memo

Motivation station: A look at workplace motivational posters from the 1920s

While you are pondering your favorite Demotivators poster, consider the history of the motivational poster genre. It turns out our predecessors in the Greatest Generation needed to be inspired or, perhaps more to the point, advertisers decided they needed to tap the group’s general deep sense of faithful commitment to shape their behavior in the workplace.

action posters
An introduction to the series

 

In the early 1920s, salesman Charles Howard Rosenfeld proposed a series of motivational posters for workers to Charles Mather, who worked for his family’s Chicago printing house, the Mather Company. These “Constructive Organization Posters” were sold by subscription in over 300 varieties between 1923 and 1929.  In 1925, Rosenfeld and another Mather Company employee left to form their own printing company, C. J. Howard Inc., in order to sell their own line of “Action Posters.”

memo
Caption: The cards were 7” x 4.75”, designed to be displayed individually on workers’ desks on an easel.

 

xmas
The cards were printed as multicolored lithographs, often with striking designs. Unfortunately, the designer is not credited.

 

We have 28 examples of these “Action Posters,” printed instead as a set of cards promoting work habits and qualities that would help the business employee to advance. They hold up examples of those who: consciously earn their fellow workers’ respect, keep healthy and happy, do not worry or gossip, remain loyal to the company, provide accurate work and work steadily, seek constant improvement, have a winning attitude, make good suggestions, take criticism well, and follow through on instructions. All of these traits were in contrast to so-called problem employees, who were unhealthy, resentful, lacking in motivation, and destined to be employed elsewhere in the very near future.

parrots
A not-so subtle message about prattling at the water cooler.

 

new year
The Action Posters include seasonal well-wishes for employees.

 

We wish you Happy Holidays, no matter where you find your motivation.

Find more information, visit the catalog record for this item.

Post contributed by Alice Poffinberger, original cataloger/archivist for small manuscript collections. 

2

Tizhe Lizanguage bizof Lizovers: Carny Latin Reincarnated

While I processed a collection of correspondence between two lovers, a handful of letters stuck out. Martha Simpson, then Martha Eleanor Booker, a young African American woman working on her teaching degree at Elizabeth City Teachers College, had a penchant for writing in code. Paul Simpson, her love interest, did not share the same inclination, but did indulge her in his responses. As I read through the letters, the code used in three of them piqued my curiosity. My search revealed that the code used seems to be a form of carnival Pig Latin, also known as Czarny, Z-Latin, or Carny (Hautzinger 30).

1

Martha first sneaks in her secret code at the closing of a letter from January 10, 1951, with a little taunt, “Ha, ha, I bet you can’t read it.” Paul’s response to this letter, dated January 13, 1951, briefly acknowledges that he, indeed, could read her secret language with the opening line “Dizear Cizheré,” before continuing his letter unencumbered by the extra z’s.

2

But Martha doesn’t give up.  She continues the code in a response from January 17, 1951, written half in this “z-language,” eventually switching back to conventional English.

3

Martha’s next letter clearly was not on pink paper (did you catch that one?), but she did keep on with her code. The secret language was formed by inserting iz after the first consonant, and if there was no consonant present, beginning the word with biz. In linguistic circles, this is known as iz-infixation and has been linked to rap and hip-hop music. Examples include Frankie Smith’s 1981 hits Double Dutch Bus and Slang Thang (or Slizang Thizang), both of which boast the iz-infix in their lyrics. More recent examples include work by Snoop Dogg and Kanye West (Viau 1). But these letters come decades before the iz-infix made it big in music, and the question remains: Where did this secret language come from?

We think the answer is this: carnival slang. Published accounts of Carny go back to 1926 (Russell and Murray 401), well before Martha was writing to Paul. It was a language immersed in the subculture of the carnival, intended to distinguish between outsiders and the true Carnies, given the questionable legality of the carnival. Sarah Hautzinger describes it as a dialect that “rearranges English to make it unintelligible to the unenlightened ear” (32). In Czarny, “a Z-sound is inserted after the first consonant, and if the word begins with a vowel, before the vowel sound, in the first syllable only” (32). This certainly seems a lot like the iz-infixes found in the letters between Martha and Paul. Rumor has it that this carny talk found its way into popular culture years later.

