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Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University
Updated: 29 min 30 sec ago

Motivation station: A look at workplace motivational posters from the 1920s

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 21:03

While you are pondering your favorite Demotivators poster, consider the history of the motivational poster genre. It turns out our predecessors in the Greatest Generation needed to be inspired or, perhaps more to the point, advertisers decided they needed to tap the group’s general deep sense of faithful commitment to shape their behavior in the workplace.

An introduction to the series

 

In the early 1920s, salesman Charles Howard Rosenfeld proposed a series of motivational posters for workers to Charles Mather, who worked for his family’s Chicago printing house, the Mather Company. These “Constructive Organization Posters” were sold by subscription in over 300 varieties between 1923 and 1929.  In 1925, Rosenfeld and another Mather Company employee left to form their own printing company, C. J. Howard Inc., in order to sell their own line of “Action Posters.”

Caption: The cards were 7” x 4.75”, designed to be displayed individually on workers’ desks on an easel.

 

The cards were printed as multicolored lithographs, often with striking designs. Unfortunately, the designer is not credited.

 

We have 28 examples of these “Action Posters,” printed instead as a set of cards promoting work habits and qualities that would help the business employee to advance. They hold up examples of those who: consciously earn their fellow workers’ respect, keep healthy and happy, do not worry or gossip, remain loyal to the company, provide accurate work and work steadily, seek constant improvement, have a winning attitude, make good suggestions, take criticism well, and follow through on instructions. All of these traits were in contrast to so-called problem employees, who were unhealthy, resentful, lacking in motivation, and destined to be employed elsewhere in the very near future.

A not-so subtle message about prattling at the water cooler.

 

The Action Posters include seasonal well-wishes for employees.

 

We wish you Happy Holidays, no matter where you find your motivation.

Find more information, visit the catalog record for this item.

Post contributed by Alice Poffinberger, original cataloger/archivist for small manuscript collections. 

The post Motivation station: A look at workplace motivational posters from the 1920s appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

Tizhe Lizanguage bizof Lizovers: Carny Latin Reincarnated

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 14:58

While I processed a collection of correspondence between two lovers, a handful of letters stuck out. Martha Simpson, then Martha Eleanor Booker, a young African American woman working on her teaching degree at Elizabeth City Teachers College, had a penchant for writing in code. Paul Simpson, her love interest, did not share the same inclination, but did indulge her in his responses. As I read through the letters, the code used in three of them piqued my curiosity. My search revealed that the code used seems to be a form of carnival Pig Latin, also known as Czarny, Z-Latin, or Carny (Hautzinger 30).

Martha first sneaks in her secret code at the closing of a letter from January 10, 1951, with a little taunt, “Ha, ha, I bet you can’t read it.” Paul’s response to this letter, dated January 13, 1951, briefly acknowledges that he, indeed, could read her secret language with the opening line “Dizear Cizheré,” before continuing his letter unencumbered by the extra z’s.

But Martha doesn’t give up.  She continues the code in a response from January 17, 1951, written half in this “z-language,” eventually switching back to conventional English.

Martha’s next letter clearly was not on pink paper (did you catch that one?), but she did keep on with her code. The secret language was formed by inserting iz after the first consonant, and if there was no consonant present, beginning the word with biz. In linguistic circles, this is known as iz-infixation and has been linked to rap and hip-hop music. Examples include Frankie Smith’s 1981 hits Double Dutch Bus and Slang Thang (or Slizang Thizang), both of which boast the iz-infix in their lyrics. More recent examples include work by Snoop Dogg and Kanye West (Viau 1). But these letters come decades before the iz-infix made it big in music, and the question remains: Where did this secret language come from?

We think the answer is this: carnival slang. Published accounts of Carny go back to 1926 (Russell and Murray 401), well before Martha was writing to Paul. It was a language immersed in the subculture of the carnival, intended to distinguish between outsiders and the true Carnies, given the questionable legality of the carnival. Sarah Hautzinger describes it as a dialect that “rearranges English to make it unintelligible to the unenlightened ear” (32). In Czarny, “a Z-sound is inserted after the first consonant, and if the word begins with a vowel, before the vowel sound, in the first syllable only” (32). This certainly seems a lot like the iz-infixes found in the letters between Martha and Paul. Rumor has it that this carny talk found its way into popular culture years later.

Whether or not their secret language was descended from Z-Latin, the coded (and uncoded) correspondence between Martha and Paul D. Simpson provides an interesting read. Recently acquired by the Rubenstein, these roughly 300 letters detail the love, life, and struggles of a young African American couple on their way to becoming teachers.

For more information on the Martha and Paul D. Simpson Papers, check out the collection guide.

For further reading on Carny Latin and the iz-infix, see:

Hautzinger, Sarah. “Carnival Speech: Making the Jump.” Journal of American Culture, 13: 29–33, 1990. Web. 16 December 2014.

Russell, Carol L. and Thomas E. Murray. “The Life and Death of Carnie.” American Speech, Vol. 79 No. 4: 400-416, 2004. Web. 16 December 2014.

Viau, Joshua. “Introducing English [IZ]-Infixation: Snoop Dogg and bey-[IZ]-ond.” 2006 LSA Summer Meeting, 24 June 2006. Web.  16 December 2014.

Post contributed by Janice Hansen, a Ph.D. student in Germanic Languages &  Literature and Technical Services intern at The Rubenstein. 

The post Tizhe Lizanguage bizof Lizovers: Carny Latin Reincarnated appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

Welcome, Tracy Jackson!

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 14:10

We recently welcomed a new staff member Tracy Jackson to the Rubenstein Library! We asked her a few questions to help us—and you—get to know her a little better!

Tell us a little bit about your new job at the Rubenstein Library!

My job here at the Rubenstein is Technical Services Archivist for University Archives. I’ll be overseeing the processing of University related collections, including the arrangement, description, and preservation of current and new materials, and I’ll also be a part of the Technical Services Management Team. Since I’m new to Duke, I’m really excited to be working with such great collections and knowledgeable colleagues.

How did you become an archivist?

I knew I was interested in archives when I went to library school, but couldn’t have said why until I started working in the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives at UNC. I just loved getting to know the materials, seeing the faces and personalities of people from the past, and since I also worked the reference desk in the graduate library, getting to tell people about all the cool stuff I’d found and why they should go see it, too. Getting to work in-depth with collections is what makes this job so great.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve discovered in an archival collection and why?

With a small collection of family photographs, I discovered a gold-plated, decorative set of make-up cases from the 1940s. There was a powder compact with mirror and a lipstick case, and they were beautiful. In collection of family letter from the 18th and 19th century there was a young woman’s dance card from a ball, with a tiny pencil still attached. I love finding the unexpected in collections, especially the things that remind me how much the people who created them were really not very different from us.

What aspect of your new job are you most excited about?

I’m so excited to get to know the collections here. Duke has such rich collections, and the University Archives document the incredibly diverse activities of the University. I’m very excited about diving in and getting to know, then getting to share, what we have.

Tell us something unique about yourself.

I tried a couple of careers before becoming an archivist, and for a short time I lived in Los Angeles and tried out special effects make-up artistry. I worked on a few student films and ultra-low-budget movies, and even though I didn’t do it for long, it was a lot of fun. These days I only use those skills at Halloween, though!

Thanks, Tracy! We’re so glad you’re here!

The post Welcome, Tracy Jackson! appeared first on The Devil's Tale.