This exhibit represents a curated view of the full digital publication created by students in Prof. Julie Holcomb’s Fall 2022 course, The History and Curation of Book Collections (MST 4330). This online exhibit was curated and edited by Sarah Stilwell, a first-year graduate student in the Department of Museum Studies.
Sarah chose representative samples of the articles generated for the full publication and presents them here as a preview of the content contained in “The Book Shelf: An Exploration of Book History,” which you can view in full by clicking the image below.
Welcome to our digital publication! The Book Shelf: An Exploration of Book History is the culmination of a semester of work by the students in the course, The History and Curation of Book Collections (MST 4330/Fall 2022). For fifteen weeks, we explored the history of books, which is broadly defined as the history of the creation, dissemination, and reception of script and print. More specifically, the history of the book touches on the histories of reading, printing, communication, authorship, editing, book arts, and technology. Book history includes social, economic, political, and cultural history. Historians of the book use digital humanities tools as well as traditional academic research. Our topical explorations traveled back and forth along the long timeline of book history.
Our explorations also considered the book as an object much like the objects we encounter in museum collections. Curators and librarians of book collections collect, preserve, and interpret collections for their visitors/users. Yet, books are also meant to be touched, read, and consumed. Consider how we engage with books in different settings. In the public library, a popular book that falls apart after many, many readings can simply be replaced for a nominal cost. Book arts collections, such as the one held by Moody Library at Baylor University, are a different matter. The book arts collection includes limited edition and one-of-a-kind books created by artists who use the book as their form. These artists’ books are works of art; yet, because of their form, these works of art must be touched and manipulated. Rare books also require similar, personal engagement. How do we balance the opposing activities of preservation and use? As we discovered this semester, there are no easy answers to that question.
Professor and Interim Graduate Program Director, Museum Studies, Baylor University
Arts and Special Collections Research Center
The Arts and Special Collections Research Center is home to resources from the fourth century to the present. With over 48,000 volumes, the Center holds books, media, book arts, scholars’ libraries, archives, early printed music and more.
Rare Books and Manuscripts include books published before 1801 covering a wide range of subject matter, as well as exquisite replicas of medieval works. You can find some of the first books printed on a press, hold documents created in our country’s infancy, read sermons preached centuries ago, read about early medical remedies, investigate rare Bibles, or experience beautiful illuminations in our manuscript facsimiles.
Our Nineteenth Century Collection holds a wealth of information on topics including literature, medicine, slavery, religion, women breaking barriers, life in nineteenth century America and a little bit of everything in between. The collection includes poetry, memoirs, Bibles, and more to explore.
The Music Collections include a wide array of rare and unique materials including early American tune books, manuscripts of contemporary composers, and an extensive collection of popular sheet music from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The Scholars’ Collections hold scholar’s libraries, papers and other unique collections covering a wide range of topics including the New Testament, philosophy, theater, church history, archaeology, the Dead Sea Scrolls, medieval history, Celtic language and literature, German and early law, and World War II.
The Baylor Book Arts Collection consists of nearly 2,000 pieces of art in book (and sometimes not-so-book) form. Artists have used the idea of the book as their inspiration and medium of expression. The wide-ranging collection includes limited edition works as well as many one-of-a-kind artists’ books and include poetry, sculpture, handmade paper, watercolor, prints, calligraphy, a variety of binding techniques, and endless creativity through communication of ideas.
Researchers, classes, and community members are welcome and encouraged to visit and use these unique materials housed in Moody Library. Contact RareCollections@baylor.edu for more information.
Baylor University Libraries
Special Collections Manager
Arts and Special Collections Research Center
Flipping the Script
The One Ring that Did Not Always Rule all
R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a renowned children’s fantasy novel that has sold over 600 million copies worldwide. The beloved children’s novel is known for its wonderful adventure and is now regarded as the prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy Tolkien would later write. However, The Hobbit was not always planned to be a prequel to a continuing story. Originally it was just a stand-alone story with a satisfying ending for any reader. This means that certain aspects of the story may not have been as important as we see them now. Today, we often refer to the preciousss or the “One Ring,” but it was not always that significant. In Tolkien’s original novel, the Ring did not have as much backstory or weight in the story, and he later changed aspects to connect it to The Lord of the Rings.
