“The view is tremendous!” John Glenn exclaims, as the booster rocket falls away and his spacecraft, the Friendship 7, is launched into orbit. This file is a compilation of news coverage from the 1962 Mercury 6 mission, which successfully put the first American in orbit around Earth and made a national hero of the 41-year-old astronaut. After a brief introduction by a reporter, we listen in on “raw” sound from NASA’s communication with the craft as well as chatter from Mission Control and various tracking stations around the world.
Glenn seems completely comfortable as he narrates his adventure, describing the view, identifying constellations, punctuating the completion of his first orbit by joking, “That was about the shortest day I’ve ever run into.” But the former test- and bomber pilot is hardly a passive spectator. A problem with the craft’s guidance system forces him to “fly by wire,” taking manual control of the firings to stay on course. The flight is, by today’s expectations, startlingly brief. From launch to impact the mission took a little less than five hours. There is a moment of tension during re-entry when a faulty micro-switch indicates the heat shield has detached. But the technicians on the ground are fairly sure this is an inaccurate reading. More drama occurs during the radio silence after re-entry when the craft has not yet been spotted by the Destroyer Noa, which is waiting for it near Grand Turk Island. But all is well, with Glenn being plucked out of the sea and pronounced “a hale and hearty astronaut.” There follows President Kennedy’s congratulatory call to Glenn and then a series of post-flight press conferences with various scientists assessing the mission.
John Glenn (1921-2016) already had a spectacular career in aviation before being selected as one of the seven original Mercury astronauts. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross six times, flying missions in both World War II and Korea. In 1957, he set a transcontinental speed record from Los Angeles to New York, spanning the country in 3 hours and 23 minutes, the first transcontinental flight to average supersonic speed. But none of this, of course, compared to the excitement generated by his orbiting Earth, as the United States attempted to catch up in the “space race” with the USSR. The New York Times reported:
The whole continent watched on television as Colonel Glenn’s capsule was launched. The world listened by radio. And almost 100,000 persons had a direct view from here and the beaches around as the Atlas rocket booster bore the Project Mercury capsule upward with a thrust of 360,000 pounds…. There were the usual cries of “Go! Go!” at take-off. Tears came to the eyes of some viewers, in the blockhouse, at the observer’s stand two miles from the launching pad, and on the beaches.
Glenn went on to be elected a US Senator, representing Ohio for twenty-five years. One of his major accomplishments was being the chief author of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978. This did not, however, mark the end of his career as an astronaut. As the website space.com notes:
Despite his advancing age, Glenn was not yet finished with the space program. On Oct. 29, 1998, while still a senator, Glenn made history again when he rode the space shuttle Discovery to become the oldest space traveler. Over the course of nine days, the shuttle orbited Earth 134 times.
Unlike many astronauts who were not comfortable with the attention becoming a national icon brought, Glenn seemed to thrived as a public figure. After serving in the Senate he founded what eventually became the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, which is dedicated to encouraging careers in public service. And he still commented on current political questions, exhibiting the same commonsense approach he did under far more pressure-packed circumstances. As Fox News noted:
The astronaut, now 93 with fading eyesight and hearing, told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he sees no contradiction between believing in God and believing in evolution. “I don’t see that I’m any less religious by the fact that I can appreciate the fact that science just records that we change with evolution and time, and that’s a fact,” said Glenn, a Presbyterian. “It doesn’t mean it’s less wondrous and it doesn’t mean that there can’t be some power greater than any of us that has been behind and is behind whatever is going on.”
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.
WNYC archives id: 150264 Municipal archives id: LT9329
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has long had a special relationship with the incoming Presidential Administration, including providing archival and records management guidance and support to the White House upon request. This relationship continues throughout the Administration, until the Presidential records are transferred into the National Archives for permanent preservation in our President Library system.
The 2016 Guidance on Presidential Records is available on archives.gov. This document, which NARA has prepared for every incoming administration since 2000, provides basic background information on the Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978, as amended, 44 U.S.C. §§ 2201-2209; how the National Archives implements the PRA; and how we assist the White House in managing its records under the PRA.
NARA has also continued to engage with Federal agencies to inform them of their records management responsibilities under the Federal Records Act (FRA). The Office of the Chief Records Officer at the National Archives has updated its Documenting Your Public Service publication and developed other resources for agencies to ensure that records management is an integral part of agency transition plans. See the Records Express blog for more information about records management guidance for the Presidential transition.
It is important to understand the distinction between Presidential records and Federal records, which are governed by the two different laws described above:
Presidential records only apply to the President, the Vice President, their immediate staff, or a unit or individual of the Executive Office of the President whose function is to advise or assist the President, in the course of conducting activities which relate to or have an effect upon the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President. (For further details, please see the Presidential Records Act.)
Federal records apply to all “federal agencies” in the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, but do not include the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Architect of the Capitol.
The rules governing Federal and Presidential records and their preservation have not changed since the FRA and PRA were amended in 2014, but updating and sharing our guidance is one component of the support that NARA offers to both Federal agencies and the White House, especially when a new administration begins.
Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall became the 1st African American man to serve as Justice of the Supreme Court. Throughout his career he possessed tenacity and resilience in ending legal segregation by becoming a legal counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In that work, he broke barriers in American history by guiding the litigation to eradicate the legal underpinnings of Jim Crow segregation laws. Moreover, he became victorious in his position as Justice of the Supreme Court by crafting a distinctive jurisprudence marked by uncompromising liberalism, unusual attentiveness to practical considerations beyond the formalities of law, and an indefatigable willingness to dissent.
Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 2, 1908 and was the grandson of a slave. Marshall’s father religiously instilled morals and values in his son’s upbringing as well as an appreciation for the United States Constitution, including the rule of law. As a result, his father’s words served as a strong foundation which later became evident in his profound role in law. Marshall completed high school in 1925 and later followed his brother, William Aubrey Marshall, to the historically black Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Surprisingly, his classmates at Lincoln included a distinguished group of future Black leaders who would later make their mark on the world. For example, poet and author Langston Hughes, the future President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, and musician Cab Calloway. Before Marshall graduated from Lincoln University, he married his first wife, Vivian “Buster” Burey. Sadly, their 25 year marriage ended with her untimely death from cancer in 1955.
