Category Archives: Rare Books

Hitting the Books in North Carolina

Kids across North Carolina will begin trudging back to school this month, trading in the freedom of summer for the mysteries of the hypotenuse and iambic pentameter. Many of them will, of course, be asking that age-old question: why do I have to learn this? As a young North Carolinian, I frequently puzzled over the usefulness of math, plate tectonics, and why knowing that President Taft got stuck in a bathtub was so essential to my educational development. Did my predecessors complain about school? Undoubtedly. What would they have been complaining about? That is the question this post sets out to answer.

The Rubenstein Library holds many items that offer a glimpse into North Carolina school rooms during the 19th century. Schools of the past would be unrecognizable to students today.  Early North Carolina schools were rarely described in positive terms and helped contribute to the state’s reputation as the “Rip van Winkle state.”  Until the 1880s, public education in the state was a local affair. County school boards reigned supreme while the state superintendent had little power and remained a distant figure in Raleigh. School funds were largely raised at the local level and many school buildings were built by local community members. Schools were small, often just a single room, and operated in four-month sessions to accommodate students who were needed on the family farm. The curriculum for young North Carolinians reflected the common school model that was popular in 19th century America. Students of all ages and levels were taught in one classroom by one teacher who relied on memorization and repetitive oral exercises to educate the group. A student learned at his own pace, and grades, as we think about them today, did not exist. There was also an emphasis on moral instruction. Local communities saw schools as the place (other than church) to form good, responsible citizens for the future.

1908 certificate from Durham Public Schools showing photographs of the county’s four graded schools.
1908 certificate from Durham Public Schools showing photographs of the county’s four graded schools.

As it did with most aspects of American life, the Civil War brought change to the classroom. This transformation was slow- attempts to improve the school system were hampered by the state’s poverty following the war and budget woes that lingered into the 1870s and 1880s. But as the state slowly became a more urban one, railroads extended their reach, and industrial growth offered new lines of work, state leaders recognized that a new educational model was needed if the state was to join the modern “New South.” To that end, school reformers turned to the graded school model that first took hold in antebellum New England. Graded schools were based on standardization. Students were promoted to a new grade level only after they had met a certain criteria. Written examinations, rather than public oral recitations, became a way of marking progress and obtaining a good grade was necessary for academic success. Memorization gave way to an emphasis on students understanding the information and being able to apply what they had learned. The first graded schools in North Carolina opened around 1870, but began to spread across the state in the 1880s and 1890s

1860 common school register from Forsyth County, North Carolina.
1860 common school register from Forsyth County, North Carolina.

The school register shown above provides a place for teachers to list the “books used” for instruction. The Rubenstein Library has a number of these registers from across the state and a fairly long list of textbooks used by students can be generated through the registers. Luckily for us, the library holds many of the listed titles.

If I had been a student in the 19th century, The Elements of Algebra would have been my least favorite textbook. Unlike the large math textbooks of today, this volume fits easily in one hand and is filled with text. Problems are immediately followed by solutions. The equations and steps needed to solve the problem are rarely shown. The problems are strikingly practical. For children in the rural South, learning to calculate the number of oxen a farmer purchased would seem like a useful skill. Calculating the length of cloth or the division of a man’s estate upon his death would also have been familiar to students.

Page from The Elements of Algebra with word problems about wine, cloth, and sheep.
Page from The Elements of Algebra with word problems about wine, cloth, and sheep.

Like math books, spelling books or spellers are commonly listed in the registers. The state of North Carolina published its own speller in 1892 and it is a surprisingly good read. Described as “a complete graded course in orthography,” this book was a product of the state’s graded school movement. Tailored to North Carolina classrooms, the preface explains that the book is intended to “aid Southern children in acquiring the pure language of America as it is found in the South.” In addition to listing practice words of increasing complexity, the book provides passages and poems that can be used to practice spelling the words in context. These chunks of text are often quotes from prominent North Carolinians, like Zebulon Vance, or lofty odes to the wonders of the state. My particular favorite is the anonymous passage that says “You must love your State very much. It is the best land on earth for a good home. Do not think that you can find more joy in some State far off, for all who go from our State soon want to come back.”

