NARA and Obama Foundation Sign a Digitization Memorandum of Understanding

This week, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Barack Obama Foundation agreed on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) regarding the plan to digitize all of the unclassified textual Presidential records of the Obama administration. The Foundation will select the vendor, with NARA approval, and oversee the contract.

President Barack Obama Works at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, 10/11/2013. National Archives Identifier 118818001

The digitization plan was first outlined in May 2017, and this MOU is the first agreement coming out of the Letter of Intent signed in September 2018.

Approximately 30 million pages of unclassified Presidential records at the Obama Library will be scanned, and the scanned images and associated metadata will become part of the Electronic Records Archives.

Because the records are governed by the Presidential Records Act (PRA), the archival staff of the Obama Library will review the material before their release. The records will then be made digitally available to the public through the National Archives Catalog and the Obama Library website.

Archivist David S. Ferriero said, “Last
September we signed a Letter of Intent with the Obama Foundation and, as
promised, have continued to work toward an agreement for the digitization of
the unclassified textual records of the Barack Obama administration. I am
pleased with the progress that this MOU represents and look forward to further
progress as NARA and the Obama Foundation partner on this exciting new model.”

For information about the records of
the Obama administration, visit

One of the County’s Earliest African-American Radio Programs on WNYC 1929-1930

WNYC was one of the earliest broadcasters of a regularly scheduled program aimed at African-Americans. Every Wednesday between November 20, 1929 and July 16, 1930 the station opened its schedule to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for talks by black leaders on a variety of topics focusing on African-Americans and their views on race relations, women, workers, entertainment, politics, literature, and the economy. Probably the best-known speakers were W.E.B Dubois, A. Philip Randolph, and James Weldon Johnson. 

It seems to be generally acknowledged that the premiere of the The All-Negro Hour on Chicago’s WSBC on November 3, 1929 was the first weekly variety show featuring African American entertainers. WNYC’s NAACP slot began only two weeks later. Based on newspaper radio listings (in bold), the series included the following talks. I have added biographical information on the speaker where possible. Unfortunately, the audio has not survived.

November 20, 1929 – NAACP Field Secretary, William Pickens

William Pickens, Chief, Negro Organizational Section, War Savings staff, Department of the Treasury, August 1942. (Library of Congress)

William Pickens (1881–1954) was a founding member of the Niagara Movement and the NAACP. The son of South Carolina sharecroppers, he went to Talladega College and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Yale in 1904. While teaching at Morgan College in Kentucky, he helped organize the Louisville branch of the NAACP and prepare the case Buchannan v. Warley, concerning residential segregation. He left academia in 1920 to succeed James Weldon Johnson as NAACP field secretary. During his time at the NAACP (1920–1942) the number of branches grew to more than 350.

Labor and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph in 1963. (NYWTS Collection Library of Congress)

November 27, 1929 – A. Philip Randolph on “The Negro Worker”

Asa Philip Randolph (1889-1979) was a leader in the civil rights movement and the American labor movement. Just four years before this talk on WNYC, Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the nation’s first largely African-American labor union. His advocacy and leadership led to President Roosevelt’s 1941 ban of discrimination in defense factories during World War II and President Truman’s 1948 end to segregation in the armed services. In 1963 he headed up the March on Washington organized by Bayard Rustin.

NAACP Director of Branches Robert Bagnall (Library of Congress)

December 4, 1929 – Robert W. Bagnall on “New Aspects of Race Relations”

Robert W. Bagnall (1883–1943), a second generation Episcopal priest, was born in Norfolk, Virginia.  Like his father, he attended Bishop Payne Divinity School in nearby Petersburg.  In 1911 he became rector of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Detroit. As a founder of the Detroit NAACP he led successful campaigns against school segregation, police brutality, and discrimination at the Ford Motor Company. He was made NAACP district organizer of the Great Lakes region in 1918 and promoted to director of branches in 1919. Bagnall traveled across the country to NAACP branches, raising funds for the national office. Under his leadership, the branch department became the NAACP’s backbone.  In 1931 the NAACP dismissed him because of declining revenue. The following year Bagnall returned to the ministry as rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, where he served until his death in 1943.

December 11, 1929 – Mrs. Ruth E. Whaley on “The Negro Woman in Politics”  (It should be noted that later that same day WNYC broadcast a Welfare Council panel titled ‘Investigating Lynching’ with the NAACP’s Walter White).

December 18, 1929 – Mrs. Lillian Alexander on “The Negro Woman in American Life”

Lillian A. Alexander was on the New York Board of Directors of the NAACP. 

January 8, 1930 – Albon Holsey on “The Negro’s Buying Power”

Albon L. Holsey (1883–1950) joined the staff of Tuskegee Institute in 1914 as an assistant to Booker T. Washington’s secretary Emmett J. Scott. During his thirty-six year tenure at Tuskegee, Holsey worked for Washington’s successors and served as associate editor of the Tuskegee Student. Between 1938 and 1944, Holsey was also on loan from the institute to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, where he was involved with research related to black farmers. Holsey wrote many articles, most related to business topics, and was business manager of Crisis, the official publication of the NAACP, when W. E. B. Du Bois edited the journal.

Elmer A. Carter presents the Springarn Medal to author Richard Wright in 1941.(Library of Congress)

January 15, 1930 – Elmer Carter on  “Negro Literature”

Elmer Anderson Carter (1890-1973) was the editor of Opportunity, 1928-1942, a magazine published by the New York Urban League, when he appeared in the WNYC studio. The magazine was a source of new literature by emerging black writers as well as non-fiction pieces on the sociological and economic aspects of the African-American diaspora in America. According to civil rights activist Pauli Murray, Carter was proud of the fact that as a youth in upstate New York he had known the abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

In 1937 New York Governor Herbert Lehman appointed Carter to the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board. Years later he became the first chairman of the New York State Commission Against Discrimination (the forerunner of the State Division of Human Rights). He was also the first director of the State Human Rights Division until he resigned in 1961. He then served as a special assistant to Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller on race relations.

January 29, 1930 – William Andrews on “The Negro and the Law”

William T. Andrews was a ‘special legal assistant’ at the NAACP in 1930. He would later be a Vice President of the organization.

February 5, 1930 – William Hubert on “Some Trends in Education”

February 12, 1930 – Robert W. Bagnall on “Abraham Lincoln”

For details on Bagnall please see December 4, 1929.

February 19, 1930 – Alene Simpson on “Women and Girls in the Courts”

Rose McClendon as Serena in the original Broadway production of Porgy and Bess (1927),Wikimedia Commons

February 26, 1930 – Rose McClendon on “The Negro and the Stage”

Rose McClendon (1884–1936) was a leading African-American stage actress in the 1920s. Her first notable role came in Deep River in 1926. In addition to acting, she also directed several plays at the Harlem Experimental Theatre. She appeared in the 1927 Pulitzer Prize-winning play In Abraham’s Bosom by Paul Green. In 1931 she was in another Paul Green play on Broadway, The House of Connelly, the first production by the Group Theatre, directed by Lee Strasberg. McClendon founded the Negro People’s Theatre and guided the creation of the WPA Federal Theater’s African-American units nationally and briefly co-directed the New York Negro Theater Unit. 

March 5, 1930 – Thomas Moseley on “The Negro on the Stage”

Thomas W. Moseley (1878-1971) was an actor and director who played a leading role in Paul Green’s In Abraham’s Bosom, which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1926. In 1931 he appeared in the movie Hell’s Alley. Moseley also served as the executive secretary of the Negro Actors Guild. He appeared in such theater productions as Stevedore, Turpentine, The House of Shadows, The Tree and a musical, Brown Buddies, featuring Bill (Bojangles) Robinson. During World War II he managed a USO troupe touring the European and Pacific theaters.

Percy Verwayne (Sporting Life), Frank H. Wilson (Porgy) and Evelyn Ellis (Bess) in the original Broadway production of Porgy (1927)(Florence Vandamm/Wikimedia Commons)

March 12, 1930 – Frank Wilson on “The Negro on the Stage”

Frank Henry Wilson (1886–1956) was a Broadway actor who also appeared in films. He began his career in vaudeville and appeared in many plays, including the original 1927 version of Porgy and Bess with Rose McClendon and Evelyn Ellis. In 1922, he had a major role in Eugene O’Neill’s play All God’s Chillun Got Wings and a revival of O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones in 1925. Wilson made his film debut in 1932 and later performed in films with stage origins: The Emperor Jones (1933) and Warner Bros.’ Green Pastures (1936) and Watch on the Rhine (1943). 

March 19, 1930 – Mrs. Roscoe Bruce – Unemployment

(WNYC Archive Collections)

March 26, 1930 – Mrs. Cecelia Saunders on “The Negro Woman in Harlem”

Cecelia Cabaniss Saunders was the General Secretary of the YWCA. After graduating from Fisk University in Nashville, Saunders taught school in rural Alabama before coming to New York City to take up social work.  At the time of her appearance in the WNYC studio she had been with the Harlem-based YWCA for 16 years and oversaw the group’s significant growth.   

April 2, 1930 – Mrs. Roscoe Bruce on “Unemployment”

April 9, 1930 – Robert Bagnall on “The Negro in Politics”

For details on Bagnall please see December 4, 1929

April 16, 1930 – Thomas Moseley on “The Negro on the Stage”

Please see the March 5, 1930 entry above for Thomas W. Moseley.

April 23, 1930 – NY State Assemblyman Ellis Rivers on “Negro Legislators, Past, and Present”

Francis Ellis Rivers (1893-1975) received his B.A. from Yale and served in France during World War I. He graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1922. In 1929 he was elected to the New York State Assembly, where he introduced a bill to aid tenants and to set up a tenth Municipal Court district in Manhattan covering Harlem.  In 1937 he was appointed an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan and then a judge. He is noted for breaking the color bar at the New York State Bar Association.

April 30, 1930 – James Thomas on “The Negro and the Courts”

May 7, 1930 – James W. Johnson on “The Negro in Politics”

James Weldon Johnson, December 1932. (Carl Van Vecten/Library of Congress)

James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) was born into a middle-class Bahamian family in Jacksonville, Florida, and educated at Atlanta University. He began his multifaceted career in Jacksonville as a public school principal, lawyer, and newspaper publisher. In 1901 he moved to New York to become the songwriting partner of his brother J. Rosamond Johnson (1873–1954). From 1906 to 1912, he served as U.S. Consul to Venezuela and Nicaragua on the recommendation of Booker T. Washington, and in 1914 he became an editor of Washington’s New York Age. His association with the NAACP began in 1916 and lasted until 1931.  As field secretary, Johnson organized new NAACP branches across the South.  His hiring as secretary in 1920 signaled the rise of black leadership in the NAACP. Johnson resigned in 1931 to teach creative writing at Fisk University.

Dr. May Edward Chinn examining a young patient, 1930. (National Institute of Health)

May 14, 1930 – Dr. May Chinn on “The Negro in Science”

May Edward Chinn (1896-1980) was the first African American woman to graduate (1926) from the University and Bellevue Hospital Medical College. She practiced medicine in Harlem for fifty years and was a tireless advocate for poor patients with advanced, often previously untreated diseases. Chinn became a staunch supporter of new methods to detect cancer in its earliest stages.

NAACP co-founder, scholar and activist Dr. W.E.B. Dubois in 1918. (Library of Congress)

May 21, 1930 – W.E.B. DuBois on “The Negro Vote”

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) was a sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer and editor. He taught history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University, and was one of the founders of the NAACP in 1909. Du Bois had risen to national prominence as the leader of the Niagara Movement, a group of African-American activists who wanted equal rights for blacks. 

May 28, 1930 – Franklin Nichols on “Social Hygiene”

Frank C. Nichols of the American Social Hygiene Association of New York City.

June 4, 1930 – William M. Kelley on “Negro Journalism”

William M. Kelley (1894-1958) was the Editor-in-Chief of The New York Amsterdam News from 1922-1933. He is noted for transforming the paper from a society sheet to a real newspaper during this critical period, known as the Harlem Renaissance. Kelley had previously worked on Chicago’s Champion Magazine and his own New York-based Kelley’s Magazine, where he published the Harlem poets Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Claude McKay.

