Special Collections & Archives Blog

In the 'Digital Initiatives' Category...

Alexander’s feast; or, The power of musick (1750)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 5:39 pm

The following is a joint post by Megan Mulder (Special Collections Librarian) and Chelcie Rowell (Digital Initiatives Librarian).

History of Alexander’s Feast

The 18th century edition of Handel’s Alexander’s Feast has one of the most interesting provenances of any book in Z. Smith Reynolds Library’s Special Collections department.

Title page of Alexander's feast

Title page of Alexander’s Feast with Felix Mendelssohn’s signature.

The work is based on an ode in commemoration of St. Cecilia’s day by English poet John Dryden (1631-1700). Dryden’s “Alexander’s Feast” tells a story from the life of Alexander the Great, in which the conqueror and his soldiers enjoy a drunken feast in celebration of their victory over the king of Persia. The bard Timotheus provides entertainment, and his poetic and musical skill inspire Alexander and his men to a frenzy of revenge against the conquered city of Persepolis. Dryden’s poem is more cautionary than celebratory, as the “power of music” is used for morally questionable ends.

Nonetheless, Dryden’s poem was a great critical success when it was first published in 1697, and it was apparently still popular enough nearly 40 years later for George Frideric Handel (1685- 1759) to choose it as the inspiration for a new musical work. Handel’s Alexander’s Feast was well received at its 1736 London premiere and was performed many more times during the 18th century. Published versions of Handel’s score began to appear shortly after its first performance.

Wake Forest’s copy of Alexander’s Feast was likely published around 1750. Its first recorded owner was William Hawes (1785–1846) an English musician who eventually became master of choristers at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

At some point the book made its way to a Stuttgart bookseller and was purchased by the famous German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847). Mendelssohn signed the front endpaper and the title page, and he also annotated many pages of the score. The notes may well have been for a performance at the Aachen music festival in 1846, which featured an appearance by the famous singer Jenny Lind.

After Mendelssohn’s death in 1847, the book’s provenance again becomes murky. But it was, at any rate, purchased from a rare books dealer in 1958 for the Wake Forest University library. For the past 50 years the volume has been part of the Rare Books Collection at Z. Smith Reynolds Library. It is an interesting object for students of music history. But in the absence of a large collection of related materials at Wake Forest, it has not been well known to Mendelssohn scholars. So Special Collections librarians were pleased to learn of an opportunity to contribute to a project at the Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften in Leipzig. This project, which began in 1959, is working to publish the complete works of Mendelssohn.

Digitization of Alexander’s Feast

In order for ZSR’s Alexander’s Feast to be included in the Leipzig Mendelssohn project, we needed to digitize the entire book. We wanted to do this in such a way that users of the digital surrogate would experience the materiality of the book—the physical organization and details—in addition to being able to read the text.

Capturing digital images of each page of Alexander’s Feast presented a familiar challenge for the Digitization Lab at ZSR. We wanted to make sure that we created a faithful digital representation of the physical object. To this end, we cropped the images of the front cover and back cover such that all four edges are visible. Additionally, we cropped the images of interior pages such that the gutter is visible on the right side for images of verso (left) pages, while the gutter is visible on the left side for images of recto (right) pages. Our goal is to provide viewers as much context about the physical object as possible within the constraints of the hardware and software that we use for digitization.

Recto and verso pages of Alexander's Feast

Recto and verso pages of Alexander’s Feast with annotations by Felix Mendelssohn.

A best practice for the digitization of special collections materials is to create both a preservation copy and an access copy. In the case of Alexander’s Feast, we created a high-resolution TIFF file of each page of the volume, including the front cover, the marbled endpapers, and the back cover. The advantage of preservation copies is that they’re flexible; they allow different kinds of access copies to be generated as the needs of viewers, as well as the constraints of the systems that present these materials to viewers, both evolve.

The access copy of Alexander’s Feast, available in our Digital Collections, is a single PDF that incorporates all of the pages of the bound musical score.

Future Uses of Alexander’s Feast

Wake Forest’s copy of Alexander’s Feast has been cataloged and available to researchers for decades, and Special Collections has provided digital files and photocopies of relevant pages to remote researchers on request. But its inclusion in the Mendelssohn project will situate the material within the context of Mendelssohn’s career and may bring the item to the attention of international researchers. If this occurs, we will be able to provide remote researchers with high-quality digital images of the book’s pages.

In addition to broadening accessibility, digitizing special collections may enable new paths of inquiry, especially in the digital humanities community. Digitizing sheet music presents tantalizing opportunities. For instance, imagine an interface that displays a moving bar indicating the place in time on the sheet music alongside an audio or video recording of a performance.

Do you have an idea for a digital humanities project that could build upon digitized music scores? Contact us!

The Old Gold and Black Now Keyword Searchable

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 2:33 pm

The following is a guest post by Corrine Luthy, a graduate intern with Wake Forest University’s Special Collections & Archives.