Later in 1930, Marshall applied to the University of Maryland Law School, but was denied admission because he was black. He did not know that this event he perceived as a failure would later turn into one of the most ground breaking cases that would leverage his professional career and negate superficial college admittance procedures based on race. Thurgood sought admission at Howard University Law School and was accepted that same year. During that year, Marshall became deeply influenced by the new dean, Charles Hamilton Houston. Houston instilled in all of his students the desire to apply the tenets of the Constitution to all Americans. In 1933, Marshall took on his first case involving the University of Maryland Law School which was the same Law school that denied his admission years before due to his skin color. He successfully sued the University of Maryland for the refusal of admitting a young African American Amherst University graduate by the name of Donald Gaines Murray due to race. Author H.L. Mencken celebrated Marshall’s victory by writing that the decision of denial by the University of Maryland Law School was “brutal and absurd,” and they should not object to the “presence among them of a self-respecting and ambitious young Afro-American well prepared for his studies by four years of hard work in a class A college.”
After accomplishing this huge milestone in his career, Thurgood Marshall followed his Howard University mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston to New York and later became Chief Counsel for the NAACP. During this period, Mr. Marshall was asked by the United Nations and the United Kingdom to help draft the constitutions of the emerging African nations of Ghana and what is now Tanzania. It was felt that the person who so successfully fought for the rights of America’s oppressed minority would be the perfect person to ensure the rights of the white citizens in these two former European colonies. After amassing an impressive record of Supreme Court challenges to state-sponsored discrimination, including the landmark Brown v. Board decision in 1954, President John F. Kennedy appointed Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In this capacity, he wrote over 150 decisions including support for the rights of immigrants, limiting government intrusion in cases involving illegal search and seizure, double jeopardy, and right to privacy issues. Biographers Michael Davis and Hunter Clark note that, “none of his (Marshall’s) 98 majority decisions was ever reversed by the Supreme Court.” In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson appointed Judge Marshall to the office of U.S. Solicitor General. Before his subsequent nomination to the United States Supreme Court in 1967, Thurgood Marshall won 14 of the 19 cases he argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of the government. Thurgood Marshall lead an impeccable career in law by winning more cases before the United States Supreme Court than any other American.
Until his retirement from the highest court in the land, Justice Marshall established a rapport by using his voice to enforce change to improve the lives of minority groups and improve laws to promote equality. Having honed his skills since the case against the University of Maryland, he developed a profound sensitivity to injustice by way of the crucible of racial discrimination in this country. As an Associate Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall left a legacy that expands that early sensitivity to include all of America’s voiceless. Justice Marshall died on January 24, 1993.
February is Black History Month. This month and every day, the National Archives celebrates the extraordinary contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.
The National Archives holds a wealth of material documenting the African American experience, including millions of records related to the interactions between African Americans and the Federal government. These materials are highlighted in online resources, in public programs, and throughout traditional and social media.
You don’t have to live in Washington, DC or visit one of our research rooms to be inspired by the wealth of information available at the National Archives. Visit our African American History webpage to learn more about events and activities celebrating African American History. This webpage contains photographs, historical videos, articles, links to online resources for research, public programs and events, Presidential Library resources, exhibits, and much more.
You can also browse our Catalog for more information about records and holdings documenting the African American experience. Are you interested in transcribing documents to help make these records more accessible? We’ve created an African American History transcription mission in celebration of Black History Month. Learn more and get started on our Citizen Archivist Dashboard.
Questions about conducting research at the National Archives? Visit our African American History research group on History Hub. And see our Pieces of History blog for more information and resources about the National Archives holdings related to African American History.
Dorie Miller (1919-1943), was the 1st African American man awarded the U.S. Navy Cross to acknowledge his heroic efforts when the battleship of West Virginia was attacked at Pearl Harbor.
Doris Miller, known as “Dorie,”was born in Waco, Texas, in 1919. He was one of four sons. After high school, he worked on his father’s farm until 1938 when he enlisted in the Navy as a mess attendant (kitchen worker) to earn money for his family. Unfortunately, at the time the Navy was segregated so combat positions were not open to African Americans. Yet, Dorie went against all odds by proving that African American men had the ability to serve in combat equal in skill to any man regardless of race. On December 7, 1941, Dorie arose at 6 a.m. to serve breakfast aboard USS West Virginia when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Dorie, immediately reported to his assigned battle station and began moving the ship’s Captain to safety who was brutally wounded. Miller then returned to deck and noticed that the Japanese planes were still dive-bombing the U.S. Navy Fleet. As a result, he picked up a 50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun without any professional training and managed to shoot down three to four enemy aircraft. With great bravery he fired until he ran out of ammunition, by then the men were being ordered to abandon ship as the West Virginia slowly began to sink.
Shortly after, the Pittsburgh Courier , one of the country’s most widely circulated black newspapers sent a reporter out to recognize and honor Miller’s bravery. On April 1, 1942 Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, and on May 27, 1942 he received the Navy Cross for his extraordinary courage in battle. In fact, Miller’s rank was raised to Mess Attendant First Class on June 1, 1942. Dorie Miller was later sent on tour in the States to raise money for war bonds, but he was called back in the Spring of 1943 to serve on the new escort carrier known as the USS Liscome Bay. The ship was operating in the Pacific near the Gilbert Islands. at 5:10 a.m. on November 24, the ship was brutally hit by a single torpedo fired from a Japanese submarine. The torpedo lead to a massive bomb explosion in minutes. Miller was initially listed as missing; by November 1944, his status was changed to “resumed dead.” Only 272 men survived the attack.
Because of Dorie Miller commendable sacrifices for his country there is a Dorie Miller park in Hawaii and several schools and buildings that are named throughout the U.S. to exemplify his valiant temperament during such a monumental event in history.
The Claude Pepper Library Celebrates the Legacy and Life of Dorie Miller and Salutes him for his bravery.
Special Collections & Archives maintains an Omeka instance mostly to be used with the Museum Objects classes that use our physical exhibit space periodically and also need to include a digital exhibit with their work. Our hope is that someday the FSU Digital Library will be able to handle the digital exhibit needs for these classes. However, for the moment, Omeka is our tool for this need.
We were approached a few months ago by a professor looking for a new home for his Omeka site that classes had used to collect information and share his student’s work from Religion classes at FSU. As these collections fit in well with the collecting areas of Special Collections & Archives, particularly as we expand our collections of local religion institutional records, this Omeka site was a good candidate for migration to the Special Collections Omeka instance.
