#ColorOurCollections

In celebration of the New York Academy of Medicine’s #ColorOurCollections campaign this week, many museums, libraries, and archives hopped on the adult coloring bandwagon and created coloring books to share on Twitter. We’ve been participating by posting various images throughout the week for people to color, from Rosie the Riveter to the Faulkner murals.

Now we have a coloring book as well! We’ve chosen some of our favorite patents from our holdings for you to color:

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The National Archives Coloring Book of Patents 2016

Or, browse our online catalog for more fascinating patents to color!

Share your coloring creations with us on Twitter using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections.

Mittan: A Reception

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Mittan: A Retrospective is the photographic exhibit currently on display in the Special Collections and Archives gallery space in Strozier Library. The works of J. Barry Mittan candidly capture the student experience at Florida State University in the 1960s and 1970s. As a student and photographer for numerous campus publications, including the Tally-Ho yearbook and Florida Flambeau newspaper, Mittan often photographed students at official university-sponsored events and spontaneous student gatherings alike. Through his documentation of sporting events, Greek life, protests, concerts, study sessions, socials, and so on, he was able to construct a comprehensive view of FSU student life in which individuals banded together to share a common voice in an age of social change. Mittan’s unique perspective as a student informed his photographic purpose to see the individuals among the crowd.

Please join us for a closing reception celebrating the photographic works of J. Barry Mittan tonight from 5-7pm! The reception will be held in the Special Collections Gallery on the first floor of Strozier Library. The exhibit closes on February 8th.

Diallo Telli: Messages of Friendship and Trust

It is 1958 and Guinea, the first of the former French African colonies to gain independence, has just become the eighty-second UN member. In this 1958 broadcast of International Interview, Telli is questioned by journalists from the Agence France-Presse, the Tel Aviv newspaper Maariv, and the World-Union Press. Telli is first asked why of the previously existing eighteen French colonies only Guinea has so far voted for independence. There is “no cultural reason,” he argues. It was merely “an organizational explanation.” Guinea met the French government’s stringent criteria qualifying it for independence. He claims that there is “no difference between yes and no.” Independence is inevitable for the African colonies. Only external “regressive forces” have delayed other territories from breaking away as Guinea did.

Asked about a recently announced “union” between Guinea and Ghana, Telli downplays the significance, emphasizing that both countries will maintain their sovereignty, casting it more as a loose alliance enabling the two nations, and eventually other African states, to work together. Guinea’s ongoing relationship with France is then discussed. Telli assures the French journalist that future dealings will be smooth as long so they are established on a basis of “strict equality.” Guinea has made a great many concessions to France in return for being granted its independence. Now it is up to France to treat the new nation with respect. Finally he is questioned about the recent All-African Peoples’ Conference held in Accra. Telli stresses the themes of independence and unity, seeing the conference as a way to “set up the necessary tactics” to facilitate the remainder of the continent throwing off the yoke of colonialism.

We are at the dawn of African nationalism. Telli represents the state-educated class groomed by the French to be high level bureaucrats. Instead he is trying to transform his country into a stable, independent nation. His initial confidence, displayed here, and his terrible subsequent fate, can be seen as mirroring the path of much of Africa itself during the second half of the twentieth century.

Diallo Telli (1925-1977) was trained as a lawyer, working as a district attorney, magistrate, and eventually chief of the Office of the High Commissioner in Dakar, making him the highest-ranking African in the French colonial government. Upon Guinea’s independence, he was appointed Ambassador to the United Nations before becoming in 1964 Secretary General for the newly formed Organization of African Unity. Guinea had been ruled since its independence by Sékou Touré. Although Telli was recognized as a skillful diplomat, there was never any doubt whose policy he was carrying out. As the World Heritage Encyclopedia notes: 

“The job was extremely challenging for him, as he expressed it involved negotiating a common viewpoint among the many leaders of African states, each of whom had divergent opinions. In an article published in the Fall of 1965, Telli acknowledged the difficulties and disputes but asserted that the organization had a flexible enough structure to deal with these problems, and asked what would have happened if there had been no OUA. At times Telli was criticized for his outspokenness. Some criticized him for pushing Sékou Touré’s views too strongly. In July 1968 it was reported that he was unlikely to be appointed for a second term since he had not shown neutrality.”

In 1972, Telli returned to Guinea and was appointed Minister of Justice. By then Touré’s rule had gone from despotism to one of outright paranoia. It did not help that Telli was of the Fula people while his president was a Mandinka. In 1976 Telli was arrested on what were widely perceived as trumped-up charges that he and other Fula were plotting to overthrow the government. Though there seems to have been some semblance of a trial, no announcement of his fate was made. It was not until 1979 that the newspaper The Afro-American reported:

“In reply to a question the President reminded his listeners that Diallo Telli had been condemned to death and as such was no longer within his sphere of influence or comment. ‘All those condemned to death are dead,’ he is reported as having said.”

Word eventually leaked out that at the infamous Camp Boiro Telli and the other accused conspirators were tortured, forced to sign confessions, and then subjected to the “black diet,” deprived of food and water until they starved to death. The Organization of African Unity, which Telli helped found and headed for eight years, did not acknowledge his disappearance. 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150242
Municipal archives id: LT8307

Mayor John Vliet Lindsay, Comedian – Live at the Inner Circle

New York is the city that never sleeps, right? In John Lindsay’s day, neither did its government. Lindsay was elected partly on the promise that he would keep City Hall open 24-7. And that he did, hiring a team of “Night Owls” to hold down the fort while he and the rest of the Fun City government slept it off. 

But even Night Owls have their day. 

Attendees to the 1966 City Hall Owl Watch party were wined and dined and honored with speeches from both the night mayor and the mayor himself. But the real gift to the Night Owls was an LP pressing of Lindsay’s Inner Circle ”rebuttal” – a special recording of his honor singing, dancing, and telling jokes with Broadway actress and future Mrs. Brady Florence Henderson. While the dancing was unfortunately not captured by WNYC microphones (it was a soft-shoe number), the songs and jokes unfortunately were, and are captured here for your listening pleasure.

My personal favorite:

Florence: “Your honor, what is your favorite form of exercise?”

JVL: “Bowling”

Florence: “Get many spaaares?”

JVL: “No. But I had a hell of a STRIKE!”

It doesn’t get much better than that.

The tune, “Oh It’s Great To Be The Mayor Of New York,” fares a bit better, as it should – it was penned by the songwriting team Bock and Harnick, then reveling in the massive success of their recent hit musical, Fiddler on the Roof.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 92496, (see also 72461)

Municipal archives id: T899

Rare Books and Haggis: Burns Night in Tallahassee

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Katie McCormick receiving the newest edition to the Scottish Collection from St. Andrew Society of Tallahassee member Ken Sinclair.

As previous posts have shown, the work of Special Collections & Archives staff is not confined to the walls of the library. We love being able to get out into the community, so Associate Dean of Special Collections Katie McCormick and I jumped at the chance to attend the Burns’ Supper hosted by the St. Andrew Society of Tallahassee on Saturday, January 23rd at Westminster Oaks. The Burns’ Supper is a celebration of the life and works of Scotland’s National Poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796), which was begun by Robert Burns’s friends in 1801 to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his death. It is traditionally held on or around January 25th, Burns’s birthday, and commences with the famous “Address to Haggis,” followed by the eating of haggis with tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips). It was my first time trying haggis, and, I must say, it was delicious! The evening continued with dinner, toasts and poetry recitations, and a wonderful performance of Scottish music and songs set to Burns’s poetry put on by the FSU School of Music.

FSU Special Collections & Archives has over one-hundred editions of Burns’s poetry in our John MacKay Shaw Childhood Poetry and Scottish Collections, as well as many more volumes on the history, culture, and literature of Scotland. John MacKay Shaw was a founding member of the St. Andrew Society of Tallahassee, and his impressive book collection includes the famous Kilmarnock edition of Burns’s poetry, published in Edinburgh in 1786. Each year, the St. Andrew Society of Tallahassee generously provides us with a donation to support the upkeep and development of our Scottish Collection. At this year’s Burns’ Supper, we received an extra treat when society member Ken Sinclair presented FSU Special Collections & Archives with an 1873 Edinburgh imprint of The Complete Works of Robert Burns which had been passed down in his family for several generations. We look forward to adding this book to our collections, and we’re already looking forward to next year’s Burns Night!

Art//Archives: An Avian Extravaganza

Today’s visual research open hours (Tuesdays, 10:00 – 1:00) offer you an avian extravaganza, an ornithological assemblage, a great number of illustrated birds!

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This lovely, bespectacled fellow hails from E. Donovan’s 1794 The Natural History of British Birds; Or, a Selection of the Most Rare, Beautiful, and Interesting Birds Which Inhabit This Country: The Descriptions from the Systema Naturae of Linnaeus; With General Observations, Either Original, or Collected From the Latest and Most Esteemed English Ornithologists; and Embellished with Figures, Drawn, Engraved, and Coloured from the Original Specimens. (Say that five times fast!)

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Today’s visitors also can page through this book on “cage and chamber-birds”. It includes information on “their natural history, habits, food, diseases, management, and modes of capture”. (A researcher yesterday deemed this book “kind of awesome and kind of a bummer,” which I find to be entirely accurate.)

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Studer’s Popular Ornithology, published in 1881, has beautiful, large-scale, color illustrations of birds, as well as a spectacular title page. (Does the “A” in the word “America” look vaguely masonic to anyone else?)

Stop by to spend some time with these books today, or contact us to make an appointment with these feathered friends.

Laurens H. Seelye and the Armenian Student Cooperative Club

college_seal_1825aWhen Amherst College was founded in the early 19th century, part of its raison d’être (aside from being a protest against Harvard’s Unitarianism) was to educate young men to go out into the world and preach the gospel.  The College seal illustrates this philosophy: “Terras Irradient” – “let them enlighten the lands.” However, by the end of the century graduates’ interests had evolved to something in addition to religious instruction, or something entirely different.  Graduates of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were still going into the world as missionaries, but by then the work often meant starting schools or becoming medical missionaries.  Other alumni were writers, doctors, teachers, publishers, ambassadors, “industrial barons,” and in many other professions far removed from those of the first Amherst graduates.

