This is College Style: Sidney Brooks (AC 1841) Papers

Sidney Brooks letter to his sister Tamesin Brooks, October 18, 1837
Sidney Brooks letter to his sister Tamesin Brooks, October 18, 1837

Sidney Brooks letter to his sister Tamesin Brooks, October 18, 1837, second page top: “The room which I occupy in College is rather a dismal looking place, as the freshmen are put into the poorest rooms. It made me think of the rooms in Barnstable jail, but this is College Style.”


Born in Harwich, in Barnstable County on Cape Cod, Sidney Brooks attended Amherst College after preparation at Chatham Academy and at Phillips Academy in Andover. After graduating and teaching for a few years at Chatham, he went on to build Pine Grove Seminary, the first secondary school in Harwich. The building was the future site of Harwich High School, and today it houses the Harwich Historical Society.

The Sidney Brooks (AC 1841) Papers, comprised largely of correspondence and other writing from his school days, provides an intimate portrait of a middling student from the nation’s nascent middle class. Sidney wrote to his siblings of his daily routines and to his father about money, and he kept a detailed ledger of his expenses in Amherst. Financially dependent on his father, the merchant Obed Brooks of Harwich, Sidney wrote home in a tone perhaps recognizable to indigent college students throughout the ages.

Sidney Brooks letter to his father Obed Brooks, June 28, 1838
Sidney Brooks letter to his father Obed Brooks, June 28, 1838
Sidney Brooks letter to his father Obed Brooks, June 28, 1838
Sidney Brooks letter to his father Obed Brooks, June 28, 1838

In a painstaking account in a letter to his father of June 28, 1838, Sidney writes of his expenses at Philips Academy and Amherst College, underlined section page 2 bottom: “if I had, of my own, money or property enough to give me a liberal education and no more, I should not hesitate at all to spend it in this way.”


The letter above was likely compiled from a detailed ledger kept by Brooks during his time at Andover and Amherst. In the ledger, he records his expenses for each term. Tuition, boarding and school related fees make up the bulk of his expenses.

Sidney Brooks' school expenses ledger, 1837-1841

Sidney Brooks’ school expenses ledger, 1837-1841.


A member of the Athenian Society, one of Amherst’s rival literary clubs, Sidney records the group’s initiation fee in 1838 as $3.00, with subsequent taxes ranging from $1.00 to $3.00 every term or so. Sidney was not the only member for whom the literary society fees might have posed some challenge, in this last decade before their dissolution and waning in the face of new campus societies and fraternities. In Student Life at Amherst College: Its Organizations, their Membership and History (1871), page 29, we find that,

As early as August, 1838, the societies began to be embarrassed financially, so that the members could with difficulty meet the current expenses and pay existing debts. Moneys received from initiation fees, which heretofore had been annually appropriated for libraries, were used to liquidate standing debts. Extensive repairs, etc., upon their Athenaeums increased their liabilities.

In addition to Sidney’s expense ledger and correspondence, the collection includes several prepared speeches on diverse subjects, presumably conducted for the various societies of which he was a part. During the reign of the Alexandrian and Athenian Societies at Amherst, weekly sessions were held for declamation and debate.

Twenty-eight years old when he graduated Amherst, Sidney arrived at the College already practiced in these activities from his time at Phillips Academy in Andover. Sidney was an enthusiastic participant in the Rhetorical Society at the Andover Theological Seminary. In 1834, at the same time Henry Ward Beecher was busy making phrenology the hot topic of Amherst’s Natural History Society, Sidney argued his case for the “science” in the less welcoming atmosphere of the Theological Seminary. (There is no evidence that Sidney was ever invited to become a member of the Natural History Society, or any secret societies, while at Amherst.)

Phrenology, a pseudoscience concerned with measurements of the surface of the head to diagnose traits of character and personality, was hugely popular in the nineteenth century and persisted through the beginning of the twentieth. In 1847, it was popular enough that Edward Hitchcock got his head examined by the professional phrenologists and Amherst alumni, brothers Orson Squire Fowler and Lorenzo Niles Fowler. In 1834, however, Orson Squire Fowler was still a senior at Amherst, along with Henry Ward Beecher, then president of the Natural History Society in its third year of operation.

Perhaps the word hadn’t yet spread to Andover: the impression given by Sidney’s speech is not one of faddish acceptance on the part of his audience. Over several drafts on the subject, Sidney hones his argument, which amounts to a plea for reasoned debate based on empirical facts over the inclination to reject the field on moralistic grounds as a danger to religion. From a rough draft of his speech at Andover:

How much the decisions of this society above mentioned have influenced your minds – or the minds of this community – I cannot tell, but certain it is all investigation and enquiry upon the subject seem to be put to sleep for the present, and ma[n]y no doubt think that it has received its death blow. But I have not introduced the subject to lament its downfall or to sing its requiem nor to renounce the belief which I have so long entertained – nor shall I until I have more efficient arguments to prove that it is dangerous to religion or it is not true.

Sidney’s writing ranges widely across subjects, but always returns to the glory of God the Creator. He records subscription fees to missionary and Bible societies, including an initiation fee and tax (only $0.37) for the Society of Inquiry, the religious society at Amherst. In one speech, his theme is, “Can a Christian consistently accept an appointment at Amherst College?” At the same time, he expounds on such subjects as the astrophysical causes of the aurora borealis and of meteors with apparent enthusiasm, if not expertise. Sidney records $1.56 as the cost of going on a geological excursion with Professor Hitchcock, and $2.00 for subscription to the student literary periodical, Horae Colleginae – the short run of which coincided with his enrollment.

If Sidney’s account ledger provides a glimpse into the spending habits of one among the “indigent young men of piety and talent” educated in the early years of Amherst College, his letters are likewise a window on the melancholic mind of a student far from home. In the spring term of 1838 Sidney switched rooms, a decision he defended in a letter to his brother of July 19:

My reasons for making this moove are several. First I believe I can study more rooming alone. Again I wanted to enjoy the sweets of solitude and I enjoy it much. I know I hurt myself rooming alone at Andover when in that state of mind I was then, but I have not been troubled at all with the melancholia since I have been alone this term. Another consideration of some importance induced me to come down into a lower room — I have always been given somewhat to somnambulism. It has grown upon me much of late, for several weekes, nearly every night, I find myself in the middle of the night, in some part of my bedroom. Sometimes in bed + sometimes out of it pawing around to find out where I was. I thought I might find myself sometime in the act of jumping out of the window–

Rooming alone may have hurt Sidney at Amherst as much as it did at Andover, as he fell ill in the fall of his sophomore year. In a letter to his father of December 20, 1838, Sidney writes of his recovery from illness, “I ought to be very thankful and trust I am that I am restored to health again at any cost. (It would become me better perhaps to say this though if the money which is to defray this cost were my own.)” His sister Harriet visited and tended to him, inflating his bills for room and board considerably. Writing to his father the next spring (April 23, 1839), Sidney reports that Squire Dickinson has declined to deduct any of his college bill for the period of his illness. “If this is the custom,” he writes, “I suppose there is no getting off from it though like many other customs it seems rather hard.”

Sidney Brooks letter to his father Obed Brooks, April 23, 1839
Sidney Brooks letter to his father Obed Brooks, April 23, 1839

Sidney Brooks to his father Obed Brooks, April 23, 1839, first page middle: “If this is the custom I suppose there is no getting off from it though like many other customs it seems rather hard.”


In the recessed economic climate of New England following the Panic of 1837, it is little wonder Sidney found himself justifying his various expenses to his father. In a letter to his father of March 21, 1840, he grapples with trying to live frugally while taking advantage of the social opportunities of the college. After acknowledging the forty dollars he has received from home, Sidney implores his father to understand the necessity, for a young man of reputation, of indulging in a certain amount of “liberality,” a concept his father does not seem readily to understand. Describing his own place in the campus society, Sidney writes,

By no means do I rank myself among the highest class here, that class called the aristocracy. If I did I should have to do far different than I do – to carry an ivory or a silver headed cane, never to soil my hands with labor, ride about etc, etc, though among them are some no better able to do it than myself. This class is pretty numerous and popular in College, though I do not know as anyone thinks any the less of me for the plain manner in which I generally go.

Sidney Brooks letter to his father Obed Brooks, March 21, 1840
Sidney Brooks letter to his father Obed Brooks, March 21, 1840
Sidney Brooks letter to his father Obed Brooks, March 21, 1840

Sidney Brooks letter to his father Obed Brooks, March 21, 1840, fourth page top: “It is another kind of liberality that I had principally in view- liberal towards ourselves.”


On leaving Amherst, Sidney taught for three years at Chatham Academy before returning home to Harwich and founding Pine Grove Seminary. Pine Grove, a one room schoolhouse whose columned Doric façade seems to suggest that Amherst left its mark, was notable for its nautical as well as classical curriculum. Navigation and surveying were included in its advanced mathematics class.

Sidney became an enlisting officer in 1863 for the towns of Harwich, Chatham, and Orleans, and served as a delegate of the Christian Commission during the war. While ministering to wounded Union soldiers in this role, Sidney wrote a series of letters to his sisters and his wife Susan about his experiences at military hospitals and battlegrounds. These were later edited and marked up considerably, presumably on Sidney’s suggestion to his correspondents that they get his accounts published in the local paper. In one letter dated July 21, 1864, Sidney describes to his sister Sarah the arrival of a delegation from Amherst College: one student, Professor Seelye, Professor Hitchcock (“son of my old Professor”), and Professor Tyler’s son.

Sidney Brooks letter to his sister Sarah, July 21, 1864
Sidney Brooks letter to his sister Sarah, July 21, 1864
Sidney Brooks letter to his sister Sarah, July 21, 1864

Sidney Brooks to his sister Sarah, July 21, 1864, second page middle: “Among our members are three who came last night from Amherst College — one student, Prof. Selee and Prof. Hitchcock (son of my old Professor), also Prof. Tyler’s son. Prof. H. is not to commence hospital work to-day and, wanting something to do, he is now nailing up boxes of papers to go to the Front.”


After the war, Sidney sold his school to the town of Harwich in 1869, and in 1880 it became Harwich High School, the first public secondary educational facility there. Later it was called Brooks Academy, and today it houses the Harwich Historical Society. Sidney went on to work for the state, teaching aboard the ship George M Barnard in the short-lived Nautical Branch of the Massachusetts Reform School. Afterwards, he became Shipping Commissioner in Boston, where he lived until his death in 1887.

The Sidney Brooks (AC 1841) Papers are available to researchers in the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections.

The 2016 Vancity Theatre Screening is now on YouTube

Last month we had another successful run at Vancity Theatre of some of our newly digitized film and video. For those who are unable to attend, and those of you would like another look, we post all past shows on our YouTube channel, including this year’s Vancouver: Exponential Change. Please note that the online content does not include the pre-screening presentation, commentary, or accompanying music. To read more about this year’s screening, please visit our previous post.

Below is the list of films featured in Vancouver: Exponential Change.

Bastard Love – reel 1 (1928)

Bastard Love – reel 2 (1928)

Bastard Love – reel 3 (1928)

Vancouver Honeymoon (1961)

P.N.E. Parades 50, 51, 52, 53, and 56 – P.N.E. Ground[s] 60 and 61 (c. 1960, 1961)

Vancouver on the Move (1986)
AM1576-S6-2-: 2011-010.2702

Make Vancouver Sparkle campaign (1986)AM
1576-S6-2-: 2011-010.2699

Vancouver Centennial song (1986)
AM1576-S6-2-: 2011-010.2704

Expo views (1986)AM1553-8-S7-: MI-239

“Expo” day 3 – cam[era] rolls 4-5 (1986)
AM1553-8-S7-: MI-244

“Expo” [camera rolls 1-3] (1986)
AM1553-8-S7-: MI-240

Protesters in Pig Masks Take the Mic From Senator Fulbright

In 1969, more than 2,000 people gathered together at the New York Hilton for the first National Convocation of the Challenge of Building Peace. In addition to those following via televised broadcast, attendees mainly consisted of lawmakers, federal employees, scholars and students. They tackled questions such as: Are National Self-Interest and World Peace Compatible? Is Overpopulation a Threat to World Peace? Is Peace Possible in the Middle East? Is America Becoming a Militaristic Society?

In this recording of the luncheon titled “Senators Speak Out,” Broadcaster Chet Huntley opens the panel with optimism that, “world peace is a valid and attainable objective.” He calls Senator J. William Fulbright to the podium but before Fulbright can begin, protesters appear on stage chanting, “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, N.L.F. is going to win!”

The protesters – later identified as the Veterans and Reservists to End the War in Vietnam – wear pig masks, carry Vietcong flags, and deposit pig heads in front of the stunned speakers.1 One protester takes the mic to introduce, “Senator William Racist Fulbright Pig.” Co-chairman Stewart Rawlings Mott acknowledges the protest with amusement, “We were expecting something a demonstration today, we would have been disappointed if we hadn’t had it.” Fulbright jokes, “You never come to New York if you don’t get interesting meetings. I suppose that’s one reason we just can’t get along without New York because it adds spice and interest to our life.”

However, as Fulbright attempts to continue his speech, the interruptions persist as the protesters in the audience shout, “rascist.” Mott invites one representative to make a short statement, in the spirit of freedom of expression. The speaker, described in the New York Times as a “long haired man with a drooping mustache,” does not identify himself and insists that he speaks for no organization. He accuses corporations like General Motors and Lockheed of “suppressing and murdering people all over the world” while lining the pockets of government officials. He warns,

This country is riding roughshod, economically suppressing people in South America in Asia and in Africa. Until we stop the power elite of this country from doing that, we will not have peace and there are people – and they are my brothers and they are here – we’re going to pull it down around your heads! 

Fulbright once again tries to continue his remarks in response to the protest which is met with continued heckling. Flustered, he yields the podium to Senators Jacob K. Javitz and George S. McGovern who he hopes “will not arouse the same interest.”

Javitz is not amused! He asserts that this type of violent and tasteless protest does not advance the cause of peace. Refusing to pause for heckling, he continues with his speech in support of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and limiting of an anti-ballistic missile system. He delivers a message (presumably to the protesters): “One of the big problems of all liberal groups is that they are magnificently idealistic but they are so long term that nobody could care less. Here is an immediate opening in which the peace movement in this country can really can get started in a very tangible way, with a very practical result, and with a real likelihood of success.” 

McGovern also contributes his disapproval of the protester’s interruptions and, like Javits, refuses to respond to continued heckling. He calls for the conclusion of the Vietnam War, cuts to military spending and the anti-ballistic missile system in support for focus on domestic issues. These points he would raise repeatedly as part of an unsuccessful run for president against incumbent Richard Nixon in 1972.

A few days later Chet Huntley reacted to the incident in his NBC Radio editorial segment, Chet Huntley’s Perspective on the News

The most compelling reaction is one of almost disbelief that these young people could be so ignorant of who their best friends are. It leads one, as a matter of fact, to the conclusion that they want no friends, they want no allies and they are not interested in improving or building. They seek to destroy…

That word ‘establishment’ is getting overused here of late but it seems to be escaping the attention of our American young people that the establishment is not as tough or as unyielding as they make it. It is quite likely that the establishment… whoever or whatever it is… would resist any and all efforts of direction and change of policy from within. It is changing now. It is young Americans who have entered business and industry in recent years who are now guiding and leading our corporations into social activity of all kinds. But the dissident minority insists that it happen all at once.”2

This recording, unfortunately is incomplete. The two tapes were found in a previously uncataloged group of recordings, mainly ranging in date from 1968 to 1970. So far only one other recording from this event has been found in this collection: Is America Becoming a Militaristic Society?

[1] “Outbursts by Hecklers Silence Senator Fulbright at a Peace Luncheon Here,” New York Times, March 6, 1969

[2] Johnston, Lyle, Good Night, Chet: A Biography of Chet Huntley, 2003, pg. 188-189


Thank you to Annie Sollinger, Digital Image Metadata Librarian at University of Massachusetts Amherst for research assistance. 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150826
Municipal archives id: T7121, T7122

Mark A. Bradley Appointed Director of the Information Security Oversight Office

We are pleased to forward the news that Mark A. Bradley was named as the new Director of ISOO, and therefore is the new Executive Secretary of the PIDB.  His new role will become effective December 25, 2016.

Mr. Bradley is currently the Director of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act), Declassification, and Pre-publication Review, National Security Division, Office of Law and Policy at the Department of Justice (DOJ). In that capacity, he chairs the DOJ’s Department Review Committee, serves as its Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) representative, sits on its Access Review Committee, which hears and decides security clearance revocation appeals, and handles a variety of other special assignments. While at the Department, he has also served as the Deputy Counsel for Intelligence Policy, the Acting Chief for Intelligence Oversight, and the Director of the National Security Division’s FOIA/Declassification unit. He has been a member of the Federal government’s Senior Executive Service since 2003.

Before joining the Department of Justice in November 2000, he served as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s legislative assistant for foreign affairs and intelligence matters and as his last legislative director. He co-drafted the legislation that established the Public Interest Declassification Board. Mr. Bradley, who remains a member of the District of Columbia Bar, has also worked as a criminal defense lawyer in the District of Columbia defending indigents accused of serious crimes.

The Society for History in the Federal Government awarded A Very Principled Boy, his biography of Soviet spy Duncan Lee, its 2015 George Pendleton Prize for being the best book written by a federal historian in 2014.

Mr. Bradley is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Washington & Lee University and holds an M.A. in Modern History from Oxford University, which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar, and a J.D. from the University of Virginia.

The PIDB extends its sincere congratulations and welcome to Mark in his new role at ISOO and on the PIDB!

Dramatic Agent Audrey Wood on Her Career and Tennessee Williams

Audrey Wood doesn’t just represent, she advocates. In this 1965 talk given at the Rensselaerville Institute, the famous dramatic agent describes the path that led her, in sometimes circuitous, sometimes fortuitous fashion, to becoming the preeminent representative of playwrights in America. Much of the story, naturally, centers on the discovery and subsequent relationship with her most famous client, Tennessee Williams. When she first heard of Williams, then a virtual unknown, he had held a variety of menial jobs, including “plucking feathers from squabs.” She wrote him, inquiring in general terms about his plans, and after many weeks received a postcard grandly announcing, “I have decided I like your letter the best.” She goes on to describe the well-known debacle of his first play, Battle of Angels, which closed after one performance in Boston, before his legendary success with The Glass Menagerie.

Every playwright, she asserts, is different. Williams never lets her see a script until it is, as he puts it, “a full polished jewel.” William Inge, however, gives her scripts that are “like the bud of a flower that hasn’t opened up.” She describes the sometimes maddening process of “keeping after him” until each scene, in turn, becomes fully realized. Robert Anderson (author of Tea and Sympathy) is more of a pro. He “lays everything out and knows before he begins what he’s going to write about.” Carson McCullers, who had never written a play before Member of the Wedding, was practically forced into writing drama by Williams, who sat her down at a table and made her adapt the novel.

This talk of relationships, rather than individual plays, makes it clear how intimate and personal Wood regards the agent-playwright bond. She makes this explicit at the end of the talk, proclaiming “there is no greater joy in the world than believing in a writer and seeing him through and knowing that you were right.”

Audrey Wood was born in 1905. The daughter of a theater manager, she grew up reading and passing judgment on plays. Early in life she determined her mission was “to find young American playwrights.” With her husband William Liebling, who represented actors, she formed the agency Liebling-Wood. But success did not come until her championing of Williams finally bore fruit. As John Lahr wrote in his biography, Tennessee Williams; Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (excerpted from the website Chicago Tonight):

Wood fiercely believed in Williams and in her own instincts. On April Fool’s Day, 1939, tipped off to his talent, Wood had written the unknown author, “It seems to me, from what I’ve heard about you, that you may be exactly the kind of author whom I might help.” She judged him “not a finished dramatist” but “highly promising.” By May of that year, Williams had joined forces with Wood, who promptly sold one of his short stories to Story magazine. “You are playing a very long shot when you take an interest in my work,” Williams wrote her. So it had proved. More than anyone in the Broadway audience that opening night [of The Glass Menagerie], Wood understood the precariousness of his situation. “I’d reached the very, very bottom,” Williams said, recalling his state of mind. “I couldn’t have gone on with these hand-to-mouth jobs, these jobs for which I had no aptitude, like waiting on tables, running elevators, and even being a teletype operator. . . . I couldn’t have made it for another year, I don’t think.”

Wood’s success with Williams helped her to then develop an impressive stable of playwrights. One gets the sense she exuded a shrewd mix of maternal nurturing talent and the more conventional hard-boiled persona of a tough negotiator. Herbert Mitgang, writing in the New York Times, lauded how:

…her reputation continued to grow among producers, playwrights and actors; she was open to new ideas and forms on and off Broadway and in the regional theater. It was said that if Miss Wood recommended a play to a producer, half the battle was over. An admiring producer once said, ”Hell, you can’t do business with her, she’s too honest.” Among her playwrights, her style was legendary. She called some of them by their last names, as if not wishing to intrude on their privacy. Reporting good news, she would say, ”Are you sitting down, darling?” But she could also inquire quietly, ”How are you fixed for money?”

Alas, her much-publicized partnership with Williams was not destined to last. Years of drugs and alcohol fueled his paranoia. In 1971, blaming her for the negative critical reception of his recent efforts, he left her. She continued to represent many of the finest American dramatists, including Arthur Kopit and Murray Schisgal. In 1981, though, she suffered a stroke and did not regain consciousness during the last years of her life. It was a particularly bitter ending for a woman who was a vocal advocate for the right to die and a member of the Euthanasia Society. At the time of her memorial service, her biographer recalled a client once saying, “Audrey is small, but you can’t knock her down.” That is the impression this talk gives, of a gracious, quietly determined woman.

Audrey Wood died in 1985.


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150038

Municipal archives id: T820

What’s happening in the archive?

new-rolling-stacksWell, it’s been busy round here. The new rolling stacks have made a big difference to life in the archive. At last the archives are beginning to be more accessible. Thank you, School of Archaeology!

Before the stacks went in, everything that used to be in the basement space had to be cleared out, which led to some interesting new discoveries…

jaquetta-bosIt isn’t too attractive at first sight, but someone had written ‘Jacquetta Hawkes? Portugal?’ on the side, so we started taking everything out of the box and found some treasures, including:

These objects were collected during Jacquetta Hawkes’ trip to Portugal in 1950. We’ve set an undergraduate volunteer onto the task of cataloguing the material and finding out more about it.

There was also evidence of the building’s previous incarnation as home to the Department for the History of Art…library-instructionsUseful advice on how to handle albums. On the subject of albums, new acquisitions  include a set of books and papers..

chester-scrap-book chester-scrap-book-close-up

The scrapbook belonged to the Reverend Greville John Chester, and the photographs inside appear to come from the Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem in 1864-5, by James McDonald:

jerusalem It’s going to be interesting researching the collection: we’ll be adding the photographs to the HEIR on-line database.

We’ve also been busy with archive visitors, including one who also brought some material for us to look at relating to the Stuart Piggott archive. Piggott wrote some notes about archaeology on a sheet of scrap paper torn in half. Inevitably, we found ourselves more interested in the ‘wrong’ side of the paper, which is a reminder that Piggott was not going to let the small detail of the Second World War and his army enlistment get in the way of research. We suspect Piggott was responsible for the sketch…



WNYC and the WPA Federal Art Project

The Works Progress Administration or WPA was launched in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide employment during the depression. Under the WPA there were new roads, dams and other public works project. It also put artists, actors, writers and musicians to work contributing their share to the cultural development of the nation.*

Artists were paid by the hour, on average, $26 a week and many were given their professional start by the WPA. On WNYC’s Forum of the Air in 1938 the actor Burgess Meredith credited the WPA with promoting new art.Although the WPA art project was primarily designed to give employment to unemployed artists, the result has been the establishment of the beginning of a vital art movement which is unparalleled in history.”

At the time there was a lot of controversy about funding abstract works. Yet, one of the few places open to such new ideas was WNYC.

Stuart DAVIS

Of all the artists who were engaged to do the murals at WNYC, Stuart Davis was the most well known. He was also a leading proponent of abstract art. He spoke at the dedication of the murals on August 2, 1939 (above audio). “I say it is of crucial cultural importance when a city institution like the Municipal Broadcasting Company comes forward in sponsorship of abstract art. It is in harmony with the broad democratic cultural policy of WNYC.”

Davis’ painting was eleven by seven feet and hung in WNYC’s Studio B. With antennas and wave, it pulled together images of radio and sound equipment. Music represented by a very stylized saxophone.

In 1965 the mural moved to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on long-term loan. It hangs in an area where it’s surrounded by some of Davis’ other work, and it’s seen by millions of visitors every year. For more on Davis please see: Art in Public: Stuart Davis on Abstract Art and the WPA, 1939. 

John von WICHT

In Studio C, there was a very different kind of wall panel by John Von Wicht. He was one of the many immigrant painters who worked for the WPA, and his work was a lot more geometric. The shapes seem to be simultaneously floating in space and anchored. At the time, von Wicht said he was trying to emulate the style of Bach in his work. Today the mural is at the Brooklyn Public Library, Grand Army Plaza branch. It may be difficult to think that it was created for a radio station, but if you look at it closely you can see some microphones and, of course, a record.


Louis Schanker mural for lobby and reception area.

There’s a lot of movement in Louis Schanker’s mural. He was a very animated personality and he liked to paint big. In fact, at WNYC, a group of his fans who called themselves the Kibitzers Club used to come and watch him paint. He was an eccentric kind of guy. He ran away from home and to join the circus, where he looked after the elephants. If you look closely at this picture, there is a lute and a zither, a cello, and a harp, and the suggestion of ghostly musicians keeping them in play. Today the mural can be seen in its original location near the north elevator banks on the 25th floor of the Municipal Building at 1 Centre Street in Manhattan.


Byron Browne WNYC mural.

Of all the artists, Byron Browne was the only one who tailored his work to fit the studio. He painted directly onto the acoustic tiles that were the soundproofing of the room. The mural (as well as the von Wicht) and some of WNYC’s Warren McArthur furniture had been used as part of 1986/87 Brooklyn Museum show The Machine Age in America, 1918-1941. Unfortunately, the mural did not return to WNYC but was moved to the city office of Management and Budget on the north side of the Municipal Building. Eventually, there were changes to those offices and the work was stored with the Art Commission of the City of New York. The mural was recently conserved and installed in the new Staten Island Courthouse.


Louis Ferstadt's 'Radio Service to the Public' in April, 1938.

The real mystery works are the two panels by Louis Ferstadt. They were never hung although originally commissioned and intended for the Director’s Office. The smaller, incomplete panel features an ear in the center, a radio announcer or operator and a girl on a swing with her legs like a phonograph needle on spinning record. The second panel shows musicians, an ear and around the outside are figures of people. It was titled “Radio Service to the Public.” Of all the murals, it is the least abstract. One might liken it to the more social realist works of the period with a political message. In this case, that radio is here to bring people together and enlighten them.

Louis Ferstadt is probably better known as a comic book artist than as a muralist. Many in the world of comics and graphic novels revere him for his pioneering work in the field. We can’t help but think that the work he did for the American Communist Party paper, The Daily Worker in the 1930s, may have something to do with why the WNYC mural never got mounted, and to this day, cannot be located. Perhaps, dear reader, you know where it is?


She was a gregarious young abstract artist who was influenced by the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian with whom she used to go dancing in Harlem. Later she married Jackson Pollock. Krasner worked hard and did many sketches for her WNYC assignment. They began as a series of still-lifes and gradually became more abstract. Unfortunately, she never got to complete her painting because the WPA mural project came to an end with World War II.  However today, at her bequest, her estate sells sketches for the murals and donates the money to support needy young artists. Two of these reproductions can be viewed on the eighth floor stairwell landing at the WNYC and WQXR studios in Manhattan.


Finally, one last contribution of the WPA Federal Art Project to WNYC remains on site. It is a cast aluminum sculpture “Harpist” by Max Baum and can be viewed in New York Public Radio’s eighth floor reception area.


*The WPA played a major role in WNYC’s history and ensured that the station not only stayed on the air, but grew significantly and prospered. WPA funding also underwrote drama and music programming, the rebuilding of our studios and the construction of a state-of-the-art transmitter facility in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

This article is based on a slideshow script originally written by former WNYC Senior Archivist Cara McCormick.

Audio courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

The Moon and Scientific Racism

One point I often make when talking with students about the books in the Archives & Special Collections is that printing is a capitalist enterprise. What I mean by that is that one must possess sufficient capital to purchase (or hire) a printing press with all of its equipment (e.g. type); then one must pay for the paper and the ink, the labor of setting type, the labor of operating the press, the warehouse space required to store your printed sheets, and so on before any profit can be made. If you want illustrations in your book, that would involve a completely separate process that requires its own specialized equipment and highly skilled labor, all of which requires funds.

It’s especially important to bear in mind the financial underpinnings of print when we look back at the history of scientific publishing. Which gives me an excuse to talk about one of my very favorite books: The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite by James Nasmyth (London, 1874).


Here’s a quick summary of Nasmyth’s project from an article by Frances Robertson in the journal Victorian Studies:

Having made his fortune as an industrialist and inventor with his Bridgewater Foundry in Manchester, the mechanical engineer James Nasmyth was able to retire in his late forties, in 1856, in order to devote himself to his longstanding passion for astronomy (Nasmyth, Autobiography 329). His main astronomical project, from 1842, had been a sustained series of lunar observations, culminating in his publication The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite (Nasmyth and Carpenter). Among the reasons Nasmyth’s book is noteworthy is that it was one of the first books to be illustrated by photo-mechanical prints.

Nasmyth used his fortune to publish his own peculiar theories about the moon, making full use of the very latest technology to include photographs like these:


The caption summarizes part of Nasmyth’s theory: when things get old, they shrink and become wrinkled; the moon is old, therefore its mountains may have been formed by shrinkage. He also had theories about volcanic activity being another factor in the formation of the lunar surface, which he supports with another piece of photographic evidence:


Bearing in mind that this work was published in 1874, these couldn’t possibly be actual photographs of the lunar surface and the region around Vesuvius in Italy. Nasmyth had the means to pay for the construction of plaster of Paris models of lunar and terrestrial landscapes, then to pay for photographs of those landscapes, which were then published in his book to support his theories. Of course the lunar surface looks remarkably similar to Vesuvius — he built both of the models!

While these photographs are beautiful to look at, it would be impossible to defend them as reliable scientific evidence of anything.


But if you have sufficient funds to produce a lavishly illustrated book, you can make whatever claims you want. I like to imagine the less wealthy amateur astronomers who read Nasmyth’s book and disagreed, but did not have the same means of promoting their counter-arguments. Nasmyth’s use of a range of illustration techniques makes this work a wonderful specimen for the teaching of book history, but I wouldn’t rely on it for any information about the moon.


All of these points are equally true of another nineteenth-century work in the Archives & Special Collections: Crania Americana; or, A Comparative View of the Skulls of Various Aboriginal Nations of North and South America: to which is Prefixed an Essay on the Varieties of the Human Species by Samuel George Morton (Philadelphia and London, 1839).


Although it was published decades before Nasmyth’s work, these two works are very similar in their use of printing technology to advance a particular scientific theory — a theory that modern science has absolutely disproved. Morton lays out his methods and apparatus for measuring the hundreds of human skulls he had collected.

crania-aparatus Many scholars have written about this book, a recent piece that specifically addresses Morton’s use of illustrations appeared in 2014 in the journal American Studies: “”Even the most careless observer”: Race and Visual Discernment in Physical Anthropology from Samuel Morton to Kennewick Man” by Fernando Armstrong-Fumero. Morton’s book boasts of the seventy-eight plates and color map right on the title page, a common practice, but one that ought to remind us that those plates were expensive to produce. The addition of color to the map was also a labor-intensive prospect, since each map was colored by hand:


A map like this one appears to be authoritative, but the data on which it is based are deeply flawed. Morton includes several pages of “Phrenological Measurements” — phrenology being the pseudo-science of determining personality traits and other characteristics by measuring human heads. According to phrenologists, human behaviors such as “Secretiveness,” “Hope,” and other categories can be quantified by measuring the appropriate part of the head:


I am intentionally NOT showing any of the plates of human skulls, mummies, and pickled heads that Morton includes in his work, but here is the “Phrenological Chart” in which the physical areas for each trait are outlined:


Morton was a major contributor to what is now known as “scientific racism” — the claim that different groups of homo sapiens can be categorized and ranked based on “objective” scientific measurements. I will be posting more on this topic in the months ahead as we prepare an exhibition on the topic of the dissemination of scientific racism over the last 300 years and more. The thread that connects the two books in this post runs throughout scientific publishing — the factors of technology and funding have shaped the history of scientific communication almost as much as the data and field work on which these works are based.

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club

Parts of the Pickwick Club in their original wrappers (Special Coll Vault — PR4569.A1 1836)

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Charles Dicken’s first novel, was published in installments by Chapman and Hall from March 1836 to November 1837. There were 20 parts issued in 19 volumes for a shilling each with 43 engraved plates. The first two parts were illustrated by Robert Seymour, who originally pitched the project to Chapman and Hall as a series of sporting sketches with accompanying commentary. But once Dickens – then known by his pen-nickname “Boz” – came on board the project, Seymour’s role was diminished. Dickens was notoriously hard on his illustrators. On April 20, 1836, Seymour committed suicide. R. W. Buss was brought on board to provide illustrations for the third part, but he was quickly replaced by H. K. “Phiz” Browne, who illustrated the remaining parts and went on to work with Dickens for many more years.

A tipped in cutlery catalog at the end of No. 19-20

While certainly not the first novel to be published in serialized parts, the Pickwick Club was the first to “go viral,” especially after the introduction of the beloved character Sam Weller. The final double installment of parts 19 and 20 was printed in a run of 40,000, an incredible increase from the 1,000 copies printed for the first part. FSU Special Collections & Archives has recently acquired a complete set of parts of the Pickwick Club in their original wrappers. Parts 9-10 and 12-20 include The Pickwick Advertiser, which are a treasure trove of Victorian era advertisements for everything from toothache remedies to easy chairs. Parts 14 and 19-20 include an additional tipped in catalog for Mech’s cutlery.

Bookbinder’s ticket in the 1837 single volume edition of the Pickwick Club (Special Coll Rare — PR4569.A1 1837)

These serialized parts nicely complement FSU Special Collections’ copy of the first single-volume edition of the Pickwick Club, printed from stereotypes of the original parts in 1837. FSU’s copy includes a binder’s ticket from “Alexander Miller, Bookseller, Port Street, Stirling” on the lower left-hand corner of the back pastedown. There is evidence of a bookseller named Alexander Miller active in Stirling, Scotland in 1852 and 1865-6. Indeed, ready-bound versions of popular works like the Pickwick Club would have been commonly available for purchase in bookshops like Miller’s in the middle of the nineteenth century. Stop by the Special Collections Research Center soon to look at these and other editions of Dickens’ works!

Vancouver Legacies Program photographs now online

We are excited to announce that 610 photographs from the Vancouver Legacies Program records series are now available online.

 Rendering of Granville Bridge Gateway of kinetic signs, a Legacies project that was not realized, ca. 1985 Reference code: PUB-: PD2471, page 7

Rendering of Granville Bridge Gateway of kinetic signs, a Legacies project that was not realized, ca. 1985. Reference code: PUB-: PD2471, page 7

The Vancouver Legacies Program was initiated by City Council in 1985 to prepare Vancouver for hosting the upcoming Centennial celebrations and Expo ’86 festivities.

In the words of Mayor Mike Harcourt, the purpose of the Vancouver Legacies Program was “to embellish our city with a fine collection of legacies in honor of our 1986 Centennial.”[1]

The objectives of the Vancouver Legacies Program were:

  • To identify improvements needed to enhance the environment of Vancouver
  • To facilitate private sponsorships to fund the improvements
  • To implement legacy projects once funding was in place

Mayor Harcourt appointed the Vancouver Legacies Program Advisory Committee to oversee the Program, which was managed by City planner Larry Beasley. Members of the Advisory Committee were Mayor Michael Harcourt (chairman), Gordon Campbell (co-chairman), Marguerite Ford, Bruce Yorke, Allan Bennett, Michael Francis and “a panel of distinguished Vancouver citizens.”[2]

New art for the Queen Elizabeth Theatre was one of the Vancouver Legacies Projects, 1986 or 1987. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111: CVA 775-31.1

New art for the Queen Elizabeth Theatre was one of the Vancouver Legacies Projects, photographed 1986 or 1987. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111: CVA 775-31.1

The program aimed to raise money to support over 50 public improvement projects. The committee approached this goal by dividing sponsorship into two parts:

  • Seeking corporate sponsorship for large projects
  • Reaching out to individual citizens through the Vancouver Gifts Program for smaller contributions and specific donations such as equipment, furnishings or volunteer time
Signboard showing sponsor names for the restoration of the Burrard Bridge, 1986 or 1987. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-131

Signboard showing sponsor names for the restoration of the Burrard Bridge, photographed 1986 or 1987. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-131

Between 1985 and 1987 the Vancouver Legacies program successfully completed 27 projects. The projects were planned for busy pedestrian and vehicular routes, especially those that were used as gateways to the downtown area. The following photographs depict some of these projects.

Restoration of the Burrard Bridge

The Burrard Bridge opened in 1932 and is an example of art deco style. The Vancouver Legacies program aimed to revive the bridge by cleaning the piers, reconditioning the art deco lanterns, restoring the lookout vestibules, and painting the entire structure to highlight its embellishments.

 Burrard Bridge before restoration, 1986. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-5.1

Burrard Bridge before restoration, 1986. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-5.1

After the restoration of the Burrard Bridge, 1986. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-86

After the restoration of the Burrard Bridge, 1986. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-86

Building the Portal Park Pavilion

The Portal Park Pavilion was built as a part of the Vancouver Legacies Program at the foot of Thurlow Street. The structure was built with pre-cast concrete steel and a glass pavilion. The Legacies program also funded a feature garden to bring seasonal colour to the downtown area.

Portal Park with view of North Shore, 1986 or 1987. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-29.3

Portal Park with view of North Shore, photographed 1986 or 1987. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-29.3

Installation of a Dog and People Drinking Fountain

Also known as the Galloway fountain, sponsored by Theresa Galloway through the Vancouver Gifts Program, the Dog and People Drinking Fountain was built on Robson Street between Hornby and Burrard Streets.

Theresa Galloway drinking from fountain at unveiling ceremony, 1986. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-189-: CVA 775-189.24

Theresa Galloway drinking from fountain at unveiling ceremony, 1986. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-189-: CVA 775-189.24

Queen Elizabeth Theatre Signboards

The Vancouver Legacies program raised funds to construct two signboards for the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and the Vancouver Playhouse. The main sign was a computerized electronic message board to be programmed by Civic Theatre staff at Georgia and Hamilton Streets. The other sign was located at Dunsmuir and Hamilton Streets and used hand-changed letters. The Bank of Montreal was one of the main sponsors of this project.

George Puil and Cats cast members in front Queen Elizabeth Theatre signboard, 1987. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-217

George Puil and Cats cast members in front Queen Elizabeth Theatre signboard, 1987. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-217

English Bay Bathhouse Exterior Restoration

The restoration of the English Bay Bathhouse included repair and painting of exterior walls, new lighting and beautification of the street-level roof deck and railings. Funds raised for the project included the proceeds from the sale of Centennial Swirl ice cream: mint, mango and papaya swirl in a lemon sorbet!

English Bay Bathhouse before repainting, 1986. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-40

English Bay Bathhouse before repainting, 1986. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-40

English Bay Bathhouse after repainting, 1986 or 1987. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-13.1

English Bay Bathhouse after repainting, photographed 1986 or 1987. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-13.1

English Bay Fishing Pier at Stanley Park

The Vancouver Legacies Program proposed to build a new pier at English Bay. Building upon the success of the Jericho Pier and nostalgia for the old English Bay Pier, the Legacies Program saw a new pier as a place for city dwellers to fish, swim and have fun. The proposal was met with some disagreement and as far as the records show never went past the community consultation phase. The photographs below show the Jericho Pier, not a Vancouver Legacies project. One of the photographs of the Jericho Pier was used in the Vancouver Legacies Program Catalogue.

Jericho Pier. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-54.4

Jericho Pier, photographed 1986 or 1987. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-54.4

Jericho Pier. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-54.2

Jericho Pier, photographed 1986 or 1987. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111-: CVA 775-54.2

Although none of the Expo ’86 structures were funded through the Legacies Program, there are many photographs showing the grounds and buildings, including this one of the McDonald’s Barge.

McBarge, 1986. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111: CVA 775-62.18

McBarge, 1986. Reference code: COV-S477-3-F111: CVA 775-62.18

Many of the Vancouver Legacies projects such as the Flame for Peace Monument can still be seen today. We even have a video of a Kitsilano NTV broadcast showing the lighting of the first flame called Message for Peace: The Lighting of the Peace Flame Monument. This video is under third party copyright, but is viewable for research purposes in person in our reading room.

Next time you are out and about see if you can spot any of Vancouver’s Legacies!

[1] Larry Beasley, Vancouver Legacies Program (Vancouver (B.C.). Planning Department, ca. 1986), 1. (PUB-: PD 2471).

[2] Ibid., 16. (PUB-: PD 2471).

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Trip to Russia

“All I can do is tell you how it looked to me,” the former First Lady tells her audience in this charmingly plain-spoken account of her 1957 visit to the Soviet Union. Neither a dupe nor a mindless booster, she provides a clear-eyed picture of what she saw. Although she wasn’t treated as a VIP, going through the regular Intourist Agency rather than applying to the more elite Exchange Committee, she realizes she was shown the best the country has to offer. “We do the same,” she points out, when entertaining foreign guests. Her argument for understanding the Soviet people’s tolerance for what, to us, would seem terrible deprivations, both material and of civil liberties, is the extreme youth of the new state, only forty years old, and the awful conditions Russians suffered under the Czars. Her opinions are uncensored and unvarnished. Of the building boom, “They have completely sacrificed beauty and quality to speed.” As for the Jews, despite Khrushchev’s assurances, she is quite sure they are “having their culture wiped out.” She is particularly interested in childcare, which is mandatory, and the situation of young mothers in general. While she dutifully reports that her bags were probably searched and that she was no doubt watched, she also points out how our own McCarran-Walter Act has led to similar suspicion and xenophobia here.

