Greetings, Kelsey blog fans! You are in for a treat. This month’s Ugly Object is another rarely-before-seen feature from our vaults. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you (drumroll please …) a box full of rocks!
I can guess what you’re thinking, but bear with me. Let’s virtually “unpack” this box.
What we’ve got here is a collection of high-quality marble samples. I can see some white and gray marbles and what could be a yellow giallo antico marble, among others. The samples are weathered so it’s hard to classify their exact marble type. But it’s safe to say they are the sort of decorative stones you’d find on the interior and exterior surfaces of buildings in ancient Rome.
These particular samples come from Carthage, Tunisia, and were purchased in 1893 by none other than Francis Kelsey himself from the Jesuit priest and archaeologist Père Delattre. Kelsey acquired construction materials like these to support his teaching, and they remain important access points to understanding ancient materials and technology. They also provide evidence of trade and connectivity in the Roman world. Marbles with specific colors and inclusions were highly sought after, and many of the rocks in this box probably traveled from another place in the empire before being cut and mortared onto a building at Carthage. For the geology enthusiasts in our audience, a number of Kelsey’s marble samples were part of a recent archaeometric study to identify where they were quarried. I for one can’t wait to read more about this!
Keep tuning in to the Kelsey Blog for more Ugly Objects as we continue to reveal more unseen highlights of the collection!
Just over one hundred years ago, in April of 1918, Francis W. Kelsey reached out to colleagues across the Atlantic. Over the years, Kelsey corresponded with a number of people in Europe, particularly Italy. He wrote many letters to advance his own research on the Roman world, and did so also on behalf of his colleagues. The archives at the Bentley Historical Library and the Kelsey Museum showcase this abundantly, and John Pedley’s 2011 book, The Life and Work of Francis Willey Kelsey: Archaeology, Antiquity, and the Arts, provides great context for this aspect of Kelsey’s life and career.
The archives — this collection of letters, journals, photographs, and receipts — paints a picture of a man who traveled often, was constantly working, and had a wide range of interests. A single day’s journal entry gives us a glimpse of his busy schedule, with various appointments, lunch and tea meetings, travel, and time at the end of the day to write letters to his family and other contacts.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a letter written by Kelsey asking for 2,000 color reproductions of a mosaic of Virgil from Hadrumetum. We also have the reply from Italy, in both English and Italian, along with the actual image of the mosaic. In his letter, Kelsey expresses regret for not being able to travel overseas to procure the image himself. He had plans to return after his last visit in 1915, but circumstances outside his control prevent him from doing so.
One hundred years ago, Kelsey found himself in a situation where he couldn’t travel as he had hoped. He used the tools available to him to proceed with his work. This is a simple request, just under strenuous circumstances. He would get his chance to return to Europe the following year, in 1919. When he did, he and his team made the most of their trip, traveling about the Mediterranean, to North Africa, Turkey, as well as Europe. And now, our archives are filled with the amazing photographs from this expedition.
Every summer, members of the Kelsey Museum community travel to Italy to participate in a number of projects. Many excavate at the site of Gabii (one of three sites currently featured in the exhibition Urban Biographies). Some work for the American Academy in Rome. A few work at Sant’Omobono. Some students do all of these things, all while doing their own research.
For many students, their first time visiting Rome must include some of the highlights, including seeing the Coliseum. This structure has been a destination for tourists and scholars for a long time — long before tourism was big business. Back in the 1800s, traveling was expensive and tedious and took a long time. There were no planes, so getting to Europe from the United States required a long voyage by ship. In addition, not many people had the funds to engage in long-distance travel. For these reasons, tourism did not happen on the scale it does today.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a photograph showing the Coliseum as it looked back in 1885. Images such as this one were taken by professional photographers who would package several photographs together and sell them to schools or scholars or churches. They’d come in series, such as “View of Rome” and “View of the Holy Land/Palestine” and “Views of Greece.” People bought these photographic souvenirs in order to show their students, congregation members, and friends back home what Europe looked like.
However, the image of the Coliseum depicted on the obverse (front) is not the focus for this month’s post. Instead, we flip the image over to discover the following:
Colosseum, interior view, 1885.
On the difference between Roman and English ruins, see Hawthorne ‘French and Italian Notebooks,’ small ed. (Boston) pp. 54–55.
On the Colisseum:
Gibbon, ‘History of Rome,’ last chapter
Madame de Staël, ‘Corinne,’ book iv, chap. 4.