From left, Laurens, Dorothea, Kate, and Mary Averett Seelye, ca. December, 1919.

From left, Laurens, Dorothea, Kate, and Mary Averett Seelye, ca. December, 1919.

For Laurens Hickok Seelye, Class of 1911, “Terras Irradient” meant that he would teach philosophy at the American University of Beirut (AUB, known at the time as the Syrian Protestant College), where he moved in 1919 with his indefatigable wife Kate Chambers Seelye, daughter of missionaries William and Cornelia Chambers.  For Kate the move was a return home after her college years in the U.S. (Kate was born and raised in Turkey but left to attend Bryn Mawr and Columbia).  For Laurens the Middle East was something entirely new, and he threw himself into its culture unreservedly.  Professor Seelye probably stood out everywhere he went for his height, his humor, and his intense intellect.  And he loved AUB.  He loved it for its diversity, tolerance, and collegiality.  In a memorable letter to an old friend, he described both himself and the college:

WCSB-LHS-to-Dorry[Robbins]-1928-Aug-excerptIn addition to testing boundaries and teaching philosophy, Laurens acted as the director of West Hall, which was and still is the student campus center.  In that position, he came to know more students than he would otherwise have known.  After he had settled in at AUB, Laurens noticed a need for something else – financial assistance for ambitious young Armenian refugees to continue their education beyond what the Near East Relief provided.  This organization had established orphanages to help with Armenian refugees who had flooded into the area during and after World War I.  They provided a basic education to about age 16, at which time the boys left the orphanages to fend for themselves.  Because of Kate’s personal connection with the Armenian community and Laurens’ work at the college, several of these boys came to the Seelyes to ask for help.  Laurens decided to do what he could as a personal project, outside of his work at AUB.

In a letter to Clarence Young, an uncle, Laurens described the situation and his plan to help.  He said that there was no provision to train the Armenian refugees beyond a trade-school education, no resources to train teachers, doctors, dentists, pastors, and other professionals.  “I am right up against young life determined to win out and get an education if given half a chance,” Laurens wrote to Clarence.  The world “can do nothing in the future without an educated and large-minded minority scattered through the races and nations who are willing to stake their lives and reputations on the practice of Good Will.”  Would his uncle share his plea with churches and schools and clubs at home and ask if they might raise funds to support some of these boys?

WCSB-LHS-to-Clarence-Young-1923-Aug-6-p1WCSB-LHS-to-Clarence-Young-1923-Aug-6-p2

 

 

 

 

The plan worked.  Laurens and his donors were able to provide funds for a long list of boys to continue their educations.  The boys were mostly Armenians, but there were also boys of other backgrounds.

In 1923 a few of these boys met with Laurens and came away with the idea  of forming an Armenian Students Cooperative Association.  The club started with the goal of finding an affordable living space that a handful of students could share, splitting the cost of food, rent, and a cook (the latter after one of the boys inadvertently fried up his tie with some eggplants).  The club was sufficiently popular that it had to expand to two clubs and two houses.  A few of its members weren’t even Armenians, which pleased Laurens because it realized his goal of having the students regard themselves as “humans first, Armenians second,” by which he meant that he wanted his students to recognize their common humanity, and to work to improve conditions for all.

Club members lived, worked, and played together. Click below to enlarge the photographs and view them as a gallery.

On verso, Laurens wrote: "Our Fifth Form picnic.  Left to right, Garbis [Nevulafian] (Armenian), Mahmoud Khalid (Moslem), Hussein Sijan (Moslem), Omar Fayid (Moslem), Hovhannes Tabourian (Armenian)"
On verso, "Group of students at the first cooperative club at dinner.  American University of Beirut, Beirut, Syria."
On verso Laurens typed: "April 14, 1928.  Dear Mother: Here is a picture of some of the boys of the "Students International Cooperative Club" and a report on their club, written by the Director.  Out here such cooperative enterprises are unusual -- nothing like it anywhere else in the Near East, as far as I know.  L."
Exerpt from club founder Dicran Berberian's letter to Laurens H. Seelye that accompanied three photographs.
On verso, "In front of the Dog River caves."  (Dicran Berberian to Laurens Seelye, April 20, 1926.)
On verso, "Our trip to Hariseh" (Dicran Berberian to Laurens Seelye, April 20, 1926.)
On verso, "Having a hearty lunch." (Dicran Berberian to Laurens Seelye, April 20, 1926.)
Laurens Seelye writes from his sabbatical in New York to Dicran Berberian.  This letter and the next, to Shirajian, reveal Seelye's fine, generous mind and philosophy (and never mind a reader's benefit of hindsight here and there).
Laurens Seelye writes from his sabbatical in New York to Eleazar Shirajian.

 

The club also issued annual reports, three of which (1923-24; 1924-25; and 1926-27) are in the collection.  The reports demonstrate the democratic philosophy they practiced:

First page of 1924-25 report. Click on pdf below for full report.

First page of 1924-25 report. Click on pdf below for full report.

Armenian-Stu-Coop-Club-report-1924-25

The Seelyes were friends with several of these students for decades; in fact, there are letters in the collection from the club’s founder, Dicran Berberian, that date from the 1960s.  The existence of the club is a testament to the industry of the students, but also to Laurens’ teaching.  In his own way, he had realized Amherst’s motto, “Terras Irradiant.”

 

The material illustrated here is from the Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Blaisdell Family Papers in the Archives and Special Collections.  Contact the department for more details.

iPRES International Conference on Digital Preservation 2015

This past November I attended iPRES 2015. iPRES is one of the foremost international conferences on digital preservation, and the conference location rotates between North America, Europe, and Asia. iPRES 2015 was hosted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

UNC Chapel Hill, Louis Round Wilson Library, which houses the university’s archives and special collections. Source: Ildar Sagadejev, CC-BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

UNC Chapel Hill, Louis Round Wilson Library, which houses the university’s archives and special collections. Source: Ildar Sagadejev, CC-BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

iPRES 2015 was a great opportunity to learn about recent developments in digital preservation research and practice, and to swap stories and ideas with fellow archivists as well as practitioners of many other stripes. The digital preservation community is highly varied and necessarily involves the expertise of multiple professions, and one of the most satisfying elements of my time at iPRES was the chance to look at familiar problems from new angles.

iPRES Amplified

This year, the iPRES Organizing Committee invited conference attendees and those who couldn’t be present in person to participate in the opening and closing sessions via social media, and to communicate throughout the conference using the hashtag #ipres2015. In addition to the participatory opening and closing sessions, many panels, sessions and workshops at iPRES 2015 generated Google Docs that are now publicly available through the iPRES Amplified page.

Sample conference tweets

Sample conference tweets

Session highlights

Sessions covered topics ranging from high-level long-term preservation and storage architectures to the nitty-gritty of preservation tools and workflows. Recently-completed and ongoing projects to keep an eye on include:

  • the release of version 3.0 of the PREMIS Data Dictionary for Preservation Metadata. PREMIS is integral to Archivematica and AtoM, the digital preservation and access systems we use here at the City of Vancouver Archives. PREMIS 3.0 contains some significant changes and additions, the most exciting of which (for me!) is the transformation in the way hardware and software rendering environments are modeled. Without going into too much jargon-laden detail, the changes in environment modeling allow the components of a rendering environment (e.g. an operating system, a software application, a piece of hardware) to be described and preserved independently of the digital content that requires them, and independently of one another.
Oh yeah! Excerpt from PREMIS version 3.0

Oh yeah! Excerpt from PREMIS version 3.0

Going forward, this new approach will facilitate the preservation of rendering environments alongside the records that depend on them – a likely necessity for some types of born-digital records.

  • BitCurator, which is now receiving ongoing community support and development through a consortium that reached 20 members just before iPRES 2015 kicked off. BitCurator began life as a joint project of UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, with the goal of developing a system that would incorporate digital forensics tools and methods into archival workflows. Among many other things, digital forensics tools can:
    • support processing of born-digital records on legacy media in accordance with the archival principle of original order (keep the records in the order the creator left them);
    • help ensure trustworthiness of the records by documenting all actions performed on them before they are ingested into a repository; and
    • through the use of software-based write-blockers, reduce the risk of accidental changes to data.
    Capturing a disk image in the BitCurator environment. Source: BitCurator Consortium, BitCurator Quick Start Guide

    Capturing a disk image in the BitCurator environment. Source: BitCurator Consortium, BitCurator Quick Start Guide

    The BitCurator project ran from 2011-2014, and produced a freely downloadable, open-source environment, which is now being managed by the BitCurator Consortium in association with the Educopia Institute. I am looking forward to getting my hands dirty (virtually speaking) with BitCurator this year, setting up a BitCurator workstation and developing workflows with our digital archives team.

  • ongoing research toward increasing the viability of emulation as a preservation strategy. Broadly speaking, emulation refers to the ability of a computer program to behave like another program; usually this means getting a modern environment to behave like an older, obsolete environment. For example, the JSMESS emulator used by the Internet Archive’s Console Living Room provides emulations of many early home video game consoles, allowing you to access and play hundreds of games you may not have seen since 1982, if at all.
Opening screen from Adventures of Tron for the Atari 2600, accessible via emulation at the Internet Archive’s Console Living Room.

