Modlab at Yale and a voyage to Italy

It’s day 1 of the ModLab Workshop at Yale with Dean Irvine, Matt Huculak, Kirsta Stapelfeldt, and Alan Stanley.  We have great group of participants from across the disciplines – from anthropology to East Asian studies and from English to film studies. Several participants have DH projects under their belts, but many are just starting out.

I handed over my files to Dean yesterday, newly digitized reproductions of glass lantern slides from the early 20th century. They gathered dust for decades in a black box forgotten in the corner of a campus office, their technology obsolete.  I took this photowhile I was still trying to find someone to fund digitizing the box’s fragile contents. Fortunately, the Instructional Technology Group stepped in with the necessary funds and ITS Academic Technologies provided the expertise.

The collection is a valuable visual archive in multiple respects. The photographs were taken during several grand tours of Italy between 1904 and 1912 and provide a unique perspective on the history of Anglophone tourism in Italy. They also provide precious historical documentation of cultural heritage sites in cities such as Florence, Venice, Assisi and Rome. Finally, the technology employed to reproduce these photographs indicates that their use was a public one: whether in the classroom for the undergraduates of Yale College or at public lectures, the lantern slide was the technology of choice for projecting images for a large audience.

In 1903, at a meeting of the New Haven Medical Association at the medical school, Dr. Robert Osgoode, greatly impressed his audience with a splendidly illustrated lecture on “The Interpretation of X-ray findings in suspected diseases of the bone or soft parts” with an assortment of lantern slides.   Their extensive use in education at the turn of the 19th century is also evinced by the large number of lantern slides found in a number of repositories at Yale.

Beyond those found in the Harvey Cushing/ John Hay Whitney Medical Historical Library (including Dr. Osgoode’s), the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library houses William McClintock’s 1500 hand colored lantern slides of the Blackfoot Indians in the Yale Collection of Western Americana. The Yale Peabody Museum’s Division of Historical Scientific Instruments also has over 800 lantern slides, many of which contain material for physics lectures.

While I still don’t know exactly in what context these slides were used, I could turn to the  extensive William Inglis Morse lantern slide collection found  in the Visual Resource Collection at the Robert B. Haas Family Library. While not as meticulously annotated as our mysterious black box, this collection also documents the Grand Tour in Italy and was probably used as an instructional technology tool for Yale College courses.  The images collected by Morse, a philanthropist, historian, and clergyman are a particularly appropriate point of reference in this case given that Morse, like our instructors, came to Yale from Nova Scotia. In fact, Dalhousie University also houses Morse’s  ‘scholar’s library‘ which, as he noted, “if properly selected and studied, is one’s best monument.” (from his Preface, Catalogue of the William Inglis Morse Collection at Dalhousie University Library (London: Curwen Press, 1938).

Let’s hope Day 2 provides some valuable digital tools to better understanding and disseminating this unique visual archive which also serves as a valuable reminder of technological obsolescence.

cross posted at [archive]

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