Learning to spell in North Carolina also means learning that your state is the best.
Learning to spell in North Carolina also means learning that your state is the best.

Geography seems like it would have been the most fun subject for students. Matthew Fontaine Maury’s geography books were popular and heavily illustrated. Maury’s First Lessons in Geography takes students on a trip around the world. One lesson begins with an invitation: “Would you like to go to sea? Suppose we take an imaginary voyage from Norfolk to Spain, that certain things may be explained to you, and your lessons made easier to learn.” Readers are taken on a journey through all of the continents and make brief stops to learn about each area. During a stop in China, students would learn about foot binding, rice, and religious beliefs. Writing in the late 1870s, Maury, unsurprisingly, has few good things to say about non-Western people. The Chinese, for instance, are described as starving “heathens.” Maury, however, can hardly find anything negative to say about England, France, or, of course, the United States.

Young North Carolinians go on a voyage to China.
Young North Carolinians go on a voyage to China.

We’ve come a long way from the one-room school house. Our textbooks and school records look significantly different than they did in the 19th century. It has been a while since I took the SAT, but I doubt casks of brandy or “the pure language of America as it is found in the South” were involved. While the lack of constant standardized testing and four month school terms may seem exciting to students today, I remain grateful that I went to school in a time of air conditioning and indoor plumbing.

Leloudis, James L. Schooling the New South: Pedagogy, Self, and Society in North Carolina, 1880-1920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Post contributed by Brooke Guthrie, Research Services Coordinator. 

New Acquisitions Roundup: The Gay Coloring Book

This week we’re continuing last week’s celebration of the beginning of a new fiscal year by reviewing some notable items and collections that arrived here at the Rubenstein Library in the past year.

gay coloring book cover

The Gay Coloring Book
The Guild Press, 1964

Only a handful of these rare coloring books are known to exist. Chronicling the life of Percy and his friends through 24 drawings, The Gay Coloring Book was one of the first books published by the Guild Press to take readers into all-male social spaces such as gay parties and gay bars, as well as the sexual cruising scenes in public parks, public bathrooms, alleys, and bathhouses. The coloring book features illustrations by George Haimsohn, who also published gay fiction under the name Alexander Goodman.

Post contributed by Jennifer Scott, Bingham Center Public Services Intern

New Acquisitions Roundup: Haytian Papers

This week and next, we’ll be celebrating the beginning of a new fiscal year by reviewing some notable items and collections that arrived here at the Rubenstein Library in the past year.

In 1816, Prince Saunders published the 1st edition of the Haytian Papers. A Collection of the Very Interesting Proclamations and other Official Documents, Together with Some Account of the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Kingdom of Hayti, in London.  Saunders, an African American educator and former instructor at Boston’s African School, had been appointed as an advisor to Haitian emperor Henri Christophe in that same year. The first American printing of the Haytian Papers was published in 1818 in Boston as an extension of Saunders’ work to promote emigration to Haiti by black Americans.HPapers_3crop

HPapers_2The Haytian Papers volume presents a compilation of fascinating state documents, including correspondence between Christophe and French officials addressing France’s attempts to retake Haiti after the independence revolution that took place nearly ten years prior to the book’s publication. Saunders is especially careful to articulate in his introduction that the Haytian Papers are also proof of the intelligence and capacity of the black leadership and citizens of the country.

This recent acquisition by the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture is now available for use.

Post Contributed by John B. Gartrell, Director, John Hope Franklin Research Center

New Acquisitions Roundup: Flipping the Flaps

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be celebrating the beginning of a new fiscal year by reviewing some notable items and collections that arrived here at the Rubenstein Library in the past year.

Building upon the success of our 2011 exhibit Animated Anatomies, our anatomical flap book collection in the History of Medicine continues to grow with the acquisition of an eighteenth century work by Christoph von Hellwig.

