Scrapbooks: An American History

Overview

Combining pictures, words, and a wealth of personal ephemera, scrapbook makers preserve on the pages of their books a moment, a day, or a lifetime. Highly subjective and rich in emotional content, the scrapbook is a unique and often quirky form of expression in which a person gathers and arranges meaningful materials to create a personal narrative. This lavishly illustrated book is the first to focus attention on the history of American scrapbooks—their origins, their makers, their diverse forms, the reasons for ...

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Overview

Combining pictures, words, and a wealth of personal ephemera, scrapbook makers preserve on the pages of their books a moment, a day, or a lifetime. Highly subjective and rich in emotional content, the scrapbook is a unique and often quirky form of expression in which a person gathers and arranges meaningful materials to create a personal narrative. This lavishly illustrated book is the first to focus attention on the history of American scrapbooks—their origins, their makers, their diverse forms, the reasons for their popularity, and their place in American culture.

Jessica Helfand, a graphic designer and scrapbook collector, examines the evolution of scrapbooks from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present, concentrating on the first half of the twentieth century. She includes color photographs from more than two hundred scrapbooks, some made by private individuals and others by the famous, including Zelda Fitzgerald, Lillian Hellman, Anne Sexton, Hilda Doolittle, and Carl Van Vechten. Scrapbooks, while generally made by amateurs, represent a striking and authoritative form of visual autobiography, Helfand finds, and when viewed collectively they offer a unique perspective on the changing pulses of American cultural life.

Published with assistance from Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

Chosen as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2009 by Choice Magazine

The California Territorial Quarterly

"Scrapbooks: An American History, by Jessica Helfand, is a handsome, oversized and extra-illustrated volume in the traditional shape of a scrapbook. It is the first serious history of an American phenomenon."—Richard H. Dillon, The California Territorial Quarterly

— Richard H. Dillon

George Miles

“Helfand persuades us that scrapbooks are far more than mere curiosities. She connects them to broader themes that spark ideas and our imagination.”—George Miles, Yale University

Michael Bierut

“Anyone can make a scrapbook, and it sometimes seems that everyone has. From this most democratic of art forms, Jessica Helfand has created a national self-portrait of remarkable breadth, depth and beauty.”—Michael Bierut, author of Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design and partner at Pentagram

Ellen Lupton

“The history of scrapbooking long predates the recent explosion of interest in this hugely popular hobby. Jessica Helfand uses her subtle curatorial eye and her sharp critical perspective to shed light on this indigenous creative discourse. This book will be an invaluable inspiration to anyone practicing the art of scrapbooking today, as well as to anyone fascinated with American visual history, photography, and popular culture.”—Ellen Lupton, Curator of Contemporary Design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Susan Tucker

“Helfand’s richly detailed account integrates the chronology of scrapbooks within philosophies of public and individual memory. In her scholarly and engaging work, readers are presented with moments of delight recorded by various people as they made their own way towards remembering themselves.”—Susan Tucker, Curator of Books and Records at the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women, Tulane University, and co-editor, The Scrapbook in American Life

Kurt Andersen

“Wow: what a cool, gorgeous, entrancing, brilliant, mysterious book! The scrapbook fragments—these beautifully presented time capsules of so many bygone times and places and lives—are deeply fascinating, but the effect of the whole is as moving and sublime as fiction. Scrapbooks: An American History is close to perfect.”—Kurt Andersen, host of National Public Radio's Studio 360 and author, Heyday

Henry Louis Gates Jr.
"Scrapbooks are a shared American art form, transcending race and class and gender, fragments of memory that, pasted, taped, and glued into a whole, define the heritage of a family, like a patchwork coat of arms. Jessica Helfand's delightfully charming and informative book is filled with captivating stories about the generations of family members on whose shoulders each of us stands. Pity the family that has no inherited scrap books; pity the reader who does not own this astonishingly delightful book. This is a book that defines our common American heritage, and it is long overdue."—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University
The California Territorial Quarterly - Richard H. Dillon

"Scrapbooks: An American History, by Jessica Helfand, is a handsome, oversized and extra-illustrated volume in the traditional shape of a scrapbook. It is the first serious history of an American phenomenon."—Richard H. Dillon, The California Territorial Quarterly
Elsa Dixler
In choosing the examples studied here…[Helfand] had five criteria: The books had to be American. They had to have "a story worth telling." She wanted them to be eclectic—no books consisting solely of photographs or clippings. The books had to be autobiographical, produced by their subjects, not by relatives or (in the case of celebrities) fans. But most important, they had to be beautiful. And they certainly are…in this quirkily beautiful volume she has shown us why she loves them.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Scrapbooks were "the original open-source technology," says graphic designer Helfand, who teaches at Yale, in this appreciative and analytical tour through a century's worth of visual historical record books. This "eclectic, yet inclusive genre provide[s] a cross section of the range and pluralism of more than a century of modern American experience." The scrapbook compiles artifacts that illustrate their times, ranging from photographs of Rita Hayworth to ration cards, yet also render psychological portraits of their makers, whether young Victorian school girls, the mother of F. Scott Fitzgerald or WWII soldiers. A scrapbook's historical lessons can be gleaned by studying its content, form, commentary and even the wear of included items, and its intended viewers. Tracing the evolution of the scrapbook from a documentary record through manifestation of fantasy to nostalgic rendering or compendium of loved things, Helfand roughly sketches American history through creating her own scrapbook of scrapbooks. This book is colored at times by her privileging of older forms, which she sees as more personal and authentic expressions than the products of today's craft-oriented scrapbookers. But like any good scrapbook, this is a personal collage of a collective experience. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Barnes & Noble Review
In Scrapbooks: An American History, Jessica Helfand offers several frameworks through which to interpret the hundreds of scrapbook pages included in her lavishly illustrated book. She cites their value as artifacts of social history; she suggests that they serve the same expressive function as the dream state as theorized by Freud. Linking them to today's mash-up aesthetic, she calls scrapbooks ?the original open-source technology, a unique form of self-expression that celebrated visual sampling, culture mixing, and the appropriation and redistribution of existing media.? True enough. But the book's real pleasure -- nostalgic, voyeuristic -- comes from poring over the beautiful reproductions throughout its pages. Some of the scrapbookers are public figures, and knowing that poet Anne Sexton will commit suicide at 45 makes it all the more heartbreaking to see the happy mementos (snapshot, motel key) of her elopement at age 19 that she carefully pasted into a book. The fragments from the lives of ordinary men and women are equally riveting, from the young music student who meticulously preserved her ticket stubs and candy wrappers in the 1920s to the medals and dogtags of a World War II G.I. It is not surprising when Helfand herself, despite her keenly analytical perspective, confesses that "to spend any time at all with these scrapbooks is to fall a little bit in love with the people who created them." --Barbara Spindel
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300126358
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 11/3/2008
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 989,143
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 12.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jessica Helfand is a partner at Winterhouse, a design collaborative in New England, and a founding editor of Design Observer. She is senior critic in the Yale School of Art and has written several books on design and cultural criticism. She lives in Falls Village, CT.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: This is Our Story

Ch. 1 Time 1

Ch. 2 Space 39

Ch. 3 Sentiment 75

Ch. 4 Nostalgia 111

Ch. 5 Posterity 159

Epilogue: Other People's Stories 178

Notes 178

Bibliography 182

Index 184

Credits 190

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