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With this blog we hope to draw attention to the intriguing and remarkably rare items discovered by Harvard Library users during the course of their research. Harvard Library Preservation routinely reviews books returned through circulation, knowing that these returns include a surprising numbers of works that are too deteriorated to survive continued use, and are that too rare and interesting not to share online with the Harvard community, and beyond.

Titles are selected for digitization through various criteria such as rarity, condition, use, research relevance, and/or visual content. We invite you to peruse the titles posted here as well as subscribe to our feeds and see what titles queued for digitization, as well as those already completed and online.

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James Leon Williams was a dentist, scientist, scholar, artist, and philosopher. While he is most noted as the first to discover plaque and the inventor of modern dentures, he was also a photographer of considerable ability, using photographic techniques for both artistic and scientific purposes. As a scientist, his microphotographic research confirmed the relationship between bacteria and tooth decay. As an artist, he was amongst the few American photographers to fully recognize the photogravure process as not only a technique for reproducing photographs, but an artform in its own right. Williams’ work is most akin to the school of photography founded by Peter Henry Emerson, where creating an atmospheric composition with soft peripheral focus would most closely resemble nature. He produced two fine photogravure picture books, “The Home and haunts of Shakespeare” (1892), and “The land of Sleepy Hollow and the home of Washington Irving” (1887). His work on the home of Washington Irving was a collaborative effort with the well known Irving illustrator, Felix Darley. The book celebrates the work of Washington Irving, his literary importance and enduring popularity.

According to his biographer, George Wood Clapp, “Dr. Williams seems equally at home with the microscope, the pen, the palette, and the graver. He is at once a student, a writer, a scientist, an artist, and a sculptor. Above all, he is a philosopher.”

According to H.M. Cartwright, historian of photomechanical processes, “Of all photoengraving methods there is none which produces such rich and satisfying results as photogravure. The reason for this is to be found in the method of printing. It is an intaglio process and, therefore, the quantity of ink which is transferred to the paper can be considerable, and it shares with mezzotint among hand engraving processes the resulting richness of tones.”


Irving, Washington. The land of Sleepy Hollow and the home of Washington Irving :a series of photogravure representations, with descriptive letter-press. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1887.
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In the 1590’s, the Dutch explored the Arctic regions looking for a sea passage to Asia. While their aspirations for a lucrative northeast passageway was never realized, the voyages did provide an unanticipated benefit for the growing Dutch economy. In addition to noting the proliferation of polar bears and walruses, these arctic expeditions sighted large quantities of whales off the coast of Spitsbergen and across the Greenland Sea. These revelations encouraged the Dutch to commit significant resources towards shipbuilding and naval supremacy, with the expectation of countless riches from the trade of whaling products. The British and French were unable to keep up with the Dutch, both in finance and capital to support this venture. The Dutch became the preeminent whalers of the 17th and early 18th century, killing some 30,000 whales, making huge profits, and establishing the Netherlands as the center of the whaling industry. Having a near monopoly on whaling, the Dutch kept the prices artificially high across Europe.

Much of our understanding of whaling at this time comes from the publications of Cornelis Gijsbertsz Zorgdrager, a Dutch navigator born around 1660, who commanded a number of whaling ships during this period of Dutch growth and dominance. Recognizing the proliferation of stories, fables, and legends regarding whaling, Zorgdrager decided to publish his own research and observations from his whaling days. His works showed how ships ought to be equipped, where whales and other sea inhabitants were to be found, and how to hunt and render the animals amidst ice floes and treacherous seas. He provides considerable detail about ships, on board provisions, equipment, hunting apparatus, and catches across the northern fishing areas and small coastal encampments. In addition to the general map of the northern regions, there are among others, maps of Iceland and of Greenland, as well as plates of various wildlife.

“My profession for several years having been fishing in Greenland, I felt obliged to acquire the knowledge and training they require… I noted very carefully in my annual register all the remarkable events that had come to me in order to have an accurate idea of ​​my operations.” -Zorgdrager

Dutch supremacy in whaling over other European competitors like France, Germany and Britain eventually diminished in the second half of the 18th century as those countries became more powerful as a result of their colonial exploits.