In the original version of The Hobbit written and published in 1937, the ring was only referred to as a Magic Ring and does not have any significant background information on it. In the chapter “Riddles After Dark,” the reader is first introduced to the ring. Bilbo finds the ring on the cave floor, and he picks it up, the same as what we know today. What follows though is drastically changed. In the original, Bilbo finds the ring and then is introduced to Gollum, an unsuspecting figure. He is a little odd, but mostly harmless. They decide to play the riddle game, going back and forth asking riddles for a prize, the prize a birthday present Gollum had. They played the riddle game and Bilbo won in both versions. Gollum was upset, but he held to the rules and was going to give him his prize. The problem was, he had lost the gift. His birthday present was the Magic Ring that he would use to become invisible for the purpose of helping him survive, like when he needed to find a goblin for food. He scurries around trying to find it and panics because he does not have anything to give Bilbo. Bilbo is polite, knowing he has something that was not his anyway, and reasons with Gollum to just lead him out of the cave instead of giving him the present, seeing as he would no longer have it anyway. Gollum agrees and leads him down to a passageway. There he tells Bilbo he would go no further but if he continued to follow the passage, he eventually would get out and be outside. Bilbo thanks him and the story continues from there the same we now are familiar with.
This is drastically different from what we know today of the story of Bilbo and Gollum and the Ring. Today we see a nastiness to Gollum and see the pity Bilbo has for him. In the modern version, the prize was for Bilbo to be led out of the cave, but Gollum never intended to do that. This leads to Bilbo using the Ring, learning of its power, and sneakily following Gollum to the passageway he would eventually use to get out and escape the goblins. Tolkien’s updated chapter ties the story of the Ring and Bilbo’s discovery of it to The Lord of the Rings and making Gollum a pitied villain. The interactions are different and we as the reader now see why Gollum was so upset at Bilbo and called the Baggins family thieves. This shows how characters can change and develop in an author’s mind and changing one element could switch the outcome completely.
The re-writing of The Hobbit shows how things change over time, and not all is as it seems. One day a character who is a brief companion to the hero suddenly becomes an ongoing nuisance and villain to the story. Without this change, however, the tone of The Lord of the Rings would have been completely different, and The Hobbit would not have connected as smoothly. This change brings a whole new meaning to my preciousss, and it is one that will live on until the end.
History and Museum Studies Majors/Archaeology Minor
The Disneyfying of Fairy Tales
Today, Disney is known for its amazing works in animation and film. Many beloved Disney movies are taken from other stories, whether a fairytale, novel, or short story, some being close replicas, changing a few details to make it more on brand to Disney. Others are closer to their inspirations, taking parts of the story and using them in a way to further their story. An example of this is the movie Tangledcompared to the Brothers Grimm fairytale Rapunzel.
Disney took the fairytale of the Brothers Grimm and adapted it to fit into the Disney brand of family friendly films that encourage children.
The movie Tangled is more loosely based on the Brothers Grimm tale, Rapunzel, in that Tangled has a few elements that are the same as its source material, such as the importance of the flower, Rapunzel’s name, the tower, and Rapunzel being taken away from her family as a baby, but many things were changed giving new life to this story. This change in the story also brings different focuses and themes, changing what the reader/viewer gets out of the story. Rapunzel, by the Brothers Grimm, is a short story that focuses on the effect of greed, and heavy elements referring to sexual impurity and lustfulness. The plant the baker’s wife desires, rampion, is a sexual symbol relating to lustfulness. The original version of the Brothers Grimm fairytale includes the witch finding Rapunzel impregnated by the prince in nightly escapades. The times change, children’s stories used to warn children about the bad things, but today, they are told to embrace the good things. This is seen in the beloved movie Tangled by Disney, which focuses partly on greed but more strongly on following your dreams. It shows Rapunzel taking chances, learning about the dreams of others, and taking her life into her own hands. Rapunzel is presented in a way that makes her bold and strong to take her life back after Mother Gothel took her as a young child.