Whether or not their secret language was descended from Z-Latin, the coded (and uncoded) correspondence between Martha and Paul D. Simpson provides an interesting read. Recently acquired by the Rubenstein, these roughly 300 letters detail the love, life, and struggles of a young African American couple on their way to becoming teachers.

For more information on the Martha and Paul D. Simpson Papers, check out the collection guide.

For further reading on Carny Latin and the iz-infix, see:

Hautzinger, Sarah. “Carnival Speech: Making the Jump.” Journal of American Culture, 13: 29–33, 1990. Web. 16 December 2014.

Russell, Carol L. and Thomas E. Murray. “The Life and Death of Carnie.” American Speech, Vol. 79 No. 4: 400-416, 2004. Web. 16 December 2014.

Viau, Joshua. “Introducing English [IZ]-Infixation: Snoop Dogg and bey-[IZ]-ond.” 2006 LSA Summer Meeting, 24 June 2006. Web.  16 December 2014.

Post contributed by Janice Hansen, a Ph.D. student in Germanic Languages &  Literature and Technical Services intern at The Rubenstein. 

glass eyeballs

Glass eyeballs and amputating saws and enema syringes, oh my!

As Curator for the History of Medicine Collections in the Rubenstein Library, I often feel I have one of the best jobs in our library.  I have the opportunity to work with wonderful people, but also remarkable rare books, manuscripts, and a wonderful collection of material objects.

amputating saw

Amputating saw

Over the years, a number of generous donors have given a variety of instruments and artifacts to the History of Medicine Collections. These items are often used in classroom instruction and teaching, and enrich and enliven exhibits and displays. The depth and breadth of this collection represents advances made in science and medicine, and reflect the importance of our historical understanding of material culture.

glass eyeballs

Glass eyeballs

Artifacts range in date from the 17th century to today, with many aspects of medicine highlighted in the collection: surgery, gynecology, pediatrics, and more. That “more” category includes items like our prosthetic glass eyeballs, the irises of which are all blue. These hand-blown glass items were intended to serve as prosthetic eyes. In a box reminiscent of a Whitman’s sampler, these eyes were made in a variety of sizes with differing tints of yellow and white. This box would have been used and carried by a traveling salesman of sorts – a person who visited doctors’ offices and sold them to patients in need.

A remarkable collection guide is now available to document the range of historical medical artifacts we have in our holdings.

enema syringe

Enema syringe

I’m often asked by students and researchers what my favorite item is. It really changes on a weekly basis. Currently, I’m intrigued by our range of microscopes. They are quite beautiful, span several centuries, and some include ivory specimen slides – with specimens!

microscope

Box mount microscope

 scope2

Screw barrel microscope

Some of my other favorites? Female pills and dental keys. Why were these female pills created and what are they? When I ask students, they often answer that it’s really just Midol.

female pills

Female pills

The dental keys really illustrate how medical technology has evolved in tooth extraction. The illustration below shows how a dental key would be used. This image is from the monumental work by J. M. Bourgery, Atlas of human anatomy and surgery, that includes a translation of his work and colored facsimiles. Of note, we also have the nine volume original work of Bourgery.

dental chart

key

Dental key

A tremendous amount of thanks go out to so many people: our donors who have generously given such wonderful materials; previous staff of the History of Medicine Collections who researched these items, provided descriptions, and took photos that we can now share; and current staff from the Rubenstein Library’s technical services department and DUL digital projects – all who have made this guide possible.

What will your favorite item be?

Post by Rachel Ingold, Curator for the History of Medicine Collections in the Rubenstein Library.

The Desserts!

Eating at the Rubenstein Library

We are still digesting the feast that was Wednesday’s Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen tasting event, but the bloating has died down enough for us to be able to share some photos from the celebration!

The Desserts!

Delicious sweet potato custard pie, apple kuchen, and blueberry pie, ready and waiting to be devoured! And we’d only just recovered from Thanksgiving!

