Each year around May, people in and around Ann Arbor start heading to Nichols Arboretum to see the blooming flowers and trees, the signs of spring returning to our area. This year, Nichols will not be planting their regular peony gardens, but people will still be making their way to the arboretum to see what other colorful flowers are growing.
And as the weather continues getting warmer, more people will venture out to their gardens and start planting their own flowers and plants. Soon our neighborhoods will be full of brilliant, beautiful colors and amazing smells. (Sorry, allergy sufferers!)
Flowers and natural beauty have been a source of joy and happiness for thousands of years. The natural world decorated the walls, pottery, and other items of the ancient world. Stroll through the galleries of the Kelsey Museum and you will see many examples of nature-inspired motifs on a wide range of objects.
So, too, did our predecessors at the University of Michigan appreciate the beauty of flowers. For this month’s “From the Archives,” we bring their flowers to you. Though not as brilliant and vibrant as the flowers you can see and smell in the gardens of Matthaei and Nichols, they evoke the beauty that people share no matter where they are. George R. Swain captured the beauty of flowers in England, France, Greece, Egypt, Belgium, Palestine, and Turkey, in gardens, placed near monuments, growing in the wild, and for sale. In his photographs presented here, we see a funeral procession, a decorated cenotaph, flower vendors in Brussels, someone’s private home garden. Swain was sure to point his camera everywhere while traveling with the U-M teams.
Soon, Ann Arbor will be full of flowers and beauty. We will wander the parks and gardens appreciating what we see, often stopping to snap our own photos to share. We are continuing a practice so many people have enjoyed for so long.
Jerusalem. Some of the formal flower beds in the garden of Gethsemane. KS129.02.
Brussels, Belgium. Flower vendors in the old Grand Place. KS236.03.
London, England. Peace centotaph, erected 1919. Many flowers at the base. KS011.01.
Athens, Greece. Palace Gardens. Flower beds, two palm trees, other trees and shrubbery beyond. KS210.04.
Athens, Greece. Flower stalks of the century plants up on Lycabettus. KS212.06.
Cairo, Egypt. Flower beds and walk at Gezireh island. KS160.12.
Cairo, Egypt. Flower bed in foreground, looking toward two palms with path and bridge below. KS160.05.
Cairo, Egypt. A funeral procession coming along a main street — note the flowers. KS147.08.
Cairo, Egypt. Flower bed with palm trees beyond, Gezireh island. KS160.10.
Cannes, France. Approach to a villa — flowers, palms, other trees. KS246.10.
Cairo, Egypt. Flower beds, shrubbery and lawns, Gezireh island. KS160.04.
Cairo, Egypt. View in the park on Gezireh island. Flower beds in blossom at the left, trees (including palms) scattered about. Road down the center passing under bridge of palm logs. Expanse of lawn at the right, with shrubbery beyond. A lovely park. Size, 9 1/2 x 32 1/2 in. Cirkut027P01.
London, England. Cookham and vicinity. Just a flower garden out in front of a house. KS222.10.
Cairo, Egypt. Ezbekieh gardens, flower beds and vista down a walk. KS142.11.
Antioch, Turkey. Aqueduct and its source. Rounded masses of pink flower, up in the hills near the stream. KS281.06.
Go to the store during the month of February and you are likely to run across several aisles worth of Valentine’s Day gift ideas. Of course, there are chocolates and candies, stuffed bears and other critters, and countless other possibilities to give to a loved one, a child, whomever you wish. February 14th and the days leading up to it are flooded with hearts and Cupids and other symbols of love. It is rather difficult to avoid it all.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present our own Cupids in the collections. Though the Kelsey Museum has quite a number of Eros/Cupid artifacts (figurines, sculptures, even coins), this month we choose to share the photographic art held at the Museum, photographs taken primarily in the second half of the 19th century. Though exact dates are not associated with the individual photographs, we know many of them were created in the 1860s and later. Some of the images are attributed to Michele Mang, an Italian photographer who was active in the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s. We also hold photographs from John Henry Parker, who collected or commissioned photographs of Italy (read more about Parker in Passionate Curiosities: Tales of Collectors & Collections from the Kelsey Museum, by Lauren E. Talalay and Margaret Cool Root).
