37089 and counting

Did you know that UNCG Digital Collections has contributed over 37,000 items to the Digital Public Library of America?

If you’re not using DPLA, you should be. It’s a tremendous resource that pulls together digital collections from all over the United States and makes them available in one easy-to-use interface.

You can also see materials arranged by location on a zoomable map and via a timeline interface. The DPLA also creates exhibits on a regular basis, pulling together related items from different partner collections.

UNCG is proud to be part of this valuable resource.

400 Years of Shakespeare

A page from Shakespeare’s Second Folio (1632)

April 23, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Although the exact dates of his birth and death are disputed, they are both known to have occurred in late April. In honor of 400 years of Shakespeare, libraries and museums throughout the world are putting on exhibits to celebrate his life and works. The Folger Shakespeare Library, partnering with the Cincinnati Museum Center and American Library Association, is hosting a First Folio Tour, which will bring the famous first edition of Shakespeare’s plays to universities and museums in every state.

An illustrated adaptation of Shakespeare (circa 1895)

While FSU Special Collections & Archives is not fortunate enough to have one of the 234 known extant first folios (out of the approximately 750 printed), there are over 350 volumes by and about Shakespeare available through our research center, including facsimiles of the first folio and extracts from the fourth folio, published in 1685. As Shakespeare’s genius and influence have firmly entrenched him in the canon of English literature, his works have been constantly published, republished, edited, re-edited, repackaged, illustrated, and re-illustrated ever since his death in 1616. Many famous authors, printers, and illustrators have tried their hands at Shakespeare over the years, from Laura Valentine’s Shakspearian Tales in Verse (PR2877.V3 1899) to the Kelmscott edition of Shakespeare’s poems (PR2842.E4).

One of the most exciting discoveries we’ve made in the stacks lately is an uncatalogued leaf from Shakespeare’s second folio, printed in 1632, nine years after the first folio and sixteen years after Shakespeare’s death. Our leaf is pages 195-196 from The Taming of the Shrew and includes Pettruchio’s famous lines to Katerina:

For I am he am born to tame you Kate,

And bring you from a wild Kat to a Kate

Conformable as other household Kates …

I must, and will have Katherine to my wife.

This page from the second folio and other editions of Shakespeare’s works will be on display in the Special Collections & Archives Reading Room on the first floor of Strozier from Friday, April 22nd until the end of May. Stop by and see it Monday-Friday 10am-6pm!

The First Warsaw Ghetto Memorial: From the Perspective of the Forverts

On April 20, 1944 the Forverts edition ran 8 pages for your four cents. As might be expected, headlines followed the war abroad —6,500 airplanes were having an acute effect—Sebastopol was burning and there were counterattacks in Galicia.

Beneath the banner headline, in smaller print, but still bolded, was news from closer to home—hundreds of thousands of New York’s Jews honored Polish Jewish heroes and martyrs—keening in the Warsaw Synagogue and on the streets.

Though aimed at describing the scene on New York’s Rivington Street where the memorial demonstration began at the Warsaw Synagogue, the Forverts delivered uplifting news of spontaneous uprisings in ghettos of leading Eastern European cities such as Vilnius, Bialystok, Lodz, Lemberg/Lwow and additional sites throughout Poland, doubtless inspired by the Warsaw ghetto uprising one year prior.

The Forverts remarked that folks had already gathered hours before this image featuring prominent figures addressing the memorial on a WNYC mic was even taken. The synagogue, they reported, was beyond capacity with over 2,500 people. 10,000 more were estimated to be standing out there attempting to gain access to the synagogue’s interior, in order to honor the Warsaw ghetto heroes.

Far from detailing the celebrated camera ready folks seen alongside his honor, Mayor La Guardia, Forverts reporters wrote viscerally of the neighborhood chronicling scenes inside the synagogue—on the street before it and in shops and factories across the city. The energy of which propelled the historic march to City Hall.

Inside the Warsaw Synagogue the Watenberg family sat with their two recently rescued daughters having had the fortune to arrive to New York City on the ‘Gripsholm’ ship straight from Nazi occupied Europe. The significance of the occasion wasn’t lost on the working folk gathered on the sidewalks of the Lower East Side pressing to be a part of it. From beyond the barricades, the Forverts recalled the sounds of unrestrained weeping never before heard both inside and outside the locale.

At 11 a.m. when the speeches ceased the entire gathering bowed their heads for two minutes of silence, and the Forverts recorded faces inscribed with a deep grief. And those were the faces chosen for the front page diptych to underscore the headlines. New York’s finest (Gentile) policemen were said to have been similarly affected and stood wiping their tear filled eyes.

Acclaimed Yiddish theatre composer Joseph Rumshinsky accompanied everyone’s darling Cantor Moyshe Osher on a pump organ as the El Mole Rakhomim [Lord Full Of Mercy] prayer was intoned for the dead. A member of the crowd rose up and spontaneously recited the Kadish [Mourner’s Prayer]—and again, the entire crowd irrupted in tears.

Before leaving Rivington Street a slight challenge could be heard from the crowd, when controversial Yiddish writer Sholem Asch attempted to speak of faith. Known for his Christological novels, and a rumored conversion, those gathered were seemingly unsettled by Asch’s declaration that God will avenge the Jewish blood spilt. Individuals in the crowd challenged Asch demanding he tell them where god’s son was currently? Was he also going to help them? Who invited him here?— was heard from the audience. Though immortalized in the event’s official photographs, standing next to Julian Tuwim, Poland’s Jewish poet of great renown, organizers later clarified to the Forverts that nobody had in fact invited him.

The entire gathering then formed a long impressive entourage making its way to City Hall. Thousands of Jews en masse walked the streets silently with heads cast down in anguish. At the head of the demonstration was the Watenberg family carrying an American flag.

Placards were carried saying The Ghetto Heroes Blood Cries Out For Revenge! and Three Million Jews Murdered By Nazis—Help Save The Surviving Ones! Thousands stood on the sidewalks watching the Jewish demonstration pass. They could be seen, the Forverts wrote, asking each other about it and listening to explanations.

Despite being unable to attend the march due to work constraints, 4000 shops participated in a work stoppage that day, and an estimated half a million workers honored the memory of their fallen brethren. The Forverts reported that cloakmakers and dressmakers, furriers and tailors, grocery clerks and painters, pocketbook makers, millinery workers and workers in dozens of other fields stopped the wheels of production for 10 minutes as a memorial to those heroic individuals who with their bare hands, led an uprising against the Nazi murder machine.

By evening, thousands attended a concluding memorial event at Carnegie Hall People in the trades, and shops came straight from work to honor the martyrs of the Polish ghetto expressing their desperation at saving what remained of European Jewry. Also not seen in the officially recorded image at City Hall, was Yiddish poet H. Leyvik who that night, read a piece created especially in memory of the heroic uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.

When listening to the WNYC recording of the day’s events, one easily absorbs the depth of New York’s willingness to acknowledge the unique historic significance of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Reading the Forverts’s accounts of the crowd’s participation helps turn the camera around to observe the people participating in history as they created it. By 1947, only three years after the war, their unflagging energy led to the formation of a memorial plaque at Riverside Drive and 83rd Street.

On October 19th of that year, the Forverts was still 8 pages but had gone up a penny in price and cost you five cents. More than 15,000 people attended the unveiling lasting over three hours in the pouring rain. The Forverts reported it as one of the most extraordinary Jewish ceremonies New York had ever witnessed.

Mayor O’Dwyer was in attendance as were Senator Robert Wagner and several European ambassadors. Cardinal Spellman sent a representative and Manhattan’s Borough President was there too. Cantor Moyshe Osher sang the national anthem while Cantor Moshe Koussevitzky, himself a recent refugee from Warsaw, sang the El Mole Rakhomim prayer. No photos accompany the reporting of that day.


The Forverts online (1897-1949)

The stone—as the plaque is now known—is part of the New York City parks—and also, a ceremony still takes place annually on April 19th, sponsored by a The Congress for Jewish Culture.

The Forward

The Yiddish Forward

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Lenin’s Family History According to the Soviet Union

A Bedtime Story from Radio Moscow, might be the more apt title of this 1963 program, rather than “Lenin’s Family.” Never broadcast on WNYC (it was labeled “Prop” for Propaganda and relegated to the archives) this strange mix of radio drama and homespun instruction is a good sample of mid-century Soviet revisionist history. A schoolmarm-ish announcer spoonfeeds us the facts of Lenin’s early life before actors voicing the roles of his father and mother take over.

Little Vladimir “couldn’t keep still for a moment.” His mother, who played the piano, instilled in him a great love of folk melodies. (This, oddly, is accompanied in the background by a Beethoven sonata). The family’s upper-middle class background (some historians even call them “minor nobility”) is downplayed, with great emphasis placed on how hard his father, an inspector of schools, worked, and how his mother made sure he read no “trashy novels.” The irony here is how stuffy and bourgeois the hagiography sounds, all while clumsy attempts are made to graft Marxist-Leninist principles onto an idealized Victorian background. Thus in the midst of this wholesome, hard-working family, it comes as a shock when Vladimir’s older brother Alexander is arrested for “terrorism” and hanged. From this experience Vladimir (not yet “Lenin”) learned, “the way of terror is senseless. We shall go another way.” The story follows him as far as his exile to Siberia. The mother did not live to see, the announcer laments, “the most just order on earth established.”

The story of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka Lenin, (1870-1924) needs no fairy-tale embellishments. What he accomplished is extraordinary enough. As always, what makes propaganda worth studying is where it diverges for the truth. Here, Lenin’s upper middle class roots are obscured. As the Encyclopedia Britannica notes:

“It is difficult to identify any particular events in his childhood that might prefigure his turn onto the path of a professional revolutionary. Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov was born in Simbirsk, which was renamed Ulyanovsk in his honor. (He adopted the pseudonym Lenin in 1901 during his clandestine party work after exile in Siberia.) He was the third of six children born into a close-knit, happy family of highly educated and cultured parents. His mother was the daughter of a physician, while his father, though the son of a serf, became a schoolteacher and rose to the position of inspector of schools. Lenin, intellectually gifted, physically strong, and reared in a warm, loving home, early displayed a voracious passion for learning. He was graduated from high school ranking first in his class. He distinguished himself in Latin and Greek and seemed destined for the life of a classical scholar. When he was 16, nothing in Lenin indicated a future rebel, still less a professional revolutionary—except, perhaps, his turn to atheism.”

A more glaring omission is Lenin’s Jewish ancestry. One would think that by 1963 it would no longer be a taboo subject, however this “shameful” fact about Lenin, in a country where anti-Semitism still thrives, has never been fully admitted. As recently as 2011, the French newspaper Le Temps, in a story picked up by Time Magazine, reported that an historical exhibition:

“…adds a key new element to the official narrative. In a letter to Stalin in 1932 — six years after Lenin’s death — Anna Ulyanova, Lenin’s older sister, wrote that their maternal grandfather ‘came from a poor Jewish family and was, according to his baptismal certificate, the son of Moses Blank.’ Blank was born in Zhitomir, Ukraine. In her letter, Ulyanova said her brother ‘had always thought highly of Jews.’ She also urged Stalin to reveal Lenin’s Jewish background, concluding that ‘it would be wrong to hide it from the masses.’ Stalin, however, ordered Ulyanova to keep Lenin’s Jewish roots under wraps. A few years later, Stalin began to purge Jews from among the leaders of the revolution. Prior to his death in 1953, furthermore, he was preparing to send the whole Jewish population living in the Soviet Union to concentration camps in Siberia.”

Radio Moscow, for many years the most public face of the Soviet Union abroad, is now mostly remembered for its later phase, when it produced such clumsy propaganda that only the most credulous listeners could take it for a serious news outlet. But at its inception the station was much more serious in intent and in the role it played. The magazine Rossiyskaya Gazeta, publishing in the Telegraph newspaper, reminds how:

“On October 29, 1929, Radio Moscow…became the first radio station in the world to broadcast to an international audience. It was followed three years later by the BBC, and then by Voice of America in 1942. By 1939, the station was broadcasting in English, French, German, Italian and Arabic and warning the world about the growth of fascism in Europe. Mussolini personally ordered Radio Moscow to be blocked, as did Hitler following the onset of the Second World War. The station would continue to inspire those involved in opposition movements throughout Nazi-occupied territories.”

FOIA Federal Advisory Committee Report

I am pleased to announce that the inaugural Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee, under the direction of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), submitted a final report and recommendations regarding FOIA Fees, Proactive Disclosure, and Oversight and Accountability.

The Committee’s report and their recommendations is the product of two years of hard work by the Committee to study the current FOIA landscape across the Executive Branch, to provide advice on improving FOIA administration, and to make recommendations to the Archivist of the United States.

Members of the 2014-2016 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee. From left to right: James Holzer, Mark Zaid, Ginger McCall (forner member), Brent Evitt, Larry Gottesman, Melanie Pustay, Nate Jones, David Ferriero, Lee White, Sean Moulton, Marty Michalosky, Jim Hogan, David Pritzker, Clay Johnston.

Members of the 2014-2016 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee.
From left to right: James Holzer, Mark Zaid, Ginger McCall (forner member), Brent Evitt, Larry Gottesman, Melanie Pustay, Nate Jones, David Ferriero, Lee White, Sean Moulton, Marty Michalosky, Jim Hogan, David Pritzker, Clay Johnson.

OGIS provides leadership, administrative and logistical support for the FOIA Advisory Committee. Director James Holzer serves as the Committee’s Chair, and a member of the OGIS staff acts as the Committee’s Designated Federal Officer (DFO).