Nosce te ipsum, vel, Anatomicum vivum, oder, Kurtz gefastes doch richtig gestelltes anatomisches Werck by Christoph von Hellwig [1720]

This work is the second revised edition by the German professor Christoph von Hellwig (1663-1721) of Johann Remmelin’s Catoptrum microcosmicum first printed in 1619 and includes over 90 very small and fragile moving parts of the human body. Hellwig’s four plates illustrate the skin, nerves, vessels, muscles, and bones; the female reproductive system; the male viscera and cranium; and the female viscera and cranium. The images depict intricate details through lifting the flaps.  This particular item has a later addition of modesty flaps over the genitalia in facsimile. A student of philosophy and later medicine, Hellwig authored and edited over forty medical and pharmaceutical works, including household medical guides and reports of unusual cases.

Post Contributed by Rachel Ingold, Curator of the History of Medicine Collections

A Bitter Look at the Sweet History of Brown Sugar

Amari Victoria Stokes was a student in Kelly Alexander’s Our Culinary Cultures course offered in the Fall 2015 semester in the Center for Documentary Studies. Utilizing Rubenstein Library resources, students in the class were asked to explore the history of a culinary ingredient of their choice, find a recipe that exemplified their chosen ingredient, and prepare it for the class. The following is Amari’s research paper submitted for the class.

Ginger DropsTwo eggs well beaten, one-cup brown sugar, two teaspoons ginger, one-cup N.O. molasses (boiled), one-teaspoon baking soda, flour to roll out. Mix in the order given. I poured the molasses into a pot and watched small bubbles form and subsequently burst as the dark liquid began to heat. As the molasses boiled on the stove, I started mixing the ingredients in the order specified in the recipe. After the eggs had been beaten furiously with my new silver whisk, I began to measure the brown sugar for what I hoped would be a delicious dessert.

Sticky and compact, I remember struggling to handle this strange sugar during family barbeques as we seasoned our meat. As I thought about it, I realized besides an occasional pineapple upside down cake, outside of barbeque, I couldn’t recall ever having used brown sugar. Why was that, I asked?

The story of brown sugar begins, unsurprisingly, with the story of sugar. Sugars are natural ingredients found in most plants but what we have come to known as sugar is often extracted from sugarcane and sugar beets. Sugar cane, from the genus Saccharum, was originally cultivated in tropical climates in South and Southeast Asia.1 Neither should it be a surprise that the road from brown sugar to white sugar looks very much like the roads taken to get to white bread, white flour, and white cotton. All have similar histories where the unnatural but white version is preferred or is seen as a higher quality than the browner, natural varieties.2

Three hundred years after being introduced to Europeans by Christopher Columbus in 1492,3 by the 19th Century, sugar was considered a necessity.4 This evolution of taste and demand for sugar had major economic and social implications for the entire world. As a result of this demand, tropical islands were colonized and sugarcane plantations began ‘cropping up’ in record numbers. Consequently, the demand for cheap labor to assist in the labor-intensive cultivation and processing of sugarcane contributed greatly to the transatlantic slave trade, which displaced many African peoples.5

As I turned down the heat on the molasses to allow it simmer, I carefully added ground ginger. Watching the ginger disappear into the creamy brown concoction, I thought back to my ancestors. It wouldn’t surprise me if at some point in history one of them had made the same treat for her master’s children while her own children toiled in the hot sun picking cotton or harvesting sugarcane.

Continue reading A Bitter Look at the Sweet History of Brown Sugar

Upcoming Talk: Scientists, Midwives, & Healers in the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection

Date: Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Time: 4:00 PM
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library Room 153
Contact: Laura Micham,
RVSP (optional) via Facebook

Maria Sibylla Merian. De europische insecten. Tot Amsterdam: by J.F. Bernard, [1730].
Maria Sibylla Merian. De europische insecten. Tot
Amsterdam: by J.F. Bernard, [1730].
Join the staff of the Bingham Center as Duke History Professor Thomas Robisheaux gives a lecture on the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, highlighting his use of works by naturalist and artist Maria Sibylla Merian. The lecture is free and open to the public; light refreshments will be served.

