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The Pamphlet: America’s First Social Media

Today, social media is king. According to a Pew Research Center study, nearly one in three Americans get their news from social media.1

How, though, did colonial Americans get their information? While newspapers were the main source of news, their content was often limited to local happenings and news from London. Pamphlets filled the gap. Ranging from five to forty-eight pages, pamphlets flew off the earliest presses in the American colonies and covered just about any topic. From weather to advice on planting crops to discussions of politics, pamphlets were a vital communication tool. Should a merchant in Boston want a slave trader in Charleston to know his opinion, for example, he published a pamphlet.

In the American colonies, pamphlets became especially popular after the end of the French and Indian War in response to parliamentary and royal actions. The Sugar Act, the Proclamation of 1763, or the much-hated Stamp, Townshend, and Tea Acts became hot topics. Colonists up and down the Atlantic published pamphlets to vent their anger and rally others to their cause.

Alex-Short History of Conduct

With the outbreak of war in 1775, independence became a very popular topic. Anyone could to make their opinion known through pamphlets. The most famous, of course, was Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. Published anonymously on January 10, 1776, it was an instant success. According to Paine, it sold 120,000 copies in three months. Paine hoped that its wide circulation would allow the two and a half million American colonists to hear his message. George Washington even had it read to all the soldiers of the Continental Army. Once exposed as the author on March 30, 1776, Paine donated all royalties to Washington’s Army. Eventually Paine would allow anyone to reprint Common Sense, ensuring an even wider readership.

Alex-Paine-Common sense

Just as social media today is used to influence politics, so, too, did the pamphlets of the Revolution get the word out—they even went “viral” sometimes, as Paine’s huge success illustrates. Pamphlets from America influenced both England’s Parliament and the Continental Congress. Widely-read pamphlets against the Stamp Act (combined with the violent ‘tarring and feathering’ of officials!) convinced Parliament to repeal the act. Paine’s Common Sense is seen by some as the greatest piece of political writing in what would become the United States and is often cited as one of the key factors in America’s declaration of independence in July 1776.

Pamphlets continued to impact events after the American Revolution. They played an important role in other social movements, such as Abolition, the Second Great Awakening, Workers’ Rights, Women’s’ Suffrage, Civil Rights and other social and political reform initiatives of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Whether pamphlets will survive in the age of social media remains to be seen, but the spirit of the pamphlet—now delivered electronically– certainly lives on in America. AV


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πr², but Books are Rectangular

Pi day image 2

Pi Day image 1

Humans have long known that a special relationship exists between the diameter and circumference of a circle. As early as 2000 BCE, some had even found numbers to represent this relationship. By this date, the Babylonians knew that the circumference of a circle was always approximately 3 1/8 times larger than its diameter, while the Egyptians put the value at 4(8/9)2 (Beckmann 10). Hindu astronomy books known as the Siddhantas tell us that by 380 CE the Hindus had arrived at 3 177/1250, or 3.1416, as a constant value for the circumference/diameter ratio, and in the fifth century CE Chinese mathematicians determined that the constant must be greater than 3.1415926 and less than 3.1415927 (Beckmann 24-27). The Maya likely also knew of this ratio, and, given their sophisticated methods of calculation, had probably determined its value with a high degree of accuracy. However, it may be impossible to know for certain, as Diego de Landa, Bishop of Yucatan, burned most of the Mayas’ written records in the 1560s, believing that they were filled with “‘superstition and lies of the devil’” (Beckmann 33).

Although knowledge of the constant ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter—the ratio we now call “pi”—is ancient, the use of the Greek letter “π” to represent it is not. Use of the π symbol is usually dated to William Jones’ work Synopsis Palmariorum Matheseos: or, a New Introduction to the Mathematics, published in 1706 and shown above. After spending some time in the Royal Navy as the mathematics master on a man-of-war, Jones worked as an itinerant teacher and then private tutor in London, and later edited and published editions of several of Isaac Newton’s works. His Synopsis Palmariorum Matheseos consists of two major sections, the first dealing with “Numeral and Literal Arithmetick” and the second with the “Principles of Geometry.” Jones uses the π symbol several times throughout the second part, in both diagrams and equations. Although Jones is generally credited as the first to clearly set the letter π equal to the value 3.14 . . ., he may actually have borrowed this use of the π symbol from the writings of the astronomer John Machin, who had calculated π out to one hundred decimal places, and whose work Jones cites elsewhere in his Synopsis (Arndt and Haenel 166). Regardless of which man used the π symbol first, mathematicians adopted the symbol as standard only after the noted mathematician Euler used it in his writings, approximately thirty years after the publication of Jones’ work (Beckmann 141). BS

William Jones, Synopsis Palmariorum Matheseos: or, a New Introduction to the Mathematics. London: Printed by J. Matthews for J. Wale, 1706.