Much of the Committee’s work was done by its three subcommittees: FOIA Fees, Oversight and Accountability, and Proactive Disclosures. The DFO attended all of the subcommittees’ meetings and was included on all correspondence between members. OGIS staff also ushered the Fees and Oversight and Accountability Subcommittees through the process necessary to gather new information from agency FOIA professionals about how fees are used and the role of FOIA Public Liaisons. This information improved Committee members’ and public understanding of the issues, and influenced its recommendations.

The Committee prepared this report prior to the final meeting of the 2014 – 2016 term of the Committee, and documents all of the work done by the Committee over its two year term. The report also includes background on the Committee’s creation, summaries of the Committee’s quarterly meetings, and a summary of the work undertaken by the Fees, Oversight and Accountability, and Proactive Disclosures Subcommittees. Far from an end result, Director Holzer intends to use the report as a starting point for the next term of the Committee. The Committee is accepting comments on the recommendation and on the Committee’s Final Report. Please direct all comments to: foia-advisory-committee@nara.gov

The Committee’s development of a consensus recommendation is an important milestone: it shows that agencies and requesters can work together to improve the FOIA process. The Committee’s unanimous decision to send forward its first recommendation to the Archivist is also a testament to the importance of transparency, participation, and collaboration.

This report reflects the Committee’s thoughtful and thorough work on this important topic, and I want to thank Director Holzer, the Office of Government Information Services, and the entire FOIA Advisory Committee for their hard work and dedication to this important topic.

W. H. Auden, an Appreciation

First, an Invocation, borrowing Auden’s own words*: It is impudent of me to trespass at all inside a field where so many great and good people have spent their lifetimes. I can only try to limit the offense by confining my remarks to one aspect of his thought: Time

Auden only occasionally focused his attention directly on time, approaching the subject more often in tangent to other thoughts. But he did approach it in the recording above, harkening back longingly to an earlier era, when the poet held greater sway. I suspect he might begrudge us for pulling him so jarringly into the present, disturbing his high strangeness for our present purpose, but I’ll do it nonetheless:

Wystan Hughes Auden, born 109 years ago, has been following me. He has been for months.

This is, of course, both unlikely and impossible. Unlikely, in that it would be decidedly out of character for him to do so, but more so, in that we hardly share affinities:

He was reborn into Christianity by and in the stirrings of the Second World War, by philosophy, by the loss of his mother, through the slipping love with Chester Kallman, and of course much more – while I have abstained almost entirely from religion, tracking from the aggressive atheism of the young to a respectful agnosticism, while in the main seeking rational explanations for the numinous.

He was a Major Poet, winning, as we hear in the above recording, the 1956 National Book Award for poetry for The Shield of Achilles. A 1948 Pulitzer precedes it, for Age of Anxiety. No slouch. I, on the other hand, am generally uninterested in poetry. I barely read it, in spite of otherwise omnivorous reading habits, and I certainly don’t write it. Moreover, though I like to think I have my moments, my prose is choppy, shallow, and stubborn, rendered like a once tall wave, puttering ashore. His is somehow both more fluid and crisp, smoothing into rich sand across the page.

There are other differences between us, to be sure, mostly trivial. But it’s more than just unlikely that I would be a figure of fascination for him. It’s impossible: Auden, the so good, so great, so dead author of some of the finest poetry of the last century, shuffled off this mortal coil in 1973, in Vienna, Austria. I was born years later, and half a world away; we quite simply could not have crossed paths. But we cannot reduce these suits to a man, nor can we easily account for the connections we forge. For the now seven months since my wife and I moved to New York City from Austin, Texas, he has been a close companion.

So I will rephrase. Auden has preceded me in time, true. But I have preceded him in space, and my awareness of his past presence has followed, almost to a rule, in a fitting echoic neighborly decency, by anywhere from hours to days:

From dining at St. Mark’s and 3rd (“valuable property” he tells us in the recording above), only to learn days later I was mere feet from his home – to our offices at WNYC, where he first emerged coiled upon the core of a quarter inch reel on my third day on the job; and again months later, a few days after we received a new shipment from the New York City Municipal Archives, astride a pair of waxy acidic 16” transcription discs for me to transfer and archive; and then later still in praise of the namesake of our archives’ catalog, Constantine Cavafy – to the basement of McNally Jackson, pursuing another author’s intriguing plug for Kierkegaard after an anxious two-day wait, to see Auden’s name staring back surprised on the book’s spine aside Either/Or and Fear and Trembling – and from there, still summoned unbidden, across pages on St. Mark’s, about Shakespeare, and by Lewis Carroll, and, eventually, learning about Kierkegaard and unlearning Arendt.

When Julie and I grabbed our first cab from La Guardia to South Slope, I’m pretty sure we rolled over his February House, since razed by Robert Moses to make way for the BQE. Just today (February 21), I discovered the sly bit of reconnaissance Auden took of my adopted home of St. Louis, winning a late-in-life literary award from SLU. And again just today (February 21), as sat down to commit finally to beginning this appreciation, I learned it is his birthday.

In a way, it’s not surprising that he should take advantage of his strange power and so frequently skip days and hours and even years: the dramatic mystery is that we should always so unanimously agree upon exactly how many hours and days and years to skip. Years, then hours and days, nearly every time.

Our connection is trivial, of course, and increasingly less serendipitous, as I’ve increasingly sought his work out, but it doesn’t feel trivial. And it doesn’t feel chosen. It feels like kismet. It feels meaningful. Actually, no, not meaningful. This: It makes me more prone to appreciate what is meaningful in what he left behind. And it makes me wonder what he would have made of all this odd flitting about time.

Auden taught at Swarthmore from 1942 to 1945, during which time he composed The Sea and the Mirror, an “ars poetica” in which he enlists characters from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, speaking directly to the audience after a performance, to provide a poetic exploration of his thoughts on art and poetry. It is brilliant, deliciously high-concept, fascinating in premise and execution… and utterly beyond our scope.

But during his time at Swarthmore he also left behind a chart (a portion of which is pictured below), used in his seminar “Romanticism from Rousseau to Hitler,” meant to dispel our instinctive Manichean leanings, in poetry and life. Here is an easier inroads.

On either side are the Hells of Pure Deed (seeking refuge in nature) and Pure Word (seeking release from it) and at the center, This World. Through this triptych he wound the themes of sin, sex, politics, and myth… symbols, theories, and disease… And time.

In the Hell of Pure Deed, time is a circle; the Hell of Pure Word, a turbine. In This World it was (and is) a spiral. Untangling the meaning behind Auden’s spiral metaphor is tricky without a clearer context, but perhaps we can be seen as crossing paths there, as separate stories mingling in the spiral’s memorial churn. Or, alternatively, time on either side of hell remains an eternal round now. But time in This World isn’t quite a spiral; time is a wave, sinuform and regular. Auden at the crest, the apogee, me in its undertow, the base, swimming with the currents of an insistent pressing time – never quite meeting (how could we?), but mirrored nonetheless.

Were I forced to pick a point when our paths might more properly intersect, in real time, where we are not split by those hours and days and years, I would probably join the fellow irresponsibles and sit in on his Swarthmore class. This is perhaps due in part to the fact that this predates the earliest audio available of Auden in the WNYC Archives by a good 3 to 6 years –  in anyone’s life a good stretch, in a life like Auden’s, an eternity. 

1948, Reader’s Almanac

That earliest-Auden-audio is from a 1948 episode New York University’s Reader’s Almanac, captured originally on transcription disc at the WNYC studios, later reformatted to compact disc in 2007, and transferred into our digital repository just this year. On it, we get to hear him in the role of the critic, discussing the role of evil in Charles Williams’ All Hallow’s Eve with Richard McLaughlin and Warren Bauer. It begins in media res, with Auden telling us that a person’s attitude to life must emerge in the work they write – a promising place to start if we’re in search of Auden’s own attitudes towards his work, his life, and time. Still, as insightful as this brief recording is, I prefer a more direct address, and the above is sadly incomplete and the audio suffers from an assertive and distracting crackle.

1956, National Book Awards

Virgilia Peterson, conferring upon Auden the National Book Award for poetry for The Shield of Achilles, tells us that “he stands symbol for the treasure that the old world has in our times bestowed upon the new.” This is true these times too.

Acceptance speeches at awards ceremonies are a strange genre – somehow simultaneously pandering and sincere, a place of cloying superficiality and naked emotion, and a platform for thanks and gratitude, but also for the persistent and egregious misuse of the word “humble.” At their best, though, they can be home to elegant statements of grand ideas (sometimes political, hopefully not) and serve as summations of the best of human hopes achieved.

The best summation for Auden would have been a recitation of The Shield of Achilles, of course, which he wisely eschewed, lest he face the National Book Council’s no-doubt exquisite play-off music. No, Auden’s speech that day instead dealt with the place of the poet – in society, and in time. For Auden, the poet was the only kind of person to want to have existed in an earlier age, one that he describes as briefly and eloquently as allowed in his allotted time – one where the poet held a richer social and spiritual presence, one where a poet could have read his sacred work aloud at such a solemn and meaningful occasion. But one can’t help but feel he is dissembling a bit.

Since we are so focused on time, we should note that in a quick slip into rhetorical symmetry, he pinpoints that very much earlier age at 1956 BC, an age in which the sacred was a public experience shared by all, and in which real men spoke in verse. There is no doubt that the numinous permeated a wider swath of human experience in the actual societies of 1956 BC, but wouldn’t the poet’s envied eye more likely focus on what Auden had earlier in his career considered “the first and last time in history [that] an art, drama, became the dominant religious expression of a whole people, [with] the [poet] the most important figure in their spiritual life,” i.e. the golden age of Greek theater? Is it fair to guess that the fudged the dates by more than a millennium, or that this is likely what he had in mind? I suspect so, though it’s probably not fair to judge him for it.

But this is quibble, a minor complaint, even if we’d rather he didn’t play it so fast and loose with time. Perhaps we should forgive that falsely symmetrical flourish. We should worry, though, about the wider view.

We all spin little stories so that we might weave our lives in them. Auden is no different. But the tale he tells of time at the National Book Awards is partial. To fill it out, we must look to Auden’s interpretation of Kierkegaard.

Kierkegaard looked to mankind and saw three attitudes to life – The Aesthetic, The Ethical, and The Religious. If these seem vaguely familiar, I encourage you to peruse again Auden’s chart, here, or above. I’d also note that Auden mentions the distinction between The Aesthetic and The Ethical enough times in his prose anthology, The Dyer’s Hand, that I quickly lost count.

Auden, in his 1952 edited edition of The Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard, had the wisdom to set these to a historical narrative of the development of religion, enriching what was a narrative of individual personal development, granting them a societal breadth and historical depth missing (to me) in what I’ve read of Kierkegaard’s work, by the simple act ordering them in historical time.

His narrative, while brief, is still too long to repost here. I encourage you to seek it out.  I’ll reiterate my agnosticism here. I paraphrase:

The Aesthetic (e.g. The Greek Gods)

Humanity began with a sense of the self struggling in opposition to an overwhelmingly powerful “not-self.” The Greek Gods came to solve this by taking over the role of the passions – human emotions belonged to the Gods. In fact, emotions were the Gods. Art was the performance of rituals meant to draw in the sacred. Strength was virtue, weakness was sin. Humans themselves were blameless, but their experience of the sacred lacked acknowledgement of the sense of choice they knew was part of their conscious lives. On the basis of that, the lack of accounting for good and evil, and the failure to deal with anxieties concerning death, this theology failed.

The Ethical (e.g. Greek Philosophy)

To resolve these anxieties, Greek philosophers began to search for something that transcended death – universal truths, science, ideas. These ideas became the divine. Knowledge was virtue, ignorance was sin, but art existed merely to coax the unenlightened into belief and the deification of ideas could not rationally account for the will to pursue those ideas. On this account the religion of ideas failed.

The Religious

Humanity sought something more permanent in its place. Humanity sought that permanence in the fulfillment of the Ethical in revealed religion, in a relationship with God that could not be severed. In both Greek theologies the relationship with the divine was intermittent – either Gods chose to enter an individual, or the individual sought to pursue the divine. The Gods of the Aesthetic – feelings – and the God(s) of Ethical – ideas – became in the new religion the ideas and feelings of individual human beings. In the new theology, evil was the rebellion against this more permanent relationship. This is the first theology that accounts for the feeling of choice, but in order to to retain that choice, God became a distant figure.

To consider this little narrative historically true would be generous, but that’s hardly the point. Its purpose is to provide a place to house belief, to provide a religion, a philosophy, a code of behavior, call it what you will, [without which one] cannot live at all. In this, I think, it succeeds, even while I disagree with it. It succeeds because it is narrative, because it enlists the forces of time to its purpose. It forces one to consider one’s place in it, and one’s movement through it. 

The Auden of the National Book Award address, flirting as it does with the Romantic idea of sacred (read: artistic) possession, seems to live in the Aesthetic age. Much as I loath to admit it, I probably would be classed in the Ethical, Aesthetic in fits. Auden the man, arguably all three, but ultimately, the Religious.

Oddly though, we don’t get a sense for the place of art in the “religious” life. Oddly too, that in order that we are left a God to commune with, God must not only remain an utter mystery – lest faith lapse into certainty, and our autonomy vanish as well – but also that each person must forge their own connection to that God. So perhaps he isn’t dissembling in his acceptance speech when he bemoans the loss of shared sacred experiences. In the Aesthetic-Ethical-Religious arc, we really do see a shift to individualist relation to God. The numinous can’t be shared, at least not easily, even through art.

The Sea and the Mirror ends in what Auden would call The Reconciliation of Art and Life in the Religious, with poor players making atonal, near-noise, frantic failed music, before approaching first the void of nonexistence and ultimately the sounded note [of] the restored relation, a musicoserio expression of the bridging of the gulf between God, art, and life, enlisting the metaphor of puissant pure sound.

