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Researching With Evernote

For my specific project, Evernote was incredibly useful this semester. The majority of my archival collection is made up of images and documents that I found on the internet. Looking through so many websites, it was difficult to keep track of where I found my source material. Evernote’s tagging tool, however, made this exceptionally easier. I tagged any website where I got an object for the archive with the term “Archival Source”. Now, I can separate these sites from others that I used solely for exhibition research. I did something similar to websites that gave contact information for the rights holder, so that I could keep all that information together.

Evernote

Screenshot of my tag “Archival Source” on Evernote.

The tagging tool was also useful for highlighting common themes, people, and locations throughout my research. My focus changed over the course of the semester, so not everything I added to Evernote ended up being useful. That was fine though, because these notes could be filed away and did not impede access to the resources I ended up needing.

Evernote worked well for this class because everything was on one platform. My research was online, all the assignments were online. It made for a lot of time spent looking at a screen, but it was easy to navigate between programs. Plus, I liked the added security of having all of my research online. Computers can break, but by placing everything online I knew my work would be protected. This would be even more useful for people who don’t have a single computer that they work on, because they would be able to access all of their research from anywhere.

Traditional Methodology

My traditional methodologies for research: extended note taking by hand and color coordinated post-its.

 

I wanted to give Evernote a true shot, so in September I also started a notebook for my thesis research. This was a much less successful experience. I’m a very tactile researcher—I like taking notes by hand and marking passages in books. The act of writing forces me to summarize and analyze my thoughts, helping me get more out of my reading. Typing doesn’t have this added layer, and having to transition between the computer screen and my book greatly slowed down the process. I’ll definitely keep Evernote in my arsenal, but only for select projects will it become a major tool.

The day I visited the Nuyorican Poets Cafe the front door was being replaced. The door was old and for security purposes had to go. Still, staff were adamant that they wouldn’t be getting rid of the old one, after all “there’s a lot of history in that door”. For an institution as notorious and embedded as the Nuyorican, even seemingly irrelevant parts of architecture have stories to tell. However, if there’s a lot of history in the front door that is nothing compared to what can be found inside.

 

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe in  1976

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe in 1976, New York Times

The Nuyorican has not always been at its current location on East 3rd Street. It was initially set up in 1974 on East 6th Street in the apartment of Miguel Algarín, one of the cafe’s founding members. Popularity soon forced it to expand into an Irish Pub on the same street and in 1981 to where it currently stands. The cafe closed a year later but re-opened in 1988 and since then the top three floors of the building have been given over to its archival collections. It was these collections that were the purpose of my visit but I arrived with no concept of their size. Executive Director Daniel Gallant had told me that there was a lot to see; he was not wrong.

What the collections might lack in organization they more than make up for in content. The walls are decorated with banners from previous performances and coat rails are jammed with costumes. There are countless boxes of recorded material as well as signed photographs and DIY posters from the 1980s. The material spans the entire history of the Nuyorican, from the early days of Miguel Piñero, Pedro Pietri, through Amiri Baraka and Rome Neal, and into the current crop of new artists making their name at the cafe. In essence the Nuyorican holds an almost complete cultural and material history of the late 20th Century East Village.

Yet the location of the Nuyorican archives has caused problems of its own. Twice the material has been storm damaged

A selection of the Nuyorican archives

A selection of the Nuyorican archives

and there is always a concern that this could happen again. The Nuyorican is not opposed to the material being archived elsewhere but this is often easier said than done. First this would require one of the many archival sites in New York to come forward to accept the material. However, Daniel Gallant explained to me that in order for the vast collection to be properly understood it would need the input of someone familiar with the history and current work of the cafe and this is constrained by both time and money. I would be surprised if numerous other non-profit institutions in New York do not also encounter the same problem.

I have often found it interesting that we make such clear distinctions between hoarding and collecting, often only allowing the former to become the latter when practiced by someone of notoriety. Yet if there is a distinction to be made it is surely in terms of organization. Any individual or institution may keep hold of material from their past but it is when that is transformed into something accessible and understandable that it becomes a recognizable collection. The case of the Nuyorican shows how difficult this can be. The East 3rd Street building will soon be renovated and the top floors will becomes artistic and theatrical studios. When this happens the material will have to move; it would be a tragedy if it did not find the home it deserves.

In the twenty-first century, most people acknowledge the dominant role technology plays in our daily lives, especially in the ways in which we connect to others. The digital age brought forth the transition from hard copy and handwritten documents to electronic forms of communication and record keeping. In addition, social media networks enable us to broadly share personal announcements and to contact family, friends, and sometimes relative strangers with just a few clicks of the mouse. At times I find it difficult to imagine how I lived my life without the technological advancements of the past two decades. Yet, as a graduate student with a passion for nineteenth century history, I am reminded rather frequently of a life before even basic items such as ballpoint pens, mass-market spiral notebooks, and word processing systems.

Based on the ways in which we live our lives in 2014, the diary of George Templeton Strong may not seem spectacular or even unique. I imagine its significance is lost on anyone unfamiliar with it. So who exactly was George Templeton Strong? And why is his diary significant? George Templeton Strong lived in New York City between 1820 and 1875. He attended Columbia College. Soon after, he joined his father’s law practice and practiced as a real estate attorney. He stayed at the firm which was variously called Strong & Bidwell, Strong, Bidwell & Strong, and Bidwell & Strong during his lifetime. (The firm is now Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP.)

Image from Mr. Lincoln and New York website. http://www.mrlincolnandnewyork.org/content_inside.asp?ID=47&subjectID=3

George Templeton Strong in November 1860. (Image from Mr. Lincoln and New York website – link below.)

Strong participated in numerous civic activities which led to his prominence in New York City society. He served as a vestryman at Trinity Episcopal Church located in Lower Manhattan and a trustee at Columbia College (now Columbia University). He also spent time as the Treasurer of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which forced him to travel to Washington, DC multiple times during the American Civil War. Along with Frederick Law Olmsted, Henry Whitney Bellows, and Oliver Wolcott Gibbs, he founded the Union League Club of New York in February 1863. The Union League supported the Union war effort and donated funds to the U.S. Sanitary Commission during the Civil War.

The brief background information above illustrates the busy and active life Strong lived. Despite his activities and commitments, Strong somehow found time to keep one of the most detailed diaries from his time period. Strong started his diary in 1835 while he attended Columbia College. He continued to write in the diary until June 25, 1875, one month before his death. His original diary consists of more than 2,250 pages and an estimated four million to four and a half million words.   His words provide readers with the intricate details of life in nineteenth century New York City. Strong detailed his daily activities, social obligations, and political opinions. The diary supplies reflections on the events of the Civil War, including the New York City Draft Riots of July 1863, Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865, and the assassination of President Lincoln days later.

First printing at Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University.

First printing at Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University.

Strong’s detailed forty-year account of his life in New York City during such turbulent times serves as an invaluable tool for scholars in a variety of fields. The history of the diary itself also reflects the power of the words within. The diary remained in the Strong family until 1927 when a descendant allowed the American Red Cross to borrow it. The diary remained protected by family members for privacy reasons and because the diary contains strong opinions from a tumultuous time in America’s history. The New-York Historical Society owns the original diary. Macmillan Company published the first printing of the four volume diary in 1952. Allan Nevins, a historian, and Milton Hasley Thomas, a curator, edited the first printing of the diary.

Reading Strong’s diary encouraged me to reflect on the ways he chronicled his life and how individuals document their lives today. In order to preserve his history, Strong had to sit down at a desk every night under candlelight and write using quill pens and then later gold pens. This process seems tedious compared to uploading a photo to Instagram or typing 140 characters in a tweet. Yet, without Strong’s diligence and time, scholars would lack an incredibly important artifact containing distinctive insights into the world of the nineteenth century. The ways in which we record our lives may have changed significantly since Strong wrote in his “minute hand”, but our thoughts and the moments we choose to remember remain the same. On Sunday, April 9, 1865 Strong wrote, “LEE AND HIS ARMY HAVE SURRENDED! Gloria in Excelcis Deo…” I think his exclamation would translate loud and clear in a tweet or Facebook status update today.


For additional information on subjects discussed above, please visit the links below.

Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP.

http://www.cadwalader.com/about/history

Mr. Lincoln and New York Project

http://www.mrlincolnandnewyork.org/

Trinity Church

http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/about

Trinity Church Graveyard

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_Church_Cemetery

Union League Club

http://www.unionleagueclub.org/Default.aspx?p=dynamicmodule&pageid=390621&ssid=311686&vnf=1

New-York Historical Society

http://www.nyhistory.org/

The Hulk passes through Washington Square Park in The Amazing Spider-Man, issue 381, 1993

The Hulk passes through Washington Square Park in The Amazing Spider-Man, issue 381, 1993

Ta-Nehisi Coates hit the nail on the head when he said, “Comics are so often seen as the province of white geeky nerds. But, more broadly, comics are  the literature of outcasts, of pariahs, of Jews, of gays, of blacks. It’s really no mistake that we saw ourselves in Doom, Magneto or Rogue.” Since their inception, comic books have been a place for fantasy, wish fulfillment and political commentary. Much like science fiction, a genre decades old by the time comic books became popular in the United States, comic books often reflected the fringes of American society. They told the stories of outcasts and aliens, people who didn’t step in time with the rest of humanity. It’s unsurprising that someone like William Moulton Marston, psychologist and creator of Wonder Woman, would find himself so drawn to the medium.

