Navigating the Early Modern Era in Special Collections

What do Shakespeare, Thomas Hobbes, and Galileo have in common? All three were among the most prominent figures of the Early Modern era, a time period lasting roughly from 1500 to 1700. The Early Modern era was a time of political and religious upheaval.  Catholics and Protestants battled with one another for power, and both France and England experienced bloody civil wars.  It was also a time of innovation.  Advancements in science and technology changed how people saw the world and writers such as Shakespeare contributed the period’s developing literary culture.

To learn more works printed in this era, check out our new subject guide – Early Modern Works in Special Collections!

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Staging the Politics and Popular Appeal of “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”

Katherine Anne Porter’s story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” – the titular story of Porter’s 1939 collection – was written on the eve of World War II, but the focus of the story is the last few months of the first World War. Porter was actively involved in political discourse and social protests throughout her life – notably, Porter participated in the protests against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti – but her political positions changed. Janis Stout notes, “The scholar who seeks to construct an account of her [Porter’s] political and social views is well advised to resist the urge to find, or to impose, an undue coherence.” Despite the shifts in Porter’s political thinking, scholars like Janis Stout and Darlene Harbour Unrue argue for the importance of understanding the radical politics of Porter’s literary circle, as well as the political turbulence during her career and lifetime, in reading and engaging with her work. Stout suggests that if we read the views outlined in “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” as Porter’s own “testimony” – Miranda’s critique of World War I, the senselessness of the violence of war, the manipulation of the Liberty Bond system – we can see Porter as “fresh from the scene of a powerful experience in dissent.” If we view Porter’s story, like Stout, as her testimony critiquing war and United States’ political agenda, what then might a McCarthy-era experimental off-Broadway adaptation make of this source material? How can we read Porter’s response to this particular adaptation of her story?

Porter was disappointed with F. W. Durkee’s 1956 television adaptation of her story, as outlined in the previous post in this series, but she was thrilled the following year, when the off-Broadway production of the stage adaptation premiered. Porter was aware of the difference between her own reaction to the play and that of the critics, as she wrote to David Locher:

Did I tell you that my story Pale Horse, Pale Rider, has been made into an experimental play and is now running off-Broadway, and has had not altogether counting pre-views, twenty-nine performances as of tonight. The critics didn’t like it but somebody does, because the people keep coming in, and my friends seem to love it, and I saw it twice and thought it most impressively done, and such old pros as the critic on Variety, and Tennessee Williams, and William Saroyan and my dear friend Robert Penn Warren rushed to the rescue and are being quoted in the advertisements. So it goes on, but I think it will not last very much longer, the audience for that sort of thing is limited, and nobody expected it to go as far as it has! (30 December 1957)

Unrue, Darlene Harbour, ed. Selected Letters of Katherine Anne Porter: Chronicles of a Modern Woman. University Press of Mississippi, 2012. pg. 259.

Porter keeps track of the reviews of the play in her correspondence, and she also created a scrapbook of various reviews and coverage of the play, including both positive and negative press.

Porter saved a clipping of Frank Aston’s December 10, 1957 review for the New York World Herald, in which he writes: “Miss Porter speaks of the futility of war, of hypocrisy bred by war, of the appeal war extends to silly women… Everyone [the actors] does all right but shouldn’t have been implicated to begin with in this unfortunate canter of enthusiasm.” Though Aston critiques the overzealous acting, he accurately assess the heart of the play’s critique of war and propaganda, of hypocrisy in wartime, in the midst of the rampant propaganda of McCarthyism.

Porter collected her share of published reviews in the scrapbook, but she also received personal testimony. A few months into the off-Broadway production’s run, Porter’s friend and later agent, Cyrilly Abels, arranged for some of her staff members at Mademoiselle magazine to see the play. Abels forwarded multiple personal notes of thanks and praise for the play to Porter, whose letter to Abels in return expresses her delight at the varied responses to the play, with particular praise for Suzanne Wile’s letter.

Suzanne Wile, an employee at Mademoiselle, notes that the stage adaptation of “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” captured “popular appeal,” even as it differed from “ordinary Twentieth Century stage-presentation…” as it:

required a type of theatrical – and literary – appreciation a little different from the ordinary demands (or lack of them) of the successful plays–… for Pale Horse the ability to be absorbed in the fundamentals of life with the aid of  a high–or unfettered–imagination. It demanded a different use of the imagination than that which the theater normally requires, and evidently the critics felt that the popular audience was not up to it.