In one of his Dyer’s Hand essays, “Notes on Music and Opera,” Auden wonders What is music about? What does it imitate? Answering that it imitates Our experience of Time in its twofold aspect, natural or organic repetition, and historical novelty created by choice. I’d argue this sells both Time and Music short. Perhaps this is again unfair – the essay was really more of a mash of notes than a reasoned critique, but still, both Time and Music are richer concepts than he allows. Time and music are more than repetition and novelty; they are narrative and memory too.

He may be thinking of measured metre or poetic pulse, a formal appreciation of poetic structure grew throughout his long career. Or perhaps he’s thinking, existentialist that he was, of the eternal present of which we are only ever aware. But the second a second-hand clicks to the next, isn’t it lost to memory already? Memory will forever win every battle, every Pyrrhic victory, but will forever submit to the whims of the present. In The Sea and the Mirror, Auden’s Caliban mocks his demiauthor’s felicitous claim to put a mirror up to nature, arguing that, in a mirror, art and nature provide a mutual reversal of value. This is worth reflecting on, but the phrase is perhaps truer of Time: Time, History, Memory, put a mirror up to Now. And it is Art that finally reconciles Memory with the Present. 

1972, Douglas Cooper

In one of his final American interviews, which likely aired on WNYC in 1972, Auden would speak with Douglas Cooper about the meaning of art. Auden answers to Cooper’s earnest questions on the role of art in life verge on the nihilistic, at least they did to my ears, three days into a new career in a new town. Asked whether people act differently as a result of poetry, Auden provides what by now was something of a pat answer about the role of not just poetry, but all arts: 1) Paraphrasing Samuel Johnson: The sole aim of writing is to enable readers a little better to enjoy life, or a little better to endure it; and 2) from Auden himself, The arts are our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.

Breaking bread with the dead is an pithy expression of the significance of time, but is spoken with its distant wit drained by repetition, dried into aphorism. Bread isn’t manna, ambrosia, or milk-and-honeyed cake; there is no transubstantiation; The dead remain dead. Still, it is worth reflecting upon. The Cooper tape was one of the first things I’d done on the job, and one of my first genuine encounters with his work. It took a while, though, before I came to consider the phrase. And it finally occurred to me that it cuts both ways.

*Any language taken or derived from Auden is in italics.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

Readers Almanac – WNYC archives id: 5837Municipal archives id: LT 6790, LT5396

National Book Award – WNYC archives id: 150222; Municipal archives id: LT7121

Additional audio from the Douglas Cooper Distinguished Contemporaries Collection – WNYC archives id: 92067

A Creative Fellow

If you regularly check the library’s facebook page or other social media, you may already know about Special Collections’ 2016 Creative Fellow, the inimitable Walker Mettling. Walker is working with our collections for the duration of Portals, and is using his fellowship as an opportunity to create new illustrated work related to the exhibition’s theme. Stay tuned for details on where and when you can see some of his fantastical creations!

In the meantime, here are photos of Walker reading a comics newspaper that he printed on a risograph, inspired by the large-scale format of 1860s issues of the Providence Journal that he read in PPL’s Special Collections.



The 1971 Westcott Talk-In

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, FSU was fraught with student protest, and Westcott was the primary site for demonstrations and sit-ins. FSU earned its moniker “Berkley of the South” during this time as students became more concerned with equal rights for women and minorities, free speech, and the anti-war movement. While some of the protests were accompanied by increased police presence and arrests (most famously The Night of Bayonets in 1968), some protests were peaceful. One such event was a “talk-in” organized by black students at FSU.

“200 Blacks confront Marshall,” The Florida Flambeau, April 26, 1971

On April 23, 1971, a group of nearly 200 black students descended on President Stanley Marshall’s office, demanding a moment of his time. Fed up with discrimination on campus and disillusionment about FSU possibly being merged with FAMU, the students approached President Marshall at his office at Westcott to ask him to use his administrative powers to intervene in two situations on campus. The first demand was for President Marshall to re-appoint Gayle Andrews, FSU’s first black cheerleader, to the cheerleading squad. The second request was for President Marshall to grant amnesty to Enoch Saunders and Skip Young, two black students accused of assaulting a white student.

Prior to the talk-in, students from FSU’s black community staged a protest outside of Westcott on April 20th, 1971. “FSU Blacks Stage Protest,” The Florida Flambeau, April 21, 1971.

Gayle Andrews previously participated on the FSU cheerleading squad for two years before she wasn’t elected onto the following year’s team. Claiming discrimination by the squad, the Black Student Union officially demanded on Gayle Andrews’ behalf that she be placed back on the squad. In an interview for the Florida Flambeau, Andrews stated “[when] they overlooked me, they overlooked all blacks at school.” Neither the squad nor President Marshall would reinstate Andrews, but two other black cheerleaders, Shirley Preston and Jim Wilson, were chosen to join the next year’s squad at tryouts.

In 1971, FSU students Enoch Saunders and Skip Young were accused of assaulting a white student. Both men cited self-defense and felt they were unjustly arrested. Speaking about his arrest experience at a rally at Moore Auditorium, Saunders stated “We are the victims of selective law enforcement,” and that he “was told by [his] arresting police officers that they were going to kill [him].” Young, a basketball player who would eventually go on to lead the FAMU Lady Rattlers to their first state championship in 2004, also spoke about his experience at the rally. “My actions were provoked by the slurs of the white cheerleader whom I attacked, and I feel the charges brought against me are false.” President Marshall, not having the authority to grant amnesty in legal matters, declined to do anything about Enoch Saunders and Skip Young’s charges.

Even though not much was accomplished by the talk-in at Westcott, student leaders applauded administration for handling it without the intervention of police force. After the talk-in at Westcott, relations between the student body and began to improve.

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.

The DPLAfest: Making Access Happen

On Friday, the PIDB participated in the Digital Public Libraries of America (DPLA) Festival.  As a non-profit organization, DPLA brings together America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them available to all users.  The festival is an annual series of workshops, presentations, and discussions that brings together librarians, archivists, and museum professionals, developers and technologists, publishers and authors, teachers and students to applaud DPLA’s milestones in the previous year.  This year, the DPLAfest was held on April 14 and 15, 2016, at three Washington, DC, institutions: the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Smithsonian Institution.  The festival agenda and presentations are available here

Mr. William Cira, Acting Executive Secretary of the PIDB, discussed the substantial impact of the PIDB’s recommendations on policy development in the Executive Office of the President and how those recommendations directly impact the joint mission of NARA and the DPLA: simply put, to make access happen.  Mr. Cira and Ms. Ellen Knight, Senior Analyst with the PIDB staff, shared information about the current study the PIDB is undertaking concerning technological modernization of the classification and declassification system for long-term sustainability.

The PIDB wishes to thank the DPLAfest organizers for the opportunity to share our work with a new and broader community of users interested in bringing technology to the information management field.  We look forward to next year’s DPLAfest and future opportunities to collaborate with DPLA supporters.

Amherst 120 years ago

Today we’re taking a quick peek at the Amherst of 120 years ago. William J. Newlin was a student at Amherst College from 1895 to 1899, he later returned as a Mathematics and Philosophy professor and taught here for nearly fifty years. We have a handful of glass plate negatives that Newlin took as a student and that now reside in our photograph collection. Followed by the photographs of Allan W. Forbes a mere ten years later, these images tell an interesting story about life at Amherst College a little more than 100 years ago.

click on an image to see it larger

The Octagon, 1896
Appleton Hall, 1896
Fayerweather Hall, known at the time as the Physics Lab, 1896
Inside of 30 South College, a student dormitory room, 1896
Inside of 30 South College, a student dormitory room, 1896
Inside of 30 South College, a student dormitory room, 1896
A view from the window of 30 South College, 1896
A view from the window of 30 South College, 1896
South College, 1897
Known at the time as College Grove, now known as the Freshman Quad, this image also shows the college well directly behind Johnson Chapel, 1896
Labeled "Three Jacks", this image shows three students on the steps of a store, 1897
Members of Psi Upsilon prepared for a Mountain Day outing, 1897
Students in the parlor of an unidentified fraternity house, 1897
Walker Hall, 1898
Students on their way to the Amherst train station to see Doc Hitchcock off, January 25, 1898

e. e. cummings

Synesthesia, the automatic, involuntary experience of one of the five senses overlapping with another, is one of the more curious quirks of the mind – for Vladimir Nabokov, the french letter “a” drew the color of “polished ebony”; for others, the word “moonlight” might dissolve on the tongue with a felt tinge of sweetness; or the number 9 may strike one’s field of vision on the arching march of a number line. It’s unclear whether e. e. cummings, featured here in a broadcast that aired shortly after his passing in 1962, was among the .25 to 4% of the population who experience synesthesia, but people have not unreasonably read into his work a link between the visual and the verbal. If this is a tangent you’d like to pursue, here, let us get you started. Regardless, synesthesia is an alluring phenomenon, the kind of thing that can elicit envy in some, fascination in others, and inspire the purchase of hallucinogens in both. But it bears considering that you’re experiencing something very close to it right now, just by reading this sentence.

In reading, as with synesthesia, one sense, sight, calls forth another, hearing, instantly and effortlessly – direct and unbidden. It’s something we learned, yes, but is now so deeply ingrained that it feels close to instinctual. Much has been written about the implications of reading and writing on the mind, most of it covering its two most dramatic historical events – the evolution of the alphabet in ancient Greece, and the invention of the movable type printing press as Europe awoke into the renaissance. The orality and literacy dichotomy coincidentally hit the public consciousness most deeply in the year of this recording, 1962, sounding out from the Toronto School with the publications of Eric Havelock’s Preface to Plato, a book length study of the rise of literacy in Athens and Plato’s puzzling banishment of the poets, and Marshall McLuhan’s Gutenberg Galaxy, which made an excited case for the great change begat by the print revolution.

Following this tradition, the more recent (and more-levelheaded) literacy theorist David Olson has remarked that “the history of reading is largely the history of attempting to cope with what writing does not represent.” From this single simple invention, the written word, and this single attendant struggle to cope with its failures, he argues, are born two often antagonistic cultures – with a drive towards single definitive readings of the written word, science; and in the search for a richer reading of inward states, literature. And from this, I’d add, we have an interesting place to consider cummings’ work.

In a sense, writing not only led to science, writing is a science – a quixotic quest for an ever more exact approximation of the act of speech. It is, however, a social science (of a sort) and always has been, defined by high and low use from willing and unwilling practitioners – nothing less than the whole of humanity over the rush of millenia. Somewhere along the line, spaceswereintroducedbetweenwords, then commas, :colons; periods. question marks? Capitalization (parentheses) “quotation marks” ampersands & ellipses… the very marks of cummings’ art. But also tools to describe tone, emotion, and the ever-deepening introspection missing from the written word – the study of the human mind. As Olson notes, these became models for speech and thought as much as or more than the representations of the spoken word they were perceived to be.

We now have ever more refined means of capturing language, not the least of which is recorded sound. The audio file at the top of the page came to us as a 12” “acetate” disc, itself partially borrowed from a 1953 Caedmon Records LP, which we transferred via the digital recording software Pro Tools. Below is a graphic representation of the waveform of e. e. cummings reading his poem “dying is fine)but Death.” Nice, but useless without a means of decoding it.

What is left out of this bit of “writing” is not merely a means of decoding it however, but a means abstracting it – a way to let other people read the poem their own way, without exhaustively matching e. e. cummings tone for tone, tempo for timbre, something that is still probably best accomplished by reading the poem as written.





wouldn’t like


Death if Death




when(instead of stopping to think)you


begin to feel it,dying

‘s miraculous



cause dying is


perfectly natural;perfectly


it mildly lively(but




is strictly


& artificial &


evil & legal)


we thank thee


almighty for dying

(forgive us,o life!the sin of Death


If, as Olson claims, the history of reading is a coming to terms with what scripts can’t capture, as scripts evolve, so will reading. In our age, where all scripts have been pared down to 0 and 1, new ways of reading have evolved, and new ways coping. For instance, at my alma mater, The University of Texas at Austin School of Information, there is the wonderful project HiPSTAS, which would use cummings’ and others’ archival digital audio to scan, catalog, and tag every poetic lift, lilt, iamb, and caesura, developing a new grammar of the digital word. On the darker side, consider also the copybots that trawl (and troll) YouTube for copyright infringing materials – a different sort of machine reading, enlisting powerful new technologies.

But writing is an art too – one that e. e. cummings exploited to near its fullest, and, if we may read into his recitation of “dying is fine)but Death” pictured above, one that he felt superior to science. As the host of the 1962 WNYC Memorial program for e. e. cummings tells us, “he made a poetic art of commas and parentheses, and the typographic oddities of his poetry were an expression of his fierce individuality.” True, but his idiosyncratic approach to typography enlists a more standardized typography’s powers and would mean far less without it; he uses them to reconsider not only the symbols themselves, but the very act of writing, and whether its tether to oral expression had become an all-too-exacting mutual leash. cummings’ experiments in typography have been called emblematic verse, figured verse, concrete poetry, shape poetry, figured verse, and versive. He was not alone in using them. American pragmatist philosopher C. S. Peirce called similar works “Art Chirography.” Chirography, as you may know,  is the art of handwriting. cummings’ work would be more properly considered “art typography” if it didn’t sound a bit tedious. But then, I suspect he might have found the whole idea of categorizing his art a bit tedious.

At this point one would be tempted to say we should return to the source, let it “speak for itself.” It’s hard to escape the feeling there are two sources though, with whatever the core “poem” might be being bandied about an uncomfortable volley between paper and sounded word. So on the one hand we have cummings’ written legacy, and it’s hard not to grant primacy to it given the “fierce individuality” it represents, flying in the face of standardized typography. But we also have this 1962 recording, which includes no less a figure than e e cummings himself reciting some of his finest work, along with the capable Dave Allen. Some of us will end up envying the rare person who is both illiterate and synesthetic, but for a far different reason than simple fascination over an odd mental quirk – we envy them first for their lack of choice – their experience is inborn and cannot be changed, and is probably often quite beautiful. And we envy them for not having erected written scaffolding that builds the looming Babel of our tottering literate world. So for the rest of us, better both, really – better that we should learn to rest in Keats’ negative capability, toggled between the written and the aural, better that we should find succor in the strengths of what each has to offer, and better that we have the likes of cummings to teach us how.

