A fascination with death has a very long history. Communication and connection with the afterlife, with demons and spirits, has been known for thousands of years. Looking back at ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, there was a great amount of focus on the afterlife, for example. And the famous Greek and Roman stories are littered with cathartic moments of visiting the afterlife.

Even in the United States, death has been a popular topic since the arrival of the Europeans to the New World. Tombstones from the New England area show iconography that appears frightening to the modern viewer. Over time, skull and crossbones on tombstones changed to cherubim, appearing more welcoming and less scary.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present some rather macabre photographs. Again, we see people flirting with the dead, this time literally. Here we see several familiar names, though perhaps not as familiar faces, posing for the camera. We see Easton Kelsey, son of Francis Kelsey, posing with a skull. We see Leslie Askren, daughter of Dr. David Askren, a colleague of Kelsey’s who was a great resource and ally while working in Egypt. Finally, we see Mr. Brunton posing in a mummy case. Mr. Brunton is Guy Brunton, student of William Flinders Petrie, colleague of Joseph Starkey (the original dig director of Karanis), and archaeologist from the British School of Archaeology in Egypt. Mr. Brunton worked at Lahun, Egypt, and it appears some of the Michigan crew had a chance to visit for at least this one day, 26 February 1920 (the Karanis excavations did not commence until 1924).

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Easton Kelsey (left) and Leslie Askren (right) posing with skulls at Abu Gurab, near Lahun, Egypt, 26 February 1920. KK052 and KK053.
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Mr. Brunton in a mummy case at Abu Gurab, Egypt, 26 February 1920. KK057.

Though a fascination with the dead may still be ongoing, there are a number of differences between people working at excavations in the 1920s and our current excavators working in the field today. Though the skulls seen here may be unnamed people, they are still people. We cannot judge the people of the 1920s using today’s standards, but we can make a concerted effort to pay better respect to the people we encounter during excavations. Nameless to us, but these people had names, had families. It is on us to pay them proper respect, not to treat them as props for a photo op.

People will continue to be fascinated with death and the dead. Skulls and mummies will be party decorations for years to come. This interest is not new, but is something we share with many generations that have come before us. And likely something we will continue to share for a long time.

pile of skulls in barren landscape
Skulls and other bones from the mastaba at Abu Gurab, Egypt. KK051.

 

From the Archives 34 — September 2018

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

Every summer, members of the Kelsey Museum community travel to Italy to participate in a number of projects. Many excavate at the site of Gabii (one of three sites currently featured in the exhibition Urban Biographies). Some work for the American Academy in Rome. A few work at Sant’Omobono. Some students do all of these things, all while doing their own research.

For many students, their first time visiting Rome must include some of the highlights, including seeing the Coliseum. This structure has been a destination for tourists and scholars for a long time — long before tourism was big business. Back in the 1800s, traveling was expensive and tedious and took a long time. There were no planes, so getting to Europe from the United States required a long voyage by ship. In addition, not many people had the funds to engage in long-distance travel. For these reasons, tourism did not happen on the scale it does today.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a photograph showing the Coliseum as it looked back in 1885. Images such as this one were taken by professional photographers who would package several photographs together and sell them to schools or scholars or churches. They’d come in series, such as “View of Rome” and “View of the Holy Land/Palestine” and “Views of Greece.” People bought these photographic souvenirs in order to show their students, congregation members, and friends back home what Europe looked like.

Sepia image of the interior of the Coliseum, Rome.
1885 photograph of the Coliseum in Rome, labeled with the caption “ROMA – Interno dell’Anfiteatro Flavio o Colosseo.” KM 1961.7.1071.

However, the image of the Coliseum depicted on the obverse (front) is not the focus for this month’s post. Instead, we flip the image over to discover the following:

Cursive handwriting on yellowed paper.
Kelsey’s handwritten notes on the back of the Coliseum photo.

 

R10.                                                            3928

Colosseum, interior view, 1885.

On the difference between Roman and English ruins, see Hawthorne ‘French and Italian Notebooks,’ small ed. (Boston) pp. 54–55.

