Roughing Up Roughing It: What You Missed

This exhibition is no longer on display at the William H. Hannon Library – this post is maintained for historical purposes.

Today’s post is written by library student assistant Ally Scarpa. Ally is a senior Marketing major at Loyola Marymount University and works for the library’s Outreach Department.

On Thursday, September 19, 2019 the opening reception of the Fall 2019 Archives and Special Collections exhibit “Roughing It: How Mark Twain made the West”, was held at the William H. Hannon Library. After a warm welcome from Kristine Brancolini, the dean of the library, the night began with an introduction to the exhibit by its curator Dominick Beaudine, an LMU graduate student, pursuing a Masters in English.

Beaudine started with a personal anecdote, describing his little sister, who was infamous in his household for her love of dogs. Anytime she saw a dog, she’d immediately ask the owner: “Can I please pet your dog?” Being her older brother, Beaudine would tease her good-naturedly over her love of dogs, but he found himself in her shoes unexpectedly last summer. During a family trip to Sequoia National Park, in the town of Three Rivers, Beaudine visited a museum. He came across an original copy of the Mark Twain novel Roughing It. Spellbound, he asked the museum attendant: “Can I pet your books?” Due to his experience working with the Archives and Special Collections at the William H. Hannon Library, he was permitted by the museum attendant to see the book in person. Beaudine was captivated by novel, examining and recognizing the significance of each minute detail: volume number, how the book was based on Twain’s journey through the west yet he didn’t begin writing it until ten years later, and how the number and letter marked on the corner of the page signified the printing and folding method.

In the fall, when it came time to determine the subject of the exhibit he would curate, Beaudine was drawn to Mark Twain. Particularly, how the author’s real life experiences were translated into satirical semi-autobiographical pieces of literature. As fate would have it, the William H. Hannon Library had a copy Roughing It in its collection, and it became the focus of the exhibit.

The conceit of the exhibit was to be how the West influenced Mark Twain, but as Beaudine dove deep into his research, he found the reverse to be true. Twain’s novels were the public’s first exposure to the American West in the 19th century, and he has influenced its narrative to this day.

While exploring the catalog of Archives and Special Collections, Beaudine uncovered a forgotten gem, a Mark Twain scrapbook. He discovered that Twain had been an avid scrapbooker, having patented and sold a “self-pasting” scrapbook of his own invention. In the American West, scrapbooking was a tool for people to chronicle their lives on the frontier. Twain encouraged western settlers, and everyone else, to memorialize their own story. Edwin G. Wheeler owned the scrapbook discovered by Beaudine; it is filled with various manuscript notes, newspaper clippings, and magazine essays regarding science and society. It is now being featured in the exhibit.

As Beaudine scoured the catalog of Archives and Special Collections for additional items to be featured in the exhibit, he found it to be somewhat lacking in materials. Resulting in almost all of the books featured in the Fall 2019 Archives and Special Collections exhibit being new acquisitions: most notable of which being The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, the novel that brought Twain to national acclaim, marking Beaudine not only as a curator, but a historical contributor to the Archives and Special Collections catalog.

After Beaudine concluded, we reflected on Mark Twain’s checkered legacy through a dialogue between two LMU faculty. K.J. Peters, professor English, and Traci Brynne Voyles, assistant professor of Women’s Studies, shed light on the lasting effects of Twain’s literature. Voyles addressed the bigotry present in Twain’s works, particularly Roughing It, which served as “a megaphone for Native American prejudices.” Prior to its publishing, the violence Native Americans endured due to bigotry was dire, and it only worsened after Roughing It was published. The novel not only validated such bigotry, but would go onto incite near genocidal violence. Peters acknowledged that this history had gone long untaught beside Twain’s literature. His own strategy for studying and teaching the subject is to read Twain alongside his contemporaries, which grants a fuller picture of the time period by comparing and contrasting the narratives of various sources.

The Fall 2019 Archive and Special Collections exhibit “Roughing It: How Mark Twain made the West” has inspired a book spine poetry exhibit in the library. Book spine poetry is a form of found poetry: a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, or whole passages from other sources and reframing them to create new meanings. In this case, a stack of books are arranged to display the titles written across their spines, creating an original poem.

Several library student employees created their own book spine poetry, directly inspired by the Archives and Special Collections exhibit. Here is one such poem entitled “Opportunity” by Kaylee Tokumi.

Inventing America
Between History and Literature
Seeds of Change
Bound for Glory
From Here to Eternity