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Teaching Spotlight : Professor Johanna Kramer, March 2014

Energetic, youthful, admired by her students, Professor Johanna Kramer is our guest for the month of March.


Professor Kramer, please, tell us about yourself.

I am an assistant professor in the English Department. My area of specialization is Anglo-Saxon literature and culture. In my research I am most interested in Old English religious literature, especially homilies and saints’ lives, the transmission of patristic theology into vernacular poetry and prose, and popular religious texts and practices.

My first book, Between Earth and Heaven: Liminality and the Ascension of Christ in Anglo-Saxon Literature, a study of the ways in which the theology of the Ascension is taught and visualized in a wide range of Anglo-Saxon texts, will be published at the end of March by Manchester University Press.


At MU, I teach classes that concern the early Middle Ages, Anglo-Saxon England, and the history of English, for example, Women in the Early Middle Ages, World of the Vikings, Introduction to Old English, and History of the English Language as well as graduate seminars on various topics in Anglo-Saxon and other medieval literature.

How did you incorporate Special Collections into your teaching?

I take almost all of my undergraduate classes for visits to Special Collections. I take my students so that they can have at least minimal exposure to actual medieval materials. I want them to see what different types of medieval manuscripts look like (liturgical, biblical, philosophical, etc.), get a basic sense of manuscript production (both codicology and paleography), and recognize different writing surfaces (papyrus, parchment, even clay). Since I teach in an area—medieval literature—in which primary sources in their original form are not very accessible to students, showing them some of the wonderful materials we have at SC is a small way in which I can have students share the same space and even get in physical contact with manuscripts that were produced a thousand or more years ago. This way, students also become more alert to the fact that the original formats in which we find texts are radically different from the neatly edited and translated versions that students read in class. Aside from seeing what various medieval codices and scripts look like, students get the opportunity to see some of the beautiful illuminations and other depictions that accompany texts, be it a whimsical decoration of an initial, a miniature showing a biblical scene (like the Ascension at the opening of Acts), or a woodcut in an early printed book (like the cityscape of Nürnberg).

What outcomes resulted from your class visits? What were the effects on your students?

Students are typically blown away by what they see. The immediate encounter with medieval manuscripts really opens up their perspective of what “a book” is or looks like. Students tend to be especially intrigued by items that get them close to the human side of manuscript production. Thus, for example, many students love the notarial registry (La Turade), a well worn, leather-bound notebook with lots of professional notarial entries in varying scripts made at different times. Students may have a sense of elaborately decorated medieval manuscript, but the quotidian nature of an item like this registry is exciting on a different level and connects students on a more human level across a vast gap in time to the individuals who were originally writing these texts. Similarly, therefore, they love seeing marginal notes or little pointing hands drawn in the margins of manuscripts where medieval readers took note of remarkable passages (which makes students think twice about what they might write into the margins of their own books!). Another aspect that always impresses students is the sheer materiality of manuscripts. Seeing hair follicles and the remnants of veins in parchment, feeling parchment—both the silky, paper-thin kind and the thick, rough, and stiff kind—noting holes in the parchment, all of these aspects speak to the physical nature of the making of a book and the “live” origins of its component parts.

Johanna Kramer and children, January 2014

What advice would you give to faculty or instructors interested in using Special Collections in their courses?

There might be some hesitation to take a class to SC when an instructor does not expect the students to do a particular project or use specific holdings. In my view, there is always a benefit of taking students, whether a research project follows or not. Exposing students to resources that are unfamiliar to them is a valuable service we provide through our teaching. Equally, in my classroom instruction, I introduce students to select scholarship in my field, whether they end up incorporating it in a paper or not. Just knowing that this kind of scholarship exists and knowing that one could be interested in it and get excited about it is worthwhile demonstrating to our students. It’s part of our responsibility as teachers and scholars to model such interest and excitement for our students, and we can do that by showing them the widest possible range of resources, including the wonders of SC.



Posted in Classes, Learning through Special Collections, Special Collections, Spotlight, Teaching with rare books

Teaching Spotlight, February 2014: Rebecca Mouser


Dr. Rebecca Mouser, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English is our guest for the Teaching Spotlight this month.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?


I am a postdoctoral fellow in the English department. My research focuses primarily on oral tradition in the Middle Ages; my recent dissertation explores oral tradition in the fourteenth-century alliterative romances such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Morte Arthure. Outside of my studies, I mostly spend my time with my two dogs, Isabelle (a Boxer) and Hermann (a German Shepherd).


While at MU, I have taught several literature courses, including English 1210 (Introduction to British Literature), English 2100 (Writing about Literature), English 3200 (British Literature: Beginnings to 1784), and English 4210 (Medieval Literature: The Age of Chaucer).