Byron, ‘Manfred,’ first part of last scene. ” , ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimages,’ stanzas 128–145. Bowden, ‘Percy Bysshe Shelley,’ vol ii, pp. 245, 246. Hawthorne, ‘Marble Faun,’ chap. 17 Dickens, ‘Pictures from Italy,’ Peterson’s (Philadelphia) edition, p. 430. Hare, ‘Walks in Rome,’ vol. 1. Gregorovius, ‘Geschichte der Stadt Rom.’ Dyer, ‘The City Rome.’ Parker, ‘Archaeology of Rome – The Flavian Ampitheater.’
Here we have a handwritten note from Francis W. Kelsey himself, namesake of the Kelsey Museum. Not only is Kelsey sharing his comments and thoughts about this image and the Coliseum itself, but he is also giving us vital information. To people who work in archives, learning a particular person’s handwriting is a big key in deciphering other archival materials. Here, we see and can now learn to recognize Kelsey’s penmanship (though it does change as Kelsey ages). Now whenever we find unattributed notes in the archives, we can compare them to this signed note. If they match, we can safely say it is Kelsey’s note we found. And from that, we can start piecing together dates, context, and perhaps even the people being discussed.
Kelsey likely did not think of this as he made this annotation on the back of this photograph. To him, this was just a good location to make a note that would be useful to others. His concern was more for the scholarly aspect of the note rather than the archival one.
Archivists are routinely making discoveries when working in the archives, and they get to know the people captured in those archives. From their notes, we know what kind of workers they were, where they vacationed, about their relationships with family and colleagues, and their general thoughts about the world. Deciphering someone’s handwriting is a big tool for us, as it helps us piece together the archives and, often, people’s lives. We learn so much more about them from the tiny little memories they left than they ever could have imagined.
Digital photography has made documenting our lives a much easier endeavor. Now, anyone with a cell phone can capture almost any moment with photos and even movies. Digital photography has become ubiquitous, and sharing these files becomes increasingly more feasible.
Archaeologists are using this tool more and more on their excavations, and even the Kelsey Museum has gone fully digital. The Kelsey used to insist on film photography when documenting its collections, but greater access to storage space and proper archival methods for digital photography has paved the way for this change.
The same option was not available, obviously, to those who came before us. George R. Swain, University of Michigan photographer from 1913 to 1947, had to use the methods available to him at the time. This meant taking his wood view camera with him on his travels through the Mediterranean, along with hundreds of glass plates. These plates were heavy, and he often needed help carrying them (often his son provided this service).
His view camera was not Swain’s only tool in the field. In the 1920s, easier means of photography were available, though they were of lesser quality. Thanks to the innovations of George Eastman, film photography had become popular. Film rolls were small and easy to carry, but one was limited by the number of frames on each roll, and the photographer couldn’t see what they captured until later, when the film was developed. Swain carried a film camera, likely a Kodak (the model is lost to us), and often he had others do the same. He would take meticulous notes about who shot what, when, and where. These notes are reflected in our current records.
The Kodak shots often captured scenes that are less formal but equally as important. The glass slides were reserved for artifacts and excavations; the Kodak captured everything else, including people, humorous moments, animals, and anything else happening during the excavations and travels.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present one roll of Swain’s film that reflects this. In April 1920, only 98 years ago, Swain and company traveled to Dimé, in the Fayum region of Egypt, likely on a reconnaissance mission to see where Michigan could excavate in years to come. Dimé was eventually excavated, but was not one of the original projects of the 1924 season. In this roll, we see what Swain encountered during this trip. People holding fish. The train and the train station. Farmers working the fields. A village scene. Dr. Askren posing. Hiking over the sands.
Fortunately for us, making this kind of trip is easier now without having to haul so much photography equipment (though we are lost without an energy source). Swain did not have the luxury, but we are thankful for the work he did to capture these moments.
Greetings, Ugly Object fans! This month’s featured artifact is not really an object. It is, rather, a somewhat unseemly chunk of … any ideas? Here’s a clue: it is a thing greater than the sum of its parts. It is made up of large fragments of yellow marble, tufa, and travertine embedded in a gray pozzolan/lime mortar. In other words, it’s a mixture of aggregate and cement, which are the necessary ingredients for — you guessed it — Roman concrete! This particular fragment of concrete was brought to Michigan in 1901 by none other than Francis Kelsey, undoubtedly for the benefit of his students. Our records say that it is in fact a piece of wall core from the Diocletian baths in Rome. That is quite a pedigree!
Although this chunk is not much to look at, it is an example of a pretty remarkable form of Roman construction technology. You can visit this and other artifacts of Roman construction on the second floor of the Kelsey Museum’s Upjohn Exhibit Wing.
