Special Collections

Posts by Christine Cheng

50 Features of Special Collections: The Blind Men and the Elephant

March 17th, 2017 by Christine Cheng


What comes to mind when you think of a book? What are the typical parts of a book? How about the purpose of a book? The parts that go into forming a book usually consist of the covers, pages, text, binding, and its spine. When you consider elements of art, you may think of color, line, shape, form, space, and texture.

Artists’ books are works of art that use elements of the traditional book form in combination with elements of art. Together these different elements encourage readers and the audience to reflect on relationships between image, form, and text; they also prompt the re-imagining of the reception of text. If the work is the physical object represented by the book, which is tangible and can be held in your hands or occupy a space on a shelf, then the text is what is experienced and interpreted through the activity of reading. The text is fluid and shaped by the reader’s knowledge, personal experiences and opinions. What happens to interpretation when in an artist’s book everything from the materials used to the presentation of text (its design and placement on a page), along with the shape and format of the book, are all meant to help convey the meaning of the artist’s book? Reading the text alone isn’t enough to grasp the full meaning of the artist’s book – not without also reflecting on its shape, format, and the artwork. These elements help to complement and augment each other.

The artist’s book we’ll focus on comes from our Fine Press and Book Arts Collection, The Blind Men and the Elephant: the Indian Legend as a Poem. It is based on an Indian parable that was introduced to the west as a poem by American poet, John Godfrey Saxe (1816–1887). In the story, blind men are led to an elephant to describe what it feels like. Each blind man gets to feel a single, different part of the elephant:



After comparing their thoughts on the touch and feel of the elephant, the blind men realize that they are at odds with each other. For example, if touching the elephant’s tail, which might feel like a rope with hair on one end, how can the elephant also feel solid, smooth, and pointy like the tusk? If touching one of the elephant’s legs, it will certainly feel different than touching its belly. Who is telling the absolute truth in this situation? While an individual’s experience can be true, we should make sure that we’re not limited by our own experiences and consider the experiences of others.

There are two pieces to this artist’s book. The first piece is a codex of Saxe’s poem and the second is a maze book with an illustration of an elephant. Both pieces are held together by a wraparound tie that looks like an elephant’s tail while the covers are made of crumple-textured paper dyed to resemble elephant hide:

To see all the parts come together to complete the full elephant, visit Special Collections in Shields Library.

Work referenced:

Saxe, John Godfrey, 1816-1887. Trujillo, Rae. The Blind Men and the Elephant: the Indian Legend as a Poem. Pleasant Hill, Calif.: Rae’s of Sun, 2009.

50 Features of Special Collections: Gay and Lesbian History and Culture Collection

March 12th, 2017 by Christine Cheng


The Gay and Lesbian History and Culture Collection in Special Collections is comprised of over 3,000 rare books and serials (any publication issued in successive parts), as well as pamphlets. This collection originally came from a donation of gay and lesbian books, serials, and pamphlets in the mid-1990s.

The materials in this collection help document the birth of the gay rights movement and the development of the LGBT community in California and the rest of the U.S. Highlights from the collection include the first issue of the first lesbian serial published in the U.S. (Vice Versa, 1947), as well as openly gay and lesbian novels from the late 1920s and 1930s. It also has publications of earlier gay organizations from the 1960s, such as the Society for Individual Rights (1964-1976), the Association for Responsible Citizens (1965-1967), and the Janus Society (1964-1969). In addition to publications from gay communities, there are also publications from the 1970s from lesbian and feminist organizations, including The Amazon Quarterly, The Furies, Lesbian Tide, and Womanspirit.

One serial from the collection that caught our attention is the San Francisco publication Black Lesbian Newsletter (BLN), especially since the newsletter was published before novelist and poet Alice Walker defined black feminism as “womanism” in 1983. For submissions, the BLN welcomed “any and all written and graphic work by local black lesbians.” The format of the newsletter included “news, reviews, personal perspectives, political commentaries, interviews, poetry, letters, ads, announcements, humor, and journal entries.”

Throughout the newsletters, contributors to the BLN not only addressed issues of gender inequality but also of racism – notably how out of place black lesbians felt among white feminists in “The Need for a Black Lesbian Front”:

When the [feminist] movement first started, there seemed to be total denial that there were any Black women active in this struggle for equal rights, which perpetuated this “savior syndrome” on the parts of white women. The resistance to working equally and intelligently with Black women intensified when our white sisters found out that Black women didn’t need to be “saved.” There seemed to have been this stereotypic mentality that Black women needed saving…The reality is that the Feminist movement, as it stands now, is just another racist and oppressive mechanism of this racist society…We as Black lesbians need to take control of our lives by creating a strong political front that directly addresses our needs as Black lesbians…We must change the face of the Feminist movement. By using our knowledge and strength, the movement can be a strong force again.