Opening screen from Adventures of Tron for the Atari 2600, accessible via emulation at the Internet Archive’s Console Living Room

The relative merits and drawbacks of emulation versus migration have been vigorously debated for many years; while emulation is valued for preserving the original look and feel of content, it has generally been both very expensive and very complex to provision, and migration – the continual transfer of data to new file formats, and sufficiently expensive and complex in its own right! – is currently the approach taken in the vast majority of institutions. Emulation projects presented include:

  • Project EMiL, a joint project of the University of Freiburg, the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, the German National Library, and the Bavarian State Library, which focuses on emulation of complex interactive multimedia objects such as internet-based artworks and scientific simulations. EMiL’s goal is to develop a prototype system for provisioning emulated environments that is optimized for the needs of memory institutions. At a session titled “Preservation Strategies and Workflows,” Project EMiL researchers spoke about the challenges involved in determining appropriate emulation environments for CD-ROMs (remember those?) that are already inaccessible through current systems and lack the technical metadata that would be used as guideposts. Their solution involves the development of a CD-ROM characterization tool to ‘guess’ at the most suitable environment based on characteristics of the CD-ROM. If this sounds as exciting to you as it does to me, the full paper can be found here.
  • Rhizome and the New Museum’s project to make artist Theresa Duncan’s CD-ROM games from the 1990s playable online through the University of Freiburg’s bwFLA Emulation-as-a-Service (EaaS) platform, which allows a web browser to connect the user to a cloud-based emulated environment. Emulation is particularly valuable for the preservation and continued accessibility of games, where maintaining the look, feel, and behaviour of the original environment is key.
Case for Zero Zero by Theresa Duncan (Nicholson Associates, 1997). Source: Rhizome

Case for Zero Zero by Theresa Duncan (Nicholson Associates, 1997). Source: Rhizome

  • BitCurator Access, a project undertaken at UNC Chapel Hill following the end of the first BitCurator project. Where the first BitCurator project focused on capture of disk images from legacy media, BitCurator Access is exploring methods for providing web-based and local access to the extracted disk images, and will include the bwFLA Emulation-as-a-Service (EaaS) platform mentioned above in its assessment.

Post-conference workshop on open-source digital preservation tools and workflows

The day after the official close of the conference, I attended a full-day workshop where participants (most of whom were already open-source users, like us) had the opportunity to share their experiences with various open-source tools, discuss the opportunities and challenges associated with going open-source, identify gaps among existing tools, and brainstorm on wish-lists for tool integrations and features. A number of common themes emerged, most of which were familiar to me from my own work. Some of these were:

  • the current gap in tool integrations and workflows for the “pre-ingest” phase of processing digital records. Taken broadly, pre-ingest refers to all the work done from the time of transfer by a donor to the time the records are ingested into the digital preservation system (for us, that’s Archivematica). This work can include performing fixity checks on received content to ensure files were not corrupted during transfer, performing archival appraisal (determining what will be kept and what will not), and analysis of file formats present to inform workflow decisions.
  • the need to re-ingest archival information packages (the ‘preservation master’ files and associated metadata) when updates are made to the metadata. Happily for Archivematica users, lead developers Artefactual will be rolling out support for re-ingest with the release of Archivematica 1.5.0.
Metadata re-ingest process in Archivematica 1.5.0

Metadata re-ingest process in Archivematica 1.5.0

  • the open-source digital preservation community is full of dedicated, generous, collaborative folk, and the need for non-developers to participate in projects through, for example, contribution of use cases, documentation, and bug reports was continually emphasized. A diversity of contributions from different sizes and types of institutions can encourage development of scalable tools and systems, and mitigate the possibility that projects only suit one segment of the community.

The chance to assess as a group the current state of open-source digital preservation was a great conclusion to my conference week. For those interested in looking under the hood, the collaboratively-edited workshop notes are available in the Workshops & Tutorials folder in the iPRES 2015 Google Drive.

Digital preservation is, like all technology-heavy fields, given to rapid change and iterative refinement of processes, and keeping current is a necessity for practitioners like me. iPRES 2015 left me feeling refreshed and inspired to tackle some the City’s digital records coming my way in 2016. Thanks to the conference organizers for a great event!

Music Decriminalized: The End of “Cabaret Cards”

Commissioner of Licenses Joel Tyler calls the signing of this bill, colorfully and enigmatically referred to on an ancient Municipal Archives catalog card as a Theatrical Fingerprinting Bill, “one of the truly significant moments in New York City’s history.”

If this bold statement trips your skepticism, it’s to be expected. We’re by now well acquainted with the rehearsed hyperbole of the elected and the hopeful, and we’ve all learned to correct intuitively the tendency many pols have to fool themselves, overestimating the importance of their own little corners with a pride stemming as much from outsized ego as from an inbuilt solipsism. Political rhetoric seldom navigates this Scylla and Charybdis of junk talk to emerge successfully scanned as genuine; is this occasion any different? And sure, it’s a big day for the Commissioner of Licenses, but is it “truly significant?”

Yes. It is.

Listen to his voice. Don’t listen to the words; don’t listen to the tone; don’t scan for emotion. You won’t hear anything new there.

Listen to his voice distort. Listen to it sharpen and crackle. This is his tell.

The Greeks thought of inspiration as drawing in the divine breath of the Muses. Modern methods of public address and sound recording offer a curious reversal of the process – carrying the levelest voice through the air at unprecedented amplitude to be heard and felt and inspire anew. But the process suffers from an Achilles’ heel: waves that reach beyond a certain threshold get squared off at the margins, yielding a warm but unwelcome and unnatural distortion. Tyler, all too eager to have his voice heard and captured marking the moment, stands a little too close to his microphone, temporarily overwhelming the capabilities of the system in front of him, offering a subtle reveal of what the occasion really means.

The “truly significant moment” is the signing of the September 25, 1967, bill that would end cabaret cards.

New York’s cabaret laws had been on the books since 1927, born in the wanton days of the jazz age, but only really hit their damaging stride in 1943, when all musicians working in New York City were made to carry a “cabaret card” to perform in its nightclubs and bars, a license which could be, and was, snatched away or denied renewal at the slightest offense, effectively blacklisting an artist from performing in the City for years at authority’s whim. New York’s cabaret card provisions were intended to be a force in the fight against the City’s criminal element, but the licensing requirement had the effect of undermining New York’s capacity as an incubator of art for decades. 

Take for instance jazz great Thelonious Sphere Monk (pictured above), who three times had his cabaret card revoked through the 40s and 50s, coming up for air all too briefly for his famous engagement with John Coltrane at the Five Spot in 1957. Thelonious saw some successes emerge during his intermittent ban, but only in spite of the unduly harsh law - Brilliant Corners, his classic recording from the period and one of the greatest jazz recordings ever made, one that was recently added to the Library of Congress’ esteemed National Recording Registry, was cobbled together with an underprepared makeshift band at a time when he could not legally perform in the City. Only in the 60s did he establish a stable band and commercial success, when he was arguably past his prime. Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, and many other famous performers seeking a narcotic muse fell victim to the cabaret card law, but consider too, how many talents were rendered obscure or snuffed out entirely by the law’s Draconian demands. Frank Sinatra, in an act of kind solidarity with his fellow artists (and perhaps some underworld friends), famously refused to perform in New York during at least part of the law’s damaging run.

But perhaps jazz isn’t your bag. Consider instead The Ramones’ predilection for sniffing glue and violence against brats, or the band Television, bidden by “Venus” to impersonate New York’s Finest, or even nerdiest of the bunch, The Talking Heads, whose quasi-autistic psychotic visions would have read differently in the wake of Son of Sam. It is debatable whether any of these groups would have been able to hold on to such licenses for long in the dingy, dangerous, and paranoid New York of the 70s, particularly in the seedy confines of the Bowery. No CBGBs, no scene. No scene, no punk. No punk, no Pistols, no Clash (no future indeed). And it’s tough to say what would have happened to hip hop, which largely found its gestation in more informal atmospheres, but it’s development as an artform would have likely suffered as well, especially given the law’s moralizing aims.

It is thankful then that these laws did not remain in the books (though others lingered on). And that thanks is due to Lindsay, Tyler, and others, all present on this recording, for striking down a foolish decades-old law on September 25, 1967.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 92378
Municipal archives id: T2049

Bad Children of History #22: Holiday Hellions

Today’s terrible young folks are taken from Randolph Caldecott’s Gleanings from the “Graphic” (London: Routledge, 1889). (Yes, this is the Caldecott of the annual Caldecott Medal; he was an influential 19th century children’s book illustrator, and also illustrated novels and magazines and made “humorous drawings”.)

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The illustration above comes from a series called Christmas Visitors. The “old folks” are playing cards in a previous drawing, while these “young folks” are taking part in a jumble of juvenile antics: aggressively kissing a lass’s cheek beneath the mistletoe, crying and/or somersaulting backwards, pushing a blindfolded old man in knee socks, crab-walking away from the blindfolded old man in knee socks, and tickling the back of the knee of the old man in knee socks.

Nothing–and I mean nothing–says Christmas like a blindfolded old man in knee socks.

 

35mm slide project

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Like many teaching institutions, we have a huge 35mm teaching slide collection. It was once in constant use, but now 35mm slides are a redundant technology, and questions have to be asked about whether the collection is worth the space it occupies.

We are not alone in asking this question: there is a lively debate about the issue across museums, libraries, art galleries and universities.

Most of the guidelines on slide libraries seem to start with the assumption the problem is one of how to identify which slides to dispose of. The Guidelines for the Evaluation, Retention, and Deaccessioning of 35mm Slide Collections in Educational and Cultural Institutions, prepared by the Visual Resources Association’s Slide and Transitional Media Task Force, September 2014 begins with: ‘Our purpose here is to raise awareness of the issues associated with reducing the size of a 35mm teaching collection, and to provide general guidelines for evaluating and weeding.’

Reading through the VRA guidelines and its appendix of institutional guidelines, there is a consensus that ‘weeds’ are duplicates, images taken from books, and slides that are damaged, mouldy, out-of-focus, fading or otherwise imperfect, unless they are originals. However, the work of identifying ‘originals’ in a massive slide collection is no simple task, especially where there is no source data – a common issue with teaching slide collections, and certainly one we face. Weeding is an interesting word. Weeds are unwelcome intrusive plants in a garden that take up space and choke desirable plants. Does taking out unwanted slides make a collection more accessible and more likely to be used?