There was so much eating to be done, but Duke people are very determined people.

Getting food!So much eating!

Here’s Rubenstein librarian Elizabeth Dunn serving Soldier Soup!

Serving soup!

And, to our very great surprise, the Velveeta-creamed corn ring was gone in the first half hour of the event. We’d even made two! We retract any previous skepticism about the appeal of this most excellent “cheese food.”

No more Velveeta!

Of course, we had the historical cookbooks and advertisements that provided the sources for our wonderful recipes out on display (with the stipulation that there could be no simultaneous browsing and eating; goblin sandwich filling would be tough to get off a 1777 cookbook…..).

Students looking at Rubenstein Library cookbooks!

Our intrepid taste-testers received zines containing all of the recipes and made by Rubenstein Library staff. If you couldn’t make the event, you can download a PDF copy of the zine here: Test-Kitchen-Zine-2014

Thanks to everyone who attended! We’ll have another tasting event—featuring recipes from our next round of test kitchen blog posts—in the late spring!

J. Walter Thompson owl logo

150 Years of J. Walter Thompson Co. History

J. Walter Thompson owl logoOn this day in 1864, William J. Carlton and Edmund Smith established the Carlton & Smith advertising business in New York, NY. A few short years later, the agency hired a young man by the name of James Walter Thompson. Initially hired as a bookkeeper, Thompson would ultimately purchase the company from Carlton in 1878 and change the agencies name to the J. Walter Thompson Co. It would go on to be one of the largest and most enduring advertising agencies in the world with more than 200 offices in 90 countries around the world.

In 1987, the agency placed its corporate archive in the Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library here at Duke University. The archive consists of roughly 5,000 linear feet of material and 160 individual collections including the papers of nearly 60 former executives, the records of six offices, 25 departments and functional centers, and over a dozen “artificial” collections such as writings and speeches, agency publications, and newsletters. Navigating this web of interconnected collections is enough to intimidate the most seasoned archival researcher, including library staff.

To help tame the wilderness of the JWT archives, Hartman Center staff, led by Technical Services Archivist Richard Collier, along with our colleagues in Digital Project Services, created an online portal to the JWT archive. We hope the portal will facilitate researcher navigation and discovery of material within the archive and help JWT commemorate its 150th year of operation.

Screen capture of the J. Walter Thompson timeline.
J. Walter Thompson Co. timeline

The portal consists of three major features: an interactive timeline (part 1 and part 2); an administrative history of JWT; and a list of collections associated with JWT in the Rubenstein Library. The timeline feature marks important dates in the history of JWT. You can scroll from event to event using the arrows or—if you were interested in learning about the agency during World War II for instance—you can scroll through the timeline bar and select a specific event.

7 Up's timeline entry.
7 Up’s timeline entry.

The second feature of the portal is an in-depth administrative history of JWT. This portion of the portal presents the history of JWT in a more linear fashion. Entries in the administrative history cover several basic topics: people, accounts, offices, innovations, and general company history. Researchers can trace when the company hired important personnel; acquired large, long-term clients such as Unilever, Ford, Kraft, Eastman Kodak, Kellogg, RCA, and the United States Marine Corps; opened national and international offices; technical achievements and innovations in radio, television, and print advertising; and other tidbits of company history such as milestones in billings and the history of the agency’s corporate branding. Each entry is illustrated with relevant photographs, advertisements, and internal documents.

Screen capture of Associated Collections featureThe final feature of the portal is perhaps the most important component of the timeline. To further assist researchers in making connections between JWT’s corporate history and collections in the archive, we have included a list of associated collections with published online guides.

The timeline has been split into two sections: the first covering 1864 through 1930 and the second into the 2000s. We encourage you to explore the images, advertisements, records, and archival collections documenting the agency’s 150 years of operation. And, of course, Happy Birthday, JWT!

Post contributed by Josh Larkin Rowley, Reference Archivist for the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History.