June 11, 1930 – The program is pre-empted by City Hall reception for President-elect of Brazil

June 18, 1930 – Herbert Seligmann – “A Race Relations Conference”

Herbert J. Seligmann (1891-1984) was the NAACP’s first full-time publicity director, serving the organization in that capacity from 1919-1932. Seligmann had been a journalist and civil rights activist. His first book, published shortly after joining the NAACP, was The Negro Faces America, a progressive analysis of race relations in the United States. The talk he gave over WNYC in 1930 was in reference to the NAACP’s twenty-first annual conference in Springfield, Massachusetts.

June 25, 1930 – Rev. Emanuel Bolden on “The Rule of Justice in Human Society”

July 1, 1930 – Interracial Race Relations – Field Secretary

July 9, 1930- Charles Allison on “The Negro and Crime”

July 16, 1930 – William Andrews on “The Negro as a Social Unit in New York”

William T. Andrews was a ‘special legal assistant’ at the NAACP in 1930. He would later be a Vice President of the organization.


The Story Behind the V.D. Radio Project

It struck me as odd, even bizarre, that the conqueror of the Nazis, liberator of Europe, should now be sitting before me with a furrowed brow, listening to this dialogue. But there he was.”

You’re right, Dr. Barnouw. The idea of the future leader of the free world, perched in his new aerie atop the ivory towers of Columbia University, listening with sincere attentiveness to a syrupy, organ-drenched melodrama about the great unspeakable anathema of syphilis, is bizarre, even ridiculous.

In 1948, Erik Barnouw was already a respected broadcast radio pioneer and eminent scholar, the kind of man one would expect to become the future author of a classic three-part history of Broadcast Radio. And he was. But if you told him then that a year later that he would coauthor—as a man of no known musical pedigree, just now digging his fresh heels into the roots of ivied academia—the can’t-be-real-but-it-is venereal disease honky-tonk juke box smash, “The Ignorant, Ignorant Cowboy,” while holding the helm of the creative team of a nationwide public health campaign aiming to stop the scourge of syphilis, I’d imagine he would have had quite a laugh.

England took another approach to combating syphilis in this 1943-1944 poster
(Wellcome Trust/Wikimedia Commons)

It’s hard to not view the whole thing as being pretty silly. Part of the reason for that stems from the way the creators of the V. D. Radio Project chose to handle it. Syphilis was so untouchable you had to dance around it, make a play of it. Keep your haha distance. Keep it light. It was the only way to reach people, and there were an estimated 3 million Americans in 1949 who carried the disease and needed treatment. Treatment without fear and shame.

A couple of years ago our colleagues at Studio 360 aired an episode on the VD Radio Project, entitled “VD on the Radio.” We encourage you to give it a listen – it’s as good an overview of the story as you’ll find (Barnouw’s own Media Marathon is excellent overview as well, and we’ve written our own below). But given their difficulties finding Roy Acuff’s contribution in any archives (we sympathize), we thought we’d lend the world a hand and clear ours out. And lo-and-behold there he is.

Included here is our collection of recordings from the V. D. Radio Project, pulled from a variety of sources – Columbia University, the NYC Municipal Archives, and, particularly, the National Archives and Records Administration. Our collection includes promos and PSAs from media stars like Ed Sullivan and Tex and Jinx to politicians like Ike and Adam Clayton Powell. We’ve got Barnouw’s hit song; interviews with doctors and patients; and of course the crown jewel – hours upon hours of (slightly) goofy radio melodramas: some of them have cowboy songs, others have a Lomax (Alan) or a Fonda (Henry). But all of them have syphilis… But, not, you know, like that.

A Short History of the VD Radio Project

In 1943, Dr. John Friend Mahoney cured four patients of syphilis using a then-new treatment, penicillin, shortening what was a long and painful process, seldom followed through the full 18 months to completion, into a week’s worth of trips to the doctor and a handful of shots in the arm.

An example of an earlier WPA effort to combat syphilis
(Works Progress Administration/Library of Congress)

Earlier public health campaigns aiming to end syphilis, like the one pictured at right, had mostly foundered on the fact that the comparatively mild early symptoms of syphilis seemed to disappear of their own accord (or due to some dubious tincture) without the pain and suffering of the then prevalent treatment, leaving the men and women who carried the disease to ignore at their peril the disease’s far more damaging late stage effects. For public health advocates, a quick and painless cure like penicillin was a godsend.

As the war was winding down, Congress passed the Public Health Service Act of 1944, which allowed the PHS to create and pursue aggressive campaigns which would attempt to draw in millions of men and women carrying the sexually transmitted disease for the new and simple treatment. It was under this influx of congressional funds that the PHS’ Lefoy Richman, recalling the Radio Act of 1927’s mandate that radio would serve the public interest, contacted Columbia University professor Erik Barnouw in 1948 to see if his university might be interested in bidding on the opportunity to produce programs that might convince people to seek treatment. Richman, in fact, had pursued dozens of universities with the same offer but hoped the Ivy League’s Lions would consider as well.

Columbia was the only bidder.

Barnouw moved quickly, enlisting top talent, using his connections from his NBC days, his newly-minted role as president of the Radio Writers Guild, and his Columbia University professorship to draw the finest writers, actors, and producers in the business. Under Barnouw’s stewardship, the VD Radio Project (as it was now called) devised a multi-pronged attack, creating a variety of programming aiming to draw in those suffering from syphilis.

To bring their programs to the air, Barnouw, Richman, and the VD Radio Project team initially sought out individual stations, but found no takers, with station managers fearing reprisals from the Catholic Church and other powerful organizations who would see the programs as an invitation to licentiousness. So they tried the networks, and after receiving a firm “no” from both NBC and CBS finally convinced ABC to give them a chance. Their first recording, “VD: The Conspiracy of Silence,” (sadly, not part of our collection) aired April 29, 1948, to wide acclaim.

The VD Radio Project also prepared local drives, the first of which was in Jackson, Tennessee. In Jackson, each and every local station carried their programming, which they hoped, combined with planned print and billboard campaigns, would bring in new patients. Barnouw and his team had developed a variety of material – standard-issue soaps, short spots featuring politicians and entertainers, and patient and doctor interviews – but the biggest response came from the three “hillbilly operas” they had prepared for broadcast. The so-called hillbilly operas were famed folklorist Alan Lomax’s idea; He even wrote a few scripts. The programs featured folk, country, and gospel superstars performing their songs in stories tailor-made for their tunes and talents, mini-operettas of meet cute, meet syphilis, meet cure. Needless to say, when they learned of their success, the PHS quickly commissioned more. Hank WilliamsRoy AcuffSister Rosetta Tharpe and many more cut fifteen-minute melodramas specially made to fit their songs and styles, as well as the PHS’ target markets – the rural south and industrial north. Barnouw even found time to pen a jukebox hit, “The Ignorant, Ignorant Cowboy,” at the suggestion of a health officer from the Tennessee drive.

The VD Radio Project was a huge success—according to Barnouw, the Tennessee Health Department reported that in 1949, over 18,000 cases had been drawn to seek treatment by the programs—but it was a short-lived one. In 1953, in one of the first acts of his administration, President Eisenhower, ironically an early champion of the project during his time at Columbia University, discontinued the project. In an additional irony, the variety of diseases that came to be treated by penicillin, and that no longer required as diligent a diagnosis, when combined with the development of technique by which a single dose could cure the disease had the unfortunate effect of making contact tracing, in which people infected by the disease could lead to others, virtually disappear. The disease came roaring back. The cure was too successful. Still, while it lasted, the VD Radio Project was proof of the efficacy of public health radio programs, and helped removed some of the stigma surrounding the treacherous, but curable, disease. 

Notes on the Arrangement 

In Media Marathon, Erik Barnouw mentioned four types of programming created by the VD Radio Project: soap operas, “documentar[ies]” (i.e. interviews with patients), short spots, and “hillbilly operas.”

For this page, we’ve grouped the two “operas” together under Radio Plays+. The vast majority are of the “hillbilly” variety, but they’re all interesting and enjoyable in their own right. The first item (the “+”) is Tom Glazer’s Erik Barnouw-penned hit single “That Ignorant, Ignorant Cowboy.” Principle contributors to the various programs are included in the title. 

Celeb Spots includes short advertisements from famous politicians, entertainers, and doctors urging treatment. All of the Interviews we hold in this collection are on a single track. It features Dr. George Hicks making the rounds with men and women suffering from syphilis, at various stages. And we have two Oral Histories with VD Radio Project head Erik Barnouw, one done by Columbia University, the other done by WNYC Archives Director, Andy Lanset, rounding out our collection.

The Early Years of Paul Dirac

Formal portrait of Paul and Felix Dirac as children.
Paul (in child’s gown) and Felix Dirac. (FSU_MSS_1989009_S01_B09_F11_IF1A )

Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac was born August 8, 1902,
just a day before the crowning of King Edward the VII. Just as you’d expect, Dirac
and his older brother Felix resembled each other greatly in their early years,
both quiet and sporting thick black curls. Through letters from Florence Dirac,
Paul’s mother, one would find that these two were exceptionally close and loved
being with their father.

Graham Farmelo, writer of The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac argues that Paul Dirac most probably didn’t appreciate being brought up in an environment of unusual circumstances where he and his brother were to receive private education from their school teacher father. In a 1980 conversation with Kurt Hofer, a then Florida State University biology professor, Dirac is quoted to have confided that in his early years, he never felt love or affection.

An formal portrait of the Dirac family with Florence on the left and Charles on the right. Infant Betty, Felix, and Paul are situated between them.
(From left to right) Florence, Betty, Felix, Paul, and Charles Dirac in a family portrait. (FSU_MSS_1989009_S01_B09_F11_IF1B)

Throughout his life, most of Dirac’s acquaintances
had no idea what his childhood was like. At home, Dirac had no photographs of
his father and he kept his father’s papers locked in his desk. In his early
thirties, Dirac wrote to a close friend that to defend himself against the
hostilities he perceived around him he retreated into his own imagination.
Perhaps this is what aided in his superior understanding of scientific inquiry.

Formal portrait of Paul Dirac sitting outside.
Paul Dirac outdoor portrait. (original image)

Around the age of ten, Dirac picked up the hobby of astronomy. Science wasn’t a subject taught at Bishop Road Primary School, however, they did have courses on technical drawing which may have provided Dirac with a foundation in the unique way he interpreted how the universe worked. Years later, the geometrical approaches found in the technical drawing lessons Dirac took in his earliest years would transfer over into the mathematical theories he would pose in relation to theoretical physics and the 20th century understanding of the atom.


Farmelo, Graham, The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius, Faber and Faber 2009.

Winter Wander 2019

At the beginning of February the Archives, Museum of Vancouver, HR MacMillian Space Centre, Vancouver Maritime Museum, Vancouver Academy of Music, and Bard on the Beach hosted the 8th annual Winter Wander. For those who haven’t yet been, it is a fun day filled with activities, performances, and a chance to visit the cultural sites that call Vanier Park home.

Winter Wander gives the Archives an opportunity to show off a selection of our favourite records to visitors who might not otherwise walk through our doors during regular operating hours to conduct research. This year, in addition to our ever-popular first Council minute book, contract for a Chinese opera singer, and prisoners’ record book, we displayed a handful of posters from the recently donated BC Gay and Lesbian Archives fonds, the illustrated panoramic view of the City of Vancouver originally published as a supplement in the Daily World newspaper in 1898, and drawings of unbuilt Vancouver, including that of a stadium that had it been built in the 1930s would be sitting where the Archives is currently located.

Visitors crowd around records on display. Photo: Heather Gordon

Also on offer to visitors were a selection of our digitized moving images playing on a screen, copy prints, and an instant photo portrait area. Thank you to Beau Photo for another generous loan of a camera and backdrop for taking the instant photos.

Two people get their portrait taken at the instant photo area. Photo: Heather Gordon

Two Langara College students from the Professional Photography program joined us welcoming visitors, talking with visitors about their current show, Merging Time, that is displayed in the Archives’ gallery.

Langara students from the Professional Photography program talking with visitors about their exhibit. Photo: Bronwyn Smyth

Helping host the day at the Archives were also members of the Friends of the Vancouver City Archives. With the help of all our volunteers, we welcomed about 650 people to the Archives at this edition of Winter Wander – more than double the number that came last year!