Happily, Omeka provides a plug-in that allows for the migration of materials between Omeka instances to be a fairly painless process. The site has been migrated (mostly) successfully. A few lingering problems with video files is being working on by the professor and some Library IT staff. In the meantime, enjoy this new addition to the FSU Special Collections & Archives Omeka lineup, Religion @ Florida State University.
The Roberto Clemente Bridge – one of 446 in Pittsburgh! Photograph by Jana Grazley
A pre-conference tradition since 2013 is the AMIA/DLF (Digital Library Federation) Hack Day, wherein participants collaborate on short projects to develop solutions to various problems associated with moving image preservation and access. Hack Day is a free event focused on practical outcomes and skill-sharing amongst developers and non-developers. This year’s projects included:
Checksumthing, a Python script to transform the data inside checksum sidecar files to the archivist’s desired format. The project won two awards – Best Solution to the Stated Problem and the audience favourite award.
Loggr, a schema and template for logging audiovisual artifacts (errors, usually visual, introduced during the digitization process) using consistent terminology. Loggr can help archivists create reports on the frequency and severity of artifacts in order to prioritize quality control work.
Linked Film Description Framework, a linked open data driven web resource that retrieves descriptive information about film titles from resources listed in Wikidata;
Wikidata for Digital Preservation, a contribution to an ongoing project to describe file formats, software, and other elements of digital preservation as structured data on Wikidata. This team created a crosswalk that compared existing audiovisual file format properties in Wikidata with properties from other sources of format description, and made recommendations for new properties to be added to Wikidata. I participated in this team, and we won an award for best embodiment of the Hack Day Manifesto!
A common misconception among non-archivists is that for fragile or obsolescent media, digitization is “the end” – that once media are digitized, the preservation and access problems are solved. In reality, the new digital file requires just as much (if not more!) management and care as the physical item for which it is a surrogate. Many of this year’s sessions focused on the work that needs to be done after digitization. Brendan Coates of the University of California Santa Barbara and Morgan Morel of George Blood Audio Video presented QCT-Parse, a series of scripts for automating actions in QCTools. QCTools is open-source software for performing quality control on digitized video files, and QCT-Parse includes scripts for generating, then parsing a QCTools report in order to speed up quality control work. QCT-Parse is a wonderful example of the way open source allows members of the preservation community to build upon one another’s tools, and I look forward to exploring its application to our quality control workflows here at CVA.
Output of the QCTools Report Parser available as part of QCT-Parse
Chris Lacinak of AVPreserve and Jon Dunn of Indiana University presented on Indiana University’s Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative, which is now addressing the challenge of mass description following mass digitization. In order for researchers to be able to discover digitized audiovisual content, description needs to be sufficiently granular, and IU is exploring how best to harness multiple existing sources of metadata and emergent technologies like facial recognition and content matching to generate meaningful descriptions on a large scale. I look forward to seeing how outcomes from this project might apply to the rest of the field.
Metadata generation mechanisms (MGMs) in IU’s three project phases
DIGITAL PRESERVATION STREAM
There was also a curated stream dedicated to the digital preservation of audiovisual content – a very timely topic as more and more organizations amass digital AV through digitization projects and acquisition of born-digital records. The stream was spearheaded and curated by Kathryn Gronsbell of the Carnegie Hall Archives, Shira Peltzman of UCLA, Ashley Blewer of the New York Public Library, and Rebecca Fraimow of WGBH and the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. This stream was particularly relevant for me as I’m currently tackling over twelve terabytes of born-digital video created in the making of GVTV in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Anne Gant of Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum spoke about the challenges of acquiring and accessioning born-digital moving image donations, including the need to allocate more staff time to up-front activities like checking hard drives upon receipt. Tim Babcock of Penn State talked about establishing a digital preservation program from scratch, and addressed the intimidation beginners can feel in the face of daunting best-practice documents and the courage we all need to be open about our digital preservation practices so we can learn together. This sentiment was echoed across the Digital Preservation stream and the Do-It-Yourself Community Archiving Symposium which ran concurrently (and which was kindly recorded and posted for those who couldn’t attend the conference or, like me, were busy in the Digital Preservation stream).
Tim Babcock confronts a perennial digital preservation challenge
Together with Tom De Smet of the Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision, Dinah Handel of the New York Public Library, and Travis Wagner of the University of South Carolina, I participated in a theory-versus-practice panel that addressed the distance between expectations and realities of digital preservation work, and the sometimes limited applicability of standards and codified best practices to practitioners’ real-life situations. I spoke about the early stages of my work on GVTV, including creation and analysis of disk images containing thousands of video files, and, in the spirit of openness, took audience members on a play-by-play of everything that didn’t work the way I thought it would. It was great to exchange stories and ideas with my fellow panelists and other conference attendees, and I returned to Vancouver ready to dig in to GVTV with renewed vigour.
AMIA conferences draw attendees from all over the world, and the annual conference is a great opportunity to compare notes with others in the field and keep current with the latest developments in moving image archives professional practice.
Although Paul Laurence Dunbar was only 33 years old when he died of tuberculosis on February 9, 1906, he left behind a lasting legacy of poems, short stories, and novels. The eldest son of former Kentucky slaves, Dunbar published his first poems in his hometown newspaper at the age of sixteen. His first collection of poetry, Oak and Ivy, was published in 1893. While much of his poetry was written in traditional English verse, Dunbar achieved widespread popularity for writing in African American vernacular dialect. Several volumes of Dunbar’s poetry like Poems of Cabin and Field(1899), Candle-Lightin’ Time(1901), When Malindy Sings(1903), and Li’l’ Gal(1904), shown here, featured full-page, black-and-white photographs taken by the Hampton Institute Camera Club, with whom Dunbar frequently collaborated to illustrate his verse. The hundreds of photographs in these books have significant cultural value as representations of rural African American life at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Several volumes of Dunbar’s poetry are included in the John MacKay Shaw Collection of Childhood in Poetry. In his short life, Dunbar spoke with passion, humor, and elegance of the human experience, inspiring later writers such as Maya Angelou, who titled her autobiography after lines from Dunbar’s poem Sympathy:
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
W.H. Auden and John O’Hara prove true to form in this recording of the 1956 National Book Awards. Auden, receiving the award for his collection The Shield of Achilles, is modest and professorial. He confronts the received opinion that today poetry is “a somewhat old-fashioned craft” thought of primarily as “a pastime for women and children.” He contrasts this with a perhaps imaginary past when a poet’s role was to record “encounters with the sacred.” That concern is still the same, he insists, to memorialize the “terror, despair, awe, wonder, or gratitude” of modern life. But since these events are no longer public but, more often, intensely personal, the task is more difficult. He then touches on a fascinating argument concerning the sacred, language, and repetition, but breaks off, announcing, “I’m boring myself,” and sits down.