Also included is the text of a letter written to the New York Times from “a Leningrad housewife” and Mrs. Roosevelt’s public response. The letter is either the well-intentioned sentiments of a Soviet citizen or manufactured propaganda. It’s hard to say. It excoriates America for arming West Germany and conducting A-bomb tests. Mrs. Roosevelt’s measured answer is at pains to explain that the information the woman has been receiving may not be completely objective. She points out that, like the author, she has five children herself, and that the vast majority of Americans do not want war. In the end, rather typically, she invites her to come visit. This country has had few more decent-hearted ambassadors than Eleanor Roosevelt.

To fully appreciate the tightrope Roosevelt was walking here it is important to understand the political atmosphere of the time. Eleanor Roosevelt was always seen as being “to the left” of her husband. After his death and the start of the Cold War she was viewed by many with suspicion. As the website First Ladies explains:

Having no illusions about the human cost of the communist system, Eleanor Roosevelt viewed Soviet and Eastern European leaders and their intentions with a jaundiced eye, but believed strongly that continuing dialogue with them was vital. Opponents of this view often cast her throughout the 1950’s as a secret communist, or at least sympathetic to the socialism, charges she had encountered as First Lady. She was a leading and, at times, lone voice of concern about civil liberties as Senator Joseph McCarthy conducted his hearings seeking out those who might have communist sympathies within the government.

It’s instructive to turn to Roosevelt’s own newspaper column, My Day, where she goes deeper into some of the points she raises in this radio talk.

We must remember that the vast number of Soviet people have been peasants, have lived in huts in overcrowded conditions with no sanitation and other comforts, without medical care, without education and that religion was largely used to make these poor conditions of life accepted—a panacea to keep people quiet and make them think of a future life rather than of the miserable present. So it is natural that the present government stresses for the mass of people the possibilities of education, the giving of medical care, the security of a job and an old-age pension, even though it asks for sacrifices and offers comparatively slow progress in the more modern comforts of living….It seems to me that this situation calls for understanding on our part, respect for these achievements, but a firmer belief in the possibilities of our own system.

Such even-handed treatment was not the norm in the Fifties, when everyone was taking sides. Russia was either held to be the template for an inevitable global workers revolution or as a hideous totalitarian state holding its populace in slavery. As the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project at George Washington University points out:

ER’s columns, however, clearly attempt to show her American readers the humanity of the average Soviet citizen. She wrote extensively about the individuals she met, the churches and mosques she visited, and the food urged on her by all of her hosts. … At the same time, ER noted the inconsistencies she saw between Soviet ideology and the lives of its people, the long lines at groceries, and the signs of poverty she witnessed.. After returning to New York, she summed up her impressions, declaring the Soviet Union to be a “mass of contradictions.

The Eleanor Roosevelt of these two recordings seems to have no agenda other than sincerity. It’s striking how she treats her listeners as equals, rather than a constituency to be pandered to or opponents to be hectored.


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 8460
Municipal archives id: LT7730

FSU Bulletins now available on Diginole

HPUA Assistant Hannah Wiatt Davis disbinds a West Florida Seminary catalog that had been housed in buckram binding and non-archival glue. Photo by Sandra Varry.

We are happy to announce that a near-complete run of FSU Bulletins and Announcements has been uploaded to Diginole. This is a tremendous resource for those researching early history of FSU and alumni looking up course descriptions. The process to digitize the Bulletins was a long one, which included preservation work on early editions, digitizing over 500 volumes, and creating metadata for every issue.

Starting in 1880, the Bulletins contain rules for students, department and course descriptions, schedule of classes, as well as war-time campus defense initiatives, illustrated guides to campus, and advice for incoming freshman. The Bulletins can be viewed on Diginole: FSU’s Digital Repository. To see more photographs, ephemera, and artifacts related to the history of Florida State, check out the FSU Heritage Protocol Digital Collections or like the Heritage Protocol Facebook page.



Join us and REGISTER for the next public meeting of the PIDB!

When: Thursday, December 8, 2016 from 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

Doors Open: 8:45 a.m.

Where: The Archivist’s Reception Room, Room 105, National Archives and Records Administration

Address: 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC (Enter through the Pennsylvania Ave. Lobby)

The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) will hold a public meeting to discuss recommendations for improved transparency and open government for the new Presidential Administration.  The PIDB is soliciting ideas for revising Executive Order 13526, “Classified National Security Information” in support of reducing over-classification, improving declassification, and ensuring a credible and transparent security classification system.  More details about our presenters will be available in the coming weeks.

We will allot time for questions and comments from the public.

This meeting is open to the public. However, due to space limitations and access procedures, we require individuals planning to attend the meeting to register on Eventbrite.

Attendees must enter through the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance. Please note we require one form of Government-issued photo identification (e.g. driver’s license) to gain admittance. For questions about accessibility or to request accommodations, please contact the PIDB staff at 202-357-5342 or One week advance notice will allow us to provide the best access accommodations.

Press may contact NARA’s Public Affairs Office at 202-357-5300.

Be sure to stay connected to the Board’s activities and look for more information about the Board on its website and its blog, Transforming Classification.  

Have questions about Public Meeting of the Public Interest Declassification Board? Contact the Public Interest Declassification Board.

“A Stamped Whale or a Stove Boat: On Whalers’ Stamped Logs and Journals”

(This is a guest post by Mark Kelley, a researcher from the University of California, San Diego, who has been working with our Nicholson Whaling Collection in the past weeks. Follow him on Twitter @MarkBKelley. Thanks, Mark!)

“My stamps are poor and they look more like straddlebugs than porpoises.”


So notes Henry DeForrest, second mate during an 1852-1853 voyage from Massachusetts to the Atlantic and Pacific whaling grounds. During this fourteen-month journey aboard the William Rotch, DeForrest faithfully recounts his home on the water in daily journal entries. “It is written from the impulse of the moment,” he affirms eight months into his voyage, “just as I feel at the time of writing, so goes down.” Like many whalers and sailors, DeForrest augments this power of description with stamped pictures of the creatures whose lives (and deaths) ordered his daily life. Sailors created these stamps by cutting bone, ivory, or wood into the shape of whales or other marine animals. These stamps aided bookkeeping and also added interest to logbooks or journals that recount thousands of whaling and merchant voyages throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Much like scrimshaw (the carved and colored whalebone, ivory or shells that may also be found in the library’s collection) stamps are the product of maritime artistry as well as a deep engagement with marine materials.


Though DeForrest laments the quality of his porpoise stamps by comparing them to long-legged insects, he apparently had access to more materials than most. His journal’s back page reveals a wealth of figures that included sperm whales, dolphins, porpoises, and even ships. One sees evidence of this variety throughout his journal. DeForrest’s personal stamps may be lost to history (though maybe not!), but the library’s Nicholson Whaling Collection contains dozens of authentic stamps that match his description, in addition to hundreds of authentic logs and journals.


For example, this ivory stamp is in the form of a whale’s tail, or fluke. DeForrest used a similar stamp when the crew attacked but failed to catch a whale. The grooved and detailed handle shows that whoever crafted this artifact had some skill. The ink-soaked head also shows that the stamp got some good use. Artic bowhead whales may live to be over 200 years old, so some of the lucky escaped animals represented by this stamp could still be alive today!


In an equally poetic and dark twist, the bones of a captured whale could be refashioned as a stamp used to represent the death of another whale! The whales that DeForrest captured could also have been be noted using a wooden stamp much like the one above. This artifact lacks the detailed handle of the ivory example, but the careful carving of the whale’s features is impressive nonetheless. The portrayal of a smiling whale is certainly the result of artistic liberty, as sailors like DeForrest knew them to be ferocious creatures who could just as easily kill as be killed. As Herman Melville affirms in Moby Dick (1851), “A dead whale or a stove boat!” Or, one could say, “a stamped whale or a stove boat!”


A whaling ship’s thirty or so sailors relied on one another to stay afloat, but also welcomed the opportunity to see new faces. Ships that met at sea exchanged letters, news, or books. According to DeForrest, “The usual practice among whale ships is when they speak each other, to have a Gamm as it is called__I.E. visit each other.” DeForrest always mentioned the ships he had a “gamm” with, and often marked the event with a stamp much the one above. If whale stamps represented a time of hard labor, a ship’s stamp could mark a time of relative leisure. “Many of these Gamms end in a drunken spree,” DeForrest quips, “_ and many do not.”


If you have the chance, stop by the Special Collections Department for a “gamm” and hold whaling history in your hands!

Veterans Day

Every day at the National Archives, we hear extraordinary stories from veterans and their families. Veterans Day presents us with a great opportunity to highlight an important collection within the National Archives: Official Military Personnel Folders, which document the actions of our nation’s military veterans. It fills us with great pride to be able to process, protect, and service records for veterans and their families.

Earlier this week I traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to honor both the veterans who comprise the workforce of our National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), as well as the staff who provide services to our veterans. NPRC holds more than 56 million military service records and responds to 4,000 – 5,000 requests each day. Most of these requests come directly from veterans and their families who need prompt access to military service records to support their pursuit of important benefits. Others need these records to pursue the verification and replacement of medals and awards or the preparation of family histories. Preserving these records and servicing these requests is important work performed by the National Archives, and our mission is to provide world class service to military veterans and their family members.

Here are just a few of the stories of the lives we’ve touched as our staff meet the needs of the men and women who have served their country:

John Joseph Scala is an 88-year-old Korean War veteran. With support from his niece and a local television producer, Mr. Scala contacted the NPRC for support in obtaining medals he earned while in service. Using records from NPRC’s holdings, our staff was able to verify the awards and order replacements to be issued by the Department of the Army. After receiving his medals, Mr. Scala sent us this image in which he proudly displayed his medals and thanked us for helping him receive them.

Photo of Mr. John Joseph Scala proudly displaying his service medals

Photo of Mr. John Joseph Scala proudly displaying his service medals

During my visit to NPRC, its workforce shared with me other expressions of gratitude recently received from veterans and their families:

Letter thanking staff for sending military service records

Email thanking National Archives employees for work

Postcard thanking National Archives staff for assistance with military service records

Letter thanking National Archives staff for assistance sending military service records to widow

As these thank you notes illustrate, supporting our nation’s veterans through access to military service records is a great responsibility as Archivist of the United States. On this Veterans Day I salute the 615 veterans who are members of the National Archives family along with all others who have served.

The Role of the National Archives in the Presidential Transition

With this week’s election, we Americans determined the next chapter in our country’s history. I am proud to have exercised my vote and I hope you did the same. As private citizens we participated in an act of living democracy. Today, we do the same as Federal employees dedicated to preparing our agency for a smooth Presidential transition.

