The New York University Department of Libraries presents Portable Devices, 1574-1998: Notebooks from NYU Special Collections– an exhibition of historical notebooks from the University Archives, the Fales Library, the Tamiment Library and the Robert F. Wagner Working Archives to provide an insight into the various material forms and organizational schemes of the notebook April 14-June 21 at the Second Floor Special Collections Gallery at NYU’s Elmer Holmes Bobst Library. The exhibition is only open to external visitors by prior arrangement.
Wearable Devices shows various examples of notebooks, taken from an English housewife’s limp parchment-bound recipe book 17 storing information vital to the functioning of worlds—whether it be personal, domestic, social, educational, political, or institutional.
“The notebook is a fascinating object, not only because of the role it can play in illuminating emotions, plans, desires and creative practices, but also because of the object values of the pieces themselves. Whether intentionally small to fit in a pocket , or a larger sketchbook to help sketch grid calendars, the material properties of the notebook play an important role. The notebook’s organizational structures provide an inescapable mirror of the psyche,” said Nicholas Martin, Curator of Arts and Humanities, NYU Special Collections.
“The exhibits in the exhibition demonstrate the myriad ways that people have turned the blank notebook into a powerful device for performing a range of activities from learning, planning, negotiating, managing, cooking and remembering to living itself,” he continued away.
The exhibition is based on the current book project by NYU Special Collections Dean’s Fellow Julie Park creator of writing, which examines the materiality of self-enrollment formats (everyday books, diaries, extra-illustrated books, and exercise books) as channels of thought, creation, and recording for writers of the 18th century and today. Five curators collaborated on the exhibition to offer different perspectives on the role of the notebook and to give visitors an insight into the wide range of materials in the NYU Special Collections.
The exhibition is divided into six sections: The first presents Shannon O’Neill, curator of the Tamiment-Wagner collections The view from here: The Affective Experience of Radical Politics in James Jackson’s Notebooks. As members of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA), the Cooper Jacksons dedicated themselves to the fight for racial and economic justice. The 86 notebooks in James and Esther Cooper Jackson’s collection trace the history of CPUSA from the 1960s to 1991.
“Jackson’s politics were inseparable from every other aspect of his life, and at times the notebooks read like letters to oneself, giving them a deeply emotional quality. Jackson’s emotions come to the reader through torn pages, underlining, scribbles, and notes hidden in the recesses of blank pages. Jackson’s notebooks, as physical and emotional extensions of his politics and political life, chronicle his time: a life as a “committed revolutionary,” O’Neill said.
University Archivist Janet Bunde presents Class and lecture books from the archives of New York University, containing notebooks created and saved by professors or students to preserve evidence of teaching and learning and engagement with text and observation. From marbled covers to three-ring binders, these notebooks also highlight the changing technologies of the notebook itself—and with it, how students and faculty have inhabited the classroom and campus over time.
Julie Parks Paper tools for everyday use presents various types of notebooks that were common in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries: everyday books, friendship albums, pocket calendars, diaries, library catalogues, ship’s diaries and recipe books. Each reflects the notion of a notebook as a record-keeping system in book form.
“By making key graphic and conceptual decisions — how to share blank spaces, allocate spaces for specific categories of information, or fill in empty cells already created by a printing press — the notebook’s owner turned the book into a paper tool. In these paper tools, the most ephemeral but often critical facets of daily life, from daily expenses and expressions of friendship to recipes and the weather, were captured and preserved and found a home,” said Park.
Speculative Doodle: Lists from the Downtown Collection, curated by Nicholas Martin, examines lists as raw and unmediated representations of their creator’s thoughts. The notebooks on display in this case examine the proliferation of lists in notebooks from NYU’s Downtown Collection—which documents the downtown art scene that developed in SoHo and the Lower East Side in the 1970s and early 1990s—and offer clues on the process and work of downtown artists planning and shows the interplay between the creative, personal and professional lives of the artists.
Martin also curated Metronome of a Life: Diaries from the Fales Library highlighting the self-reflective nature of lifelong journals by two authors: Edward Rob Ellis and Elizabeth Robins. Her diaries, in their intent and duration, serve as windows into her growth, time, and self-formation. Ellis, a newspaper reporter whose diary is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as America’s longest, wrote in his diary daily from 1928 until his death in 1998. It became an important aspect of his life’s work. Elizabeth Robins, playwright, actress, novelist and suffragette, kept a regular diary from 1873 to 1952. Robins’ notes in her journals show how she used them as a resource to look back and track the development of themes through her own history.
the last section, Documenting the Radical Diplomacy of the Anti-War Movement: Howard Zinn’s Notebooks from North Vietnam, 1968-1972, is curated by Michael Nash Research Scholar/Archivist and Ewen Center Coordinator Michael Koncewicz, and contains notebooks chronicling historian Howard Zinn’s 1968 and 1972 travels to Cambodia, Laos, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam. As both a witness to American bomb destruction and a participant in the anti-war movement’s exchange with North Vietnam, Zinn offers researchers a compelling snapshot of unofficial diplomacy in the midst of war.
This exhibition builds on the existing work of NYU Libraries, which works with museums and galleries to provide contextual and immediate insights into creative practice through archival materials. For example, in 2018 NYU Libraries loaned materials, including journals, from the David Wojnarowicz Papers held in NYU’s Downtown Collection to the Whitney Museum of Art for use in their comprehensive retrospective. The story keeps me up at night, which helps to contextualize the symbolism and ideas that permeate Wojnarowicz’s work. Archival materials provide context for art and finished works, but this exhibition places the archival materials front and center to raise new questions about historical objects and inspire a deeper interest in NYU’s collections.
The associated program includes a Bullet Journaling 101 workshop on Wednesday, April 20 at 4pm; a talk with Julie Park on Life Writing as Line-Making in the 18th-Century Commonplace Book on Wednesday, April 27 at 2 p.m.; and a talk with Eliane Ayers, historian of science and faculty member in the Museum Studies program at NYU, on botanical records and scientific colonialism on Tuesday, May 3, at 2 p.m. Register for free through Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/cc/portable-devices-1574-1998-ausstellungprogramm-243979
Pieces written by the curators that further explore the themes and ideas of the exhibition will be published on the Special Collections Back Table Blog in April and May.
Portable Devices, 1574-1998: Notebooks from NYU Special Collections is on view April 18, 2019 at the Special Collections Gallery at the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South (at LaGuardia Place). [Subways A,C,E, B,D,M to West 4th Street; 6 line to Astor Place; R train to 8th Street.]. The exhibition is free and open to the public by appointment only.
About NYU’s Special Collections
A college student in the early 20th century had the unworldly idea of collecting every novel in English; his dream is now the ever-growing Fales Collection. A 1980s subculture of young feminist activists expressing themselves through zines and music still reverberates in the Riot Grrrl Collection. NYU faculty refused to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities; their struggle and torment are documented in the university archives. A battalion of young Americans took up arms against fascism in the Spanish Civil War; her idealism still impresses and inspires today in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive. These are just a few of the individuals, communities, and institutions documented in Special Collections: more than 40,000 linear feet of archives, hundreds of thousands of printed volumes, photographs, audio and moving images, electronic files, and ephemera. Overseen by a dedicated team of professionals, these vast and ever-expanding collections offer exciting new insights and discoveries for students, scholars, artists, and filmmakers at NYU and around the world.