Herbert Kubly is awarded the prize for non-fiction for his memoir American in Italy. In his acceptance speech he pleads for more US aid, and deeper understanding, as America battles the Soviet Union for the hearts and minds of the Italian peasant.
John O’Hara’s speech, upon receiving the fiction award for his novel Ten North Frederick, showcases the author’s well-known mix of arrogance and vulnerability. He has been “waiting almost twenty-two years” for this recognition and chooses to make it a kind of lifetime achievement award, surveying his entire body of work. “I am immodest enough to believe that the opinion of posterity is the least of my worries. … I have written so accurately and so honestly that my overall contribution will have to be consulted by future students of my time.” But then, just when he seems on the verge of making even more grandiose claims for his work, he chokes up, trying to express how much the award means to him, giving a glimpse of an insatiable need for approval by pleading, almost pathetically, for yet more kudos. “At this time, I want to make one request, which I will put in the form of an expressed hope: I hope you will ask me again.”
W.H. Auden (1907-1973) had been an American citizen for ten years when he won the National Book Award for The Shield of Achilles. Yet in this speech he is still a distinctively English presence, not just because of his accent but by his insistence on seeing poetry as a formal discipline rather than the then prevalent New World view of it as a pathway towards personal and cultural liberation. Auden’s presence and practice of his art in this country had an enormous influence on the course of poetry in the second half of the twentieth century. In addition to the high seriousness he brought to his calling, his technical skills were unmatched. As the Poetry Foundation’s website points out:
Auden possessed a formidable technique and an acute ear. In her book, Auden, Barbara Everett commented on the poet’s facility: “In his verse, Auden can argue, reflect, joke, gossip, sing, analyze, lecture, hector, and simply talk; he can sound, at will, like a psychologist on a political platform, like a theologian at a party, or like a geologist in love; he can give dignity and authority to nonsensical theories, and make newspaper headlines sound both true and melodious.”
The title poem of The Shield of Achilles, with its message of shared responsibility for the horrors political institutions force upon their subjects, still resonates today. While reporting on the suicides of three prisoners being held in the Guantánamo detention facility in 2006, Journalist Scott Horton wrote in the Harpers blog of the poem’s continuing relevance.
Auden’s poem is a work of beauty and power. It has prophetic vision, but that vision is a nightmare. It is born from the horrors of World War II. The barbed wire of concentration camps and death camps brings the Homeric epoch up to date. Auden is not portraying the tragedies of the last war as such. He is warning of a world to come in which totalitarian societies dominate and the worth and dignity of the individual human being are lost. He warns those who stand by, decent though they may seemingly be, and say nothing–perhaps because political calculus or the chimera of national glory have blinded them to the greater moral imperatives against homicide, torture and the dissemination of lies in the cause of war.
John O’Hara (1905-1970) was an enormously successful popular novelist and short story writer. His well-documented longing to be more than that, to be taken as seriously as his contemporaries Hemingway and Fitzgerald, is much in evidence here. Lately there has been a resurgence of interest in O’Hara’s unblinking, dogged take on the mores of his class and time. Lorin Stein, writing in The New Yorker, points out:
No one could call O’Hara unobserving. On the topics of class, sex, and alcohol—that is, the topics that mattered to him—his novels amount to a secret history of American life. So do his stories. O’Hara may not have been the best story writer of the twentieth century, but he is the most addictive. You can binge on his collections the way some people binge on Mad Men, and for some of the same reasons. O’Hara is always recording surface stuff: the make of the car, the shirt label, the record on the phonograph, all the little signifiers that grown-ups are not supposed to care about, and do. Paradoxically, this gives the effect of depth.
O’Hara did not win another National Book Award, as he pleads for here, but was given the 1964 Award of Merit by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He cried during that acceptance speech too.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.
WNYC archives id: 150222 Municipal archives id: LT7121
Mr. Ungar orchestrated the symposium, which will feature a variety of distinguished panelists, including Floyd Abrams, Martin Baron, David Cole, David Sanger, Bob Woodward, and others.
The symposium will commence Thursday evening at 7:30 p.m. with a public dialogue between Mr. Ungar and Daniel Ellsberg on the importance of the Pentagon Papers when originally published in 1971 and today. We hope to see you at the symposium. You can view more information about the legacy of the Pentagon Papers here.
There were several reasons why trash was giving New Yorkers anxiety in 1969. The city was still reeling from a historic sanitation strike that at one point had left over 100,000 tons of trash on the street. That crisis, coupled with a boom in disposable consumer products and a sudden lack of nearby landfill space, had many wondering how New York would deal with its exponentially growing garbage problem. In this broadcast from 1969, writer Paul Wilkes discusses his New York Magazine article titled “The Trash Explosion“, which outlines some of the more ominous predictions and specious solutions of the time.
Unlike today, Wilkes doesn’t talk much about massive recycling efforts, city-wide composting programs, or plastic grocery bag levees. Rather, the proposed solutions veer more toward the creative, like filling in the Sahara Desert with municipal waste or equipping homeowners with personal laser beams that could ‘poof away’ kitchen trash. Unless something is done soon, Wilkes argues, the city will run out of room for garbage by 1973.
Even though Wilkes’ most dire prediction may not have come true, this audio reminds us that many disposable products we use today were still something of a novelty in 1969: disposable bed sheets, diapers, and plastics packaging was all relatively new. But that novelty soon became the norm as consumers began demanding greater convenience over cost or environmental considerations. Wilkes estimates that within 10 years, this new kind of consumerism will double the amount of garbage New Yorkers produce from 6 to 12 pounds a day.
So where exactly does all of New York City’s garbage go today? Well, according to the New York Times, the city has the most complex waste management system in North America. And although there is a fascinating history of garbage removal in New York, the short story is that today the city spends $300 million dollars a year to truck 85% of its waste to landfills in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Upstate New York, and even China and India.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.