In general, the photographic collection at the Kelsey shows art and architecture found across Europe and Near East. The photos here focus on representations of Cupid, primarily in Italy. Some are of sculptures, others of frescos, and one a mosaic. They show Cupid in a number of forms and at a range of ages. We see the baby-like Cupid in KM 2000.1.3210, where he sits at the feet of Apollo, and in KM 2000.1.1696, where several representations hover around Hercules. In several depictions — KM 2000.1.2884, 1961.8.70, 2000.1.2782, and 2000.1.1879 — Cupid is a young boy, no longer a baby. A slightly older Cupid is depicted in images such as KM 1961.8.950, 1961.8.958, and 2000.1.2435, among others. Cupid as a young man is seen in KM 1961.8.633, 1961.8.634, 1961.8.635, and 2000.1.2518.
KM 2000.1.3210. Sculpture – Villa Ludovisi (1) – The fine group of the sitting Mars, reposing with a Cupid at his feet. It was found in the precincts of the Portico of Octavia and restored by Bernini. It is supposed to have formed part of a group of Mars and Venus. Published by John Henry Parker.
KM 2000.1.1696. Curious mosaic found at Porto d’Anzio, now in the Capitoline Museum. The subject is Hercules, pining for love of Omphale, who is represented by a Cupid, while a lion is being tied up by other Cupids. This mosaic expresses the proverb, Omnia vincit amor, Love conquers all. Published by John Henry Parker.
KM 2000.1.2884. Lateran Museum – Sculpture – A pretty group of a cupid on a dolphin, very much restored. Published by John Henry Parker.
KM 1961.8.70. Two statues from Pompeii: Etruscan warrior and Cupid. Photographer: Anderson.
KM 2000.1.2782. Villa Albani (157) – Bas-relief representing the Cyclops Polyphemus seated, while a cupid at the back induces him to sing. Published by John Henry Parker.
KM 2000.1.1879. Fresco painting from the Thermae of Titus and Trajan, AD 75–100. A Cupid driving a white dove in a meadow. From a drawing engraved in a scarce book on these thermae by De Romanis.
KM 1961.8.612. Cupid. Unknown photographer.
KM 1961.8.613. Cupid. Attributed to Michele Mang.
KM 1961.8.950. Cupid. Attributed to Michele Mang.
KM 1961.8.2364. Cupid of Praxiteles. Unknown photographer.
KM 1961.8.2373. Cupid. Unknown photographer.
KM 2000.1.1674. Sculpture – Statue of Cupid with his bow, in the middle of the Capitoline Museum. This was a celebrated figure of which many ancient repetitions are extant. The original is supposed to have been by Lysippus. Published by John Henry Parker.
KM 2000.1.2435. Vatican Museum (495) – Statue of Cupid in the act of drawing his bow. It was found, broken in several pieces, near the Lateran. Published by John Henry Parker.
KM 1961.8.958. Cupid and Psyche.
KM 1961.8.960. Cupid and Psyche. Attributed to Michele Mang.
KM 2000.1.2743. Capitoline Museum – Group of Cupid and Psyche. Published by John Henry Parker.
KM 1961.8.633. Head and torso of Cupid of Praxiteles? Unknown photographer.
KM 1961.8.634. Detail of Head of Cupid of Praxiteles? Unknown photographer.
KM 1961.8.635. Head and torso of Cupid of Praxiteles? Attributed to Michele Mang.
KM 2000.1.2518. Vatican Museum (250) – Half-figure of Cupid found at Centocelle, near the Via Labicana, and sold by the Scotch painter Gavin Hamilton to Pope Clement XIV. It is a very perfect figure and is supposed to be a copy of the celebrated Cupid of Praxiteles. Published by John Henry Parker.
The Kelsey has several depictions of the same work of art, or similar works of art, perhaps taken by different photographers at different times. We attribute some works to certain photographers, but the rest are unattributed.
Cupid/Eros was and still is a popular subject in both ancient and modern art. Though modern popular culture often shows Cupid as a pudgy baby with wings and the famous bow and arrow, he did not always take this form. The collections at the Kelsey Museum demonstrate some of the variations of Cupid that exist. Next time you are at the store purchasing Valentine’s Day gifts, remember that those gifts could include a very different depiction of the famous God of Love.
Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Cathy Person, along with the work of conservators Suzanne Davis and Caroline Roberts and registrar Michelle Fontenot, the Kelsey Museum has kept rather busy over the last few years with class visits to the Museum. Every semester, hundreds of students come through to view our displays, speak with the staff, and learn about museum work. On top of that, the Kelsey Museum provides an added benefit to students: the opportunity to handle ancient artifacts associated with their classes. Students and instructors from Classics, History of Art, Middle East Studies, English, History, German, and a slew of other departments are routinely visiting and getting to work with our collections. This likely would have made Francis Kelsey happy, as he began collecting in order to give students the opportunity to see firsthand the items that they were reading about in their books.
