Crackpots and Cranks

Submitted 2 years ago

Anyone who has ever read the comments under articles, YouTube videos or other postings on the endless stream of the Internet can attest that there are many strange and crazy opinions out there in the ether. (And let's not forget the incredibly nasty world of mean tweets.) However, the Internet did not create these methods of expression, it just made them instantaneous. 

Back in the day of pen and paper those articulations were transmitted by form of a crank letter*, with the recipients being mostly people in the public eye. Several of our manuscript collections are fertile grounds for this form of expression, in particular the papers of writer Kenneth Roberts and the politician Charles W. Tobey.

Crank letters range from the nonsensical to the conspiratorial to the "what the hell are these people thinking." However, there are certain commonalities that are present across most of these compositions. For one, the writers seem to have an inflated sense of their own importance and intelligence. They feel that they are the only ones with the answer to whatever they feel is the problem. They are intolerant, blind to reason and argumentative without substance to back up their arguments. 

In 2014, Miss Manners of the Washington Post, in a response to a question regarding the issue of conspiracy letters wrote, "Conspiracy theorists are not known for their sense of humor, and inflaming them would only waste your time….What you need is not a response, but a crank file," which is exactly what the recipients in this case did.. 

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To see some of the files look for them in ML-3and ML-25. In addition, there is a small collection of them on display in the Rauner Reading Room.

*  a hostile or fanatical letter often sent anonymously


Rauner Special Collections Library houses rare books, manuscripts, and Dartmouth College Archives for the Dartmouth College Library. We think it is one of the coolest places on campus: besides a great exhibits program, the reading room is open to the public. Where else can you see a first edition of Pride and Prejudice or a copy of the James Audubon double elephant folio Birds of America in the Upper Valley? The Rauner blog is a great way to get acquainted with the collections, or go to Instagram if you have a shorter attention span.

Rauner Special Collections Library is located in Webster Hall on the Green in Hanover. Find current hours and the latest exhibit.


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