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April fish!

  • Posted by: Laura Bang
  • Posted Date: April 1, 2014
  • Filed Under: Holidays, World

A late-19th-century "April fish" postcard depicting a man by the sea with a bouquet of fish.

A late-19th-century “April fish” postcard.


There are many theories about the origins of April Fool’s Day celebrations. One such theory is that it originated in France in the 16th century when King Charles IX adopted the Gregorian calendar, moving the start of the year from the end of March to January 1. Legend has it that the people who continued to celebrate the New Year on April 1 were mocked and had pranks played on them.

Despite its popularity, this is a questionable theory, as Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes, points out. The calendar reform was not a sudden change but rather a gradual process throughout the 16th century. In addition, the French New Year prior to the reform was officially celebrated on Easter, which is a holiday based on the lunar calendar and thus has no official relationship to April 1.

Another French origin story for April Fool’s Day points out the large numbers of newly-hatched fish that populated the rivers in April. These young fish were easy to catch and thus became known as “poisson d’Avril” or “April fish.” Celebrating the arrival of these easy-to-catch fish led to people playing pranks on each other and the still-practiced French custom of trying to tape a paper fish to someone’s back and dubbing them a “poisson d’Avril.” The postcard above is an example of poisson d’Avril greetings that were especially popular in the late-19th- and early-20th-centuries.

Regardless of the actual origins of April Fool’s celebrations, be on your guard today and beware the poisson d’Avril!

Further reading:
April Fools’ Day
April Fools’ Day Mystery: How Did It Originate? (National Geographic)
The Origin of April Fool’s Day (The Museum of Hoaxes)
What Is April Fools’ Day? How Did It Begin? (Huffington Post Canada)

And don’t miss the Museum of Hoaxes’ April Fool Archive!

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Help Solve A Special Collections Musical Mystery

Posted for Lisa Abra McColl, Digital Library Intern, Fall 2012

 

The first thing that struck me about the papers that were being pulled out of a pile from the special collections department was the artwork. Shapes with gold and silver metallic color, green leaves, and an orange face all decorated the first pages of each of the three thin booklets.

Zangetsu Azuma-Jishi Unknown

The second thing that struck me was the Japanese writing on the front cover. The third came when I opened it. This was sheet music. My task was to find out what this music is: who is the composer, what instrument is it written for, what is the name of it? Confident that my music background would guide me through this task I set out to find the answers.

Weeks later, having played the melodies on my clarinet, searched for the melody in Musipedia, and in ultimate desperation, tried the Japan Goggles app to read some of the writing, and gotten nowhere, I knew I needed human intervention.

A former clarinet student of mine, now living in Japan answered my call for help on Facebook. These three pieces are traditional Japanese music that were arranged by a man named Tozan Nakao (1876-1955), a famous Japanese shakuhachi player. The shakuhachi is a wooden instrument similar to the western flute. The first piece, Zangetsu (the moon seen in the morning), has a publication date of 1906 and the second, Azuma-Jishi, has a 1907 date on it.

I could still use more information. Were these pieces intended to be played by the shakuhachi, or by a stringed instrument as some of the bowing markings seem to indicate? What is the meaning of “Azuma-Jishi”? What is the title of the third piece? Is there any reason that Guillame de Machaut, a 14th century French composer, should be penciled on the back of the last piece? How did this music come to be part of the special collections at Villanova? After viewing this music in the Villanova Digital Libraries World Collection, please contact me or leave a comment if you have answers to any of these questions, or something to add about the music. Feel free to email me at lisa[dot]abra[dot]mccoll[at]gmail[dot]com.

Listen to a performance of Azuma-Jishi:

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Celebrating Charles Dickens

  • Posted by: Laura Bang
  • Posted Date: February 7, 2012
  • Filed Under: World

Today marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’s birth.

In honor of the day, I’d like to highlight our small Dickensian collection in the Digital Library. Included are the first volume of an 1879 illustrated omnibus edition of Dickens’s works, a late-19th century collection of Dickensian character illustrations by “Kyd”, an 1865 letter from Charles Dickens, and an 1890 letter from Charles Dickens, Jr.

