A New Year’s Wander through Special Collections and Archives

Early January is often the time for making healthy resolutions for the New Year, perhaps to atone for gluttony and sedentary leisure over the winter holidays or just to use the first month of the year as a natural starting line for change. In previous years, Special Collections and Archives offered fitness tips from our Victorian-era sporting books, suggested that the Turnvereine were on to something with having beer and politics aligned with exercise, and highlighted the humble book cart as a means of exercise and artistic expression. My personal resolutions usually focus on hiking and walking so I am taking a look at these activities for this year’s New Year’s resolutions post.

During the pandemic, many people turned to wide-open outdoor spaces for their exercise, with hiking and walking becoming popular options for both socializing and a workout. Organizations and companies took advantage of this increased popularity and looked for ways to motivate people and increase profit. Fitness app revenues increased 84% in 2020, with a 45% increase in users (businessofapps.com) as people sought to track their health and mileage. Hiking (and outdoor selfies) took off with the #52hikechallenge, in which participants take (on average) a hike or nature walk each week during the year, and share their adventures on social media. Currently there are 482,840 posts on Instagram with the #52hikechallenge tag, and 16,000 people posting with that tag (and the 2020 and 2021 tags) on Facebook. The AllTrails app, which lets users log their hikes, saw a 171% increase in the number of hikes logged in 2020, and a 134% increase in the number of people logging their hikes (runrepeat.com).

Codex Calixtinus
Codex Calixtinus de la Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, ca. 1140
Guide to Way of St. James
A Practical Guide for Pilgrims : The Road to Santiago

But overland journeys on foot are as old as our early human ancestors, and archeological evidence, oral traditions, and written histories abound with forced and elective migrations and journeys for food, land, conquest, religion, and enlightenment. One of the earlier accounts in our rare book collections is the Codex Calixtinus de la Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, which includes advice for pilgrims following the Way of St. James, ending at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The collection, which includes sermons, liturgical texts associated with St. James, reports of miracles, and musical notations was first compiled in the 12th century. Special Collections and Archives holds a 1993 facsimile that is a faithful reproduction of the original artifact; the signatures (grouping of pages), uneven edges, holes, corrections, marginalia, binding, etc., have all been reproduced to give the experience of handling the original manuscript. A 2002 publication, A Practical Guide for Pilgrims : The Road to Santiago, offers an early 21st-century approach to the Way of St. James. This guidebook also includes a special “pilgrim’s bag,” which is a plastic pouch for carrying individual maps of the route sections, with accommodations and restaurants listed on the back. This 8th revised edition also boasts information for cyclists rather than those on foot, and even concedes that some people may approach the Cathedral by way of automobiles. Widespread internet access, google maps, and travel booking sites were not yet the reality in 2002, so while this guide is far more modern than its 12th-century counterpart, it is still an interesting artifact of its particular time.

I was happy to pull out SPCA’s editions of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, having a soft spot for it after memorizing the prologue and having to recite it in Middle English for my high school British Lit class decades ago. In paging through the 1905 photographic facsimile of the 1532 edition, the illustrations served to remind me that this was a pilgrimage on horseback, not foot.  William Morris introduced his Kelmscott Press edition in 1896, which included 87 woodcuts by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, engraved by W.H. Hooper, with far fewer horses. A 1978 artists’ book version of the prologue moves the artwork into a much more abstract rendering of the pilgrims, with this original lithograph representing the knight.

Woodcut engraving of Chaucer's Knight
1532 rendering of the Knight
William Morris Canterbury Tales
Kelmscott Press edition of Canterbury Tales
abstract image depicting a knight
Lithograph by Ronald King











Amelia R. Bird version of Thoreau's Walden by notation and marginalia
Amelia R. Bird’s commentary on Walden from the comments and emphases found in 12 texts

Readers familiar with Henry David Thoreau and his wanderings around Walden Pond know that walking was both a physical endeavor and a spiritual exercise for Thoreau. In his 1862 essay, “Walking,” Thoreau connected the word ‘saunter’ with pilgrimage, with those who go ‘a la Sainte Terre’ – to the Holy Land.  Amelia R. Bird, in her 2012 artists’ book, Walden Marginalia, or, The Contents of a Dozen Shanties, compiled the notations and marginalia of 12 copies of Walden into composite page images to show what various readers over the years found compelling in the text. Thoreau is credited with influencing American moral and political thought, and with situating walking as a democratic and philosophical endeavor that manifested itself nearly a century later with the marches and protest walks of the Civil Rights era.

These more contemporary marches and walks are often urban and collective, and exercise free speech along with the physical act of walking. Examples from the University Archives include a 1968 march and vigil against the Vietnam conflict and the draft and a 1990 candlelight peace march for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, with Martin Luther King III delivering remarks on “unity, equality and increased spirituality.”

Pilgrimage for Life march across Louisiana
Pilgrimage for Life, Sr. Helen Prejean papers, box 84

The community archives collections held by SPCA focus on social justice, the Catholic Left, and women’s and community advocacy organizations. It’s not surprising then to find evidence of walks and marches in these collections, as activists and ordinary citizens exercised their rights for free speech and assembly, and walked to raise awareness and foster change. Hearkening back to the idea of a pilgrimage, Sr. Helen Prejean and members of Pilgrimage for Life marched across the state of Louisiana in 1986 in a campaign to end the death penalty. Pilgrimage for Life was both an event – a 280 mile walk across Louisiana – and an organization, with the organization later renamed the Louisiana Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

The Pilsen Neighbors Community Council (PNCC) serves as a voice for the Pilsen community, advocating for social justice, education reform, healthcare, immigration reform, and civic engagement. The group has assembled community members for peaceful walks and protests to bring attention to and create change on issues such as immigration, forced school busing, residential housing conditions, loan accessibility, and fair funding for education and a quality neighborhood high school. The ‘Si, se puede’ motto (first popularized by the United Farm Workers of America) can be seen in photos of various PNCC sponsored events.

Si Se Puede March, Pilsen Neighbors Community Council records, box 4

Motivations for walking clearly vary and overlap, with benefits and outcomes centered on physical and emotional health, socialization and social change, and religious duty and political impact. As we start this new year, consider adding walking to your list of healthy personal and community activities. If you’re curious about any of the resources profiled here, walk up to Special Collections and Archives in room 314 in the John T. Richardson Library (appointments currently required) to experience them yourself.



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