Chaucer's Boece, Fragmenta Manuscripta # 150,

In each of these courses, I stress the material culture of the various time periods as well as the historical and literary culture. We often discuss oral tradition and the development of literary texts. My hope is that students can see that the text goes beyond the page, and that the artifacts that survive can help us to interpret that larger text.


What materials or collections did your students work with?


My students usually view and work with a variety of manuscripts from the twelfth through fifteenth centuries. We discuss the development of various writing materials such as parchment as well as the various inks used. The manuscripts are both individual leaves of parchment and codices. I tend to bring my students to view the material culture of the Middle Ages (pre-16th century).


What outcomes resulted from you class visits? What were the effects on your students?


During my last visit to Special Collections, my students composed essays about the experience. Many of them stated that seeing the actual manuscripts helped them to conceptualize the Middle Ages as an actual place in time rather than an abstract idea of pastness. They really enjoyed learning about various ingredients used for ink as well. One student in particular chose a final writing project where she could work with digital manuscript images in her exploration of the idea of “fate” in Chaucer’s works. Overall, most of my students are excited about the experience and express the desire to return at some point on their own.


What advice would you give to colleagues interested in using Special Collections in their courses?


I think that the most important advice I would have is to take students to Special Collections, even if you are not yet sure of what you hope they will discover. The librarians are extremely helpful in setting up the session, providing ideas for what materials to view as well as brainstorming assignments. I always provide my syllabus before the session to help them to cater to my class. 









Posted in Classes, Special Collections, Spotlight

Kipling and his Collector

A few months ago we received a generous gift of 191 books, mainly first, sometimes first American, editions of Rudyard Kipling, works about him, and a few books with beautiful fore-edge paintings.

Mrs. Helen Jenkins, the donor of the collection, has recently passed away, a few days shy of her 100th birthday. Born in Topeka, in 1913 in the family of the first licensed pharmacist in Kansas, Helen Katherine Gibler Montgomery Jenkins lived a long and a very happy life. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 1935 with a B.A. in journalism and became a professional reporter. With her husband being in the military, she had to move from place to place quite often. At forty-two, she took a job at a public library and having quickly discovered that she loved it much more than journalism, she enrolled in a master’s program in library science and received her librarian’s degree in 1961 from Rutgers University. She went on to become director of the New Jersey Fanwood Library, held offices in the New Jersey Library Association, and edited the monthly newsletter for the Association and the Library School’s alumni magazine. But her true passion was Kipling. This is how she discovered him.

My husband’s great aunt was Flora V. Livingston. She was the librarian in charge of the rare book room at Harvard’s Widener Library for something like 35 years, from about 1910 to the 40s. Her specialty was Kipling and she spent years compiling a bibliography of his work. …To do this, Aunt Flora traveled to England and India and picked up many, many first editions. The best volumes went, of course, to Harvard; the second best she kept for herself. When she died in the late 1940s, she left her books to Paul and me. The boxes sat in our basement for several weeks and finally, one evening, after a cocktail or two, we decided to get down to opening the boxes. Anyway, after I did learn a little about what we had, I began to buy and to add to the really good stuff …”

Kipling the journalist

Rudyard Kipling took a firm hold on her imagination. In her lecture on Kipling she talks about him with a note of personal compassion, especially when she speaks of his lonely childhood:

Kipling’s grandparents, on both sides, were Methodist ministers. His mother, Alice, was one of the five clever and beautiful Macdonald sisters. Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling, was an artist and a teacher, something of an eccentric. He met Alice Macdonald at a picnic. When, at the age of 28, he received a good appointment to head the School of Art in Bombay, he married Alice on March 18, 1865, and they moved to India. Rudyard, sentimentally named for the lake where his parents met, was born on December 30 of the same year.

This was Victorian England and Colonial India. Children of the upper classes were customarily turned over to servants. They saw their parents mainly when Daddy was dressed in his regimental finery and Mother was in an evening gown. Indian servants were trained to accede to any demand from their young charges, with the result, at least in the case of Ruddy (his in-family nickname) of a definitely spoiled child. It is reported that he was talkative and untidy, incessantly asking questions and expressing his opinions without hesitation.

Her next passage, about his early years, reminds one of some heart-wrenching pages from Dickens.

Kipling at around the time of his sixth birthday

When he was six years old, Ruddy’s parents packed him and his three-year-old sister, Beatrice, off to England to escape the cholera and the heat of India and to be educated. For reasons never known, the children were left to board in the house of a woman whose name the parents got from an ad in the newspaper, rather than with their English relatives. (Maybe they didn’t want difficult Ruddy.) The parents slipped away secretly – the children had not been warned that they were being left – and it was five years before they saw their parents again. Kipling was mistreated, unfairly punished, told he was bad – and for some minor prevarication, sent off to school for several days wearing on his back a sign that said “LIAR”.

