Featured Collections

Happy birthday, Anthony Braxton

This image of Anthony Braxton is from the John Steiner Collection of the Chicago Jazz Archive

Anthony Braxton, born June 4, 1945 in Chicago, celebrates his 67th birthday today. Braxton is an American music pioneer whose style closely resembles jazz but spans many genres and forms. Braxton’s instruments include saxophones, flute, clarinet, and piano. 

Braxton was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side. In 1963, he joined the army and was stationed with the Fifth Army Band in the northern suburbs of Chicago. In 1965, he went to South Korea and played with the Eighth Army Band all the while keeping up with the recordings of free jazz pioneers Albert Ayler and John Coltrane. Braxton returned to Chicago in 1966 and sought out and joined the newly-formed Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). He formed his own ensembles with musicians such as Leroy Jenkins, Thurman Barker, Charles Clark, Kalaparush, and Leo Smith while also playing in groups led by AACM members like Ajaramu, Amina Myers, and Muhal Richard Abrams. Although greatly influenced by John Coltrane, Braxton quickly developed his own voice.

Braxton spent time recording and performing with his own group in Paris in the late 1960s. Throughout much of the early 1970s, Braxton played in New York and the Midwest, touring with Chick Corea’s trio and Musica Elettronica Viva.

In 1994, Braxton was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship for his outstanding and original contributions to jazz. Braxton founded the Tri-Centric Foundation, a New York based not-for-profit corporation that includes an ensemble of musicians, vocalists, and computer-graphic video artists all of whom aid in the performances of Braxton’s compositions. Braxton studied philosophy at Roosevelt University. He is currently a tenured Professor of Music at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, teaching music composition, music history, and improvisation.

Despite the many improvisational aspects to Braxton’s compositions it is difficult to categorize his music solely as jazz . In March 2007, in an article that appeared in Time Out-New York, Braxton is quoted as saying: “I know I’m an African-American, and I know I play the saxophone, but I’m not a jazz musician. I’m not a classical musician, either. My music is like my life: It’s in between these areas.”

The Special Collections Research Center is home to the Chicago Jazz Archive, which contains a small collection of materials related to Anthony Braxton as well as many collections that document jazz in Chicago and the work of Anthony Braxton.

Bert Kelly’s Stables

In the 1920s, as Chicago was quickly becoming a major hub for jazz, many jazz hotspots were popping up all over the city. One that stood out was Bert Kelly’s Jazz Stables, pictured in the map on the left between Grand and Kinzie (click on the image for an enlarged view.) Kelly’s Stables, as it was commonly referred to, was located in what was then known as the Towertown neighborhood on the Near North Side. Located at 431 N Rush Street,  in the heart of what was once a bohemian enclave, Kelly’s Stables showcased many of the great Chicago jazz legends night after night. Counted among the respected alumni are Alcide “Yellow” Nunez, Joe “King” Oliver, Freddie Keppard, and the Dodds Brothers: Johnny and Baby. Nunez composed a popular tune titled “Livery Stable Blues,” which served as inspiration for the club’s name.

Exterior view of Kelly’s Stables

The club’s namesake and founder, banjoist Bert Kelly, was no stranger to swing and is often cited as the first to bring jazz to Chicago, a distinction believed to have been assigned by Kelly to himself. Kelly also claimed to have coined the term “jazz.” Regardless of these various assertions one thing is certain: Kelly’s Stables was one of the most popular jazz clubs in Chicago during the 1920s. Bert Kelly went on to open Kelly’s Stables on 52nd Street in New York City. The New York City location quickly became a prominent club during the 1930s and 1940s when New York took over as the reigning Jazz Capital.

The history of Kelly’s Jazz Stables and many other popular historic Chicago Jazz venues can be found in the John Steiner collection, one of the many distinctive collections that comprise the Chicago Jazz Archive. Jazz scholars and enthusiasts have much to view and enjoy thanks to the diligent collecting of John Steiner, who began attending jazz shows in and around Chicago starting in 1924.

Quincy Wright and Middle East history

General Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, Lord Arthur James Balfour, and Sir Herbert Louis Samuel, in Jerusalem, 1925.

Researchers come to the Special Collections Research Center looking for items of all kinds, from Aztec manuscripts, to fragments from Walt Whitman, to stereoscopic images of skin diseases, to a picture of former University of Chicago quarterback Milton “Mitt” Romney (cousin and namesake to the former Massachusetts governor and current presidential candidate). Once in a while, a request will direct us to an unexpected gem.