An Underwater View

One of the advantages to the location of Florida State University is we’re not so very far from the Gulf of Mexico. FSU first established a research facility, The Oceanographic Institute, on the gulf coast in 1949 on 25 acres on the harbor side of the peninsula that forms Alligator Harbor, about 45 miles south of Tallahassee.

FSU Marine Lab from the water (St George's Sound on the Gulf of Mexico)
FSU Marine Lab from the water (St George’s Sound on the Gulf of Mexico) See Original Image Record

The Oceanographic Institute maintained a substantial research effort throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The research conducted by the faculty and graduate students was intended to be interdisciplinary, balancing fundamental investigations of the productivity of tropical continental-shelf waters in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico with applied research on practical problems of the commercial and sport fisheries and the use of other marine resources. Various other research locations were also used over the years.

In 1966, FSU formed the Department of Oceanography on campus, and the Oceanographic Institute was closed. A new facility was built across the harbor and further to the west on land donated to Florida State University by Ed Ball, President of the St. Joe Paper Company. This facility opened in 1968 and was known as the Edward Ball Marine Laboratory. Today, it is known as the FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory. For more information on the history of the Laboratory, visit the Lab’s History webpage.

Marine Lab Boat, Seminole. See Original Image Record

Recently, Heritage & University Archives added a collection of digitized materials about the Coastal and Marine Laboratory to the FSU Digital Library. This collection includes photographs, plans, letters and other documentation collected in operating the Lab since the 1950s. The photographs, in particular, show the growth of the Lab’s operations as well as the experiences of its faculty and students at the Lab and on the water over the years. To explore this new collection, visit the Lab’s collection in the FSU Digital Library.

Don Coltman photographs now available

This is the second and final post on the 2018 Steffens-Colmer Studios and Don Coltman Company Photographs Digitization Project, funded by the British Columbia History Digitization Program.

With thanks to funding from the British Columbia History Digitization Program we are pleased to announce that we have recently completed a project to digitize 5,300 photographs by commercial photographer Don Coltman.  The photographs are all in the public domain and have been uploaded to the Archives online database with accompanying descriptions and are available to be downloaded, re-printed and used! They join the ~5,000 Coltman photographs previously digitized.

Scenes at Kitsilano Beach and Yacht Club (1945). Reference code: AM1545-S3-: CVA 586-6176

Don Coltman was born Alfred Donald Coltman in 1898 in Lutterworth, Leicestershire, England. He arrived in Canada in 1904 with his mother Ada, father Alfred Birbek and brother Rex. The family lived and worked around Lethbridge, Alberta. Coltman briefly worked for Canadian Pacific Railway in Lethbridge until 1916 when he joined the Canadian Battalion and was sent to France. During the war, he was buried alive, and then dug out and returned to England with a badly crushed foot. He refused to allow the doctors to amputate his leg; he was left with some damage but maintained the use of his leg for the rest of his life.

After the war Coltman returned to Canada where he and his brother decided to farm 40 acres near Medicine Hat. Coltman did not enjoy farming and went back to work for C.P.R. He met Marie Estelle Dickenson and they married on August 18, 1923. He went on to work all across Canada as the manager for music and appliance departments for various retailers, including the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1939 he and his family moved from Winnipeg to Vancouver while he was working for Dominion Electrohome Industries. In 1940 he and Marie built on his photography hobby and started making and selling postcards using the darkroom set up in their basement.

Don Coltman holding camera, ca. 1943. Reference code: AM1545-S3-: CVA 586-1039

Coltman joined Steffens-Colmer Studio as manager in 1941. In 1944 he purchased the business, including the negatives and equipment and operated under the company name Steffens-Colmer Ltd. until 1951. In 1945 Coltman started a firm called Western Photo Electric Supplies which became Photolec and he created a line of equipment named Unicolt. He also invented a new design for a tripod and tripod head. In 1949 he and Wally Hamilton formed a company (purchased from Lew Perry) called Trans-Canada Films. The company was responsible for the film “Silver Harvest” (1951).

S.C. [Steffens Colmer] studio shots, exteriors [298 Main Street, Vancouver] (1948).
Reference code: AM1545-S3-: CVA 586-6918

From 1951 to 1954 he continued to operate the business under Don Coltman Photographic Company (Don Coltman photos). In 1955 he closed the business and sold his photograph collection to Donn Williams. Williams Bros. Photographers Ltd. utilized these photographic records as stock photographs to complement their own photographic records.

In September 1959 Coltman moved to Toronto to become the Eastern Manager of Taylor, Pearson and Carson Ltd.’s photo division. He passed away in Toronto in 1963.

Hudson’s Bay Company flowers. Reference code: AM1545-S3-: CVA 586-4916

Coltman’s images provide a unique record of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland in the post-WWII period. Subjects include B.C. industries and small businesses such as canneries, ports, sawmills, fishing, pulp and paper making and manufacturing. The photos also document aspects of Vancouver life, including community activities, fashion, businesses, events, sports activities, factories and production; representations of physical aspects of Vancouver, such as parks, bridges, beaches, streets, buildings, schools, shipyard and dock); and portraiture including weddings, families and local employees. As a result, this rich resource will be of interest to historians, teachers, researchers, and Vancouverites who seek to learn more about the social and cultural development of Vancouver and surrounding areas in the 1940s and 1950s.

Here is just a small selection of images digitized as part of this project.

Hudson Bay Co. – store for fashion – magazine job showing street and crest flag (1946). Reference code: AM1545-S3-: CVA 586-9313

Volney Irons hearing aid (1945). Reference code: AM1545-S3-: CVA 586-8896

B.C.E.R. Co. Window – Vancouver Umbrella Co. (1947). Reference code: AM1545-S3-: CVA 586-9853

J.J. Gibbons – 3 cans of Clover Leaf salmon (1946). Reference code: AM1545-S3-: CVA 586-9432

Seven Sisters, Stanley Park (1940). Reference code: AM1545-S3-: CVA 586-5896

The photographs in the Don Coltman/Steffens-Colmer series are made of cellulose acetate, and are susceptible to rapid deterioration. For that reason this project posed various challenges and required innovative solutions in order to digitize. You can read more about this process in a previous blog post.

Curious to see more photographs? Visit our Steffens-Colmer Studios Ltd. And Don Coltman flickr album for a larger selection of images from the project.

Two Scenes from Early College History

“…concerning Bill’s College. I believe I could study better at home, than here. Your son, E. S. Snell.”

Strong Snell, about 1847

In this post – part three of the Snell family on the installment plan (parts one and two here and here) – two letters from Ebenezer Strong Snell, Amherst College’s first student, give us a personal account of key moments in Amherst’s early history: President Zephaniah Swift Moore’s move to Amherst in 1821, and the obtaining of the charter in 1825.

The first letter, dated June 1821, is from the end of Snell’s junior year at Williams College.  Written a few days after Moore announced his intention to leave Williams, Snell describes the turmoil that ensued.  Even before Moore’s departure, Williams had been unsettled over the question of whether, primarily because of its remote location, it should move to Hampshire County.  In fact, Moore is said to have assumed Williams would move before he accepted the presidency there and then announced his support in his inauguration speech in 1815 — what an uproar that must’ve caused. But while no one should’ve been too surprised when Moore announced shortly before the 1821 commencement that he would leave Williams for Amherst, it was still a traumatic event for those tied to the institution.¹  To some it seemed that with Moore’s exit the college might fail.  What then would Williams College degrees be worth, the students wondered.

North Brookfield (bottom right), Amherst (center), and Williamstown (top left). Snell’s route between home and college probably took him through Plainfield. “Map of Massachusetts,” by H.C. Carey (1822). From the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

From a geographical perspective, moving Williams to Hampshire County (whether to Northampton or Amherst) would’ve brought Strong Snell quite a bit closer to his family in North Brookfield.  More importantly, Snell’s family had longstanding ties with Moore, so their allegiance probably lay entirely with the president and his stated desire to move the college.  When Moore actually left Williams, Snell was one of the 15 students who accompanied him.

Strong Snell’s 1821 letter is addressed on the outside to his father and folded like a puzzle so that it opens to one letter containing a second folded and sealed page.  The first letter, addressed to “Dear Friends” is carefree and casual–actually, it’s boring.  It assumes that Rev. Thomas Snell, as addressee, would open the letter and read it aloud, for on the side it has a single line that names its intended audience: “You must consider this as addressed to the whole family.”  Think of the Snells gathered in the parlor to hear Rev. Snell read this letter.  The family must’ve thought everything was just fine way up there at Bill’s College. Transcription below images.

Rev.d Thomas Snell., North Brookfield, Mass.

Williams College June 21 1821

Dear Friends,

I expect an opportunity to send to Brookfield tomorrow, though I know not, by whom. Some one passed College this afternoon, and left word with a student, that if I wished to send home, he would oblige me within one or two days. I have not been able to conjecture, who it was; and am very sorry that I could not be called soon enough to see the person. I was before expecting to write in a short time, and to give you an account of my journey, which was too agreeable not to be mentioned. The pleasantness of the season, and of those days in particular, with other circumstances, rendered my ride most delightful. Not perplexed with the usual cares of travelling, I could enjoy the whole scenery, that might come into view, or, by interesting conversation, forget my situation, and imagine myself in the south-west chamber; so that the stage seemed to me, as to [Prince] lee-Boo, a little house, drawn off by horses.² I arrived [in] Northampton about [8?] o’clock in the evening, and started for Wmstown at 4 in the morning; the fields of waving grain looked more beautiful than I can express; the air was fresh and cool; and the early songsters of the grove almost charmed me, as I was hurried over the level shore of the Connecticut. The huge mountains, that fill up the road towards the end of my tour, appeared far less tedious than usual. In short, I never enjoyed a journey as I did this. Esq. Noble’s daughters, returning from Boston, were my company from Northampton to Wmstown. I was but little fatigued, and was able to commence study within two hours after my arrival. I hope to hear soon, that the family are better, than when I left home. Please to remember me with esteem to the Miss Bigelows and Mercy [T.]—-. From your son and Brother, E.S. Snell.

[sideways:] You must consider this as addressed to the whole family.

The second page, intended only for his dad, is where the truth comes out:

This part of the letter I fold and seal by itself, that if you wish you may cut it out and let the other part be seen.

Williams College. June 21

Two or three days ago, the President announced to the students that he had received and accepted an appointment at Amherst; that he should resign his office in College after the next commencement; that as long as he staid here, he should feel the same interest in us, as students, that he always had done, and hoped that none would be so troubled about these circumstances, as to cause any interruption of the usual order. But his wishes & expectations, I fear, will all be scattered to the winds, if I should judge from the present movements within these brick walls.

The Class meetings of the Seniors, I would presume, would average one per day for a week past. And most of their consultations appear to be upon the subject of graduating, &c &c. of the like kind. Ten of the class have bound themselves, that on no condition whatever will they ever graduate in [W.] College. Six more have also bound themselves (before they knew the determination of the ten) that, if the ten came to the conclusion above-mentioned, they would never graduate here. As things now stand, I have no doubt that the Commencement is entirely broken up. Every thing is hilter-kilter; reports fly about the town, to & fro, quicker, as I should think, than the birds could carry them. Every body is full of suspicions. The black wood-cutters and ragged strawberry-pedlars, as they fear the loss of the grand source of their revenue, appear to take as great an interest in the matter as any one. Dr. Moore and the Students are the common subjects of talk in College or town. Destruction, ruin, death and oblivion are the predictions of most of the students concerning Bill’s College.

I believe I could study better at home, than here. Your son, E.S. Snell.

Things got better for Williams College after the arrival of the new president, Edward Dorr Griffin (the third person to be offered the position), who slid into place at noon during Commencement.  Williams had endured years of uncertainty and come through it in one piece, and it would remain “in the valley of the Hoosac, one of the handsomest valleys in the world.”  And Amherst College was open and operating.  But Williams could give degrees – Amherst couldn’t. It didn’t have a charter from the state legislature allowing it to do so, and that was to remain a sticking point for several years.  In the meantime, Amherst gave certificates. Rain checks.  IOUs. A graduate was “deserving of the title and degree of Bachelor of Arts,”³ but he wasn’t getting either one.  Now it was Amherst’s turn to worry about the value of its degrees, or non-degrees.