In celebration of:

Heralding the Way to a New World: Exploring Women in Science and Medicine through the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection

On display in the Michael and Karen Stone Family Gallery from January 20th to April 1st, 2016

From the first entomologist to capture the stages of metamorphosis of the butterfly (1705) to the author who published the first comprehensive volume on contraception (1923), the women in this exhibit were pioneers in science and medicine. Whether self-trained or classically educated, they not only made groundbreaking contributions to their fields, but also helped open the way for future generations to follow in their footsteps. Despite their accomplishments, most of these women remain overlooked or under-recognized.

This exhibition highlights the stories of seven revolutionary women in science and medicine and celebrates the arrival of the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, from which these materials were selected.

Frederik Ruysch’s Anatomical Art

Anatomical specimens emerged as an art form near the end of the seventeenth century. Although they may seem morbid today, at the time of creation, they were viewed as striking a balance between the scientific and the artistic. They served to educate people on human anatomy as well as to remind them of the fleeting nature of life.

Illustration from Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica, ca. 1737.
Illustration from Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica, ca. 1737.

One of the more notable creators of anatomical art is Frederik Ruysch, a Dutch botanist and anatomist who lived from 1638 to 1731—an impressive 93 years in a time when many died young. A capable researcher, Ruysch was the first to describe bronchial blood vessels, the vascular plexus of the heart, and the valves of the lymphatics. However, his real interest lay in anatomical preparations, and he has been described by a recent biographer as “probably the most skilled and knowledgeable preparator in the history of anatomy” (Gould, p. 20). Ruysch served as the chief instructor to midwives and the “legal doctor” to the court of Amsterdam. Through these positions, he had easy (and legal) access to the bodies of stillborns and dead babies.

The preparations were initially created to use in his classes, but they eventually gained an interest from the public. To showcase his vast collection (he created more than 2,000 from 1665 to 1717 alone), he opened his own cabinet of curiosities to the public, which for many marked the first time they were able to see human internal organs. The collection was also noteworthy because of the lengths to which Ruysch went in an effort to make the specimens appear more natural. For example, embalmed children were clothed or held bouquets of preserved flowers. In 1717, Peter the Great, who was an admirer of Ruysch, purchased the entire cabinet of curiosities for 30,000 guilders. The collection was then shipped to St. Petersburg, and along with the cabinet of curiosities formed by Albertus Seba, they became the core of the Kunstkammer—the Academy of Sciences of Russia’s first public museum.

Although a number of Ruysch’s wet preparations still exist today (a fact which he would find unsurprising), none of his dry specimens have been located. He used fetal skeletons and other body parts to create multi-specimen scenes. These scenes served as the centerpieces for each of the literal cabinets within the rooms of his museum. As Gould points out, these tableaux were focused on allegorical themes such as death and the transience of life. The small skeletons are decorated with symbols of death and short life: mayflies rest in hands, skulls weep into handkerchiefs made of mesentery, and snakes made of intestine wine their way through bones. Today, these still-life scenes exist for us only through second-hand descriptions and, fortunately, through a number of engravings.

Fortunately for those interested in seeing these illustrations up close, the History of Medicine Collections has two volumes from the multi-volume Opera omnia anatomico-medico-chirurgica. On October 29, from 2-4 pm, they will be on display as part of Screamfest in the Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room.

Recommended Reading:

Post contributed by Amelia Holmes, Josiah Charles Trent Intern for the History of Medicine Collections.

Screamfest III: The Cutening

Date: Thursday, October 29, 2015
Time: 2:00-4:00 PM
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room
Contact: Amy McDonald,

Y’all, we hear you. The semester is getting more and more intense and sometimes Duke is just so . . . gothic, you know? Sometimes you just need to eat some free candy and look at cute things. And what better time to do that than in celebration of that traditionally cute holiday, Halloween?