CentennialExecCttee

Durham’s Beardy Bros

We have collections and rare books from so many far-flung locations, but we occasionally come across historical materials documenting life right here in Durham.

Brush Brothers Plege BookThe city of Durham’s centennial celebrations took place from April 26th through May 2nd of 1953, and people were excited! Excited to reflect on how much Durham had progressed and also on what changes might or should take place in the next hundred years. A particularly strange way in which some chose to celebrate the occasion was to join the Brothers of the Brush. Never heard of ‘em?

Spearheaded by Dante Germino, an engaged Durham resident who worked for the Herald-Sun Co. at the time, the fund-raising effort collected $1.00 per member; and the 3093 members pledged to do their “civic duty” by growing and maintaining a “moustache, full beard, goat-tee, or side-burns” throughout the celebrations. If a member failed to keep his promise he was brought before a Kangaroo Court of his peers.

Roster of the Brothers of the Brush

Evidence from newspapers at the time show that many local businesses took up the challenge. Check out these fellows at Coman Lumber.

Coman Lumber Advertisement, Durham Herald-Sun, April 26, 1953.
Coman Lumber Advertisement, Durham Herald-Sun, April 26, 1953.
Coman Lumber Signatures from the Brothers of the Brush Registry.
Coman Lumber Signatures from the Brothers of the Brush Registry.

Want to find out if a local family member of yours was an official Brother of the Brush? We’ve got the registry in our holdings for you to peruse; and we’ve also got local newspapers from that time.

Times have changed. These days, with so many hipsters out and about in Durham, we’d have an easy time collecting funds from bearded folks throughout the city. We could use Duke Libraries’ button-maker to make buttons for participants! We’ll have to wait until 2053 for the next centennial, though.

Dominique has a lovely beard!Post contributed by Dominique Dery, Research Services Intern, who may or may not have the lustrous and full beard pictured at right.

SLA2053

Now Accepting Applications for our 2014-2015 Travel Grants

Researchers! The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2014-2015 travel grants.SLA2053

The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture,  the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, and the History of Medicine Collections will award up to $1,000 per recipient to fund travel and other expenses related to visiting the Rubenstein Library. The Rubenstein also offers the Eleanore and Harold Jantz Fellowship, a $1500 award for researchers whose work would benefit from use of the Jantz Collections.

The grants are open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, independent scholars, artists, and activists who live more than 100 miles from Durham, NC and whose research projects would benefit from access to collections held by one of the centers.

Please note that the Rubenstein Library will be closed to the public from July 1st, 2015 through August 23rd, 2015, while we relocate to our newly renovated space. These dates are subject to change.

More details—and the grant application—may be found on our grants website. Recipients will be announced in April 2015.

Construction of the main building at Sonthofen, from Der Weg zur Ordensburg by Robert Ley, 1936

Building the Gottmensch: The Library of Ordensburg Sonthofen

A grim symbol is stamped inside nearly 60 books at the Rubenstein Library: the eagle and swastika; symbols of the German Nazi Party. The markings also indicate that the volumes belonged to “Ordensburg Sonthofen.” What was this place, what constituted its library, and furthermore, what happened to its holdings?

KIC Image 1
Der Wille zum Kind

In 1933, the same year Adolf Hitler’s party came to power, the Ordensburgen were built as elite training facilities for high-ranking officers in the military called Junker. The program was under the direction of Robert Ley, and the purpose of instruction was, as he stated in Der Weg zur Ordensburg, for the “spiritual and philosophical education of the NSDAP.” Qualifying candidates between the ages of 25 and 30 were sent to three facilities and spent a year at each: Vogelsang in the Eifel, Krössinsee in Pomerania, and Sonthofen in Allgäu. Each facility had its own training focus. The focus of instruction at Sonthofen, intended to be the third and final year of training, was diplomacy and administrative tasks. The libraries at each location would have facilitated such research and instruction.

