Rare Book & Manuscript Library Launches Online Exhibit of Alexander Gumby Scrapbooks


"The Unwritten History" features digital reproductions of more than sixty individual pages from scrapbooks that document African-American history from the early-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. Drawn from the Alexander Gumby Collection of Negroiana, this exhibition introduces visitors to the collection's remarkable curator, Alexander Gumby, and explores how and why he set out to preserve items that he felt could provide the documentary evidence for later histories of African Americans. In particular, it situates Gumby and his project in the context of his active role in the Harlem Renaissance and in relation to other contemporary pioneers of African-American history such as Arthur Schomburg and Carter G. Woodson. The scrapbook pages reproduced in this exhibit feature a diverse array of items, including news clippings, playbills, photographs, pamphlets, handbills, original artwork, sheet music, ephemera, and manuscripts, all of which showcase Alexander Gumby's desire to preserve and disseminate his particular vision of African-American history and life.

The Harlem-based Gumby is best-known for two achievements: compiling his more than 100 scrapbooks documenting African Americans' achievements and running the Gumby Book Studio, a well-known gathering place in the late 1920s for the artistic and intellectual elites of the Harlem Renaissance, including Richard Bruce Nugent, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and others. His collection at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library includes 16 document boxes of manuscripts, including correspondence addressed to Gumby and holograph manuscripts from notable historic figures. The more than 150 scrapbooks in the collection include both biographical material about Gumby and diverse items related to Gumby's collecting interests, particularly African-American history and the performing arts. Items in the collection date from ca. 1800-1981 and have their origins throughout the United States and some foreign countries, including Haiti. New York City is particularly well-represented.

In addition to being noteworthy in its own right, the Alexander Gumby Collection of Negroiana complements several other collections held by the Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The Hubert H. Harrison Papers, H. Lawrence Freeman Papers, and M. Moran Weston Papers are all important repositories of documents and other items related to the political, cultural, and social histories of Harlem during the twentieth century. Numerous other collections such as the Max J. and Ruth Clement Bond Papers and the Robert Minor Papers document African-American history more generally. Additional collections feature extensive examples of the use of  scrapbooks as a documentary tool in US history, including the Chester Alan Arthur Scrapbooks and the George R. Van Namee Scrapbooks.

"The Unwritten History" was curated by Nicholas Osborne, a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Columbia University. This exhibition is published online by the Libraries Digital Program Division, one of the many E-Resources accessible to the Columbia community and the public.

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library owns over 500,000 rare books in some 20 book collections and almost 28 million manuscripts in nearly 3,000 separate manuscript collections. It is particularly strong in English and American literature and history, classical authors, childrenā€˜s literature, education, mathematics and astronomy, economics and banking, photography, the history of printing, New York City politics, librarianship, and the performing arts. Individual collections are as eclectic as they are extensive. For more information, please see: https://library.columbia.edu/libraries/rbml.html

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 11 million volumes, over 150,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, and graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 22 libraries and various academic technology centers. The Libraries employs more than 500 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries is the gateway to its services and resources: library.columbia.edu.