The answer depends on what teaching slide collections are, and why they are worth retaining. We are developing new research directions through an archaeological approach which identifies the Institute’s teaching slide collection as an assemblage: “a group of artifacts recurring together at a particular time and place, and representing the sum of human activities” (Renfrew and Bahn, 2008, 578).

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Thinking about the collection as an assemblage has raised new questions about purpose, function, research value and relevance, while setting the idea of ‘weeding’ to one side. Assemblages have interest because of their component parts – to take some of these parts out, or to assign different values based on current cultural perceptions is to distort the assemblage and compromise its archaeological integrity.

While we’re writing about these issues and setting up a 35mm slide digitisation project, we’re looking at what has happened to comparable 35mm collections. This one from the Visual Resources Centre at Manchester Art School particularly caught our eye. Worried that their collection was at threat of disposal, ‘Pick-a-slide’ began as a student-led collaboration. People are invited to browse the images, pick one, and write a short response about it. It is a fascinating project, and the good news is that the entire archive has been transferred to the University Special Collections.

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Renfrew, C. and Bahn, P. (2008) Archaeology: Theories,  Methods, and Practice London: Thames and Hudson

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, FSU!

This blog post sources a timeline researched and compiled by Mary Kate Downing.

college hall
College Hall, the first building constructed for the Seminary West of the Suwannee River.

Happy birthday, Florida State! Can you believe that it’s only been 165 years since the Florida Legislature (then the General Assembly of the State of Florida) passed an act that led to our inception as an institution? We can’t either! …especially since only until fairly recently, it was widely accepted that FSU’s founding day was in 1857, and not 1851 as we now know. Why all the confusion? This isn’t a situation of FSU lying to get senior discount on movie tickets. Yes, FSU’s predecessor institution, the State Seminary West of the Suwannee River, didn’t open its doors until 1857, but there was a lot more going on for 6 years before its grand opening.

On January 24, 1851, the General Assembly of the State of Florida passed an act establishing two seminaries of learning, one to the east and one to the west of the Suwannee River. It wasn’t until 1854 when the Tallahassee City Council offered to pay $10,000 to finance a new school building on land owned by the city in an attempt to “bid on” being the location of the seminary west of the Suwannee, which the legislature had yet to decide. The $10,000 consisted of the value of the property, the yet-to-be-constructed building, and the remaining balance in cash. Approximately $6,000 was originally committed, with the Council promising to give the city the remaining balance if Tallahassee was determined as the location of the seminary west of the Suwannee. Later in 1854, construction on a school building began and Tallahassee’s city superintendent approached the state legislature to present the case for the seminary to be in Tallahassee. However, state officials failed to make a decision regarding the location of the seminary before the end of the legislative session.

By 1855, the newly constructed College Hall (in the area that is now Westcott Building) opens. Because of the state legislature’s lack of a decision on whether it would be one of the legislature-designated seminaries, it was not given an official name. Instead, it was alternately called “The City Seminary” and “Tallahassee Male Seminary.”

In 1856, the ball got rolling as the City Council of Tallahassee (hereafter referred to as the Board of Trustees of the Florida Institute) met and designated “The City Seminary” as the “Florida Institute.” It also indicated that “government of the institution or seminary shall be under the direction of a president” and decided that “a preparatory school will be established in connection with the academic or collegiate department of the institute.” It is established that one of the president’s duties will be to publish a “Catalogue Course of Studies” for the institution. Later in 1856, William (W.Y.) Peyton, previously principal of The City Seminary, is unanimously elected by the Board of Trustees of the Florida Institute as first president of the Institute.

By late 1856, the General Assembly passed legislation declaring that “the Seminary to be located West of the Suwannee River be, and the same is hereby located at the City of Tallahassee in the County of Leon.” There were several conditions that must be granted for this to occur – “the proper and authorized conveyance of said Lot and College edifice thereon be made to the City of Tallahassee to the Board of Education,” that Tallahassee “guarantee to said Board of Education the payment of the sum of two thousand dollars per annum forever, to be expended in the education of the youth of said City, in such manner and on such terms as shall be agreed between the corporate authorities of said City and the Board of Education,” and that Tallahassee “shall pay to the Board of Education as much money in cash as shall be found necessary after a valuation of the Lot and College edifice aforesaid, to complete the sum of ten thousand dollars.”

With all of the requirements fulfilled, the State Seminary West of the Suwannee River was allowed to open its doors and so began FSU’s long history.

To see more photographs, ephemera, and artifacts related to the history of Florida State, check out the FSU Heritage Protocol Digital Collections or like the Heritage Protocol Facebook page.

Cabin Fever Remedies

Much of the Eastern Seaboard is bracing for a major snow/ice event this weekend. Are you prepared? Looking for indoor activities?

Even if you can’t make it out to the research rooms, you can still do something fun and good for the country from the comfort of your own home as you tag and transcribe records from the National Archives. Your tags and transcriptions will help make our catalog easier to search.

With snow on our minds, we’ve created a few winter-themed tagging missions on our Citizen Archivist Dashboard.

Agent's House

Agent’s House. Department of Commerce. Bureau of Fisheries. Division of Alaska Fisheries. 1913-7/1/1939. Series: Pribilof Islands Glass Plate Negatives, 1913 – 1921. National Archives Identifier: 23853701

And while you are on the Dashboard, take a look at the many other ways you can get involved. From tagging missions to transcribing documents, scanning photos to joining the conversation on History Hub, there is a way for everyone to participate and contribute.

Find something interesting? Share your contributions with us on Twitter @USNatArchives #ITaggedIt

Kenneth Tynan on the Shallow American Theater

The ostensible purpose of this talk is to plug his recently published book, Curtains, a compilation of reviews from both The New Yorker and his earlier stint as theater critic for The Observer newspaper of London. But Tynan’s universally acknowledged position as the leading authority on contemporary drama leads to a more wide-ranging discussion. His main objection to most American plays is a “strong tendency among American audiences to expect a show to come out and cause them to love it.” This over-reliance on pleasing “tends to remove from the playhouse the atmosphere of critical attention.” Broadway now skews either towards over-commercialization or becoming “private fantasy.” He (quite presciently) predicts an “impasse,” with avant-garde theater retreating to off-Broadway and the larger houses becoming over-reliant on shallow blockbusters.

One ray of hope is offered by the proposed non-profit repertory theater to be based in the then newly-constructed Lincoln Center.

Tynan’s well-known acid wit is much in evidence here. Asked to choose America’s two best playwrights he names “Tennessee Williams of about five years ago and Arthur Miller of about six years ago.” (Interestingly, he calls A Streetcar Named Desire “the female side of Death of a Salesman.”) Eugene O’Neill he dismisses as “that superb thing: the artist who can’t write.”

He finds American directors, while fabulously talented, distracted by the lure of Hollywood and so not able to develop the same working relationship with a company that was so notable in the Group Theater of the 30′s. As for American critics, while praising the “overnight critics” as better than their English counterparts, he feels that in general the critical community suffers from being parochial. Here too he displays his typically eye for the cutting edge, singling out the young Robert Brustein and Eric Bentley for their “vivacity and knowledge.”

Born in 1927, Tynan quickly established himself as the wunderkind of English theater criticism. He was fortunate to arrive just as major changes were taking place. Michael Billington notes in The Guardian,

…a series of eruptions that took place within an extraordinary year in British theatre from August 1955 to August 1956: the premieres of Waiting for Godot and Look Back in Anger, the flowering of Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop with Brendan Behan’s The Quare Fellow, and the arrival of the Berliner Ensemble with a three-play Brecht season. From being a night-nurse at the bedside…Tynan suddenly turned into a midwife. Instead of wringing his hands he was able to raise his voice in salutation of a theatre that at last seemed in touch with human pain and social issues.”

What made Tynan unique among critics, though, was his bravura style and a complete identification with the stage. The noted director Harold Clurman, reviewing Curtains in The New York Times, explains,

“What makes Tynan that rare phenomenon, a genuine theatre critic, is that he is disposed toward the theatre in the sense that we speak of certain people being naturally musical. Tynan experiences the theatre with his nerves, body, mind and spirit. He possesses in regard to the theatre something like absolute pitch.”

Curiously, this devotion may have led to his undoing. Succumbing to the well-known temptation of “crossing over,” Tynan relinquished his post to become dramaturge for the National Theater. This did not prove congenial to his talents. Perhaps, though, burnout was inevitable for a writer who invested his persona with such an air of precocious youth. As Charles Spencer laments in The Telegraph:

“It was a great loss when Olivier lured him to the National in 1963, on the principle that it was better to have him inside the tent, pissing out, rather than outside, pissing in. “God – anything to get you off that Observer,” he said. …Once he’d left the National, things got worse. He became blocked as a writer, jaded, weary, and more obsessed with sado-masochism. He couldn’t stop chugging down cigarettes and coughing up phlegm as his emphysema worsened. There was a late second flowering with a few fine profiles for The New Yorker, but for the most part one is left with a terrible sense of waste. ‘I don’t even enjoy enjoying myself any more,’ he moaned.”

Tynan did manage one bizarrely successful dramatic foray. He organized and wrote a sketch for Oh! Calcutta!, a sex revue that was quite controversial and ran for years in both New York and London. One is left with the sense, though, of a talent looking for a form through which to shine. Tynan himself ruefully noted, “A critic is a man who knows the way but can’t drive the car.” Yet in his criticism there is much excellent writing, humor, striking perception, and genuine passion. Perhaps he couldn’t drive, but he could soar.

Kenneth Tynan died in 1980, at the age of fifty-three.

 

Concert in aid of the Leighton Library

Sunday 14th February, 3pm, Dunblane Cathedral

Concert by the Edinburgh Renaissance Band 

The concert has been organised to raise funds for the Leighton Library in Dunblane, with which the University has a friendly relationship.