This phenomenal development of a national comics addiction puzzles professional educators and leaves the literary critics gasping. Comics scorn finesse, thereby incurring the wrath of linguistic adepts. They defy the limits of accepted fact and convention, thus amortizing to apoplexy the ossified arteries of routine thought. But by these very tokens the picture-story fantasy cuts loose the hampering debris of art and artifice and touches the tender spots of universal human desires and aspirations, hidden customarily beneath long accumulated protective coverings of indirection and disguise. Comics speak, without qualm or sophistication, to the innermost ears of the wishful self.”

Front page to The Sound of Her Wings from Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes, Issue 8, 1991.

Front page to The Sound of Her Wings from Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes, Issue 8, 1991.

Marston wrote this for a 1943 issue of The American Scholar, a year after Wonder Woman debuted in her first solo book, Sensation Comics. He was a blacklisted psychologist who lived in a polyamorous relationship with two women, Olive Byrne and Elizabeth Holloway. All three worked, wrote and helped raise their four children. A self-identified feminist, Marston infused Wonder Woman with his politics, hoping to create a new feminine ideal. Perhaps, then, it is even less surprising that Marston’s inspiration was found largely in the radical communities of Greenwich Village.
Wonder Woman was not the only superhero to have passed through the Village. Comic book writers and artists have been sending their characters to the quintessential home of radical counterculture for decades. Wonder Woman herself lived in the Village in the sixties and seventies. Madame Xanadu, a sorceress based on the Arthurian legend of Nimue, had her salon on Chrystie Street. Peter Parker, that most relatable of high school geeks and New York native, swung through the Village regularly. Kyle Radnor, one of the iterations of the Green Lantern, was an artist whose studio was in a Greenwich Village loft. It made sense to place these characters here. Like the folk music that permeated the Village in the 1950’s and 60’s, comic books told stories  that were always meant for the common person, but also for those who didn’t quite feel like they were in sync with the rest of the world. People found shelter in the Village, and it was no different on the pages of Spider-Man or Wonder Woman.

A shadowy figure approaches the Sanctum Sanctorum, home of Doctor Stephen Strange, which first appeared in Strange Tales, issue 116, 1951. The Sanctum existed in multiple dimensions, but the front door was on Bleecker Street.

A shadowy figure approaches the Sanctum Sanctorum, home of Doctor Stephen Strange, which first appeared in Strange Tales, issue 116, 1951. The Sanctum existed in multiple dimensions, but the front door was on Bleecker Street.

Outside comic books, Greenwich Village was home to people like socialist writer Max Eastman, who published Child of the Amazons and Other Poems in 1913. Charlotte Perkins Gilman published Herland, a utopian novel about an egalitarian world without men, in her magazine Forerunner in 1915. Clearly Amazonian society had been on the minds of many Village feminists, not just Martson’s.
Because of their format, and their intended audiences, comic book creators had room to do the daring, to challenge social mores. Sometimes they didn’t succeed, and often they ended up just reproducing the same prejudices they were attempting to subvert. Despite the efforts of people like Marston, the comic book industry has been dominated by white men, its path dictated by what they think their audience of white teenage males want to see. But comic books still have their roots in counterculture, and are so identified with bohemian Greenwich Village that author Michael Chabon set much of his novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Claythere. His characters, Joe, Sammy and Rosa, called the Village home, often finding refuge there through a storm of homophobia, sexism and anti-semitism.
Supergirl is sent to the Village to speak to Madame Xanadu in Wonder Woman, issue 292, 1982

Supergirl is sent to the Village to speak to Madame Xanadu in Wonder Woman, issue 292, 1982

Comic books have certainly changed over the years, and so has the Village, but their shared history continues to draw people for similar reasons. They have the ability to show us our fantasies and desires, reflecting them back to us for better or worse. Idealists, radicals, outcasts and sometimes just lonely kids looking for companionship – those are the people who still hold comic books closest, and comic book creators owe much of that to the influence of the Village.