Suzanne Wile to Cyrilly Abels, 13 January 1958.

Porter was very pleased with Wile’s note, writing to Abels that “If you [at the magazine] ever put in a theatre department, give it to her!” Porter’s enthusiastic approval of Wile’s reading of the play suggests that her happiness with the stage adaptation could lie in part in its ability to challenge the imagination to examine the everyday intrusion of war into life beyond the battlefield, which the story forces readers to do as it intimately reveals the consequences of militarism and critiques of propaganda. What is the disconnect between the critics’ reviews and Wile’s experience, then? How might the play’s rendering of the everyday futility of war differ from the short story’s, while still retaining a recognizable critique of the hypocrisy, the futility of war?

The different adaptations, from stage to television, suggest that there is some ineffable quality about Porter’s story – even Tennessee Williams notes in his review of the play, which was subsequently blurbed in advertisements for the production, that he was “haunted” by the performance. Part of the long-lived success of the story, the motivation for the adaptations, is its relentless questioning of the forces that characterize American political life. What is war, but a chance to sell bonds, or a blunt reminder of the capacity for violence? Porter’s critique of American politics and militarism resonates to the present day, as a recent Literary Hub article argues that contemporary readers stand to gain from Porter’s ability to describe World War I-era “fake news,” and the uncanny resonance of her critique of national propaganda in today’s current moment. But, as Suzanne Wile suggests in the note that so impressed Porter, the draw of Porter’s story is how it explores the toll of war in the everyday, as the forces of war and influenza work hand in hand to separate the story’s young lovers. Even Porter’s sister Gay was pulled to lightly underline in pencil one of the last lines of the story, from Miranda’s internal narrative after her recovery, when she learns that Adam has died:

Adam, she said, now you need not die again, but still I wish you were here; I wish you had come back, what do you think I came back for, Adam, to be deceived like this?

Gay Porter Holloway’s inscribed edition of Pale Horse, Pale Rider, (1939). Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

Adam did not die in battle, and the war ended without him just the same. As Porter’s collection turns eighty years old this year and the story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” reaches its eighty-first anniversary, it’s worth reflecting on why this story continues to haunt us. The story has been absent in recent years from American television screens and theater stages, but it resurfaces in syllabi and essays online. It is no surprise that this story – haunting as it is – returns to us in conversation with the current political discourse, as we continue to accumulate the dust of wars and ponder how little dazed silence has transpired between each war, each everyday death that has filled these eighty years since.


Jeannette Schollaert is a graduate assistant in Special Collections and University Archives who works with the Katherine Anne Porter Correspondence Project. There, she assists with compiling and organizing metadata and contributing to the Project’s online exhibitions. She is pursuing a PhD in English, and her research focuses on twentieth century American writers, feminist theory, and ecocriticism.

[1] Stout, Janis. “‘Something of a Reputation as a Radical’: Katherine Anne Porter’s Shifting Politics.” South Central Review, vol. 10, no. 1, 1993, pp. 49-66.

New Exhibit: Chester Himes Cover to Cover

If you’re a fan of a good hardboiled detective novel, make sure you stop by the Maryland Room to check out our new exhibit on Chester Himes!  Inspired by the 2019 AHPA annual conference hosted by UMD, “One Press: Many Hands: Diversity in the History of American Printing”, the exhibit displays the work of one of America’s most intriguing crime novelists.

Born in Jefferson City, Missouri, Chester Himes (1909-1984) began writing and publishing short stories while serving a 25 year sentence for armed robbery in Ohio Penitentiary in the 1930s.  His first novel If He Hollers Let Him Go was published in 1945.

Himes moved to Paris in the 1950s, where he was celebrated in literary circles alongside fellow expatriate writers Richard Wright and James Baldwin. While in Paris he began writing pulp detective novels, including the popular Harlem Detective series, and achieved critical acclaim. In 1958, he was awarded France’s most prestigious prize for crime fiction, the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, for The Five-Cornered Square (alternate title for For Love of Imabelle).

Himes wrote pulp fiction and protest novels that confronted issues of systemic racism in America. His unique style of noir fiction combined violence, anger, humor, absurdity, social realism, and gritty drama into an entertaining and unflinching portrayal of prejudice and corruption.

Lauded in Europe, Himes found less critical success in America, where his works were frequently published in paperback editions featuring lurid, provocative, and visually striking imagery.  The cover art of these inexpensive paperbacks reveal the unique marketing of pulp fiction titles.  

In response to the cover of the Dell paperback edition of Run Man Run, Himes wrote: “If it is necessary to put this type of cover… on this book in order to sell it to the American people, the American people are really and truly sick.”

Himes passed way on November 12, 1984 in Moira, Spain. Decades later, his works still provides enjoyment and debate. To see the unique and classic pulp fiction cover art featured in many American editions of Himes’ work, stop by the Maryland Room room the next time you are in Hornbake Library.

Explore more literary collections held at Special Collections and University Archive here!

Also, make sure you check out the exhibit by the entrance to the Maryland Room, Women in Print, highlighting the work of women binders, illustrators, and book artists!

New Exhibit Celebrating Maryland Public Television’s 50th Anniversary Now on Display in the Maryland Room Gallery

Special Collections in Mass Media & Culture is pleased to announce the exhibit “Made Possible By Viewers Like You: Maryland Public Television Turns 50” is now on display in the Maryland Room Gallery at Hornbake Library through July 2020. It celebrates the milestone anniversary of Maryland’s only statewide TV broadcaster, and highlights the fruitful partnership between MPT and UMD Libraries. 

The exhibit includes artifacts and documents from 1969 to the present, including the very first Program Journal from 1969, an original script from the 1977 production “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, a GoPro camera smashed during a Motorweek shoot, a trophy case filled with Emmys® and other prestigious awards, and dozens of videos featuring segments from some of their best-known programs. 

Nothing in the exhibit would have survived if MPT hadn’t taken great care to preserve their rich and unique history. Unlike most other TV stations—commercial and noncommercial alike—MPT has dedicated the resources to maintain an archive both at its Owings Mills headquarters and at the University of Maryland.  After UMD Libraries established the National Public Broadcasting Archives in 1990, MPT was one of the first organizations to begin depositing print and audiovisual materials. The latter presents particular challenges because simply saving AV materials isn’t enough; due to the obsolescence of playback machines and deterioration of master copies, videotapes must be migrated to modern formats in order to ensure the content remains accessible. This is a timely and expensive process. 

Fortunately, efforts to preserve public broadcasting in the U.S. have risen dramatically, thanks in large part to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), which just announced the availability of over 50,000 historic public media programs available in the Online Reading Room (ORR). When the AAPB launched in 2013, MPT immediately answered the call to submit programs for digitization, sending over 1500 tapes during the first phase of the project. Since then, MPT and SCUA have continued to work together to digitize their AV holdings at Hornbake Library, which are comprised of Umatic, betacam, VHS, 1” and ¾” tapes and 16mm film. As of fall 2019, nearly 700 programs have been reformatted and are steadily being uploaded into Digital Collections. The newly-established Maryland Public Television Preservation Fund is designed to support this important work well into the future. 

Visit the Maryland Room Gallery and find out how MPT has become a national leader in public television and a treasured resource for the state. Hours vary by semester, check current hours online


Post by Laura Schnitker | Ethnomusicologist, Audiovisual Archivist, and Curator of Mass Media & Culture in Special Collections and University Archives at University of Maryland Libraries

“What a History”: Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider at 80

“Let me tell you what I have been doing and you will know better why I have not been writing to you when my delight is to send you letters such as they are. Just now, within this quarter hour, I have finished Pale Horse, Pale Rider, and it would be quite useless to try to tell you what a thing it has been…

Katherine Anne Porter to Glenway Wescott, 3 December 1937

So begins Katherine Anne Porter’s letter to her friend Glenway Wescott, announcing her final victory over the manuscript that she had been drafting for years. Later in the letter to Wescott, Porter writes:

“Nearly twenty thousand words, darling, laid neatly in rows on paper, at last…. But most of them were written years ago, I almost know them by heart. I began this story in Mexico, went on with it in Berlin, Basel, Paris, New York, Doylestown, and now New Orleans… what a history.”

Porter’s long journey with “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”is not unusual in her career. She was famously flexible with deadlines and signed a handful of contracts with literary publishers that she never kept, including contracts for a collection of her favorite short stories and a biography of Cotton Mather. Yet “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” inspired a “steady energy” in Porter, as she tells Wescott, one that she notes, “I have had fits of it before, and it is the best thing in the world while it lasts.”

