This page features photos and descriptions of items of significance in the careers and/or lives of scholars and others interviewed on the blog. 

1. John Ackerman's pencil

This is a #2 Dixon Ticonderoga pencil on John Ackerman's desk. Ackerman has been the director of Cornell University Press since 1990, and is also the acquisitions editor for Europe and Russia/USSR. He uses "#2 Ti"s (as they're known among connoisseurs) to do nearly all of his editing (viz. min. 1:36:11 and 1:41:43 of the interview). Many an introduction has been shredded by this pencil, for Ackerman is a famously ruthless editor of introductions. He noted in the interview that Vladimir Nabokov considered "Ticonderoga" to be an especially beautiful word. The passage in question is likely from Pnin (1957), a gorgeous novel about a Russian language instructor teaching at a thinly fictionalized Cornell, where Nabokov was professor of Russian literature at the time:
With the help of the janitor he screwed on to the side of the desk a pencil sharpener - that highly satisfying, highly philosophical implement that goes ticonderoga-ticonderoga, feeding on the yellow finish and sweet wood, and ends up in a kind of soundlessly spinning ethereal void as we all must.
The pencils were never actually manufactured in Ticonderoga (pop. 3,382), but Ackerman was; he grew up there. He describes the atmosphere there today: "Sad. Very sad." 


2. Claudia Verhoeven's launch pad

The launch pad on Claudia Verhoeven's home 
office wall
A print of a frame from Federico Fellini's film 8½ faces Claudia Verhoeven at her work table. I spoke with her about it on September 18, 2013 in New York. To listen to a recording of the conversation, click here

The frame shows a launch pad for a spaceship. Claudia explained:
"In the film this director is making a science fiction film...but he's having this crisis...he doesn't know how to go on, essentially, he doesn't really know what he wants to make, but he has to make this film, the project has to be launched creatively, metaphorically. But everything is falling apart."
She recalls watching the film while working on her dissertation (later bookon Dmitry Karakozov, the would-be assassin of the Russian tsar. "When I was watching it while writing the dissertation, at first, it was the most depressing film," she said, relating how, at one point in the film, the screenwriter approaches Guido [the Fellini character] and criticizes the project even as the launch pad is being dismantled in the background. "All his hopes and his memories are coming to nothingit all breaks down with this smug academic critic negating the potential creativity of this guy."
"But then...suddenly, the clown shows up from the side of the frame and says 'Everybody's ready! Come on! Come on!' And then Guido becomes the ringmaster of this crazy circus and he starts to do what he's supposed to, and that is to direct. And you get a sense that at that moment, when he does what he is supposed to do to fulfill his craft that everything will launch and elevate, and that's the moment when the picture moves." 
The reference to the moving picture is from a scene early in the film with one of Guido's childhood memories in which a girl shares with him a magic chant—"Asa NIsi MAsa"—and confides to him that "tonight is the night when the picture moves" (meaning the eyes of a painting will become animated and look back). "But really it's the soul [ANIMA] that animates a creative project and that's the kind of launch of it all." 
"To me 8½ is the most optimistic movie—in spite of all difficulties, if you somehow throw yourself into the moment, with a leap or some sort of daring, and also something kind of funny, something light has to be there, then you can have transcendence in your work." 
She mentioned another image, a note that Fellini stuck to the side of his camera during the filming of . It read "Ricordati che è un film comico” ("Remember that this is a comic film").
"He had to remind himself to do it with a light treatment and I think that's important—things get really heavy and we're so involved; you have to remember to be a little bit lighter and a little bit more comical...and do it with some grace. The film and that picture of the spacecraft work for me the same way that the sticker worked for Fellini, so I have the scaffold and the spaceship there to remind myself that it's not so bad in the end."
"Remember that this is a comic film"
See also the interview with Claudia Verhoeven from May 13, 2010


3. Małgorzata Mazurek's Found Nazi Stamp Album

Małgorzata Mazurek shared some images from "the most precious object" her family owns, which is a Nazi stamp album that her grandfather--Adam Feil, later Adam Mazurek--found in the garbage in Warsaw at the end of World War II. During the postwar years, he collected additional stamps to fill the pages, but also "to tell his own story about WWII," Małgosia says, "a story told from the perspective of a Polish Jew and socialist." One of the additions is a portrait of her grandfather, inserted into the book "as if it was just another portrait-stamp," complete with the "value" of the stamp (5 Polish złoty). A handwritten commentary to the right of the "stamp" notes that the photo was taken on September 3, 1942, the day that Adam Feil escaped from a train transport to Bełżec.

"Portrait stamp" of Adam Feil (Mazurek), September 3, 1942
Stamps with Judenrat (Jewish council) postmarks from WWII
The demise of Nazi Germany and liberation of Poland in stamps
Allied and Postwar Stamps
See also the interview with Małgorzata Mazurek from May 15, 2014.