Tickets: £10 forimg_1585[1] adults and £5 for children/students. Available from Helen Beardsley; or Smallprint, Beech Road, Dunblane; or at the door.

See you there!

 

Listening to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of the best parts about working in archives is getting to “discover” things – maybe a first edition in a box of uncataloged books, or fascinating images in a box only labeled “negatives” – things that weren’t lost, exactly, but whose awesomeness went previously unrecognized.

A few months ago, I was gathering together all of our material on the Amherst College student radio station, WAMH (previously WAMF). They had recently donated a couple boxes of records and I wanted to integrateWAMH audio reels and make a finding aid for all the material they have given us over the years (WAMH/WAMF Records). I found three boxes of reel to reel audio tapes of shows that had been broadcast in the 1950s-70s and given to us in 1989. The tapes included all kinds of intriguing topics from Neils Bohr lecturing on Atomic Theory in 1957 to students protesting the Vietnam War. Most interesting was one reel reading: Martin Luther King, Pres. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, speaking at the New School for Social Research on “The Summer of Our Discontent” from February 1964. An internet search quickly revealed that the New School Archives holds a recording of the question and answer session from this lecture, but not a recording of the lecture itself, and that this is most likely a unique recording of the speech. We had the tape digitized and got in touch with our colleagues at The New School Archives, who were pleased to learn that we had found this additional documentation from an important event in their history.

LISTEN TO THE SPEECH HERE

Dr. King speaking at The New School

Dr. King speaking at The New School

In the Spring of 1964, The New School hosted a 15 lecture series, The American Race Crisis Lecture Series, featuring 15 civil rights leaders in the United States and attended by hundreds of students. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. opened the series on February 6 with a lecture on the tumultuous summer of 1963. King began by asking the question, why 1963? The answers included disillusionment with progress in desegregation, the failure of political parties to live up to their promises, administrative action focused solely on voting rights and the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation highlighting the paucity of progress since 1863. After a review of the history of African American political action since the Emancipation Proclamation, finishing with the events of 1963 in Birmingham, King brought to the fore the value of nonviolent tactics to the movement. In closing, King called for continued action in 1964, including the passage of the Civil Rights Bill (which happened four days after the speech). The bulk of the speech was published, revised and much expanded, in the first two chapters of King’s 1964 book, Why We Can’t Wait.

The question and answer period following the speech (available in The New School Digital Collections) is just as fascinating as the speech itself. King responds to questions about the Black Muslim movement, a perceived “bog down” in civil rights activity following the March on Washington, and affirmative action (although not by that name). The story of the initial discovery of The New School’s recording and their subsequent exhibition on the American Race Crisis Lecture Series can be found in the following articles:

MLK_04

On December 8th, 1964, at 6pm, Amherst College students could have tuned in to WAMF and heard Dr. King’s speech rebroadcast on the Lecture Hall program. The Lecture Hall was a twice weekly program of pre-recorded lectures, some given at Amherst College and some obtained through agreements with other institutions. Les Black, class of 1966, was the program manager of WAMF in 1964 and hosted the Lecture Hall program. It is his voice that you hear at the beginning and end of the recording linked above. He recalls that at the time, “a lot was going on and there was no Facebook, no YouTube, not much alternative media yet. College radio stations like WAMF played a key role by giving students a way to hear about it.”

While it is very exciting to be able to add this small piece to the documentation of the rich and important life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this recording can be heard not just as an historical artifact, but as a call to reflect on current events. 2014 and 2015 have also been years of turmoil, protest and nonviolent action against racism. And while the terrain has shifted, many of King’s analyses and calls to action are still relevant today.

Many thanks to Wendy Scheir of The New School Archives for generously sharing her experience and background materials, Les Black for his recollections of WAMF and the Lecture Hall program, SceneSavers in Covington, KY for digitizing the audio reel, and WAMH for starting this whole thing off! 

New in the public domain 2016

On January 1st, the copyright expired for some of our holdings: they are now in the public domain in Canada. Digital materials are no longer restricted to being viewed only at the Archives, but are available online to all. Here’s a quick look at some of the digital objects that have become easier to view and re-use.

8 clowns in a group pose

Publicity photo of Polack Bros. Circus 1965 clowns. Reference code AM281-S8-: CVA 180-6027.

If you like clowns, we have several images of clowns that performed at the P.N.E. The Polack Bros. Circus shown above was a popular one-ring show usually sponsored by local Shriners organizations.

3 clowns and a dog

Kent Chastain, Joe Grega, Jim Douglass and Minnie the dog. Reference code: AM281-S8-: CVA 180-6028.

This is a close-up of some of the clowns in the first photograph, and includes the dog.

5 aerial acrobats hang perform on ropes

The Aerialovelies aerial acrobats in 1965. AM281-S8-: CVA 180-6026.

The Aerialovelies were a female aerialist troupe who performed with the Polack Bros. Circus. When originally formed, the troupe was trained and directed by Barbette, a famous and influential aerialist who performed in drag.

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

Dame Alicia Markova: Ballet Legend On and Off the Stage

Legendary ballerina Dame Alicia Markova reminisces about the past and plans for the future.  Interviewed in 1967 by the Herald-Tribune’s dance critic Walter Terry, Dame Alicia dismisses feeling any nostalgia for her performing days. She has been preparing for this transition all her life, always interesting herself in backstage details, even taking lessons in lighting, so she could move seamlessly from in front of the footlights to behind them. She speaks of auditioning for Diaghilev at the age of ten and professes to be horrified at having been billed as “The Child Pavlova.” In her new role, as Director of Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera, she gingerly handles the question of why the job has proved a challenge to so many previous dancers and choreographers. The key, she insists, is to love opera, which she does. Indeed she danced in many operas when with the Ballets Russes. Her aim is “to get the ballet and opera living side by side, peacefully.” When asked to compare the two arts she makes the interesting distinction of seeing ballet as more “Latin”  and “light” while opera is “Nordic” and “heavy.”

Talk turns to the Ballet Evening which the company is putting on. She speaks glowingly of presenting the world premiere of Anthony Tudor’s Concerning Oracles and the US premiere of his Echoing Trumpets. Terry tries to get her to fantasize about a future expansion of the opera’s ballet, with more of these dance-centered events, but Dame Alicia seems quite firm and level-headed about just how much freedom she will be allowed. It is, she points out, the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, not the other way around.

Dame Alicia Markova was born Lillian Alicia Marks in London in 1910. Diagnosed with flat feet and weak knees, she was sent to a dance academy for therapeutic reasons. There, she astonished the teachers with her skill. As Tina Sutton, in her biography The Making of Markova, reports:

“Within months, the naïve teen became the youngest ever soloist at the world famous Ballets Russes and star of Balanchine’s first full-length choreographic work for the company, The Nightingale. As London newspaper The Independent would later comment: “Alicia’s incredible virtuosity thrilled Balanchine. He included double tours en l’air, a turning jump from the male lexicon, and devised a diagonal of jouettés that gave the impression of a little bird hopping.” The ballet launched both of their careers. However, Lilian Alicia Marks would not be listed on the program. Being a prima ballerina in the 1920s “necessitated” a Russian name. “Who would pay to see Marks dance?” scoffed Diaghilev, who quickly rechristened her Alicia Markova.”

After Diaghilev’s death, Markova became active in British ballet, helping to establish both the Ballet Rambert and the Vic-Wells Ballet (which would later become the Royal Ballet.) She continued her career as a guest soloist with companies all over the world, gaining the greatest fame for her interpretation of Giselle, a part she “owned” for many years. The transition she refers to in this interview, from ballerina to administrator, surprised many in the dance world. As dance critic Jack Anderson remembers, in the New York Times:

“Dame Alicia, who had occasionally made guest appearances in the ballet sequences of works in the repertory of the Metropolitan Opera, astonished the dance world in 1963 when she accepted an invitation to direct the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. The Met’s dance troupe had never been considered important and the opera management had seldom shown much interest in ballet. Nevertheless, in her six years as director, Dame Alicia raised the dancers’ technical level and made it possible for the ballet company to present programs of its own.”

But when one reads more about Markova’s life one is not at all surprised at the continued success she had upon retiring. She was a hardworking woman, utterly obsessed with her craft, who never married, performed every night of the week, twice on Saturdays, and danced to an advanced age through extraordinary pain. As The Independent newspaper noted:

“In pre-First World War England, a frail, exotic-looking Jewish girl who learnt to dance in Muswell Hill and was so shy that she barely spoke a word until age six and was so sickly she needed to be home-schooled turned herself into a superstar and became the most famous ballerina in the world.”

Markova had to overcome poverty, sexism, anti-Semitism, and not being considered “pretty” enough to succeed….becoming the world’s first openly Jewish prima ballerina assoluta – the highest (and rarest) rank of a classical female dancer.

Dame Alicia Markova died in 2004.

 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection

 

WNYC archives id: 150009
Municipal archives id: T2262

Launch and Learn: Our New History Hub Pilot Project

I am pleased to announce a new pilot project from the Office of Innovation at the National Archives called the “History Hub.” This new platform may be thought of as an external collaboration network, a place where subject matter experts from the National Archives can engage with researchers and the public, to share information, work more easily together, and find people based on their experience and interests. The platform offers discussion boards, blogs, profiles, and other interactive tools for communication and collaboration.

History Hub screenshot

We aim to use the History Hub to explore new ways of connecting with and serving customers interested in historical topics relating to our holdings. This project helps us to achieve NARA’s strategic goal to Connect with Customers, in particular, to expand public participation and our use of crowdsourcing tools. The project is also part of NARA’s Open Government Plan and supports the aim of achieving government transparency, as well as citizen participation and collaboration with the federal government. The History Hub provides us a platform for eventually working with other cultural organizations—such as the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress—to offer the public a one-stop shop for crowdsourcing information.