Before Porter finished “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” in 1937, her output in magazines and reviews was steady. She published one collection of short stories, Flowering Judas, in 1930; an expanded edition, Flowering Judas and Other Stories, with four additional works, appeared in 1935. But despite this rather limited output, Porter had a solid literary reputation. With only one published collection, Porter won her first Guggenheim in 1931, well before she debuted “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” – arguably her most famous story – in the Winter 1938 issue of the Southern Review. The experience from which Porter draws to craft “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” was gained decades before her literary career began in earnest, when she worked as a journalist in Denver at the Rocky Mountain News. It was in Colorado, one month into her job at the paper in October 1918, that the Spanish flu hit its peak in the United States. 

The pandemic is said to be the deadliest ever, a surprising fact to twenty-first century readers. The global death toll of the Spanish flu of 1918 is between 50 to 100 million in a time span of just fifteen months. However, this number is inherently incomplete, as there was no sustainable record system in place, but, in the United States, roughly 670,000 people died.[1] Porter experienced the flu firsthand, falling sick in October 1918. In “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” Porter uses her fictional proxy, Miranda, to demonstrate the effects of the flu in the course of a romance with a soon-to-be-deployed World War I soldier, Adam. Though Porter knew success before 1939, she saw a different degree of popularity with the Pale Horse, Pale Rider collection. Based on its lively transmission history, the title story of Porter’s 1939 collection is by far the most culturally resonant piece of her collected works. From the 1956 adaptation for television, to the 1957 off-Broadway performance, and its feature in a recent Literary Hub online article – what is it about this story that is so appealing to so many imaginations, over a lifetime of eighty years?

In honor of the eightieth publication anniversary of the Pale Horse, Pale Rider collection, and the eighty-first publication anniversary of the story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” in the Southern Review, we are featuring a range of materials tracing the story’s adaptation to television and the stage. This first blog installment will consider the story’s reception and the television adaptation, with a closer look at the stage adaptation in a future blog post installment.

Images: L: Pale Horse, Pale Rider Advertisement with KAP annotation to her older sister, Gay (circa 1939). Katherine Anne Porter Papers. R: Cover of Mary Doherty’s first edition of Pale Horse, Pale Rider. Thomas Walsh Papers. Both: Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

After its initial publication in the Southern Review, “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” was published as the last of three stories – or as Porter preferred, short novels – in the 1939 collection of the same title, Pale Horse, Pale Rider. “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” rounded out the collection, following “Old Mortality” and “Noon Wine,” respectively. The collection was dedicated to Porter’s father, Harrison Boone Porter, as the first two stories draw heavily on Porter’s family life and her native state of Texas, while the third story was inspired by her time in Colorado. Porter’s sister Gay’s copy includes annotations in the margins of “Old Mortality” that identify to which family members each character corresponds, with fewer of the markings in the following two stories.

Images: L: Gay Porter Holloway’s inscribed edition of Pale Horse, Pale Rider, (1939). R: The cover of Gay Porter Holloway’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider. Both from Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

Following its publication on April 1, 1939, Pale Horse, Pale Rider was met with positive reviews, as documented in Porter’s April 9 letter to her friend, Monroe Wheeler, “The reviews have been very lively. Oh I hope they sell the book!” Later that month, she writes to husband, Albert Erskine: “PARTY QUITE WONDERFUL 100 BOOKS SOLD… MARGARET MITCHELL [author of Gone with the Wind] HAS COPY”

Image: Telegram, Katherine Anne Porter to Albert Erskine 22 April 1939. Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

In addition to her correspondence with friends and family about the success of the collection, Porter collected clippings of the book’s reviews, including this one from the New York Times that notes in the second paragraph: “The best [story] by far seems to me the title piece, which is an extraordinary account of a young woman’s sensations and emotions during a dangerous illness – a little triumph in its way.”

Image: Clipping, The New York Times, 30 March 1939. Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

The collection’s success solidified Porter’s already strong literary reputation, and about seventeen years after its initial publication, the story was adapted for television by F. W. Durkee, Jr. This adaptation was a disappointment to Porter and critics alike. Her annotations of her copy of the show’s script note, on the first page of the credits, that it is “a little horror of a thing.”

