Hands-On Research with Rare Books and Ephemera
Student Commentary by Cassie Brand
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 When I heard about English 241: Archeology of Text, I was immediately excited. I had been working in Special Collections and Archives at Goucher College for about a year, and I knew the class would give me a chance to learn more about books and archives in a setting that would encourage discussions with my peers. When it came time to pick a collection for my final project, I decided to work with archival materials rather than books so that I could challenge myself.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 While working in Special Collections, I had often walked by large blue boxes containing scrapbooks, but I had yet to look through them. When I began leafing through them, I found that I learned as much about Goucher College as I did about the women who put the scrapbooks together. Many of the scrapbooks had things in common, including Valentines, pressed flowers, calling cards, and photographs. But what intrigued me most were the dance cards. I had never before encountered dance cards, or even heard of them, even though I had been dancing all my life. Many of the dance cards were from the U.S. Naval Academy, a nearby all-male school in need of women with whom to dance. Goucher girls would often travel to Annapolis for the weekend dances and bring back dance cards as souvenirs.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 When I began researching these cards, I found very little information. I went to all of the reference librarians I could find, but even they had difficulties because very few secondary sources were available. I looked through all the etiquette books I could get my hands on and even asked people to tell me what they knew about dance cards. Those who knew of them provided me with the basic information I needed to study the cards.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 I contacted the U.S. Naval Academy Archives, and with the help of Nancy Magnuson, Goucher College Librarian, I made an appointment to see their collection. There I found an almost complete run of dance cards from the Farewell Ball, which was held every year after graduation. Some were blank, some were filled in, some contained photographs, and some still had their tiny pencils attached. Looking through the cards, I found that they could be studied in several ways. One could examine print history, dance history, social history, or even one woman’s history of dance partners. The first and last dance cards were so drastically different that I chose to look at how the cards changed over the years. I found that the cards’ modifications reflected the changes in social dances.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Though I have not yet returned to the dance card collections to study them further, they have never been far from my mind. I am still trying to convince people that dance cards are brilliant and should be reinstated for social events. Dance cards remain an interest of mine, and I would love to eventually write their complete history.