With these themes in mind, the original tale gives new insight to the story of Rapunzel. It does not start with her as a royal princess, but the daughter of a baker and his wife. HIs wife longs forthe plant Rampion, which is grown onlyin the witch’s garden. He sneaks into the garden and steals it for his wife once, but she has a greedy lust for it from that point on. One night he gets caught taking the flower and makes a deal with the witch to trade the plant for their firstborn child. When they do finally have a baby girl, they give her to the witch who names her “Rapunzel” after the plant. The witch then takes her to a tower far off and that is where she stays. Many years later, a prince stumbles across Rapunzel singing from the tower and that is when he finds her. They have their “moments”, after which Rapunzel becomes pregnant, and when the witch catches the prince, she causes thorny bushes to grow so they cannot meet again. He falls into them and is blinded, doomed to never find the tower again. The witch then takes the pregnant Rapunzel to a cottage somewhere he will never find. He eventually, after about 10 years, stumbles upon this cottage and hears her singing. He falls into her arms and Rapunzel starts to cry because her prince came back. Her tears then heal his eyes, and he can see once more. After this he takes her and their children back to his castle and they live happily ever after. Through this we see some elements that match the Disney version, but on the surface, they are complete opposites. A heavy topic to discuss, even the “child friendly” version the Grimm Brothers made later still has sexual hints to it with the main idea of greed and lust. Every character is affected by the lust of Rapunzel’s parents, which overflows and leads to each following event. It shows how lust can be dangerous, as it does not only affect one person, but can affect multiple people.
Disney changes almost the entirety of the story into a kid friendly adventure about chasing your dreams. The element of a flowery plant still starts the troubles of Rapunzel, but it is Mother Gothel, the witch, who is greedy and lustful of the flower. This leads to her kidnapping Rapunzel and locking her in a tower so she can keep the magic powers of the flower for herself. Time jumps to Rapunzel’s 18th birthday, and she hasn’t seemed to mind the tower so much, but longs to explore the outside world now that she is older. Mother Gothel refuses, so Rapunzel finds another way with Flynn Rider, a thief. He stumbles upon the tower by accident like the prince. They make a pact to go see the “floating lights” in exchange for the satchel he stole since she hid it from him in the tower. Through this adventure they create a bond and start to fall in love. Eventually Mother Gothel plots to separate them and keep Rapunzel for herself for forever, but they defeat her. Like the source material, Rapunzel heals Flynn with her tears as they then live Happily Ever After. As this story unravels, greed is as present as in the original, but the idea that everyone has dreams they want to follow is woven throughout from Rapunzel to the thugs and ruffians. A message for parents is also included as they must eventually let their kids go off and explore the world. When you try to keep them safe and are overprotective, they eventually will rebel, and tension will rise between them. Therefore, they must be let go, not just thrown into the world, but to let them discover things, knowing one day they will leave, but they could come back to visit.
Rapunzel got a whole face lift to make it more child friendly and something safe for the children during this time. The changes show how things given to children have shifted focus over the years to protect children. Children’s books before had many lessons of the time and as in the case for Rapunzel adult themes and warnings to children. They were fairytales and fun stories still, but less was hidden from the children of the time. Often these tales held lessons for children to learn Today, often things for children are fanciful and an escape. People are careful about what they give their children and want it to be family friendly without such heavy topics. This shows how the Disneyfying of fairytales was so big for fairytales. Many stories are softened for the enjoyment of children to keep the topics light and heroes to follow. There is not anything wrong with making something for children, but it is also important to know the true stories of before.
History and Museum Studies Majors/Archaeology Minor
Let’s Get Physical
Changes of Bindings of Chinese Books Reflects the Changing Time
China was the first country to make paper, so China’s binding technology has a long history of development. Chinese binding is influenced by binding technologies from different countries and cultures and by wars and some major historical events. The materials bound in China are bamboo, silk, wood, and paper. With the change of dynasties and the development of binding materials, the binding process of Chinese books also changed with the times.
Before paper was created in China, people began to write in some materials that could be preserved. At first, people engraved characters on stone tablets and animal bones. With the reform of craftsmanship and technology, Chinese ancestors made light and thin materials, and the binding era began. “The earliest bound materials used by the Chinese for the transmission of their written literature were bamboo and wood.” People use a rope to assemble long and thin bamboo or wood so that they are flat when unfolded and can be rolled up for storage. Chinese traditional writing often starts from the upper right corner and ends at the lower left corner. Therefore, this binding method is related to Chinese writing habits. “After the Han dynasty (206 BD— 220 AD) bamboo and wood continued to be used for writing”, but some other materials developed gradually. Paper was invented in the Han Dynasty, but it was expensive and complicated to make, so it was not widely used at that time. Silk was another writing material, “it was more convenient to carry about on person than were the wooden documents and also it is stored more easily.” Books made of silk are soft and thin, so silk-making books often have covers made of soft but thick and wear-resistant materials. As same as the history of books in other countries, only nobles could afford books made of silk and paper due to their detailed craftsmanship and high cost.
In the past, small countries near China would pay tribute to the Chinese royal family, which meant giving a gift. These gifts are often local specialties and items of value, and it helps with cultural exchange and dissemination from the current perspective. In this context, “books in the Indian style were brought to China.” The Tang Dynasty (618 AD-907 AD) was China’s most prosperous era of Buddhism. This Indian style binding is “like the pleats on an accordion.” “When reciting Buddhistsutras, accordion-folded books were easier to handle than scrolls,” so this change is related to the spread and influence of Buddhism in China. Another associated with Buddhism binding is whirlwind binding. Whirlwind binding is “made by pasting the first page and the last page together with a sheet twice the size of either page.” This binding enables the reader to go back to the first page after reading the last for continuous repetition. This binding “was used most heavily by theBuddhists and the Taoists.” The promotion of Buddhism in the Tang Dynasty also indirectly promoted binding development.
Butterfly Binding originated in the Song Dynasty (960 AD-1279 AD). It came about because “increasing need for reference books and textbooks of all kinds and the desirability of putting more text into a more compact area than the roll could accommodate.” Butterfly Binding Similar to the binding method of modern books, paper “were folded down the center and gathered one by one into a pile. Paste was applied to the folded edges piled together.” It is not a coincidence that modern books are bound the way they are, but the best solution people have gotten in their lives and practices.
Stitched double-leaved books first appeared in the Ming Dynasty, and this binding method was still used after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Stitched Double-leaved books contain hard front and back covers with softer inner pages. These papers are stitched together with rope. It is a cheap and simple way of binding, so this method reduces the price of books and makes them affordable for low- income people. This binding method also helped preserve and disseminate China’s intellectual property, especially during the war years.
Binding varies with different materials, needs, and cultures. With the development of culture and technology, it is gradually changing from a craft and technology to an art. As we enter the age of eBooks, the art and craft of bookbinding are fading out of sight. The days of binding may be passing away for more eco-friendly eBooks.
Archaeology of Books: The Physical Remains of Classical Literature
When discussing ancient libraries, what immediately comes to mind? If it’s the Library of Alexandria, you are not alone in this thought. However, the Library of Alexandria was not the only ancient library to exist and was certainly not the oldest. During the classical period and even long before, libraries dotted the
landscape. Libraries whose physical remains still exist to this day. Yet, they were built and modeled differently than the libraries we are so very used to and have been frequenting our entire lives. The Library of Celsus or Ephesus, constructed in the 2nd century CE is one of the best-preserved libraries, containing a unique feature that instantaneously identifies it as a library. The library, whose impressive facade still stands in modern-day Turkey, contained niches in the walls. These niches have become the telltale sign of a classical library and are present in the archaeological remains of libraries found across Europe and the Near East during the classical period. This is because books did not exist physically as they do today. Writings existed in the form of scrolls and these niches or alcoves were sized to fit these scrolls. At its peak, this particular library is said to have housed over 12,000 scrolls. Sadly, like the library of Alexandria, the interior was destroyed by a fire around 400 CE yet its proud facade still exists to this day, making many visitors imagine what wealth of information it would have housed and what splendor it would have once stood in.
The remains of the Library of Nysa stand as another example of the classical library. Also in modern-day Turkey, it is Turkey’s second best-preserved library dating to the 2nd century CE as well. Like the Library of Celsus, the Library of Nysa remains consist of niches intended for the storage of scrolls. Beyond this, the Library of Nysa is also believed to have consisted of a hallway and rooms that may have been used for scroll storage or it may have served as a barricade against moisture or dampness, a book’s worst enemy after fire. This feature may also have been present in the Library of Celsus. Even to the people of the past, knowledge was power and was meant to be protected and preserved at all costs.
Another misconception is the belief that libraries only existed around the Mediterranean and in the Near East during the classical period. The Roman Empire in particular extended far beyond the Mediterranean and with this, so did libraries. One such library has been found in Cologne, Germany, and is now known to be Germany’s oldest library. Like the library of Celsus, it possesses many niches that at first puzzled archaeologists as they could not determine the use of these niches. Nothing like this building had been found in Germany to date and archaeologists were at a loss. This was until they realized that this structure was in fact a library. This particular library would have sat at the center of the original marketplace or forum, making it a public gathering spot, just as the modern library is. The discovery of this library has led archaeologists to question how many more libraries are out there across the Roman Empire. Especially if all that is found of these often two-story buildings are the foundations. There would be none of the telltale wall niches, perfectly sized for scrolls.
So overall, what do archaeologists look for when searching for a library? What are the features that are just too odd and unique to be anything else? There are three key features, one of them being an instantaneous sign. Wall niches, fitted for scrolls, long corridors meant to prevent dampness, and large buildings in public spaces. It truly makes sense that during a period of such enlightenment, libraries would run rampant. The ideal gathering spot to share new ideas, to learn more about the world, and to simply gather as a community. We would not be who and where we are today if these ancient peoples did not hungrily seek knowledge the same way people do today. This beautiful tradition has been carried on for thousands of years to a much bigger, and greater extent and will hopefully continue for thousands of more years. I wonder what future archaeologists will imagine when excavating the remains of great libraries such as the Trinity College Library in Dublin or the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Will they be filled with the same awe and wonder that we feel when remembering Alexandria or Celsus?
– Abigail Keeney
Anthropology & Linguistics Majors/Archaeology Concentration/Museum Studies & Philosophy Minors
Forgotten No More
Female Writers Publishing Under Male Pseudonyms
It was quite common for female authors during the nineteenth century to use a male pseudonym to keep their real identity hidden. Why did they do this? Female authors would take on these nom de plumes for a multitude of reasons. One of these reasons was to avoid stigmatization from the general society at the time. In order to write in a male- dominated genre or reach a wider audience, female writers would make the choice to hide their identity. For example, Mary Ann Evans wrote under the pen name “George Eliot” in the nineteenth century. She is one of the most important English novelists of her era, second only to Charles Dickens. Her novel, Middlemarch, is one of the greatest novels written. Evans was involved in a love affair with a married man, who went by the name of George Lewes. She allegedly lived with him for twenty-four years and thus her male nom de plume derived from his name.
There are some female writers who assisted their husbands in completing or adding to their book. Most of the time, the women did not get credit for it. An example of this can be traced back to a novel written in 1925 by the male American novelist, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. He is famously attributed as the author of The Great Gatsby. This novel illustrated the unattainable American dream while depicting wealth and status as a socialite. The problem arising from this well-known book is that behind the great writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, was his wife, Zelda Fitzgerald. She wrote a major part of the final, published work and is now semi-credited for her contribution. However, when the novel first came out, she was credited nothing from her husband. I believe that now she should be recognized as an assistant author, similar to when the artists that assisted the main artist on a new music album are accredited for their work on the album.
As of recent development, publishing companies are now re-publishing books by female authors with their real names instead of their male pseudonyms. This began in 2020, when twenty-four classic female authors were published under their real names to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the “Women’s Prize for Fiction.” The “Reclaim Her Name” project rereleased the collection of books, publishing their titles with the author’s real names on the cover for the first time. This project enabledwomen in the past to receive the publicity they deserved. Women today are able to receive this freely while women in the past were not allowed the same attention.
Art History Major/Business Administration Minor
List of Female Authors and the Books They Published Under Male Pseudonyms
- Middlemarch by Mary Ann Evans (pseudonym George Eliot)
- Marie of the Cabin Club by Ann Petry (Arnold Petri)
- Indiana by Amantine Aurore Dupin (George Sand)
- A Phantom Lover by Violet Paget (Vernon Lee)
- The Life of Martin R. Delany by Frances Rollin Whipper (Frank A. Rollin)
- Keynotes by Mary Bright (George Egerton)
- Takekurabe (“Growing Up”) by Natsu Higuchi (Ichiyō Higuchi)
- Garden of Kama by Violet Nicolson (Laurence Hope)
- How White Men Assist In Smuggling… by Edith Maude Eaton (Mahlon T. Wing)
- Attila, My Attila! By Edith Cooper & Katherine Bradley (Michael Field)
- Ye Game and Playe of Chesse by Alice Dunbar Nelson (Monroe Wright)
- Painted Clay by Doris Boake Kerr (Capel Boake)
- For Our Country by Fatemeh Soltan Khanum Farahani (Shahein Farahani)
- Iras: A Mystery by Henrietta Everett (Theo Douglas)
- The History of Sir Richard Calmady by Mary Kingsley (Lucas Malet) 16.Atla- Story of a Lost Island by Ann Smith (J Gregory Smith) 17.Twilight by Julia Frankau (Frank Danby)
- The Silence Of Dean Maitland by Mary Tuttiett (Maxwell Gray) 19.The Head Of Medusa by Julia Constance Fletcher (George Fleming)
Carmilla: A Forgotten Tale and Exploration of LGBT Characters
Everyone knows Dracula but no one ever really knows the vampire story that came before. Carmilla was published in 1872 and has been long overshadowed by Bram Stoker’s Dracula despite predating the novel’s 1897 release by 26 years. Carmilla was also overshadowed in the movie adaptation realm with Dracula receiving a movie of the same name in 1931 while Carmilla would not receive an adaptation of the same name until 1980 with a polish film. The novella follows Laura, the narrator, and her time with the mysterious Carmilla staying in her father’s home with her as a strange illness plagues the nearby town. Both Carmilla’s and Dracula’s stories are told in a similar style, with the main narrator being human and the object of attention of the titular vampire though Dracula is told through the lens of journals and letters as opposed to Carmilla’s more direct narrative through Laura’s perspective.