Another contributor expressed frustration with the lack of workshops on racism in feminist studies at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, “Few workshops addressed the issue of race or racism in feminist education, and few women of color participated in panels or events that did not have a racial/ethnic focus.” The author pointed out that women of color “discovered…that race was the only thing they were asked to talk about, even if they felt quite competent in other areas as well.”

Covers of the BLN:


For more information about the BLN, visit Special Collections in Shields Library. You can also search for pamphlets and serials through the library catalog at:


Gay and Lesbian History and Culture Collection


Gay and Lesbian History and Culture Collection

Works cited:

Gaines, Eileen. “The Need for a Black Lesbian Front.” Black Lesbian Newsletter (August 1982): 3.

Stewart, Helen. “Going…Going…Gone??” Black Lesbian Newsletter vol. 1, no. 3 (September 1982): 3-4.

50 Features of Special Collections: the Story of Lord Eight Deer Jaguar Claw

February 4th, 2017 by Christine Cheng


It is extremely rare to find manuscripts from the pre-Hispanic times of the Mixtec Indians since the conquistadores destroyed most of their records during the Spanish Conquest. In Robert Lloyd Williams’ The Complete Codex of Zouche-Nuttall, Williams lists the Codex Nuttall as one of five major Mixtec pictogram codices: Selden, Bodley, Zouche-Nuttall, Vindobonensis Mexicanus I, and Codex Alfonso Caso. The screenfold manuscript book, which comes from what is now Oaxaca, Mexico, comprises 47 leaves (one leaf equals two pages of a book, one on each side) made of deer hide and contains vibrant, painted images of Mixtec pictography. According to Williams, this type of pictogram writing was used as a tool in oral traditions to assist bards in reciting stories from memory, “the pre-Hispanic manuscripts were written to be read and performed but not written specifically for us to read.”

The story of how this ancient Mexican codex ended up in a Dominican monastery in San Marco, Florence in 1859 is unknown. Sir Robert Curzon, 14th Baron Zouche, received it as a gift, then loaned it to the British Museum. After his death in 1876, his sister inherited the codex and donated it to the Museum in 1917. While the original codex remains in the British Museum, Special Collections holds the facsimile, Codex Nuttall, published by Zelia Nuttall in 1902 with the support of Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. It is largely due to her efforts – through the hiring of two British artists to copy the manuscript, then pushing for its publication – that the world knows about and can study this codex.

The Codex Nuttall holds two narratives: on one side (the older side called the obverse), there is the history of Mixtec events and important hubs in the Mixtec region, while the other side (the reverse) depicts scenes of Eight Deer’s military and political conquests, adventures, ceremonies, and genealogy records.

In contrast to a typical book where it’s read from left to right, the codex reads from right to left starting from the top right-hand corner, following the column down from top to bottom, and then over to the next column on the left from the bottom to the top. The red lines serve as dividers within the narratives as can be seen in the following examples:


Page 3 (obverse): The War from Heaven – War with the Stone Men in the Northern Nochixtlan Valley at Yucunudahui:



Page 16 (obverse): Featuring Lady Three Flint Elder and Lady Three Flint Younger:



Page 27 (obverse): From Tilantongo to Teozacoalco – presenting the other wives of Lord Eight Deer Jaguar Claw, as well as the children of Eight Deer and Five Eagle:



Page 37 (obverse): After Leaving the Cave and At Sayutepec:



Page 69 (reverse): Eight Deer in his animal spirit form battles an eagle, a dog is sacrificed, and Lord Nine Flower (Eight Deer’s brother) sacrifices a man:



Page 81 (reverse): The Assassination of Lord Twelve Motion and the Siege of Hua Chino:



Works consulted:

Nuttall, Zelia, Zouche, Robert Curzon, Baron; Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology. Codex Nuttall: Facsimile of an Ancient Mexican Codex Belonging to Lord Zouche of Harynworth, England. Cambridge, Mass, 1902.

Williams, Robert Lloyd. The Complete Codex Zouche-Nuttall: Mixtec Lineage Histories and Political Biographies. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013.