At the advent of each new administration, the National Archives prepares briefing materials that explain who we are as an agency and what we do and why it matters. We share these with the President-elect’s Transition Team.  All Executive Branch agencies are required to do this, but the National Archives has special transition responsibilities.

Constitution of the United States, Page 1

The Constitution of the United States

We are planning for and have already begun the physical transfer of hundreds of millions of textual, electronic, and audiovisual records and additional materials to a temporary facility in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, that will store the records of the eventual Barack Obama Presidential Library.  We are also planning for the transfer of legal custody of those records on January 20, 2017, the care of those records, and the development of the Library itself.

The National Archives is engaged with Federal agencies and oversight and advisory groups to ensure that both incoming and outgoing political appointees are properly trained and properly preserving their records. We provide training materials that offer guidance to the latest amendment to the Federal Records Act. The National Archives is a permanent member of the Agency Transition Directors Council, as well, from which we advise best practices to ensure that all Federal records are protected during administration changes.

The peaceful transition of power and knowledge from one Presidential Administration to another is both a cornerstone and a cyclical event of American democracy. Yet even as we progress through that transition, our mission, our vision, our values remain unchanged. We will continue to do our best work on behalf of the American public and the records that future historians will turn to in understanding our era’s events.

Darlington Hoopes for President!

In this 1952 broadcast, Socialist Party presidential candidate Darlington Hoopes makes his case.  The post-war economy is benefitting the few, he argues, not the many. More people work part-time and can’t make ends meet. There is growing insecurity about plant closings. He cites figures showing that during the Depression those on the bottom of the economic pyramid actually shared a bigger slice of the pie than now. Increased production has accounted for more goods so the poor seem to be doing better but their relative wealth has gone down. The villain? Big business and its stranglehold on the economic system.

That’s why capitalism has to go. The steel companies (“I think the word is usually misspelled”) and other corporations manipulate markets for their own gain, not the good of the people. Hoopes points to the British Labour Party, with its nationalization of key industries, as a model for socialist reform. He offers the vision of a classless society with no discrimination, of a government that, in the interests of world peace, reaches out to the poor of Africa and Asia. “They’re not going to sit by and peaceably starve to death!” He calls for a grand public works campaign of new schools, hospitals, libraries, and dams. The banks want to do the economic planning, not the people. But when the banks fail, what do they get? Bailouts! He even makes a shockingly early reference to what we would now call ecology and food safety, pointing out that bleached flour, which they call “enriched,” is really “depleted!” Except for his quaint delivery and earnest brandishing of statistic after statistic, Hoopes’ warnings about income inequality and corporate lawlessness sound as relevant today as they must have sixty years ago. Yet in the election that followed he only got 20,000 votes.

Darlington Hoopes (1896-1989) was a lawyer and perennial political candidate, mostly in his home state of Pennsylvania. Socialism was a longstanding tradition in his family, which could trace its Quaker roots back to 1683, when a descendant crossed the Atlantic to help found William Penn’s colony. Hoopes’ son, asked about the origins of his father’s beliefs when interviewed by the Reading Eagle, points out:

He was a “birthright” Quaker, meaning both mother and father were members of the Religious Society of Friends. His was a religious socialism and, naturally, his concern for his fellow men and women was rooted in his Quaker beliefs. Don’t forget, Quakers figured in many of the 20th century’s progressive movements – women’s suffrage, prison reform, civil rights and the peace movement.

Hoopes had run for vice president on Norman Thomas’ Socialist ticket in 1944. His poor showing (even for a third party candidate) can be partly be attributed to a fragmentation of the political left. His opponents that year included representatives of the Progressive Party, the Socialist Labor Party and the Socialist Workers Party. His ambitious platform is presented matter-of-factly, as if it would be relatively easy to implement. His tone is not the fire-and-brimstone of a communist agitator but the energetic urging of a college professor or lay preacher. As reports:

Unlike the major-party candidates, though, Mr. Hoopes ran a campaign that cost only $150 and that saw him give a speech in Kenosha, Wis., to an audience of one. As a Socialist, he called for nationalization of banks, railroads, coal mines and the steel industry, and for strengthening the United Nations and reuniting the Germanys. “The wealthy have long used the power of government to enrich themselves,” he said in a radio address Oct. 31, 1952. “In a democracy, government is a tool that should be used to advance the common welfare.”

But Hoopes was not some dreamy, ineffectual do-gooder. He had been a lawyer and politician for many years and is credited with working on legislation that outlawed child labor in Pennsylvania. As the New York Times noted:

Mr. Hoopes did win public office in Pennsylvania…holding a seat in the State House of Representatives from 1930 to 1936 and at one point being voted the ”most able legislator” by journalists.

Hoopes comes across in this broadcast as the quintessential nice guy candidate. In contrast to the cliché, he did not finish last. He finished sixth, in a field of eight. 


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 69712
Municipal archives id: LT875

Scientific Methods: Appleton and The Young Chemist

We wanted to share some excellent scientific illustrations from a recently-cataloged, 1897 edition of John Howard Appleton’s The young chemist: a book of laboratory work for beginners. 

Appleton, born in Maine in 1844, was a chemistry professor at Brown University, as well as the Rhode Island State Sealer of Weights and Measures. (What a fantastic title, right?) He wrote twelve chemistry texts, including The young chemist, which was first published in 1878.


The Year-Book of Education for 1879 describes The young chemist thusly:

The Young Chemist is a manual of instruction in chemistry on the experimental or object method, of which the characteristic advantages as regarded by the author are: the apparatus described and the supplies called for are of the simplest character; the experiments are described in clear and simple language, and in direct form; dangerous experiments are excluded; the chemical elements are discussed in a scientific order; formulas and reactions are introduced freely, so that the student learns the new nomenclature and the new notation without suspecting it.

This description fails to mention the detailed illustrations, which really have everything one could want in terms of chemistry-themed visuals:


Test tubes! Open flames!


A guy blowing bubbles in a beaker!


Quartz (SiO2) crystals, which looks to be straight out of the Cueva de los Cristales!

If this blog post is causing you to have an insatiable urge to carry out simple science experiments, you should check out NPR’s article on experiments using leftover Halloween candy. Just make sure to keep Appleton’s hints in mind.



A Mid-Century Look at the American Film Industry

MoMA asks, Does the Public Get What it Wants? In this 1950 symposium, the Film Department at the Museum of Modern Art invites stars, producers, distributors, critics, and the audience to consider the state of movies in America. It’s an interesting time to survey the medium. The five major studios still own theaters but they are being challenged in what will prove to be a successful lawsuit by the Justice Department. The Hollywood star system is still in place but showing cracks. Independent films are a rarity but garnering attention.

The panel consists of actor and producer Robert Montgomery, the famous silent star and co-founder of United Artists Mary Pickford, distributor Arthur Mayer, independent producer Janice Loeb, and critic Gilbert Seldes. Of these, Montgomery, Mayer, and Pickford provide most of the insights. Seldes brandishes statistics, showing that the movie industry is in trouble, with viewership down. Montgomery complains of tensions between the creative side of the industry and those who regard movies as a commodity. Pickford agrees, claiming stars are over-exploited. She plaintively recalls, “I didn’t want to play a little girl all the time.”

Mayer takes good-natured offense at all this. He denies that distributors are the villains, claiming they have almost no influence on the content of films. The talk turns to censorship. Montgomery complains of “censor board and legions” that can keep films out of “entire territories of the country.” What this inevitably leads to is self-censorship, as well. Mayer points out that because of “block booking” he, as the distributor, couldn’t object to a movie’s content if he wanted to. He then makes an impassioned plea for film as “a high form of national expression,” pointing to such popular movies as Hope and Crosby’s Road to Utopia as the “people’s art.” Montgomery counters with a very funny story about his making, in the face of virulent studio opposition, the highly regarded Night Must Fall. Mayer reminds the New York audience that the most popular current film, by far, is the current installment of the rustic Ma and Pa Kettle series. This is a valuable snapshot of a now distant time in cinematic history, somewhat marred by unnamed moderator’s longwinded interjections.

Mary Pickford (1892-1979) was the first American movie star. An astute businesswoman as well as actress, once talkies came in she moved over to the distribution and producing side of movie-making. But she will always be known as America’s Sweetheart. The Woman Pioneers Film Project notes:

Pickford is often remembered for her portrayals of children in films including Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917) and Daddy-Long-Legs (1919). …Pickford’s petite size and youthful beauty made her ideal for these parts, but it was her acting talent that seared these roles into the public consciousness. Her portrait of childhood captured both the simplicity and complexity of a young person’s inner world, and also its physicality, through body language and mannerism.

Robert Montgomery (1904-1981) was a successful stage and screen actor for many years. By the time of this symposium, however, he had moved into directing and producing, at which he was also quite successful. His highly critical analysis of the studio system is echoed in later comments he would make on the then burgeoning medium of television. As the New York Times reported in his obituary:

In later years, Mr. Montgomery became sharply critical of the networks, charging that they were taking too much control of production and weakening the quality of the programming. He said this was true not only of dramatic shows, but also of news programming. ”The networks put on a man who is a personality cult, who reads headlines only and doesn’t give the basis for them,” he said once on the lecture circuit. Mr. Montgomery, a champion of public television, suggested that noncommercial television should be financed by a tax on the sales of time by commercial television.

Arthur Mayer (1886-1981) is by far the most colorful of the speakers. A true industry insider, he was far from the clueless distributor he portrays himself as here. Indeed, he was later honored by the Museum of Modern Art and taught film for many years.  On the site Yesterdays of Demopolis (Mayer was born in Demopolis, Alabama) one of his former students remembers him fondly:

Arthur Mayer’s calendar resembled that of a farm worker who follows the crops: he taught History of Film at Dartmouth in the autumn and at Stanford in the spring; and he taught Economics of the Film Industry at USC in the winter.  He and his wife, Lillie, spent their summers in Manhattan.  “They make much more fuss over you if you’re there only three months,” he told me.  “If you’re there all the time, you’re just another guy.” Arthur – no one called him Professor Mayer – was never just another guy.  He didn’t merely teach the history of film, he’d lived it.  By the time he turned to teaching, in 1964, he had run the Paramount Pictures publicity department; distributed the postwar films of Jean Renoir, Vittorio de Sica and Federico Fellini; managed New York’s Rialto Theatre; and produced some B movies.  Hearing Arthur lecture was like taking an industrial engineering class from Henry Ford.


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 68925
Municipal archives id: LT271

The Archives is back at Vancity Theatre for Vancouver: Exponential Change

Vancouver: Exponential Change is coming to Vancity Theatre on November 20th and 27th at 3:30 pm. It is the seventh annual screening of digitized movies from the Archives’ holdings. Michael Kluckner, local historian, will be providing insightful commentary, while Wayne Stewart, pianist, will provide music for the film segments shot without sound. This year’s show takes a look at what Vancouverites have gotten up to in their spare time. Here is a preview of this year’s screening.

