Friday, March 24, 2017

Southern History Book of the Month: Shot in Alabama: A History of Photography 1839-1941 and a List of Photographers

by Mary Anne Ellis, Southern History Department, Central Library

Shot in Alabama: A History of Photography 1839-1941 and a List of Photographers
Frances Osborn Robb

From the moment I first saw this book in the University of Alabama Press catalog—months in advance of its publication—I practically itched to hold it in my hands. The dancers on the cover look more like a still from a glamorous silent film starring Rudolph Valentino and not what I would expect from a book about photography in Alabama. Starting with the era of the daguerreotype in the late 1830s, Frances Robb chronicles the history of photographs and photography in Alabama, illustrated with images ranging from nineteenth century ambrotypes to newspaper shots to family portrait photography—remember the Olan Mills studios? How many of us had our pictures taken there when we were children?

We take for granted how easy it is for us to get our hands on a camera now; if you want to take pictures, you can spend as much or as little as you want for a throwaway drugstore camera or professional models costing hundreds of dollars. In an era where we take photographs with our smartphones, it’s surprising to read about the difficulties of taking pictures during a time like World War II:
Kathryn Windham, who became a Birmingham News reporter after “the men left for the war,” seldom took a camera on assignment, because of newsprint and other shortages. In 1944, when a monument to Sacred Harp luminaries Seaborn McDaniel Denson and Thomas Jackson Denson was unveiled on the lawn of the Winston County Courthouse seventy-five miles from Birmingham, Windham was allotted a car and gasoline, but she was not allowed to take the newspaper’s camera with her.

It was also interesting to see the numerous examples of Alabama photography featuring African Americans. In the preface there is an ambrotype titled Boy Holding a Straw Hat, Probably a Slave of the Bunker Family of Mobile, circa 1860. The child is holding the stiff pose typical of someone in that era who has been told to hold still for the many seconds it took to expose the picture, but it’s tempting to interpret his wary expression as that of someone gazing into an uncertain future. Certainly he was on the brink of a massive historical shift. As contrast, we see on the next page a picture called Elderly Man, taken in the early twentieth century and listed as being Alabama’s first known photograph taken by an African American photographer. Comparing the solemn dignity of this figure to the tension of the child’s portrait gave me a real sense of just how tumultuous history had been in the era between these pictures.

I have barely scratched the surface of Robb’s excellent chronicle and if you are a photographer, or interested in Alabama history, or both, then do not walk—run to get your hands on a copy of this book. So many of these photographs give me the sense of a captured moment that is the next best thing to time travel, and it’s riveting to know that our state has such an abundance of resources in this field. So take a look through Shot in Alabama—you might even see someone you know.

Frances Osborn Robb at Alabama Writers’ Forum
Shot in Alabama at Project Muse
Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
Alabama Mosaic
Alabama Department of Archives and History Photographs

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Book Review: The Murderous History of Bible Translations

by David Ryan, Business, Science and Technology Department, Central Library

The Murderous History of Bible Translations
by Harry Freedman

Dr. Freedman has a Ph.D. in Aramaic, but that doesn’t mean that his work is a dry, pedantic tome. In The Murderous History of Bible Translations, Freedman illustrates the history of Bible translations with lively tales of translators, martyrs, wars, and mystics. His loose chronology begins in the second or third century BCE with a mythical description of the Torah being translated from Hebrew to Greek, and ends in 2012 with the publication of a "gender neutral" Bible in English. This is not, by any means, a comprehensive history of Bible translations, but rather an eccentric and sometimes bloody collection of vignettes.

The task of translating the Bible is naturally plagued by a host of difficulties, and tracing precisely the history of the Bible’s first translation is practically impossible. We have no idea who those first translators were, but it is possible that their translation was written in Alexandria “by Greek-speaking Egyptians, not by Hebrew speaking foreigners from Jerusalem.”

The translation of any work is never an easy task, but a host of problems stand between the translator and a perfect "version" of the Bible. Before the printing press every letter of every word was hand written by a scribe. As humans scribes are, of course, prone to mistakes during the completion of a manuscript. “Since every translation requires a judgment on the part on the translator as to the best word to use, when the chosen word is itself then translated it becomes easy for a text to drift further and further from the original.”