Related Reading:

Gaiman, Neil. Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes. New York: DC Comics, 1991.

Chabon, Michael. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. New York: Random House Publishing, 2000.

Daniels, Les. Wonder Woman: The Life and Times of the Amazon Princess: The Complete Story. San Francisco: Titan Books, 2000.

Schwartz, Judith. Radical Feminists of Heterodoxy: Greenwich Village 1912-1940. Norwich, Vermont: New Victoria Publishers, 1986.

 

I have been researching the Greenwich Village folk scene for a couple months now, and I’ve run across multiple articles that compare folk singer Dave Van Ronk’s memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street, to Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2013 film Inside Llewyn Davis. While I’m no ethnomusicologist and my musical career didn’t last past high school, I thought I’d share my own interpretation. Warning: spoilers lie ahead.

 

From the outset, there are clear parallels that show Van Ronk helped inspire Davis. Both went to Chicago to unsuccessfully audition at the Gate of Horn, and both wanted to return to work on a merchant ship but found they had lost their papers. Van Ronk was also asked to join a trio (what would become Peter, Paul, and Mary) but turned it down to continue his solo career. Davis’s solo album Inside Llewyn Davis was based off of Van Ronk’s 1964 album, Inside Dave Van Ronk. Similarly, the Greenwich Village in the movie was very similar to the Greenwich Village in the memoir—The Gaslight Café and Café Figaro both played important roles in the growth of folk music during the period.

InsideDaveVanRonk

I thought Van Ronk’s writing most strongly shone through in the movie’s soundtrack. Throughout the memoir, Van Ronk emphasizes that what was considered folk music in the sixties was really a combination of different styles, techniques, and genres. Musicians took chord progressions, fingerings, and even entire songs from one another. Admittedly, this type of collaboration greatly waned as folk music became more profitable. But Van Ronk, ever a purist, acknowledges the importance of taking inspiration from others. Most of the songs on the soundtrack are re-interpretations of songs performed by 1960s folk singers (which were often re-interpretations themselves). I thought this was an important stylistic decision by the Coen brothers—by having contemporary musicians play the songs instead of using old recordings, the movie is essentially demonstrating what Van Ronk so passionately describes. The music captures a key aspect of the 1960s folk revival, and Davis acknowledges this during a performance when he says, “You’ve probably heard that one before. It was never new and it never gets old, and it’s a folk song.” Van Ronk would adamantly agree.

 

InsideLlewynDavis

Llewyn, Jim, and Jean listen to a performance at the Gaslight Café.

Folk musicians certainly struggled to find success in the 1960s, but Davis seems to have a deep-seated bitterness that didn’t come out of Dave Van Ronk’s memoir. The storyline of Mike, Davis’s old partner who committed suicide, greatly influenced Davis’s actions—it drove his anger against Mrs. Gorfein and his feelings about “If We Had Wings.” Van Ronk does not discuss any musician facing a similar experience. Davis is much less successful than all the other musicians in the film—he sleeps on people’s couches, struggles with gigs and record sales, and never has money. In reality, most musicians, Van Ronk included, similarly lived day to day. It was an exhausting business that until later in the 1960s, had very little money to share. But by juxtaposing Davis with characters like Jim and Jean, Davis appears to be the sole failure. While the sixties were difficult for Greenwich Village musicians, there was also a lot of camaraderie and fond memories that I think were excluded from the film to exaggerate the plot.

 

To me, the memoir and movie most strongly diverge in their purpose. Van Ronk was a few years older and gained a group of followers before the real folk wave hit. He spent the majority of his life in Greenwich Village, and his success and experience made him a mentor for new musicians travelling to the city (it was a bartender at the Kettle of Fish, a popular restaurant for musicians, who named Van Ronk “the Mayor of MacDougal Street”). This perspective, plus historical hindsight, allowed Van Ronk to write a memoir that represented not only his life but also folk musicians more broadly. Llewyn Davis, however, followed one person; the differences between Davis and the other characters made his story singular. This is neither good nor bad, but different. Any good researcher developing this screenplay would have read The Mayor of MacDougal Street, and it does provide content for the movie. But to say there is a larger connection, or that Davis is based off of Van Ronk, would in my opinion be an exaggeration.