The perilous hunt on the open waters

Narwhal skeletons often thought to be related to unicorns

Bowhead or right whale, the most desired for hunting

Depictions of walrus and sperm whale

Illustration of ships trapped in the ice


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Zorgdrager, Cornelis Gijsbertsz. Cornelius Gisbert Zorgdragers Beschreibung des Grönländischen Wallfischfangs und Fischerey :nebst einer gründlichen Nachricht von dem Bakkeljau- und Stockfischfang bey Terreneuf, und einer kurzen Abhandlung von Grönland, Island, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Jan Mayen Eiland, der Strasse Davids u.a. ; aus dem holländischen übersetzt, und mit accuraten Kupfern und Land-Charten gezieret.
Widener Library
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police wagon2

Outside of the Doctor Who program, the police call box kiosk has become obsolete, not unlike the iconic telephone booth. However, the use of call boxes, or call stations, was cutting-edge in the 1880’s and dramatically changed the way in which police and fire departments responded to emergencies. In 1881, the Police Patrol and Signal Service in Chicago installed the first of these stations with direct phone lines back to police stations. These stations resembled guard sentry boxes or kiosks. The kiosks were “keyed” to limit public access and discourage false alarms. Eventually, with increasing demand, stand-alone call boxes were manufactured to easily mount on exterior walls or on lamp posts. Keys were typically issued to the police and occasionally for certain trusted members of the public. The big player in the manufacturing and installation of the alarm systems was the Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph Company (still in existence), becoming notable for their recognizable trademark of a fist with lightning bolts.


By 1886, Gamewell had installed systems throughout 250 American cities. Gamewell also introduced home alarm systems that allowed the homeowner the ability to signal the police for specific criminal acts, including unusual choices such as “drunken servant”. Pamphlets like these were issued to advertise and promote Gamewell equipment and services across the country, often accompanied with endorsement quotes from local police departments or politicians.

According to Gamewell, these stations were

“Placed at the outset in the most turbulent district of the city, it so speedily increased the efficiency of the ” force,” by enabling them to concentrate promptly at any needed point, that, within a few months, the district was as easily cared for and protected as the average districts of the city. Patrolmen soon learned that in case of necessity they, or some one for them, could literally, with the rapidity of lightning, summons assistance from the nearest station, and that they could reckon with certainty on a response. And the criminal and riotous discovered that there was little chance for them where electricity was utilized so successfully in aid of law and its agents.”…..”The telegraph is the one thing that the criminals dread. It circumvents all their skill and their cunning; and this application of it is certain to prove as valuable in municipalities as it has heretofore proved in securing arrests at distant points.”


Two horse police wagon

“The patrol wagons…..furnished with an alarm gong, and under the seats, which run lengthwise on each side of the box, are compartments for handcuffs, come-alongs, clubs, blankets, canvas stretcher, ropes, a medicine chest and other articles necessary and convenient. One of the force accompanying the wagon is an expert, trained in the necessary expedients for resuscitating a case of suspended animation, stopping a flow of blood from a wound, and other temporary appliances for saving life and alleviating misery.”

police alarm1

A private alarm system

A small signal-box is specially constructed, to be placed in private residences, banks, hotels, or business offices to be connected directly with the system. When a signal-box is placed in a private residence, a key of the house is left at the station under seal. In case the occupants of the house have occasion, at any time, to call for assistance of the police, they can do so by simply pulling the hook attached to the box, and they can also indicate the nature of their want by using any one of ten different signals ; that is, they may indicate burglars, drunken servant, fire, etc. 

The call station street kiosk

The street station shown is very extensively used; it is octagonal in shape, with pointed top, two feet four inches in diameter, and about eight feet in height. The top being made of glass and iron, it takes the place of a lamp post, and the gas or other lamp is placed upon the top, serving not only as a street light, but to light the interior of the station at night.

Stand-alone wall box

From the report of Alonzo Bowman, Chief of Police, January 31, 1888: 
“The Electric Police Signal (the Gamewell System) and Telephone System has been in operation now some four months, and may be considered a success. An average of one hundred and twenty-five signals are sent into the station every twenty-four hours from the street boxes by the sergeants and patrolmen on street duty. Officers on patrol duty are required to signal from the boxes on their routes every hour, and on some routes oftener, the record being kept at the Chief’s office averaging thirty eight hundred per month.”