The exhibition Excavating Archaeology presents a look back at the history of archaeological explorations undertaken by the University of Michigan. It was guided by the work of Carla Sinopoli, who co-edited the book Object Lessons and the Formation of Knowledge (with Kerstin Barndt; University of Michigan Press, 2017). This book presents the fabulous history of how the materials that came to make up the various libraries, archives, and museums at U-M — including the Kelsey Museum — arrived here in the first place.
The collections at the Kelsey have had their own books detailing their histories. Artifacts from excavations are thoroughly discussed in the book In the Field (Talalay and Alcock; Kelsey Museum, 2006), while Passionate Curiosities (Talalay and Root; Kelsey Museum, 2015) gives us the background of the objects that were collected by individuals.
Books like Object Lessons, Passionate Curiosities, and In the Field owe much to the many people who have, in their own way, written about the collections at Michigan. One of these is the focus for this month’s “From the Archives.”
For this month, we present a report written by Museum of Classical Archaeology curator Orma Fitch Butler. Butler, a native of Fitchburg, Michigan, and high school student in Mason and Lansing, received her bachelor of arts in 1897 from the University of Michigan. In 1901, she earned her master of arts, and then her doctor of philosophy in 1907, both also from U-M. After some time away, she returned to Michigan in 1912 as Francis Kelsey’s assistant in Latin and Roman Archaeology. In 1928, after several other promotions, Butler was named Curator of the Archaeological Collections, a position she held until her death in 1938.
As part of her duties, she wrote a report on the collections that was presented to the University president. This particular report is from 1930, and covers the time period when the Museum first opened (not yet named the Kelsey Museum). Dr. Butler writes about the collections and how they came to be in Ann Arbor. She tells us about the various people involved in procuring the artifacts, starting with Francis Kelsey. From there, she speaks about other U-M professors, friends from Ypsilanti, and friends from Tunisia, Italy, and elsewhere in Europe, Africa, and Asia. What she writes gives us greater insight into the objects we admire in the galleries every day.
Butler writes more than just about the history of the collections in her report. She speaks about the aftermath of Kelsey’s death (in 1927), and how the collections and Museum owe much to him and his legacy. She writes that, with little to no publicity, the Museum still received over 100 people in its third and fourth months. This interest that the public has in classical archaeological materials, Butler notes, is a great sign for the future of the collections. She stresses that the University has a duty to maintain and care for the collections.
Elsewhere, Butler writes about Newberry Hall, and how, even so early on, it is acknowledged that it is not adequate for a museum. However, the museum staff are using the space as best they can, with certain rooms dedicated to different exhibition themes (the long room in the back what is now the gift shop and classroom, long before the elevator was installed).
Ultimately, the collections are in good and sound condition. The future seems bright. The University needs to invest in the collections and care for them. By doing so, they will ensure they can continue being used for two important purposes: exhibitions and instruction. Butler would be heartened to know that, nearly 90 years later, this vision remains true.
Summer is upon us, and with it come a number of summer blockbusters at the movie theaters. Movie companies put out some of the biggest draws of the year during summer, in order to appeal to children and families not in school, and too hot to be outside. But people haven’t had movies to distract them for very long, only since the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Only then did films become a normal part of culture.
Prior to that time period, people would find entertainment in other manners. Theater, music, reading, newspapers, and so on. However, there was still another form of entertainment available, now known as pre-cinema. This genre was an attempt by many inventors and entertainers to use technology to trick the eye into seeing something that was not there.
Some used effects, such as mirrors to create illusions. While others knew the eyes sees in stereo. The stereoscope was an early 1800s invention that showed two images side-by-side, but both at ever so slightly different angles. Using mirrors, or a barrier between the eyes, the devices would trick the eye to think it was looking at the same image from different angles. The eyes would see this as a three dimensional image, and the contents of the photographs would pop. It was an early form of 3D.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a stereoscope and stereoscopic views found in the archives. The details on how we acquired this item and views is unknown, though collecting such materials in the early 1900s was quite common. Much like other photographs from the era, they were sold to people wanting to see Europe and northern Africa and Palestine. This was before tourism took off and people began traveling to those destinations themselves. This particular stereoscope, a Holmes stereoscope, was perhaps purchased by Francis Kelsey himself.
The stereoscope is here shown with various views of daily life from Palestine. These were created by Underwood & Underwood, a popular photographs distributor from the era. Aside from the views, the cards come packed in a box that looks like two books, simply titled “Palestine.” These views could have been used to educate students on what Palestine looked like at the time, maybe as they learned about ancient Roman life in the area, or the times of Jesus Christ. Whatever the original intention, the views and device remain at the Kelsey Museum. Though broken, they remind us what entertainment people had, and they remain educational for us, but in different ways.
BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
Istanbul is a beautiful city. For the readers who have had the pleasure of visiting this majestic city, you will know the wonders to be found around each corner. The Hagia Sophia standing iconically in Sultanahmet, not far from the Blue Mosque. In between a park where people gather at all times of day, but that comes to life at night. The area of Sultanahmet, though touristy, is ripe with colours and glamorous views from atop hotels that look out over the Bosphorus.
A few minutes away one can get lost in the Grand Bazaar. Various corridors will take the visitor to shops of all kinds. If you need a souvenir, you can find it in the bazaar. Fresh fruits, fish and meats, nuts, spices, including Iranian saffron, are all there for the picking. Jewelry and household adornments. Clothing and housewares. An ornate tea set that would look great in your parent’s house. Hours later, you might still find yourself going down paths that are new to you, and keep finding new goods you cannot live without. The shopkeepers eager to encourage you to buy.
Walk long enough in the bazaar and you might come to an exit eventually. Though you entered coming from Sultanahmet, you find a new exit. This one brings you directly to the Bosphorus and the Galata Bridge. There is still much to see on the old side of the city, but you wander onto the bridge. Here, along the lower level, you can stop for lunch at one of the numerous restaurants clamoring for your patronage. Enjoy the fish coming off the boats and wash it down with the local brew, Efes.
From here, you can continue to the new side of the city, where modern shops with brand names litter Istiklal Street. You see more cafes, where artists gather to talk the hot topic. Restaurants and food vendors are found on every corner, and between. The Galata Tower towering over this area, and the steep steps leading you up to get a good view. Turn around, or climb the tower (which has a restaurant), and glance again at the Bosphorus and the old city. The minarets sprinkling the city from end to end. You see the bazaar waiting to greet you again. Maybe you continue to Taksim Square, or visit Galatasaray Lisesi, the high school on Istiklal. Or you do some shopping.
Eventually you return to Galata Bridge, but rather than head back into the old city, you take a ferry tour of the Bosphorus. A tour guide pointing out the famous buildings in landmarks, as you relax on the gentle waters. When done, you head back to Sultanahmet and you see a gathering of people. What is this, you wonder, and you come close to an outdoor theatre where whirling dervish dancers perform. They spin to the music, and you find yourself lost in the motion.
Nearby, as it is dark, you see families out playing with light toys that shoot up in the sky. Street vendors sell corn and other treats. Others, including locals and tourists, duck into hookah lounges, where they enjoy some chai and flavored shisha.
There is much to this city, and Francis Kelsey and George Swain found something quite similar when they visited. Back then, the city was still known as Constantinople, though in his photos, Swain refers to a “Stamboul.” The city has changed much since the 1920s. A comparison of photos shows the spread of buildings and new construction found everywhere. Still, locals will look over these photos and see much they recognize. And they speak to the changes to modern times. The photos Swain took are, quite literally, a snapshot of a bygone time, but one not that long ago.
Istanbul has been an important city for a long time. It is where Asia meets Europe. Much trade goes through this city, as it also controls access to the Black Sea. It is no wonder that Kelsey visited many times on his way back and forth between North Africa and Europe, with stops in Palestine and Syria. And many present-day Kelsey archaeologists go through Istanbul on their way to Notion, or Aphrodisias, or any number of sites where Michigan has a presence. Istanbul is a magical city, one highly recommended to visit. It is full of life and beautiful scenes. Nothing can detract from this.
BY MELISSA SOMERO, Graduate Intern in Kelsey Museum Registry
Hiding out in the Kelsey Museum Archives for the past semester I have come to appreciate the variety of documents that are housed there, such as those pertaining to the history of the museum, including Francis Kelsey and his expeditions, as well as excavations carried out by the University of Michigan. Perhaps some of the most interesting finds were the many photographs by George Swain documenting Francis Kelsey’s expedition to Europe, Near East, and Africa from 1919 to 1920. Kelsey’s expedition was documented by the Dangerous Archaeology exhibition, which also chronicled the history of archaeology in the Near East. It was from this collection of George Swain photographs I have chosen to highlight the photos from Syria. Swain gives us a rare glimpse into the lives of everyday people and refugees in the early part of the 20th century, as well as beautiful archaeological sites.
The panoramic photograph is from a collection of Cirkut photographs in the Kelsey Archives, some of which are on display in the main entrance to the Museum. In Aleppo, the Citadel, which dates back to the 13th century, rises above the city and remains a testament to the ingenuity and prowess of ancient civilizations but is also a reminder of nations at war with its impenetrable walls. The Ancient City of Aleppo and its Citadel are now a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site, it is through this international body, which seeks to promote awareness and protection of important cultural sites, that many other sites have been saved and began to promote a thriving economy to the area.
Although for many archaeology in the early 20th century stemmed from the desire to seek out objects for personal glorification, it is clear that Kelsey began a career in the field for educational and humanitarian purposes. Kelsey was not only an explorer and archaeologist but was also involved with the Red Cross and his foray into Syria is documented by the many photographs taken of refugees of the Armenian Genocide.
Because of people like Kelsey, the field of archaeology has not only introduced people to new cultures but has created a thriving enterprise that seeks to unite us in our common heritage. Along with the help of photographers like George Swain we may not only see the stoic archaeological remnants of past cultures but see the living ones that surround and add value to the ancient.
Lastly, I leave you with the images of the ruins of Baalbek which can attest to the grandeur of the structure and the beauty of the intricate design. It is clear from these images that there was a thriving artistic community which is indicative of a prosperous society.
Guest contributor Melissa Somero is a graduate intern this semester for the Kelsey Museum Registry. She earned her Master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University in historic preservation. While Melissa has assisted with multiple projects, her focus for the term has been the Kelsey Archives.
BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
The exhibition Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero has now been open at the Kelsey Museum for just over a month, and it continues to bring in large crowds of people who marvel at the luxuriousness of a Roman settlement at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius. That devastation wreaked havoc on a large swath of land across the Italian countryside. Entire towns were demolished, enveloped by the falling ash and pumice. Thousands of lives perished, buildings destroyed, the geography permanently altered. The aftermath left carnage, but it also provided an opportunity to freeze the city of Pompeii and the town of Herculaneum and surrounding areas in a manner that shows the modern viewer what life was like at that particular moment when the world ended for so many.
The site of Pompeii has fascinated the public and scholars for centuries. It is an opportunity to view the ancient world almost directly, without the inevitable change that affects every other society. There is still much to learn about the site, and about ancient Roman life.
In the 1890s, a young Latin scholar by the name of Francis W. Kelsey visited Pompeii, as it was an area of interest for him. There, he met renowned Pompeii authority August Mau, a German scholar who was directed by his doctors to move to a warmer climate for his health. Mau obliged, and moved to Italy. There, Mau and Kelsey formed a strong bond, such that Kelsey was invited to pose with Mau’s “Giro,” his group of students (From the Archives — September 2015).
Through this strong relationship, Kelsey was given the opportunity to translate Mau’s book on Pompeii into English. Kelsey proved to be quite an adept scholar, publishing the translation before Mau could publish the original. Kelsey even managed to insert additional materials into his edition, information not found in the Mau publication.
The Kelsey archives hold evidence of this work, and that is the topic for this month’s “From the Archives.” The holdings of an archives is often thought to be the papers of an institution, letters, manuscripts, photographs. In the world of archives, libraries, and museums (ALM, or LAM), there is increasing overlap in the materials held by each. All three could hold materials normally found in the others. In the Kelsey, we sometimes come across atypical archival items, such as this box full of copper plates. Francis Kelsey’s handwriting is found throughout the box and on notes found within. We know it was he who stored these plates that were used for printing the Pompeii book in the box originally. These plates, made of copper and wood, while some are rubber and wood, contain the images of Pompeii used during the printing process. A faint image of a scene from the site can be seen in the example.
While the original intent of Kelsey was to safeguard the plates, his act has a secondary function. The box itself, perhaps seen as nothing of note at the time, gives us a view of life at the turn of the century (from 19th to 20th). Chiozza & Turchi was a soap making company in Italy (Pontelagoscuro). From this box, we note the decorations used in commercial products. What were denizens of the early 1900s seeing when they went to market? What companies existed then, and what products were they selling?
A quick search for the company returns discussion of other Chiozza e Turchi advertisements, and how people are collecting them. There may be no value to the box itself, but it is interesting to hold an article viewed as commonplace then but so full of intrigue now. And this is how many museum workers and archaeologists feel when working with their collections. A chance to see a glimpse of life thousands of years ago, or even 100 years ago, is exciting. But these objects that were modern in 1900 depicting a time nearly 2000 years earlier, are now themselves historical artifacts. In time, the objects I use every day will meet this same fate, and a future archivist or archaeologist will marvel at something I overlooked every day. And the process will continue.