The students who get to work with artifacts have the distinct pleasure of handling some rare artifacts, and some very old ones as well. The Kelsey brings out ceramics such as ancient Greek and Roman amphorae, fish plates, and kylikes, textiles, mold-made figurines and lamps, papyri, cartonnage mummy masks, stelae, Latin inscriptions, glass vessels, amulets, and many coins, among many other types of artifacts. The items are chosen for specific classes, so students can better grasp the lessons being taught.
More and more, the Kelsey is also making its archives available for these classes as well. For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a selection of archival photographs that were used for instruction during the past year. In this group, we see photographs from Egypt, Italy, and Greece. Created by three photographers — George R. Swain, Easton T. Kelsey, and an unidentified photographer — the images show various aspects of archaeology: artifact remains, architecture, landscape, as well as the human toll of disaster.
Photos 5.1790 and 5.3342, both taken by Swain, give the viewer a glimpse of finds from Karanis, Egypt. These are often used to demonstrate how people in Karanis, as elsewhere in the world and through time, would hoard and hide their belongings. 5.1790 shows letters written on papyri hidden underneath a threshold. Image 5.3342 shows a pot that contained a hoard of coins. Perhaps the person who hid it intended to return and collect the coins for later use.
Photograph 2003.05.0014 was taken by a professional photographer, probably as part of a series that could be sold as a souvenir. These photo collections (Views of Italy, Views of Egypt, etc.) were common in the 1800s, when traveling was not as easy as it is today. This particular photograph demonstrates the destruction and devastation wrought by Mt. Vesuvius when it erupted in 79 AD and covered various cities in towns in southern Italy, including Pompeii, where this photograph was created.
KK267 and KS209.02 are views of Athens and the Acropolis. They were taken by Easton Kelsey, son of Francis Kelsey, and George Swain, respectively, in the 1920s.
The Kelsey Museum provides opportunities for students and other visitors to see not only artifacts, but also the papers, maps, and photographs we also care for. These materials are here for study, as research is not artifact-based only. We have hosted a number of classes that have looked at non-artifact collections, and we expect more to come in the future. Those students will have a deeper experience as a result.
In December, many of us spend a lot of time at local stores perusing goods that we think would make great gifts for our loved ones. We spend hours trying to find the perfect gift, the item that shows how we think about those we care about, whether they are close to us or far away.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we go one hundred years back in time, to December 1919, to find a University of Michigan staff member far from home but doing the same thing — going to shops and markets, perhaps to find souvenirs to send back home to Michigan. In 1919 and 1920, U-M photographer George R. Swain accompanied Francis Kelsey on an expedition through Europe and the Mediterranean region. Their goal was to document classical sites as well as to identify sites that might have potential for future excavations.
Here we present seven images taken by Swain in Istanbul — or Constantinople, as it was referred to then (some photo captions refer to the area of “Stamboul”). While traveling, Swain photographed not only archaeological artifacts, sites, and structures, nor did he focus solely on collections at other museums. Almost everywhere he went, Swain turned the camera around to his surroundings, to the people in the area, offering us a glimpse into life in those countries at that time.
The photos shown here cover a time period of 20 days, from 5 December to 24 December 1919. Swain captures life at several shops and businesses in Istanbul. We see a person fixing umbrellas. A cobbler’s shop. A busy corner at the bazaar. Bread and fruit for sale. All the shopping Swain chose to capture.
These photographs allow us to see what the city was like one hundred years ago. People who visit Istanbul now will notice many similarities, but also many differences. The bazaar, though altered, remains. Maybe some of those same shops are still there! And the sentiment is the same. People going about doing their shopping, purchasing items they need, or gifts for friends and family. Now in 2019, we continue doing the same.
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.
“Dining car with the metal letters in place, at least at the top.” KS043.02.
“The coat of arms, apparently, of the sleeping car company.” KS043.03.
“The umbrella mender sitting on the sidewalk on a typical street.” KS043.04.
“Typical view on one of the modern streets. At this time, signs in French were allowed.” KS043.05.
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.
No caption. Another view on the Golden Horn, to show number of small sailing craft. KS043.06.
“Up the Golden Horn from the Galata Bridge, ferry steamer in the foreground.” KS043.07.
“Another view on the Golden Horn, to show number of small sailing craft.” KS043.08.
“Down stream from the Galata Bridge.” KS043.09.
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.”
“Up the Golden Horn, to show multitude of sailing craft.” KS043.10.
“View toward Pera and the Galata Tower.” KS043.11.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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:
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.’
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.