Throughout the novella there are various moments in which Carmilla and Laura speak to each other and acknowledge an attraction between them. “’I have been in love with no one, and never shall,’ she whispered, ‘unless it should be with you.’ … Her soft cheek was glowing against mine.
‘Darling, darling,’ she murmured, ‘I live in you; and you would die for me, I love you so.’” The most striking thing when reading Carmilla is the lack of feelings of shame and a lack of the author blatantly stating that homosexuality is something bad. Laura and Carmilla never truly acknowledge the fact that they are both women. A common literary trope when dealing with less modern works exploring homosexuality is the presence of some sort of shame or something that will try to get the reader to acknowledge it as something that is bad or immoral in some way.
The first time Carmilla was adapted in any way was in the 1932 film Vampyr. The film included other tales included in the Collection In a Glass Darkly but all references to Carmilla’s and Laura’s homosexual feelings were removed. The first film to be more faithfully adapted from Carmilla, though with a more modern setting for the time, is a French film by the name of Et Mourir de Plaisir which was released in 1960. The French film retained much of the lesbian moments but when the film was brought to England and the United States the lesbian scenes were significantly cut out.
Carmilla as it stands is a wonderful exploration of the vampire story while adding the attraction between Laura and Carmilla as something unremarkable in their lives. It is overshadowed by the far more popular Dracula and so has been slowly forgotten about with very few actual adaptations of the story.
History Major/Museum Studies Minor
See Me, Feel Me, Read Me
Seduction of the Well-Meaning: Comic Books and Good Intentions
Seduction of the Innocent is a book about comic books. More specifically, it is a book about how comic books are bad for children. Published in 1954 by psychologist Fredric Wertham, the book is a cultural touchstone in the censorship of American comics. Seduction of the Innocent was not the beginning of anti-comic sentiment in the United States. It was, however, a widely read work whose ideas influenced the form that the movement took as a whole. It is well-remembered now by comics lovers as a caricature of censorship, a malicious attack intended to justify the founding of the Comics Code Authority. This assertion is untrue.
The book is also, in significant part, untrue.
Wertham’s core concept was that when children read comics in which crime, violence, or otherwise immoral acts were portrayed, they were drawn to imitate such acts. A great many people found the book to be entirely persuasive—it sold very well. Beyond that, academic responses representing positive views on restricting comic books, restricting comic subject matter, or general censorship of children’s literature that refer to Wertham and Seduction of the Innocent can be found up into nearly the modern day.
This is not to say that it was universally beloved; many people have disagreed with Wertham or cast doubt on the quality of his scholarship. Critiques began to circulate against Seduction of the Innocent before the book’s publishing. Despite this, the ideas it was built on, whether it be the broad idea that comics are hyper-violent or the specific claim that Batman and Robin’s relationship has a homoerotic subtext, remain.
Seduction of the Innocent seemed to confirm people’s worst fears. It was filled with anecdotes from troubled youths and their family members that fixated on comics—they loved reading them, they repeated behaviors from them, their reading of comics was the only noted cause of their behavior. Those anecdotes, however, often omitted aspects of patients’ lives (such as other factors in theirmaladjusted behavior), altered their statements (to draw comics to the fore, or even to insert them into the narrative), or misrepresented the means by which Wertham got his data (such as implying a person was his patient, when truthfully they were treated by a colleague). This largely came to light in a study by Carol L. Tilley in 2012. Despite this and other, more obvious issue (such as fabricating the plots of comic books, which might be checked quite simply), the ideas lingered in people’s minds.