The Codex Zouche-Nuttall. The British Museum. Accessed February 3, 2017.


50 Features of Special Collections: Chinese Cookery in the U.S.

January 13th, 2017 by Christine Cheng


Special Collections holds one of the largest English language Chinese cookbooks collection in the U.S. – second to Stony Brook University’s Dr. Jacqueline M. Newman Chinese Cookbook Collection. The collection at UC Davis, established in 1991, of over 1,100 books was donated by Gardner Pond and Peter Hertzmann. Pond from Santa Cruz and Hertzmann from Palo Alto met while working as docents for Chinatown walking tours in San Francisco.

The reason Pond began gathering cookbooks was to answer tourists’ questions while Hertzmann collected them during his travels. Pond selected UC Davis as the home for his collection due to the fact that one of his favorite authors of Chinese cooking, Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook fame, graduated from Davis in 1977 with a master’s in food science (his thesis was about rice). Hertzmann donated his cookbooks to Davis at Pond’s suggestion.

The oldest cookbook in the Chinese Cookbook Collection is from 1901 and the most recent is from the early 2000s. The collection offers a way to study the history of Chinese cuisine and how it has evolved since Chinese workers provided a significant source of labor in 1849 during the time of the Gold Rush and railroad construction. Interest in Chinese food and culture developed after Nixon’s historic visit to the People’s Republic of China in 1972. Previously in the 1970s, it was difficult – if not impossible – to find bean sprouts to add to Chinese dishes since they were mainly available canned rather than fresh in grocery stores.

Chinese cuisine did not gain popularity until the 1980s, so the cookbooks from our collection published in the earlier part of the 20th century do not contain the familiar type of dishes found in Chinese American food today, such as Mongolian Beef and General Tso’s Chicken (there are plenty of chop suey recipes though!). According to Dr. Newman, more authentic Chinese recipes did not start appearing in Chinese cookbooks until around 1940. The recipes in cookbooks published before 1920 contained much simpler recipes. What follows is a recipe for pepper steak from a booklet published in 1924:


Beef tenderloin, 1 cup

Green pepper, 1 cup

Slice meat about 1/8 inch and cut into one inch squares. Slice green pepper same size as meat. Fry meat, to which add a pinch of salt, in a well greased pan not more than a minute; add green pepper and ½ cup of water or meat stock in which are dissolved ½ teaspoon cornstarch, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon chop suey sauce, 4 drops sesame oil; stir thoroughly in all together, let simmer a minute, then serve with hot rice.

How Long Chinese Chop Suey Cook Book


Here’s a recipe for one of this blog post’s author’s favorite Chinese dishes, mapo tofu:

Szechuan Dishes to Be Demonstrated: Western series A

Mapo Tofu from SimonQ on flickr.

Works consulted:

How Long & Co. How Long Chinese Chop Suey Cook Book. New York: How Long & Co., 1924.

Szechuan Dishes to be Demonstrated: Western series A.

Jung, Carolyn. “Department of Chinese Cooking: Huge UC-Davis Cookbook collection offers a Feast of Cooking Lore.” San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, CA), Oct. 23, 2002.

50 Features of Special Collections: The Most Popular Book

December 22nd, 2016 by Christine Cheng


As a “bestseller of the Middle Ages,” the Book of Hours is a prayer book intended for use by ordinary people who are not part of the clergy. The Book allowed Catholics to follow and express their devotion to the Virgin Mary by setting aside certain times throughout the day to recite services. While the Book of Hours may vary from volume to volume, it usually consists of eight different sections: 1) a Calendar, 2) the Gospel Lessons, 3) the Hours of the Virgin, 4) the Hours of the Cross and the Hours of the Holy Spirit, 5) two prayers to the Virgin: Obsecro te (“I beseech thee”) and O intemerata (“O undefiled one”), 6) the Penitential Psalms and Litany, 7) the Office of the Dead, and 8) Suffrages.

The heart of the Book of Hours, originally named after the Hours of the Virgin or the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, consists of eight short services:

These services are actually shortened versions of much longer and more demanding services – the Divine Office – contained in the Breviary, which the clergy were required to recite daily. Both the Breviary and the Book of Hours include prayers, hymns, psalms, and scriptural text. As the language of scholarship during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Books of Hours were typically in Latin; however, special prayers and entire Books could be found in the vernacular. For owners who were illiterate, many could recite most of the prayers in the Book of Hours by memory and use the pictures as reference points.