On the Colisseum:

Gibbon, ‘History of Rome,’ last chapter
Madame de Staël, ‘Corinne,’ book iv, chap. 4.
Byron, ‘Manfred,’ first part of last scene.
     ”     , ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimages,’ stanzas 128–145.
Bowden, ‘Percy Bysshe Shelley,’ vol ii, pp. 245, 246.
Hawthorne, ‘Marble Faun,’ chap. 17
Dickens, ‘Pictures from Italy,’ Peterson’s (Philadelphia) edition, p. 430.
Hare, ‘Walks in Rome,’ vol. 1.
Gregorovius, ‘Geschichte der Stadt Rom.’
Dyer, ‘The City Rome.’
Parker, ‘Archaeology of Rome – The Flavian Ampitheater.’

F.W. Kelsey

Here we have a handwritten note from Francis W. Kelsey himself, namesake of the Kelsey Museum. Not only is Kelsey sharing his comments and thoughts about this image and the Coliseum itself, but he is also giving us vital information. To people who work in archives, learning a particular person’s handwriting is a big key in deciphering other archival materials. Here, we see and can now learn to recognize Kelsey’s penmanship (though it does change as Kelsey ages). Now whenever we find unattributed notes in the archives, we can compare them to this signed note. If they match, we can safely say it is Kelsey’s note we found. And from that, we can start piecing together dates, context, and perhaps even the people being discussed.

Kelsey likely did not think of this as he made this annotation on the back of this photograph. To him, this was just a good location to make a note that would be useful to others. His concern was more for the scholarly aspect of the note rather than the archival one.

Archivists are routinely making discoveries when working in the archives, and they get to know the people captured in those archives. From their notes, we know what kind of workers they were, where they vacationed, about their relationships with family and colleagues, and their general thoughts about the world. Deciphering someone’s handwriting is a big tool for us, as it helps us piece together the archives and, often, people’s lives. We learn so much more about them from the tiny little memories they left than they ever could have imagined.

From the Archives 33 — August 2018

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

At the end of August and beginning of September, the annual migration of students, both new and returning, comes back to Ann Arbor. Roads will soon be closed off and traffic patterns thrown asunder. That one way to work we are all used to will longer be an option. Parents helping their children move into their dorms park wherever they can, often causing nightmares for the regular denizens of Ann Arbor.

Soon, those students will start venturing out on their own, making friends and filling the cafés and restaurants we locals have grown accustomed to having all to ourselves. They will form groups of friends through their residences, their departments, their activities, and their classes. They will spend much time together, forming bonds and taking a lot of group photos.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a mystery. Just like in 2018, U-M students have been gathering together since the university was founded, in 1817. With the advent of photography in the mid-19th century, they could document themselves.

Often in archives work, while working on one project, other, seemingly unrelated, materials pop up. Many times, these are “orphans,” left behind by someone who had knowledge about them, but who has since left the institution. While organizing the Kelsey archives, these three photographs were found. Sadly, they are accompanied by no documentation, no explanation.

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Group photographs of young men assembled, perhaps at the U-M campus.

These photographs are presented as a mystery, but also as a call for help. If any of our readers recognize the people captured here, or the locations, or date, or even if this is from the University of Michigan at all, we can begin piecing together this puzzle.

Astute readers will notice one clue that may assist. In the lower right corner of the first photograph is the signature “Randall and Pack.” Some research into this reveals that Randall and Pack was a photo studio active in Ann Arbor between 1908 and 1917.* That gives us a time frame for at least one of the photographs. However, all other details remain obscure.

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A close-up view of the Randall and Pack signature, alongside an advertisement in the 1917 U-M yearbook, the Michiganensian, p. xxxix.

The archives present an opportunity to save history, to save the names and faces of people who have passed through these walls. Unfortunately, this is not always easy, and we rely on our community for assistance. These students may have a Kelsey connection, but without details we may never know. And with this loss, these photographs become an oddity in the archives, rather than a memory.

* * * * *

 * Directory of Early Michigan Photographers, by David V. Tinder (Ann Arbor: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, 2013; online edition), s.v. “Randall, Herbert”; see also “Pack, Ambrose Clarkson.”