A miniature English dictionary, an account book from a milliner’s shop that operated around the turn of the 20th century and a file box will all be subjects of an exhibit of items from the University of North Texas Libraries’ Special Collections.
“Bureaucracy: A Love Story” is on display from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. now through May 8 in the Judge Sarah T. Hughes Reading Room of the UNT Libraries’ Special Collections Department. The reading room is located on the fourth floor of UNT’s Willis Library, 1506 Highland Ave.
Four faculty members in UNT’s Department of English — Gabriel Cervantes, Dahlia Porter, Ryan Skinnell and Kelly Wisecup — began creating the exhibit after they realized that their specific research areas were tied together through genres of bureaucratic writing.
Students in both Porter’s English 5750: Methods of Historical Research class and Skinnell’s English 4230: Institutional Rhetoric class conducted research about the history of the objects selected for the exhibit and wrote descriptions for the display cases. The professors, acting as the exhibit’s curators, supplemented the students’ contributions with their own research to introduce the labels and online exhibit text. Each item in the exhibit is grouped in one of 10 categories describing a function of bureaucracy, including Locating, Resisting, Accounting and Streamlining.
The objects in “Bureaucracy: A Love Story” include a box holding papers from the administration of William H. Bruce, the fifth president of what is now UNT. Bruce served from 1906 to 1923 when North Texas State Normal College added eight new buildings to its campus and grew enrollment by more 3,500 students. The box is included in Streamlining.
An 1895 book of pressed flowers, “Wildflowers from Palestine,” is in the Locating category. The Accounting category includes a 1904-05 account book kept by Denton resident Cora Elliott for her milliner’s shop, which was located on the Denton downtown square on the site of a current business, McBride’s Music and Pawn. McBride’s loaned the book to UNT for the exhibit.
“Bureaucracy is everywhere, but it becomes real for most people when they encounter its material, written forms,” said Porter, an assistant professor of English. “Bureaucracy is most often associated with the government — think of tax forms or the line at the DMV — but it also structures schools, academic disciplines, professional organizations and even our personal lives. And bureaucracy wouldn’t exist without documents that collect and store information, catalogues that organize and classify it, and reference books that consolidate and synthesize it.”
Jessica Murray researched and described The Smallest English Dictionary, which is included in Resisting as a printed object designed and produced with the specific purpose of contesting the work of bureaucracy. Published around 1900 by David Bryce & Son, a press operating in Scotland, the dictionary is less than two inches tall and reportedly contains 13,000 definitions set in 1½ point type.
While the tiny dictionary was placed in the Resisting category because it is difficult to read, Murray said her research revealed something more.
“The UNT Library has a catalog for Bryce & Son, and I found out that this dictionary was sold with a protective case and a magnifying glass. So maybe it was intended to actually be used and not just a novelty object,” she said.
Porter and four other faculty members are also organizing a symposium, “Bureaucracy and the Organization of Knowledge,” which will feature researchers from different academic disciplines who examine the material practices, written forms and objects of bureaucracy as part of their work. The symposium will be April 3 in the forum on the first floor of the Willis Library, and will open with a reception in the reading room from 5 to 7 p.m. April 2.