Construction of the main building at Sonthofen, from Der Weg zur Ordensburg by Robert Ley, 1936
Construction of the main building at Sonthofen, from Der Weg zur Ordensburg by Robert Ley, 1936

Although the exact story of how Sonthofen’s books ended up at the Rubenstein is unknown, Nazi-related material did come to the United States through the efforts of the Library of Congress and were then distributed to institutions throughout the country, including Duke University. The program was called the “Cooperative Acquisitions Project for Wartime Publications,” and details about the program can be found in Volume 16, number 2 of the Duke University Libraries magazine. Parts of German libraries and archives, if not destroyed outright at the end of the war, were broken up and distributed. Tracking down the remainders of the collections, which can be aided by the ownership stamps, and analyzing the content, is invaluable for understanding the operations of facilities such as Sonthofen.

Rohstoffe und Kolonien
Rohstoffe und Kolonien

Analyzing the stamps and markings in the Rubenstein’s collection can help to at least partially recreate the library at Sonthofen and give insight into its functioning. Some books are marked “Hauptbücherei” (main library), while others are marked with specific group or class designations such as “Seminar Völkische Behauptung” (racial assertions). This shows, for example, that the instruction at Sonthofen was not strictly limited to understanding military strategy. Titles in the collection also indicate a variety of subjects, including Was wir vom Weltkrieg nicht wissen (What We Don’t Know About the World War), a justification of rapid militarization after World War I, and Der Wille zum Kind (The Will to Child), part of a series called “Political Biology,” which encourages procreation to build the perfect Aryan race.

The opening of Vogelsang in 2006, held until then by the Belgian military, created the opportunity to investigate the ultimate destination of its library. For example, Michael Schröder (article in German) reveals that of what is thought to be almost 70,000 items, 40,000 were probably plundered or destroyed, and the rest ultimately ended up at the University of Bonn. The opportunity is here for a similar investigation to be conducted regarding Sonthofen, also now a historical site, and its 57 books held by the Rubenstein present a window to view its history. This material is also just a small part of the rich German language holdings at the Rubenstein Library, which also include the extensive Harold Jantz collection.

Post contributed by Sarah Carrier, Research Services Coordinator

dominique icon

Corn, Rice, and Beef Casserole & Blueberry Pie (1982)

This is the last post in our pre-Thanksgiving Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen series. We hope you’ve enjoyed exploring our collections through food and found some find some historical inspiration for your own Thanksgiving. If you’re local  join us on December 3rd from 3-4:30 in Perkins 217 for our tasting event and a chance to sample these recipes!

FullSizeRenderWhen I set off on my hunt for a recipe for my turn in the Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen, I knew only that I wanted a fun challenge. For a search that began with nothing in particular to guide it, I found a very lovely little book that seemed perfectly suited for me in my task. One thing I love about working in the Rubenstein Library is that I’m never sure what I’ll come across in a day’s work but I’m always delighted or intrigued by what I find, and this book was no exception! It is an artists’ book called Light and Flaky: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother: a Cookbook (1982) and was made by Lise Melhorn-Boe. The work combines Melhorn-Boe’s mother’s memories of experiences and adventures in cooking along with recipes from these stories and photographs of her mother throughout her life. And the handmade paper that covers the book is made from tea towels, aprons, tablecloths and dish cloths. The book was collected by the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture here at the Rubenstein.

In the spirit of the book’s many memories about cooking for a large family, I chose two recipes to make for the lovely family that lives next door to me. The recipes I chose also give a good sense of the work as a whole, since these recipes are accompanied by touching and silly remembrances and photographs. I made a Corn, Rice, and Beef Casserole and a Blueberry Pie for my friend, her parents, and her two boys (4 and 8 years old respectively).

CasseroleRecipe

BlueberryPieRecipe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I began my cooking adventure as soon as I returned home from the Rubenstein one evening: I first made the pie crust. The recipe calls for an all-Crisco crust, and I just happened to have a very very old tin of it in my cupboard. Perfect! Also slightly disturbing, since I couldn’t figure out where it came from. I didn’t tell my guests that, though! I let the crust chill for a while as I assembled the casserole.