The History Hub is a limited six-month pilot project so that we can test the platform for its use and usefulness as a crowdsourcing platform. We will use the pilot period to benchmark level of effort on the part of NARA staff and to better understand public engagement metrics. We are developing a robust set of evaluation criteria to evaluate the pilot and ensure good use of NARA’s resources.

The History Hub project will include participation from staff subject matter experts who have both an interest and expertise in these topics. For the pilot, we are working on a narrow set of topics that have been identified as good test cases for this platform. For example, we know that the popularity and complexity of Native American research makes it a good candidate for discussion on this platform and NARA has an opportunity to collaborate with other federal resources, such as the Smithsonian, to better serve researchers.

History Hub screenshot

The idea for this project has been under discussion for several years, and I am excited about the potential for this pilot project, as it is a great opportunity to engage National Archives staff experts, the public, as well as colleagues at other institutions to further NARA’s mission and strategic goals.

But we really don’t know how the History Hub will actually be used.  We just know that all of our great plans for it will surely miss some of the new ways people will use the tool. That’s the nature of innovative projects, we need to launch and then learn from them.

Do you have research questions you’ve always wanted answered? Do you want advice on how to get started with genealogical research? Give it a try and ask a question at historyhub.archives.gov.

Critics, Authors, and Trivial Pursuits – a 1953 WNYC Book Fest Quiz

*Update – we’ve taken portions of the original quiz and made a version of our own! You can access it here. We’re taking it a little easier on you by giving you answers to choose from, rather than forcing you to guess blindly as our critics and authors did. We’ve also shortened it and rooted out the works and questions that have been rendered obscure by time.

Good Luck!*

 

Last year, my wife Julie and I suffered through what has to be one of the worst Trivial Pursuit beat-downs in the game’s history. Our opponents, her parents Lester and Debra Maness, were gracious in their victory, but I think we both felt a very real frustration at our rather pitiful performance. Julie and I are decently cultured, even knowledgeable in spots, and while weren’t certain we would win going in, we did not at all expect the drubbing we received. It left us reeling, struggling for answers in more ways than one: Had our wits been dulled by the ubiquity of Google? Did we underestimate the wealth of knowledge stored in our elders? Is a narwhal a whale? Methinks it is a whale… (That’s yes to all three, by the way.)

But maybe there was another reason why a victory was not to be. Other evidence had in fact piled up: the board was a little too worn, the questions oddly dated. As it turns, the version of Trivial Pursuit that had been punishing us for hours had been released in 1983. Time had marched on to a stretch of over thirty years. The game stood stubbornly in its trenches. It almost felt like we’d dug out a time capsule, but one left to taunt us, scolding our embarrassing ignorance of the state-of-the-world in 1983.

Great literature, the topic of this quiz, is thankfully timeless.

This 1953 recording from the inaugural WNYC Book Festival pits ”the Critics” – Charles Poore of The New York Times Book Review alongside Columbia University Professor of Philosophy Irwin Edman –  against “the Authors” – Alfred Kazin of The New Yorker, paired with Jan Struther, the creator of “Mrs. Miniver” – in a challenge of their knowledge of literary pursuits.

Questions provide a tour of the five boroughs traversed via book title, a round of literary “potent potables” and Yummy Books, and notable first and last lines of English literature – fans of schadenfreude will be pleased to note that these literary lights miss entirely the opening line of one of the best known and most acclaimed writings in the history of the English language – “Who’s there?”

Perhaps one day Julie and I will revenge our foul and most unnatural loss, until then it’s nice to know we can hone our trivia skills on the job.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

Your Portals Syllabus

We’re hard at work on our spring exhibition and event series, “Portals: The History of the Future,” and in the process we’ve been coming across books, movies, and other stuff that gets us in the Portals spirit. So we decided to share some suggested reading (and listening, and watching…) here. We’re also going to post this (and update it) on the Portals website, which should be live soon.

Portals: Recommended Reading (And Watching, and Listening)

Short Reads

  • William Gibson, “The Gernsback Continuum” (1981). Available in the collection Burning Chrome. Ocean State Libraries (Text can also be found online.)
  • Wikipedia entry for Charles Piazzi Smyth, particularly the “Pyramidological researches” section. For a sense of the range of schemes proposed during the debate over unified time.
  • Edmund Arthur Engler, “Time-Keeping in Paris,” Popular Science Monthly, vol. 20 (1882). Online

Long Reads

  • Paul J. Nahin, Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1999). For the nitty-gritty details of how to keep your time machine in working order. WorldCat
  • I.F. Clarke, The Pattern of Expectation, 1644-2001 (New York: Basic Books, 1979). WorldCat
  • Joseph J. Corn & Brian Horrigan, Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). Ocean State Libraries
  • Peter Galison, Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps: Empires of Time (New York: W.W. Norton: 2003). PPL
  • Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014). PPL

Podcasts

Music

  • Sun Ra Arkestra – The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra
  • Joseph Haydn – Il Mondo della Luna
  • Joe Meek – I Hear a New World
  • Bjork – Biophilia

Film & Television

Florida County and City Histories Collection Online

FSU_MSS9224_B589_F10_001 web
Jefferson County Florida or the Monticello Section written by Ida Meriweather.

The Florida County and City Histories Collection comprises two boxes of essays written by students at the Florida State College for Women in 1922 and 1923. These essays consist of research into the history and culture of certain cities and counties across the state of Florida from Dade County, to Jacksonville, to Pensacola. The essays provide an interesting glimpse into the methods of 1920s academic writing, whereby papers were researched without the convenience of the Internet and were written by hand, absent of formatting, style guides, and citations. This collection is now digitized and available through the FSU Digital Library.

In order to digitally scan the Florida County and City Histories Collection the ties and brads that bound the essays together had to carefully and meticulously be removed so as not to damage the nearly century-old documents. This practice, the delicate removal of hardware and binding materials, is part of a process aptly called processing, in which the archivist takes steps to ensure the preservation of the archival documents.

FSU_MSS9224_B589_F10_002 web
Page from Jefferson County or the Monticello Section written by Ida Meriweather.

Once the ties and hardware were removed from the essays the individual pages were ready to be digitized. In the cultural heritage field, we use a fancy word called digitization to refer to the digital photographing or scanning and online presentation of physical materials. In this case, the records were scanned on a  state-of-the-art flatbed scanner (which is worth more than my car) in order to capture high quality images in a short amount of time.

In order to provide access to the images of the essays online, one of the most important steps of digitization is collecting and organizing the metadata. Metadata, in my opinion, is a scary word that refers to the abstract concept of information about information. In all reality, metadata is the set of data that describes a piece of information. In this case the piece of information is the essay and the data describing it includes details such as the language it was written in and size of the paper. After organizing the metadata into a spreadsheet it is then converted into a code, presumably by means of magic or sorcery, by the Metadata Librarian.

FSU_MSS9224_B589_F10_003 web
Page from Jefferson County or the Monticello Section written by Ida Meriweather.

The last step of digitization is to gather up all the metadata code and the digital images into a queue that is uploaded onto the Digital Library’s server and arranged according to the instructions in the code. Because the magical code tells all the little bits of information how to look and how to behave, the text and images appear in a way that is ergonomically and aesthetically pleasing to the viewer.

And that’s the behind the scenes of the digitization process. Check out the Florida County and City Histories to evaluate for yourselves!

Britt Boler is currently the graduate assistant for FSU’s Special Collections & Archives division.

Bad Children of History #21: Squirrely Charlie

Today’s Bad Child of History comes from Maria H. Bulfinch’s 1867 volume Frank Stirling’s Choice. His name is Charlie, and while it’s not 100% clear what he’s doing in this illustration, it obviously isn’t something a responsible adult would condone.

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Is Charlie climbing the furniture while wielding a Vienna sausage on a chopstick? Is his upright posture defying the laws of physics? Why is he gesturing at that rustic, twiggy cross? What does Frank think of this whole endeavor?

Frank Stirling’s Choice also contains one of the best footnotes I’ve seen in 2016:

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Blurring the lines between fact and fiction, folks.

2016: coming soon…

After a brief pause for breath over the xmas holidays we’re looking forward to kicking off the new year in style with a number of exciting events to report.

 

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Our Hosts & Champions exhibition continues its tour around Scotland opening this month in Stranraer Museum and moving on to the Auld Kirk Museum in Kirkintilloch in March. We’re also in discussion with a number of other venues around the country and hope to extend our tour into the summer months. We’ll also be speaking about the Hosts & Champions project and the Commonwealth Games Scotland Archive at the Sport in Museums Network Conference in Nottingham on 11th February.

 

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Our colleagues at The Musicians’ Union: A Social History project at the University of Glasgow are holding a major conference at the Mitchell Library, Glasgow, on 14th and 15th January. The project has made great use of the Musicians’ Union Archive during their research and has put together an exhibition on the history of the union which will be on display at the Mitchell Library from the 11th – 31st January. Players Work Time, a social history of the Musicians’ Union will be published in Spring 2016.

 

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‘Staring at the Ceiling, Looking at the Stars’ is an exhibition of new artwork co-created by patients at Bellsdyke Hospital and the artist Sharon Quigley inspired by the stories of patients in the Stirling District Asylum. It opens in the university’s Pathfoot Building on Saturday 23rd January. To coincide with this exhibition a public talk on nineteenth century asylums, with particular reference to Stirling District Asylum, will be given by Dr Ian Hutchison on Thursday 11th February. The Stirling District Asylum Archive has now been cataloged and is available for use by researchers. Full details can be found here.

 

We’ll continue to provide updates of further projects and events throughout the year, including a trip to Paris in April for one of our ‘Treasures’…

Releasing All We Can, Protecting What We Must

The Presidential Rank Award Program was created to recognize “sustained extraordinary accomplishment” by career senior executives in the Federal Government.  In a highly competitive process, executives nominated by their agency heads are evaluated by citizen panels and designated by the President of the United States.  Recipients are deemed to be strong leaders, professionals, or scientists who achieve results and consistently demonstrate strength, integrity, industry, and a relentless commitment to excellence in public service.