WNYC archives id: 151640 Municipal archives id: T4784
From now until the end of May, visitors to the Morgan Library & Musuem in New York City will be able to stand in one room and see Emily Dickinson manuscripts and other pieces drawn from seven different collections. The exhibition is the culmination of a two-year collaboration between the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections and the curators of the Morgan Library.
I want to use this blog post to thank several of the people who made this happen, starting with my collaborator on the Morgan side, Carolyn Vega, Assistant Curator of Literary and Historical Manuscripts. I often say that I got to do the fun parts of the exhibition while Carolyn took charge of less-fun things, like arranging loans from several different repositories.
That very work is what makes this exhibition so special — many of the items brought together have never been exhibited together before, and will likely not come together again for quite a while. Chief among these items is the famous portrait of the Dickinson children, which has not left the Houghton Library at Harvard University since they acquired it in the 1940s.
Here is the portrait as it is now displayed in the gallery at the Morgan, against a backdrop of the reconstruction of the wallpaper from Dickinson’s bedroom. That wallpaper was only discovered as part of the reconstruction of Dickinson’s bedroom undertaken by the Emily Dickinson Museum in 2013. We are all very grateful to Houghton Library for lending this work, and to Jane Wald and the crew of the Emily Dickinson Museum for their support of this exhibition.
Other recently discovered Dickinson items include the portrait of two women, one of whom MAY be Emily Dickinson:
While this daguerreotype remains the private property of an anonymous collector, “Sam Carlo” was kind enough to place it on deposit at Amherst College and to allow us to include it in this exhibition. For the first time ever, visitors can see the portrait of Dickinson as a child (Houghton Library), the silhouette cut when she was 14, the lock of her hair, the authentic 1846 daguerreotype, and compare all of those likenesses to this recently discovered image.
Other lenders to the show are: the Emily Dickinson Museum, Mount Holyoke College, New York Public Library, and Boston Public Library. The Morgan’s own holdings of Dickinson manuscripts round out the total of seven institutions who contributed to making this show a success. Many thanks to all of them.
Another massive thank you goes out to Mark Edington, Director of the Amherst College Press, who valiantly managed the production of the exhibition catalogue: The Networked Recluse: The Connected World of Emily Dickinson. As with all of the products of the Amherst College Press, anyone with an internet connection can download the complete work as a PDF file. Copies of the printed book are currently available through the Morgan Library gift shop. Many thanks to Mark and to our contributors: Marta Werner, Susan Howe, and Richard Wilbur.
Last, and definitely not least, I must thank the staff of the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections for their knowledge and support and patience. We have a lot to be proud of, and none of it could have happened without them.
I will end with a link to the first review of the exhibition which appeared in the New York Times on Friday, January 20 — the date the exhibition opened to the public. Pulitzer Prize winning critic Holland Cotter said many nice things about our work, for which we are all extremely grateful:
“How odd is it that communism doesn’t frighten me,” African-American journalist Louis Lomax muses in this 1964 Book and Author Luncheon. Instead, he tells the audience, “You do!” Ostensibly here to publicize his new book on Black Muslims, When the Word is Given, Lomax seizes the opportunity to address a white, middle class, largely female audience and give a concise picture of what is going through the mind of a contemporary black man. Rather than communist infiltration of the American way of life, as was warned of by the previous speaker, spy novelist Helen MacInnes, Lomax’s fear is “that your husband will call my son a nigger and not give him a job.” He fears he will finally be able to buy a house in a good neighborhood only to see “you,” his white neighbors, panic and flee, sending the surrounding community into decline. He recalls his childhood in Georgia, where segregation was “a fact of life,” and then an amusing boyhood encounter playing marbles with a younger “stupid child” who turned out to be Martin Luther King! But the point of his reminiscences is to emphasize that “the world that was once is no more” and that ladies of privilege such as those seated before him now are faced with a choice, “to wish it were not so…or to take a personal Freedom Ride.” After he sits, there is unusually sustained applause and what sounds like a standing ovation. Lomax’s challenge, particularly his pointed inclusion of women as a group suffering from discrimination, sounds remarkably prescient for 1964….or today.
Louis Lomax (1922-1970) was a journalist and author best remembered today for an early interview with Malcolm X and for first coming to his colleague Mike Wallace with the idea of filming a TV special about the Nation of Islam which became The Hate That Hate Produced. Lomax occupied a middle ground in the Civil Rights landscape of the time, both explaining and provoking. The website Black Past notes how:
By 1964, Lomax became one of the first black television journalists to host a 90-minute twice-a-week interview format television show. The Louis E. Lomax Show ran on KTTV in Los Angeles from 1964 to 1968. He interviewed guests on his television program about controversial topics like the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam, the women’s movement, and the war in Vietnam. He analyzed the black power movement from a vantage point rarely shared by commentators at the time. He also questioned the moderate approach taken by the leadership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and he defended the rebellious young African Americans who had embraced black power. Despite that stance, he also encouraged whites and blacks to come together, maintaining that race problems were aggravated because people know little about each other. Given his unusual positions, Lomax encountered criticism from all sides.
Lomax’s The Negro Revolt (1962) performed a similar service. Kirkus Reviews makes it sound like a primer for white Americans interested in the race problem:
Beginning with the seamstress who refused to move back to make room for white people in a bus in Montgomery, in 1955, he traces the growth of Negro protest. He also gives us a succinct picture of the history of slavery in this country, and how the freedoms gained by the Negro after the Civil War were quickly, often brutally curtailed. There are things in this book—things like stories of police brutality, liberal hypocrisy, and the chronic failure of Americans to face the cruelty of Negro discrimination—which can only make the reader angry and, if he is white, ashamed. But there are close-ups too of men like Martin Luther King, of organizations like the NAACP or CORE, of activities like sit-ins and freedom rides, which also give one some idea of what people are trying to do to fight segregation. A chilling alternative too is seen in the Black Muslim movement, in Malcolm X and other extremists, who would deny the white man and withdraw to a world of their own. Lomax’ interview with X is, in fact, one of the best things in a sane and useful book. An appendix gives interesting statistics on the Negro’s economic and social position in the United States today—statistics which give the lie to what many false optimists tell us is the Negro’s “better” lot in life.