CasseroleDish2It’s an extremely simple recipe. I cooked up a cup of rice, opened a can of corn, browned a pound of ground beef, and threw everything together in a dish to bake for 20 minutes at 350. I thought I’d jazz up this plain casserole just a bit for my special guests, and added onions and a dash of ground cloves (a flavor sensation that I picked up from my own mom) to the meat, and threw a bunch of cheddar on top towards the end of its baking. When the dish was cooked, I also chopped up some parsley and chives from my porch for a tasty garnish. This was an easy and fast recipe to fix for a bunch of folks at a moment’s notice, and there could be endless improvisation depending on what you had on hand.

Back to the pie: When the time came during my preparations to roll out my crust, I had a lot of trouble keeping it together. My guess is that I hadn’t given it enough time to chill. But I was determined to have everything done in time, so I pressed shards of it into my pie dish anyway, in a slapdash and frantic fashion, and poured in 3 cups of blueberries that I’d frozen from the summer (tossed with flour, sugar, butter, lemon juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg, as the recipe suggests). Although the recipe noted that this crust would be enough for two, I didn’t find that to be the case, so I also whipped up a crumble topping with flour, brown sugar, butter, and spices.

output_CeVEHb

Things came together just in time after all. The casserole was warming and hearty, and a good reminder that cooking for friends doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. I noticed that one of my young taste-testers ate it up in a flash and quickly disappeared under the table to begin tying guests’ shoelaces together. I took this as an excellent review.

DinnerPlate

The pie wasn’t done until after the boys’ bedtime, which means that I had a lot leftover and have been enjoying it with ice cream for breakfast ever since. Despite small disasters in its making, and although it won’t supplant my tried and true butter-only pastry crust recipe, it was pretty delicious. It was also fitting that it would give me trouble since, in one of the stories in this book, Lise’s mother Pauline recalls summers when she would bake wild blueberry pies with her aunt; on one such occasion, her aunt mistakenly uses salt instead of sugar. Even in their attempts to hide the evidence of their error from an angry mother, they are beset with trials: “We tried burning [it] in a little old iron stove – we just had enormous clumps of large crystals, which we dragged out to the garden, and covered with earth and tears.” Luckily, no tears were shed in the making of my pie misshapen though it was.

DessertPlate

I looked at this book alongside another by Melhorn-Boe called Recipes (2001), also part of the Sallie Bingham Center’s collection. It is housed in an old recipe card tin, and contains memories and reflections of several women about family and food, typed on recipe cards and divided by topic — including “Atmosphere” (stern, relaxed, in silence, in front of the television), “The Cook” (stories about mothers and fathers and how they shared kitchen work, or didn’t), “Force-feeding” (thoughts about weight, body image, and abhorrent foods forced upon the writers – like lima beans!), and “Manners” (mouths closed, guests served first, elbows off the table).

RecipesBook

Both works are funny and sweet (and sometimes bittersweet), and contain much food for thought about women’s roles in the kitchen and in the domestic labour of family life generally, and how these have changed over time.

Post contributed by Dominique Dery, Research Services Intern

sweet potato custard icon

Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: Sweet Potato Custard (1870)

recipes cropFor this week’s test kitchen, I made a Sweet Potato Custard from a recipe in the November 1870 issue of The Rural Carolinian. The Rural Carolinian was “An Illustrated Magazine of Agriculture, Horticulture, and the Arts” published out of Charleston, South Carolina that provided advice and information on a number of topics that would have been of interest to farmers. Other articles in this issue include “How to Utilize Forest Leaves,” “Prickly Pear or Cactus,” and “How to Prune a Peach Tree” as well as more general interest reading such as “Anesthesia — What Is It? And to Whom are we Indebted for it?”

Each issue of The Rural Carolinian also included recipes, part of the magazine’s “Literary and Home Department,” which was intended to appeal to women, broadening the magazine’s audience. They sought submissions from women, asking them “Will not our dear friends, the ladies, interest themselves in our behalf and help us to make this department an attractive feature of The Rural Carolinian.”  The recipes included aren’t necessarily what we think of as recipes, under recipes this issue has instructions on how to make “family glue” and lamp wicks. However, this is in line with the older sense of the word which encompasses any “statement of the ingredients and procedure required for making something,” per the Oxford English Dictionary.