I am so pleased, proud, and honored that Sheryl J. Shenberger, Director of our National Declassification Center has been named a Meritorious Executive Presidential Rank Award recipient—the first National Archives and Records Administration executive to be so recognized.

Sheryl Shenberger, Director of the National Declassification Center. Photo courtesy of the Gulf Times

Sheryl Shenberger, Director of the National Declassification Center. Photo courtesy of the Gulf Times

As the inaugural Director of the National Declassification Center, Sheryl is recognized as the Federal Government expert for executing the review, declassification, and release of permanent government records.  Her accomplishments are an example of our commitment to the Administration’s Open Government Initiative.  Her sustained leadership in coordination of the adjudication of multi-equity referrals as well as balancing transparency and openness with the protection of still-sensitive information is extremely important work.

Learn more about the National Declassification Center’s work at www.archives.gov/declassification/ndc

Your Future in an Automated Society

Technology, information, and education; what the future looked like…in 1966. In this edition of Main Currents, host Lee Graham conducts a roundtable discussion with five representatives of the information technology field. They are Charles DeCarlo, IBM’s Director of Automation Research, John Tebbel, a professor of journalism at NYU, Raymond Hagel, an education publisher at Crowell-Collier, Marlon McLaughlin representing the United States Commission of Education, and Quentin Carroll from the Public Relations Society of America.

The question that seems to be on everyone’s mind when it comes to automation is, Which jobs will it replace? Professor Tebbel, asked about newspapers, assures listeners that, “Machines do not threaten the editorial side of newspapers. No machine can replace a reporter.” IBM’s DeCarlo broadens this to a more general statement that fear concerning the loss of jobs, “is very much overrated.” Most of the replacement will take place in the field of “hand-eye motions.” It’s telling that all the references here are to “machines,” not computers. As for education, a particular concern of the panel, they unanimously reject the idea that technology will replace the teacher. Hagel, the educational publisher, envisions a classroom where the teacher will have more, not less, one-on-one contact with her students, as machines will “free her time from relatively rote functions.” DeCarlo makes a plea, eerily and depressingly relevant fifty years later, for increasing the number of teachers and reducing class sizes.

Once they have dismissed the notion that technology itself could have any deleterious effects, the panelists do go on to (accurately) foresee some of the ethical questions increased communication will pose. What were formerly questions only of interest to specialists will now be of interest to “the common man,” as well. Some mostly good-natured twitting is directed at Carroll, the public relations representative (who, it is implied, has been imposed on the show by its sponsor) about press releases and other forms of “canned” news. Much is made of a perceived shift toward science and technology in the light of the Soviet launch of Sputnik and the ensuing Space Race. McLaughlin, the government education representative, assures the others that colleges have recognized this growing gap and are “making a real effort to combine science and the humanities.” DeCarlo sees technology, with its sudden advances, as creating a need for increased adult education, as people retrain for new jobs. He also points out how deprived segments of society could benefit from technology, concluding that ultimately what we need “is more human contact, not more machines.” Nowhere in this discussion does it occur to anyone that the sheer monetary savings offered by technology could have adverse and, in some cases, catastrophic impact on labor relations, the status of teachers, or on the social fabric in general.

Of more concern is the dawn of what we now call globalization. Graham refers to the recently launched Early Bird Satellite which, if it were joined by two more, could provide instant person-to-person contact. She mentions an outlandish prediction by Arthur C. Clarke that in the future people will all have mobile phones and be available at any time, a prospect she  finds “dreadful.” One of the panelists warns that while we are “a center of rationalized culture,” enhanced communication with the “Oriental spiritual or mystical world” could prove unsettling for both sides. In general, though, optimism reigns. There has always been suspicion of new technology, it is pointed out. The feelings of the group are summed up by one member who proclaims, “I can’t remember an age when the options are better.”

Of the panelists, DeCarlo and Tebbel do most of the talking. Charles DeCarlo (1921-2004) later served as president of Sarah Lawrence College. He also wrote books on education and social change. John Tebell (1912-2004) worked in a variety of fields relating to journalism and publishing. In addition to a long career as a teacher, he wrote many books, the best-known being the four volume A History of Book Publishing in the United States.

The conversation itself, meandering and, at times, muddled though it may sound now, with its pauses, its considered asides, its deference to opposing points of view and actual acknowledgement of what the other person is saying, could, one might argue, serve as an example of the very qualities that have been lost or certainly shunted aside as technology, in media as everywhere else, has imposed its own brand of “efficiency” and consequent glibness on social discourse. 

 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection

 

WNYC archives id: 150017
Municipal archives id: T1827-1828

Accessioning a Rare Book Collection : Part II

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A copy of “It’s So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House” signed by illustrator James Marshall.

After the successful transport and unloading of the Marsha Gontarski Children’s Literature Collection, I began the process of creating an inventory of all the books in the collection — an excel spreadsheet that is currently at 300 entries and steadily growing. This spreadsheet will serve not only as a record of all the books received in the donation but also as a place to keep track of all the categorizations, ephemera, and notes that came with the collection.

For each book, I am recording the title, author, illustrator, publisher, date of publication, and category/subject, as well as any notes about articles, book reviews, and author/illustrator signatures included in the books. Newspaper clippings and publisher’s press releases laid in need to be removed in order to prevent acidic inks and papers from causing damage to the books, but making notes of where everything came from on the spreadsheet will allow us to go back and link books and archival materials where they are relevant to understanding the collection.

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Three versions of Little Red Riding Hood.

The real, searchable, catalog entries for each book will be created by our Cataloging and Description Department in the next stage of the accessioning journey. The inventory spreadsheet is informal in that it does not use any of the standard languages that our catalogers use to improve information accessibility, but it will be important to us in understanding and thus promoting the collection to potential researchers.

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A highly symbolic telling of “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge” illustrated by Warja Lavater (Adrien Maeght Editeur, 1965).

While spreadsheet creation and data entry may not seem like the most thrilling line of work, going through this collection book by book has been a lot of fun. The real challenge is not stopping to read each book along the way. Some of the highlights I have come across so far include works by well-known illustrators like Patricia Polacco, Victoria Chess, Molly Bang, Trina Schart Hyman, and James Marshall. Many of these works are signed, often with delightful little drawings, like the one by James Marshall pictured above. There are also many different versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” in the collection – classic versions, modern retellings, foreign language editions, and even highly abstract interpretations like the French edition (shown above left) illustrated by Warja Lavater. The same story is told each time – but the way the stories are written, illustrated, and published offer telling clues about the cultures and times in which they were produced.

Salty Words from Mike Quill on the 1966 Transit Strike

On January 1st, 1966 at 8:02 am the last trains rolled out to New Yorkers. Over the next twelve days all subway and bus service was brought to a standstill while Mayor John Lindsay battled with Mike Quill, President of the Transit Workers Union.

The longest service strike in New York history culminated with the arrest of nine TWU committee members, including Quill, on the grounds that the strike violated an injunction filed under the 1947 Condon-Wadlin Act. The strike began on Mayor Lindsay’s first day in office and was the first of several municipal employee strikes that dogged his tenure.

Fifty years ago today Mike Quill gave a press conference to reinforce the unyielding stance of the transit workers, “We will not settle for one penny less!” He assured the reporters that negotiations will continue with other representatives in the union in his absence and responded slyly to questions from the huddle of reporters. 

Quill was notorious for his quick wit and salty language. When asked how many times he has been in jail he replied, “All my family were a group of jailbirds…it was was years, I cannot count them all. I lost their long and bloody score.” When one reporter asks who he holds responsible for the arrest Quill fires back, “The editorial writers for the New York Times!”

Later, a reporter described the scene as the men were arrested, “The pandemonium broke loose, the reporters, photographers, everybody just crowded in… into a tremendous knot around Mr. Quill.”

Though you couldn’t tell from his vigor in this recording, Quill was suffering from heart problems and released to a hospital shortly after being arrested. Though his health seemed to improve, on January 28th he suffered a fatal heart attack, three days after the strike was fully settled. The negotiations resulted in a package worth over $60 million in wage increases and benefits. 

Originally from a small village in Ireland, Quill participated in the Irish Civil War as a dispatch rider for the IRA. He moved to the United States when he was 21 and began working with his uncle at the privately owned IRT, the original New York subway line, a system which corresponds to the modern day numbered transit lines. 

Recordings of Mayor Lindsay on the 1966 Transit Strike:

January 2nd, 1966 – Press Conference

January 3rd, 1966 – Press Conference

January 3rd, 1966 – Press Conference

 

The Douglas P. Cooper Distinguished Contemporaries Interviews (1967-1974)

THE ORIGINS OF THIS COLLECTION

A Childhood Spent Preparing

I think it was actually a confluence of four factors that led me, enabled me, to conduct The Distinguished Contemporaries Collection of Interviews.

First, I am a lifetime insomniac. Beginning at age six, I never missed Barry Gray, “The Father of Talk Radio” from 11PM—1AM on WMCA, New York, and the over-nighters like Long John Nebel and Barry Farber. They kept me company. I could see them, the guests, and their studios in my mind’s eye.

Second, my environment as a kid was not typical. I can’t ever remember playing ball. But I’m full of memories of acting as DJ with my neighbor Mike Hayes as engineer in our basement studio, where we had a low-power, FCC-approved, neighborhood radio station. Just down the hall, Mike’s parents, Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy, earlier of theater, film, Vegas, and television notoriety, played hosts to well-known guests on WOR radio every morning. At times they would call on me to report the weather (my other avocation). Sometimes I’d chat with a guest like Pat Boone or watch Peter upstairs in the “Red Room” recording telephone interviews with Richard Nixon or Bob Hope. I later used this forum when a distant guest had minimal availability, recording telephone conversations with Arthur Hailey, Milton Friedman, Wernher Von Braun, Ann Landers and others.