[Police equipment. :Pamphlet box.]. [1889-1892].
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To some people, the thought of hitting the exercise treadmill every day would be a cruel and unusual punishment. Ironically, this response is much closer to the the truth than might be expected. The actual invention of the treadmill, in 1818, by the Englishman William Cubit was meant for use in prisons as a correctional tool. Concerned that prisoners were too idle, he engineered mechanical treadmill systems that would enforce daily activity as well produce useful work. Cubitt’s treadmills, or “tread-wheels”, required the prisoner to continually step upwards upon a rotating wooden cylinder or within a wheel-like form, not unlike a hamster on an exercise wheel. Prisoners would hold onto a horizontal handrail for stability. These treadmills became very popular in Victorian England with larger models developed to accommodate several prisoners side by side for upwards of 10 hours per day (the equivalent of climbing a 12,000 ft mountain). While the initial intent for the treadmill was punishment, and it was often used solely for that purpose, it also became a standard way to grind grain or pump water for the prison facility. Somewhat popular in America, correctional facilities gradually stopped using the treadmill in favor of even more severe “hard labor” options, such as breaking rocks, clearing swamps, or bricklaying. Eventually, even England abandoned the treadmill at the end of the 19th century as too cruel.

“I have to certify to the court, that the Tread-mill has been in full operation
 ever since the last Midsummer Sessions, and on an average from
 seventy-five to eighty prisoners have been daily employed on the Wheels, 
the proportion of females being very small, not amounting to more than ten 
or twelve at any time, and generally not exceeding six or eight. The male 
prisoners, when at work, are three fourths on the Wheels, and one-fourth 
at rest; the females, one half on the Wheel, and the other half at rest;
 and during the six months the Mill has been at work, I have never heard 
of one prisoner, male or female, receiving any injury, either in their limbs 
or general health, and as far as I am capable of forming a judgment, I consider the labour at the Tread-mill not as injurious, but conducive to the health of the prisoners.”

A cross section of the treadmill showing the handles

“If any prisoner or prisoners are observed to be talking while 
on the Tread-wheel, they are deprived of their next turn for 
rest. Two officers are in constant attendance at the time”

A listing of dietaries for the prisoners at English prisons

For the Horsley House of Correction the daily intake was —
“One pound and a half of bread, one pint and a half of gruel, and one pound and a half of potatoes per day”

Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline and for the Reformation of Juvenile Offenders (London, England). Description of the tread mill for the employment of prisoners :with observations on its management. London : Printed by T. Bensley, 1823.
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Tse Tsan-tai (1872-1938) was known as a revolutionary, newspaperman, social and political reformer, scholar, businessman, journalist, inventor, historian, and Christian theologian. Born in Sydney and baptised James Yee, Tse moved to Hong Kong with his family where he received his formal education. As a young revolutionary, he started the Furen Literary Society, espousing the guiding principals of “Open up the People’s Minds“, and “Love your Country with all your heart“. The society advocated the overthrow of the Qing government and the establishment of a new republic for China. After his society’s attempts failed, Tse turned to the newspaper and other publications to broadcast his message to the world. He published The Situation in the Far East, a political cartoon cautioning against European ambition to partition China. In 1903, Tse co-founded the South China Morning Post with Alfred Cunningham, which still remains an important publication in Hong Kong. In addition to these political activities, Tse was also credited as the first Chinese to invent and fly an airship.

Being a Chinese Christian was difficult and dangerous at the turn of the 20th century. During the Boxer rebellion and into World War I, numerous Christian missionaries were massacred. Nonetheless, Tse considered himself equally a patriot and a Christian, remaining steadfast and undeterred by the risks. Furthermore, he embarked on a controversial theory that the origin of Eden was actually in China. He believed that this deposition might force various factions to reconcile and stop further violence.

In 1914, Tse published The Creation, the Garden of Eden and the Origin of the Chinese, in which he attempted to prove, based on the geographical description in the Bible, that the Garden of Eden was located in China.

And, during my study of the Bible and Ancient 
Chinese History, on Sunday the 25th October, 1914, 
I discovered a clue to the unravelling of the mystery, 
and it suddenly dawned upon me, like a flash of light, 
that the Cradle of the Human Race was not where it 
is now reputed and believed to be, but, in Chinese 
Turkestan in the plateau of Eastern Asia, 
and also that the Chinese race originated there. 
I felt so happy and delighted with my discovery, 
that I immediately followed up the clue, and commenced 
writing this, my book, and forgetting food and sleep, 
finished the draft at 8 a.m., on Wednesday, the 28th October, 1914,
when the thunder pealed and the lightning flashed. 
The revision and re-writing of my book was completed 
after seven days and seven nights ceaseless labour, 
on the Ist November, 1914, after which, I rested for three days. 
I know that without God’s inspiration and help, it would 
have been impossible for me to write this book as I have done. 