Lomax was working on a three volume History of Black Americans when he died in an automobile crash at the age of forty-seven. Rumors persist that because of his investigation into the death of Malcolm X he was a target of assassination. There is indeed an extensive file on Lomax kept by the FBI but no evidence has been uncovered to bolster these claims. Lomax did write, in the book he was promoting at this appearance (as quoted by the website Questia.com):
I know white people are frightened by Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad; maybe now they will understand how I have felt all my life, for there has never been a day when I was unafraid; we Negroes live our lives on the edge of fear, not knowing when or how the serpent of discrimination will strike and deprive us of something dear–a job here, a house there, an evening out over there, or a life itself.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.
WNYC archives id: 150523 Municipal archives id: RT159
The Fevered Land is an unusually frank series of sketches about racism and discrimination circa 1946 produced by WHA in Madison, Wisconsin. The vignettes highlight common stereotypes about and attitudes toward African-Americans, Jews and immigrants, to illustrate the “contagious disease of discrimination.”
The WHA Players was the name of the troupe at WHA (primarily University of Wisconsin students) who presented plays over the air and worked as actors in any WHA program needing them, like the Wisconsin School of the Air or Wisconsin College of the Air series. They had a regular timeslot in 1941-42 for a series called “The Playbill of the American Theatre,” which was broadcast live from the theatre at Wisconsin Memorial Union. They were also used as the talent for a 1955 series called “Mind of the Writer,” presenting plays like ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ and ‘Ah, Wilderness.’ Bill Siemering was a member of the WHA players during his student years in the 1950s. After a stint at manager of WBFO-Buffalo in the 1960s, he went on to become the first program director for National Public Radio, wrote its mission statement, and developed “All Things Considered.”
The Fevered Land was produced by Karl Schmidt, a longtime employee of WHA Radio, the flagship of the network now known as Wisconsin Public Radio.
Karl Schmidt reading over WHA in the 1940s
(Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives ID # S11084).)
Schmidt came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1941 as a freshman. He soon discovered WHA and what would come to be his life’s work. After his military service in World War II with the Armed Forces Radio Network, he returned to Madison and to WHA where he became the primary reader for “Chapter a Day,” a program that serialized literature for radio. It had debuted as a summer program in 1932 and had become a year-round offering in 1939. It remains on the air today; it’s one of the longest-running broadcast programs in the world.
Schmidt was also heard on a variety of other programs. He was color commentator for University of Wisconsin football broadcasts and he also lent his talents to the Wisconsin School of the Air, a series of programs broadcast for use in school classrooms around the state.
Schmidt eventually became the state network’s Director of Radio, then stepped down from that role in 1971 to found Earplay, a national program that had a mission to produce radio dramas for public stations in the United States and Europe. For the next decade, Earplay distributed audio works by playwrights like Edward Albee, David Mamet and Archibald MacLeish, and included the work of actors like Meryl Streep, Tony Roberts, Bruno Kirby, Jean Marsh, Howard da Silva and others.
Schmidt played a key role in the development of National Public Radio as a member of its founding board. He won two Peabody awards and two Major Armstrong Awards as well as the Prix Italia. Many consider his masterwork to be his radio adaptation of the classic post-apocalyptic novel “A Canticle for Leibowitz.” The fifteen-part series aired over Wisconsin Public Radio several times, and won both a 1983 Gabriel Award and a 1984 Ohio State Award.
After his official retirement, Schmidt continued to read books on the air for “Chapter a Day,” up to shortly before his death in April of 2016 at age 93.
The organist heard on this segment is most likely Don Voegeli, WHA’s longtime music director.
Don Voegeli WHA Organist & Pianist
(Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives ID #S13356)
He was heard on a variety of programs and was the accompanist for the Wisconsin School of the Air’s regular music program. He teamed up with Schmidt to found the National Center for Audio Experimentation. The outgrowth of the Center’s experiments with electronic music was a series of albums distributed to non-commercial radio and TV stations. They contained musical themes for use in local broadcasts. Many stations still have these LP records in their libraries and used their themes at some point. Most public radio listeners have heard Voegeli’s work: he wrote the theme for NPR’s “All Things Considered,” a variation of which remains in use today. He died in November 2009 at age 89.
WHA is that flagship of the Wisconsin Public Radio network. It debuted as University of Wisconsin experimental station 9XM. It began a regular “broadcast” on December 4, 1916 (the state weather forecast by Morse code) and began a regular schedule of voice broadcasts in January 1921. It’s the oldest non-commercial radio station in the U.S. It teamed up with Wisconsin-owned WLBL in central Wisconsin in 1932 to share programs and built a network of FM repeaters around the state during the years 1947-1952. Counting translators and affiliates, WPR now is heard on 34 stations with three simultaneous programs streams.
WHA’s Radio Hall Mural
(Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives ID#S06926)
WHA has a long history of taking on serious topics in its programs. Here’s a sampling:
“Exploring Americana:” a Wisconsin College of the Air program from 1941-42. Host James Flint took a portable recorder to industrial Ohio to talk to immigrants, their children and grandchildren and how they made the adjustment to American society. Flint, the Congregational Student Pastor at the University of Wisconsin had used his recorder in earlier years to interview young adults on issues of the day in series like “American Youth Speaks” and “World Youth Speaks.”
“The Strong Black Hand:” an episode of the 1942 Sunday series Civilians in Service which called for equality for African Americans in the war effort. (Ohio State Award winner)
“Adventures in Our Town:” a series presented as part of the Wisconsin School of the Air offerings in 1946-47. It explored problems in human relationships with regard to differences in appearance, ability, race, religion or culture.
“How to Live A Hundred Years…Happily:” a 1949 special on psychosomatic illness presented by Dr. John Schindler, from nearby Monroe, Wisconsin. The program generated so much response it was offered to others stations nationwide and a print version was excerpted in various magazines including Reader’s Digest. Schindler later wrote a book on the topic, which was printed in numerous languages.
“The Inner Core:” a week of programs done in conjunction with WHA-TV in 1968 focusing on the issues facing inner city Milwaukee (the TV offering garnered WHA-TV the first Emmy ever awarded to an educational station).
“Youth on a 4-Day Trip:” a 1968 series of five programs on drug and alcohol abuse among teens and other issues affecting young people (WHA-TV also did eight similar programs).
“The Darker Brother:” a Wisconsin School of the Air series from 1969-70 for fifth and sixth graders that focused on race relations in the U.S.
“We Are The Other People:” another Wisconsin School of the Air presentation from 1970-71: this one on prejudice as experienced by various ethnic groups in the U.S.