Access to the airwaves and to celebrities came early for me. I clearly remember when Walter Cronkite guested on the Hayes’ program; he popped his head into our studio, sat down and took questions “on air,” though we didn’t have the good sense to record it as teenagers.

While at The Lawrenceville School, in New Jersey, I got my on-air fixes only on holidays (though I hid a radio inside my pillow to take in WOR’s Jean Shepherd at night). As a senior, I was in the Radio Club, and we started an FM station run from my dorm room. Soon after, the school designated the rather ancient Bath House as our new headquarters for WLSR. As a news fanatic, my journalistic coup was to scoop the weekly student paper by interviewing the head master or coaches before their stories appeared in print.

In late December 1967, my best friend, Sherwin Harris, and I were home from our respective schools. My parents held a small, black-tie party for their anniversary. It was just after Christmas, and the gift given me that holiday was the latest in home entertainment, a black-and-white, reel-to-reel video recorder. When I learned that Walter Cronkite would be a guest at the party, Sherwin and I yanked out the Who’s Who in America and made notes on his biggest stories and also the issues of that day, such as Vietnam. At 11 PM, toward the end of the party, Cronkite sat down and gave us a twenty minutes that you’d never hear on TV. And, although that early video tape didn’t survive, still thanks to my dear friend’s foresight, a photo and the audio recording remain for you to see and hear.

The Cadence of a Weekly Program

In the fall of 1968, I entered Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and quickly located the basement offices and studios of WRTC, an FM station with a broadcast radius of about thirty miles. The campus was as consumed with the issues of the day—war, race, feminism—as with coursework.  In light of the school’s heavily male vs. female ratio, a lot of guys were focused on weekend road trips to the closest all-night party. For me, however, the lure was going to New York or to the celebrity homes where I’d made interview appointments with the likes of Salvador Dalí at the St. Regis Hotel in the City, where he wintered, or with Norman Rockwell in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

I encountered excellent cooperation from the campus weekly, The Trinity Tripod. The editor gave me good space, and often a photo for the program, which they dubbed, “Cooper’s Show.” The paper did not see us as a competitor, but as a collaborator in education and public service. This homage to “the public good” a few years later became crucial in my successes lining up a syndicate of commercial radio stations.

At my graduation in 1972, I received a B.A. in English, with Spanish as a minor, de rigueur in the era of the “well-rounded” liberal arts major. I was flanked by two honorary degree recipients at polar extremes of the arts vs. sciences: Edward Albee, who’d been dismissed years earlier from Lawrenceville AND Trinity for failure to attend classes, and my Dad, Dr. Irving S. Cooper, for his pioneering discoveries as a neurosurgeon (although he was a liberal arts man too, writing an M.S. thesis, Medical Aspects of the Death of Desdemona).

Having honed my research and articulation skills, the former deep in the remote shelves of the Watkinson Library, the latter conducting and editing my weekly show and reading news copy live on the air, I shortly landed a weekly slot on a powerful FM station, WKSS, serving Hartford, New Britain, and Middletown, Connecticut, with a broadcast radius of 75 miles.

I fell back on a few reliable guests and then switched to local elites. I taped a broadcast with Dick Newfield, President of Hartman Tobacco. Who knew Connecticut grew superlative cigar tobacco leaf? My interview with outspoken Hartford Mayor George Athanson, though, ended my run at the station. The mayor was witty and charming but also expressed arch liberal views on getting out of Vietnam. The station manager refused to air the program in its regularly scheduled Sunday half hour. I said nothing, walked down the spiral stairway and out WKSS’ glass doors for the last time.

Public Interest vs Commerce in 1970s Broadcasting

Thomas Wolfe wrote that, “You can’t go home again,” but I must’ve missed that class: I drove straight home to Pelham in the Westchester County suburbs of New York City, and signed up for graduate business courses that fall at Iona College, a commuter school about seven miles away in New Rochelle. There I found that George O’Brien, in retirement from WQXR, had carved out an arm of the School’s development office, and called it “Radio Activities.” In his office and studio in an upstairs corner of the Ryan Library, he created interviews to run as “soft marketing” for Iona on an undefined schedule at a hundred stations across the country.

His shows, hosting faculty members and occasional outside guests, were in the mold of the FCC’s public service and education model: it was cost efficient for the stations, met the regulations on delivering public affairs to their audiences, and could be isolated outside valuable commercial prime time.

But George was not averse to my vision for “Radio,” as we shorthanded it. Why not assemble a collection of Metropolitan-area stations and feature eminent guests, to conjoin the name Iona College with respected thinkers across all the humanities, and presented exclusively in the region from which the student body was drawn?

This brings me to the vital third and fourth ingredients in my interview show’s genesis. The late 1960s and early 1970s were the last days of public service radio on commercial outlets before de-regulation began apace. It was an open door for my style of program to fill that need.

The fourth important feature of what I’ll call the opportunity terrain, was access to prominent guests. By that I mean, locate/contact/convince each prospect, a triad which, I contend, was more easily accomplished then than it would be today.

Having been salaried as assistant director with a budget, a staff of three, and the ability to dictate letters or play tapes for transcription by a large secretarial pool, I initiated the process of meeting with station managers, editing my existing tape collection to begin regular broadcasts, and arranging with the local newspaper to run transcripts, with a photo, as a weekly feature.

A syndicate of 30 stations, including the non-commercial WNYC, came together quickly. The quid pro quo was simple: give me a fixed broadcast time which I could promote, and I’d provide impressive content, reliably, and at no cost. They “bought in.”

As for on-going access to top-notch guests, presented exclusively, I had three things going for me: I could write or call targeted personalities with a good story as to who’d been recent guests, and offer a mass audience. I knew how to research out the man or woman’s street address to write to them. I could also ask the operator to connect me with  ”information” for their particular town (celebrities were shielded, hidden, back then, from today’s nation-wide 411 and the web, which has pushed them to be unlisted and “underground”). I could make it nearly impossible for my prospective celebrity guests to say “no,” by requesting, “You name the time, and you name the place.”

Only three people turned me down between 1967 and 1974: Nobel Prize-winning writer Pearl Buck (The Good Earth). Her personal assistant asked for a fee. Author John Updike, wrote that he’d done enough interviews for a lifetime. And science fiction great Isaac Asimov called me on the telephone and said, “But I just did an interview for TV, and they paid me $500.”

I had another asset when I arrived for the interviews. I was in my early twenties at the time. My guests were mostly at the end of their careers and I was “a kid.” The artist Thomas Hart Benton, comparing me to himself, called me a “baby.” James Michener asked why I hadn’t stayed at his house instead of a motel, then took me to town for lunch as did former Kansas Governor Alf Landon. No matter how foolish my questions, each guest responded as though I’d had an insightful epiphany that demanded an unabridged and serious response.

George O’Brien ultimately stood down, making me Iona’s Director of Radio. But I kept him engaged as he was still commuting from New Jersey three days a week. One day we invited Charlie O’Donnell, Dean of the Business School, to take the Eastern Shuttle to Boston, for a morning session with psychologist B. F. Skinner, at his Cambridge home, and an afternoon meeting in O’Donnell’s “bailiwick”: the office of Nobel economist Paul Samuelson at M.I.T.

About that time, I got a call from the President of Educational Dimensions in Connecticut. They were selling cassette tapes with slides to schools around the country. In the 1970s, before the internet became commonplace, this was a very popular format. I did a set of career interviews for them: beauty operator, plumber, etc. But more importantly, it triggered the idea of founding my own company, Sound Perspectives. My girlfriend’s art-director father put together a great mailing piece on my theme: In-depth Interviews with people who don’t give interviews. It included a flexible plastic record, our announcer identifying the purposes of the recordings, interspersed with clips from W. H. Auden in his dank St. Marks apartment, Walter Cronkite at CBS, James (Michener at his Pennsylvania home, Norman Rockwell at his Stockbridge, Massachusetts, studio, and B.F. Skinner in his basement office near Harvard.

(insert Sound perspectives sampler here)

Iona College drafted a document by which I was salaried and given a budget to produce the interviews as radio PR for them. But I would remain the permanent owner. This gave me the opportunity to make of the collection an irrevocable gift to the Public Radio archives of WNYC and WQXR, a representative composite of which we invite you to hear:

James A. Michener, Author
Charles M. Schulz, Cartoonist “Peanuts” (by telephone)
Sammy Cahn, Songwriter (1913-1993)
Roy Wilkins, Executive Director, NAACP
John Chancellor, Broadcast Journalist
Andy Warhol, Artist
Harry Reasoner, Broadcast Journalist
Salvador Dalí, Surrealist Artist
Richard Rodgers, Composer
Norman Rockwell, Artist
Ann Landers, Advice Columnist (by telephone)
Mickey Rooney, Actor

 

Art//Archives Sneak Peek: As Days Go By

We’ve recently pulled a selection of calendars and almanacs as source material for a top-secret* creative collaboration.

*It’s not actually that secret, but “as-yet unpublicized” doesn’t sound quite as thrilling.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) from 10-1, during our weekly Art//Archives visual research open hours, we’ll have these books on display for your reference and enjoyment.

The most visually stimulating of the bunch is undoubtedly the 1866 The Life of Man, Symbolised by the Months of the Year in a Series of Illustrations by John Leighton, F.S.A. and Pourtrayed in Their Seasons and Phases, with Passages Selected from Ancient and Modern Authors by Richard Pigot.

The oversized book has an illustration for each month of the year:

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I’m a real sucker for the wings of time-themed frame. Also, look at that emaciated wolf-like animal and the “tender offspring” who is completely lacking seasonally-appropriate attire, presumably as he was just “rescued from the snow”.

Each month’s facing page shows the corresponding age of man:

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These are followed by a selection of seasonally-appropriate quotes and poems set in a variety of type faces:

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Here’s a particularly good wintry poem:

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The January chapter ends with this impressive seasonal crest of sorts:

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Stop by tomorrow if you’d like to see what typographic and artistic delights the other 11 months hold!