“After five years in what he later referred to as the “House of Desolation”, Kipling was sent to an army cram school in Devon for the sons of not-so-well off officers. He was smallish, non-athletic, with dark beetling eyebrows. His thick pebble glasses kept him from any career in the army. But he was tough, funny and clever. He read voraciously and made his mark as school wit and versifier and star writer for the school paper. These school experiences are immortalized in Stalky & Company. Of the characters, “Beetle,” is the young Ruddy.

In 1882, not yet 17, Ruddy went back to India, to Lahore, to become 50% of the staff of the Civil & Military Stalky & Company Gazette, a frontier daily newspaper. He worked 10 to 15 hours a day under the heat and hellish conditions that he describes at the start of The Man Who Would Be King. He was plagued with sleeplessness all his life and to escape this, he wrote much of what would become his first book to be published for general readership, Departmental Ditties

First "Departmental Ditties"

Departmental Ditties was an immediate success and was reprinted several times. Mrs. Jenkins had copies of the first and six following editions, English and American. Kipling moved to Allahabad and became a full time reporter in a newspaper. Later he sold all his stories and poems to a company that sold them in cheap paperbacks at railway stations in India. Mrs. Jenkins proudly notes that she has all of them in her collection.

Kipling then returns to London. In less than two years he becomes a celebrity. It didn’t spare him from personal misfortunes, which eventually led him to something like a nervous breakdown. In 1890 Kipling quits London and goes on a sea voyage. He befriended young Americans, Wolcott Balestier and his sister Caroline, who in less than a year becomes his wife.

Newlywed Kiplings settle in America, in Vermont where his wife’s parents lived. There he wrote the First and the Second of his Jungle Books.

Helen Jenkins: “Kipling was not completely happy in the United States. He made tactless comments to the press and consequently, got a bad press. To complicate things, his brother-in-law, Beatty Balestier, got into a smoldering argument with him over the use of some land and in a fit of rage, threatened to kill Kipling. A foolish lawsuit against Beatty, which Kipling won, gave the American papers a field day. In 1896, disgusted with this, the Kiplings packed up and went back to England. They came back to the States three years later and Rudyard became seriously ill with pneumonia. He finally recovered, but during his illness, his daughter, Josephine, 7 years old, died of the same illness. Kipling lived for 37 more years, but he never set foot in the United States again.”

Already by his thirties quite famous and well-to-do, he received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1907, thus becoming the first Englishman to get it. However, his life could not escape thorns and scorn. He lost his son in the first World War and could never quite recover from this tragedy. His relations with his wife deteriorated. Some well-known citations from his writings reflect his disenchantment: “The female of the species is more deadly than the male (The Female of the Species); “A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke” (The Betrothed); “Down to Gehenna or up to the throne, he travels the fastest who travels alone” (The Winners).

The Kiplings, 1925

Posterity has not been entirely kind to Carrie Kipling, who was described by some as self-pitying, bossy and possessive. One modern writer even called her “one of the most loathed women of her generation”; * but Henry James, who knew her personally, wrote about “passionate Carrie, remarkable in her force, acuteness, capacity and courage.” Their marriage lasted for more than forty years, she bore him his three much loved children; her practicality shielded him from the humdrum of daily life and allowed him to write. Most likely, without her there would have been no Kipling we know.

Jungle Book fore-edge painting

With time, his popularity began to fade, some shallow critics regarded him an “imperialist poet” and his perfectly pitched and splendidly carved rhymed poems were deemed old-fashioned and much too patriotic. Helen Jenkins, his passionate collector and a fellow journalist, writes in conclusion: “He died in London on January 18, 1936, and is buried in Westminster Abbey. He has been quoted as saying how fortunate he was that life had dealt him the cards it did – that all he had to do was play them as they lay – the two childhoods, East and West, that gave him two worlds; the journalism that taught him his trade and give him the whole dazzling tapestry of India to work on.”

Kipling's autographs


This splendid gift of Mrs. Jenkins soon will be catalogued and added to the holdings of our Special Collections, thus making our Kipling collection second only to Harvard.

Special gratitude is extended to Mary Jordan, who sent us the picture of Helen Jenkins, her lecture about Kipling, and the obituary

*Adam Nicolson. The Hated Wife: Carrie Kipling, 1862-1939. ISBN 0571208355


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Special Collections and Rare Books

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