Monday, September 27, 2010

Mood lighting

A lone student in a remote setting, 1933.
FOUND THIS SNAPSHOT DATED 1933 in the photo archives, and it caught my eye because it suggests in an artistic way some of the remoteness of the early Mount.

Something I saw the other day referred to the College in the early days as "practically inaccessible" with its steep canyons and dicey road . Here, a lone student takes in the last rays of the lowering sun in a setting that's still very stark -- no landscaping, no bulletin boards, no patio. Her thoughts seem miles away over the Pacific Ocean.

The photo was taken on the west side of Brady Hall looking south, before the patio and dining hall extension were built. The steps lead up to what was a large stage in the lecture hall (now Brady Commons), and down to some office and storage space. The upper stairs are gone, but the lower ones are still there.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

From log hut to Brady Hall

FOR THE ARCHITECTURE TOUR I'm leading next month, I've been poking around records, photographs, blueprints and beautiful Brady Hall itself, a remarkable structure that served as the entire College between 1931 and 1939.

I must have had architecture on the brain when I came across this illustration of the Sisters of St. Joseph's first building in America in 1836, a log hut in Carondelet, Mo., from whence the congregation takes its name. The tiny new St. Joseph's Convent, perched on a bluff between the Mississippi River and miles of virgin woods, consisted of a stool, two mattress covers, a table and three chairs. A nearby hut (similarly underfurnished) served as a school room for the local village kids.

From small starts do mighty things grow. You can trace the lineage of that log cabin down to Brady Hall, which in its early days was equally utilitarian, providing dorms, dining hall, classrooms, science labs, student lounges, library, chapel and convent under its pantiled roof.

On April 20, 1836, one Sister Philomene wrote back to the motherhouse in France describing their new foundation in cautiously optimistic tones. She concluded, "We are doing our best and trusting in God." It's that same mindset, charism, or whatever you want to call it, that built Brady Hall, and everything else the Carondelets have accomplished in the 175 years since they first occupied the log cabin.

(The illustration and quote come from The Living Fountain: The story of Mother St. John Fontbonne, by Sister Mary Dolorosa Mannix, CSJ, with illustrations by Sister Francis Louise Russell, CSJ. Los Angeles: Wetzel Publishing Co., 1951.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reveling in the very ordinary

ARCHAEOLOGISTS AND HISTORIANS (and archivists) say that the ordinary stuff of daily life that turns up is often the most interesting. The literary, governmental, and military artifacts are important, for sure, but what would you rather see: another ode to the emperor, or a wax tablet from a homesick Roman soldier?

I'm doing an archaeological dig of sorts through back numbers of Inter-Nos, a combination literary magazine/ monthly newspaper/ scientific journal that the Mount published between 1927 and 1949. Some of them are astonishing, including one in 1930 dedicated to the Roman poet Virgil, with essays by students in seven (!) languages, including Latin.

More fun for me, though, is the more prosaic tidbit that a new set of dishes was introduced in the cafeteria on October 22, 1934. For students and the Sisters, that had to be a big deal. The new settings, we're told, are made of green glass, which the anonymous writer notes is "so popular at the present time." The 36 cups and plates were purchased with money from a candy raffle, won by Miss Fitch, the drama instructor, and "add greatly to the cheerfulness of the cafeteria." Big news on campus!

Inter-Nos was also where students and faculty could publish their poetry. One student, identified only as "M.V.B.," published a little paean to the College in June, 1931, ending with these lines:
Would you live in this beautiful school of ours
With a faith that never varies?
Then join with us as we start upon life
From the hills of Mount St. Mary's.
In my book, that's more fun than essays on Virgil any day. And now, back to my dig. As is ever the case, the number I'm actually looking for is missing...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mindful of the gap

THE BRITS' FAMOUS subway signs kept popping into my mind this week as I undertook yet another scanning project for the Mount's 85th anniversary celebrations in October.

Debbie Ream, the director of our Public Relations department, sent me a list of several dozen historic milestones for which she needed pictures. This request was easily fulfilled from our archives of exquisite black and white photographs (1925 through about 1990), somewhat more difficult to fulfill out of the color snapshots (circa 1990-2000) and virtually impossible after 2000. In fact, I found only one physical copy (a pretty good 4 by 6 snapshot) from 2003 of President Jacqueline Powers Doud receiving an award.

I'm the Mount's Lone Arranger by day, but by night I teach library preservation online for the San Jose State School of Library and Information Science. And Topic A-1 in library preservation these days is how we keep digital objects, especially those ubiquitous JPEGs pouring out of everyone's digital cameras that end up in Flickr, Facebook, websites and emails -- but never in the archives. They're everywhere, and nowhere.

Since I teach this, it's no surprise to me that we have no photography to speak of after 2000 in the College Archives. But I wonder what others expect.

Quite a bit of digital photography is actually in the hands of the PR department on various PC hard disks, servers and external drives. This is a very typical solution. (Full disclosure: I store the scans on my H drive.)

But it's not an archival one. But it's hard to find stuff, and it can't be easily shared, nor can it be preserved.