Searchable PDFs of some issues of Wake Forest University’s student newspaper, the Old Gold and Black, are now available!

Beginning in January, issues of the Old Gold and Black are being converted into a keyword searchable PDF format and uploaded to replace existing copies, which were not keyword searchable. What this means for users of the collection is that as new copies steadily replace old copies in the digital collection throughout this semester, they will be able to search more and more of the Old Gold and Black by keyword.

The progress of this project can be followed using the keyword searchability progress chart accessible from the Old Gold and Black collection page. The chart, pictured below, shows which issues are currently keyword searchable. As of today, issues from 1916 (when publication began) through 1931 are discoverable through a keyword search.

Keyword searchability progress chart of Old Gold & Black digital collection as of February 11, 2014

Keyword searchability progress chart of Old Gold & Black digital collection as of February 11, 2014

Perhaps you are looking for information about basketball teams throughout Wake Forest’s history, or mentions of his or her grandfather who was a student at WFU, or advertisements for Hudson-Belk Stores.  The following provides a simple outline of how to search the collection by keyword.

Searching the Old Gold and Black digital collection

Search for a term using the “Search This Collection” box on the Old Gold and Black collection page. Below is a general search for “basketball.”

Collection search box for Old Gold & Black Digital Collection

Collection search box for Old Gold & Black Digital Collection

The search returns issues of the Old Gold and Black containing the keyword for which you searched. Depending on the research mission, and because keyword searchable issues are being added by date, you may want to sort the results by issue date in ascending order.

Search results for Old Gold & Black digital collection

Search results for Old Gold & Black digital collection

From the search results page, select an item to view in more detail.

From the search results page, select an item to view in more detail

From the search results page, select an item to view in more detail

Searching within a particular issue of the Old Gold and Black

We selected the December 4, 1925 issue to view. From the item page, click the “Download” button to view an issue within your web browser or download to your PC.

From the item page, click the "Download" button to view an issue within your web browser or to download it to your PC

From the item page, click the “Download” button to view an issue within your web browser or to download it to your PC

To search for a term within that issue, press the Ctrl + F keys to open the search box of your web browser (in the top right corner of the screen).  Below, a search of the December 4, 1925 edition for “basketball” returned five results, which are highlighted within the document.  You can navigate to each instance of the word “basketball” using the up and down arrow buttons on the search box.

Keyword search within an issue of the Old Gold & Black

Keyword search within an issue of the Old Gold & Black

As always, if you have any questions about accessing this digital collection, you may contact Special Collections & University Archives.

Introducing Graduate Intern Corrine Luthy

Thursday, January 16, 2014 8:30 am

The following is a guest post by Corrine Luthy, a graduate intern with Wake Forest University’s Special Collections & Archives.

Corrine Luthy

Hi! I’m Corrine Luthy, an intern in the Special Collections and Archives department here at ZSR for the Spring 2014 semester. I am a graduate student in my second semester at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the Library and Information Studies program. Although there are no concentrations within the program, I have a strong interest in archives.

I have been working in ZSR’s Special Collections and Archives department since October, becoming acquainted with the equipment and the staff and gearing up for some projects I will be working on this spring. I feel fortunate to have been given the opportunity to gain this hands-on experience while earning academic credit for my work. With the guidance of Tanya Zanish-Belcher (Director of Special Collections and Archives) and Chelcie Rowell (Digital Initiatives Librarian), we identified specific projects that I will lead, and we developed learning objectives that I will complete. I am excited that at the conclusion of my internship, having led these projects and completed these learning objectives will help me to build a strong portfolio.

I earned a bachelor’s degree in English from East Carolina University. Of course, my love for the written word and information access drew me to library school. But my interest in archives comes most immediately from my work as an editor and staff writer for a small community newspaper in northeastern North Carolina before returning to graduate school. There, I witnessed the real need for a usable and organized information organization system on a regular basis. The newspaper served not only as a historical record for the community, but for ourselves as well. Working at a print publication, I also became more aware of the contrast (and sometimes tension) between print and digital formats, some of the effects of the shift from one to the other, and the need for digital preservation. These are trends that I will be fortunate enough to explore more during my time at ZSR.

The projects that I have begun working on under Chelcie’s supervision hold a special interest for me. This semester I will be working with PDF files of digitized issues of Wake Forest’s student newspaper, the Old Gold and Black, making them keyword searchable for users of the library’s digital collection. I will also be working to create a digital exhibit with materials from the Secrest Artists Series.

I’m hoping to contribute to the digital community of Wake Forest by helping the library create and improve collections that capture the spirit of the university and make its digital materials more accessible and usable. I will be documenting my progress, thoughts, and learning as a ZSR intern and MLS student on my personal blog and portfolio website, Shelf Life. Anyone interested is invited to follow along. I hope to see you around ZSR!


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