Philip Quincy Wright (1890-1970) joined the faculty of the University of Chicago as a professor of political science in 1923. Among his enduring legacies to the University is the Committee on International Relations, which he founded in 1928. A scholar of international law, politics, and social science, Professor Wright made many trips overseas for his research, and today his vast collection of papers and photographs are held at the Special Collections Research Center. In 1925, he took a trip to Palestine and other areas of the Middle East. This was a particularly potent time for the relationship between the region’s inhabitants and their colonial governors in France and Britain. French troops had shelled Damascus in October of 1925, while the British were negotiating their mandate in Palestine and Trans-Jordan.

With this context in mind, Professor Wright’s photograph is all the more astonishing. Taken in Jerusalem, the print depicts three men, all of whom had a direct hand in shaping the politics of the Middle East in the early twentieth century: General Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, head of the military forces which conquered Palestine and Syria; Lord Arthur James Balfour, former Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom and author of the Balfour Declaration of 1917; and Sir Herbert Louis Samuel, British High Commissioner of Palestine from 1920 to 1925. The picture was taken in front of the Government House, located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

The Quincy Wright Papers do not yet have an online finding aid, but researchers are welcome to consult our paper guide to the collection in the Special Collections Research Center.

Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company records available for research in Special Collections

Pieces from the set model for the 1994 production of The Mikado. Pieces for such models are made of foam core, balsa wood, cardstock and assorted other media.

The records of the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company are now open for research!

The Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company is an amateur theatre group begun in 1960 in Hyde Park.  Since then, the Company has produced an annual fully-staged Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, as well as occasional concert performances and community sing-alongs.  The mainstays of the company’s repertory are Gilbert and Sullivan’s larger, better-known works:  The Mikado, H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe, Ruddigore, The Gondoliers, and The Yeomen of the Guard in heaviest rotation.

The Library’s collection contains a small amount of administrative material, but the bulk of it is comprised of set and costume designs, flyers, programs, posters, and other material pertaining to specific productions.  Of particular interest are miniature set models for 11 productions. 

While not technically a University of Chicago organization, the group has been affiliated in various ways with the University throughout its history.  Performances take place in Mandel Hall on the University Campus and the University Chamber Orchestra provides musicians and a conductor.

The Gondoliers

At left is a poster advertising the 1976 production of The Gondoliers.  The collection includes publicity material for almost every Gilbert and Sullivan production.

The collection opens just in time for this year’s production of The Gondoliers, March 9-11!

Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference records available for research

Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, undated photo

The Special Collections Research Center is pleased to announce that the records of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference are now open and available to researchers.

The Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference (HPKCC) was founded in 1949 to stem growing physical decay of our South-Side neighborhood and to promote better race relations in the community. Confident that white and African-American people could live peacefully together, and convinced that urban decay was a mutual problem, community leaders formed a new organization whose goal was “to build and maintain a stable interracial community of high standards.” The Conference’s first efforts concentrated on arresting rampant building and zoning violations, improving housing conditions through rehabilitation and tenant unions, and actively engaging with city-wide urban renewal planning. Through the formation of Block Groups, the Conference provided the means for neighbors to interact, discuss common interests and concerns, and cooperatively solve problems at a grass roots level. Over the years, HPKCC programs grew to encompass other issues, including parks and recreation, youth and schools, safety, transportation, and environmental concerns. Today, the HPKCC continues to promote “an attractive, secure, diverse, and caring community.”

The collection contains a wide range of material documenting over sixty years of this important community organization’s activities. This includes administrative records, correspondence, press releases, surveys, newsletters, brochures, clippings, photographs, maps, posters, pamphlets, and much more. The collection captures a unique period in Chicago history, the complexities of urban planning and urban renewal, and the efforts of our neighborhood to remain a diverse and prosperous community.

To learn more about the collection, check out our online guide!

100th anniversary of the University of Chicago seal

January is an auspicious month in the history of official emblems for the University of Chicago.  The Board of Trustees adopted the University motto,”Crescat scientia, vita excolatur,” which appears on the coat of arms,  on January 17, 1911, and the Seal of the University on January 30, 1912, making these emblems 101 and 100 years old this month, respectively.

The design of the University’s Seal represents a modification of the University of Chicago Coat of Arms, which was designed by Pierre de Chaignon la Rose, a Boston heraldic specialist.  Pierre de Chaignon la Rose designed coats-of-arms for a number of other academic institutions, including Notre Dame, Rice, Duquesne, Catholic University of America, and the Harvard Medical School.

