A path-breaking engagement of classroom and archives

The first formal connection between the Norman Daly Collection, held by the Cornell University Archives, and a university graduate course has recently taken place.

Photo composite showing the Cornell University Library in 1909 and a portrait of Andrew D. White
Cornell University Library ~1900; Cornell’s first president, Andrew D. White. Courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library
Headshot of Evan Earle from Zoom
University Archivist. Evan Fay Earle. (zoom capture)

“We’re a teaching library and this is a teaching collection,” Dr. Peter J. Thaler ’56 University Archivist Evan Fay Earle explains. “This is the model the library has had since the earliest days with the first president, Andrew D. White. He intended that students have special collections, actual rare materials, in their hands so they could learn from them.”

To further this goal Earle reaches out to faculty to let them know of new collections which could become part of their teaching. With respect to the Norman Daly Collection, its centerpiece, materials relating to the imaginary “Civilization of Llhuros,” struck an especially responsive chord for Earle. These materials have now provided the basis for the recent interest in “Llhuros” of Kenneth J. Bissett ’89 Senior Professor in the Department of Communication, Poppy L. McLeod.

A field trip to illustrate a theory

McLeod had planned to take her Advanced Communication Theory class, a requirement for first-year PhD students, on a field trip to a physical environment that would illustrate a particular theory the class was studying from an interdisciplinary approach.

Headshot of Poppy McLeod
Kenneth J. Bissett ’89 Senior Professor Professor Poppy L. McLeod. Photo by Frank DiMeo.

“At first I was thinking of taking them to a zoo,” McLeod said, “until I read the announcement that the Archives had acquired the Norman Daly Collection, at the heart of which was ‘The Civilization of Llhuros.’ I thought ‘Wow, that’s it. That’s what I’m going to do!’”

McLeod then reached out to Earle, expressing enthusiasm for creating a session for her class using the Llhuros materials. Emily Beran, Research and Instruction Librarian at the Archives, then met with McLeod to determine what materials might be useful for the class to examine. “I was able to meet with Poppy and talk through what she was interested in doing with the collection.” Beran went on to say, “We discussed how to give her students the best experience in keeping with her goals that the class see it as a communication model in which people are interacting with resources.” In this regard, Llhuros offered a variety of possible approaches.

“At first I was thinking of taking them to a zoo…”

–Poppy McLeod

Emily Beran from Zoom screen capture
Research and Instruction Librarian, Emily Beran (zoom capture)

To prepare for the field trip, McLeod’s class had been reading a book by archaeologist Michael Brian Schiffer entitled “The Material Life of Human Beings.” Schiffer’s thesis was that all human experience and communication needs to take into account the materiality of human life. It therefore requires an archaeological perspective. These ideas sparked interesting conversation among the students about artifacts and the way human communication is always mediated and assisted by material objects.

“I also debated whether or not to tell the students that this was fictive”, McLeod admitted. “In the end I decided to tell them because our job is to enter into it knowing that and to observe the characteristics of how the high levels of academic archaeology are being communicated through the text and objects.”

First year PhD student, Maggie Foster, said the class knew from the beginning of the term that there would be a field trip to the Archives but they knew little else. “Poppy was trying to give us a breadth of perspectives,” Foster explained.

Implications for communication

The class gathered at the Archives in late April for a three-hour seminar. Following a student-led review of Schiffer’s thesis and a presentation on the background of Llhuros by Earle and Beran, the students divided into two groups, each with an archival box.

Exhibition wall tags from Cornell premiere in 1972
Wall tag from the premier exhibition of Llhuros at the A.D. White Museum of Art at Cornell, 1972. Cornell University Archives.
Exhibition wall tag from the 2019 Istanbul Biennial
Wall tag from the Llhuros installation at the Istanbul Biennial 2019. Cornell University Archives.

“I had looked through the boxes, and really, it was quite a moving experience,” McLeod explained. “They contained an array of materials such as photographs, exhibition wall plaques, correspondence, reviews, letters, grant proposals and more.” She decided to assign an activity for the students to explore what Daly had done to signal “academic archaeology” in his presentation.