Track List – Poem (reader):

  1. dying is fine)but Death (cummings)
  2. anyone lived in a pretty how town (Allen)
  3. pity this busy monster, manunkind (Allen)
  4. all in green went my love riding (Allen)
  5. *Santa Claus: A Morality (cummings) 
  6. Spring is like a perhaps hand (Allen)
  7. my father moved through dooms of love (Allen)
  8. what if a much of a which of a wind (Allen)
  9. life is more true than reason will deceive (cummings)
  10. no man,if men are gods;but if gods must (Allen)

Reprinted from E. E. Cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962, edited by George James Firmage. Copyright © 1956, 1984, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. With permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

Caedmon Recordings of e. e. cummings are used with permission of Harper Audio.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150265
Municipal archives id: LT9390

*temporarily used by kind permission of Harper Audio. Now removed.

Gatewood, handbooks, and more…

Some recent additions to our digital collections:

Maud Gatewood Collection:
We are currently midway through the digitzation of the papers of artist Maud Gatewood, for whom the Gatewood Studio Arts building at UNCG is named. Among the items that have been added so far are a large collection of sketchbooks and loose sketches demonstrating her development as a visual artist.

Student Handbooks:
The full run of student handbooks from UNCG and its predcessors, from 1897 to 2011 is now online, The scrapbooks give a detailed picture of campus life, including rules and regulations, social opportunities, and more, and are the perfect complement to the bulletins and course catalogs that are already online.

And some existing collections with significant new material:

The 2016 New Improved PIDB Wikipedia Page

It has been some years since the Public Interest Declassification Board (the Board) updated our Wikipedia page.  In March 2016, the Members and staff received help from a technically savvy Management Information Systems intern, Jordan Sparks of Wayne State University.  Ms. Sparks took on the task of analyzing the Board’s make-up, including statutory history, researched the Boards activities, developed and coded content for a newly formatted Wikipedia page.  All in the space of one week!  We are grateful to Ms. Sparks for her dedication and hard work transforming the Wikipedia page into a user-friendly document for the public and those interested in classification and declassification policy.  We also appreciate the assistance provided by ISOO analyst YuJin Kim who kindly posted the page.

For more information about the PIDB’s activities, you may also visit the PIDB’s website: https://www.archives.gov/declassification/pidb/

Claude Pepper & Edward Ball: A Long History & A Brief Summary

Spring is in the air, the sun is out and that usually means it’s time to find a body of water to sit by and enjoy since we live in Florida. One of those places you could visit this spring and summer (or anytime really) would be the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park.

Wakulla Springs Contest Winner Austin Hackimer "Manatee"
Wakulla Springs Contest Winner Austin Hackimer “Manatee”

This Florida State Park is home to plenty of wildlife including alligators, deer, birds, and of course the majestic manatee. There are guided water boat tours and a spring for swimming where the water is always a nice, cool temperature. Find more information about this beautiful state park here.

The park is named Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, you might wonder, “who is Edward Ball?” According to the Florida State Parks website, he was a “financier” who “purchased the property in 1934 and developed it as an attraction focusing on wildlife preservation and the surrounding habitat.” The Lodge at Wakulla Springs was built in 1937 as a guest house on the 4,000 acres Ball purchased the same year. In the 1960s’ Ball donated land to Florida State University for a marine lab which is now the Edward Ball Marine Laboratory.

Now you could be wondering, “what does any of this have to do with Claude Pepper?” The former Florida Senator and Congressman Claude Pepper and Edward Ball were like the Cady Heron and Regina George of their time, publicly civil with one another, but deplored each other in reality. Pepper writes about his relationship with Ball in his autobiography, Pepper: Eyewitness To A Century.

Ed Ball was a financier who amassed a great amount of wealth and power due to his family connections. His brother-in-law Alfred I. duPont was one of the wealthiest men in the country in the early 20th century. After duPont’s death in 1935, Ball took over control of the duPont Trust and emerged as a wealthy political dominant force in Florida in the 1940s’. Ball never ran for political office himself, but backed and tried to defeat political candidates running for office. One of those candidates he tried to defeat in the 1944 Florida Senate election and eventually succeeded in defeating was Claude Pepper in the now infamous 1950 Florida Senate election.

Claude Pepper Campaign Card FSUPhoto A (33)-08
Claude Pepper Campaign Card FSUPhoto A (33)-08 Front
Claude Pepper Campaign Card FSUPhoto A(33)-08 back
Claude Pepper Campaign Card FSUPhoto A(33)-08 Back










The history of these two men is long and extensive and I encourage any reader of this blog entry to read more on the subject. A great place to start would be Tracy E. Danese’s book, Claude Pepper & Ed Ball: Politics, Purpose, and Power published by the University Press of Florida in 2000. These two men played a great role in shaping the political history and future of Florida. I hope this blog gave you a brief summary of their relationship and intrigued you to read more about it.

Robert Moses, Master Builder, Rap Genius

*UPDATE – Our annotations are best viewed using Google Chrome as your web browser with a Genius extension*

Some of the Internet’s finest developments revolve around hip hop. One of my favorite examples is the discovery of the date of Ice Cube’s “Good Day” (January 20th, 1992). Better still is the website-cum-app WhoSampled, one of the web’s finest wikis, which allows users to “discover… direct connections” between sampled songs and the songs that sampled them. The greatest, and most ambitious, is undoubtedly Genius (formerly Rap Genius), which began as a means to annotate rap lyrics, but has expanded its mission to annotating the Internet… all of it. Indeed, we will use Genius to annotate this very page, by clicking here

In a way, it’s not surprising that hip hop should be such an inspiration to the Internet. Coming of age at roughly the same time, both developed a pronounced hypertextuality, a willful indifference to copyright law, and an affinity for the artful diss, on street corners and in “comments” sections everywhere.

One could argue that New York’s Master Builder Robert Moses, too, shares some affinities with hip hop. Moses composed Swinburnian poetry in his Yale days, so he’s been known to spit a rhyme or two, and as befitting a man who ruled his Triborough fiefdom from beneath a bridge, he had a trollish gift for verbose insults. That gift is on full display in this speech, entitled “The Critics Build Nothing,” given at a 1959 New York Builders Association luncheon. When it comes to his critics, Robert Moses asks, a full 29 years before Public Enemy, that we “Don’t Believe the Hype.”

One wonders what would have happened had Moses spent his days trading dozens in the South Bronx, rather than razing its neighborhoods for yet another super-highway. We’ll sadly never know. But, in tribute to this imagined B.o.B Moses, we give his speech the full “Genius” annotation treatment. Below is a transcription of his November 1959 address. To see our annotations, or to add your own, simply add “genius.it/” to the front of this page’s url. Or just click here.

Haters to the left. Annotations to the right.


“The Critics Build Nothing”

(This transcript was created using the free open-source software Gentle. Punctuation and additional edits were added to their computer-generated script.)

Bradford N. Clark (Chairman, New York Building Congress):

we are indeed fortunate today to have gilmore clark introduce his long-time friend, commissioner moses. gil clarke, as an eminent engineer, educator, and planner, has contributed greatly to the satisfaction of the needs of his fellow men. for these accomplishments, he has been the recipient of tributes and honors too numerous for individual mention. his name and that of his firm clarke-rapuano have been associated with almost every major construction project in the metropolitan area over many years. he is a man of action. ladies and gentlemen it is my privilege to introduce to you, gilmore clarke. [applause]

Gilmore Clarke (Architect, Clarke-Rapuano):

mister chairman,  commissioner moses, honored guests and members and friends of the building congress. if there is anyone who needs no introduction to a new york audience, it is robert moses. his many magnificent accomplishments in this city, in this state, and elsewhere in the united states, indeed beyond these continental limits, are well known. his name is and always will be linked inseparably with eminently distinguished projects, including power dams that harness great rivers, bridges that span wide waterways, networks of expressways and parkways that are the vital arteries of our vast metropolitan area, spacious parks and playgrounds of all sizes and variety, housing, cultural centers, worlds fairs. and a myriad of other enterprises.

i should like to tell you briefly something about robert moses in the role of the artist. dr. l. p. jacks, erstwhile principal of manchester college, oxford, said these words. i quote: “art is the name we give to the wisest way of doing whatever needs to be done. do anything as wisely as it can be done and you stand at the growing point where all the fine arts begin. there are some people who seem to think that in order to promote the fine arts, you must turn your back on the common work of the world as it goes on for example in a great city and betake yourself to another sort of society where the mysteries of art can be studied without disturbance by the toil and din and turmoil of industrial civilization.

“i suggest another method of looking at the matter. i would suggest that we take the toil of the world as it stands, the toil of business, the toil of industry, the toil of the professions. that we find out the wisest way of doing all that. that we accept it and close with it and make the best of it, lifting to the highest level of excellence it is capable of reaching, and i venture to the say we will have taken the most effective steps we could toward a revival of the fine arts, not excepting the finest of them all. art has always grown out of the common work of the world out of the effort to close that work with all the excellence it can bear.” bob, this you have done, you have closed your work with all the excellence it can bear. every project you have sponsored and directed has been done superbly well. consequently, i opine, you belong in the ranks of the artist, for you have dated in making effective a revival of the fine arts and added to that you are the greatest public works administrator this country has ever known. the bard of stratford expressed eloquently my predicament that this moment. he said, “i have not skill enough your worth to sing for we who now behold these present days have eyes to wonder but lack tongues to praise.” gentlemen, i take pleasure in presenting the honorable robert moses.

Robert Moses:

bradford clark, gilmore clarke, ladies and gentlemen. if as i hope you have followed with interest our moving picture of st. lawrence and niagara power, i want to point the morrow. licensing on our two frontiers was fought over by extremists for many years with great bitterness, recriminations, random charges, and fantastic claims, all admirably calculated to befuddle the public, obscure the real issues, and postpone the inevitable conclusion for the public authority was the only logical and acceptable answer. i started on this work as a junior assistant to governor smith almost forty years ago. i have been in the middle of it as head of the state park system for thirty five years. five years ago governor dewey made me chairman of the power authority which has enabled me with the aid of my fellow trustees, commissioners, staff, and consultants to coordinate major improvements on the saint lawrence and niagara rivers. at both messena and niagara i made the statement that our purpose was to live up to a fast schedule. that we aim to be respected rather than to be popular but that perhaps some day we might achieve both. i think we are now well liked on the saint lawrence and perhaps some day we will be on the niagara. nobody escapes grossly prejudiced and unfair attack, who has taken the solemn oath of office to follow, in work like that of the power authority, a middle course between the left-wingers who want government to do everything including challenging and driving out private business, and the old fashioned tycoons who still demand that the state giveaway its basic legally inalienable natural resources to utility companies with a record too recent to forget.

No doubt some of you would think that i was ducking if i said nothing about the so called title one housing program, in which so many of your people are engaged. the purpose of title one – which was lost sight of because the air was full of old vegetables, rotten eggs and dead cats – is to attract private capital to the pitfalls of slum clearance. our official committee here in new york works gratis. it is able to show that this city is undeniably first and foremost in the entire country in actual achievement, and yet we have been vilified by snarling critics at home, and without reliable political support or full citizen understanding.

nobody can tear down ancient rat infested rookeries without first moving people. we have not been heartless in the process. we may at times have been clumsy, but we’ve steadily improved our techniques. I admit freely that one test of democracy is concern for the individual subject to inconvenience, discomfort, and hardship, but our categorical imperative is action to clear the slums and we can’t let minorities dictate that the century old chore will be put off another generation or finally abandoned.

the left-wingers have no monopoly of hatred of injustice. if i did not believe the people at least potentially way ahead of many of their present leaders, if i did not think that given time they can see through demagoguery, i would despair of democracy. i’ve been through these disturbances before and they don’t bother me too much. perhaps it’s the long view or the applause of conscience or the hide of a black rhinoceros that helps me to maintain balance in such situations. occasionally too, i lift up mine eyes unto hills from whence cometh my help. at the end of these periodic uproars some odd blessings appear, comingly disguised but still recognizable. among other things we learned to be grateful for friendships which have proven durable.  

in our unprotected public service you must always be ready to quit when the elected officials no longer want you, or when there is no further opportunity to get results. you must accept most of the rules of the game no matter how brutal and unfair, always reminding yourself that you can retire to other fields, more interesting, productive, and i may add, more restful. those who have large objectives simply can’t brood over their enemies. it’s not nobility. unlike some of the tuscarora indians we forget where the hatchet is buried. Fame is not for little bureaucrats. we must get our fun out of our work. the most i can possibly expect is to be remembered for their a short time as the “archie moore” of public works. [noise]

you can put this in your pipe and smoke it. the professional vomiters and mud throwers, jealous and unhappy chairmen and secretaries of moribund civic societies, with their excited maggoty brains, the rattlesnake element in the press hot after sensational disclosures, the junior bloodhounds, and unlicensed sleuths, in other words those who under the guise of civic righteousness and news fit or unfit to print, habitually and constantly malign new york, are doing our city no good. Stephen Vincent Benet in one of his prophetic poems told about a new variety of termites who eat away the granite, steel, aluminum, and glass of our big buildings. we also have two legged termites, busily disemboweling and undermining our city. we are told by the planners and pundits that cities like new york are too large for comfort and government. the real trouble there so if they’re too big for most of those who try to interpret them.