Once a manuscript was completed, it might be delivered to a rabbi, prince, or scholar. There was a tendency among the learned to second guess the scribe and erase a word here, a word there, and replace it with a phrase the new owner considered more felicitous. Or the scholar might decide to write notes onto the margin. At some point, this amended text would find its way into the hands of another scribe.

This new copyist might be unable to differentiate between the original work and the first owner’s marginalia. He would, more than likely, mistakenly add the new word or words. In a relatively short time chaos would spread across the page.

Time is a two-edged blade that cruelly cuts any translator who attacks the Bible. New words were born and passed into use via trade from other lands and new cultures. In addition to dealing with new words and new concepts, translators were fencing with the Old Testament; a largely ceremonial language marked with archaic terms. “…when Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem and preached to the villagers in Galilee, Aramaic had already become the vernacular in Israel. Hebrew had been elevated to the status of a literary language.”

The New Testament also presented the translator with razor-edged problems. Consider a single phrase from the Lord’s Prayer.
In the Book of Common Prayer…[we have] the words "forgive us our sins" or "forgive us our trespasses." The Greek text of Matthew reads "forgive us our debts" and in Luke it says "forgive us our failings." Presumably the apostles were remembering the Aramaic in which Jesus preached. There is an Aramaic word, with a root sense of "obligation" which can also mean debt, legal liability or even guilt.
So, which word is a translator moving from Aramaic to Latin to choose?

Languages living and dead, owners who write in their books, and time all conspire against the Word of God. But the translator’s personality can also sabotage the Good Book. Today we view St. Jerome’s Vulgate, the translation of the Bible into Latin, as a major stepping stone toward availability of the Bible in any language. Jerome was undoubtedly a scholar nonpareil, but he was also a man who easily made enemies. By the time Jerome had finished translating the Bible into Latin, his caustic personality had rendered him persona non grata in Rome. Consequently, his work remained unpopular and buried for 400 years.

The dream of a Bible translation in every European language continued to move forward only in fits and starts. Freedman doesn’t let us forget that the Catholic Church itself was an impediment. At times the church hierarchy was in favor of the faithful reading the Bible, but in a era of spotty literacy church leaders also wondered if the average worshiper had the requisite knowledge to not only read the Bible, but understand its multilayered meanings. Indeed, after the Cathar disaster of the 13th century, the Church temporarily decreed it illegal to translate and read the Bible. (The lone exception being the Book of Psalms).

A variety of scholars, secular leaders and priests vehemently disagreed with such policies. Bibles in spoken languages were not just a cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation; they were also a point of national and cultural pride. Then came the horror of Münster, and priest and pastor alike saw the downside of an easily accessible Bible.

From 1534 to 1535 the town of Münster became home to a series of self-proclaimed prophets who, at first, simply preached a peaceful, albeit, radically different version of Christianity. However, in a short time Bockelson, Hoffman, and John of Leiden used a German Bible to create a doomsday cult that devoured nearly every member of the community. Freedman goes so far as to claim “the Münster revolutionaries and the Third Reich shared many characteristics.” An easy comparison to make; at one point Bockelson promised his followers “the world destroyed by Easter.”

I could go on and on. This is a fascinating book. Although it has only 213 pages, Freedman crams in a surprising number of scenes from the long, complicated history of Bible translations. Some, like Jan Hus and William Tyndale are bloody and tragic. Others are intricate and linguistically fascinating. (If you’ve ever wondered why Michelangelo’s statue of Moses has horns, turn to page 73-74.)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Steps to Starting Your Business Seminar Scheduled for April 3 at Central Library

What: Steps to Starting Your Business
When: Monday, April 3, 2017
Time: 12:00-1:00 p.m.
Where: Central Library, Linn-Henley Research Library, Arrington Auditorium, 4th floor

Upcoming Dates:
Monday May 1, 2017
Monday June 5, 2017

The Birmingham Public Library, in conjunction with the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) and the City of Birmingham’s Office of Economic Development, will once again be hosting the popular seminar Steps to Starting Your Business in 2017. The seminar is scheduled to be held on the first Monday of each month from February to June, 12:00 to 1:00 p.m., in the Arrington Auditorium, which is located on the 4th floor of the Linn-Henley Research Library.