The Board of Trustees Minutes, housed in the Special Collections Research Center, can be consulted to read the exact language documenting approval of both the motto and seal.  The University maintains a web page on University Emblems with examples of both the coat of arms and the Seal, along with a detailed history of their design and evolution.




Debunking Ghosts in 1864

Spectropia, or, Surprising spectral illusions: showing ghosts everywhere, and of any colour by J. H. Brown, London: Griffith and Farran, 1864.

In this book from 1864, readers are asked to stare at the spectral images for unblinking, and then to dim the gas lamp or candle light and look at a white wall. Wondrously, the ghostly image appears to float on the wall right in front of the reader! This is an afterimage which has been “burned” on the retina. The author offers a scientific explanation by describing the structure of the eyes and the properties of light and color.  The author ultimately attempts to debunk the belief in ghosts: “One thing we hope in come measure to further in the following pages, is the extinction of the superstitious belief that apparitions are actual spirits,  by showing some of the many ways in which our senses may be deceived;” in this case: optical illusions.

If you are interested in seeing some specters, try this optical illusion for yourself by opening this image. Stare at the asterisk under the skeleton’s chin for 20 or more seconds. Dim the lights and stare at a white, blank wall or a white sheet of paper. 

The Graphics of Revolution and War: Iranian Poster Arts

Posters are a powerful medium to convey ideological messages and stir viewers to sympathy and action. Mass-produced and widely distributed, they reach a large audience with their striking design and dramatic, often blunt, messages.

“There is no god but God.” ca. 1980

A newly launched Library Web exhibit, The Graphics of Revolution and War: Iranian Poster Arts, explores how posters were used for mobilization and communication during the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). This permanent online exhibit was collaboratively produced in conjunction with a loan exhibition of the University of Chicago’s posters on display at the Indiana University Art Museum from October 15 to December 18, 2011.  The exhibition was guest curated by Professor Christiane Gruber, University of Michigan, and her doctoral student Elizabeth Rauh. The website was produced and designed by Elisabeth M. Long, co-director of the University of Chicago’s Digital Library Development Center, and Brad Busenius, web and graphic design specialist.

The posters in the exhibition were selected from the Library’s Middle East Poster Collection. The Guide to the Middle Eastern Posters Collection 1970s-1990s includes links to digital images of all of the Iranian posters in the collection. The image above is from the Middle Eastern Posters Collection: Box 2, Poster 39.

RAW in Special Collections

I am thrilled that Special Collections is getting RAW magazine (1980-1991)—a publication that did more to create the field I study than practically any other work.

started in 1980; it was, essentially, the brainchild of Françoise Mouly, who is currently the Art Director of the New Yorker (that means she has the amazing job of choosing the cover of that magazine each week).  Françoise, a French architecture student who had abandoned the Sorbonne to move to New York, and joined avant-garde circles there, had become interested in printing and she had enrolled in technical courses in printing.  She lived in a loft in Soho with her husband, the cartoonist Art Spiegelman, and a 1,000-pound printing press (apparently the person carrying it up the stairs to their fourth-floor walk-up had almost died doing so).  With her printing skills, Françoise published a local Soho guide map, called The Streets of Soho, which did surprisingly well.  Apparently at a party one night the Françoise proposed to her husband the idea that they publish a large-format, high-quality “comix and graphix” magazine themselves, to fill the void that the underground comics publications had left (Spiegelman and cartoonist Bill Griffith had edited the wonderful Arcade magazine in the late seventies, a kind of last gasp of the best side of the underground publication culture, but it didn’t last long.)  As a kind of dare, Mouly and Spiegelman decided to do it (I think they first imagined it as a one-shot, but it was so popular that they continued).  The idea was to differentiate RAW from previous underground publications—even serious and important ones—by its luxurious production values.  They wanted RAW to stand out—it was too big to be shelved at the bookstores and art stores and newsstands with “regular” magazines or comics.  Their editorial ethic is famous for its rigor, and the lavish design and production of RAW did make the public take account of comics in a format they weren’t used to.