The town, the students, and the faculty had invested a lot in the promise of Amherst College, emotionally, physically, and financially.  Regional newspapers followed the struggle with the state legislature for the charter, and it wasn’t at all clear to readers that Amherst would triumph. There were enough powerful opposing interests to make it a hard contest.  In the end, the vote in the House was 114 to 95.4


There are of course no photographs from this period, but there are photographs from the 1946 Amherst College Masquers production of Curtis Canfield’s play, “the Seed and the Sowers,” and one scene examines the fight in the legislature (click on image for gallery):

By the time the charter was finally granted in 1825, people who had sweated through the ordeal were ready to celebrate. Strong’s letter of February 23rd captures the moment of Humphrey’s return from Boston with the charter the day before, when a crowd turned out to greet him and see the document.  Strong happened to have caught the stage home with Humphrey and others, so he had a first-person view of the event.

People familiar with the history of Amherst College will note that Strong misdated his letter by two years — he wrote “1823” — but there is no doubt that the charter was granted in 1825, and that Humphrey, whom Snell refers to as President (“Prest“), didn’t assume that position until later in 1823, after the death of President Moore in June of that year. It’s bizarre that Snell misdated the letter in this way — one can only speculate about how it happened — but there seems no doubt.  In the transcription that follows the images of the original, I kept his date but noted that it was in error.


Amherst. Feby. 23—1823– [sic]

Dear Mother,

I stopped into the stage at N. Braintree about half past one with very agreeable company. In the first place, there were Prest Humphrey and Mr. Austin Dickinson, who came and took dinner at Mr. Fiske’s while the stages were changing and other passengers taken in. Then Miss Mary Jocelyn (if I have spelled it right) and her Brother going to Enfield. Mr. Barr, the singer, going to Greenwich, three students, coming here to the Academy; and one man unknown to me. As you see I met a larger party of acquaintance than I often do in Brookfield or Amherst. The President seemed to be in very good spirits, and very soon after he had come into Mr. Fiske’s informed us that he had the charter in [his] pocket, and that it might be seen in the next [Recorder]. But he regretted that the house thought fit to sacrifice two of the most active Trustees as a peace-offering to the opposition. Mr. [Nathan] Fiske and Esq. [John] Smith were removed from the board.5  The President told Mrs. Fiske to congratulate her husband on being dismissed in so good company and on receiving what might be esteemed so signal an honor, since all would understand that they were removed on account of having so faithfully served the interests of the Institution. The inhabitants of the village here were on the “tiptoe of expectancy” when the stage-horn sounded. The front of Mr. Boltwood’s tavern was blackened with the crowd of anxious spectators, waiting to see who had come and what news the passengers had brought. The horses had not stopped before Edward and James were thrusting in their heads and shaking hands with their father. Edward asks “have you got the Charter?” The Pres. answered in the affirmative. James, half way between laughing and crying, says “O-h-h-h! you wouldn’t come without that.” The joyful report flew quick through the throng, and when I alighted one broad smile was resting on all their countenances. Soon I felt them pressing by me into the house, to hear the charter read by Mr. [Austin] Dickinson, who had a copy of it with him. But I felt not at all inclined to follow. More than half sick with riding, I thought a feather bed would do me more good than all the chartered colleges in the union.

President Heman Humphrey brings the charter home: “Men of Amherst! We are at long last a chartered college.” (From the 1946 production of “the Seed and the Sowers”).

We have not made out much today. Every body’s attention is taken up with the celebration of the afternoon and evening. I have come near jumping out of my seat repeatedly in the school-room at the report of the cannon. And now (8 o’clock in the evening) the people are expressing their joy by firing cannon, ringing bells, and illuminating College[s] and Academy. A committee was sent by the townsmen to the President this morning to consult him respecting the expediency of doing all this. He said he should not advise it, but would not object, if the people were desirous of making a celebration. If I had been consulted, I should have expressed the same sentiment—at least the former part of it. Now it seems rather strange to me, that the populace are not willing to concur in the opinion of the two principal men in town. At 9 o’clock, subscribers from the neighborhood (I know not who,) will take supper at the Mansion House, when 17 reports will be heard from the cannon, in honor (I suppose) of the 17 Trustees. Many respectable gentlemen in town are helping on this business, but it looks to me too much like boys’ play. I cannot relish it in the connection in which I must view it – if it were on some military occasion, I should enjoy the roar of the field-piece, & the brilliancy of the illumination, but I can now express my joy better by writing home.

I have been in to see Mrs. Moore [Phebe Moore, widow of Pres. Moore]—find her nearly as well as before she was taken sick. She and Miss Cary send much love. Dr. Humphrey’s youngest children are considerably unwell; their hired girl very sick. Illness is quite prevalent in town.

24—I find I received a wrong impression respecting the supper last night. I supposed it would be attended only by part of the College students and some young towns-people who wished to have a high. But I afterward heard that it was attended by a regular and respectable, as well as numerous collection. About 100 were present, consisting of the Prest. and all the other faculty of college, college students, and inhabitants of both east and west streets. Mr. Heath had previously asked me and Mr. Paine [Elijah Paine, Class of 1823] to attend but could not tell us who would be present. We laughed at the idea of being at the tavern with a toasting company at [9] or 10 at night, and receiving no further invitation, we staid at home about our business. It is possible we may be thought rather odd, but that will never trouble us.

Professor Estabrook returned last evening. He is about to take his wife and child and remove 700 miles to the south, into Virginia, the name of the town I have not heard. He has engaged a private school and is expecting to superintend an Academy for a very handsome salary. We have 40 students in today. I feel rather more “like work” than I did yesterday, or when I left home. I am called away to school and must put what I have written into the office.

Let the first one who can spend time return a letter as good, at least, as this, and as much longer as is convenient.

Your oldest boy—

Please to remember me to all the gentlemen—Father, Doctor, Brothers Thomas and William. Likewise to all the ladies—Sisters Martha, Sarah, Tirzah and Abigail, and every body else.

Newspapers all over the region echoed Snell’s description of the celebration and described the toasts he missed by being such a stickler for propriety and choosing a feather bed over the charter celebration:

How amazing is it that we have letters from the first student to enter Amherst College, and (all the more amazing) that he writes about these important early events in Amherst’s history?  There are more letters in the Snell Family Papers, many of which refer to other events in Amherst College history, and all of which shed light on this large, vibrant family of Western Massachusetts.



1. Read more about this period at Williams College here:  a_history_of_williams_college-excerpt-re-moore

2. For “Prince Lee Boo,” see “The History of Prince Lee Boo.”

3. In the entertaining little volume of chapel talks about Amherst College history called “the Seed and the Sowers,” Curtis Canfield writes about the charter problem and includes the text of one of the graduation certificates: seed and the sowers-excerpt-sm

4. See William S. Tyler’s “A History of Amherst College,” p. 151.

5. Tyler explains that these two trustees were probably removed because they were “among the active agents in the founding of the College, and as such, particularly obnoxious to its enemies.” Snell doesn’t mention the third trustee who merited removal, Rev. Experience Porter. Ibid, 153.

Barbara Carroll: A Birthday Gift

Today is the birthday of the late pianist and singer Barbara Carroll, the pioneering jazz musician remembered by the New York Times’ music critic Stephen Holden as “a beloved fixture of Manhattan nightlife” whose style and unfailing sense of swing “embodied a timeless bohemian elegance and artistic grace.[i]”

Barbara Carroll was born on January 25, 1925 in Worcester, MA. She studied piano as a child, and by the age of seventeen was enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.  But despite her talent as a classical pianist, her musical passion was for jazz —a passion that she developed listening to the recordings and remote radio broadcasts of the great swing players of the 1930s and 1940s. According to Carroll, “As soon as I heard Nat Cole and Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson, I was hooked. Totally hooked.[ii]” She formed her first band at the age of fifteen, and began playing dances and other events in Worcester and, eventually, in Boston. But by the mid-1940s, the lure of the dynamic bebop jazz revolution taking place in Manhattan was too strong to resist.  She withdrew from the conservatory, left Massachusetts, and set out for New York.

Barbara Carroll’s aspiration to be a professional pianist came about in an era when the deck was unambiguously stacked against her, or any woman instrumentalist trying to make it in jazz.  In 1990, she spoke with WNYC’s Steve Ross about some of the obstacles that she encountered in the 1940s:

You were pre-judged then, you know, because you were a woman. You were pre-judged before they ever heard you play.

I knew one pianist from Boston, he was established a little bit here [in New York], so sometimes when he’d get called for two engagements on a Saturday night, and if he was already booked for one, he’d try to send me for the other one.  But he couldn’t tell them that I was a girl because then the bandleader wouldn’t have hired me. So he would say, “I’m going to send Bob Carroll. Bob Carroll will be your pianist. Or Bobby Carroll.” And of course then I would arrive, and I’d say “I’m your pianist for the evening!” Well, they had no choice…[iii]



Listen to Barbara speaking with Steve Ross about how she got started, the New York club scene, and the challenges for women in the 1940s. (from New York Cabaret Nights, WNYC, 18 June 1990)



Undeterred, Barbara Carroll put together a trio and, in 1947, within a year of arriving in Manhattan, she landed her first major gig on 52nd Street —the epicenter of jazz in New York, where she appeared on a bill at the Downbeat Club with Dizzy Gillespie, one of bebop’s most influential artists.

Charlie Parker and Red Rodney look on as Dizzy Gillespie and The Barbara Carroll Trio (seen in the mirror’s reflection) perform at the Downbeat Club, c. 1947.
(William P. Gottlieb Collection (Library of Congress))

1952 ad for the supper club, The Embers
(New York Daily News, 18 March 1952)

Other bookings followed quickly in New York, and around the country. By the early 1950s Ms. Carroll had become a frequent headliner at The Embers, the preeminent super club on East 54th Street. Working at The Embers was among the first of her major long-term night club engagements, and one that helped establish Barbara Carroll as mainstay of New York’s jazz and cabaret scene.


2015 ad for the jazz club, Birdland
(New York Times, 30 October 2015)

 Ms. Carroll’s other legendary New York residencies and extended club engagements included those at the Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room, the Carlyle Hotel’s Bemelmans Bar (the Upper East Side venue where she was booked for two weeks, and stayed on for twenty-five years[iv]), and at Birdland, the jazz club on West 44th Street where she held forth weekly until just a few weeks before her death in 2017 at the age of 92.

In celebration of her birthday, we have a gift: a recently rediscovered, rarely heard gem of Barbara Carroll in performance on WNYC’s show New York Cabaret Nights. This episode of New York Cabaret Nights, which aired on June 18th, 1990, was recorded at Rainbow and Stars, the Art Deco cabaret room on the 65th floor of 30 Rockefeller Center. Ms. Carroll is joined by her friend and frequent collaborator, the bassist Jay Leonhart. Highlights from the broadcast, found in the audio player at the top of this page, include joyous renditions of Mercer Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” and the Jerome Kern songs “Nobody Else but Me” and “I’m Old Fashioned.” As you might expect, and as she had done for more than seven decades, Barbara Carroll swings.

The complete June 18th, 1990 episode of WNYC’s New York Cabaret Nights is available here.  All extant episodes of the entire series are available here, and are part of the New York Public Radio Archives collection.


[i] Stephen Holden, “Barbara Carroll, Pioneering Jazz Pianist and Singer, Dies at 92” The New York Times, 14 February 2017

[ii] Live from Rainbow and Stars, New York Cabaret Nights, 18 June 1990, WNYC

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Jazz Legend Barbara Carroll,

The Longest Shutdown Before The Longest Shutdown

It wasn’t Donald Trump against “Chuck and Nancy”, but Bill Clinton against Newt Gingrich and the Republican House of Representatives. It wasn’t over immigration and border security, but about how to reach the goal of a balanced budget. Until the 2018-19 shutdown, it was the longest government shutdown in history.1

The January 7, 1996 episode of On the Media aired the day after the warring parties agreed to reopen the government after 21 days. And that shutdown had come just a month after a five day shutdown. Parks and agencies were closed and workers furloughed.2

During the show’s second hour, host Alex S. Jones joined syndicated columnist and co-editor of The American Prospect Robert Kuttner, Congressional Quarterly reporter Alissa Rubin, and Time reporter Karen Tumulty to discuss how effectively the press had covered budget issues and negotiations. What issues were undercovered by the media? Was a balanced budget really necessary? What political pressures were felt by Republicans and Democrats that made them reopen the government?