Special thanks to Mike Crane, the Director of Wisconsin Public Radio for permission to stream, The Fevered Land and to Digital and Media Archivist Catherine H. Phan at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.
We are delighted to present the full programme for Pass it on! Celebrating Scotland’s sporting heritage. The event will bring together experts in the curation, care, use and promotion of sporting heritage to discuss their work and provide details of current projects. The event if free and open to anyone with an interest in sporting heritage. If you would like to attend please contact Ian Mackintosh, Exhibitions Assistant, Hosts & Champions, at email@example.com / tel. 01786 467240
Pass it on! Celebrating Scotland’s sporting heritage
Today marks 20 years since the official celebration of WNYC’s independence from the City of New York. The first payment of $3.3 million was made against an agreed upon $20 million for the WNYC Foundation’s acquisition of the AM and FM broadcast licenses held by the city since 1924 and 1943, respectively.
I’ve yet to tally the number of times WNYC’s very existence was threatened in those 73 years, but it was a lot, and frankly, it’s a miracle the station survived. Not long after it first went on air on July 8, 1924, its signal was challenged because Mayor Hylan had used the airwaves to attack owners of private subway lines. In 1930, there was a serious question about the separation of church and state because of the station’s broadcast of Holy Name Society breakfasts by the police and fire departments. Fiorello H. La Guardia, that great champion of WNYC, ran for Mayor in 1933 on a platform calling for the elimination of the station to save taxpayer dollars. It took some time and effort, but he was eventually convinced of its value and then made great use of it himself. In 1938 members of the City Council accused WNYC of airing Soviet propaganda that suggested life under Joe Stalin was hunky-dory. There was an investigation and vehement calls for WNYC to be silenced.
WNYC’s Laura Walker makes the first payment to the City of New York for WNYC’s licenses, January 27, 1997.
In the years that followed, regular demands for the demise of WNYC in the name of relieving the taxpayer’s burden continued to be heard. By the early 1970s the station’s outlook became truly bleak. The Lindsay administration made such dramatic cutbacks that long-time Director Seymour N. Siegel felt he could no longer remain at his post. From Lindsay to Mayor Beame was like going from the frying pan to the fire as far as the station’s financial situation was concerned. The city fiscal crisis meant Greek-style austerity, and Mayor Beame named a task force to make recommendations on the future of WNYC. The situation improved under Ed Koch, but he then later provoked questions about city ownership and the station’s editorial independence by pressing for the broadcast of the so-called John Hour.
Fortunately, the creation of the WNYC Foundation in August 1979 was the seed for independence, as supporters of the station now had a vehicle for channeling non-city funds to the stations. In the years that followed, more and more of the financial burden was shifted to the foundation, so that by 1995, when the Giuliani Administration called for the city “to get out of the broadcasting business,” the foundation was ready to assume control and responsibility for the valuable broadcast licenses. Negotiations between the city and the foundation were intense. But 20 years of independence, awards, growth, and great programming have made it all worthwhile.
On January 1st, the copyright expired for some of our holdings: they are now in the public domain in Canada. These digital materials may now be legally re-used for any purpose. Here’s a quick look at some of the images, maps, moving images and audio that have become easier to re-use.
Black Sunday in Gastown is a recording of a June 13, 1966 CBC radio program which describes the events of the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886. It features interviews with five Vancouver seniors who remember the fire. Major J.S. Matthews, first City Archivist of Vancouver, is heard paying tribute to all the survivors of the fire. Note the audio starts about 18 seconds in to the recording. Here’s our full description.
This is a map of British Columbia that was specially created for Canada’s Centennial and also commemorated British Columbia’s 1966 centennial. It would be interesting to compare this to commemorative materials produced for Canada’s sesquicentennial this year. Here’s the hi-res version with the full description.
British Columbia : an historical illustrated map commemorating two centenaries, 1867-1967, 1866-1966. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 539
Here’s a detail from an image of the 1966 UBC Graduation Dance, held at the Pacific Showmart Building at the PNE. The hi-res version is here.
This 1966 interview from CHAN-CHEK TV came to us when we acquired the Playhouse Theatre records. It was thought to be related to the Playhouse Theatre, but when the old 2” videotape was digitized, it was found to be a local television interview by Bob Dawson, director of the Mount Seymour Ski School. It may have been used as a prop. The video cuts out in a few places, but that’s the best transfer that could be made from the old tape. Here’s the full description in our database.
This is just a small selection of the items which have recently come into the public domain.
Have you ever wondered what the computer dating scene was like in the 1960’s? I know I have! Listen to host E.S. Savas of WNYC’s “Computers in Modern City Government” talk with Assistant Attorney General Sandy Mindel about the pros and cons of mainframe-powered matchmaking.
How exactly did computer dating work in 1969? Well, typically, dating agencies would deploy “attractive young girls” to roam city streets and hand out paper questionnaires. Those questionnaires would require information like your name and address but also your sexual attitude (are you conservative? very liberal?) and drug use (do you prefer grass? goof balls? STP?). Your responses, along with other eligible singles’ answers, were fed into a computer punch card system, which in turn analyzed and delivered a list of potentially perfect mates.
Being a new technology, computer dating systems had little oversight and Mindel discusses some of the most common complaints coming into the Attorney General’s office. Some are fairly mundane (bad matches through computer glitches), but others seem more egregious, like fraud and the sale of personal information to the highest bidder.
By 1969, the skepticism and curiosity about computer dating had reached its peak in popular culture. On an episode of Gomer Pyle: USMC, the title character is tricked into a computer date, and on Bewitched, Samantha uses a computer service to find an earthly match. Of course, television sitcom matchmaking always ends in comic disaster, and the whole idea was ripe for satire. In this fairly offensive clip from 1969, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra find out they are made for each other with the help of “Liberace’s computer.”
So, if you think your crippling dating-app-induced social anxiety is your generation’s burden alone, take some comfort in the fact that your forbearers had it just as bad.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.
WNYC archives id: 151647 Municipal archives id: T4817
This blog post sources a timeline researched and compiled by Mary Kate Downing.
Happy birthday, Florida State! Can you believe that it’s only been 166 years since the Florida Legislature (then the General Assembly of the State of Florida) passed an act that led to our inception as an institution? We can’t either! …especially since only until fairly recently, it was widely accepted that FSU’s founding day was in 1857, and not 1851 as we now know. Why all the confusion? This isn’t a situation of FSU lying to get senior discount on movie tickets. Yes, FSU’s predecessor institution, the State Seminary West of the Suwannee River, didn’t open its doors until 1857, but there was a lot more going on for 6 years before its grand opening.