When I originally saw this recipe, I was interested, thinking, “I’ve never had sweet potato custard before!” Especially next to recipes like family glue, pumpkin chips, and apple water, it seemed unusual and intriguing. I didn’t read the recipe all the way through at first, and I missed the part where you put it in a pie crust, making it a not-so exotic sweet potato pie. Even still, I wanted to see how it compared to our modern sweet potato pies.

sweet potato custard crop

Like a lot of pre-twentieth century recipes, the recipe is minimalist in its approach and doesn’t offer detailed directions. The recipe calls for four sweet potatoes, and I bought four originally, but I think the sweet potatoes sold at my farmers market are monsters compared to what was available in 1870, so I used only two of them.

all ingredients

The recipe didn’t specify what to do with them beyond boiling and mashing, so I peeled and cubed them first before tossing them in a pot of boiling water until they were soft, about twenty minutes. After that I added the “two large spoonsful of butter,” which I interpreted as just over two tablespoons of butter, as well as a little salt. Then I got to use my potato masher, which only gets used at Thanksgiving. This gave me two cups of mashed sweet potato, which ended up being enough to fill my pie and then some.

Next four eggs “beat light,” sugar, spice, and milk or cream are mixed in with the mashed sweet potatoes. As Aaron noted in his post about rice apples, the lack of specifics in a recipe would have allowed for flexibility and improvisation based around what you had in your pantry. I appreciated this when the recipe called for milk or cream to thin it out, since all I had in the house was half-and-half. But I was a little flummoxed by the “teaspoonful of ground spice” called for. Was this referring to some particular spice that if I were cooking in 1870 would have just known? As a good librarian, I did some more primary source research and looked at other recipes from the era. As far as I could tell “spice” didn’t mean any particular spice, and there wasn’t one spice that dominated recipes of this time period. Cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, and cloves all come up frequently. I settled on half a teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of nutmeg which was a tasty choice, but I think any common spices would be good.

IMG_1760

There was also the matter of a half-pound of sugar.  Before Fannie Farmer popularized standard and level measurements of cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons in her 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, recipes offered looser measurements (hopefully your household cups and spoons were similar in size to the recipe author’s!) or if you were lucky weights. But I don’t have a scale and had to do a little converting. According to Farmer, one pound of sugar is equal to two cups, so I added a cup of sugar to my potato mixture.

IMG_1762IMG_1765

After combining all this, it is to be poured into a “rich pie crust” that had been rolled thin and put in a pie plate. Interestingly, no pie crust recipe was offered, which makes me think the author thought everyone would have had a pie crust recipe at the ready. I went with a basic all-butter crust. Given the number of other recipes in The Rural Carolinian that call for lard, a crust with lard would have been more authentic, but I wanted my vegetarian friends to be able to partake.

The final direction is to “bake brown.” Grateful for a modern oven where I have the ability to set a temperature, I went with 350.  I kept waiting for my pie to get “brown” and it never quite got there, so I took it out after an hour. This may have been a little too long; it did crack once it cooled.  Next time, I’d check it at 45 minutes and if the center seemed cooked thoroughly, I wouldn’t worry about it getting brown.

IMG_1766

Despite the slight overcooking, this was a very good sweet potato pie. There was nothing that distinguished it from any more modern sweet potato pies I’ve eaten though.  I took a look at some modern recipes and they’re remarkably similar, though they usually have more butter and fewer eggs in them. I think I’ll actually fix this again for Thanksgiving, though I want to try pairing it with an ahistorical maple bourbon whipped cream.

IMG_1767

Want to make history this Thanksgiving? Every Friday between now and Thanksgiving, we’ll be sharing a recipe from our collections that one of our staff members has found, prepared, and tasted. We’re excited to bring these recipes out of their archival boxes and into our kitchens (metaphorically, of course!), and we hope you’ll find some historical inspiration for your own Thanksgiving.

Post contributed by Kate Collins, Research Services Librarian

Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University