Rubin and Tumulty believed that the shutdown forced people to really think about government and realize that there were parts of it that they actually liked. But what forced conservatives to agree to reopen the government? On that question the guests’ opinions diverged: Rubin said that when Republicans received phone calls from their constituents back home they started to think that it was not right “that the federal workforce at a prison in my district should have been affected by this.” She added, “They didn’t want the appearance of hurting people they weren’t trying to hurt from agencies that they actually liked.”

Tumulty said she heard from legislators that it wasn’t phone calls and demonstrations, but the, “…steady drip, drip, drip of stories…the first three stories each night on the network news were about federal workers who couldn’t pay their mortgages and how they couldn’t open a newspaper without reading [about] this shutdown. [This kind of coverage] suddenly reduced [this crisis], really for the first time, to a human level.”


1Hendrix, Steve, “The government shutdown: We’ve been here before, and it lasted weeks,” The Washington Post, 20 January, 2018.

2Gonyea, Don, “The Longest Government Shutdown In History, No Longer — How 1995 Changed Everything,”, 12 January, 2019.

iPRES International Conference on Digital Preservation 2018

Last fall I was able to attend iPRES, the International Conference on Digital Preservation. This was the 15th time the conference has been held, and the first time it has been in North America since 2015. The 2018 conference was held in Boston from Sept. 12-16, 2018. Previously it was held in Kyoto;  the 2019 conference will be in Amsterdam.

Plenary Keynote speaker Eve Blau” Photo credit: Martha Stewart. (some rights reserved: CC BY-SA 2.0)

The conference brought together 421 attendees from thirty-two countries, including scientists, archivists, librarians, and other professionals from disciplines that have an interest in preserving digital information over long time spans. The interdisciplinary approach of iPRES is valuable in digital preservation. Digital preservation is not a problem unique to archives. An interdisciplinary approach lets smaller communities, such as archives, to find out more about how larger communities, often with better resources and larger research budgets, are addressing problems of a similar nature.

As with any conference, there was a mix of sessions that were directly relevant to my day-to-day work and those that, though not directly relevant, were informative and thought-provoking. The program committee assembled and interesting mix of long and short format papers, panels and workshops. Fortunately, it’s possible to catch-up on what I may have missed, as all of the conference proceedings  are available through the Open Science Framework at Looking back at my notes, there were a couple of  sessions that earned a disproportionate amount of space in my notebook.

Break time – Joseph B. Martin Conference Center” Photo credit: Martha Stewart. (some rights reserved: CC BY-SA 2.0)

Session 308 addressed the overall feasibility of digital preservation, and the cost associated with it. From an ethical perspective, archives should not acquire material that they aren’t able to preserve. While most archives are very good at assessing this with respect to analog materials, digital preservation is a (relatively) new activity for archives, and it is often unclear as to what long term digital preservation actually means (e.g., how long is “long term”?  Is it even possible to commit to preserving digital material for time spans as short as 20 or 50 years, given the known difficulties associated with digital preservation). The presentations in this session examined criteria to consider when deciding on the feasibility of a given preservation project, and approaches to estimating the costs associated with preservation activity.

It was encouraging to see some research on the issue of cost modeling. Decisions about whether or not an institution is able to preserve something are not only dependent upon whether or not the institution has the requisite skills and technology to do so, but also upon whether they can afford to. The financial sustainability of preservation is something that is often overlooked in preservation planning. Many projects to acquire and ingest born-digital materials or to digitize existing holdings are grant funded. However,  there continue to be ongoing preservation costs after the initial project funds run out. Tools like the digital preservation cost calculator presented by Kate Dohe and David Durden help fill a gap in the existing digital preservation toolkit.

Session 401 examined various preservation workflows. The papers discussed several different workflows:  data recovery from obsolete 8″ floppy disks, transferring files from removable media, and appraising large volumes of email. The presentation by Joanne Kaczmarek and Brent West was particularly interesting. Kaczmarek and West discussed the use of predictive coding and machine learning to train computers to appraise email. Software with this feature is commonly used by lawyers for e-discovery – identifying digital records relevant for discovery within a legal proceeding. By providing the computer with examples of what is and isn’t being searched for, the software can learn and extrapolate the decision criteria to a larger set of documents. The results are statistically comparable to the results provided by a human review of the same set of documents. Although Kaczmarski and West  were only considering its use in appraising records (email) for acquisition, this type of technology could be applied to digital preservation in many ways. It could potentially be used to help identify records with sensitive content  that need to be subject to more stringent access controls (e.g.,  records subject to FOI restrictions), and to help researchers identify records with content relevant to their research enquiry.

There was a lot of really great content present in Boston, and some difficult choices had to be made about what sessions to attend. Other memorable sessions included 203 Capacity and Accomplishment which examined questions like “what is an acceptable level of preservation given institutional constraints and goals?” and “how can outcomes be measured in order to judge success?”, and 302 Minute Madness, which had poster presenters deliver one-minute summaries of their posters to encourage attendees to come see their posters, and the corresponding poster sessions which covered a diverse range of topics.

iPRES – Where everybody knows your name

Congratulations to the organizers for putting on a great conference, and to the presenters for providing consistently excellent content. This was the first time attending iPRES for me. I found it to be very useful to meet and talk to people in other disciplines and see where the similarities and differences in exists in our respective challenges and approaches to digital preservation. Overall, it was a very positive experience. I look forward to attending future iPRES conferences.

Moving House! Hours for Special Collections & Archives January 28, 2019

Moving Day at Florida State University, circa 1960s
Moving Day at Florida State University, circa 1960s. (original item here)

We’re very excited that materials from a remote storage facility are being moved to a new home, Strozier Library! This will help us serve materials faster to our patrons. However, for moving day, we need all hands on deck so our Research Center Reading Room in Strozier Library and the Claude Pepper Library will be available by appointment only on Monday, January 28, 2019, to allow our staff to focus on the move. If you need to make an appointment to access our collections on that day, please email or call 850-644-3271.

The Norwood Reading Room, the Special Collections Exhibit Room, and the Heritage Museum will be open as scheduled on January 28. We will resume normal hours in all our locations on Tuesday, January 29, 2019.

¡El español es fácil!

WNYC was not the only station to offer language instruction over the airwaves. Beginning in late 1942, WQXR partnered with Time, Inc. to produce Let’s Learn Spanish, a 39-part series broadcast three times a week from January 4 through April, 1943, and then from July to October of that year. The collaboration was only the second radio program produced by Time.

The program was an instant success. It was eventually distributed and heard over more than 50 radio stations around the United States, and it spawned a sister production, 1944’s Aprendamos inglés (Let’s Learn English), distributed to 27 Latin and South American radio stations under the sponsorship of Kolynos toothpaste (known also as a sponsor of the radio show “Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons”).

This book was distributed to listeners who wanted to follow along with WQXR’s Let’s Learn Spanish program in 1943
(WQXR Archive Collections)


Let’s Learn Spanish also garnered some critical recognition, winning First Prize at the Cultural section of the Exhibition of Edu­cational Radio Programs given by the Fourteenth Institute for Education by Radio in Ohio that April. The citation read: “A well organized, interestingly-produced program which demonstrates the use of radio in arousing an interest in a foreign language.”[1] Occasionally, its introduction into a market was accompanied by quite a bit of fanfare: for example, representatives from many consulates attended its introduction to the Philadelphia airwaves.

The fifteen-minute lessons took “the form of a succession of conversational exchanges between ‘Joe Bishop’, man-on-the-street, and a Spanish teacher,” and were “aimed at giving the listener a working Spanish vocabulary”; famed foreign correspondent Joel Sayre wrote the scripts, assisted by I. A. Richards, director of the English Language Studies Commission at Harvard. The programs “combined the use of a book which the listener followed as he listened to the broadcast,”[2] and, indeed, a reported 4,500 listeners requested the Spanish-English word lists.[3]

Alas, our Archives do not own recordings of any of these programs, but our ancillary materials and research seem to indicate that the casual, conversational tone was likely a big part of the success of their success. And their success was long-lived: as late as 1958, New York station W-POW broadcast Let’s Learn Spanish ─still three times a week.

Do you know of any copies of Let’s Learn Spanish? Please write to us at

[1] Radio Daily, May 3, 1943

[2] Sanger, Elliott M. Rebel in Radio: The Story of WQXR. New York: Hastings, 1973

[3] Time, Monday, Jan. 25, 1943


Amherst Alumni in World War I

As the centennial commemorations of World War I come to a close, we’ve been working to develop two class sessions focused on the local impact of the war. As a result, we’ve been digging into our biographical files on students from the period to track down hidden stories of Amherst students that went off to war.

As soon as the United States entered the conflict, the Alumni Council of Amherst College established a Committee on War charged with requesting information and updates from alumni who had served. Questionnaires sent out were almost universally returned, demonstrating a desire on the part of the alumni to remain connected to the College community and to accurately reflect their service during the war. The Archives’ student biographical files cannot capture the full extent of personal experiences in the war – but the files do provide enough detail to show the hardships faced overseas. In this blog post we present a selection of materials from the class of 1914. These materials present an interesting challenge for researchers. In the face a vast amounts of raw historical data, how do we begin to make sense of it all? And how do we begin to track down loose threads presented in the primary source?


A typical war record information card sent by the Alumni Council (the original is a 3″ by 5″ card). This card lists Donald H. Brown’s (AC 1914) service history.


An excerpt of a letter written by Donald Brown. This is a typescript copy of the original.


Another example of a solicitation for information by the Alumni Council. The form also asks for “non-military” service, if applicable. The Alumni Council also asked for a “photograph of each man in active service, in uniform.”


Charles Morris Mills (AC 1914) – an Amherst alum in uniform. Mills enlisted in 1917 and was discharged in the spring of 1919.



A subsequent 1925 questionnaire for Mills indicates that he was “gassed Argonne Sept ’18” – referring to the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, a major part of the final months of the war.


We’ll end with Merrill S. Gaunt (AC 1914), whose diary is pictured above. After graduating Amherst College, Gaunt attended Andover Theological Seminary before volunteering for the ambulance service in France in January 1916. He was in service at the start of the Battle of Verdun but succumbed to cerebrospinal meningitis. He died in the hospital in Bar-le-Duc, France, April 3, 1916. The Amherst College archives holds his diary for this period. Though only in the war for three months, Gaunt’s brief journal entries offer glimpses into the cruelties of war.


1916 March 4: “Heard a woman cry when son dead.”


1916 March 16: “Receiv’d Helmet and Gas mask.”

The diary also includes his Gaunt’s last entry, written in French:



PoP & Protest: The Musicians’ Union in the 1980s

A new exhibition exploring the history of the Musicians Union in the 1980s, Pop and Protest is on display in the University of Stirling Library until the end of March 2019.  The exhibition draws on material from the archives of the Musicians’ Union, which were deposited with the University of Stirling Archives in 2010, and features some rarely seen items from the collection.

Pop and Protest: the
Musicians Union in the 1980s
is a journey through the campaigns and
memorabilia of the decade which saw membership of the union reach 40,000.  The exhibition illustrates the ways in which
the Musicians’ Union sought to improve the lives and employment rights of
performers.  During this politically
charged decade, members tackled anti-union legislation and spending cuts to music
education thrown at them by the Conservative Government.  They protested the mistreatment of performers
during a series of orchestra strikes and raised awareness of racial
discrimination in the UK and apartheid in South Africa.  Images and archive material about the
flagship campaign ‘Keep Music Live’ have been used to highlight the importance
of live music when new technology threatened the job security of live bands and
singers.  Musicians’ Union members also
used their talents to raise funds for famine relief by contributing to 1985’s
Live Aid concert.

The exhibition was curated by third year students at the University of Stirling taking a course in Exhibition and Interpretation Design.  Kelly Law, Nina Van Rooijen and Kassandra Bailey, students in the Exhibition Design team said “Working on this exhibition has been both challenging and fun. As design team we worked with several different members of the class to incorporate everyone’s aesthetic ideas. Designing this exhibition has been a wonderful opportunity to express our creativity and learn how to work as a team. Our design is inspired by the vibrant ‘80s and it is shown by the colours we have picked. We are excited to present this exhibition to the public and hopefully our hard work will show.”