Your cuddly Rubenstein librarians would like to invite you to visit us for Screamfest III, an open house featuring creepy ADORABLE things from our collections.

Halloween Postcard
Like this postcard of these sweet black kitty-cats, bringing you Halloween joys in their happy hot air pumpkins.

Illustration from Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica, ca. 1737.

Or this illustration of these precious babies from our History of Medicine Collection’s Opera Omnia Anatomico-Medico-Chirurgica by Frederik Ruysch. Yes, fine, they’re skeleton babies, and they’re standing on a pile of human organs, but they’re totally listening to a song by The Wiggles.

Ghost at the Library. From the 1984 Chanticleer.

You can also page through the 1984 Chanticleer to view the photos of this friendly library ghost, who just wants to bring you fuzzy slippers so you can study comfortably.

Demon Miniature from Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of Role-Playing Games.

And sure, scourge and sword-wielding demons are very scary when they’re life-sized. But swing by our open house and you’ll be able to bravely make kissy-faces at this little dude (paperclip for scale) from the Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of Role-Playing Games.

In fact, we promise that there will be so much cuteness (and candy) that, well, you might die. See you there!

New Collection Spans Five Centuries of Women’s History

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University has acquired one of the largest and most significant private collections on women’s history, documenting the work and intellectual contributions of women from the Renaissance to the modern era.

Isotta Nogarola, humanist, 1418-1466, from Jacopo Philippo Bergomensis' De Claris Mulieribus, 1497
Isotta Nogarola, humanist, 1418-1466, from Jacopo Philippo Bergomensis’ De Claris Mulieribus, 1497

Carefully assembled over 45 years by noted bibliophile, activist and collector Lisa Unger Baskin, the collection includes more than 8,600 rare books and thousands of manuscripts, journals, ephemera and artifacts, including author Virginia Woolf’s writing desk.. Among the works are many well-known monuments of women’s history and literature, as well as lesser-known works produced by female scholars, printers, publishers, scientists, artists and political activists. Taken together, they comprise a mosaic of the ways women have been productive, creative, and socially engaged over more than 500 years. The collection will become a part of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture within the Rubenstein Library.

Cabinet card sold by Sojourner Truth to support her work, 1864 Photographer is unknown
Cabinet card sold by Sojourner Truth to support her work, 1864
Photographer is unknown

The materials range in date from a 1240 manuscript documenting a respite home for women in Italy to a large collection of letters and manuscripts by the 20th-century anarchist Emma Goldman.  The majority of materials were created between the mid-15th and mid-20th centuries. Other highlights include correspondence by legendary American and English suffragists and abolitionists Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Emmeline Pankhurst and Lucretia Mott; Harriet Beecher Stowe’s publicity blurb for Sojourner Truth’s Narrative, written in Stowe’s own hand; exquisite decorated bindings by the celebrated turn-of-the-century British binders Sarah Prideaux, Katharine Adams, and Sybil Pye; and Woolf’s writing desk, which the author designed herself.

Baskin and her late husband, the artist Leonard Baskin, were both avid book collectors. Leonard also founded The Gehenna Press, one of the preeminent American private presses of the 20th century. Lisa Unger Baskin began collecting materials on women’s history in the 1960s after attending Cornell University. She is a member of the Grolier Club, the oldest American society for bibliophiles.

“I am delighted that my collection will be available to students, scholars and the community at Duke University, a great teaching and research institution,” Baskin said. “Because of Duke’s powerful commitment to the central role of libraries and digitization in teaching, it is clear to me that my collection will be an integral part of the university in the coming years and long into the future. I trust that this new and exciting life for my books and manuscripts will help to transform and enlarge the notion of what history is about, deeply reflecting my own interests.”

Materials from the collection will be available to researchers once they have been cataloged. Some items will be on display in the renovated Rubenstein Library when it reopens to the public at the end of August 2015.

For more information about the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection visit

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!