Monthly Archives: May 2017

When “Fake News” Was Fun

The world of classical studies was abuzz in November 1961, when American archaeologist and antique dealer Christopher Wakefield announced the discovery at the Citadel of Mycenae in Greece of a grave containing two skeletons and a trove of gold and bronze artifacts.  Describing the find in detail, Wakefield reported that an arm band on one skeleton identified it as that of Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra who, according to myth, perpetuated an ancient curse when he killed his mother and her lover after they had dispatched his father.  Wakefield delivered his stunning news in a letter to Laban Lacy Rice, a Dixon, Kentucky native, former president of Cumberland University, and himself a scholar of ancient Greece.  Rice sent the letter to the Associated Press, and from there the story flashed across newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.

Authorities in Athens, however, quickly denied any such discovery, and news outlets more cautious than the AP raised eyebrows at the claim.  Then came the real story: the whole thing was a “classical hoax” perpetrated by Rice himself.  After reading a book on such ruses, Rice had invented “Christopher Wakefield,” right down to his phony stationery, and written the letter himself.  He filled the account of Orestes’ tomb with such archaeological detail that many American scholars took the bait; some even claimed to know the fictional Wakefield personally.

The joke surprised Rice’s fellow citizens in Lebanon, Tennessee, who knew the erudite 91-year-old—the multilingual author of several books, accomplished amateur astronomer, and expert on Einstein’s theory of relativity—as being somewhat on the humorless side.  But Rice calmly regarded the prank as one of many intellectual challenges he had successfully attempted during his long life. Mirroring this academic trickery was his skill at athletic deception: during his student days at Cumberland University, he had been a star curve ball pitcher.

The papers of Laban Lacy Rice, including the story of his “classical hoax,” are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Evansville Courier cartoonist Karl Knecht's portrayal of the "classic hoaxer"

Evansville Courier cartoonist Karl Knecht’s portrayal of the “classic hoaxer”

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Reflections of a Connie Mills Intern

My name is Sean Jacobson, and I am a graduate assistant in the History MA program at WKU. This spring, I completed the Connie Mills Special Collections Internship. For someone who wants to pursue a career in public history (click here for a description of public history), the Connie Mills internship provides an excellent opportunity to introduce yourself to a wide range of work within a special collections library. Over the course of the semester, I spent a total of 120 hours working among three units of Library of Special Collections: WKU Archives, the Kentucky Library Research Collections, and Manuscripts & Folklife Archives.

Each of these units exposed me to diverse projects on subjects I found very interesting. In the WKU Archives, I worked with accessioning the papers and records of Thomas Cherry Tichenor (1912-2009), who was a notable WKU alumnus and Kentucky educator. He was also a grandnephew of WKU founder Henry Hardin Cherry. I was responsible for going through the raw records received from Tichenor’s family members and accessioning them into an organized collection. For the purposes of WKU Archives, I created specific folders related to his time at Western Kentucky State Teachers College during the 1930s, particularly in his involvement in the College Heights Herald and the Talisman. With the hundreds of letters also a part of the collection, I sorted them by content, dates, and persons. Depending on their subject, I then divided these letters between WKU Archives and Manuscripts collections.

From there, I switched units and worked in the Kentucky Library Research Collections (KLRC). Here, I worked in the ephemera collections – in particular, the records of First Baptist Church of Bowling Green. Over the past year, First Baptist has donated much of their church archives to the Library of Special Collections in preparation for its bicentennial anniversary in 2018. Because a collection from an organization like First Baptist will continually create new materials as long as it exists, I learned how important it is for archivists to plan for future expansions when creating an organizational system. By making a skeletal structure for all of First Baptist’s ephemeral items (programs, Bible class yearbooks, newsletters, etc.) within the Past Perfect collection software, I gained an appreciation for the significant role it has played in shaping both the Bowling Green community and the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

Following the KLRC, I also learned how to create online access to research collections with the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit. I developed and uploaded into the library’s TopScholar database finding aids for numerous small collections. These collections ranged from Civil War letters, correspondence between lovers during World War II, Kentucky court records, and political papers. Through inserting each collection’s metadata into online database, I learned the importance of keyword choices and search terms to provide ease of access for researchers around the world. The advent of online database entry has completely transformed the way special collections libraries operate. When online resources are successfully utilized, it multiplies the ways the public can interact with the collections and gain cultural appreciation.