The University Archivist, Karl Magee, noted “we were
delighted to open up the fantastic research resource which is the Musicians’
Union Archive to this student project. The exhibition they created brilliantly
captures a particularly eventful decade for the Union and shows the huge
potential of this collection for research, exhibition and promotion.”

Update from our 2019 Creative Fellow

Today’s blog post comes from PPL’s 2019 Creative Fellow Laura Brown-Lavoie, who offers us an update on her research and an opportunity to see her perform this weekend:

photo on 1-16-19 at 9.59 am

“Fun fact from the special collections today: 2 out of 3 special collections librarians hate desiccated rubber bands. (‘They are like dried out noodles.’ ‘Ugh.’ ‘Me? I don’t mind them.’) Anyway this is what a rubber band looks like when you leave it in a box of papers for a long time. In other news from special collections: I’ve been studying obscenity, coal of Rhode Island, and pilgrims, and I’m performing some of the poems this Saturday with my synth at the AS220 Mainstage in downtown Providence. Details about the show below, hope you can make it!”

You are invited to attend this special music performance at AS220

on Saturday January 19





LEFT HAND MAN (Laura Brown Lavoie)

9pm $6-10

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham, Alabama 1963

This tape was recorded in Birmingham, Alabama, Mothers Day, May 12, 1963. The previous night, the parsonage of A. D. King was bombed, as was the Gaston Motel, where Kings brother, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and a leader of the Birmingham movement, had been staying. Extensive rioting followed.

At a gathering held at the New Pilgrim Baptist Church, Reverend Andrew Young from SCLC introduces a delegation from National Council of Negro Women visiting for Mothers Day. Mrs. A. G. Gaston introduces Dorothy Height of the National Board of the YWCA, who discusses the contributions of women to the movement. There are speeches by Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. follow.

In this tape of Dr. King, he emphasizes the importance of nonviolence as a response to the violent actions of the previous day and talks of the achievements of the nonviolent sit-in movement that resulted in desegregation action in 210 southern cities.  

The Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker of the SCLC, stands atop a car while speaking to the crowd gathered to protest recent bombing attacks, May 12, 1963.
(AP Photo)


WNYC Director Morris Novik’s Tribute to Mayor La Guardia

Mayor La Guardia’s tombstone at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx photographed in 2008.
(Wikimedia Commons/Anthony22)

On September 20, 1964 at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, a memorial ceremony was held marking the 17th anniversary of Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia’s death. Former WNYC Director Morris S. Novik paid tribute to his old boss and the role La Guardia played in making WNYC the nation’s leading public radio station. The following is a transcript of his remarks*

On this, the 17th anniversary of the death of Fiorello H. La Guardia, we assemble as we have done every year to pay tribute to a man we loved. As the years go by, each of us attempts to assess the man. We try to explain the im­prints he made, not only on our lives in gen­eral, but also on our personal lives. The legacy of La Guardia was his identifi­cation with the people; they loved him and he loved them.

Each of us, as the years go by, see Fiorello La Guardia, naturally enough, through his own eyes. Objective though we try to be, we cannot but think in terms of our own personal relationship with him. All of us knew La Guardia as a great man,­ as a great mayor, as a great leader. It was my fortune to know La Guardia as a great communicator.

There are many explanations for the La Guardia phenomenon. One seems to domi­nate. He was able to talk to the widest audience and not only be heard, but under­stood. His phrase was not elegant. It often was not eloquent, but it was always direct, earnest, and completely understandable. It was as though his heart had a tongue that spoke to other hearts. This understanding was not limited to any one group. It reached everyone.

Mayor La Guardia reads the comics to New York’s children during the newspaper deliverymen’s strike of July 1945
(WNYC Archive Collections).

La Guardia pioneered in the use of radio. He understood that It was not merely a me­dium for making  speeches. It  was to him, a medium for talking personally with real people about real-life problems. He talked to people about their problems in their own terms. When he talked about the price of tomatoes on radio, be wanted to help people with limited earnings to make every penny count. He was trying to help them live better and more rewarding lives. Radio helped him ring each doorbell, talk with each person, and help every one of them with the problems of everyday living. This personal recollection of La Guardia is more than a sentimentalized memory. La Guardia saw radio, and in his last years, television–as practically an extension of personal conversation. Many did not agree with La Guardia but they always listened. 

WNYC was in existence for many years prior to Mayor La Guardia taking office. In many ways, It was regarded as an orphan or stepchild of the city government. In fact, previous administrations literally hid its antenna behind the statue on top of the municipal building and assigned the station to the housekeeping agency of the city, concerned with maintenance of buildings and bridges–the department of plants and structure.

It was Mayor La Guardia who first recog­nized the value of a city radio station. It was he who was responsible for the establishment of the radio station as an independent municipal  department. Then be­gan the long-range campaign to establish WNYC as a vital force in the  affairs and lives of the people of the city of New York. This led into the prolonged struggle  with the Federal Communications Commission to obtain recognition for the unique services rendered by WNYC and for its right to have full time on the air. A major step in winning that battle was actually achieved only recently, 26 years later. Hopefully, the final victory will not be long in coming.

Mayor La Guardia as he made his radio address to New Yorkers on December 7, 1941.
(Acme News Photo/WNYC Archive Collections)

During the crucial years of World War II La Guardia saw radio as a personal line of communication between government–local government–and the people. From day to day the people wanted to know not only about the events of the day, but how those events were evaluated by someone they trusted. They trusted Fiorello La Guardia. When the war broke out in 1941, the mayor was the first to realize the importance of radio and WNYC in supporting the war effort on the home front, in civil defense, and in keeping people informed of where and how they could help.

Mayor La Guardia never missed a Sunday broadcast during the war. In the heat of summer–and City Hall was not air conditioned in those days–and in the dead of winter, Fiorello La. Guardia left his home to face the WNYC microphone and press every Sunday to report to the people of New York on city affairs and the contribution the city was making to the war effort.

He reported how and where they could help, when to collect tin cans, what changes were being made in rationing, how to conserve vital energies needed for the war effort. He told them of what he thought about everything connected with the war effort. He lifted high the hope and strengthened the courage and the morale of the people of the world’s greatest city. Just as the bells of the Tower of Parlia­ment inspired the beleaguered  people  of Great Britain, so WNYC broadcast the historic chimes of our City Hall, followed by the identification “WNYC in a city where over 7 million people live in peace and enjoy the benefits of democracy.”

La Guardia wanted the station to be a liv­ing service to the city. He wanted it to draw the people closer to each other and to their city. He wanted it to help, to teach, to en­tertain, to serve, to unite–and to continue. Regularly during the war, the civil defense programs and services of WNYC were transmitted to the commercial stations in the city for rebroadcast. WNYC was the keystone in the arch that never cracked security during almost four years of voluntary censorship and self-regulation. Many are commemorated by statues, monuments or public facilities named in their honor such as airports, bridges, and tunnels.

While one of the great New York airports bears his name, I prefer to think that Mayor La Guardia’s principal monument is radio station WNYC. The station established a standard of excellence and a code of public service for broadcasting that even today is still unique. The station still plays a leading role in the cultural and civic affairs in the city.

Seated at his desk in City Hall, Fiorello H. La Guardia makes his final radio talk to the people of New York as mayor Dec. 30, 1945.
(AP Photo/Harry Harris)

That is the monument on the ether waves to Fiorello La Guardia. It is a voice that still speaks long after its innovator has  passed from us. It is a voice that has meaning and responsibility. It is listened to because of its authority. It is a living thing, a monument to his pa­tience, his fortitude, his fighting spirit. Perhaps I have spoken too much about La Guardia’s great  contributions to WNYC and the field of communications. That is natural for me. On this the 17th anniversary of his death, I know that all of us here feel his presence. We still miss him for his concern with a hundred causes. We miss him as a man. We miss him as a friend. He was sometimes difficult. He was sometimes violent. He could be gay. He could be sad. 

Fiorello La Guardia is missed, and he will never be forgotten. 

Fiorello H. La Guardia signature card.
(A. Lanset Collection) 


You can listen to Mayor La Guardia’s weekly WNYC program at: Talk to the People.

In addition we’ve posted many addresses in and around the city at: Mayor La Guardia.

*Source: Senator Jacob Javits (R-New York) placed Novik’s remarks in the September 29, 1964 (pages 23033-23034) edition of the Congressional Record published by the U. S. Government Printing Office. 

Editor’s Notes: I would be remiss if I didn’t provide some additional information and context to these remarks. Mayor La Guardia was indeed a champion of WNYC but that wasn’t always the case.

Medallion marking La Guardia’s election in November 1933.
(A. Lanset Collection)

1) When running for Mayor in 1933 part of La Guardia’s campaign platform included the elimination of the station to save taxpayer money. Following his election, among his first actions was to send Seymour N. Siegel over to the Municipal Building to shut the station down. Fortunately, Siegel, and I imagine a few others, convinced him to look into the matter more carefully and, to his credit, he did. A committee of ‘experts’ was impaneled to assess the station and make recommendations. 

The report on WNYC for Mayor La Guardia in 1934.
(WNYC Archive Collections)

2) The committee, composed of network executives William S. Paley (CBS), Richard C. Patterson (NBC) and Alfred J. McCosker, (WOR/Mutual Radio), essentially concluded the station was worth keeping if reforms were made. Their report coincided with the depth of the economic depression and the Roosevelt administration’s launching of the various WPA programs. This allowed La Guardia (and Siegel) to begin to turn the under-performing station around largely at federal government expense while putting unemployed New Yorkers to work. Under the WPA, a significant amount of airtime was filled by the Federal Music Program musicians, and Federal Theater Program-Radio Division actors. The Federal Art Program underwrote the cost of six abstract murals and a sculpture (although only four were completed and hung). And finally, under the WPA, new studios were built in the Municipal Building and a state-of-the art transmitter facility was established in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. 

WNYC Director Morris S. Novik (1903-1996), circa 1945
(The La Guardia and Wagner Archives, La Guardia Community College/The City University of New York)

3) La Guardia’s hiring of Morris S. Novik in 1938 was indeed a significant vote of confidence for the station and its potential service to the city and its residents. Novik had proven himself an energetic innovator at WEVD and was well connected to labor and progressive movements in the city. By that point too, La Guardia well understood the power of the medium and what it could do for his political and social agenda. It was no accident that 1938 also saw the creation of The Municipal Broadcasting System, an agency reporting directly to the mayor.

In the 1994 Mayor Giuliani was accused of pressuring WNYC’s Tom Morgan to hire Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa (r) as a host. To his right are show hosts Brian Lehrer and Leonard Lopate.
(WNYC Archive Collections)

4) Mayor La Guardia, like his predecessors and successors, was often accused by critics of using WNYC for partisan political purposes. Indeed, there is no doubt that mayors from John Hylan to Rudolph Giuliani did, at times, use WNYC for partisan political advantage. Some were more heavy-handed than others. When a government or governmental entity owns or controls a broadcaster, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the direct or indirect editorial influence. And even if it isn’t the case, the perception is almost always there, making a good argument for the broadcaster’s independence. For more on WNYC’s trek to freedom, please see: Going Public: The Story of WNYC’s Journey to Independence.       

5) For more on Novik and Siegel, the two men who helped Mayor La Guardia make WNYC an archetype of public broadcasting, please see: “Under Two Visionary Directors, New York’s WNYC Became An Incubator of Pubmedia Innovation.”


A Song for You: Remembering the Life and Artistry of Donny Hathaway

It was forty years ago this week that the world lost Donny Hathaway, the recording artist remembered by most for his top-40 hits with Roberta Flack, Where is the Love and The Closer I Get to You.  But to fans of 1970s soul and R&B, Hathaway is remembered first as a consummate artist, a musician whose technical ability and expressive powers produced a body of work like no other. Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler said, “I used to think we had two geniuses on Atlantic: Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. When Donny Hathaway signed up, I announced to one and all that I think we’ve found our third genius.”[1]

Donny Edward Hathaway was born on October 1, 1945 in Chicago.  He was raised in St. Louis by his grandmother, Martha Pitts, a gospel singer and guitarist.  By the time he reached age four, Hathaway’s grandmother recognized his musical gift, bought him a piano, and nurtured his talent. His youth was immersed in an array of music making. He sang at his family’s Pentecostal church, Trinity Baptist; he performed on the St. Louis gospel circuit under the stage name “Little Donnie Pitts”; he studied classical piano, and in high school performed Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor; [2] and after graduating from high school he attended Howard University, where he studied music on an academic scholarship.

It was while studying at Howard that Hathaway formed some of his most important and enduring artistic relationships: with Roberta Flack —his classmate and the collaborator on his most popular recordings; with Leroy Hutson —his roommate and the writing partner on his first major single, The Ghetto, Pt. 1; and with Ric Powell —his classmate, band mate and the co-producer of his first album, Everything is Everything.

In 1969, after a successful two-year period working as an arranger, producer, and session musician at both Chess Records and at Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom Records, twenty-three-year-old Donny Hathaway was signed as a solo artist by Atlantic Records to its Atco division. Over the course of the next four years, he released three critically acclaimed solo studio albums, as well as the million-selling duet album, Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, his legendary album, Live, the holiday classic This Christmas, the film score for the Samuel Goldwyn Jr. production Come Back, Charleston Blue, and the theme song for CBS Television’s hit series Maude. In those same years, he remained in demand and active as an arranger and session musician for the recordings of a diverse group of major artists, including Lena Horne, Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin, and Freddie King.

Donny Hathaway at a promotional event at the Plaza Hotel in 1971
(Cash Box, 5 June 1971/NYPR Archives)

The thread running through Hathaway’s prolific and diverse output is, of course, the artistry of Atlantic Records’ “third genius.”  It is an artistry built on a synergy of craft (“the most brilliant musical theorist I ever encountered,”[3] according to Wexler), virtuosity, roots in the music traditions that came before him, and a commanding voice imbued with fearless expression. His songs, whether originals or covers, have the sublime quality of being at once deeply personal and universal: Someday We’ll All Be Free, I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know, A Song for You, Giving Up.

In a 1971 review, the New York Times critic Don Heckman seemed almost at a loss to describe his encounter with Hathaway’s music. His extremely brief review begins:

Donny Hathaway, appearing at the Bitter End this week, should be heard.  That’s the way one usually ends a review, but in this case I’m much more concerned with urging you to go experience his music for yourself than I am with making critical points.

 He concluded, four sentences later:

So, to repeat myself, Donny Hathaway should be heard.[4]

Excerpt of the New York Times review of Donny Hathaway’s 1971 appearance at The Bitter End
(Don Heckman, New York Times, 29 October 1971)

But as his creative and professional life flourished, Hathaway’s mental health began to decline. According to his wife, Eulaulah Hathaway, “He was hospitalized on several occasions. I guess by ’73 or ’74 it was determined that he was a paranoid schizophrenic.” [5] From 1974 until 1979, Donny Hathaway’s recording career and public performances were largely halted by the debilitating effects of the disease and of its treatment.

Late in 1978, after a nearly four-year hiatus, plans were underway to resume Hathaway’s career. He would return to the recording studio to reunite with his old friend and collaborator, Roberta Flack; they would produce another duet album, a follow-up to their 1972 gold record.  The sessions for the new album began in January of 1979 and some takes were recorded, including those for the singles Back Together Again and You Are My Heaven. But part way into the session of January 13th, Hathaway became irrational, overwhelmed by an episode of the mental illness that plagued his life. The session was canceled, the musicians sent home.  Later that evening, at the age of 33, Donny Hathaway ended his life.

In 2011, Hathaway’s daughter, the singer Lalah Hathaway, spoke to Studio 360’s Eddie Robinson about her father, his legacy, and the transcendent quality of his music.

Lalah Hathaway on Studio 360, December 9th, 2011

Studio 360’s full interview with Lalah Hathaway is available here and is part the New York Public Radio Archives collection.


[1] Unsung, season 1, episode 3, “Donny Hathaway,” A. Smith & Co. Productions, 2 December 2008

[2] Cheers, D. Michael, “The Mysterious Death of Donny Hathaway,” Ebony, April 1979

[3] Kandia Crazy Horse, “Donny Hathaway: a soul man who departed too soon,” The Guardian, 8 January 2014

[4] Heckman, Don, “Donny Hathaway Plays Bitter End,” The New York Times, 29 October 1971

[5] Wells, Chris, “Eulaulah Hathaway Exclusive,” Echoes, 24 October 2013

New in the Public Domain 2019

On January 1st, the copyright expired for some of our holdings: these are now in the public domain in Canada. These digital materials may now be legally re-used for any purpose. Here’s a quick look at some of the images and maps that have become easier to re-use. There are many more!

Ross Lort was a Vancouver architect who began his career with the firm of Maclure and Fox, and spend the latter part of his career as the principal of the firm Ross A. Lort Architect. He was also an accomplished artist and we have a few of his works digitized.

“False Creek”, by Ross Lort, 1933. Linocut showing sawmills on False Creek. Reference code AM1562-: 2010-084

Hugh Pickett was a legendary local impresario. We have recently made his records available and will be digitizing some of the photographs in that fonds. Here is a photograph of Hugh with American actor-singer-dancer Mitzi Gaynor.

Hugh Pickett and Mitzi Gaynor. 1950s. Barry Glass, photographer. Reference code AM1674-S9-F06-: 2014-089.0933

This map, published by C.D. Shultz and Company, is in the form of an aerial photograph overlaid with annotations to show landmarks, tourist sites and trails in Stanley Park.

Stanley Park, Vancouver, B.C., 1968. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 1059

This map was created by the Office of the City Engineer by adding colour-coded information to a copy of a base map.

Sheet E : University Endowment Lands to Wallace Street and Sixteenth Avenue to Twenty-seventh Avenue. Date of creation is ca. 1925, with revisions to Nov. 23, 1943. Reference code: COV-S303-MAP 343-: MAP 343.30

This is just a small selection of the items which have recently come into the public domain.

The Answers in the archive…

The recent publicity surrounding the rediscovery of a time capsule buried in the University’s Gannochy Sports Pavilion during its construction in 1969 highlights the value of our archives in preserving the institutional memory of the university. The current redevelopment of the university’s sports facilities brought the presence of this item to light, the university being alerted to the presence of the time capsule in the building by Campbell Chesterman, former University Facilities Manager.

The exact location of the capsule was determined by checking the administrative records for the university for 1969 held in the University Archives. A file relating to the official duties of Lord Robbins, the first Chancellor of the University of Stirling, was found to contain a document entitled ‘University of Stirling – Gannochy Trust Pavilion Ceremony’ (ref. UA/A/4/1/1).

The document describes in detail the arrangements for the event which included the laying of the foundation stone for the building, the filling of the time capsule with a selection of items chosen to represent the University of Stirling in 1969 and the securing of the capsule within the walls of the building. A full list of the contents of the time capsule (or ‘casket’ as it was referred to in the document) is also included. With the date of the event established as 18 June 1969 a search through our press cutting files unearthed an article from the Stirling Observer which provided further details and also included a photograph of the ceremony taking place (ref. UA/H/1/3).

Armed with the information gleaned from the archival records the time capsule was located and removed from the building site. The University Archives was delighted to host the event where the capsule was re-opened, guests including Mr Chesterman, who had alerted the university to its presence in the Gannochy building.

Karl Magee (Archivist, University of Stirling) examines bottle of Bell’s whisky as (L-R) Duncan Scott (University of Stirling swimmer); Cathy Gallagher (Director of Sport, University of Stirling), Professor Malcolm MacLeod (Senior Deputy Principal, University of Stirling); and Campbell Chesterman (retired Facilities Manager, University of Stirling) look on. (Photo. Greg Christison)

The capsule captured a snapshot of the University in the
summer of 1969 its remarkably well preserved contents including sporting
equipment, exam papers, university publications, local and national newspapers,
stamps and currency (both decimal and pre-decimal denominations). Also included
was a bottle of Bells Old Scotch Whisky, in recognition of the support of the
Gannochy Trust for the new university (the Trust being founded in 1937 as a
charitable institution by the Bells Whisky family). 

The time capsule and its contents will be stored in the University Archives for the duration of the current redevelopment of the university sports facilities. It is planned to rebury the capsule in the new building, which is due for completion in 2020, adding a number of contemporary items to the original 1969 memorabilia. With these plans in place we will continue the tradition started in 1969, add to the history of the institution and preserve the record of the capsule and its contents in the University Archives (ref. UA/TC).

A selection of Scottish banknotes were among the items included in the time capsule in 1969. (Photo. Greg Christison)

Maestro Eugene Plotnikoff Conducting

Side 4 of 8 of Eugene Plotnikoff conducting WPA FMP concert airing on WNYC May 29, 1938.
(WNYC Archive Collections)

Eugene Plotnikoff conducted musical performances heard regularly over WNYC for more than half of the 1930s and into the forties, when he was with the WPA’s Federal Music Project [1] —including the broadcast above, Tchaikovsky’s Overture to Romeo and Juliet. The recording, pieced together from eight 12-inch 78rpm lacquer disc sides, comes from an all-Tchaikovsky concert by the New York Civic Orchestra on May 29, 1938. The full concert also featured material from the opera Mazeppa; Lensky’s aria from Eugene Onegin; and Symphony No. 5 in E minor. The soloists were Ruth Peters, soprano and Charles Heywood, tenor. It is just one of the hundreds of live concerts that WNYC broadcast during the WPA era.Plotnikoff, a veteran of the Moscow Imperial Theater’s orchestra pit, knew Tchaikovsky, whom he called “the kindest man I have ever known.”[2] But the great Russian composer wasn’t alone on Plotnikoff’s celebrity list of friends and acquaintances, which included Serge Rachmaninoff, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Reinhold Glière, Alexander Glazounov, and Mill Balakireff.Plotnikoff began as a cello student at the Imperial Music School in Odessa. Progress there led to the Moscow Conservatory, where he was a student of the composer Vasily Sergeyevich Kalinnikov and played in the orchestra under Tchaikovsky’s baton. Out on his own, Plotnikoff took up the conducting reins at Moscow’s Imperial Theater, where he directed the world premiere of Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Sadko. The Imperial is also where he was ballet director for five years, when Rachmaninoff was the theater’s general operatic director. [3]

A poster for the WPA Federal Music Project Russian symphony concert series conducted by Eugene Plotnikoff in 1938.
(Library of Congress)

Plotnikoff left the Soviet Union in 1921 to conduct a series of operatic performances in Paris and toured the United States as a conductor for the Chaliapin Opera Company before joining the WPA Federal Music Project soon after its inception.

The Daily Worker described Plotnikoff as the “conductorial mainstay” of the New York City Federal Music Project. He began his tenure leading the Festival Orchestra (later known as the Federal Symphony) and then the 100-member New York Civic Orchestra. The New York City Symphony Orchestra followed that, and in April 1941 he took over the directorship of the WPA Manhattan Chorus.  It was the WNYC broadcast of Plotnikoff’s Brooklyn Museum concert performance that was famously interrupted by the first domestic news bulletin announcing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He also conducted the WNYC Concert Orchestra at least a dozen times for American Music Festival and Brooklyn Museum concerts.  In spite of the hard times during the Depression, Plotnikoff was impressed by the wealth of talent and energy among the city’s unemployed musicians.

I can’t help but think that merit alone or lack of it, was not the factor that put these men and women out of work. It must have been unfortunate circumstances, for assuredly the musicians that come to me are qualified to play in any orchestra anywhere. Honestly, I think that if I had the financial backing to form a symphony orchestra, I would audition my artists from the ranks of the unemployed. I am sure I could get as good an orchestra there as elsewhere. [4]

In a February 1940 interview with Etude Music Magazine, Plotnikoff said it was impossible to give enough praise to the WPA Federal Music Project.

Organized some time ago, in the hope of bringing dignified assistance to unemployed musicians, they have rapidly become a splendid means of furthering music education. My orchestra numbers one hundred expert performers, many of whom have been ‘spotted’ and engaged for ranking symphonic organizations. Our programs are chosen for their purely musical value, without regard to box office popularity.[5]

Plotnikoff went on to emphasize that his experience had shown that catering to what is ‘popular’ was not a factor for winning a loyal and sizeable audience. He added that the concerts, which were at first free and later charged a nominal fee (35 to 55 cents), were regularly sold out.