Tse’s book tried to eliminate the notion that Christianity in China was a device of Western powers, especially at a time when the West was strong-arming a weak China into making coastal concessions. Tse places the location of Eden in the far west of China, known as Chinese Turkestan.

Tse Tsan Tai also supported the reformation of traditional time-honored practices in China. He worked with Alicia Little, a British novelist, missionary, and reformer, to eradicate the practice of foot binding. This particular copy at Harvard was sent to Alicia Little by Tse to help promote his Eden theory. The accompanied letters are tipped in at the beginning of the book.

Tse Tsan Tai. The creation :the real situation of Eden, and the origin of the Chinese. Hongkong : Kelly & Walsh, Ltd., printers and publishers, 1914. 
Persistent Link:
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Harvard University

Dr. E.G. (Ernest Goodrich) Stillman, son of successful banker James Stillman, received degrees from Harvard and Columbia before pursuing a career in medical research. A devoted philanthropist and conservationist, Stillman was a generous benefactor of Harvard University. Like many Americans at the end of the 19th century, Stillman was drawn to Japan for its art, literature, culture, and history. During a trip to Japan in 1905, he purchased some 5,000 objects, including prints, photographs, books, and pamphlets. In the 1940s, Stillman made a large gift to the university, including a number of items from his personal collection of materials relating to Japan. Some of the photograph albums he donated contain hand-colored albumen prints taken by notable photographers such as Felice Beato, Baron Raimund von Stillfried, Kusakabe Kimbei, and Tamamura Kozaburo. These photo albums were popular souvenir items for foreign tourists. The albums would often include images of priests, pilgrims, actors, singers, street vendors, along with representative locations ranging from the urban markets to parks and gardens to spiritual shrines.

In this two album set from the Meiji period are scenic views of Tokyo, Koganei, Yokohama, Kamakura, Kobe, Matsushima Bay, and Awaji Island. Beautiful photographs of natural scenery, people, daily life, traditional customs, with iconic images of cherry trees, gardens, temples, shrines, teahouses, ferries, and rickshaws.

In another three album composite souvenir set are photographs taken in and around the inland city of Nikko, with an emphasis on the historic Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.


Japanese photographs of the Meiji period [graphic]. 1868-1897? 2 albums. 
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Photographs relating to Japan, 1898 [graphic]. ca. 1880-ca. 1895. 3 albums. 
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Harvard University


A slideshow of this collection is available at: 

Stillman Photograph Albums of Japan – Slideshow


Additional information on E.G. Stillman’s collections and access to the photograph albums is available at:

Harvard College Library-Early Photography of Japan



Party Like It’s 1899

 “The tinkle of the ice—the delightful 
odor of the lemon peel—the fragrance and 
flavor of this ice-cold appetizer, what an 
apology it has been for cold soup
and overdone entree !”

The term “cocktail” has origins dating back to the 18th century. However, it was with the 1862 publication of Jerry Thomas’s “How to Mix Drinks; or, The Bon Vivant’s Companion” that the term became commonplace to describe drink recipes where bitters was an essential ingredient. Jerry Thomas became known as the father of American mixology, often referred to as the “Professor” for his creative combinations, and his publication helped sparked the cocktail craze. As the popularity of cocktails increased, so did the proliferation of novel recipes. Not to be left behind, the Ivy Leaguers developed and championed their own unique cocktail drinks. Students in 1898, like those before and those afterwards, exhibited the predilection to impress others by consuming copious amounts of the latest drink fetish. By the end of the century, new recipes were making their way into print and more guides were published annually in attempts to keep up with current recipes and recent twists on presentation. It was toward the end of the 19th century that the maraschino cherry and the olive were introduced as popular garnishes to top off a cocktail. Livermore & Knight began publishing cocktail guides, beginning with this small pocket-sized offering in 1898. This book was not published as a comprehensive guide for bartenders or drinking establishments, but oriented toward those planning and hosting domestic fetes.

A cocktail is an appetizer or stomach 
stimulant and differs from other drinks 
in that it is supposed to contain Bitters. 
It is the purpose of this book to give 
the rules for the mixing of simple and well known 
cocktails. As to rules for fancy 
cocktails there is no end, and the addition 
of the various ingredients for sweetening 
and blending of fancy cocktails has been 
left to the taste of the mixer. 

A cocktail should never be bottled and 
should always be made at the time of drinking. 
A bottled cocktail might be likened unto a
depot sandwich—neither are fit for use 
except in case of necessity. 

