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January 2, 2004 Contact: James David Moran
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On-line journal Common-place presents "A Cabinet of Curiosities"

Worcester, MA– The award-winning on-line journal Common-place today launches a special new issue, "A Cabinet of Curiosities." Articles in this issue explore the history of the curious–both objects of a curious nature and the ways in which people are curious about them.

Objects of curiosity exposed in this issue include the living and the once-living, the unexplored and the remade. Karen Halttunen wonders at "That great natural curiosity," the Old Man of the Mountain, the naturally formed human facial profile in the cliffs of New Hampshire that long captivated people’s imaginations before collapsing in 2003. In "Peale’s Mastodon," Paul Semonin unearths the myths and mysteries of the mastodon, the dinosaur of the nineteenth century, while in "Natural Curiosity," Karen Kupperman looks at Old World impressions of New World flora and fauna. In "Curiosities Encountered" David Jaffe follows the path of a Vermont cartographer and globe maker, and in "Morbid Curiosities" Michael Sappol dissects the appeal of the anatomical museum and its grotesque exhibitions.

People driven by curiosity include Philip Gura, who details in "How I Met and Dated Miss Emily Dickinson" his investigation of what may be the second-known photograph of the famous poet. Kenneth Lockridge reveals his discovery of an eighteenth-century Swedish painter’s discovery of Native Americans while Stephen Rachman, in "Curiosity and Cure," displays his interest in a nineteenth-century missionary doctor who collected paintings of his pre-surgery patients. Other essays in this cabinet of curiosities examine the popularity and authenticity of freak shows, theories behind a teenaged sleepwalker, and several curious changes: the color transformation of a black man and its effect on national identity, the metamorphosis of Uncle Tom’s Cabin into part of The King and I, and the conversion of the "curiosity shop" into the "antique store."

This special issue was compiled by co-editors Ann Fabian and Joshua Brown. Fabian teaches history and American studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Her publications include Card Sharps, Dream Books, and Bucket Shops: Gambling in Nineteenth Century America (1990) and The Unvarnished Truth (2000). She is currently working on a project about skull collectors. Brown is executive director of the American Social History Project at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the author of Beyond the Lines: Pictorial Reporting, Everyday Life, and the Crisis of Gilded Age America (2002) and co-author of the CD-ROM Who Built America?: From the Great War of 1914 to the Dawn of the Atomic Age in 1946 (2000).

About Common-place

The web magazine aims to provide "a common place for exploring and exchanging ideas about early American history and culture," says co-editor Jill Lepore. "A bit friendlier than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Common-place speaks–and listens–to scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists, and just about anyone interested in American history before 1900." Common-place readers can join in the discussion of any of the journal’s features by visiting the "Common-place Coffeeshop," a message board on the website.

The January 2004 issue, available free of charge at, will be on-line through April and then available among the journal’s archived issues on the website. Individuals may "subscribe" to the journal in order to be notified of the publication of each issue and occasional between-issue extras.

About the American Antiquarian Society

The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) is a learned society and independent research library, specializing in all aspects of American history and culture through 1876. Founded in 1812 by the patriot printer and publisher Isaiah Thomas, AAS is the third oldest historical organization in the United States and the first to take the whole nation as its scope. The AAS library is the preeminent repository of pre-twentieth-century American printed materials and related manuscript and graphic arts materials in the world. The Society also sponsors an array of programs to encourage the use of its collections and to foster a greater understanding of American history. The main office for Common-place is at AAS, 185 Salisbury St., Worcester, MA 01609-1634; telephone (508) 755-5221.

About the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

The Gilder Lehrman Institute (GLI) promotes the study of the American past by organizing seminars and enrichment programs for teachers; supporting and producing publications and national traveling exhibitions; creating innovative history high schools, history programs, and Saturday academies; establishing research centers at universities and cultural institutions; granting and administering a major fellowship program for work in leading archives; and seeking to build national and international networks of people and institutions involved in American history.

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