X 510 J72S

Selected Bibliography

Arndt, Jörg, and Christoph Haenel. Pi –Unleashed. Trans. Catriona Lischka and David Lischka. Berlin: Springer, 2000. Print.

Beckmann, Petr. A History of Pi. 2nd ed. Boulder: Golem, 1971. Print.

McConnell, Anita. “Machin, John (bap. 1686?, d. 1751).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Web. 13 March 2015.

Wallis, Ruth. “Jones, William (c.1675–1749).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. Web. 11 March 2015.

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Three Euphonic Emmas

The Rare Book and Manuscript Library has finished processing an archival collection of French opera autographs donated by Illinois alumnus and operatic sound recording producer Robert Zarbock (’52). The Robert Zarbock collection of opera autographs [Post-1650 MS 0657] is largely composed of letters written by opera singers famous on the Parisian stage in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Also included are photographs, lithographs, and newspaper clippings, representing 47 opera personalities in total. The collection is open to researchers.

Today we highlight three well-known performers: Emma Albani (Canadian soprano, 1847-1930), Emma Calvé (French soprano, 1858-1942), and Emma Eames (American soprano, 1865-1952).

Emma Albani performed on stages in Italy, Paris, New York, and London. Perhaps her most famous role was Isolde in Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at London’s Covent Garden in 1896, alongside Jean de Reszke (Tristan), who is also represented in the collection. Albani studied in Paris under Gilbert Duprez (also in the collection) in 1868, and performed on the Parisian stage with the Italian Opera during the 1872-1873 season. The Main Library holds her French language memoir [780.923 AL13A], and the Music and Performing Arts Library holds a recording featuring Albani and fellow Canadian singer Pauline Donalda [DISC M1505A412 E47].

Emma Albani

Emma Albani’s signature on a letter dated 5 April, 1878. Zarbock Collection, Box 1 Folder 1.

Emma Calvé is perhaps best remembered for her performance in the titular role of Georges Bizet’s Carmen at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1894. In 1922, Calvé published an autobiography, available in English translation in the Main Library [780.923 C13]. The Music and Performing Arts Library holds a collection of Calvé‘s known recordings [CDISC M1611C24 E46].


Emma Eames’s autograph on an undated letter addressed “Chère Madame.” Eames married painter Julian Story, and includes both her maiden and married names here. Zarbock Collection, Box 1, Folder 15.

American Emma Eames spent the first several years of her career performing at Paris’s Palais Garnier, where she debuted in 1889 as Juliette in Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. Eames also performed in New York (Metropolitan Opera), London (Royal Opera House and Covent Garden), and Monaco (Monte Carlo Opera), among other cities. The Music and Performing Arts Library holds recordings of Eames from the early 20th century [CDISC M1611 E25E57], as well as Eames’s 1927 memoir [780.923 EA62E1].


An undated letter written by Emma Calvé and addressed to “Mon cher Directeur.” Zarbock Collection, Box 1, Folder 5.

Special thanks to John Wagstaff, Head of the Music and Performing Arts Library, for transferring this collection to the RBML.
– EM

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Crypto-Judaism and the Festival of Esther.

Last week on our tumblr, we featured our copy of the Book of Esther to mark the beginning of Purim. When the Spanish Inquisition was established in 1478, many Jews outwardly converted to Catholicism but continued practicing Judaism in secret. Known as anusim, or crypto-Jews, they inserted certain Jewish traditions into Catholic practices. One such syncretism involved transforming Esther into a saint. When the Catholic Church formally recognizes someone as a saint, that person is canonized; those not canonized (like Esther) but deemed to be “completely perfect in holiness” may be referred to as saints in Catholicism. Crypto-Jews took advantage of this loophole, and continued celebrating Purim by reinventing it as the “Festival of Saint Esther.”

These two works, a collection of poems and a broadside sonnet, are examples of Crypto-Jewish commemoration of Saint Esther in Turin, Italy in the 18th century. Descendants of anusim continue their practices to this day, especially in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Latin America, and the American Southwest. NE

Cavagna 10244

Cavagna 10244Cavagna-10244 Cavagna-10244-2

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Of Lice and Men: A Special “Robbie Burns’ Day” Post

Louse post-ToALouse Robert Burns, Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Edinburgh: Printed for the author and sold by William Creech), 1787. NICKELL 821 B93po1787

Louse post-To A Louse
Robert Burns, Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Edinburgh: Printed for the author and sold by William Creech), 1787. NICKELL 821 B93po1787

Happy Robert Burns’ Day! In the spirit of good fun on this day that celebrates the great Scottish poet, we remind you of Burns’ poem “To a Louse” (1787). The brief poem addresses a louse, crawling upon a fine lady’s bonnet (“Ha! whaur ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?”) and reminds us of our own little faults with the immortal line: “O wad some Power the giftie gie us /To see oursels as ithers see us!” [O would some power the gift give us / To see ourselves as others see us!]

Before toasting Burns with a glass of Scotch, we thought we might explore the preponderance of pests in English literature of Burns day by showing not only the first edition of his work (in his 1787 collection, Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect), but also a lousy work from the pen of John Wolcot (1738-1819), whom Burns called a ‘truly original Bard.”

Wolcot was a satiric wit who published under the pseudonym Peter Pindar. His mock epic, The Lousiad, a Heroi-Comic Poem appeared one year before Burns’ poem (perhaps serving to inspire the louse upon the lady’s hat?). The Lousiad went through numerous editions and created something of feeding frenzy for lice literature in the late 1780s. For example, the louse responded in a 1787 Poetical Epistle from a Louse to Peter Pindar, Esq ; or, The Louse Banished from Court, and the lowly flea also got into the action in The Fleaiad, An Heroic Poem, with Notes (1787).

Peter Pindar, The Lousiad : an heroi-comic poem (London : Printed for G. Kearsley, at Johnson's Head, no. 46, Fleet Street, and W. Forster, music-seller, no. 348, near Exeter 'Change, in the Strand, where may be had, all the author's other pieces), 1786. Nickell 073

Peter Pindar, The Lousiad : an heroi-comic poem (London : Printed for G. Kearsley, at Johnson’s Head, no. 46, Fleet Street, and W. Forster, music-seller, no. 348, near Exeter ‘Change, in the Strand, where may be had, all the author’s other pieces), 1786. Nickell 073

Paul Pindar, The fleaiad, an heroic poem, with notes (London : Printed for G. Kearsley), 1787. X 821 P6521F

Paul Pindar, The fleaiad, an heroic poem, with notes (London : Printed for G. Kearsley), 1787. X 821 P6521F

Much of this lousy literature can be found in the superb Nickell Collection at the University of Illinois. Lloyd F. Nickell, an alumnus of the University of Illinois, assembled this fine collection of English literature of the eighteenth century during his twenty-year residence in England as a business executive. The collection contains rare editions of all the great writers of the period, including Burns, Defoe, Swift, Fielding, Pope, Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson, Boswell, Addison and, of course, Wolcot/Peter Pindar. Most of the collection is beautifully bound and in exceptionally fine condition. VH

For more lousy literature, visit The Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois:

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Cataloging Cavagna! The man behind the collection

Count Cavagna in 1908

Count Cavagna in 1908, from In memoria del conte Antonio Cavagna Sangiuliani di Gualdana nel primo anniversario della sua morte, 5 aprile 1913 (Pavia: Caio Rossetti, 1914). Q. Cavagna 50262

To celebrate the recent grant awarded to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library by the Council on Library and Information Resources, we are offering a little background on the man behind the collection, Count Antonio Sangiuliani di Cavagna. In the weeks to come, the Cavagna catalogers will be showcasing a “Cavagna of the Week” every Thursday, so stay tuned to discover all of the facets of the collection and the interesting works we uncover.

Cavagna was born on August 15, 1843 in Alessandria, a city in Piedmont, the son of Don Giovanni Battista Cavagna, conte di Gualdana and his wife Ida Fenini. At the age of 10 he was adopted as heir by his cousin Antonio Sangiuliani, conte di Balbiano. His full name thus is Antonio Sangiuliani di Cavagna, conte di Gualdana. He studied law at the Universities of Bologna, Pavia, and Rome, receiving a laurea in legge in from the latter in 1871. His legal studies were interrupted in 1866 by military service in the Austrian war. Serving as a local elected official and managing his extensive agricultural holdings, he also published 161 works on historical, art-historical, socio-economic, and governmental topics. He married twice: to Beatrice De Vecchi (1867) and to Maria Gramignola (1885), with whom he had 4 daughters.

Count Cavagna in 1866

Count Cavagna in the military uniform of the Reggimento “Lancieri di Aosta”, 1866

Cavagna’s library originated from the inheritance of both his father’s and cousin’s archives. His own collecting of books, pamphlets (including publications in honor of weddings), broadsides, ephemera, maps, and manuscripts reflected his historical and legal interests. His acquisition of works on farming, bonifica (land improvement), charities, and social welfare arose from his responsibilities as an agricultural landowner and his social position; government documents reflected his roles as an elected official of Voghera and Bereguardo and as provincial councilor of Pavia. His private enjoyment of theater–he became a member of the Accademia dei Filodrammatici of Milan at the age of 13–and interests in the medicinal value of mineral waters are also reflected in his library.