An old-fashioned yet attractive way of 
serving a cocktail to ladies is the wiping of 
the rim of the cocktail glass with lemon 
peel and then dipping the rim in powdered 
sugar, which leaves a frosty decoration on 
the rim of the glass.

The Harvard cocktail

..and the competing Yale cocktail


Even the esteemed Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. recognized the value of a good cocktail. In his correspondence with colleague and protégé, Professor John Henry Wigmore, Holmes notes Wigmore’s proficiency as a “maker of first class cocktails”.



Cocktails :how to make them. Providence : Livermore & Knight Co., 1898. 
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The history of military action in Afghanistan is full of costly successes and bitter calamities. The First Anglo-Afghan War (which even became known as Auckland’s Folly) was fought between the British East India Company and Afghanistan from 1839-1842. The campaign resulted in the death of some 4,500 British and Indian soldiers as well as some 12,000 civilians. The British motivation for an invasion and occupation Afghanistan was to check the expanding Russian Empire from creeping further into British holding interests in the south and east Asia. The war was not without its naysayers, including Lord Aberdeen and Commander-in-Chief John Keane, who even prognosticated that the war would end in catastrophe. In 1842, The British would realize that catastrophe during the Battle of Kabul and its humiliating retreat. In the end, British eventually found it untenable to occupy the territory, only to re-invade Afghanistan in 1878. 

Rollo Gillespie Burslem served the British Infantry during the campaigns of 1838-1842 in Afghanistan. He participated in several battles, but also helped to survey the land for possible passes through the rugged and inhospitable mountain ranges and desert plains. Upon his return from the war, Captain Rollo Burslem authored an account of his expedition under the title “A Peep into Toorkisthan”, which was first published in 1846.

He opens his book with:

The following pages are literally what they profess to be, a record of a few weeks snatched from a soldier’s life in Afghanistan, and spent in travels  through a region which few Europeans have ever  visited before. The notes from which it is compiled were written on the desert mountains of Central  Asia, with very little opportunity, as will be easily supposed, for study or polish. Under these circumstances, it can hardly be necessary to deprecate the criticism of the reader. Composition is not one of  the acquirements usually expected of a soldier. What is looked for in his narrative is not elegance, but plainness. He sees more than other people, but he studies less, and the strangeness of his story must make up for the want of ornament.

Burslem later describes what difficulties any army would experience with traversing the harsh land:

We were now about to explore a part of Toorkisthan 
which I have reason to believe had never been 
visited by Europeans; the distance between Ghoree 
and Badjghar is about eighty miles, across as wild 
and romantic a country as can well be conceived, 
consisting of a succession of difficult and in some 
places perilous defiles ; the last of these was the 
famous Dushti Suffaed, which leads to Badjghar. 
There is a sameness in the features of these Toorkisthan 
passes which renders a faithful description 
tedious, from its monotony and the necessary repetition 
of similar characteristic features; yet the 
reader will hardly fail to draw important conclusions 
from the immense difficulty and almost practical 
impossibility that a modern army of considerable 
numbers, with all its encumbrances, through such 
a country, with any hope of its retaining its efficiency 
or even a tithe of its original numerical 
strength, will encounter.

He addresses the accusations of brutality and cruelty to the native population:

 I am aware that ill-informed people have accused our armies in Affghanistan, especially after the advance of General Pollock’s force, of many acts of cruelty to the natives, but I  can emphatically deny the justice of the accusation.  Some few instances of revenge for past injuries did occur, but I am sure that an impartial soldier would rather admire the forbearance of men who for days had been marching over the mangled remains of the Cabul army.

Immediately before us lay the populous city of Koollum ; 
the fortress standing on a small isolated eminence, 
and the dome-shaped houses embosomed in the 
deep foliage of their gardens and orchards clustered 
round it for miles on every side. Immediately on 
the outskirts of the city the desert commences, 
which, stretching away to Bokhara as far as the 
eye could reach, formed a melancholy and uninviting 
background to the busy scene before us.

 …human skeletons were strewed around ; as far as 
the eye could penetrate these mournful relics presented 
themselves ; they were very perfect, and had 
evidently not been disturbed since death.


Beautifully brilliant were the prismatic colours 
reflected from the varied surface of the ice, when 
the torches flashed suddenly upon them as we  
passed from cave to cave. Around, above, beneath, 
 every thing was of solid ice, and being unable to 
stand on account of its slippery nature, we slid 
or rather glided mysteriously along the glassy  
surface of this hall of spells.

Burslem, Rollo Gillespie. A peep into Toorkisthān. London : P. Richardson, 1846. 
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Edo (Yedo) Castle, constructed in 1457, transformed Tokyo (then called Edo) from a small fishing village into an urban center for trade, culture, and politics. Edo Castle became the official residence of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from 1603 to 1867. Upon the shogun’s arrival in 1603, the castle was in shambles, requiring an extensive 40 year reconstruction project. The castle was upgraded to be an appropriate residence for the shogun as well as an administration center for a unified Japan. At the time, it was the biggest castle in the world with a defensive perimeter of over 10 miles comprised of an inner and outer moat. The moats were crossed by 36 gates or watchtowers, each heavily guarded. In 1868 the Tokugawa shogun’s power toppled and the emperor was restored to the supreme ruling position, ending the feudal era and ushering the modernization of Japan. Emperor Meiji resided at the castle from 1868 to 1888 before moving to the newly constructed Imperial Palace. Unfortunately, there is little that remains of the original castle structure today. Much of it had been destroyed due to fires and earthquakes, including most of the gates. The remnants are currently being preserved as historical landmarks.

This extravagant publication at the end of the 19th century tried to capture the magnificence of the gates for tourists and historians alike. Each of the 36 gates is depicted in color with an accompanying historical description.

OTE-GOMON (THE MAIN CASTLE-GATE.) When the Shogun passed the gate, all the people were to be sent away (they being not allowed to take sight of the Shogun), except the Daimyo, who was the master of the guards, his Karo (1st class steward), and Rusui (a Daimyo s deputy keeping a castle or mansion).

Since the disastrous fire, of 1806, which, however, did not destroy the gate or its bridge, the site of the residence of Matsudaira Noto-no-kami was made an open space for protection against fire.

Within this gate, there was a well called Himega-i famous for good water. The lord of the Nabeshima clan used to contribute one to of rice at the end of every year for its maintenance.

The gate was called Hokuto-Kwaku (lit. : polar-star gate). The place outside the gate facing toward Hitotsugi was called Fujimi-Kwaku (probably from its having the view of the Mount Fuji)


Shimizu, Sanju. The pictures of the 36 gates of the Shogun’s castle in Yedo. Tokyo, Japan : Dobun-Kwan, [1896?].
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Chandler Owen (1889-1967) was a prolific writer, editor, and early activist for African-American Civil Rights. In 1916, he joined the Socialist Party of America and became a follower of the Harlem activist, Hubert H. Harrison. In 1917, Owen founded a socialist journal, the Messenger, where he published political and social commentary, promoted unionism, and literature of the New Negro Movement. The journal was both progressive and radical, taking the stance that African Americans should not fight in WWI for a “so-called” democracy of Europe while still being denied equality in their own homeland. Owen was arrested under the Espionage Act for his incendiary comments in the journal. The Messenger folded in 1928 and Owen became disenchanted with socialism. He eventually joined the Republican Party believing it would provide the best forum for increasing political rights and equality for blacks. By the mid-1920s Owen had become a speechwriter for local Republican candidates. Though he was no fan of President Roosevelt’s policies toward African Americans, Owen worked for the Allied war effort in WWII. He took a job with the U.S. Office of Information, a government propaganda bureau, and wrote Negroes and the War, a booklet that presented arguments in favor of black support of the war effort. Owen saw this world war as a true threat to democracy, especially toward African American aspirations for progress and equality. The US government wanted the support of blacks in the war effort, and while Owen’s political leanings and activism were controversial, his credibility with the minority population was viewed as an acceptable compromise. OWI published and distributed 2.5 million copies of Negroes and the War. Heavily illustrated to demonstrate the roles of blacks in the war, the pamphlet also featured imagery of growing opportunities and achievements of blacks in American society, such as professional work, education, religion, athletics, and entertainment.

Some Negro Americans say that it makes no 
difference who wins this war”. They say that 
things could not be any worse under Hitler.
These are the people who emphasize liabilities; 
they never appraise their assets. They magnify 
the bad. They minimize the good. 
Without underestimating the Negro’s liabilities
without denying the fact of handicaps and 
inequalities, I want to set down just what stake 
the Negro has in America—just what he has to lose under Hitler.

-Owen Chandler

Howard University

The legendary Tuskegee Airmen

Joe Louis enlisted as a private in the army and became a recruitment icon


Owen, Chandler. Negroes and the war. [Washington, D.C. : U.S. Office of War Information, 1942].
Persistent Link:
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Harvard University


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