Several years ago at an antiques show in Virginia Beach, I purchased from a Maine used and rare book dealer a manuscript of poems, dated variously between 1837 and 1870, written in various hands, several of which appear to be women's writing.
Project Background. During the spring 2000 semester, my students in Women in Literature and I began systematically to research this manuscript, attempting to determine its provenance and research the literary and material cultures that converged to produce such a book. Each student in the course was assigned a specific topic related to the manuscript, reporting back to us regularly on progress, with the goal of composing a Web page on the topic that would narrate the students' steps in conducting the research and in summarizing what they had determined about the topic. I emphasized with the students that the way was more important than the destination, the process more important than the product, in the sense that I would evaluate their reports on how they undertook the research not on whether or not they were able to reach definitive answers about the manuscript.
Students' Research Topics. The topics that students researched included: location (there are several place references in the poems, including Middleborough, Titicut, Pitchard, Plymouth, and Monroe), people (there are references to surnames and individuals' names, including Richard Sampson, Lewis Holmes, Fred Sparrow, Nannie Harris, and the surnames Wood, Perkins, Coggswell, and Gisby), dates (1837-38, 1840-43, 1867, 1869, and 1870), the Lyceum movement (one poem commemorates the foundation of a local Lyceum), nineteenth-century penmanship instruction, tribute or memorial poems (of which there are several in the manuscript), nineteenth-century copy books, paper production and writing instruments, and friendship books. In their final project, the students were to narrate their research methods and to summarize their findings.
Manuscript Description. The manuscript (pictured above) measures 5 3/4 by 7 1/4 inches (15 x 18.5 cm). The spine is leather with cardboard covers in blue. There are two flyleaves front and back and the book is comprised of 80 leaves, faintly ruled on the recto. The poems are written in pen (using dark brown or lavender ink) or pencil. Leaves 54-75r are blank, with poems resuming on 75v through 80v. Several pages carry the imprint of fern or other leaves that were pressed between the pages of the book.
Locations Referenced in the Poems by Lee Watterton
People Referenced in the Poems by Mindy Granger
Nineteenth-century Penmanship and Writing Instruction by Kay Scougal
Nineteenth-century Lyceum Movement by Diana Fithian
Nineteenth-century Tribute and Memorial Poems by Tonia Moore
Friendship Books by Betty Jean Chapman
Nineteenth-century Copy Books and Paper Production by Angela Hamilton
[Email Dr. Long] [Go to Dr. Long's Home Page]