The first leg of the journey for Cavagna's Collection, from Bereguardo, Italy to the University of Illinois

The first leg of the journey for Cavagna’s Collection, from Bereguardo, Italy to the University of Illinois in 1921

Dying without direct male heirs in 1913, his collection was offered for sale by his sons-in-law. Negotiations with the University of Illinois were interrupted by WWI; the sale was completed in 1921 and shipped to Urbana the same year. The University purchased both Cavagna’s private library and most of his family archive. Manuscripts in the archive relating to the history of the city of Pavia were exempt from the sale and remained in the city of Pavia. RT


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Happy Winnie the Pooh Day

Today, January 18th, marks the 133rd anniversary of the birth of Alan Alexander Milne. Fans around the world celebrate it as “Winnie-the-Pooh” Day, in honor of Milne’s most famous creation. Although most readers know Milne through his works for children, he also wrote a number of novels and highly successful plays. In fact, he began his writing career as a journalist, writing for both Granta, then a Cambridge University student magazine (which he also edited), and the humor magazine Punch.

While Milne was editor of the Granta, he wrote a letter to a former teacher asking if he would contribute a piece to the magazine’s special May Week issue. In addition to articles from the magazine’s regular staff, this issue traditionally included pieces whose authors had, in Milne’s words, “something rather more than a local reputation” (letter dated May 4th 1902). Requesting help from a former teacher might seem rather unremarkable—except that in this case the teacher was none other than H.G. Wells. Milne’s father, John Vine Milne, ran a private school, known as Henley House School, which Milne had attended and at which Wells had taught science from sometime in early 1889 to sometime in early 1891.

We think Milne and Wells are somewhere in this photo, a group shot of the students and teachers at Henley House School. Can you help us identify them? Milne would have been about eight years old and Wells about twenty-four. Photograph is glued to the front flyleaf of The Henley House School Magazine. London: Ford & Son, 1881-1893. WELLS 828 H389

We think Milne and Wells may be somewhere in this photo, a group shot of the students and teachers at Henley House School. Can you help us identify them? Milne would have been about eight years old and Wells about twenty-four. Photograph is glued to the front flyleaf of our copy of The Henley House School Magazine (London: Ford & Son, 1881-1893). WELLS 828 H389

Milne begins his letter by referencing this earlier connection, writing: “Do you remember a small sized boy with long hair to whom you taught, at the time, all the geology he [ever] knew?” (letter dated May 4th 1902). He then explains about the May Week issue, and makes his request for Wells’ contribution. However, even as he writes it, Milne seems to doubt whether the request is appropriate—he writes “I know how busy you must be, and really I wonder at my [temerity] in approaching you. In fact, on thinking it over, it will almost be sufficient if you forgive me for writing this. With many apologies” (letter dated May 4th 1902). It’s hard to blame him for being so nervous–at the time he wrote the letter Milne was just twenty, while Wells was thirty-five and had already published a number of his most famous works, including The Invisible Man (1897) and The War of the Worlds (1898).

WELLSFolderM-359Letter1pg1 WELLSFolderM-359Letter1pg2

Nevertheless, from this first, cautious letter a more frequent and familiar correspondence seems to have evolved, in which Milne keeps Wells up-to-date on progress towards his goal of making a career as a journalist. In turn, it seems that Wells may have acted as a kind of mentor to Milne. In a letter dated 4 September 1903, Milne thanks Wells “for your kind encouragement last Xmas.” Then, in another letter a few weeks later, Milne recalls Wells’ advice to “send things as much as possible to one paper with a view to getting regular work from it” (letter dated 27 September 1903). The nervousness and formality of Milne’s first few letters soon disappears; by 1905 Milne is addressing his letters “My dear H.G.” rather than “My dear Mr. Wells.” By 1939, Milne even felt confident enough to send Wells a copy of one of his own books. He writes: “Now that I know that you are in London, I send you this. It isn’t as good as yours, but the early chapters may interest you” (letter dated 27 October 1939). Although Milne does not give the name of the work, it was likely The Ascent of Man, as Wells’ copy of the book bears the inscription “For H.G. from A.A.M.”  Seeing the inscription, one gets a sense almost of a cycle completing. Thirty-seven years prior, Milne had requested that Wells send him a piece of writing. Now Milne, an established writer himself, was sending some of his own work to Wells. While his fame may have come from writing stories for the young (and young at heart), the nervous young man of twenty was finally all grown up. -BS



Brackets denote words whose transcription is uncertain.

All letters are from the H.G. Wells Papers, MSS00071, Folder M-359.


Thwaite, Ann. “Milne, Alan Alexander (1882–1956).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 2012. Web.

Parrinder, Patrick. “Wells, Herbert George (1866–1946).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 2011. Web.

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