Each seminar will cover the same topics, but those who are interested are welcome to attend more than one day. Topics covered will include crafting a vision statement, identifying sources of funding, determining the legal structure of your business, devising a business plan, and investigating sources of business and economic information. Please register for the seminars by contacting Andy Mayo in the Economic Development Office at or 205-⁠⁠254-⁠⁠2774.

Seminar presenters will be veteran mentors from the local chapter of SCORE. SCORE is a national nonprofit association consisting of volunteers with business skills and experience who want to share their knowledge with prospective entrepreneurs and small business owners. For over 50 years, SCORE mentors have helped millions of Americans start and grow their own businesses.

For further information about the seminars or about resources available at the Birmingham Public Library relating to small business development, please contact Jim Murray in the Central Library’s Business, Science and Technology Department at or by phoning 205-226-3691.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Registration Open For April 2017 Classes

Registration is now open for staff and the public for the April 2017 classes. During this month, we include classes on a variety of topics including computer skills, career guidance, and genealogy. All classes are held in the Regional Library Computer Center (RLCC) of the Central (downtown) Library. PRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED FOR ALL CLASSES.

Please note that registration does not necessarily guarantee you a spot in the class. You will receive an email confirming your registration for classes. You may also call to confirm your registration.

To register for any class, please email us at or call 205-226-3681. You may also download and print a April 2017 class flyer to bring to a Computer Commons staff member on your next library visit. Please note that the  April 2017 class schedule can be sent to us as an email attachment.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Great Tournament So Far

March Madness

Do you know what time it is?  No, I’m not talking about this ridiculous Daylight Saving Time (where’s my hour?).  It’s tourney time.  Yay!  The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is officially underway and millions of people are watching basketball during the day while they are supposed to be working.  Shhhhhh.

No big surprises when it comes to the four #1 seeds: Villanova, North Carolina, Kansas, and Gonzaga.  What is surprising is that Villanova did not reach the Sweet 16 this year.  Last year, they played North Carolina in the championship game, which was epic.  Villanova won with a 3-point shot that went in at the buzzer.  #8 Wisconsin defeated Villanova today in the second round, 65-62.  Kansas hasn’t made it to a Final Four since 2012.  Gonzaga has never made it to the Final Four, so they are especially motivated to have a good tournament.

The whole point of watching the NCAA Tournament is to see the upsets.  There were no shortage of those in the first round.  As predicted before the tournament started, #12 Middle Tennessee State upset #5 Minnesota by winning 81-72.  Another Big 10 team made an early exit when #6 Maryland lost to #11 Xavier, 76-65.  #11 USC, who overcame a 17-point deficit against Providence to get into the tournament, defeated #6 SMU, 66-65.  #11 Rhode Island opened the tournament with an 84-72 win over #6 Creighton.  Another heavily-anticipated first-round matchup was an all-Florida affair.  #3 Florida State took on #14 Florida Gulf Coast in a game that took place in Orlando.  Although Florida State secured the victory, 86-80, Florida Gulf Coast gave them all they could handle.  

There is plenty of basketball left in this year’s NCAA Tournament.  We already know that the championship game will not be a repeat from last year.  If your bracket isn’t busted yet, you should transfer these amazing skills to the stock market.  Strap in, hold on, and enjoy the rest of the tournament.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Spring Reading Challenge

The Spring Reading Challenge for children/teens in grades K-12 begins March 15 and runs through April 5, 2017. Register online to get reading suggestions, log your books, and win virtual badges and awards. Visit any Birmingham Public Library location to check out books, or download them from Overdrive and Hoopla. All participants who read at least one book are entered into a drawing for a prize gift pack, but read more books for a better chance of winning. Prizes will be awarded at each of Birmingham Public Library's 19 locations.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Book Review: In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way

by David Blake, Fiction Department, Central Library

In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way
Marcel Proust
Translated by Lydia Davis