Image: Porter copy, F. W. Durkee, Jr. “Pale Horse, Pale Rider.” Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

Porter agreed with the critics’ evaluation of the television adaptation, as she writes to John Malcolm Brinnin: “I loathed the TV version of Pale Horse, Pale Rider – how how [sic] right you are that they not only missed my point, but failed to supply one of their own. For some reason I had hoped it might be good, and now I wonder on what delusion I was building…” (10 April 1956). Some of the clippings of negative reviews of the show are marked up, indicating that Porter could have been paying special attention to how the critics evaluated the show’s weaknesses.

Images: L: Clipping, R: Advertisement. Both: Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

It is interesting, however, that in the clipping featured above left, that this particular reviewer segues into the discussion of the Climax! adaptation of Porter’s story following a discussion of one entry in “the usual run of TV’s anti-Communist dramas.” How intentional is this placement of Porter’s “story of love and loss in World War I,” after a discussion of an anti-Communist drama? By the time the adaptation aired and the reviews were written in March 1956, Porter had engaged with and examined radical politics and Communism in the U.S. for three decades. Many of her friends – and many of those in Porter’s literary circles in general – were connected to the Communist party, including her once-close friend and fellow author Josephine Herbst. Porter wrote to Herbst about her perspectives regarding Communism in America throughout their friendship, but this moment from a July 20, 1947 letter provides insight into Porter’s political affinities:

When I read about the Communist-hunt in Washington, I remember that you were one of the early victims. You know I don’t like Communists, the american brand. But I hate to my bootsoles the Fascists who are doing so successfully just what Hitler did: using the popular fear of Communism to cover the trail of his intentions, giving the people an enemy to distract their minds from the worse and real enemy in their own country…

It’s useful to remember that the story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” – itself a flashback to the tail end of World War I – debuted on the eve of the World War II. Likewise, the television adaptation of the story debuted two years after Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy – known today for his role in the anti-Communist Red Scare, the man from which “McCarthyism” takes its name – was condemned by the Senate for “conduct… unbecoming of a Member of the United States Senate.”  What did the television adaptation of Porter’s story – one of war, of epidemic, of lost love – offer American audiences in the 1950s? We’ll continue to follow this question as we consider the 1957 stage adaptation of Porter’s story, an adaptation that, unlike the television show, Porter enjoyed.


Jeannette Schollaert is a graduate assistant in Special Collections and University Archives who works with the Katherine Anne Porter Correspondence Project. There, she assists with compiling and organizing metadata and contributing to the Project’s online exhibitions. She is pursuing a PhD in English, and her research focuses on twentieth century American writers and ecofeminism.


[1] Barry, John M. “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.” Smithsonian Magazine, November 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/

Why does it take so long to digitize everything?

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to, oh, let’s say, seven months ago.

On the night of Sept. 2, 2018, the National Museum of Brazil was engulfed in flames.  Several historical an irreplaceable artifacts that called the museum home were lost forever.  The world mourned such a massive loss of our civilization’s rich history.  The tragedy sparked concern for other historical artifacts and ways to make sure that something like this never happened again.

Right after the devastation, the idea of preserving historical artifacts through digitization was brought up.  It certainly didn’t go unnoticed by our students here at UMD especially with all of the artifacts and collections stored in our very own Special Collections at Hornbake.

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Our Digitization Services room located in Hornbake. (Photo courtesy of http://www.lib.umd.edu/dss/services/digitization.)

Here’s the thing: the university has been very active in trying to preserve the histories of both the school and the state of Maryland for many years.  After all, the university suffered a similar fate 107 years ago.

So why aren’t we trying to digitize our archival materials faster?  We don’t know what will happen at any given time.  So… what’s the hold-up?  

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May Day in the Meany Labor Archives!

Today is May Day! Also known as International Workers’ Day. May Day is considered an international labor holiday. This post highlights some of the materials in our collections related to May Day. Much of our May Day material can be found in the May Day, 1885-1986 folder in the vertical file collection, and the Haymarket folders in the Morris B. Schnapper collection!

May Day was created by a resolution initiated by American Socialists at the International Socialist Congress in Paris, France, in July of 1889. The purpose of May Day was to gain support for an eight-hour work day. The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada, precursor to the American Federation of Labor, and the Knights of Labor cooperated in preparing for a general strike in U.S. cities on May 1, 1886. And on that day, approximately 350,000 American workers went on strike, impacting over 11,000 businesses. Although workers in New York, Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, and other cities participated, Chicago was widely considered the center of May Day agitation, largely due to Chicago being one of the few cities with broad union and radical solidarity in support of the eight-hour day.

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