A biannual that had a different subtitle each issue—the first one was The Graphix Magazine of Postponed SuicidesRAW began serializing Spiegelman’s Maus narrative, one chapter at a time, in its second issue, in December 1980.  Many people note that Spiegelman’s Maus—which went on, much later, to appear in two Pantheon book volumes, in 1986 and 1991—changed the face of contemporary comics.  That’s true.  But it was the culture that RAW established that allowed Maus to circulate and be received as serious.  RAW also published the early work of cartoonists who are today titans in the field, such as Chris Ware and Charles Burns, who each got their start in RAW.  Spiegelman had seen one of Ware’s comic strips in a college newspaper in Texas and phoned him to ask him to submit to RAW.  Burns, on the other hand, traveling to New York, simply knocked on Mouly and Spiegelman’s door in Soho.  RAW published work from young up-and-coming artists like Ware and Burns, and also re-published comics works that had gone under the radar, such as by Boody Rogers and Henry Darger.  Many of today’s most well-known cartoonists, such as Ben Katchor, Lynda Barry, Julie Doucet, Gary Panter, and Justin Green, all appeared in RAWRAW also, significantly, specifically aimed to bring avant-garde comics (or “comix”) from Europe—where Mouly had connections—and elsewhere to an American audience.  Mouly and Spiegelman traveled abroad to cultivate cartoonists from wide and far for the pages of RAW.  Showing the sophisticated comics work being done in the U.S. by young artists and across continents, RAW—whose second volume run was picked up by Penguin— pioneered a space in culture for the graphic and intellectual force of comics.  Having all of the issues of RAW at Special Collections is a key resource, and will be indispensable for anyone studying contemporary comics.

Hillary Chute and comics artist Alison Bechdel are collaborators in the University’s new Mellon Residential Fellowships for Arts Practice and Scholarship program (see http://arts.uchicago.edu/about/mellonfellows.shtml for more information). In Spring 2012 they will be co-teaching a course “Lines of Transmission: Comics and Autobiography.”

Hidden treasures in the Special Collections: the Rosenberger Ephemera

 One of the most interesting ephemera collections in the Special Collection Research Center’s holdings is that of the Ludwig Rosenberger Library of Judaica. Although Rosenberger spent most of his collecting effort on acquiring non-ephemeral material, he did amass a well-sized collection of ephemera. While the collection has material related to Zionism, Albert Einstein, and Sigmund Freud, its main focus is French, German, and American anti-Semitism. Source material on the subject is anything but rare, but the singular form of the content of the collection provides a uniquely visceral, intimate look at the subject. If you are interested in accessing the collection, an inventory of the ephemera is available in Special Collections. In the meantime, here is a selection of ephemera from a few boxes of the Rosenberger collection:

History of the United States

Although the majority of the material related to anti-Semitism in the Rosenberger ephemera is devoted to France and Germany, Rosenberger collected some American and Mexican items. This political cartoon, first published in 1909, portrays the cycle of control of the United States, perhaps ending in Jewish domination.



“Long live France, down with the Jews”

One of many forms of anti-Semitic materials distributed in France at the turn of the century was so-called “confetti,” small pieces of paper with a message, meant to be handed out or stuck to walls in the street. This small, circular piece of confetti was probably created and distributed by supporters of Edouard Drumont, a political writer and founder of the Antisemitic League of France.





“The Jew: monopolist, exploiter and corrupter”

A large part of French anti-Semitic material from the 19th and 20th centuries, like this caricature, contain mainly economic criticisms of Jews, accusing them of greed and secretive economic exploitation. Ironically enough, many anti-Semitic writers from around the turn of the century viewed such criticisms as a departure from racism in favor of a more “realistic” or grounded critique of Jewish culture.






“Cloth Star”

While the Rosenberger ephemera contains many pieces meant for the communication of an anti-Semitic message, some pieces are rather an ephemeral embodiment of anti-Semitism’s execution. The yellow piece of cloth atop the picture contains a Jewish Star of David with the French word for “Jew” written on the inside, a French version of the infamous badges the Nazis made Jews wear on their arms to identify them as such. The bottom piece, one of the oldest materials in the Rosenberger ephemera (dated to the 18th century), is a German ticket allowing a group of Jews to stay somewhere for three days. Pieces like these reveal a unique mode of anti-Semitism once prominent in Europe, born from political authority as an obstacle to Jewish assimilation and movement.


“The International League against Antisemitism”

Rosenberger didn’t just collection anti-Semitic ephemera; he also collected materials combating anti-Semitism. This broadside was one of many distributed by the Ligue Internationale contre l’Antisémitisme, one of the two major organizations in France before World War II attempting to persuade French citizens against support of Hitler and anti-Semitism.



“Boycott German Products”

The other major pre-WWII French organization against anti-Semitism was Le Comité de Defense de Juifs Persecutes en Allemagne (the Committee for the Defense of Persecuted Jews in Germany, or C.D.J.P.A.). Along with the International League against Antisemitism, the Committee led a nation-wide boycott against German products, as well as an anti-Nazi press campaign. This handbill showcases their main logo, a cage with a swastika-shaped snake trapped inside.