Archival Fever aims to recover narratives, treasures, and life stories from undeserved obscurity. As graduate students at the University of Texas, we pair our familiarity with on-campus resources such as the Harry Ransom Center, the Blanton Museum of Art, the Dolph Briscoe Center, and the LBJ Library Reading Room with a desire to expand our project into the community through accessing collections through the Austin Public Library, the Texas State Library, the Bullock State History Museum, and the French Litigation Museum. When we travel to archives outside of Austin, we’ll seek out “on the road” episodes to expand our stories and content. Using our unified interest in connecting archives to wider audiences, we create compelling narratives around disparate artifacts, texts, and objects. Although we take cues from our individual research interests, we hope this podcast relates—at a deeply human level—to specialist, student, and life-learner alike.
On a warm day in Austin, Texas, Caroline read an article in the New Yorker—“Everything I Am Afraid Might Happen If I Ask New Acquaintances to Get Coffee.” She threw caution to the wind and asked Amy to coffee because of her “great energy.” They’ve been creating content ever since. Together, they’ve written for the Humanities Media Project, Thinking in Public, The Recipes Project, and more. Every year, they celebrate their friendship with a cheese-y anniversary.
Yvonne is an award-winning Singapore-born composer, pianist and arranger. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Yvonne has recently completed a four-year Bachelor of Music degree in Film Scoring summa cum laude. She currently writes music for various media such as radio dramas, video games, and independent films, and teaches private music lessons where she resides in Singapore.
*A note on our background—arsenic-laden wallpaper
Archivists at University of Michigan and Michigan State University face the fascinating challenge of preserving deadly objects. Within their stacks, they have two copies of Dr. Robert Kedzie’s Shadows from the Walls of Death (1874), a book of 19th-century arsenic-laced wallpaper. It literally can make a person feverish! Dr. Kedzie intended to raise awareness about the dangers of arsenic by sending 100 copies to libraries around Michigan. Today, handling the book requires protective gear.
Why did people hang paper on their walls that could kill them? Obsessed with the vivid “Scheele’s green” produced by copper arsenite, wealthy Victorians used it in their interior decorating. People didn’t understand the effects of arsenic decor (much like lead paint or asbestos). While it may or might not be your taste, the Victorians thought this wallpaper was “to die for.”
Why keep saving books that could kill readers? The simplest answer is that humans are hunter-gather-hoarders. The more complicated answer is that this book describes people who valued color and beauty, much like we see home design picking a “color of the year” now. It also captures the importance of scientific advancement and advocacy through print. Dr. Kedzie’s dangerous book paradoxically exists to prevent future tragedy.