there’s another type of critic like the guided tour american traveller who has read a book by doctor hassenpheffer and finds that everything is ordered better in post-war europe. look, he says , at swedish co-operative housing. well i’ve looked and being neither a jingo or a groveler, find much that is admirable on practically nothing we can use in view of fundamental differences in conditions in the two countries. these critics have no time for praise, no pride in our astonishing accomplishments, and the attractions the indomitable energies the visions and hopes which make new york what it truly is, the greatest metropolis in the world. god knows we have our manifest deficiencies. but if a tenth of the talent and energy hired to tout our expensive wares and fabled rialtos were spent on counting our blessings,we would confound the caricaturists who picture new york as only a place of wrath and tears and become the envy of gath and ashkelon.

my mail often takes its tone from whiners and bricks-throwers. nervousness and irritability are on the increase. so are stomach ulcers. maybe the youth problem is simply dramatic evidence of general malaise. it is indeed almost pathological. some of these belly-achers may need treatment to get back balance, a sense of fairness and the native humor which is always been the great american life saver. i hear more and more complaints about hard surface tennis courts, slides without cushions, weak coffee, half buttered sandwiches, under-beefed hot dogs. shuttering desiccated aristocrats curse us because gay ragamuffins splash in our fountains in the hot weather. women complain that the nearest playground is eight blocks, that is, sixteen hundred feet away. the fact that we increase the total number playgrounds from a hundred and seventeen almost eight hundred makes little impression. few mention the miles of new parkways and expressways, but a hole in the pavement, misplaced or illegible sign, or broken light will elicit howls of rage. speeders yell that they are the targets of speed traps and grafting cops. writers wax sarcastic about riveting noises at night, manufacturing topsoil out of sewage, failure to grasp relations between the city in the suburbs, the alleged preference of rubber over rails, the proportion of friendly not to say complementary letters is still large but declines. the anonymous grievous and threatening ones increase.

when those of us who for years have studied road accidents conclude that speed makes all the difference between major or minor accidents and therefore refuse to raise speed limits, we are ridiculed by critics who insist on faster travel and the right to kill innocent people.  for years the automobile industry blindly opposed gas taxes and modern highways and called us every name that was printable. by the time the folly of this position was realized, we were years behind in our road building. i won the general motors top highway award in the competition involving some forty two thousand contestants and nineteen fifty three for telling publicly what everybody in detroit already privately knew, namely that a car is no good without a road to run on.

at niagara we are expected to excavate out conduits, reservoirs, and  powerhouses without blasting of the slightest community disruption. solomon’s temple the good book says was fashioned with prefabricated and doubtless pre-stressed stone so that no sound of hammer, ax, or any tool of iron was heard in the building. somehow with all our modern gadgets we’ve lost the art of building noiselessly. a word of encouragement real or fancy that city hall and the critics shriek with delight, they think that they have driven a wedge between the mayor and the department head. out come the headlines: mayor appoints investigating committee, mayor slaps down zilch, commissioner blatz on way out, a scandal ridden bureau to be abolished, racketeers denounced, underworld link to be broken, and so forth. the final payoff, reputation, denouement, retraction or correction appears on one of the last pages with the dow jones stock averages, brazilian coffee exchange news, and death notices. [noise]

one of the favorite press gags at every state capital county seat and city hall is to needle a governor, comptroller, chairman of the board, supervisors, or mayor with the question “who is the chief executive anyway? you or your subordinate?” Then the top man is expected to fly into a rage beat his chest like tarzan and say “i am.” such questions was never got a rise on of abraham lincoln. he allowed he could get along with the eccentricities and even arrogance of his aides. if they contributed to his administration and the winning of the war. and he asked mildly where general grant got his cigars and his whiskey on the assumption that they might benefit the generals critics. at the height of one of these tea kettle tempests i was getting out of an elevator in the municipal building at a conference attended by a number of officials. i was one of the last ones off and heard a man say to the operator “who are those bozos?” the operator answered “commissioners, a dime a dozen.”

some of nicest signed letters i get are in longhand or marked “personal.” they are from prominent people who just can’t afford to come out and they open, so they thunder in the index. their testimony is offered incognito and in absentia. now and then one of them writes a letter that in spite of crudity, bad manners, rough tactics and so forth, my heart seems to be in the right place. these forthright communications remind me of senator royal s. copeland’s campaign for reelection in nineteen thirty four. his principal asset was a syndicated health column in the daily press and one day of the following colloquy appeared: “dear doctor copeland, my aunt emma has cold feet. what shall i do for them?” the reply was “there must be something the matter with your aunt’s circulation. see your local doctor.” of course the senator was triumphantly reelected.

i do not argue for immunity from criticism. that would be silly. i ask only for fair unbiased decent criticism consistent with loyalty to our town. criticism kept within the bounds of decency is a form of competition, it sharpens the wits. and is the very essence and hallmark of democracy. Criticism in the form of irresponsible sensationalism, rabble rousing, slander, and malice is a poison in the body politic. the public official who takes it lying down is a weakling and a coward and probably deserves what he gets. no one who does not love his city is fit to live in it. and no one who fouls his own nest can do it again good. our domestic snivelers are always apologizing because they live here. paul the apostle, the greatest of all missionaries boasted that he was a citizen of no mean city and everywhere boldly claimed the privileges and immunities of roman citizenship. the yahoos of the world would accept us more readily if we followed this precept. you think there is anything new in all this? we need not make absurd or sacrilegious comparisons in appealing to the muse of history.

i have no illusions of grandeur, no thirst for martyrdom and i’ve had too much fun to invite or beg for sympathy. as governor smith used to say let’s have a look at the record. they ostracize the leading citizens in greece. they  tired of hearing aristides called “the great.” they tossed out Baron Haussmann after seventeen years of service, which saved paris from rot and strangulation. mr. dooley sapiently remarked that the triumphal spanish american war arch at madison square was built out of temporary material so that the crowd could throw the bricks at admiral dewey when they got tired of him.

there is to be sure another possible approach to this problem, perhaps we should not be indignant about those smear their their neighbors and foul their own nest, perhaps we should become mellow or philosophical about them. I’m not positive myself that all skunks should be deflowered, dehydrated, desegregated, deceased or driven forth to their waste their sweetness on the desert air. Who am i to disturb the balance of nature? who knows what will happen when the polecat closes his pole? will he be freely accepted at lodges and lawn parties? suppose he suffers the fate of fellow who cured his halitosis and found he was still unpopular. maybe nature intended of their shall be at least one blankety-blank in every dozen.

we little bureaucrats to a level best, poor and inadequate though it may be, to accomplish something in our span of office. we have to rely a good deal on timing. as it says in ecclesiastes, there’s a time for every purpose under heaven – time to strike out, time to stick religiously to what we have, a time to devise novel expedients to fit new inventions, and a time to act as custodians to great traditions. there’s quite a gap between the veteran public official who naturally seeks to mop up his program in a neat orderly way, without frantic haste in the time remaining to him, and the critics who mull over his political and physical life expectancy and devoutly hope he won’t make it.

all progress calls for courage, determination, and a stomach for a fight. the question of method is always in dispute. there will always be people who say they agree with your purpose but don’t like the way you go at it. action is a rough business compared to thought. any persistent civil works administrator is bound to be tagged as ruthless inhuman and even sadistic. in the second war, we had two great supply chiefs, admiral moreell and general somervell. the admiral was as effective but less ruthless than the general. that is there was more mopping up to do after the general who had a marvelous company of trained dog robbers under him. there’s not to reason why. no civilian administrator possibly hope to have such crew. i often think of the general’s aid with wonderment not unmixed with envy.

the chesterfieldian ‘fortiter in re, suaviter in modo’ precept never appealed to me because in the rough and tumble of public building and administration i have never known it to work. the chesterfields are in their drawing rooms elegantly attired and nonchalant, sipping port and eating cake, while the battles rage in the marketplace and at the barricadoes. it should be noted in passing that the belted earl of chesterfield is remembered today only as the man whom samuel johnson wrote the most excoriating, shriveling letter in history.

i’ll make another assertion which may astonish some of you, there’s hardly an undertaking for which we get credit which we invented or discovered. wise men were living before agamemnon. we were called in to build because the progenitors had the idea, but lacked the support, the finances, the know-how, and in some instances, the guts and elbow grease to beat their way to the goal. these things are not done by easygoing people who thumb a ride through life. we were not selected because we were popular, or because our toughness was admired by everybody. we slap no backs and kiss no babies. we were given the chore “faute de mieux,” as the french say, “for lack of anything better.” our only claim is that we have produced. can you know imagine metropolitan new york choked, throttled, tripped, coffined, and confined without the bridges, tunnels, parkways, expressways, and throughways built to open it up by those who had to beat and hack down opposition? do you think the increase in values around the old slaughterhouses where the united nations was build occurred by accident? the riverside park and the henry hudson parkway were done by leprechauns? that the belt parkway dropped from heaven? that the park at jones beach rose like an exhalation? or that magic reclaimed our marshes and waterfront? do you go with the sour-bellies and say that if we had not done these things someone else would?

you are the builders. you will have little on which to use your skill and earn your living if the snarling critics and breast-beaters, wise-crackers, beatniks, and squares take over this town, which in spite of them is still today the envy of all the great cities of the world. if we are slipping, it is because or home detractors, cynics, and apologists are doing their damnedest to hurt us. if you want prosperity, look to your laurels. you have strong competitors in the hinterland and ruthless ones abroad. life is a battle. and those who tolerate foes of their own household will have no one to blame if prouder, stronger, and more constructive workers elsewhere elbow them aside.

that is what my canadian power opposite jim duncan said about communist china. those who have any understanding of world competition should listen to him respectfully. “wherever one travels or one’s travels take one in china, unbelievable activity of material progress are in evidence everywhere. Factories, the building trades, basic industries, operate around the clock on a 3 eight-hour shift basis every day of the year, excepting the days of national rejoicing, which are six in number. in the city of peking alone more building has taken place in the last seven years than since the beginning of the ching dynasty in sixteen forty-four. everywhere new factories are being constructed: public buildings, apartment houses, schools, universities arising from their foundation with amazing rapidity. railway lines are being laid down, airports and sewage systems are being built, more food is being grown, more goods are being produced, more children and young people are being educated, and the specter of starvation no longer stalks the land.”

this building congress has a great role to play in a free society. it represents united brains, skills, brawn, and a stomach for competition. you take risks. you asked for a good market and the fair chance of reward. i speak for those who employ you on public and quasi-public works and i can promise you a busy and prosperous if not uneventful future, given conditions which make it possible. the critics by and large build nothing. there will always be new problems in a spreading metropolis. problems are, in a very real sense, signs of growth, without them we would stagnate. some of them to be sure represent lags which have grown so aggravating that they can no longer be tolerated. none of these are beyond our powers to alleviate if not wholly solve if all of us are willing to make some sacrifices for the common good. we have the tools. we have the means. we have the men. give us respected leadership that will breathe confidence, not dismay, into the people of new york and give loyal support and we will rebuild this city.

Bradford Clark:

On behalf of the congress, commissioner, many, many thanks.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150533
Municipal archives id: LT8865



DPLAfest 2016

I have the honor to be co-hosting DPLAfest 2016 in Washington, D.C., next week, April 14-15, 2016. Along with the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress, we will host DPLA’s third annual series of interactive workshops, hackathons, and discussions.

The National Archives plays a major role in this year’s DPLAfest. Together with DPLA’s Executive Director Dan Cohen and representatives from other host organizations, I will be welcoming members of the public to DPLAfest 2016 as we kick off this year’s event.

Various staff from across the National Archives will be presenting on innovative projects throughout the event, including sessions on Making, Finding & Using Animated GIFsDigital Collections in the K-12 Classroom, as well as Transcription Projects at the National Archives.

With our colleagues at Historypin, we will provide a presentation on APIs, Apps, and Audiences. The National Archives and Historypin have been working together on a project to digitize World War I content and increase the creative reuse and impact of these collections. Based on the information gathered, we are creating a mobile app to deliver World War I content to museums, teachers, and coders. This presentation will provide an opportunity to share more about the process we followed and the app we’ve built, as well as to engage with the digital humanities communities and experts in the field.

WWI app image

Staff from the National Archives, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian will also serve on the panel discussion: “Opportunities and Challenges in Collaboration.” We are proud of the innovative work we are doing at NARA, and we are eager to share it with the community.

DPLAfest 2016 will appeal to anyone interested in libraries, technology, eBooks, education, creative reuse of cultural materials, law, open access, and genealogy research. DPLAfest brings together librarians, archivists, museum professionals, developers, technologists, publishers, authors, teachers, students, and many others to celebrate DPLA and its community of creative professionals.

You can keep up to date about DPLAfest 2016 by subscribing to its news list, bookmarking the DPLAfest 2016 homepage, keeping tabs on news and blog feed, or follow #DPLAfest on Twitter and Facebook.

Abe Burrows, Librettist and Proud of It

“I’m a librettist and proud of it,” Abe Burrows tells a seminar sponsored by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. The well-known script doctor, director, and, yes, librettist, says he is still asked by people when is he going to write a “serious” play. This 1962 talk is his answer, an impassioned plea for the Broadway musical to be taken seriously as “a tremendous, fresh, almost new American art form…the American opera.”

Burrows was no stranger to facing an audience. Before going behind the scenes he had been a show biz performer in radio and nightclubs. His schtick here is irresistible, the streetwise, borscht belt comic delivery masking thoughts of a serious dramatic craftsman. Emphasizing the importance of what he does, Burrows proclaims, “the libretto is not the most important part of the musical show…but it is.” Though ceding true artistry to the many great composers he has worked with—there are stories about Frank Loesser, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and many more—Burrows insists that without a strong libretto a show can’t succeed. Part of the reason a show’s book is regarded as of secondary importance stems from it being seen as merely the spoken intervals between songs. In fact, the libretto is “a complete collaboration” with the composer, ideally resulting in a “unity of feeling” that defines the entire production.

