Digital Library of the Week: Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe (artist and date unknown)
Edgar Allan Poe (artist and date unknown)

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was born in Boston but spent most of his life in Baltimore. It’s the city where he married Virginia Clemm and wrote much of his poetry as well as prose and literary criticism. He died there too, at the age of 40. His cause of death is still a mystery.

Because of his connection to the city, the Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore has a wonderful collection of Poe’s writings and ephemera. They provide access to their virtual Poe exhibition as well links to other websites detailing his life and work. The collection includes letters, photographs, even part of Poe’s coffin and locks of his hair!

Poe's writing desk
Poe's writing desk

Along with the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s collection is a Maryland Public Television website, Knowing Poe – full of videos, interactive slideshows, and primary sources.

Another great Poe collection, is available from the University of Texas at Austin. They have some of his manuscripts, letters, photographs, and sheet music for songs based on his poetry.

Learn more about this terrific, and terrifying, American writer at the UArts Libraries. Search for Poe, Edgar Allan as a subject. To find his writings, and music inspired by his writings, search for Poe, Edgar Allan as an author. Enjoy, and stop back next week for more of the macabre!

“Undefeated Since 1876”? As a matter of fact, yes!

The UArts School Store’s “Undefeated Since 1876” football t-shirt is a perennial best-seller, and it turns out that there’s some truth to the joke.

An item in a Pennsylvania Museum & School of Industrial Art (today’s UArts College of Art, Media and Design) student publication from 1936 is entitled “P.M.S.I.A. Blanks Academy 18-0“, and dramatically (and tongue in cheek) recounts the football game incidents on and off the field. The Academy mentioned is the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

from the Winter 1936 "Sketchbook"
from the Winter 1936 "Sketchbook"; note that we also beat the Academy at ping-pong

Further proof of the athletic prowess of our students appears in a 1964 yearbook for the Philadelphia Musical Academy (PMA), today’s UArts School of Music. PMA played the Philadelphia Museum College of Art (yet another name change, but still today’s UArts College of Art, Media & Design) twice, with both games ended in a tie (12-12 and 2-2). The PMA students did beat the art students in a basketball game (score: 72-65), but now that we’re all one institution we can honestly say that (as far as we know!) we remain undefeated since 1876.

Philadelphia Musical Academy cheerleaders
Philadelphia Musical Academy cheerleaders from a 1965 yearbook

Digital Library of the Week: Farber Gravestone Collection

The Farber Gravestone Collection is a terrific collection documenting over 9,000 gravestones – over 13,000 photographs! Most of the photographs were compiled by Daniel Farber and his wife, Jessie Lie Farber, the collection is now sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society.

John Bartlett, 1773
John Bartlett, 1773

These gravestones largely pre-date 1800 and are very important not only as biographical records, but as a historical view of sculpture and design. Each photograph includes the name and death date as listed on the gravestone, the location of the stone (many are in the northeast United States), and data on the stone material, iconography, and additional inscriptions. If the carver is know, that too is listed.

Jessica Lie Farber has written a well-researched essay, Early American Gravestones, which is available as a pdf download. Want to learn more about gravestones? Search the UArts Libraries catalog for sepulchral monuments as subjectsepulchre is a burial vault, tomb, or grave so sepulchral means of, or relating to, the tomb.

Just for the record: LPs in the Music Library

(Photo by Lars Halle)
(Photo by Lars Halle)

A little over a hundred years ago, Enrico Caruso recorded his legendary tenor voice onto a wax disc for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company in Milan, helping to launch an industry that for the next eighty years was dominated by one medium: the phonodisc record. In the 1980s, the compact disc replaced the long-playing vinyl record (LP) in favor of what some consider to be a cleaner sound, supposedly longer shelf-life, and undoubtedly greater storage convenience. Today, compact discs are facing a similar fate, thanks to the development of digital ways to store recorded media. Today’s iPods can accommodate thousands of hours of recorded music, and it is difficult to dispute the convenience of such an amount of music stored in such a small device, versus the shelf-space the same amount of music would consume in its forerunners’ form.

That said, an immense amount of recorded music has not yet made the transfer into the digital world and survives almost solely in its immediate predecessor’s format, twelve inches tall, fractions of an inch thick, and considerably susceptible to scratches and deterioration. Since the record was the dominant medium for so long, the Music Library retains a highly selective, large collection of recordings over the course of time, and until last November, most of it remained idle.

In recent years, the Music Library has undertaken the painstaking process of weeding out duplicate and damaged items, and then manually cataloging each of the remaining 9,095 LPs in order to make them searchable in the library’s online catalog. This effort has involved several staff members, as well as student assistants, whose persistence has made the contents of our collection of LPs readily available. Many of these performances are historically significant, and provide layers of interpretive context for repertories both standard and “off the beaten track.” Furthermore, many LPs provide extensive recording documentation and performance notes that are unavailable elsewhere, even for those select recordings that have been chosen for digital re-issue.

One of our music students, Robyn Muse has discovered the library’s collection and prefers it to compact discs owing to the expansive selection of works and performances. She also finds the comprehensive program notes that accompany phonodiscs to be useful. “It helps to be able to understand what you’re listening to,” she explains.

Aside from rarity and historical significance, there is still an appeal when it comes to long-playing records. Particular groups of audiophiles claim that analog phonodisc recordings produce a different “depth” or “warmth” of sound that the digital media do not reproduce. Our student Robyn finds that compact discs sound “flat” compared to the “more real” sound of LPs. “It’s a more true representation of the artist,” she says, referring to the quality of sound on phonodiscs. “You can hear the colors better.” Sampling this experience for oneself is fairly easy. The Music Library makes available several record players in its listening area. The recordings are easily searched, and appear alongside compact disc recordings in the online catalog.

In the long run, the greatest challenge that LP-lovers face is preservation. While the digital medium is by no means permanent, its shelf-life is predicted to surpass that of its vinyl predecessor. The Music Library hopes to one day secure the funding to successfully archive all of its LP records digitally, further preserving the timeless nature of the recorded performances. Until then, feel welcome to take advantage of this vast treasure of unique recordings and get to know the medium that represented the recording industry for more than eighty years.

Have a look at these related websites:

Enrico Caruso Museum of America

British Library Online Gallery of Record Players

Emile Berliner and the Birth of the Recording Industry

Libraries in the news: Library Company of Philadelphia

Just around the corner from UArts, at 1314 Locust Street (between Broad and 13th), is a Philadelphia treasure, the Library Company of Philadelphia. A feature article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer highlights the Library Company’s outstanding collection of African American history.

Library Company interior, 1878, when it was on Fifth Street.
Library Company interior, 1878, when it was on Fifth Street. ImPAC image file ATI-p030a

Originally a private membership library founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin, the Library Company is now free and open to the public and runs exhibitions and other public events. Check out their collections, and browse through ImPAC, their digital collections catalog.

Right next door to the Library Company is another outstanding research facility, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. If you’re ever doing research on Philadelphia, find out what these stellar libraries may have to offer.