“For the students,” said McLeod, “it really represented physicality—a different way of doing scholarship from what many of them would be exposed to. That alone was valuable. The implications for communication were just tremendous.”

Collage of archival boxes with images of students examining contents.
Examining Llhuros materials from the Norman Daly Collection at the Archives, Photos by Emily Beran, Cornell University Library

An interesting dissonance

Trallib Oil Container artifact from the Civilization of Llhuros, 1971
Llhuroscian artifact No. 80 ‘Trallib (Oil Container).’ Photo by Marilyn Rivchin, 1971

“We were told that the materials included real documents mixed in with fictitious ones,” Foster recalled. “There was a very interesting dissonance or confrontation over whether some things were real or fake—or designed to seem real; for example, there was a letter from the Mark Twain Journal which we initially thought was fake, but then turned out to be the real deal, which was an interesting lesson in our age of current misinformation and AI. One must be mindful and have a level of suspicion when encountering new information.”

The students were impressed by the photographs, but agreed they would love to see the original Llhuroscian objects in person. McLeod said, “I think the students would enjoy looking at an object and trying to read it as an archaeologist might do.“ If the logistics can be worked out, there could be a future visit to the fine arts storage facility in Elmira where the objects are in hibernation.

In the meantime, plans are underway to provide a few original objects for long-term loan to the Archives, in order to expand opportunities for research and class discussion.

A home run

Headshot of Maggie Foster
Grad student Maggie Foster (photo provided)

Crediting the Archives staff as key to the experience, Professor McLeod reflected, “I think having the students go to the Archives and physically engage with the materials was very valuable. It was a big success—a home run. “

“This class actually fell into a category I’d like to see us do more of,” Emily Beran added, “because it was a good opportunity for the students to really dig into a collection. Some classes that come in are not super-engaged or super-excited, but this class was amazing. They were so thrilled and were so much fun.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything quite like it before, and I can’t imagine anything quite like it again.”

–Maggie Foster

Llhuros and Cornell in the early years

In addition to its debut at the Andrew D. White Museum of Art at Cornell in 1972, Llhuros has been presented in educational settings at Cornell, in particular, class experiences in the Department of Anthropology.

The first such instance involved Daly’s friend the late Robert Ascher, Professor of Anthropology, who introduced Llhuros to his course Anthropology 451 during the 1967 fall term.

Norman Daly in his studio with Llhuroscian Objects
Norman Daly in a Franklin Hall studio with display of his Lllhuroscian objects, October 1967. Photo by Liza Jones.

Ascher led his students on a visit to Daly’s Franklin Hall (now Tjaden Hall) studio to view an early presentation of Llhuroscian objects and engage in discussion with Daly—a key experience for the students. Nineteen of their mid-term papers have survived and have been added to the Archives. “It remains to be investigated what kind of communication can take place between artists and student-observers,” Daly’s son, David, noted. “Ascher’s class involvement was a very unusual, possibly unprecedented situation for the production of art.”

In recent years, archaeologist Adam Smith, Professor of Anthropology and Chairperson of the Department from 2014 to 2017, learned about and was captivated by Llhuros. He introduced a dozen or so actual Llhuroscian objects for his 2013-2014 hands-on courses, “The Rise and Fall of ‘Civilization’”, which focused on evaluating archaeological artifacts.

Professor Adam Smith and students examine Llhuroscian artifacts
Professor Smith and students examine Llhuroscian artifacts. Photos by Adam Smith and Jason Kosk, 2014

A few years later, the late Anthropology Professor Emerita, Billie Jean Isbell, perhaps inspired by Professor Smith, included a session with Llhuroscian objects in a Cornell Adult University (CAU) course that she taught.

With this history in mind and thanks to Professor McLeod’s path-breaking engagement of classroom and archives, the future looks bright at Cornell for further explorations of the complicated, profound and ever-provocative creation known as “The Civilization of Llhuros.”

Linda Fisher and David Daly
Ithaca, June 2023

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