During question time he rejects the artificial distinction between character songs and plot songs, arguing that the song has no “role” within the production, to advance the action, say, or shine a light on the singer’s motives. Indeed, so passionately does he argue for a deep underlying unity to everything in the production that for a moment he lets his kid-from-Noo-Yawk  manner slip and rejects the concept of “purpose ” in art, saying, “It’s a teleological term. I’m here…and maybe a purpose comes out of my being here.” The whole talk is a similar mix of penetrating moments, anecdotes, and sage advice. When asked about high comedy and low comedy he warns the audience of would-be show writers there are only two types of comedy, “funny and unfunny. High comedy means no laughs.”

Abe Burrows (1910-1985) had already helped create the hit radio show Duffy’s Tavern and recorded many classic “gag” songs such as “The Girl With the Three Blue Eyes,” when he collaborated with Frank Loesser on the ground-breaking 1950 Broadway musical Guys and Dolls. For the next several decades he was one of the most sought after librettists and directors, as well as being rumored to be the uncredited “doctor” for many an ailing show during out-of-town tryouts. The fresh eye and above-mentioned commitment to the musical expressing a single organic idea is illustrated in this anecdote from his obituary in the New York Times:

“In 1961, How to Succeed, another Loesser-Burrows collaboration, became a phenomenal success on Broadway. Mr. Burrows recalled: ‘When we were working on How to Succeed, Frankie kept saying, ‘I gotta have a ballad.’ So one day he said, ‘I’ve got it.’ It was I Believe in You and it was a nice song. But I started to think. And I said, ‘Frankie, you’re going to kill me, but how would you feel if the fella sings it to himself? ‘You know, it’s a story of a guy climbing up, a real egotist.’ And Frankie looked at me and he says, ‘Damn it,’ and he got very angry with me because I was taking away his ballad. He wanted it to be a love song.’  Mr. Burrows said Mr. Loesser, whose flashes of anger never lasted very long, then ‘gradually began to get a look on his face that was almost like a smile’ – and, grumbling, accepted the idea that was to set the whole tone of the musical.”

But the man we hear in this talk, funny, avuncular, wise, is only half the story. Burrows was involved in left-wing politics, “sang” before the HUAC Committee, and was a member of the Executive Council of the Dramatists Guild.  In a 1955 self-described “rambling discourse” he painted a much harsher picture of the theatrical world he inhabited:

“Playwrights are the products of their culture. They reflect every strength and weakness of the culture, both as artists and as human beings. This is a confused age we live in and the dramas depicting it are bound to be just as confused. This is an age that equates value with success. In fact, it values only success and, in turn, success is largely valued in terms of money. In striving for this monetary success, all of us are scrambling in a huge market place. Our playwrights are right smack in the middle of that marketplace, too. And that is a deadly spot for a man who is trying to give insight into his world.”

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150275
Municipal archives id: LT9483

Order in the Manuscripts Archives

IMG_1967Everyone enters a field of work for one reason or another. For me, pursuing a Masters of Library and Information Studies began from a desire to be an archivist, a type of information professional that is largely underrated, misunderstood, or even unheard of by the public. The mystery regarding the profession drew me in initially. Popular culture depicts archives as dark and secluded repositories with strict access restrictions guarded by a gatekeeper, hesitant to divulge any of the archives’ secrets. Think of the less-than-helpful associate in the Jedi Archives who turns Obi-Wan away in Star Wars Episode II; she might as well have shushed him while she was at it!

The reality of archives is quite the opposite. In all of my experiences, archivists are more than happy to help you in your research and want to share the collections as much as possible with the public. That’s why they collect it all. In order to do so, however, they must establish order. 

IMG_1976In a job where creating order out of disorder is a top priority, the profession tends to attract many an OCD history buff. There’s something viscerally satisfying about organizing a dusty old mess of papers into a neat collection of documents in acid-free folders, legibly labeled for ready accessibility.

IMG_1980Many steps go into creating this order, however. After gaining legal custody of the documents, the archivist has to “gain intellectual control,” which is a sophisticated way of saying “learn exactly what kind of stuff is in the collection.” In order to do this, one must comb through the contents, which could take a very long time depending on how many linear feet the collection is, and create an inventory. The collection I’ve been “gaining intellectual control” of is called the Douglas and Jeannette Windham Papers, which contains the papers and publications of Douglas and Jeannette Windham, a distinguished FSU alumni couple. I’ve listed the materials that are in the collection, including personal papers, correspondence, academic articles, photographs, and professional reports. Once intellectual control is established, I can work with the archivist to determine a plan for order and begin to folder the contents into acid-free folders. A.K.A. the fun part! The kind of fun that is on par with labeling the shelves of your pantry, or color-coding your closet. (Yes, this is how I live).

The ordering continues when the boxes are stored in the stacks which are kept under strict environmental regulations in order to best preserve the archival materials from accelerated deterioration. The last step of creating order in the archives is to write the online finding aid so potential researchers can get an understanding of what is in the collection. This helps the collections get used more, which is, after all, the whole point in the first place! And there you have it: archives de-mystified.

Happy Birthday, City of Vancouver

Today is Incorporation Day, marking 130 years since the City was officially incorporated. The City of Vancouver is 130 years old!

Tillicum the otter, mascot for the Vancouver Centennial Commission's celebrations. Identifier 2011-010.2218.

Tillicum the otter, mascot for the Vancouver Centennial Commission’s celebrations. Identifier 2011-010.2218.

We’re pleased to announce that we’ve recently been given funding from the B.C. History Digitization Program to digitize photographs and some graphics from the Vancouver Centennial Commission fonds. The Centennial Commission was formed in 1979 and was responsible for organizing Vancouver’s Centennial celebrations in 1986.

1980s-style bike racks, a Vancouver Legacies project. Identifier CVA 775-3.

1980s-style bike racks, a Vancouver Legacies project. Identifier CVA 775-3.

In addition to that project, we will be digitizing photographs from the City’s Legacy Program. This program was designed to enhance civic infrastructure (for example, by painting and lighting the Burrard Bridge) and to embellish the City with public art, amenities and signage.

Totem pole carving in progress. A Vancouver Legacies project. Identifier CVA 775-9.1.

Totem pole carving in progress. A Vancouver Legacies project. Identifier CVA 775-9.1.

We’ll be making these available as quickly as we can, releasing them in batches as they are ready, so that you can use them as soon as possible. Watch this space—we’ll let you know!

Art//Archives Open Hours: Today and Tomorrow

Just a reminder: Special Collections has open hours every Tuesday from 10:00 – 1:00, and every Wednesday from 3:00 – 7:00. You can stop by to browse a selection of items set up in the Reading Room, or you can request items related to a topic of interest. (Have you been wanting to look at children’s books illustrated with woodcuts, or diagrams of early 20th century plumbing systems? This is a great opportunity!)


Images above, clockwise from upper left: “Sheet metal shoe for advertising” from Metal Worker, Plumber, and Steam Fitter (October 22, 1915); Kutroff, Pickhardt, and Co. advertisement with fabric samples from Textile Colorist (47.561, September 1925); “United States Weather Bureau” from Peerless Paris and Its Marvelous Universal Exhibition (Philadelphia: Universal Expo Publishing Company, 1900); “Sea Urchins and Starfish” from Research Design in Nature (Chicago: John Gilbert Wilkins, 1931).

We’re located on the 3rd floor of the Providence Public Library, at the top of the marble staircase. We’re also open by appointment; just give us a call or send us an email!

The Emily Dickinson Riots

Following the lamentable events in the town of Amherst last night, and as the community awaits an estimate of the damages and the full list of casualties, we felt that it would be appropriate to take a look back at the history of Emily Dickinson related violence in Amherst.

The earliest destruction associated with Emily Dickinson is, alas, confined mainly to conjecture. Following a series of mysterious nocturnal fires in the town of Amherst in the late 1870s and early 1880s, rumors began spreading of sightings of a white clad figure in connection with the blazes. The complete destruction of the college’s Walker Hall on the night of March 29, 1882, one of this series of fires, was linked with Dickinson some decades later. In a deathbed confession, mathematics instructor Fred A. Gaylord revealed that he had been maintaining a passionate correspondence with a mysterious and poetical local lady with dreadful penmanship; days before the blaze he had threatened to publish her letters if she continued to refuse to meet him in person. Her letters were, of course, completely destroyed in the conflagration.

Walker Hall after fire

Burned out shell of Walker Hall, 1882



Some fifty years later, in 1925,  Amherst College students were holding their annual declamation contest in the College Grove. Unrest began during the event when factions supporting Arthur J. White, who recited Wordsworth, and Elmer P. Hurst, reading Emily Dickinson, began to deride one another’s literary discernment. Violence erupted after the judges unanimously chose White. The brawl quickly spread through the crowd leaving a large portion of the student body nursing injuries to body and dignity.

President Olds remonstrated the students the following day and officially banned both Dickinson and Wordsworth from campus.

President Olds addressing students

President Olds addressing students in front of College hall



In April of 1956, as news of Millicent Todd Bingham’s donation of her Emily Dickinson manuscripts to Amherst College spread throughout the town, a large group of passionate supporters of Amherst’s Jones Library gathered on the town common. Already nettled by the donation of Martha Dickinson Bianchi’s manuscripts to Harvard, this latest news was unbearable insult to the loyal library patrons who felt that Dickinson’s works belonged at the public library. Torches were lit and as the angry mob grew, groups of torch bearing citizens roamed the campus terrorizing undergraduates and professors alike. Late in the evening the mob reconvened in the town common and burned both institutions of higher learning in effigy while chanting, “Emily for the People! Emily for the People!”



In 1989, the renowned expert in early photographic portraiture, G. D. Anderson, offered a rare opportunity for the public to bring possible Emily Dickinson, ca. 1847daguerreotypes of Emily Dickinson to him for assessment. Much to his astonishment, 126 individuals attended the event, held in the Masonic Lodge in Amherst. In order to keep the crowd amused during the long wait for individual consultations, Anderson made the short-sighted suggestion that attendees form small groups to discuss the merit of the images they had brought. Tragically, all 126 daguerreotypes were destroyed in the resulting melee. Following the incident, Anderson removed himself entirely from public life and is rumored to now be a llama farmer in northern Vermont.



In 2008, in a carefully hushed incident, Amherst College Physics Professor Dr. Johanna Ehrikson pursued her Emily Dickinson research to the near annihilation of the planet. Dr. Ehrikson was exploring the hypothesis that Emily Dickinson had embedded the Theory Of Everything (TOE) in her written works (specifically the fascicle books). Intending to publish the TOE in a paper jointly authored by herself and Dickinson, Dr. Ehrikson fed Dickinson’s works into a secret algorithm to begin the process of decoding. To her astonishment, the overwhelming weight of the profundity of Dickinson’s poetry caused a very small black hole to form. It was only the quick action of student assistant Emma Rahlsten, who recognized the danger and quickly hit the kill switch, that stopped the black hole before it became large enough to be self-sustaining. The black hole evaporated, life on earth continued as we know it, and Professor Ehrikson decided to pursue other avenues to tenure.



Most recently, as I’m sure we’re all aware, was the pub fight at the 2011 Emily Dickinson International Society conference. A heated debate between opposing camps of scholars on the meaning of Dickinson’s dash lengths escalated to nose tweaking and ear pulling and quickly developed into an all-out brawl that caused significant property damage to the now defunct Groan & Quail and changed the course of a number of scholarly inquiries.



All of us at the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections offer our sympathies to those affected by last night’s incident and our sincere hope that we can finally all come together and stop the violence.

Edit: Happy April Fools Day!

With gratitude for the research assistance of Dr. Theresa J. Brandt and Margaret Dakin.

Over 2100 more maps are now online

Thanks to funding from the British Columbia History Digitization Program, we’ve recently completed a project to digitize over 2100 maps and plans and made them available online for you to use and re-use. We’ve tried to digitize these maps with enough resolution to support future types of re-use and processing, including optical character recognition and feature extraction.

These maps and plans hold quite a variety of information. We have put a small selection of images on flickr as a sample.

Want to see how the city was reshaped? You can see the before and after of a section of Point Grey in 1925, before it was part of the City of Vancouver.

Plan of government subdivision at Point Grey, B.C. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 359.

Plan of government subdivision at Point Grey, B.C. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 359.

Here’s a plan for an airport built out into the sea at Spanish Banks, with a proposed airfield and mooring mast for airships (this was before the Hindenburg disaster), a 20,000-seat stadium, night lights, winter gardens, swimming pool, and a children’s protected swimming channel.

Vancouver airport plan, 1928. Detail from reference code AM1594-: MAP 377-: 1972-568.2.

Vancouver airport plan, 1928. Detail from reference code AM1594-: MAP 377-: 1972-568.2.

Here’s a 1969 plan for Jericho Park which includes an ice palace, miniature train and tennis.

A preliminary proposal for development of Jericho Park, 1969. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 965.

A preliminary proposal for development of Jericho Park, 1969. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 965.

This one shows Cable TV service areas in 1964:

Cablevision : Vancouver, B.C., Canada, September, 1964. Reference code AM1519-: PAM 1964-185

Cablevision : Vancouver, B.C., Canada, September, 1964. Reference code AM1519-: PAM 1964-185

We have a number of plans that show the development of Vancouver’s water works. This one shows proposed extensions and improvements, including reservoirs in Stanley Park and Little Mountain. Here’s a detail of one section. Note that False Creek still extends well past Main Street at this time, and the City of Vancouver does not go further south than 16th Avenue.

General plan of proposed extension & improvements, circa 1907. Reference code COV-S371---: LEG1153.092

General plan of proposed extension & improvements, circa 1907. Reference code COV-S371—: LEG1153.092

This map shows which businesses were operating on False Creek and where, in 1952. This image is a detail from the Main Street end of the Creek.

False Creek development survey occupation plan, September 1952. Reference code AM738-F1-: MAP 913.

False Creek development survey occupation plan, September 1952. Reference code AM738-F1-: MAP 913.

You can see how the City used land in 1984.

City of Vancouver Land Use 1984, published by City of Vancouver Planning Department. Reference code PUB-: PD 1984.

City of Vancouver Land Use 1984, published by City of Vancouver Planning Department. Reference code PUB-: PD 1984.

From the Leon Ladner fonds, this map shows Shaughnessy Heights in 1912 and is annotated with the names of the property owners. Here’s a small portion:

Map of Shaughnessy Heights, 1912. Detail of reference code AM641-S8-: LEG1363.01.

Map of Shaughnessy Heights, 1912. Detail of reference code AM641-S8-: LEG1363.01.

We’ve digitized some of the non-map materials that go with the maps. For example, on the other side of a map of Greater Vancouver in 1911, there is “What the man who comes to Vancouver wants to know”, listing hotels and room rates, the first-class (and merely good) restaurants, tea rooms, clubs, theatres and the baseball schedule for the Vancouver Beavers.

"What the man who comes to Vancouver wants to know", 1911. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 749-: LEG1277.7.

“What the man who comes to Vancouver wants to know”, 1911. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 749-: LEG1277.7.

In the coming weeks, we will make the maps available as TIF files, as we have for our other maps. Please let us know how you are using these maps and plans!

This digitization project was made possible by funding from the British Columbia History Digitization Program at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, University of British Columbia. Irving K. Barber Learning Centre logo

Federal Music Project Mixtape: Black Voices on the Air

The Federal Music Project (FMP), was one of several programs under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) aimed at finding employment for thousands of Americans in the arts. The FMP primarily produced symphonic and orchestral music, however, the project also employed musicians and researchers involved in regional and marginalized forms of music such as Western, Creole, Mexican Orquesta típica and so called “Negro spirituals.” 

The WNYC and Municipal Archives contain several FMP recordings of African American choral groups singing spirituals and other traditional songs. Through the cracks and pops come expressive vocal arrangements and breakout solo performances. Click on the listen button to hear a mixtape, featuring highlights from these recordings. This is just a cross section of the variety of genres, intricate harmonies and emotional intensity that set these songs apart from other FMP productions.

Though the program created a platform for marginalized performers, they were subjected to the same discrimination typical of Jim Crow America. Music groups were segregated along racial and ethnic lines despite playing to large, integrated audiences. Most were subjected to discriminatory practices, such as unequal wage classifications and performing stereotypical music associated with the idealized antebellum south and minstrelsy.

The spiritual, originally used as a form of slave resistance, echoes the singers’ contemporary struggles. The announcer introduces Sit Down Servant, by the Juanita Hall Choir (Program No. 4), as “…the story of an old colored woman who’s not allowed to sit down in this world, but looks forward to her golden chair in the next.”

Since most of the arrangements hail from the spiritual tradition, Christian faith is the predominant subject matter. An unusual exception, however, is an arrangement of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…” soliloquy, by the Los Angeles Colored Chorus (Program No. 79), in which the performers sing a harmonic backdrop for a spoken word recitation of the famous monologue.

The recordings frequently invoke modern forms of popular music such as swing and blues. These genres are most apparent in Program No. 79 in which the standard Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is reinterpreted as a “swing spiritual” in The Chariots’ Done Come and Swing Low. This program contains another swing spiritual Someone Stole Gabriel’s Horn and finishes with W.C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues.

Announcers, speaking as if to an all-white audience, emphasize the otherness of each group when introducing a song. In a recording of the Negro Melody Singers (Program No. 4) the announcer suggests, “You may never have witnessed the Negro folk dance but the lively music of Shortenin’ Bread will give you a vivid picture of the gaiety of such a dance!” The intention seems to be ethnographic study, evident on Program No. 16, as the Negro Melody Singers perform a series of vendor street cries heard in neighborhoods across the east coast. In Program No. 52 the announcer describes the song Dark Water as a “modern spiritual with negroid characteristics”, espousing essentialist attitudes towards African Americans at this time. 

In spite of the WPA’s tokenism of marginalized artists, the Federal Music Project helped propel the careers of some performers, most notably the musical theater actress Juanita Hall. Furthermore, historian, David Woolner points out that the WPA,

“…hired and featured the work of hundreds of African American artists; and from the New Deal’s educational programs, which taught over 1 million illiterate blacks to read and write and which increased the number of African American children attending primary school.” (African Americans and the New Deal: A Look Back in History)

In his book Sounds of the New Deal, Peter Gough sums up the conflicted legacy that these recordings leave:

“These events—and the growing Anglo fascination with jazz, blues, and the spirituals—did not directly translate into improved economic situations for black people living in the United States. African Americans suffered disproportionately during the Great Depression, as black unemployment remained nearly twice as high as that of whites. Yet, the decades-long upsurge in violence against African Americans dropped significantly by the mid-1930s and into the 1940s, and the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, which had expanded alarmingly during the 1910s and 1920s, also began to wane. Further, while the ideas of the Harlem Renaissance or New Negro movement failed to eradicate negative racial stereotypes, there did emerge during the 1930s a growing public awareness of African Americans and an increased interest in their culture—though often predicated on romanticized notions of the Old South of the nineteenth century.”

Track List

  1. Way Over in Beulah Land – Juanita Hall Choir
  2. Raise a Ruckus Tonight – Los Angeles Colored Chorus
  3. Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho – Los Angeles Colored Chorus
  4. To Be or Not To Be – Los Angeles Colored Chorus
  5. Ezekiel Saw the Wheel – Negro Melody Singers
  6. In That Great Gettin’ Up Morning – Negro Art Singers
  7. Steal Away – Los Angeles Colored Chorus
  8. Hallelujah Chorus (Handel’s Messiah) – Los Angeles Colored Chorus
  9. This Train and Same Train – Negro Melody Singers
  10. Dark Water – Los Angeles Negro Choir
  11. The Chariots’ Done Come and Swing Low – Los Angeles Colored Chorus
  12. Joe Brown’s Coal Mine – Negro melody Singers
  13. Little David – Los Angeles Negro Choir
  14. Street vendor cries – Negro Melody Singers
  15. Scandalize My Name – Juanita Hall Choir
  16. Sit Down Servant – Juanita Hall Choir
  17. Four and Twenty Elders – Los Angeles Negro Choir
  18. Someone Stole Gabriel’s Horn – Los Angeles Colored Chorus
  19. Go Down Moses – Los Angeles Negro Choir
  20. I Been in the Storm So Long – Negro Melody Singers
  21. Poor Mourner’s Got a Home at Last – Los Angeles Negro Choir
  22. St. Louis Blues – Los Angeles Colored Chorus

From exile to exhibition: Stirling treasure on tour

This spring one of the treasures of our Archives and Special Collections is setting off on a journey to Paris where it will feature in a major new exhibition on the life of the Emperor Napoleon. The volume is a British military signal book which contained detailed instructions for the garrison guarding Napoleon during his exile on the island of St Helena.

The signal book is a well-travelled volume. It was first used by Colonel Mark Wilks, Governor General of St Helena in 1815. This piece of Napoleonic memorabilia passed through the hands of a number of collectors until it was purchased at auction in New York by the family of Burt Eddy Taylor in 1928. In 1969 Mr Taylor donated his collection of Napoleonic material, including the signal book, to the new university library at Stirling. Now, in 2016 it sets sail again, for the Musée de l’Armée in Paris.

Our signal book being checked by the Emperor before its departure for Paris.

Our signal book being checked by the Emperor before its departure for Paris.

The signal book will feature in Napoléon à Sainte-Hélène. La Conquête de la Mémoire, a major new exhibition looking at Napoleon’s period of exile on the mid-Atlantic island which opens on 6 April 2016. Our small, scruffy volume will take its place alongside an extensive range of items from collections across Europe which have been brought together to tell the story of Napoleon’s captivity on St Helena.

Detail from inside cover of the signal book.

Detail from inside cover of the signal book.

The signal book highlights the lengths the to which the British went to ensure Napoleon did not escape from the island. The inside covers illustrate the flags and signals which were to be used for communication including those for raising the alarm if Napoleon was missing. To limit the chance of rescue by his supporters a garrison of 1,300 troops was placed on the tiny island. In addition four Royal Navy ships patrolled offshore. Within the pages of the book further detailed instructions were laid out in the event of Napoleon’s absence:

‘the Signal Officers of the different posts are strictly enjoined to lose no time in communicating the intelligence personally to the places nearest them where troops may be stationed to the end that patroles may be immediately sent out in every direction to insure the impracticability of any person escaping from the island.’

The procedures put in place evidently worked. Napoleon remained on the island until his death in May 1821.

Napoléon à Sainte-Hélène. La Conquête de la Mémoire

Musée de l’Armée, Paris

6th April – 24th July 2016

Bad Children of History #24: Ransacked by Rufus

Readers will be unsurprised to learn that a fine source of historical bad children is the 1864 book Frank and Rufus; or, Obedience and Disobedience. (I was hoping for an old-fashioned version of Goofus and Gallant, but alas, it’s not really like that at all.) Its author, Catharine M. Trowbridge, also wrote the 1867 book Charles Norwood; or, Erring and Repenting, which sounds to me like Frank and Rufus was so good that she wrote the same thing again, but with a different main character.


Anyway, one of the stars of this book is the young Rufus Dean. He’s a sweet boy with lots of friends, although his impish constitution sometimes leads him down misguided paths.


Here’s Rufus slyly pocketing a dime and a half-dime that his mother left on the windowsill. Why would such a sweet boy do such a thing, taking what Trowbridge calls “a very formidable step in the downward path”? The author explains that “he had repeatedly yielded, when tempted, to disobedience and deceit; and in this way, had greatly weakened his moral power to resist temptation.”

What happens to a boy with weakened moral power? I didn’t  read all 280 pages to find the details, but I can tell you that Rufus becomes a drunk and disgraces his family name, and that his sister, when grown, even refuses to name her first-born son after him, as the name Rufus is “tarnished”. Frank, on the other hand, having learned obedience, becomes someone whose “fellow citizens honored and trusted him” and whose “faithful and judicious mother found in him the support and joy of her old age.”

Take note, dear readers: don’t steal 15 cents, or the situation may snowball until your mother looks wan, your sister hates you, and you’re forced to seek “relief in the stimulus of the wine-cup”.


Fleur Cowles’ Literary Takedown of Eva Perón

Fleur and Evita; Two Strong Women Go Head-to-Head

“I’m not an author,” Fleur Cowles protests, at this 1952 Book and Authors Luncheon. The sole reason for writing Bloody Precedent, a memoir of her trip to Argentina, is to recount her meeting with Eva Perón, wife of that country’s dictator Juan Perón. Despite some rather striking similarities shared by these two ambitious, self-confident women, they did not hit it off. Cowles, then wife of the newspaper and magazine magnate Gardner Cowles, “loathed” Evita who, in turn, spoke to her “like a minion.” Much is made of Evita wearing a “colossal” diamond orchid which, Cowles sneers, must be worth “a quarter-million dollars.” (This from a woman who, in later life, owned a large residence in one of London’s most prestigious addresses, an Elizabethan farmhouse, and a castle in Spain.)

The actual encounter between the two seems to have been short, though Cowles claims Evita “let her hair down” because she had no real friends to talk to. Instead of gossip, we are treated to an analysis of the current political situation in Argentina, a country which troubled the US government because Eva Perón’s obvious support of labor unions and her interest in aiding the poor smacked of socialism. This is seen when Cowles, after painting the couple as typical South American despots, confusingly calls Evita “the John L. Lewis of Argentina.” Much is made of her being the power behind the throne and the “Petticoat Curtain” which supposedly shrouds the country. At the end, there is gruesome speculation about Evita’s cancer and what her death would mean to her husband’s grip on power.

Fleur Cowles (1908-2009) went to great lengths to hide her modest beginnings in New York City and New Jersey. A career woman almost before the term existed, she had made her way in the world of advertising before a third marriage to Cowles, owner of, among other publications, the Des Moines Register and Look Magazine, vaulted her into high society, which quickly became her natural element. She helped Cowles redesign and expand the appeal of Look (which competed with Life as the nation’s top magazine) but her greatest achievement was the short-lived Flair. A frankly elitist magazine, combining art and fashion, giving the reader a taste of the publisher’s upper-class interests, the preview issue, as the New York Times reports:

“…boasted a two-layer cover. The outside was embossed with a basket-weave pattern and punctuated with a hole, through which could be seen a picture of a man and woman embracing. The inside cover showed the couple as part of a wall layered with a collage of shredded posters. A spring issue featured the rose, a flower Ms. Cowles painted and extolled until her death. The issue was suffused with a rose fragrance, some four decades before scent strips became ubiquitous. Housed within it, bound as a booklet, was a tribute to the rose by Katherine Anne Porter. The magazine itself had a rose named after it — Flair rose — and there is a Fleur Cowles rose as well. Flair published stories and articles by W. H. Auden, Jean Cocteau, Simone de Beauvoir, Angus Wilson, Tennessee Williams, Ogden Nash and Clare Boothe Luce, among others. Salvador Dalí, Saul Steinberg, Lucian Freud, Rufino Tamayo and even Winston Churchill were among the contributing artists.”

The magazine was, to some extent, a success, doubling its readership in one year, although it also met with a fair amount of what now could be seen as sexist ridicule. But Flair lost a tremendous amount of money. After her husband shut down publication, Cowles moved on, marrying timber tycoon Tom Montague Meyer and becoming a legendary London hostess.