My experience as a Connie Mills Special Collections intern has been highly beneficial for me. This fall, I will begin a joint PhD program in Public History and American History at Loyola University Chicago, where I will continue to build upon the public history skills I have gained this semester at WKU. I am very appreciate to Mr. Jonathan Jeffrey for providing me this opportunity and for his mentorship and desire for me to excel. I am also indebted to Dr. Marko Dumančić of the History Department for his support in allowing me to do historical practice both inside and outside the classroom.

If any students are interested in the Connie Mills internship and scholarship for next semester, he or she should contact Jonathan Jeffrey by phone at (270) 745-5265 or by email at jonathan.jeffrey@wku.edu.

 

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A Hairy Experience

The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit of Library Special Collections has acquired an unusual 1842 petition signed by 17 Harrison County citizens attesting to an unusual growth of hair on thumb and fingers of fourteen-year-old Penelope Stout and confirming that they knew the character of Penelope’s family.  Seven of the petitioners had actually seen the hair growth, ten others “never saw any hair But believe it upon the Confidence and Judgement I place in others.” Questioning a family’s character in this sense, typically meant they suspected her of devil worship or witchcraft.

The unusual phenomenon merited a full paragraph in Richard H. Collins’ History of Kentucky published in 1871. “Dr. Carson Gibney,” Collins noted, “a graduate of Transylvania medical school, practicing at Leesburg,

Petition acknowledging the mysterious hair growth on the fingers of Penelope Stout.

Harrison County, Ky., was called, Nov. 1, 1841, to see Miss Penelope Stout, daughter of Thos. H. Stout, of that place, a young girl of 13 years of age.  He was informed that for some days past, Miss Penelope had been giving off from the thumb of her right hand quantities of hair, varying in hue and thickness–portions of it occasionally appearing thick and harsh, and constructed precisely like hog-bristles; and again it would come long and soft and silky and beautiful as the hair on her head.  It would emanate most frequently from the end about the nail, but often about the thumb joints, leaving not a single trace on the surface of the skin to tell whence it had come.  When grown to a certain length the hair would drop off, creating at times no sensation at all, at others producing a numbness about the arm, such as is produced by the foot sleeping.  Some four or five inches in length.  This singular action or disease had been going on constantly for six weeks, when the account was published.  She was taken to Lexington, and other physicians were consulted to learn the cause of the phenomenon, but unsuccessfully.  Hundreds of citizens visited the wonder little stranger.  No charge was made for admission.”

The growth persisted for at least two years on Penelope’s right thumb.  The unwanted hair, did not hurt her marriage prospects nor result in exile.  In 1845 she married a merchant and county surveyor ten years her senior named Amelius Eggleston Ames.  She gave birth to her first daughter at age 16 and a second when she was 18.  She did not live beyond her youngest child’s second birthday and died in 1849.

To search other finding aids click here.

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Chinese artist Liu Shuling visits WKU Libraries

Liu and class in the Confucius Institute in WKU Libraries

In the Confucius Institute in WKU Libraries (from left to right): Dr. Wei-Ping Pan, Selina Langford, Carol Watwood, Shaden Melky, WKU students, Bryan Carson, artist Liu Shuling, Daniel Peach, Haiwang Yuan, WKU student, Dr. Bryan Coutts, and Liu’s daughter Liu Jiamei

On Wednesday morning, May 3, WKU Libraries faculty, staff, and students received a  lesson in Chinese calligraphy from famous Gongbi artist Liu Shuling in the Helm Library. Gongi is a careful realist technique in Chinese painting using highly detailed brushstrokes that delimits details very precisely and without independent or expressive variation. Hosted by the Confucius Institute at WKU, Liu Shuling, with assistance from his daughter Liu Jiamei and WKU Librarian Haiwang Yuan who served as translator, discussed his art on display in Helm library and taught library personnel and WKU students the history and art of Chinese calligraphy.

Liu Shuling teaches Chinese calligraphy

Liu Shuling teaches Chinese calligraphy, demonstrating one-on-one with librarian Bryan Carson

The exhibit received media coverage in China.

For more information about the exhibit, see an article from WKU news. See below for example’s of Liu’s recent artwork.

Liu's work in progress

Liu’s work in progress

Liu's work in progress

Liu’s work in progress, depicting an eagle

Liu's recent work featuring azaleas

Dr. Pan, artist Liu Shuling and his daughter Liu Jiamei, looking at Liu’s recent work featuring azaleas.

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