This is a true test of the public interest in good music. It is satisfying to report that these concerts, which are attended solely for their musical worth, and not for any reasons of fashion or glamour, are reaching the very people who need them most. Perhaps only in America would a project of this kind be possible today. [6]

Label from a 16″ WPA Federal Music Project Radio Division transcription disc with Eugene Plotnikoff conducting
(WNYC Archive Collections)

Although New York-based, Plotnikoff’s conducting prowess could be heard throughout the United States via the WPA Federal Music Project’s distribution system. This pre-satellite ‘syndication’ relied on the U.S. Post Office delivering thousands of 16-inch broadcast transcription discs like this one (left) to participating radio stations around the country. The music follows below.

Eugene Plotnikoff conducting a WPA Federal Music Program orchestra.
(Courtesy of The New York Times)

Eugene Plotnikoff died tragically of a heart attack September 29, 1951 while conducting The New York City Amateur Symphony Orchestra at their City Center rehearsal of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. He was 73.[7]


[1] For more details please see: The WPA Federal Music Project is a Major Presence at WNYC.

[2] Heylbut, Rose, “Medallions of Russian Masters of Yesteryear by Eugene Plotnikoff,” The Etude Music Magazine, February 1940, pg. 137.

[3] “Russian Program at Museum,” The Brooklyn Eagle, June 4, 1939, pg. 6.

[4] “Let There Be Music —Despite Pink Slips,” Daily Worker, October 31, 1939, pg. 7.

[5] Heylbut, Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “E Plotnikoff Dies Leading Symphony,” The New York Times, September 29, 1951, pg. 14.



Digitizing Leon High School Newspapers

In collaboration with Leon High School, we just finished digitizing the first batch of their newspapers which date from 1920-1956. As with most collaborative efforts, this was a multi-step process involving several parties and today we’re going to briefly discuss the digitization portion of this project. The goal is to have the entire Leon High Newspaper Collection digitized, loaded into DigiNole and made accessible to the community.

The first step in the process was to take a glance at what we were working with and to prep the papers for digitization. The newspapers were picked up from Leon High and delivered to Strozier Library neatly sorted and grouped by decade, with most stored in protective mylar. Considering their age, the papers themselves were in decent condition and they arrived stored in several large archival boxes.

Sorting Leon High Newspapers

Sorting Leon High Newspapers
Sorting through the Leon High Newspapers

The plan was to efficiently digitize these objects using multiple pieces of equipment at once; larger issues would be digitized with our overhead reprographic camera set up while the smaller ones would be scanned on our Epson 11000XL flatbed scanners.

In order to get started, we sorted the newspapers by size and had them distributed to their respective scanning stations. This allowed us to save time by not having to manually refocus and position our overhead IQ180 camera each time a different-sized newspaper was encountered. Leaving the camera in one position allowed for faster capture time and guaranteed each photo would be captured at the specified resolution.

IQ180 Camera Setup
IQ180 camera aiming down at a Leon High Newspaper

When photographing this sort of material, it’s important to reduce as much depth as possible. Peaks and valleys caused by folds or creases in the objects can sometimes cause problems when trying to achieve evenly-sharp focus throughout the frame. Thankfully, most of the newspapers from this first batch laid relatively flat without too many folds or bumps.

We were able to flatten the few troublesome papers by carefully utilizing a set of custom-sized glass plates. By lowering the angles of the lights and by using low-glare glass, we were able to prevent any unwanted reflections from showing up in the final images.

These problems typically don’t occur when using flatbed scanners since closing the lid does a good job of flattening most objects. The scanners also allow for even lighting across the entire object without the risk of unwanted reflections, especially with non-glossy material such as these newspapers.

Epson 11000XL
Epson 11000XL getting ready to scan

Images from the flatbed scanner were cropped and saved to our servers directly from the VueScan software while images captured with our camera setup were edited and processed with Capture One CH.

Capture One CH Software
Typical Capture One CH session

While both pieces of software are quite powerful, they both have very different features. We primarily use VueScan as a scanning/processing software, while Capture One has the added bonus of offering file management and batch processing features as well as powerful capture tools. This allows us to quickly capture hundreds of photos consecutively and apply a set of edits/crops to the entire project at once. Capture One CH also offers specialized auto-crop and batch-crop features, which can be a massive time saver.

Once the images are all processed and saved onto our servers, they move onto final steps which include quality control, metadata creation, and loading of the images into DigiNole. Once the project has been safely uploaded, we will be ready to start all over with the second batch of newspapers! These newspapers will become part of the Leon High School Collection where we already have a full set of yearbooks for our users to browse.

We are ready to start digitizing the second batch of Leon High Newspapers after the holiday break, so keep an eye out for them to show up in Diginole later in 2019!

The Capitol Dance Orchestra: Blind Musicians Are WNYC Regulars

New York City’s Capitol Dance Orchestra was among the most publicized of the Federal Music Project’s units for the blind. Organized in August 1936, it consisted of five musicians (with an additional four slots), and it listed WNYC as its leading performance venue. Clarinet and saxophone player James Sumner told the Daily News at the time, “I made a good living before the Depression, playing at clubs and dances…I guess I can satisfy radio audiences.”[1]

The group’s size fluctuated over its seven-year run and included some thirty different blind or sight-impaired musicians. Most members of the group had been graduates of the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind but some, like accordion player Oscar England and banjo/guitar player Ray Dinsmore, (pictured above) went to the Indiana State School for the Blind before coming to New York. They all, however, learned their repertoire from Braille music and popular records. 

“The musicians believed that the project had rescued them from oblivion and poverty and had given them equal treatment. Like most other Americans, these musicians wanted ‘jobs we are equipped to handle…[The] Federal Music Project is a fair project and ours is a fair job,’ said Oscar England, unofficial leader of the group.”[2] They were each paid $23.86 for their weekly WNYC broadcast.

Headline from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 30, 1936..
(WNYC Archive Collections)

Unfortunately, Oscar England’s last performance at WNYC was on December 29, 1936, when a tragic accident ended his life. After the performance, England left the broadcast studio with his bandmate James Sumners. With their white canes, the two musicians were headed home to Brooklyn by subway; while transferring from the BMT to the Broadway-Canarsie line at Union Square, a misstep tragically landed England between the platform and the train. The New York Times assigned Meyer Berger, one of its best reporters, to cover the story of the accident. His heartfelt piece was on page one the next day. Oscar England was 34 years old, married, and a father of three. [3]  By January 1943, the Federal Music Project was coming to an end. The band’s last concert was on January 18th. The ‘WPA unit’ tallied more than 3,000 performances and in retrospect was noted as being one of the more popular WPA-sponsored dance bands. Towards the end, the remaining six members of the group changed their name to the Musical Bombardiers with the hope of getting paying gigs entertaining workers at defense plants.[4]

Clipping from the Radio Guide of July 24, 1937, pg.21.
(Internet Archive)


[1] “WPA Organizing Band of Blind to Go on Air,” Daily News, September 27, 1936, pg. 151.

[2] Bindas, Kenneth J., All of this Music Belongs to the Nation: The WPA’s Federal Music Project and American Society, University of Tennessee Press, 1995. pg. 39.

[3] Berger, Meyer, “Blind Musician, Groping in Subway, Miscounts Steps, Is Killed By Train,” The New York Times, December 30, 1936, pg. 1.

[4] “Concert and Opera Asides,” The New York Times, February 14, 1943, pg. X5.


Preserving Modern Books


Usually when people think of preservation work in archives and special collections, the first thing that comes to mind is crumbling old letters and ancient volumes, but the reality is that modern materials can pose even greater preservation challenges. The last 50 years has seen an explosion in the kinds of materials used in books and book arts: from the huge variety of plastics to experimental inks, dyes and paints; new photographic processes to unusual substrates like metal or concrete; books that include electronics to books that include dirt and seeds. It is clear that caring for modern books is not for the faint of heart!

A couple months ago, I attended a conference titled “Now! And Then? Preserving Modern and Contemporary Collections in Libraries and Archives“. It gave me a great excuse to pull together many of the modern items in our collections that pose particular preservation challenges. I’ve put together a photo montage of some of my favorites, click on an image to learn more about the item and its preservation concerns.

2013 by Justin James Reed
La autonomía es la vida, la sumisión es la muerte.
I Pledge by William Harroff
Freedom of Expression TM
R217A : Resolution 217A des Nations Unies : Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme by Didier Mutel
Indignity and resistance in the foothills of the Andes: a case study of Villa Grimaldi, Chile, 1973-1978/ Indignidad y resistencia en los pies de los Andes: estudio de caso de Villa Grimaldi, Chile by María Verónica San Martin
McSweeney's magazine
The story of the parrot and the merchant by Jalaluddin Mohammad Rumi, interpreted by Zahra Partovi with unique binding by Gabby Cooksey
The/Rapist by Maureen Cummins
Your House is Mine by Bullet Space
Earth Clock by Ginger R. Burrell
End Papers Box Set by Sto Len
Pictures of pictures by Sara Cwynar
Social me: Sofia Szamosi's social media box set
Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica by Isaac Newton; imprimatur Didier Mutel
On the slates by Clark Coolidge

A number of these artist books have been explored in greater depth in other posts on this blog:


Idylls of the King

From the Winter 1999 WNYC Program Guide:

“As we stand poised on the edge of a new millennium, travel back to another world on the verge of change. The Idylls of the King, based on the poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson is a radio play that gloriously recreates the legend of King Arthur, his queen Guinevere, and the dawn of a new age.”

The production was edited and adapted for radio by Christopher Cartmill and features Christopher Cartmill and Kathleen O’Grady. It was directed by Tom Palumbo and produced by WNYC’s Scott Borden and Gads Hill for a first broadcast on December 31, 1999.  The late great Margaret Juntwait announces. Engineering was by Wayne Schulmister.



2018: End-of-year review

The festive season always brings it end-of-year polls and ‘best of’ lists. We’re partial to a good list @unistirarchives so we have reviewed our user statistics recording visits to our archives reading room and enquiries received about our collections to come up with our annual rundown of our most popular collections.

In 2018 our most used and enquired about collection is the NHS Forth Valley Archive. Since the original transfer of material in 2012 it has consistently been one of our most popular collections (also topping our end-of-year chart in 2013, 2014 and 2015). The collection includes historical patient records that are of great interest to family historians. Alongside the regular genealogical enquiries we receive 2018 also brought a marked increase in the use of the collection by students at Stirling for dissertations and project work. This year also marked the 70th anniversary of the NHS and the 21st anniversary of Nursing at Stirling, both events generating further interest in our medical collections.

Case books from the Stirling District Asylum Archive.

The University of Stirling celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017 and the interest generated in the history of the institution continued into 2018 with the university’s own archives taking second place on our list. Another anniversary of note occurred in 2018 with the university celebrating the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Film & Media Studies as a subject at Stirling. With this anniversary in mind its fitting that the final entry in our top three of 2018 is our film archive collections which include the personal and working papers of John Grierson, Norman McLaren and Lindsay Anderson. 2018 also marked the 50th anniversary of the release of If…., Lindsay Anderson’s iconic tale of rebellion at an English public school. The anniversary generated much research interest in the film and we were also invited to contribute to a number of events, screenings and exhibitions relating to the film during the year.

Material from the Lindsay Anderson Archive.

Other Archives & Special Collections highlights in 2018 included: the award of an Honorary Degree to the writer Patrick McGrath by the University in June in recognition of the generous donation of his literary papers to the University Archives to support learning and research; the display of a specially-curated version of our Hosts & Champions exhibition at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast, Australia in April; and the fantastic exhibition created by our ARTUHR5 students in November – Pop and Protest: the Musicians’ Union in the 1980s showcases material from the Musicians’ Union Archive (and is on display in the University Library until March 2019).

Finally we would like to thank our team of volunteers who have worked so hard throughout the year to support us making our collections more accessible to all. And a big thank you to Lucy, our Heritage Studies student, who raised the profile of our collections on Wikipedia.

We wish all our users and supporters a very happy Xmas.

The University Archives will reopen on 3 January 2019.

Previous years:

2017: 1. University of Stirling; 2. NHS Forth Valley; 3. Peter Mackay

2016: 1. NHS Forth Valley; 2. University of Stirling; 3. Lindsay Anderson

2015: 1. NHS Forth Valley; 2. Musicians’ Union; 3. University of Stirling