Eva Perón (1919-1952) remains a controversial figure. Although the civil rights abuses and trampling of democracy under the Peróns are well-documented, so too is her genuine interest in reaching past that country’s entrenched elite and attempting to empower previously ignored sections of society. As the website history.co.uk recounts: 

“In 1947, she set up the Maria Eva Duarte De Perón Welfare Foundation, which distributed money, food and medicines to those most in need. The money came from ‘contributions’, not always willingly given, from businesses and unions. The result was very popular with the poor masses, but far less popular with the elite. Evita further angered the elite with her active campaign for female suffrage. Suffrage for women was enacted in 1947, largely due to the energy and soul that Evita poured into the campaign. … She died from cancer on 26 July 1952, aged just 32. Public grief was intense, and unprecedented in Argentina. Her precise role in Argentinian politics is still hotly debated, and her supporters and enemies battle it out to write her legacy. There is no doubt, however, that she was a remarkable woman who made her mark on history.”

Viewed from a historical perspective, these two women would seem to have had much in common: a rise from humble beginnings, power wielded through a compliant spouse, resistance met because of their sex. Perhaps, though, as this talk would indicate, each diva required her own separate stage. 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150529
Municipal archives id: LT2317

Spring Fashion at FSCW

The azaleas and dogwoods are in bloom, thunderstorms have started rolling through in the afternoon, and sunbathers and hammock dwellers have returned to their regular spots on Landis Green, which can only mean one thing: spring has arrived in Tallahassee! While the weather and native plant life hasn’t changed much in the past 70 years, fashion sure has. Take a look at some FSCW Easter styles, which in true southern fashion was all about white shoes and big hats.

My Easter Hat, Mary Tarver Willis Photograph Collection (HP 2009-043), 1948-1951.

Students Posing in Their Easter Outfits on Landis Green, Sam Lamar Collection (HP 2007-080), 1938-2005.
Student Making Sure Her White Easter Shoes Are Still Clean, Sam Lamar Collection (HP 2007-080), 1938-2005.
Female Students in Their Easter Dresses Relaxing on Landis Green, Sam Lamar Collection (HP 2007-080), 1938-2005.

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.


Protecting digital material: Strategies for digital preservation

In the first post in this digital preservation series, I shared some of the unique challenges digital material brings to the preservation game. In this one we will look at some of the technologies and tools digital stewards employ to protect our digital assets.

How can you tell when a computer file has been corrupted? If you try to open it funny, glitchy things might happen. How can you test whether a digital file is uncorrupted? This requires a bit more thought. Digital files are at their base-level a long string of 1’s and 0’s. This is called the file’s bitstream. Preservationists could compare one bitstream to an earlier copy of it, but this requires a lot of processing power for large files, with no guarantee that your comparison copy isn’t also corrupted.

This is where checksums can help us out. Checksums are character strings generated by a class of algorithms called hash functions or cryptographic hashes. You can try one out here: http://md5checksum.com/. Hash functions are used to encrypt lots of things. Passwords submitted to websites are hashed in your browser. Kind of like this:miguezBlog003encryption.png

Hash functions can also be applied to the bitstream of a file. Due to the nature of the various algorithms used even a single change in a one or zero will produce a drastically different checksum. If at the beginning of the preservation process a digital steward produces a checksum for the bitstream, she can now test for data integrity by rerunning the hash and comparing that output to the original checksum.

Now that we can test for unwanted changes in computer files, how can we ensure we always have a valid copy of it? A system called LOCKSS can help with this. LOCKSS stamiguezBlog003LOCKSS.pngnds for Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe. Similar to the idea of backing up personal files, LOCKSS will duplicate the files given to it and then distribute copies of files across several servers. The idea is to spread the system out over many servers in diverse geographic areas to minimize the risk of a single disaster (natural or otherwise) compromising the entire system. These distributed copies are then regularly hashed, and the checksums compared to test the validity of the files. If a checksum comparision fails, that server can delete it’s failing copy of the file, and ask the other servers for a new one.

Digital preservation is a rapidly developing field. New challenges requiring new solutions arise every day. In the third and final post in this digital preservation series, I’ll discuss activities you can undertake to protect your personal digital heritage.

The Mystery of P. Campbell

Here at the WNYC Archives, we’re often handed mysteries – two-sided 16-inch slates with utterly unique silent spiral etchings, scans of reticent catalog cards referring back to them, and the nonce codes and illegible scrawl from 50 – 80 years past written on their custom green and cream WNYC labels. Maybe an insert, if we’re lucky. It’s our job to turn all this into something that people can make use of, by A) digitizing these recordings and making them available in house and online, and B) providing a more accurate and more thorough catalog record for each of the 1 to 121 minute recordings we’ve painstakingly shifted from one type of disc to another. If there’s little in the way of a paper trail and a speaker greets us cold, it can be a bit of a puzzle.

I’d like to invite you to help us solve one of these puzzles. I’ve already taken care of part A. Together we’ll get a start on part B. We’re going to find out just who is speaking, who he or she is speaking to, and what the heck that person is talking about. We’re going to examine the first 45 seconds or so of the recording, bit by bit, phrase by phrase. We’ll start though, with what little written record remains. 

This is the OCR’d text from a copy of the original library catalog card:

T “p
7967 Conr/urers . _ „
‘ITe^-VTctories for .or.en
1 album 2 s. 1C in. 6/b/su
Dr CRRIBELL t L’-e on the topic “The Con-sumer
IR Vre Future”

Caribbean Conjurers of the future? Probably not. Truth be told it’s a little clearer with the naked eye: As you might have guessed from the title of this blog piece, “Dr CRRIBELL” is “Dr. Campbell.” And “6/b/su” is somehow 6/6/58. Hopefully that gives you some hints, but you can typically tell a lot more from the recording itself, so let’s have a listen. Take your time to reflect on what you’ve heard and we’ll reconvene after each clip.

The future will call for a reappraisal of many of today’s values and attitudes…

Whoa, easy Engels! Let’s ignore for a moment the possibly revolutionary sentiment of the phrase itself and instead concentrate on the more prosodic aspects of this clip – her tone and accent in particular. It’s calm, measured, and undeniably Australian. It’s not the Bahbie-thick Australian of a Dundee Paul Hogan, or Bond-villain Rupert Murdoch, but neither is it the placeless Australian laureate of a Cate Blanchett or Nick Cave. Come to think of it though, maybe there is a mite of R.P. dignity behind it, is there not? Perhaps it was learned in London, or cropped from the affectations of New York’s cultural and intellectual upper crust.

It is clearly a woman speaking, so we should consider the limited number of options available to women in late 1950s New York (and whether they will be reappraised), but we’ll table that for now. Whether her voice is “maternal,” “feminine,” or what-you-will is subjective, but I think there’s an undeniable presbyphonic dip in pitch that comes with age. I’d say she’s somewhere in the 50-65 range.

Some people temper their political opinions as they advance in years. Others don’t. Based on her rather subdued tone I’d suspect that if she is planning an insurrection, it’s more of a Fabian sort than a Marxist one. And her speech can’t have been that revolutionary, it did air on WNYC after all, still at the time closely allied to the municipal government. Nevertheless, it’s quite an introduction, and it hints that the speech with call some of those “values and attitudes” into question.

So we have a well-traveled, if not cosmopolitan, late middle-aged woman, originally from Australia, giving a speech on an as-yet-unknown subject to two audiences: one as-yet-unknown – the assembled crowd (can you hear the “room” reverb?); and a known audience – WNYC listeners (like you!). As sharp as her words are on paper, the edge has been rounded by her age, temperament, and (probably) a learned pragmatism in life and in politics.

…For one thing it will, I believe, be more consumer minded…

I think we were wise to note the tone ahead of content in the first snippet, but let’s reverse the process for this second one.

“For one thing” is the sort of phrase that keeps a speech’s steady pace, but is otherwise basically meaningless. We can safely ignore it. What’s interesting is the use of two phrases which on their own imply something close to certainty – it will…, I believe – now nested to imply doubt, a reasonable acceptance of uncertainty. I think it’s telling. “It will” is pure force; “I believe” tempers it, opens it up. “I believe” becomes at once a hedge, an implicit statement of a belief in autonomy and human agency, and an explicit statement of, well, belief. It’s not the cold, dead conviction one gets from ideologues, for whom it is less a question of belief than of truth or falsehood. For a Marxist, for instance, the coming rise of consumerism would be closer to a certainty – small degrees on history’s established arc, any “belief” to the contrary an easily dispelled example of false consciousness. The same might be said of a rabid capitalist, communism’s uncomfortable obverse. Our speaker seems to be saying “this is what I expect of the future, but I’m not sure. Other people believe other things.” Or as one of my favorite professors was fond of saying, “reasonable people can disagree.”

The topic of the speech is coming into focus, and in just the first 11 seconds. Efficient, she is. Her speech will apparently be about the coming shift to a more consumer-minded future. Whether this is good, bad, bad-then-good, good-then-bad, or vanilla-bean-neutral is yet to be seen.  She strikes me as someone who will leave such value judgments to the side though, tacit, if anything.

Pausing to take stock, we can feel more confident in her pragmatism and we know that the speech will have an economic focus, on a coming consumer culture. We also can be confident that her beliefs, while strong, are not set in stone, and are open to light of evidence.

…and this is the aspect of the future which I have been asked to talk to you about today…

I think it’s time to mention briefly the limitations placed on women with professional aspirations in late-1950s America. There isn’t space to elaborate here, other than to say they were often severe, unfair and unfortunate, and as much as she pushed hard to get where she is at the time of this record – a “Dr.” – those limitations undoubtedly pushed back. From this clip we can tell that she is enough of an authority on the subject of consumerism to be asked to speak about it by a person or persons for whom the traditional definition of the word “authority” might be a more literal fit – a man or men in a position of power in the municipal or state government, or a university, less likely a businessman. There is of course a chance that one of the prominent women’s groups of the time – League of Women Voters, Women’s City Club, etc. – or perhaps an Eleanor Roosevelt, noted consumer advocate, might have brought our speaker in, but I wonder how often they drew crowds as obviously captive as this crowd seems to be. I’d suspect not as often.

So we now know that our speaker is likely a trained specialist in the topic of consumerism, a Ph.D holding economist, speaking at the behest of powers that be to a group likely not there to see her specifically, more likely required to listen to her speech for their edification.

…As homemakers you will be responsible for spending a large part of the family income…

Disappointment. In two senses.

Most obviously in the fact that the values and attitudes to be reappraised do not involve greater opportunities for women. But it’s a retrospective disappointment, and maybe we’re reading too much into it – she is speaking at the behest of others, which probably constrains her rhetorical options. You can’t blame her for having missed the social and economic advances made by women as they have transpired in the present day, but you can’t help but wish she hadn’t, especially for the benefit of her in-person audience – young women, probably college aged. Perhaps our speaker, reflecting on her own difficult path to achievement, likely met with that time’s biases and aggressive sexism, was reasonably pessimistic. It’s hard to say. 

The other disappointment – for the archivist, the listener, the detective – is that as the mystery is revealed, the narrative is constrained – the listener’s inherent interest in the subject starts to matter more and more, the story less and less. Sure, anything could happen, but we can’t deny that some things are more likely than others – particularly in a prepared speech, as opposed to, say, a debate, a talk radio têteàtête, or even a Q&A sesh. Each new word, new phrase, new paragraph reveals progressively less new information. Authors have written of chasing the “incipit” for a book’s length, where no word … is [in]significant. Can a speech, especially one as muted as this, be expected to do the same? It is asking a lot. Still, for those on the hunt for information on the role of women in an incipient consumer society in 1950s New York, this will probably be a veritable gold mine.

From this snippet we can tell our speaker, in spite of having opened up a challenge to the era’s values and attitudes, has actually retained a few in her prediction. Though she’s unwittingly missed a prime target, it’s unclear just how wide of the mark she is in general. I think it’s reasonable to agree that she is at least partially correct in seeing a rise in consumerism, even if she isn’t as prescient about the socioeconomic place of women in the future.

…some of which, of course, you may earn yourself…

Again a hedge, this time against the implicit assumption that the assembled women’s primary economic role will be “homemaker.” In fact it could be read as code, though that might be generous. But I’d imagine some members of her audience read it as exactly that, while others let it slip right through. It is a mistake to imagine passive listeners and I think it’s important to recall that the audience isn’t us. It isn’t even 1958 WNYC listeners, though many undoubtedly heard it. It’s a group of young women, probably navigating their first few years of adulthood in 1950s New York. A prediction in this atmosphere isn’t really a pure prediction, it can also be a call to action, an invitation for these women to reflect on their agency in creating their own future. From that perspective, her accuracy or lack-thereof is beside the point. 

In this section we can reaffirm her faith in agency and her faith in her audience, even if one does get the sense she still has a point to make about the homemaker’s role in the coming consumer society… 

…How are you going to carry out this spending function? How are you going to behave as consumers? Your actions will affect the future not only of your family, but of society as a whole. Remember that in spending money you are exercising power.

…And there it is. Our late middle-aged female Australian economist is speaking in front of a group of young women, asking them, in so many words, to reflect on their place as homemakers (and maybe more) in a society in which the way money is spent on consumer goods will grant them a power not wholly appreciated in 1950s America. The rest of the speech will elaborate on this theme. 

I think at this point there is more than enough information to start trawling the web. Using a popular search engine (and a depersonalizing “&pws=0” tag), a search of “consumer economists New York 1958 Australian” yields this excellent capsule biography as 2nd result on the 2nd page. It would have been first if we’d added the name “Campbell,” which we knew from the catalog card, but where’s the fun in that? It is through this short bio that we can test our interpretations, and you can move on to listen to the rest of the recording, while I dutifully complete our catalog entry of this speech on “the Consumer in the Future” by the Australian-American economist, professor, and civil servant, Persia Campbell.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150239
Municipal archives id: LT7967