By Aubrey Baldwin, Janos Jalics, Franchesica Kidd, David McCann, and Cris Schell
This past Thursday, the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology hosted an event called “It’s Academic!” Three professors — Dr. Brian Bagatto (Biology), Dr. Toni Bisconti (Psychology) and Dr. Jon Miller (English) came to the event to discuss the question “What is Love?” from a perspective of their personal fields. Our ENG 489/589 UnClass attended, since we are working to digitize a binder full of postcards called “Valentines Unusual Vol. 11,” from the David P. Campbell postcard collection.
We could easily connect our postcards to the way that love was discussed, even though some of our cards seem to veer away from the emotions usually associated with Valentine’s Day.
This card, postmarked from 1907, brings to mind the ways that Dr. Miller discussed art as a way of expressing complicated emotions. Its message reads “to my valentine”, and it depicts a young girl with a green dress and a leather apron on, forging a bright, vivid red heart with an axe and an anvil. Through this art form of blacksmithing and creating something, this young girl is able to forge, and ultimately express the large amount of love she feels for her valentine.
That’s a sunnier presentation of what turns out to be a common image on Valentine cards. This card features hearts being toasted over a fire, in a way that might look more gruesome that loving:
The “It’s Academic!” panel suggested that the most likely link between love and fire is passion. But beyond passion, they noted that almost all of the language and metaphor we use in terms of love involves fire or heat in some way. Even physically, Dr. Bagatto said, love in terms of reproduction tends to make us warmer. I would think that the physical warmth brought on led to the language surrounding love as well as the ties to passion.
On this late 19th-century postcard, two angels with golden wings are forging a heart. The forging apparently brings the heart together and makes it stronger, much like love itself. This postcard was made in Germany and has postcard translated into several languages such as Hungarian, Croatian, Spanish, and Slovenian. This leads me to believe that it was circulated in Austria-Hungary, where postcards evidently served the need for communication seems to have crossed national and linguistic boundaries.
Some of the postcards in our binder, however, seem far less romantic. Instead, they represented the day-to-day communications Dr. Bisconti described that are so important to maintaining love. This card, for example, has a Valentine of the front, but is all about practicalities on the back:
The message on the back is from a man to his mother discussing when she will be in town to visit. This highlights an important relationship in most people’s life, a relationship with one’s parents. Nowadays we just send text messages but 100 years ago they were sending postcards to keep up their relationships with their loved one to tell them they want to stay in communication.
In the end, this postcard seemed to sum up the It’s Academic! panelists’ remarks.
This postcard postmarked from Edgar, Wisconsin April 9, 1908 4AM contains the simple message, “Am sending the book to-day hope you will get it by Friday” . Given the date in April, this postcard probably was taken from the leftover Valentine Day postcard pile, perhaps signaling that the need to communicate was more important than selecting the card with the right picture. But the raft on the cover, in a heart shape, still portrays passion, and maybe a little panic, portraying the postcard writer’s sense of guilt, perhaps, for not having got the book, earlier, to the recipient Melvin LaQua of Rib Falls, Wisconsin.
From a postcard you can learn so much about human history. One postcard – a peek into history – and a reference to the three talking points of the professors: it all adds up to “Love”.