Illustration of Dick Swiveller (The Old Curiosity Shop).
Dick Swiveller from The Old Curiosity Shop,
The characters of Charles Dickens, p. 15.

You can easily find a lot more information about Charles Dickens by searching the web. Here are just a few of the interesting things I found.

Dickens 2012 has information on the celebrations and exhibitions going on around the world.

The Morgan Library has a “Charles Dickens at 200″ exhibit, which you can see part of online. The online exhibit includes the manuscript copy of A Christmas Carol as well as a selection of letters.

“Dickens in Context”, from the British Library, offers resources for understanding the themes of Dickens’s works. It also includes video discussions and complementary manuscripts, newspapers, and other items to “help students open up the social, cultural and political context in which Dickens was writing.”

If you have an iPhone or iPad, check out “Dickens Dark London” for a glimpse of London through Dickens’s eyes. This app is “an interactive graphic novel conducted by the Museum of London based on Sketches by Boz.” Text with audio and shadowy illustrations set the scene, while a map of London lets you see how the streets have changed between 1862 and now. The first issue is free; subsequent issues will be available each month for a small fee.

Signature: "Faithfully yours, Charles Dickens"
Faithfully yours, Charles Dickens

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Exploring French theatre at the turn of the 20th century

  • Posted by: Laura Bang
  • Posted Date: May 31, 2011
  • Filed Under: Theatre, World

Posted for Alexandra Edwards (Falvey Memorial Library Intern and Digital Library student employee)

One of the best parts about working in the Digital Library is getting to experience, firsthand, historical materials related to your own interests. Recently, I worked on digitizing issues of a French theatre magazine, Le Théatre, from the turn of the 20th century — a project that combined my love of the stage, the French language, and fin de siècle culture.

Le Théatre gives a fascinating glimpse into French cultural life during this highly artistic time period. The magazine covered the world of French theatre and dance in-depth, and provides an intriguing primary-source look into stage conventions, costuming, set design, and theatrical celebrity.

Of particular historic interest are the articles on Loïe Fuller, the American dance sensation with no formal training who is now credited as a pioneer of modern dance as well as theatrical lighting. Videos of her performances have been preserved and are exhibited around the country to this day — I recently saw a Library of Congress video of her signature dance style at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Several issues of Le Théatre mention Fuller, either in reference to the dancer herself, or to the style of dance she created, which was subsequently picked up by other performers.

The December 1898 issue devotes an entire section to Fuller, including a color cover featuring a dancer dressed and posed in the style of “La Loïe Fuller.”  After several pages of more traditional-looking ballerinas, the section on Fuller highlights the somewhat shocking, modern quality of Fuller’s style.  The dancers pictured wear long and flowing dresses which can be held up — it appears that rods have been inserted into the fabric — to give the appearance of wings.  Indeed, butterflies are pictured on many of the dresses.  A captivating action shot hints at the effect of Fuller’s twirling style in combination with the flowing costume.

The article mentions that Fuller was basically unknown a few years prior, but has since taken the dance world by storm.  The author notes that Fuller may not be the best dancer on the stage, but rather that there is a kind of magical quality to her dancing in and of itself:


Subsequent issues of Le Théatre profile “Le Théâtre de la Loïe Fuller” (August II, 1900), as well as Japanese dancer Sada Yacco, who worked closely with Fuller after the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900 (October II, 1900).  Fuller served as Yacco’s manager and press agent, proving herself as savvy a businesswoman as she was entertainer and theatrical inventor.

Seeing Fuller’s work documented in Le Théatre emphasizes both her importance in the history of dance and the necessity of preserving historical primary-source materials.  Researchers across the world can now access these documents for free, allowing them to understand, in the original historical context, the impact that Fuller made on the world of French theatre and dance.

References:

Loie Fuller.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 23 May 2011. Web. May 2011.

Collier, Peter and Robert Lethbridge, eds.  Artistic relations : literature and the visual arts in nineteenth-century France.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.  Print.

Garelick, Rhonda K. Electric Salome : Loie Fuller’s performance of modernism.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.  Print.

Holmes, Diana and Carrie Tarr, edds.  A “Belle Epoque”? : women in French society and culture, 1890-1914.  New York: Berghahn Books, 2006.  Print.

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Last Modified: May 31, 2011