Wertham himself believed in what he was doing and acted in what he thought was the public’s best interest. He was, truly and sincerely, concerned with the well-being of children in his care. It is that concern, however, which is the seduction Wertham could not acknowledge. Ideas playing on fear and righteous protectiveness are easy to believe in. A book that suggests taking away a new and alien form of media and curtailing what writing and art can be published so as to keep away the wrong and dangerous kind, is easy to believe in. To its disciples, Seduction of the Innocent is not simply a symbol of a modern controversy, but a symbol of everything one wants to feel good about.
Even today, decades after the publication of this book, censorship is one of the conflicts that has remained in American culture, especially when it comes to children’s media. As with the anti-comic movement, Seduction of the Innocent was not the beginning or the end, but it is certainly enduring.
Museum Studies Major/History Minor
Nascar Meets Love Triangle and Makes Nascar Passion Novella
Have you ever had the urge to read a whimsical tale set in the crisp Ohian weather that turns into a grizzly whodunnit? Well then Midwestern Corn Gothic could be right for you. No? Too grizzly? Well then how about an enemies to lovers story set in a fast food restaurant? Might I suggest a Fast Food Romance Novella? While these may sound outlandish and quite frankly made up, these are in fact real genres with real followings however large or small. With the rise of hyper personalized recommendations becoming commonplace in our daily consumption of media, it’s only natural for the literary world to follow suit as an attempt to stay relevant. This need for relevancy in tandem with the popularization of personalized recommendations has led to the adoption of micro genres.
First coined in 1975 by a French journal, it was used to describe historical fiction by time period. Similarly today, the term is used to describe highly specific sections of media that cannot be accurately or fully described by an umbrella genre like historical fiction. While at first glance this may seem insignificant, micro genres have become increasingly popular in recent years. Audible, the largest audiobook streaming service, recently published its data from this listening quarter. At the top of the list beating out several umbrella genres for most listened to were microgenres. Some of these high listening examples include, Small-Town Secrets, Female Musician Music Memoirs, Intergalactic Space Politics, and Unusual Time Structures. Seemingly closer to the definition of trope rather than genre, microgenres have swiftly gotten an iron grip on these definitions blurring the line between trope, genre, and narrative flare.
What’s so interesting about this idea of micro categorization is its pertinence in so many different areas of life. From aesthetic to political, the use of specific and niche verbiage has taken precedence in conversation leading to what feels like a sensory overload waiting to happen as we continue to try and keep up with the newest terms. James Baldwin, Author of Go Tell It To The Mountain, perfectlydescribed this feeling saying “Our passion for categorization, life neatly fitted into pegs, has led to an unforeseen, paradoxical distress; confusion, a breakdown of meaning. Those categories which were meant to define and control the world for us have boomeranged us into chaos.” This was already a conversation being had in 1955 when Baldwin spoke this quote and has only become progressively more applicable as we catapult into the future of personalized recommendations.
Clearly we can see this problem isn’t just limited to literary works but really anything that can be categorized and labeled. This begs the question, which I urge you reader to answer for yourself, is it a problem? Or is it the next step in the evolution of genre as a concept? As Baldwin stated, human instinct is prone to pattern seeking and categorization, so naturally it makes sense for us to want to know exactly what something is in its totality without having to meaningfully interact with the idea, in our case, the literature in question. Conversely, such specificity can ironically cause a feeling of confusion.
At the same time however, specificity is necessary in developing an understanding of topics or in our case narratives. Maybe having such specific niches are useful in identifying possibly triggering content or a setting you already know you don’t like? While it seems confusing, having new verbiage and new titles can be useful in developing deeper levels of understanding for our other humans who might use initially “confusing” titles. With the rise of specificity in relations to human identity no more than ever it can feel confusing to remember it all. Like the books within these microgenres, complex labeled identities help us understand intrinsic aspects of one another without the hard work it takes to break the initial layers of icy unknowing. So for one last time, I ask you, is specific and micro labeling a problem?
History and Physics Majors/Museum Studies and International Relations Minors