Since the Book of Hours was initially expensive to produce, it was often handed down and became part of family history. As examples of great works of art, the Books served as objects of religious devotion as well as status symbols. Depending on the wealth of the owners, the Book could include extravagant details such as illuminated initials, decorated borders, and miniature paintings dividing major sections of text, or remain plain with little to no decoration. In more luxurious Books of Hours, owners sometimes paid great amounts to include portraits of themselves or their family emblems in the illustrations. The process for creating a fancy Book of Hours follows:

The material used was vellum, calfskin or sheepskin which had been soaked in a caustic lime solution, scraped and shaved to an even thinness, rubbed smooth with pumice, stretched till dry, and then cut to size. A Book of Hours was prepared by a group of professionals, often in a single workshop under a master. First the text – lettered in uniform calligraphy – was written with a quill pen by a scribe. Then the ornamental borders of styled sprays and branches, of leaves and of flowers, were drawn by a specialist, using red and other colors. The pictures were then painted by another artist, usually the master, and they were sometimes major works of art within the small size of a miniature.


The use of gold was applied as gold leaf to decorate the frames of and objects in miniatures, leaves in borders, and to illuminate initials. The Book of Hours in Special Collections was acquired by UC Davis in 1972 at the 8th California Antiquarian Book Fair in San Francisco. In our Book of Hours, there are two miniatures illustrating the Office of the Dead: one shows a king lying in a freshly dug grave in a churchyard while Death, carrying a coffin, stabs his spear at one of the two mourners; the other features Heaven and Hell. Another miniature, the Visitation of the Virgin Mary to St. Anne, shows an angel attending to the Virgin, illustrating the hour of Lauds. We believe our Book was originally owned by Chachere who recorded the births of his 15 children between 1497 and 1520 on additional leaves at the end. For more information about the Book of Hours in Special Collections, please contact speccoll@ucdavis.edu. View our Book of Hours online at the Digital Scriptorium.


Works consulted:

Marmion, Simon. Book of Hours. San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 2004.

Backhouse, Janet. Illumination from Books of Hours. London: British Library, 2004.

Backhouse, Janet. Books of Hours. London; Dover, NH: British Library, 1985.

Wieck, Roger S. Time Sanctified: the Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life. New York: G. Braziller in association with the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1988.

50 Features of Special Collections: The “Preoccupations of a Generation”

December 5th, 2016 by Christine Cheng


Protesting the Vietnam war, fighting for civil rights and women’s rights, drug experimentation, free love, and questioning human sexuality and gender roles are examples of some of the issues that people from the counterculture supported during the 1960s. “Counterculture” described the hippie movement and those whose lifestyles and views opposed established norms of society, such as the norms attributed to the traditional values of the American middle-class. Naturally, the art and music from the time period also reflected and expressed the attitudes of this movement.

The Counterculture Poster collection in Special Collections contains posters and cards announcing psychedelic rock concerts and other “happenings” of interest to the American counterculture of the 1960s, mostly in the San Francisco area featuring performances at the Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom. Former Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian at Shields Library, Noel Peattie, felt it was important for the Library to acquire and highlight the work of local artists. As a result, the University Library started purchasing the posters as they were beginning to be produced in the ‘60s. Besides buying posters, the library also accepted donations from former faculty members whose students from that time period designed posters that represented the “preoccupations of a generation.” The Library envisioned the collection to be used in the study of graphic arts, art history, as well as researching the 1960s or the mindset and culture of the hippie movement.

Rebelling against the conventions of commercial design, the artists of the posters “went beyond art and advertising” and created a new style to communicate social and political statements of the movement. Messages on the psychedelic posters were hidden in plain view from outsiders through uses and manipulation of lettering, flowing typography, and bright, vibrant colors; text was not readily apparent until a black light was used on some of the posters.

Here are a few examples from the Counterculture Poster collection.

Posters protesting the Vietnam war:


silentmajority    nixonimpeachment    fruitsofvictory


Psychedelic posters advertising rock concerts:


peacock    sutter


Reprinted concert poster featuring the artistry of UC Davis undergrad alum, Thomas Morris, for a 1967 Picnic Day Dance with performances by Buffalo Springfield and Moby Grape:




Work cited:

Bachman, Teri R. “Psychedelic Sixties Revisited.” UC Davis Magazine 10, no. 2 (Winter 1992): 22-24.