Collectors and Collections: A Visualization of the Past

Collectors and Collections: A Visualization of the Past

History is thought of and interpreted in many ways; we learn about different periods in time and consider how they affect our present. For Professor Gregory Pfitzer, the visualization of history is a focal point of his research.

“I began collecting textbooks and history books, that tell the tale of America history, especially through illustrations,” he explains. This form of retelling history was peaked when he found a dime novel in a book store, and he “became fixated on the visualization of the past.”

“I first saw one of these in a bookstore somewhere, and just decided that was really interesting, and then over the years I’ve been collecting them on eBay and sometimes I find them at antiquarian book fairs.”

His collection of dime novels has now flourished into a collection of 75 to 100 novels — all kept in protective plastic folders to reduce their vulnerability to the elements. The majority of the novels he has come from the 19th and early 20th centuries, resulting in them being delicate and fragile.

His love of these novels comes from their detailed, illustrated and action filled covers, which are designed to catch one’s eye. The dime novels themselves are in booklet form like comic books; however, their illustrations stop at the cover, the inside filled with text and chapter numbers.

These short story books vary in themes, relating to the Revolutionary War and Civil War, carrying themes of racial tensions and stereotypes. All of these ten cent novels were serialized, and were a popular form of storytelling for young people and children who would be interacting with literature.

Pluck and Luck was a series of such novels that revolve around the Revolutionary War and speak toward the American ideas of what was necessary for success in American society during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

They are not only an item Pfitzer has added to his vast collection of history books and texts, he uses them in his scholarship and research, as well as a tool for learning in his classes. He says, “these sorts of things interest me in a way of conveying ideas about the past, and how history is told differently when it is told through pictures.”

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