One of the things Debbie and I hope to do in the next few months is to try to get going on some kind of low-end, shared digital space where we can experiment with storing and cataloging our some of our born-digital photos. It won't be a perfect solution -- bigger institutions than the Mount struggle with this -- but it'll help. When the Mount celebrates its 150th, someone may want pictures from the early 21st Century. We need to be minding the gap.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Biblical time warp

HOW DO YOU REACT in the presence of a piece of Christian and English history that you can touch? Rare books have a certain effect on people that is practically universal, which I'd describe as awe accompanied by goosebumps. That was how I felt, anyway, in the presence of a rare copy of the second edition of the King James Bible, made from the same printing plates as the original in 1611. To see the exquisite language of the beginning of Genesis, some of the most beautiful words in the English language, was to peer across 400 years:
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] on the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
I realized I knew it by heart, but there was something about seeing it in ink on old paper that united me to all those literate Englishmen and -women at the dawn of the 17th Century seeing it for the first time. Brrr. Goosebumps.

That was perhaps THE highlight among many of getting to hang around around the historic Bibles that will be on exhibit at the Santa Clara University Library this fall. Too many mention here, anyway, but I'll share one more. Jumping ahead four centuries, I was boggled by SCU's lavish facsimile of the famous St. John's Bible, the first handwritten Bible in half a millennium currently being calligraphed (goose quill, ink, parchment) in Wales. SCU will also be exhibiting several huge leaves of the original.

Just the illumination on a capital T in the book of Genesis is a work of art. It all reminded me of the Benedictine motto, "ut in omnibus glorificetur Dei." Nine centuries of historic Bibles at SCU say Amen to that.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On the road with Brianus Waltonus

OR IN ENGLISH, Brian Walton. Walton was an Anglican clergyman in the 17th Century, but the reason we're interested is he was also the publisher of the renowned London Polyglot Bible, a six-volume masterpiece published between 1654 and 1657. Thanks to the largess of Countess Estelle Doheny in the 1950s, the Mount owns a complete set in beautiful condition. To see these huge folios is peer into both Reformation history and the history of printing.

The production of polyglots fueled a surge of interest in Middle Eastern languages, which at the time lacked any kind of reference materials. And to see all nine languages rendered in print -- Latin, Hebrew, Chaldean, Samaritan, Syriac Arabic, Persian, Ethiopian and Greek -- is to appreciate the depth of Walton's achievement in a technology that was barely 200 years old.

Hence the trip up the 101 to the University of Santa Clara, which is going to be holding an exhibit of historic Bibles from Sept. 21 through mid-December. The Mount has been honored with an invitation to share some of our own historic volumes, so I'm going to escort them to their temporary home in the fabulous new University Library. Coming along with Brian and me will be a tiny Hebrew grammar from the mid-16th century, a genuine incunable from 1488, a massive early Protestant Bible from Paris in 1532, and a couple of rare 19th Century versions in Gaelic and Welsh. All of these have been generously donated to the Mount Special Collections.

Few people at the College have seen these treasures, and it has been an amazing privilege for me to bring them back to light. For a small school, the Mount has some wonderful items, and now people in the wider world will know that, too.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Postcards from Chalon

OLD POSTCARDS are beautiful, and lucky is the archives that has a few of its own beautiful scenes. More than once I've come across a few squirreled away in an envelope, revealing a decades-long long tradition. Here is a sampling from the 1940s. A booklet postmarked 1945 was addressed by a visiting Sister to her nephew in St. Louis. It made it back to the archives in 2007. Later versions have the graceful steeple of Mary Chapel (1939) and new library (1947). I've found a few from our Doheny Campus, which I'll post later on.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Brilliant women

In the course of scanning photographs of our college presidents 1925-current, I had the pleasure of dipping into the slim file for Sister Rose Gertrude Calloway, CSJ, who headed the Mount between 1958 and 1961. She was an alumna herself -- Class of 1930 -- and went on to teach mathematics at the Mount after earning master's degrees and a doctorate from UCLA and Catholic University, respectively. (As if math weren't enough, she took two minors, physics and chemistry.)

It's probably because math was so hard for me that I so admire people, especially women, who excel at it. It was gratifying, then, to find Sister Rose Gertrude's 1948 PhD dissertation in her file, just 18 pages of calculations and graphs titled "The Reality of the Triangles In-And-Circumscribed to the Plane Rational Quartic With One Cusp and Two Nodes."

I'll leave it to the experts to figure out what that actually means. What's so marvelous to me is the brilliant arc of her life at the Mount. She was born in Anaheim in 1909, grew up on a ranch, schooled in Yuma, AZ, and Hemet, CA -- the geography of rural nowhere. Somebody must have spotted what a fine mind she possessed and propelled her to the Mount, where she could excel -- to be "all of which woman is capable" in the great phrase of the CSJ charism.

According to our written history, Sister -- who was Mary Ann Calloway back then -- took part in the college's first "entertainment" as an undergraduate in 1927. Three months after graduation she became the first alumna of the Mount to join the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

In 1935 she was back teaching math, and then on to department chair, academic dean, president, back to department chair and then director of financial aid. There was post-doc work funded by the National Science Foundation. All in all, it was the career of a distinguished professor. But one thing that always impresses me about the CSJs is how they are never exalted by having held high academic office, and there is always work to do.

At 75, when she started to slow down, Sister Rose Gertrude was "missioned" to Daniel Freeman High School as a math tutor. She passed way in 1992, leaving a final legacy -- an inventory of all the pets and animals that were part of Mount life in her years on the hill. All that, and the Plane Rational Quartic With One Cusp and Two Nodes to boot.