When first considering Marcel Proust’s masterpiece, the reader must choose from among several well-regarded translations. The English translation by C. K. Scott Moncrieff in the 1920s, with its famous title Remembrance of Things Past, is still widely admired, and has been updated by several respectful translators since. But this reader chose the recent, wholly new translation called In Search of Lost Time, with different translators for each of the seven volumes of this monumental novel. The translation of Swann’s Way, the first volume, by Lydia Davis, simple and clean, is in no way disappointing.

In Search of Lost Time is a mythical Mount Everest for the serious reader, a daunting challenge that promises pride of accomplishment and wide new aesthetic vistas. Nonetheless, it is seven books, each with a finite number of pages. The challenge for the reader is how to move forward when one is so dazzled by the prose of a single paragraph. We rely on narrative and plot devices to move us forward as we read most books, but Swann’s Way has fewer of these incentives than the usual short story. A sickly boy suffers debilitating separation anxiety every night waiting for his mother’s goodnight kiss, a cultured man’s mistress treats him cruelly, the sickly boy suffers unrequited infatuation for a girl with whom he plays in the parks of the Champs-Elysees. The places these characters inhabit and the agony of their inner lives are rendered with the precision and pity we might attribute to an omniscient loving deity.

The narrator tells the boy’s story, in the first person, with the elegiac tone of a mature man looking back on times and places that exist only in memory. The iconic scene wherein the narrator dips a madeleine (cookie) into his tea triggering vivid unbidden memories occurs early on in Swann’s Way. The smell and the taste of the tea-soaked madeleine unlock recollections of flowers and of divergent country paths traveled in the narrator’s youth. One path, called Swann’s Way, leads past the estate of a family friend, Charles Swann, who is caught up in the decadent demimonde of Belle Epoque Paris. The other path skirts the gardens of the Guermantes, an ancient noble family at the pinnacle of elegant aristocratic society. Symbolically, these paths will define the narrator’s stories throughout In Search of Lost Time.

One reads In Search of Lost Time for the beauty of the language. Wondrous metaphors pile up upon each other in sentence after sentence, as do Proust’s incisive observations on human longing, jealousy, and loss. After hours of reading Swann’s Way, decoding the language, readers might feel as if they had spent an afternoon performing differential equations. But, the residue, at the bottom of the tea cup, as it were, is art.

Oh, and by the way, Marcel Proust is really funny.

Trivia Night @ BPL Scheduled for March 20 at Central Library

What: Trivia Night @ BPL 
When: Monday, March 20, 2017, 6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. 
Where: Central Library, Fiction Department, 1st Floor 
Details: $2/person upon entry. Attendees must be 16 years of age and up. For more information, contact Shea Robinson at (205) 226-3689 or 

Birmingham Public Library Student Mock Trial to Take Place March 16 at Jefferson County Courthouse

BPL Teen Librarian Lance Simpson

For eight weeks, about two dozen teenagers have been learning the criminal justice system, playing the roles of lawyers, judges, and witnesses as part of the Birmingham Public Library (BPL)’s inaugural Spring 2017 Student Mock Trial Program. On Thursday, March 16, the students will put their knowledge to work, presenting their mock trial inside the Jefferson County Courthouse in downtown Birmingham.

BPL has been partnering with the Birmingham Bar Foundation and the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of Alabama to put on the program, with lawyers volunteering their time to meet with the students on Thursdays from 3:30-5:00 p.m. in the Central Library. The students have taken their roles seriously and are excited about the mock trial, said Lance Simpson, BPL system teen librarian.

The program introduced students from grades six through twelve to the critical thinking, technology, and advocacy skills utilized in trial practice, Simpson said. During the mock trial on March 16 inside a Jefferson County Courtroom, program participants will assume the roles of defense lawyer, prosecutor, witnesses, and judge.

Read more about the program at the links below: