Digital Preservation: New Material, New Challenges

In this digital world we are increasingly creating, storing, and publishing material entirely in electronic forms. While this is great for the trees and other resources used in making paper, it introduces new challenges in the process of collecting and preserving materials.

The preservation needs of paper are pretty well understood. Guidelines for ideal environments (heat and humidity) and practices (handling and storage) have been in constant refinement for hundreds of years. The libraries, archives, and information science communities only began thinking about preservation for digital material comparatively recently. This first post of a three part series on digital preservation will take a look at the challenges unique to preserving digital materials, and why we must approach digital preservation differently than physical preservation.

Old hardware stored at the Claude Pepper Library.

What might be surprising to many is the relative fragility of digital assets. Estimates put the average operation life of conventional digital storage media at five years. These failures occur in more than just the physical components: magnetic media are sensitive to anything generating a magnetic field from batteries to the sun! Optical discs can suffer from manufacturing errors or material degradation making them unreadable. Additionally, once damaged, a digital resource is often completely lost. Physical material might be salvaged through conservation. Recovering digital assets after damage is much more difficult.

Complicating the practice of digital preservation is the fact that digital materials are meaningless without the correct hardware and software environments to render them. Consider a printed book. The information conveyed by a book is encoded with ink marks made on paper. So long as the rules of the encoding language (that is, the language it is written in) and the marks on the paper persist, the information in the book can be recalled. The ink won’t independently leave the paper and reorganize into different patterns and structures.

This is exactly what happens to digital information. The long strings of characters encoding digital assets is only intelligible to a narrow band of both software and specific hardware configurations. Many of us have likely encountered the situation of being unable to open an old file in a newer version of software. Software developers are constantly adding and removing features to their products, often with little attention to backwards compatibility. Merely storing the digital encoding (or bitstream) is meaningless without also storing instructions on how to rebuild it back into an understandable, rendered product.

These extra considerations compound when you consider the speed of technological advances, and the new behaviors and interactive experiences we’re building and sharing with our machines and networks. Even identifying what behaviors and functions of digital assets are important to intellectual understanding of the resource is a quagmire. Those of us thinking about digital preservation have ceded a pretty large head-start, and the race is constantly accelerating.

In the next posting of this blog series, I’ll cover some strategies currently being used by the digital preservation community. I’ll finish this series with a post what you can do yourself to safe-guard your digital works and memories.

1988 Trinity grad to share African-American woman’s Civil War era diary

At 4:30 on Monday, February 29, 2016, in the Rare Books Room of the Coates Library, Professor Judy Giesberg will draw back the curtain on the daily private life of Emilie Davis, an African-American living in Philadelphia during the Civil War. “The Memorable Days” website is the product of Dr Giesberg’s digital history project, which turned the contents of three years of personal diaries into a publicly accessible website.  The students in Dr. Lauren Turek’s public history course (HIST-3392 “History, Memory, and Interpretation”) will be particularly interested in learning the details of transcribing, digitizing, and organizing these primary sources, and everyone in attendance, including the students in HIST-1360, Dr. Salvucci’s survey course “U.S. History through Reconstruction,” is likely to gain fascinating insights into the quotidian activities of a woman of color living in the North during 1863, 1864, and 1865, the span of years her diaries cover.
Dr. Geisberg earned her B.A. in history here at Trinity in 1988, went on to do her master’s and Ph.D. work at Boston College, and now teaches history at Villanova, specializing in the U.S. Civil War and in women’s history. 
 –Bea Caraway

Charles Kenzie Steele and the Tallahassee Bus Boycott

Virgil Hawkins, J. Raymond Henderson, and C.K. Steele, circa 1955. From 00/MSS 2006-013.Virgil Hawkins, J. Raymond Henderson, and C.K. Steele, circa 1955. From 00/MSS 2006-013.

Reverend Charles Kenzie (C.K.) Steele Sr. arrived in Tallahassee during a significant time in its history.  After graduating from the School of Religion at Morehouse College in 1938, and serving congregations in Montgomery, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia, Steele came to Tallahassee in 1952 as the newly-appointed pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church.  Reverend Steele later rose to local and national prominence as a civil rights activist during the Tallahassee Bus Boycott of 1956.

Presumably inspired by the 1953 bus boycott in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (led by Reverend T.J. Jemison, a friend of Steele’s),  and the better-known 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, involving Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, Florida A&M University (FAMU) students began boycotting Tallahassee city buses in late May 1956, after two black students were arrested for sitting in bus seats reserved for white passengers.  A subsequent crossburning at the residence of the two students galvanized the FAMU student body and inspired them to action.  The boycott quickly drew in community members as well, and an Inter-Civic Council was created to organize and maintain the boycott.  Reverend Steele was elected as its president.  Steele recognized the need for a local organization to take charge, for if a national organization like the NAACP were involved, the boycott would be vulnerable to charges of “outside agitation.”  Steele was not just a figurehead, but endured many personal hazards while executing the boycott.  He was arrested four times in a single day while operating a carpool for black people boycotting the bus, on charges of operating a transportation system without a franchise.  He also endured the firebombing of his home (near the present-day site of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church).  However, the boycott successfully brought attention to the segregation policies of the city bus system, and catalyzed the eventual integration of the buses two years later.

In an address to Florida State University Black Studies students in 1978 on the topic of non-violent resistance, Steele touched on meeting with Dr. King in Montgomery, the origins of the 1956 Tallahassee bus boycott, human nature, and the power of love:

In late 1956, noted civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin phoned Steele to ask him to lead a conference of Southern civil rights leaders.  Steele respectfully declined, and suggested that Dr. Martin Luther King would be a more fitting leader for the group.  Steele helped organize the first meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in January 1957.  When King was called away from the meeting in response to church bombings in Montgomery, it was SCLC vice-president Steele who conducted that first conference.

C.K. Steele’s legacy in Tallahassee is evident in many ways.  In 1979, shortly before his death the next year from bone cancer, Steele was awarded an honorary doctorate by Florida State University, the first African-American so honored by FSU.  Appropriately, the current hub of the city bus system is named C.K. Steele Plaza, featuring a sculpture of Steele.  Bethel Empowerment Foundation, Inc. , a sister organization to Steele’s former congregation at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, has operated the Steele-Collins Charter Middle School since 1996, honoring both Reverend Steele and former Florida governor LeRoy Collins for their work in advancing civil rights in Tallahassee and beyond.


Magnum, Jeff. (December 3, 1979). Steele receives honorary degree. Florida Flambeau, page 9.

Padgett, Gregory B. (1994). C. K. Steele, a biography (Doctoral dissertation).

Tallahassee Civil Rights Oral History Collection (01/MSS 1990-001). Special Collections & Archives, Florida State University Libraries, Tallahassee, Florida.

Rory Grennan is Manuscript and Instruction Archivist at Florida State University Libraries Special Collections & Archives.

Silent Movie Picture Books: Then and Now

In a period when the film critic was becoming more and more integral and popular ideas about the image began to circulate in everyday discussion, silent films, and especially their stars, became increasingly interesting to the general public. Lindsay Anderson’s personal collection of film books houses a number of picture books from this era: collections of stills and glamour shots, occasionally accompanied by descriptions of films or brief histories. These books, besides providing context, stories, and interesting pictures, are a window to two worlds – that of silent cinema and that of its ‘70s revival – which speak to our own.

The biggest difference between these picture books and the few of this kind that were published before 1970 is the shift in intended audience. Older books, like the 1959 Classics of the Silent Screen, call on people’s memories. The introduction appeals to a certain generation, stating its aims as “a rich sampling of some of the highspots of the silent era… to bring back happy memories to those who remember the films and players and to stimulate interest and an eagerness to see them among those who are too young.” For later books, like The Heart of Hollywood or Hollywood Glamor Portraits, the aim becomes more to teach readers about the past and to create a kind of glamorous nostalgia.

Sometimes, the aim is more concrete, as in “ Grandma’s Scrapbook” of Silent Movie Stars , which covertly documents the worth of famous silent actors’ signed photos and teaches readers to distinguish between real and fake signatures while still providing a dizzying collage of artfully assembled glamour shots.

A selection of titles from Lindsay Anderson's book collection.

A selection of titles from Lindsay Anderson’s book collection.

Of course, there were a number of reasons for this revival of interest in Old Hollywood, whether more about the profit to be gained or the pure nostalgia involved. It has been argued that we are experiencing another such revival in the 21st century, but for a much different reason. Slideshows, articles, and “best of” lists from well-known companies like TCM or AFI have in many ways taken the place of these picture books. Widespread accessibility to the Internet means wider access to silent films which would otherwise be much more difficult to find. All the same, these books are an enjoyable window into the past, and a reminder that Old, Old Hollywood is not always so different from our own.

(Abigail Jenkins, M Litt Film, 2015)


Happy Birthday, George Washington!

We here at Special Collections and Archives would like to wish George Washington a happy birthday. Though President’s Day was originally created to honor our nation’s first Commander in Chief, many states have since adapted it into a joint celebration which includes Abraham Lincoln’s and George Washington’s birthdays.

President’s day, federally known as Washington’s Day, originally fell on George Washington’s birthday, February 22 but in 1971 was moved to the 3rd Monday of February under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Montana, Minnesota, Utah and Colorado all recognize today as an official holiday honoring both Washington and Lincoln, whose birthday was on February 12th. With election season in full swing, we’d like to take the time to honor all of the United States’ presidents.

Portrait of Washington in his colonel’s uniform – The Story of Washington
New York Herald newspaper from the day of President Lincoln's assassination.
Profile of President Abraham Lincoln from the New York Herald Newspaper – April 15, 1965

Not that kind of Valentine

Recently cataloged:

Valentine Vaux title page

The Adventures of Valentine Vaux, or, The Tricks of a Ventriloquist / by Timothy Portwine

Valentine Vaux woodcut on part no 3

This is another “penny dreadful” (you can read an earlier post about others in our collection). “Timothy Portwine” was actually the prolific Thomas Peckett Prest, who also wrote many parodies (or plagiarisms!) of Dickens’ works under the pseudonym “Bos.” Prest or his contemporary James Malcolm Rymer are usually credited with the authorship of The String of Pearls, or, The Barber of Fleet Street, in which the character Sweeney Todd had his first appearance. Valentine Vaux is a parody/plagiarism/lampoon of Henry Cockton’s The Life and Adventures of Valentine Vox, the Ventriloquist.

In my earlier post I referenced the Barry Ono Collection of Penny Dreadfuls held by the British Library. Since that time, a new resource has become available: researchers at Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Smith, or UMass Amherst now have access to a digitized version of that same collection via Nineteenth Century Collections Online (Amherst College log-in required).

Our copy of Valentine Vaux happens to have a great ownership inscription, in this case a kind of “borrower beware” statement:

ownership inscription of Frederick Smith 1840

This belongs to Frederick Smith, 1840

If thou art borrowed by a friend
Right welcome shall he be
To read to study not to Lend
But to return to me
Not that imparted Knowledge doth
Diminish learnings store
But books I find if often lent
Return to me no more

This same rhyme has been noted in many nineteenth century books, both inscribed and as printed bookplates. For those interested, there is a good overview of this practice in “Traditional Flyleaf Rhymes” (in Folklore and Book Culture by Kevin J. Hayes). Other examples have been blogged about by the Bodleian Libraries Department of Special Collections and the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. This is the first one I have encountered, and I’ll certainly keep an eye out for more.

Valentine Vaux woodcut with elephant

Celebrating Black History Month: Hidden Gems

Yesterday we talked about some major projects, supported by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, documenting the contributions of African Americans to the American Story. While the history of Emancipation and the collected papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., are vital to understanding of our democracy, history, and culture, there are many other chapters:

The Oblate Sisters of Providence

The Oblate Sisters of Providence is the first successful Roman Catholic sisterhood in the world established by women of African descent. It was the work of a French-born Sulpician priest and four women, who were part of the Caribbean refugee colony which began arriving in Baltimore, Maryland in the late 18th century. The order founded the oldest continuously operating school for black Catholic children in the United States and is still educating children in Baltimore. A grant from the NHPRC helped the Oblate Sisters process and make available the historical photograph and scrapbook collection of approximately 16,000 photographs dating from the 1850s to 2003, including this touching image of orphans under their care.

Oblate Sisters of Providence

Early 20th century photograph from the St. Frances Academy School, courtesy Oblate Sisters of Providence

Lena Horne

Lena Horne (1917–2010) was an American singer, dancer, actress, and civil rights activist. In a recording preserved by Pacifica Radio Archives with NHPRC support, Horne discusses her life and career, civil rights, Billie Holiday, Joe Lewis, Humphrey Bogart, and other people in her life. You can listen at

Lena Horne

Lena Horne publicity photo, c. 1950s

The Auburn Avenue Researcher Libraries

The Auburn Avenue Researcher Libraries in Atlanta received funds from the NHPRC to digitize and make Web-accessible eleven late 19th and mid-20th century manuscript collections that document the historical development of education for African Americans, primarily in the South, from the early 1860s to the early 1950s. One collection is the archives of Annie L. McPheeters, one of the first African American professional librarians in the Atlanta Public Library and an influential proponent of African American culture and history. Educated at Clark University in Atlanta, she earned a degree in English, with a minor in education in 1929. During the early part of her career, she served as city and county librarian at the Greenville Public Library, where she drove the bookmobile throughout the county’s rural areas, seeing first-hand the desire of many African Americans to learn and have access to books. In 1934 she took a job at the Auburn Branch of the Atlanta Public Library as an assistant librarian. She set out to remedy the branch’s problems of low library use by developing several initiatives, including the Adult Education Project, and launched the Negro History Collection. Two years later, she was promoted to full librarian, becoming one of the first African American professional librarians in the Atlanta Public Library. Her papers are housed in the Archives Division of the Auburn Avenue Research Library.

Grace Marilynn James, M.D.

Grace Marilynn James, M.D., (1923-1989) spent her life caring for the African American community of Louisville, Kentucky, who often had little access to regular health care. She was the first African American woman on the staff of Louisville Children’s Hospital and on the faculty at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and served as a role model and advocate for African Americans considering a career in medicine. The National Library of Medicine includes Dr. James in their special online exhibition “Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America’s Women Physicians.” The University of Louisville holds Dr. James’s papers, and they were processed through a grant from the NHPRC. A finding aid is available through the Kentucky Digital Library.

Dr. Grace James

Dr. Grace M. James, c. 1953, with a young patient. Photo courtesy David James, National Library of Medicine

Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins

Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins (1849 – 1908) was an African-American musical prodigy. Born into slavery, he began composing music at age five, and he was hired out at the age of eight years to concert promoter Perry Oliver, who toured him extensively in the US, performing as often as four times a day. He was called the “human mockingbird” and was said to be able to reproduce songs after hearing them a single time. During the 19th century, he was one of the best-known American performing pianists, performing at the White House for President Buchanan in 1860. Geneva Handy Southall began researching “Blind Tom” during her Ph.D. studies, and she later wrote three books: Blind Tom: the Post-Civil War Enslavement of a Black Musical Genius (1979), The Continuing Enslavement of Blind Tom: the Black Pianist-Composer (1983), and Blind Tom, the Black Pianist Composer: Continually Enslaved (1999). She spent more than 30 years researching Blind Tom’s life and music and also made the first recording of his music. She was inducted into the Black Musicians Hall of Fame in 1988 and was a former board member of the National Association of Negro Musicians. The NHPRC funded the preservation of Dr. Southall’s papers at Emory University. A documentary on “Blind Tom,” with contributions by Dr. Southall, is online at

Arabella Chapman

One of our favorite collections was truly hidden. The Arabella Chapman Project is a great example of how archives connect with the classroom to harness the power of the crowd and make historical records vibrant. It all started with an NHPRC grant to the Clements Library at the University of Michigan to create finding aids for over 1,600 “hidden” collections. Among the records were photograph albums which had originally belonged to Arabella Chapman (1859-1927), an African American woman from Albany, New York. The albums were assembled from 1878 to 1900 using portraits taken from the 1860s to the turn of the century. The photos include Arabella, her family, friends, and admirers, and copies of pictures of well-known public figures–including Lincoln, Douglass, and others.

Arabella Chapman

Arabella Chapman tintype, c. 1865. Clements Library, University of Michigan

During fall semester 2014, University of Michigan Professor Martha Jones’s African American Women’s History class embarked on a detailed examination of the albums to try to learn what they could about Arabella, her family and friends, and the role of photography in African American life in the late 19th century. Last spring, the students launched a website devoted to the Chapman albums. The Arabella Chapman Project includes scans of the album pages, genealogical information, maps, texts on the history of photograph albums, a portal for crowdsourcing more information, and more. They’ve published a series of questions and mysteries behind the images. And they’re using social media to reach out to a broader audience and to show how all black lives matter.

The Arabella Chapman Project is a fascinating approach to teaching history through historical records, and they are looking for your help. Recognize someone? Know something? Join the crowd in adding more layers to this piece of the American Story.

Processing With Pride: Processing The Pride Student Union Collection

FSU Heritage Protocol & University Archives, a division of Special Collections & Archives received a donation from The Pride Student Union in June 2013. The donation included over five decades of history from this student organization. The history between FSU and Pride is a story of a brittle, sometimes broken relationship, but the passing of their records from Pride to Heritage Protocol & University Archives documents how much the relationship has massively improved.

HPUA_2013-0607 Pride Student Union Collection
HPUA_2013-0607 Pride Student Union Collection

Before the records were relocated to Heritage Protocol & University Archives, they were “sitting idle & unorganized in four file cabinets,” said former Pride Student Union Secretary Jason Miller. Now the fifty plus years of history is in its final stages of processing (archives jargon for arranging, organizing and sorting a collection) and is almost ready for public viewing.

As the processor of this collection, along with former Graduate Assistants Rebecca Bramlett (until July 2015) and Katherine Hoarn (until August 2015), I can tell you that not only has it been a complete joy to organize and arrange this history, but it has also been an educational and eye-opening experience.

This is the history of not only The Pride Student Union, which had undergone eight name changes since their formation in the late 1960s, but the history of FSU. As Jason Miller stated in a 2013 article with FSUNews news editor Blair Stokes,

“What it comes down to is making sure students at Florida State know that our history is part of Florida State’s history. Even though we aren’t the majority, we’ve always been here. Our history needs to be preserved and understood for future generations to appreciate.”

Appreciation, scholarship, stewardship and respect for the history of this student organization and their records is the way I’ve approached organizing and processing this collection. The Pride Student Union Collection contains administrative records, correspondence, events, legislation, activism, photographs, promotional materials, newspaper, journal and magazine clippings produced and collected by the student organization since the late 1960s. The collection is arranged chronologically and includes issues that affected the student organization, local LGBTQ+ organizations and the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and throughout the United States.HPUA_2013-0607 Pride Student Union Collection Addendum

I cannot say enough how much of a joy and honor processing this collection has been and how much I’ve learned both professionally and personally from this experience.

Keep up with Heritage Protocol & University Archives and the Special Collections & Archives Division to see the final collection.

The Pride Student Union is going strong here at FSU and still striving to provide a safe and healthy environment for all students.


My Medicinal Valentine

In our great enthusiasm for all things Valentine’s Day, we’d like to offer you this sensible yet romantic 19th century medical meditation on the nature of love.

It’s drawn from an 1851 edition of Buchan’s Domestic Medicine: Or the Family Physician. (I’m pleased that this volume contains an entire section on “The Passions”.)


Love is perhaps the strongest of all the passions: at least, when it becomes violent, it is less subject to the control either of the understanding or will than any of the rest. Fear, anger, and several other passions, are necessary for the preservation of the individual, but love is necessary for the continuation of the species itself. It was therefore proper that this passion should be deeply rooted in the human breast.

Though love be a strong passion, it is seldom so rapid in its progress as several of the others. Few persons fall desperately in love all at once. We would therefore advise every one, before he tampers with this passion, to consider well the probability of his being able to obtain the object of his love. When that is not likely, he should avoid every occasion of increasing it. He ought immediately to fly the company of the beloved object; to apply his mind attentively to business or study; to take every kind of amusement; and, above all, to endeavor, if possible, to find another object which may engage his affections, and which it may be in his power to obtain.

When love becomes a disease, it is not easily cured. Its consequences, in this case, are often so violent, that even the possession of the beloved object will not always remove them. It is therefore of the greatest importance early to guard against its influence; but when the passion has already taken too deep hold of the mind to admit of being eradicated, the beloved object ought if possible to be obtained; nor should this be deferred for every trifling cause. Those who have the disposal of young persons in marriage are too ready to trifle with the passion of love; such, for the most sordid considerations, frequently sacrifice the future health, peace or happiness of those committed to their care.

Our Goad’s Vanmap project won a Heritage BC award

We’re pleased to announce that our project to create a historical layer in Vanmap from the 1912 Goad’s Fire Insurance Plan has won a BC Heritage award in the Heritage Education & Awareness category.

35th annual heritage BC awards gala logo

The awards will be presented February 18 at The Imperial, a renovated heritage building.

We’re looking forward to learning about the rest of the winning projects. Come chat with us if you’re at the gala!

Celebrating Black History Month

Every day, we celebrate the remarkable contributions of African Americans to the American Story. The National Archives contains millions of records related to the interactions of African Americans with the Federal government—from the Emancipation Proclamation to the millions of historical records ranging from the Census to military service.

The National Archives grant program, our National Historical Publications and Records Commission, extends the reach of the agency and connects to thousands of collections across the country at state and local governments, colleges and universities, historical societies, and other nonprofit organizations. Over the past 50 years, the NHPRC has awarded grants to projects to document black lives.

Among the earliest records are those dealing with slavery and the fight for freedom. The Frederick Douglass Papers, the Black Abolitionist Papers, the Race and Slavery Petitions project at the Digital Library on American Slavery, Freedmen and Southern Society, and the O.O. Howard (head of the Freedman’s Bureau and founder of Howard University) projects were all supported with major funding from the NHPRC, and other grants went to the preservation of court and chancery records which deal with landmark events such as the Dred Scott case at the Supreme Court of Missouri and manumission petitions now being digitized by the Maryland State Archives.

Freedman and southern society imageFreedman and Southern Society Project

Following emancipation, the quest for equal rights is documented in the early 20th century records such as Booker T. Washington Papers and a microfilm edition of the W.E.B. Dubois Papers to the latter decades with the papers of such civil rights leaders as Clarence Mitchell, Ted Berry, the archives of Mary McLeod Bethune and the National Council of Negro Women, and the Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Archives from the history of Boston Desegregation (some of which are now part of the National Archives DocsTeach site) to the preservation of film interviews from the landmark PBS series “Eyes on the Prize” are but some of the many collections of interest for students of American civil rights history.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at some “hidden” gems.

PIDB Congratulates John W. Ficklin for his Years of Public Service

The Members of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) congratulate Mr. John W. Ficklin on his January 2016 retirement from government service, completing his forty-three year tenure at the White House as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Records and Access Management at the National Security Council. In his capacity as Senior Director, Mr. Ficklin was responsible for declassification of White House records as well as other information and records management duties. He remained a keen partner of the PIDB in its undertaking to promote public access to an accurate and thorough documentation of significant national security decisions and activities.

Mr. William Leary, Acting Chair of the PIDB and previous Senior Director for Records and Access Management, credits Mr. Ficklin, in 1984, with initially transforming the mainly paper-based White House records management infrastructure to a restructured electronic / digital system of information governance. Of his many accomplishments during his tenure, Mr. Flicklin has overseen the release of over 2,500 previously classified President Daily Briefs from the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Mr. Ficklin chaired the Interagency Security Classification Panel (ISCAP), as well as supported the establishment of the National Declassification Center (NDC) and the processing of its 360 million page backlog of records.

More recently, Mr. Ficklin dedicated much of his efforts to the President’s transparency and open government initiatives, including the advancement of two key commitments in the Open Government National Action Plans, transforming the security classification system and streamlining declassification. He chaired the interagency Classification Reform Committee (CRC), a White House-led Steering Committee dedicated to advancing modernization efforts for classification and declassification. Among its many accomplishments was to initiate the successful piloting by the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Archives of technological tools to automate decision-support in declassification review. The CRC continues to meet under the direction of Mr. John P. Fitzpatrick, former Director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO). Mr. Fitzpatrick assumed Mr. Ficklin’s previous role as Senior Director for Records and Access Management at the NSC.

Mr. Ficklin’s distinguished career, as well as his family’s historic service at the White House, were the subjects of a moving article in last Sunday’s Washington Post. You can read the article here.

The PIDB thanks Mr. Ficklin for his service to the country and its citizens. The members are grateful for the many years of cooperation they have had working with Mr. Ficklin and wish him a rewarding and well-deserved retirement.

10th annual WNYC music festival

A mixed bag is the best way to describe this 1949 recording of WNYC’s Tenth Annual Music Festival. Ostensibly featuring jazz, the program also includes healthy doses of blues, ragtime, and the just plain odd. First up is jazz clarinetist Tony Parenti. Although a fine player of Dixieland and swing, here he is presented as an exemplar of ragtime, playing Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag as well as Blues in Ragtime and High Society. He is followed by the blues in the person of Huddie Ledbetter.

“Leadbelly,” still in strong voice despite his death only a few months later from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, belts out Good Morning Blues and several other songs. Sadly, his guitar is barely audible. The French-born jazz critic Charles Delaunay is brought in to introduce pianist Joe Sullivan, who is asked about “the Chicago sound.” In what becomes a recurring and amusing motif, Sullivan mumbles that he would rather play than talk, launching into Honeysuckle Rose and then his most famous original composition, the all-too-prophetically-entitled Gin Mill Blues.

Wellman Brodie and Gus Aiken come on next. They also seem reluctant to talk about their time in Chicago, instead teaming up with vocalist Ann Lewis who sings Fish Out of Water and Jailhouse Blues. There is then a weirdly extended segment with John “Knocky” Carter, a marginal musical figure but at the time a Professor of English at Columbia University. The interviewer tries to tie in Carter’s love of jazz with his thesis on the Elizabethan pamphleteer and dramatist Robert Greene! When that fails he quizzes him about his work on the Edwardian satirist H. H. Munro (Saki.) “Knocky” deflects these questions, claiming to be “a jazz musician at heart,” and plays rather tame versions of The Grace and Beauty Rag and Kansas City Stomp.

Ruby Smith is an odd figure in the history of blues. She was Bessie Smith’s niece by marriage and actually became, before the term existed, an “impersonator,” once pretending to be her famous aunt onstage and channeling the distinctive Bessie Smith sound in recordings. Here, she continues what is almost a novelty act, singing Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out and Backwater Blues in the style of Bessie, before frankly admitting that she’d, “Like to do ‘Ruby,’ now.” She then sings a much more swinging tune, Hit That Jive, Jack.

Next up is Johnny Windhurst, a much-admired but rarely recorded cornet player. Windhurst had a great reputation in the jazz world but seems not to have relished the musician’s life, preferring to live with his mother in Poughkeepsie, only touring occasionally. He died at the age of fifty-four. He also refuses to say much, letting his horn do the talking in Somebody Loves Me and I May Be Wrong.

By now we seem to be squarely in the mainstream of 1949 jazz, but then out of left field comes Brownie McGhee, the blues singer and guitarist inextricably linked with harmonica genius Sonny Terry. He also brushes aside the interviewer’s questions, leading all the musicians who have stuck around in a rendition of The Boogie Blues. As the music fades, the announcer tells listeners we will “take a jump from swing to serious” as a program of “American choral music” follows. In fact, we have been listening to the very music this era will be remembered by.

Huddie Ledbetter (1888-1949) had a storied two-part career, spending the first part of his life as an itinerant musician, farm laborer, and sometimes-convict. Discovered by Alan Lomax and brought East, he then became the darling of the left, performing in clubs as well as political rallies and union meetings. His influence on the subsequent folk music revival cannot be overestimated. As the website for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (to which he was inducted in 1988) notes:

His keening, high-pitched vocals and powerful, percussive guitar playing commanded attention, and he became known as “the King of the Twelve-String Guitar.” … Ironically, the Weavers sold 2 million copies of their recording of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene” shortly after his death. “It’s one more case of black music being made famous by white people,” Pete Seeger, one of the Weavers, said in 1988…. “It’s a pure tragedy he didn’t live another six months, because all his dreams as a performer would have come true.”

Brownie McGhee (1915-1996) was a multi-faceted performer. Although chiefly remembered for his partnership with Sonny Terry (the two toured for forty-five years but during the last fifteen did not speak), his more lasting contributions may have been in the field of rhythm and blues. The website points out:

Together, McGhee and Terry worked for decades in an acoustic folk-blues bag, singing ancient ditties like “John Henry” and “Pick a Bale of Cotton” for appreciative audiences worldwide. But McGhee was capable of a great deal more. Throughout the immediate postwar era, he cut electric blues and R&B on the New York scene, even enjoying a huge R&B hit in 1948 with “My Fault”…McGhee didn’t limit his talents to concert settings. He appeared on Broadway for three years in a production of playwright Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955, and later put in a stint in the Langston Hughes play Simply Heaven. Films (Angel Heart, Buck and the Preacher) and an episode of the TV sitcom Family Ties also benefited from his dignified presence.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 72582, 150187
Municipal archives id: LT3177, LT5361

Bad Children of History #23: My Goopy Valentine

This week’s Bad Children of History come from a treasure trove of misbehavior: Gelett Burgess’s 1909 book Blue Goops and Red: A Manual of Polite Deportment for Children who would be Good, Showing How & How Not to Behave Everywhere. (This book is also a treasure trove of illustrations with a flippable half-page that changes the scene–I’m certain there’s a name for these, but I don’t know what it is.)

Each two-page spread of Burgess’s book has a rhyme about an occasion in which one could behave or misbehave, facing an illustration showing (blue) goops with poor deportment, and then, after one flips the half-page, (red) goops behaving properly. Here’s a topical example:


Oh, isn’t it a pity,

When valentines are pretty,

To send the horrid, comic ones to me?

But often in the city

Some children think they’re witty,

And so I get the kind I hate to see!

Two notes here: one, are the goops actually children? They look sort of like… gingerbread people, although their parents seem to be definitively human. Two, I think it behooves the narrator to consider why children send him or her insulting valentines, but I suppose that’s beside the point.


Here’s the half-page flipping feature I mentioned earlier. Look at those bad goops jeering over a so-called valentine of an old maid while their overly-indulgent parents look on! Wait… wait… look at those nice goops with their tidy envelopes and their relaxed human parents!

Blue Goops and Red also has some absolutely fantastic end-papers. Look at these! Goops galore!


Last Chance: Scott Kelley exhibit

If you haven’t made it to the Providence Public Library to see Scott Kelley‘s nautical paintings inspired by our Nicholson Whaling Collection, I recommend you hightail it over here! The paintings are truly stunning, and we’re taking down the exhibit this Friday morning, February 12th.


Scott’s paintings are on display on the 3rd floor of the library, in the cases outside of Special Collections, and can be viewed during the library’s open hours today and tomorrow.

Shock Treatment

Who should tell her story?

This isn’t quite a moot question, as producer Ben Park early on notes, if obliquely, the story-making qualities of the week’s program on shock therapy.

I’d argue there probably isn’t a better contemporary candidate than Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon and Far from the Tree, careful masterpieces on the delicate subjects of depression and parent-child relationships, respectively. His own mother’s planned suicide was a defining moment in his life, as it likely was for the daughters of this episode’s subject, a suicidal mother of two in the throes of postpartum depression, about to undergo shock therapy. Solomon seems perfectly suited to it – brilliant, astute, sympathetic – coming disposed with an empathy at once learned and natural. But the past is a foreign country; Chicago is another city; and the difference in religious, social, and gender-based mores may be too wide a chasm for any to pass, to say nothing of the impossibility of understanding the unique experiences of motherhood, something no man can truly share, even the wisest. Perhaps his version would be too colored by his story as well, blurring what is his and what was hers; his work is frequently laced with memoir.

So we’ve safely ruled out our finest modern candidate. “What now?” you may ask

Now, we turn to the original source. In this episode of It’s Your Life, producer Ben Park tells us that “essentially this is her story, told by her during the two months she spent in the mental hospital.” Except that it isn’t her story, at least not exactly. For one, she only once tells her story in a way that feels uncoached, and though that telling is harrowing, it is but one passage in a larger story. We see her filtered through the descriptions of producer Park, her psychiatrist, her 12-year-old daughter, and her husband before we meet her and reach the story’s early peak, and her nadir – a dark, tearful description of the depth of her depression. Though the depression is hers and hers alone, it is defined by her relationships with those around her, by her fears of her deficiencies as a mother. And what happens to one person’s life can and usually does have serious effects on the lives of others, especially in the hold of the parent-child bond. 

What perhaps would ideally be a nuanced hours-long study on the wide effects of postpartum depression is in fact a 30-minute program focused on the procedure of shock therapy, a program produced by the Chicago Industrial Health Organization. The series It’s Your Life was in most ways highly commendable, but it was relentless in its brightsiding. It is ironic then that some of its most pronounced efforts at manufacturing cheerful endings have darkened considerably over time, with the leading questions and spoonfed answers more salient to us now than to them then. Reporter Don Herbert is at his best with the 12-year-old daughter. This not surprising from the future children’s television stalwart Mr. Wizard. But the gentle coaxing appropriate to young children feels slightly more disturbing focused on a woman made impressionable post-shock treatment. What was meant as the second act’s feel-good moment carries a far different tone in the light of the present day, at least to my ears.

Shock therapy was then a fairly common treatment, but is now more of a desperate measure, one that comes into play when other measures are failing or immediate effects are required. This brief biased piece though humanizes an increasingly cartoonish or maligned procedure, and tells a story we can’t but change in the telling.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150108
Municipal archives id: LT1948

Remembering Robin Chandler Duke

As the University Librarian at Duke one of my favorite duties was talking people into donating their personal collections to the University Library.  My staff had great intelligence about who we should go after to strengthen the collections, so I was always armed with rationale(s) for the fit at Duke.

The passing of Robin Chandler Duke on Saturday reminded of those encounters with donors.  Robin was the widow of Angier Biddle Duke, Chief of Protocol in the Kennedy White House and Ambassador to El Salvador, Spain, Denmark, and Morocco from the Truman through the Johnson Administrations.  And one of THE DUKES—the family of the founder of the university.

President of India, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, shakes hands with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy upon his departure from the White House, following a state dinner in his honor; President John F. Kennedy stands at center left. US Chief of Protocol, Angier Biddle Duke, stands at right (back to camera); Robin Chandler Duke (wife of Ambassador Duke) stands at far left. North Portico, White House, Washington, D.C. Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston National Archives and Records Administration

President of India, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, shakes hands with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy upon his departure from the White House, following a state dinner in his honor; President John F. Kennedy stands at center left. US Chief of Protocol, Angier Biddle Duke, stands at right (back to camera); Robin Chandler Duke (wife of Ambassador Duke) stands at far left. North Portico, White House, Washington, D.C. June 3, 1963.
Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. National Archives and Records Administration

We already had the Ambassador’s personal papers in our holdings, so Robin’s were a logical quest.

I remember my first visit to her apartment at River House in New York City, sitting in her sunroom overlooking the East River.  Grace, beauty, charm, wit, and intelligence are my memories of that first encounter.  She assumed, I think, that I was most interested in whatever of the Ambassador’s papers she still had, and was surprised about how much I knew about her own career.

Robin was a newspaper and television journalist, vice president for public relations at Pepsi-Cola, active in organizations supporting abortion rights and legal equality for women.  The best part of that first visit was seeing evidence of “documentation.”  She saved everything!  And her life and letters complemented her husband’s ambassadorial life, contributed to the burgeoning women’s studies collection, and her Pepsi years added to the strength of the one of the best advertising collections in the country.

That first visit led to a deed of gift and the beginning of a relationship that was punctuated by regular deliveries of boxes of her papers and photographs as she continued to sort through her collection.  Whenever I was in New York, I would stop for a quick visit to catch up.  And when I made the move to the New York Public Library, she was among the special guests invited to a reception hosted by another “Dukie,” Ellie Elliot.

A while ago I wrote about my afternoon with Lauren Bacall and now Robin Chandler Duke.  One lucky guy to have spent time with two extraordinary women!


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

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

Coloring book image

The National Archives Coloring Book of Patents 2016

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

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

Mittan: A Reception

mittan reception

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

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

Diallo Telli: Messages of Friendship and Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150242
Municipal archives id: LT8307

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

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

But even Night Owls have their day. 

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

My personal favorite:

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

JVL: “Bowling”

Florence: “Get many spaaares?”

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

It doesn’t get much better than that.

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

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 92496, (see also 72461)

Municipal archives id: T899

Rare Books and Haggis: Burns Night in Tallahassee

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

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

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

Art//Archives: An Avian Extravaganza

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


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


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


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

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

Laurens H. Seelye and the Armenian Student Cooperative Club

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

iPRES International Conference on Digital Preservation 2015

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

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

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

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

iPRES Amplified

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

Sample conference tweets

Sample conference tweets

Session highlights

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

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

Oh yeah! Excerpt from PREMIS version 3.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metadata re-ingest process in Archivematica 1.5.0

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

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

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

Music Decriminalized: The End of “Cabaret Cards”

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

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

Yes. It is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 92378
Municipal archives id: T2049

Bad Children of History #22: Holiday Hellions

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


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

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


35mm slide project


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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






Cabin Fever Remedies

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

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

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

Agent's House

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

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

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

Kenneth Tynan on the Shallow American Theater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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