The first film of the series includes excerpts from Bastard Love, a film made by prominent Vancouver families in 1928, including members of the Rogers, Tupper, and Molson families, and shot on the grounds of Shannon Estate. It was a home-made production shot with the characteristic melodrama found in films of that period. The dialogue slides tell bits of the story, with amusing lines, such as, “Can you come with us to Switzerland?” and “How perfectly ripping!”

Still from Bastard Love, 1928. Reference code:

Still from Bastard Love, 1928. Reference code AM1368-S3-: 2015-049.1

After spending time in the black and white silent era, the program moves onto Vancouver Honeymoon, a coloured tourism promotional, created by the City and the Greater Vancouver Tourism Association, and sponsored by local companies. One will enjoy a drive along the Sea to Sky highway, as it was circa 1960, take a stroll in Stanley Park, check out parts of UBC, and marvel at the natural beauty in which Vancouver is nestled, while being reminded that Vancouver is “so young her story is still being written, but old enough to develop a personality that is all her own.”

Still from Vancouver Honeymoon, . Reference code: AM1487-: MI-590

Still from Vancouver Honeymoon, 1961. Reference code: AM1487-: 2013-020.24

After honeymooning, one will be taken through PNE footage shot around 1950, then jump forward a few decades with various excerpts from Vancouver’s centennial and Expo celebrations from 1986. Great street and aerial footage abounds in these segments, allowing one to see how much Vancouver has, and has not Expo-nentially changed.

Still from _____,1967. Reference code:

Still from PNE Grounds, 1961. Reference code: AM1601-S1-: 2012-010.14

Still from ___-1967). Reference code:

Still from Expo Views, 1986. Reference code: AM1553-8-S7-: MI-239

Regardless of whether it is the 1920’s, 50’s, 60’s, 80’s, or today, it is clear that Vancouverites have been and still are busy enjoying their leisure time creating, playing, relaxing, and exploring the beautiful city many of us call home.

Also in the offerings on November 20th  is a rescreening of 2014’s show Vancouver – A Progressive City. This screening includes construction of Lions Gate Bridge, early milk delivery service, and a cameo by Major Matthews, the city’s founding archivist. It looks at Vancouver’s workforce, commerce, heritage, culture and important celebrations. Here is the trailer for the 2014 redux.

Vancouver: Exponential Change screens November 20th and November 27 at 3:30 pm. Vancouver – A Progressive City screens November 20th at 6:45 pm.

Medieval beasts in the stacks

For this year’s Halloween post, I wanted to share some of my favorite books from the rare book collection in Special Collections. I am not a Medieval scholar, but I do enjoy looking through the various books on animals, mythical or real, from the Middle Ages. Books of beasts, or Bestiary, went beyond use as a scientific observation of animals. Rather the descriptions included for each animal where meant as elaborate metaphors littered with colorful language. The most well known were written in Latin and included stories as well as illustrations.
Book of Beasts: a facsimile of MS Bodley 764. Written in Latin in the 13th Century. PR275.B47 H36 2008
 Though we now know that a considerable amount of animals described in these books are mythical in nature, Bestiaries more importantly served to reinforce teachings on virtue and proper behavior. Each animal’s characteristics were tied to a purpose in the moral of each story. For example, ants, known for creating elaborate underground dwellings and working in unison, reflect on the importance of people working together for a common good. Graceful swans are described as singing a beautiful song before their death, or swan song. Given that these books were vested in Jewish, Christian and Islamic tradition, it is understandable to see why Bestiaries were second in popularity to the Bible.
Illustration of a Fairy Dog from A Scottish bestiary: the lore and literature of Scottish beasts (1978) from the Scottish Collection. QL259.T48 1978
Drawing on the tradition of Medieval Bestiaries, contemporary works are meant to capture whimsy and intrigue. A Child’s Bestiary, found in our Shaw Collection of children’s book, was published in the late 1970s. The book’s purpose is to educate children on a variety of animals found in different countries. Each entry contains a humorous description or poem followed by a drawing of the animal.
There are also fictional Bestiaries based on popular media such as the magical creatures in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them from the Harry Potter book series. As well as a fantasy bestiary created by graphic designer Swann Smith for the MTV series Teen Wolf. 
For further reading on Medieval Manuscripts in general, take a look at the research guide created by our Rare Book Librarian Kat Hoarn. There is also a fun website dedicated to sorting through metaphorical descriptions of the animals in Medieval Bestiaries.

Italian immigration into WA

Damien Hassan
Monday, October 31, 2016 – 13:10

The State Records Office of WA (SRO) was very pleased to recently host University of Notre Dame student Kathleen Del Casale for a research-based placement during the semester. Kathleen is completing a Bachelor of Arts degree and as part of her studies was required to undertake an internship at a participating institution. Kathleen conducted her placement at SRO to carry out research on Italian immigration into WA using primary source material held in the State Archives Collection, as well as published sources held by other institutions.

Kathleen states: “I was very excited to be accepted as an intern at the SRO. The use of primary documents is so vital in any historic research. Seeing the evidence first hand from the government archives gave me a direct link with the past, embellishing my interpretation and experience in general. While it was daunting to begin my research, the more experience I had in searching and requesting documents, the higher my confidence rose. My suggestion for anyone intending to do similar research through the SRO is to keep your mind open to where you might find information, try different types of documents, explore, you never know where the best information may appear.”

Kathleen was able to gain a greater insight into using government archives for historical research and to integrate theory with practice. Kathleen prepared a historical summary of Italian Immigration into WA as a result of her research.

The SRO strongly supports and encourages the use of government archives by University students for all types of research, be it historical, heritage, architectural, legal or other.

We wish Kathleen all the best for any future studies she conducts.


It’s that spooky time of year again…

Illustration of baby skeletons from Physica Sacra, Johann Jakob Scheuchzer, 1731

And these weeping baby skeletons want to wish you…

Physica Sacra, 1731, plate 23, XI
Physica Sacra, 1731, plate 23, IX
Physica Sacra, 1731, plate 23, VIII

a happy…

Physica Sacra, 1731, plate 23, detail





This creepiness courtesy of plate 23 from Physica Sacra (or Sacred Physics) by Johann Jakob Scheuchzer, published in 1731. This impressive work was created with the goal of explaining the bible scientifically and is famous for its 784 full page illustrations… including this illustration of Genesis chapter 1, verses 26-27 decorated with the stages of fetal development and infant skeletons.

Physica Sacra, 1731, plate 23, VII

You’re a What? Digital Archivist Edition

Archives Month is when we shout from the rooftops about archives; what are they, what do they have and why you should care. Here at FSU Special Collections & Archives, we participate in #AskAnArchivist day and put together other activities as we are able each year. However, we deal with the most obvious question people could ask 365 days a year…what does an archivist do?

For me, that question is usually a double head scratcher because not only am I an archivist, I am a digital archivist. In my daily work, that is really broken down into three main areas of work: digital project management, digital library management and born-digital material management and preservation. All of which are still probably Greek to you so let me explain.

Digital Project Management

A screenshot of how we organize and track a project
A screenshot of how we organize and track a project

No one told me when I went to get my MSI that I should have probably worked on becoming a certified Project Manager too. Instead, I’ve had to learn by making lots of mistakes as digital projects come through the Digital Library Center. Unfortunately, we have not come up with a magic way to digitize materials and get them into the FSU Digital Library so a lot of planning and then work goes into any set of materials you may find online. I enjoy this part of my work (it’s the organizer in me) but it wasn’t exactly what I thought I was signing up for when I became a digital archivist.

Digital Library Management

Screenshot of the FSU Digital Library
The FSU Digital Library has grown fast since we moved into our new platform in February 2013.

The FSU Digital Library grows in leaps and bounds each year and a team of us work on making sure it grows within our standards and in a way that keeps it useful and relevant for our users. Once a digital project is started, a lot of my work goes into figuring out a user’s needs when interacting with said material. What collection does it belong in? How does it need to be searched? What display would best suit the materials?

Born-Digital Material Management and Preservation

Screenshot of a possible born-digital processing workflow
A look at the digital processing workflow we’re working on to start working on born digital collections we already have in-house

This is the part of the job I am still growing into and learning more about all the time. It’s the part of archives a lot of us don’t know what to think about yet. But, take this fact and stew on it: The Word document you created today is a let less stable than the letter someone wrote 100 years ago. We know how to preserve and protect the paper. The Word document? We’re still figuring that out. As FSU Libraries moves into deciding how we’ll process, provide access and preserve digital records (including web content), I’ll be sure to share more about that aspect of my work on the blog!

So, at the end of the day, I usually tell people that a digital archivist is someone who gets to live in the best of both worlds; I get to handle and work with the cool old “stuff” but also work with all the cool 21st century gadgets which help archives to make these items more accessible while also dealing with any other 21st century document problems the archives wants to throw at me. Bring it on!

The Birth of “McCarthyism”

Senator Joseph McCarthy rails against former president Harry Truman in this 1953 speech. Truman, McCarthy claims, has been popularizing “McCarthyism,” a term coined by the Communist Party paper The Daily Worker, as a derogatory label for the senator’s attempt to rid the State Department and other federal institutions of Soviet spies. (In fact, most historians credit the cartoonist Herblock with inventing the word.)  McCarthy suggests another entry in the political lexicon: “Trumanism,” which he defines as “the placing of your political party above the interests of the country.” He then goes on to accuse Truman of protecting the accused Soviet spy Harry Dexter White, a high-ranking US Treasury official who died of a heart attack in 1948. He details Truman’s shifting series of excuses for not acting on intelligence reports that White was passing information on to the Soviets. McCarthy’s voice drips with sarcasm as he cites evidence from J. Edgar Hoover “a man whose truthfulness has not even been questioned by the Communist Party.” In the end, he interprets Truman’s blaming of “McCarthyism” for hounding White to death as another way of saying, “Isn’t that nasty McCarthy an awful man?” He then broadens his attack, envisioning America being engaged in a war that was declared by Lenin in 1914. Recently 180 million people were under the yoke of communism. Now the figure has risen to 800 million. He blames “fuzzy-minded liberals” for refusing to confront the danger head-on.

For those who have only heard McCarthy in sound bites, this eight minute speech provides an excellent example of his speaking style and helps understand the enormous power he briefly wielded. Compared to the empty, orotund phrase-making popular (then and now) politicians use when addressing grand issues, McCarthy’s delivery is intimate, possessing a sly humor reminiscent of W.C. Fields. One is tempted to patronizingly dismiss his message of a “Red” under every bed as paranoid fear-mongering, but recent evidence released by US intelligence sources and cables discovered after the fall of the Soviet Union strongly suggest that White was indeed passing information to the USSR, an accusation his family still denies.

