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Dear Diary…

Posted for: Jennifer Pilling, Digital Library Intern, Spring 2010

Using the Barry-Hayes collection, I have recently completed a teachers’ guide for language arts, English, and history high school teachers. The guide focuses primarily on a journal that Patrick Hayes kept while journeying with John Barry to China on a merchant trade mission. Patrick kept meticulous notes on the weather, the various stops they took along the way, and customs that he experienced during the voyage. Other resources are also noted, including related primary documents held at the Independence Seaport Museum.

Patrick Hays His Book

As is the case with all primary source materials, Patrick’s journal gives us a window into the past, untarnished by interpretation. The goal of this guide is to highlight a primary source from history, to set it into historical context, and to use it for examination and comparison to better understand the history of written language. Teachers will first walk their students through information about written language in the 18th Century as it compares to writing conventions of today. They will then help the students understand the historical context in which Patrick Hayes wrote the journal, and lastly, the students will have the opportunity to read and interpret the journal for themselves.

There are several activities that teachers can assign to help bring the content of the guide to life. Students will be asked to learn how to transcribe excerpts from the journal, so they can see firsthand the differences that exist in grammar, punctuation and writing style at this time. They can also write their own journals and compare the types of adventures teenagers might experience today. Students can even learn how to make their own quill and ink.

This project has taught me the value of primary resources, and my experience transcribing the 78-page journal has increased my proficiency in reading 18th-century handwriting. I also learned quite a bit myself about writing conventions of the time, and the laborious process of preparing the paper, ink and quill before sitting down to write. The history that this single item holds is priceless, and worth exploring, with or without the guide. Enjoy!

Teacher’s Guide: Journey Back in Time: 18th Century Writing Practices & Modern Comparisons
Patrick Hayes’s Diary: “tho a bad Sailor…”


Words, words, words

One of the most fun aspects of transcribing letters is getting a glimpse of a different time period with its different manners, customs, and turns of phrase—not to mention different styles of penmanship! I recently transcribed a letter from Philemon “Cump” Sherman to Eleanor “Ellie” Sherman Thackara, in which Cump asks Ellie’s advice about the area around the Adirondack Mountains. (Read the letter here.) Ellie had written an article about a trip to the Adirondacks and Cump wanted to know about the navigability of the lakes and rivers of the area.

Two words in this letter caught my interest, and I do love looking things up in the OED and other logophile sources, so I am sharing my findings below.

his nibs

Near the beginning of the letter, Cump refers to the plans of “his nibs,” a word that—according to the Oxford English Dictionary—originally referred to the person in question or the person being alluded to, but which later became an ironic method of referring to a person in authority, often with the “implication that the person referred to has an excessive sense of his or her own importance.” Used with a possessive such as his or her, nibs acts as a mock title, in the style of references to members of the British aristocracy (e.g., “his lordship”).

In concluding the letter, Cump writes: “The gyascutus is rejoicing as the time to go home approaches.”


The gyascutus is a “fearsome critter” from Anglo-American folklore. The Encyclopedia Brittanica describes the gyascutus as “an imaginary, large, four-legged beast with legs on one side longer than those on the other, for walking on hillsides.” The Wikipedia entry gives several variant names for the creature and further notes that the animal is unable to stand on level ground due to the uneven length of its legs.


Hello, world!

  • Posted by: Laura Bang
  • Posted Date: May 7, 2010
  • Filed Under: Reflections

My name is Laura and I am the new Special & Digital Collections Curatorial Assistant here at Falvey Memorial Library. I’ve just finished my third week and I have enjoyed every day so far.

My Special Collections duties include cataloguing, taking inventory, and assisting researchers. For the Digital Library, I help with scanning, entering metadata, and creating and editing transcriptions of scanned materials.

Besides these day-to-day activities, I also have long-term projects. I am currently planning an exhibit for the fall semester about Irish travel literature, to be displayed in the library as well as online. I am also organizing a project to photograph and catalogue the trees on the Villanova campus, which used to be an arboretum. I love trees and I love photography, so I am very excited about this! Along with the trees, I will also be documenting the outdoor sculptures around campus.

Tree branch by the main entrance to the library.
Tree branch by the main entrance to the library.

I am very happy to be here and I look forward to sharing more interesting things in the future!



Last Modified: May 7, 2010