 

To read more about Dave Van Ronk and Inside Llewyn Davis, check out this Rolling Stones article and this piece by Terri Thal, Van Ronk’s ex-wife from the sixties. Plus, if anyone can get their hands on the radio broadcast of “Folkplus,” hosted by Angela Page, during which she interviews Andrea Vuocculo, Elijah Wald, and several others who personally knew Van Ronk, please let me know.

Post marking the location of Fillmore East, WikiMedia Commons.

Two options exist for music venues in Greenwich Village. Either they stand the test of time and become integral parts of the area, and even landmarked like Webster Hall, or, no matter how influential, they not manage to stick around. Even the most iconic locations like CBGBs fall victim to the changes going on in the area and music industry. Fillmore East opened in the East Village for two years from 1968 to 1971 and hosted some of the biggest names in rock and roll. It is another example of how no matter how significant to the music scene a location may be, it can still not manage to stay afloat as the world changes around it. Fillmore East made the two years it was open count in the history of rock and roll and get the title “Church of Rock and Roll.”

The Who at Fillmore East, October 20, 1969. Photo by Paul S. Smith.

Bill Graham, a music promoter, opened the rock venue, located at 105 Second Avenue by East 6th Street, on March 8, 1968. Prior to Graham buying it, the building served as a Yiddish Theater from 1925 to 1926. The movie theater company Loews owned it for a short period, but by the late 1960’s before Graham bought it, the building fell into poor shape. Graham also owned a venue in San Francisco named The Fillmore (still open today). Fillmore East existed as its counterpart on the east coast, hence the name.

Due to Graham’s dedicated promotion of rock music, concerts happened almost every night of the week. Bands would even play multiple nights a week or multiple shows in a night. Several big-name bands would be on the same night’s bill. The Grateful Dead frequently played at Fillmore East during its two years of existence, totaling 43 concerts there. The Allman Brothers also regularly performed concerts at the venue.

Fillmore East achieved the nickname “Church of Rock and Roll” for a reason. Led Zeppelin made some of their earliest live appearances in the United States at Fillmore. Footage from Led Zeppelin’s January 1969 show can be viewed above. Looking through the listing of Fillmore East’s shows reveals night after night of multiple famous bands playing on the same night. October 11, 1969 had The Beach Boys and Creedence Clearwater Revival sharing the bill, for example. On September 23, 1970, a show was taped featuring The Allman Brothers, Van Morrison, and several other artists. The show aired on October 10, 1970 in New York City through a simulcast on TV as well as radio. The Allman Brother’s set can be viewed on YouTube.

Duane Allman during the last concert at Fillmore East, WikiMedia Commons.

In addition to a music venue, Fillmore East served as a recording auditorium. Unsurprisingly, The Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead both recorded several live albums there since they were already there frequently. On January 1, 1970, Jimi Hendrix recorded his album “Band of Gypsys” live at Fillmore East. John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded “Live Jam” on June 6, 1971, shortly before the venue closed. Live sets recorded by bands when Fillmore East was open are still being released to this day. One of Grateful Dead’s shows from 1970 received a multidisc release in 2010, and just last year in 2013 Humble Pie’s May 28 and 29th shows from 1971 were released.

Even though the stature of the bands performing and the constant influx of shows at Fillmore East were immense, the venue closed on June 27, 1971. A final concert was held featuring the ever-present Allman Brothers and several other acts, including The Beach Boys. Since closing, the building has been a theater and a gay club, but has not attempted to become a music venue again. Long gone, Fillmore East still holds a stake in the history of rock and roll and music in New York City.

Sources:

“Fillmore East Preservation Society.” Fillmore East Preservation Home Page. Accessed November 3, 2014. http://www.fillmore-east.com/.

“Landmarks Commission Approves East Village/Lower East Side Historic District.” The New York Landmarks Conservancy. October 9, 2012. Accessed November 3, 2014.

Greenwich Village has long been associated with art and artists. But when we think of the Village, we think of Modern Art. Andy Warhol’s soup cans and Jackson Pollock’s vibrant paint splashes spring to mind. These days its hard to find artists working outside the now large umbrella of Modern Art. Given the now extreme popularity of the movement, its hard to imagine a time when Greenwich Village’s experimental artists faced real critical opposition.

Jackson Pollock’s ” Convergence,” 1952, via Jackson-Pollock.org

At the turn of the 20th century, art was almost exclusively produced in academic settings. Aspiring artists attended well known art schools such as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the National Academy in New York City. Artists were only worthy of participating in shows after training in the accepted style of American Impressionism. Without the opportunity to exhibit and the blessing of the academy, artist’s had little chance of selling their work. Continue Reading »

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