Harry Dexter White (1892-1948) was an economist whose greatest moment came at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944. The foundations for the post-War economy were laid at this meeting, with the establishment of both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. White then became Director of the IMF but resigned abruptly in 1947. After testifying in front of the HUAC committee and denying he was a communist, White died of heart attack which some report was brought on by an overdose of digitalis. Historian James C. Van Hook, reviewing Treasonable Doubt; The Harry Dexter White Spy Case, on the CIA website, lays out the opposing points of view on White’s complicity:

As historians of the Cold War have long realized, one can explain developments in the early Cold War seemingly inimical to American interests—such as the division of Germany and the fall of China—without recourse to the simplistic charge of espionage. History is complex, and when history goes badly, it is not ipso facto the result of sabotage or betrayal. The problem with this approach, however, is that sometimes it runs up against contravening evidence. This is the problem Craig faces when discussing the VENONA decrypts and other data mined from recently opened Russian archives. … One may argue over whether these cables offer unmistakable evidence of espionage, but they certainly amount to more than what Craig terms “hard, circumstantial evidence” of inappropriate contact.

Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957) had a meteoric rise and fall, capturing headlines with his sensational charges of a wide-ranging Communist infiltration of government. Reviled after his death and for many years since, he has recently been the subject of attempts at rehabilitation, although most historians agree that the damage he did was out of all proportion to whatever “spies” or mere left-wing sympathizers he uncovered. As the Encyclopedia Britannica concludes:

After McCarthy’s reelection in 1952, he obtained the chairmanship of the Committee on Government Operations of the Senate and of its permanent subcommittee on investigations. For the next two years he was constantly in the spotlight, investigating various government departments and questioning innumerable witnesses about their suspected communist affiliations. Although he failed to make a plausible case against anyone, his colourful and cleverly presented accusations drove some persons out of their jobs and brought popular condemnation to others. The persecution of innocent persons on the charge of being communists and the forced conformity that the practice engendered in American public life came to be known as McCarthyism. Meanwhile, other government agencies did, with less fanfare, identify and prosecute cases of communist infiltration.


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 151018
Municipal archives id: LT2634

The Year Without a Homecoming Queen

Serious drama began unfolding in October 1972 in the lead up to Florida State University’s homecoming week. As reported in the Florida Flambeau, students had an unconventional choice for Homecoming Queen: Ron Shank.shank

Mr. Shank’s candidacy for homecoming queen stirred up plenty of controversy. Administrators balked. Rallies were held in his support. Lawyers were consulted. In response to Homecoming Committee chair Dr. Marshall Hamilton’s comments that Shank was destroying the dignity of Homecoming, an commentor wrote:

On the contrary, Dr. Hamilton, we think Ron might enhance the dignity of Homecoming. He certainly appeared dignified in the picture in yesterday’s Flambeau. Such pomp and outright elan–if you will–certainly couldn’t harm the ceremony.

One person even wrote in to express his fears of a racist conspiracy being afoot; Mr. Shank merely being used as an excuse to cancel the entire homecoming court, which had had African-American Queens the previous two years.

Conspiracy or no, that’s exactly what happened. The Homecoming Committee declined to have a Homecoming court for the year of 1972, and University President Stanley Marshall elected to not get involved.

Let’s close with some words from the man himself:

I ran for Homecoming Queen because I don’t believe in parading Women (or Men) around on a stage under the auspices of a beauty contest when physical beauty is only a minor part of a person’s true beauty and definitely not the sole criteria of one’s worth.

Read all about the controversy in the Florida Flambeau in the DigiNole: Digital Library.

100,000 digital objects now online

Late last week, our digitization efforts reached a significant milestone:  we now have over 100,000 digital objects available online for your use and re-use!

Screenshot of Browse Digital Objects result on

Screenshot of Browse Digital Objects result on

We’ll be featuring some of the new content in future blog posts, but here are some examples of what’s been added recently:

Chilly children in Open Air School classroom, ca. 1926. Reference code: AM1376-: CVA 96-3

Chilly children in Open Air School classroom, ca. 1926. Reference code:
AM1376-: CVA 96-3

Sawmill and ships at Fraser Mills, ca. 1900. Reference code: AM1376-: CVA 91-1

Sawmill and ships at Fraser Mills, ca. 1900. Reference code: AM1376-: CVA 91-1

Mayor Art Phillips taking oath of office, 1975. Reference code: COV-S532-F01-: CVA 93-3

Mayor Art Phillips taking oath of office, 1975. Reference code: COV-S532-F01-: CVA 93-3

Many of these images are a result of our ongoing project to digitize the content of our CVA photo reference binders. These red binders contain copy prints and photocopies of many of the photographs in our holdings, excluding those in the Major Matthews Photograph Collection. As collections are digitized and uploaded to our database, we pull the reference copies and retire the binders, one after the other. Frequent visitors to our reading room may have noticed their diminishing number. The binders used to occupy 15 shelves. Now we’re down to only five.

Our ever-diminishing red CVA photo reference binders

Our ever-diminishing red CVA photo reference binders

We have more than photographs online, though. There are over 2500 maps and plans available, such as this one showing Vancouver population density by traffic zone:

Map showing population density by traffic zone, 1955. Reference code: COV-S445-3-: LEG26.4

Map showing population density by traffic zone, 1955. Reference code: COV-S445-3-: LEG26.4

We also have over 540 film and video works online, with more to be uploaded in the coming weeks. Two of our favourites are:

Still from The New Granville Bridge (1954). Reference Code: COV-S361-: MI-2

Still from The New Granville Bridge (1954). Reference Code: COV-S361-: MI-2

Still from Protest (1981). Reference code: AM1487-: MI-252

Still from Protest (1981). Reference code: AM1487-: MI-252

And we have over 230 audio recordings available, mostly from the Dunbar History Project fonds, Yaletown Productions fonds and Vancouver Centennial Commission fonds. Check out a recently added recording of Frank Sinatra inviting residents of Vancouver to the Centennial celebration kickoff event and wishing Vancouver a happy 100th birthday.

Also available online are 554 sets of 1970s City Council minutes representing 23,000 pages of text:

First page of Council meeting minutes, Incorporation Day, April 6, 1971

First page of Council meeting minutes, Incorporation Day, April 6, 1971

And here is a newly-added image of the 1975 City Council being sworn into office:

Alderpersons Rankin, Harcourt, Volrich, Boyce and Kennedy at inaugural Council meeting, 1975. Reference code COV-S532-F01-: CVA 93-5

Alderpersons Rankin, Harcourt, Volrich, Boyce and Kennedy at inaugural Council meeting, 1975. Reference code:
COV-S532-F01-: CVA 93-5

These digital resources would not be available without the support of a number of generous funding agencies and individual donors over the years. Since 2002, the Friends of the Vancouver City Archives has contributed to the description and digitization of our photographic holdings, securing over $133,000 in BC Community Gaming grants and matching that with over $103,000 from memberships, donations and event ticket sales. The BC History Digitization Program has been a source of digitization funding for photographs, maps and plans and text since 2007. Prior to 2009, we made use of funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage and Library and Archives Canada through the Canadian Council of Archives. Organizations such as Lantic Inc. and the Dunbar Residents Association have contributed to specific projects as well.

We’d love to hear how you make use of these resources, and we look forward bringing you many more.

Bad Children of History #29: Quarrelsome Bob

Today’s Bad Child of History, Quarrelsome Bob, is creating a true ruckus. Look at those dust clouds! Look at his rival’s wildly disheveled hair! (Note also that Bob has managed to keep his cap stylishly perched on his head through the melee.)


This belligerent boy can be found on a card in “Game of Master Rodbury and his Pupils”, a card game printed in 1844 by W. & S.B. Ives in Salem, Massachusetts.


The instructions look a little confusing at first glance, but if anyone wants to stop by and delicately try it out, I’m game.

1980 Water Shortage

Amherst College and Western Massachusetts have experienced below-average rainfall amounts for a seventh straight month this year and as a result, water levels in town reservoirs are the lowest they have been in recent history. In mid-August, the state of Massachusetts issued a drought watch for the Connecticut River Region and the Town of Amherst has imposed mandatory water conservation measures for the town, including Amherst College campus.

If you’re on campus, you’ve likely noticed these signs around encouraging conscious consumption and water conservation.

Amherst College 2016 Drought Response poster

In the fall of 1980, Amherst experienced a severe water shortage due to a very dry summer, several hot days in September, an unusually light snowfall the preceding winter, and the yearly influx of many thousands of students to the area.

The Amherst Student, Sept. 11, 1980

The Amherst Student, Sept. 11, 1980

The Amherst Student, Sept. 11, 1980

In early September, University of Massachusetts, the largest of the three colleges in Amherst, closed campus for several days as an emergency response to lessen demands on the town’s water supply.

The Amherst Student Sept 15, 1980

The Amherst Student, Sept 15, 1980

By mid-September 1980, Amherst College director of land conservation and assistant to the director, along with a newly established Amherst College conservation program, met with all first year students to educate about wasteful habits and to promote on-campus awareness about water and energy conservation.  The conservation program offered suggestions to students about ways to reduce their water use:

  1. “Turn off the water when brushing teeth, washing face, and shaving.
  2. Use plugs in sink–fill the sink with hot water instead of letting the faucet run.
  3. Use full loads in washing machines and
  4. For those living off-campus, purchase the low-flow shower heads that all Amherst dorms already use.”
The Amherst Student, Sept. 29, 1980

The Amherst Student, Sept. 29, 1980

The Amherst Student, Sept. 29, 1980By October 1980, the water supply emergency had abated and the Town of Amherst completed the construction of a new well in South Amherst.  Student members of the Amherst Water Conservation Project, a state-funded study, established goals for water conservation in Amherst:

  • “To allow the town to remain self-sufficient in its water supply;
  • To extend the life of the town’s new sewage treatment plant;
  • To postpone or eliminate the need to develop new water sources;
  • To improve water quality by allowing the town to use its higher quality water sources;
  • To avoid future water shortages.”

The Amherst Student reported that members of the Conservation Project were meeting with the Physical Plants at University of Massachusetts, Hampshire College, and Amherst College to ensure that each institution was doing its best to conserve water.

The Amherst Student, Oct. 16, 1980

The Amherst Student, Oct. 16, 1980

The Amherst Student, Oct. 16, 1980The Amherst Student gives an interesting glimpse of the 1980 town water shortage and campus-wide response.  A full run of the newspaper is available to read in the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections.

For more information on Amherst College’s ongoing efforts to conserve water and for ideas on how to do your part, visit the Amherst Conserves website.