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Scrapbooks: An American History

For all paying attention to historiography and accessible scholarship, Jessica Helfand has compiled samplings from over 200 scrapbooks, selected from both private individuals and more well-known Americans.

Book Digest These days I must admit a preoccupation with matters of history and gloomy concerns about our country’s governance. Despite being a failed scholar of history—as in, lacking the cojones to take on a doctoral program—I still pay attention to historiography and accessible scholarship. I have in the past few years been impressed (and amused) by the range and specificity of the subjects that are now falling under the social-history tent—swimming pools in America, hygiene of 18th century London, culinary trends—and as a student of Howard Zinn, the proliferation of people’s histories. I have also been greatly stimulated by the visual histories that now abound. A good argument can be made that many of those owe something (probably much) to Michael Lesy’s pioneering opus, Wisconsin Death Trip.

For Scrapbooks: An American History (Yale University Press), graphic designer Jessica Helfand, who as it happens collects these meticulously bound oddities, has anthologized a broad array of samplings from over 200 scrapbooks, reaching back to the early 19th century and hurtling toward the present. The 400 images in this thoughtfully designed book are selected from private individuals as well as some well-known Americans: Zelda Fitzgerald, Lillian Hellman, Anne Sexton, Hilda Doolittle, and Carl Van Vechten.

Scrapbooks is a lovely picture book, a useful and thoughtful history, and the first to survey an (obviously) overlooked medium. A good thing, methinks.

And finally, an interview with Helfand about the book.
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