On January 24, 1851, the General Assembly of the State of Florida passed an act establishing two seminaries of learning, one to the east and one to the west of the Suwannee River. It wasn’t until 1854 when the Tallahassee City Council offered to pay $10,000 to finance a new school building on land owned by the city in an attempt to “bid on” being the location of the seminary west of the Suwannee, which the legislature had yet to decide. The $10,000 consisted of the value of the property, the yet-to-be-constructed building, and the remaining balance in cash. Approximately $6,000 was originally committed, with the Council promising to give the city the remaining balance if Tallahassee was determined as the location of the seminary west of the Suwannee. Later in 1854, construction on a school building began and Tallahassee’s city superintendent approached the state legislature to present the case for the seminary to be in Tallahassee. However, state officials failed to make a decision regarding the location of the seminary before the end of the legislative session.
By 1855, the newly constructed College Hall (in the area that is now Westcott Building) opens. Because of the state legislature’s lack of a decision on whether it would be one of the legislature-designated seminaries, it was not given an official name. Instead, it was alternately called “The City Seminary” and “Tallahassee Male Seminary.”
In 1856, the ball got rolling as the City Council of Tallahassee (hereafter referred to as the Board of Trustees of the Florida Institute) met and designated “The City Seminary” as the “Florida Institute.” It also indicated that “government of the institution or seminary shall be under the direction of a president” and decided that “a preparatory school will be established in connection with the academic or collegiate department of the institute.” It is established that one of the president’s duties will be to publish a “Catalogue Course of Studies” for the institution. Later in 1856, William (W.Y.) Peyton, previously principal of The City Seminary, is unanimously elected by the Board of Trustees of the Florida Institute as first president of the Institute.
By late 1856, the General Assembly passed legislation declaring that “the Seminary to be located West of the Suwannee River be, and the same is hereby located at the City of Tallahassee in the County of Leon.” There were several conditions that must be granted for this to occur – “the proper and authorized conveyance of said Lot and College edifice thereon be made to the City of Tallahassee to the Board of Education,” that Tallahassee “guarantee to said Board of Education the payment of the sum of two thousand dollars per annum forever, to be expended in the education of the youth of said City, in such manner and on such terms as shall be agreed between the corporate authorities of said City and the Board of Education,” and that Tallahassee “shall pay to the Board of Education as much money in cash as shall be found necessary after a valuation of the Lot and College edifice aforesaid, to complete the sum of ten thousand dollars.”
With all of the requirements fulfilled, the State Seminary West of the Suwannee River was allowed to open its doors and so began FSU’s long history.
From a photocopy of the original broadcast transcript of WNYC’s Art in New York airing on October 13, 1943. The program aired from 5:45 to 6:00 PM ‘Eastern War Time.’
WNYC – New York’s Own Station, Art in New York Program. H. Stix, Dir.
THE PORTRAIT AND THE MODERN ARTIST
We would like to begin by reading part of a letter that has just come to us:
“The portrait has always been linked in my mind with a picture of a person. I was therefore surprised to see your paintings of mythological characters, with their abstract rendition, in a portrait show, and would therefore be very much interested in your answers to the following—”
Now, the questions that this correspondent asks are so typical and at the same time so crucial that we feel that in answering them we shall not only help a good many people who may be puzzled by our specific work but we shall best make clear our attitude as modern artists concerning the problem of the portrait, which happens to be the subject of today’s talk. We shall therefore, read the four questions and attempt to answer them as adequately as we can in the short time we have. Here they are:
1 Why do you consider these pictures to be portraits? 2 Why do you as modern artists use mythological characters? 3 Are not these pictures really abstract paintings with literary titles? 4 Are you not denying modern art when you put so much emphasis on subject matter?
Now, Mr. Rothko, would you like to tackle the first question? Why do you consider these pictures to be portraits?
The word portrait cannot possibly have the same meaning for us that it had for past generations. The modern artist has, in varying degrees, detached himself from appearance in nature, and therefore, a great many of the old words, which have been retained as nomenclature in art have lost their old meaning. The still life of Braque and the landscapes of Lurcat have no more relationship to the conventional still life and landscape than the double images of Picasso have to the traditional portrait. New Times! New Ideas! New Methods!
Even before the days of the camera there was a definite distinction between portraits which served as historical or family memorials and portraits that were works of art. Rembrandt knew the difference; for, once he insisted upon painting works of art, he lost all his patrons. Sargent, on the other hand, never succeeded in creating either a work of art or in losing a patron—for obvious reasons.
There is, however, a profound reason for the persistence of the word ‘portrait’ because the real essence of the great portraiture of all time is the artist’s eternal interest in the human figure, character and emotions—in short in the human drama. That Rembrandt expressed it by posing a sitter is irrelevant. We do not know the sitter but we are intensely aware of the drama. The Archaic Greeks, on the other hand used as their models the inner visions which they had of their gods. And in our day, our visions are the fulfillment of our own needs.
It must be noted that the great painters of the figure had this in common. Their portraits resemble each other far more than they recall the peculiarities of a particular model. In a sense they have painted one character in all their work. This is equally true of rembrandt, the Greeks or Modigliani, to pick someone closer to our own time. The Romans, on the other hand, whose portraits are facsimiles of appearance never approached art at all. What is indicated here is that the artist’s real model is an ideal which embraces all of human drama rather than the appearance of a particular individual.
Today the artist is no longer constrained by the limitation that all of man’s experience is expressed by his outward appearance. Freed from the need of describing a particular person, the possibilities are endless. The whole of man’s experience becomes his model, and in that sense it can be said that all of art is a portrait of an idea.
That last point cannot be overemphasized. Now, I’ll take the second question and relieve you for a moment. The question reads “Why do you as modern artists use mythological characters?”
I think that anyone who looked carefully at my portrait of Oedipus, or at Mr. Rothko’s Leda will see that this is not mythology out of Bulfinch. The implications here have direct application to life, and if the presentation seems strange, one could without exaggeration make a similar comment on the life of our time.
What seems odd to me, is that our subject matter should be questioned, since there is so much precedent for it. Everyone knows that Grecian myths were frequently used by such diverse painters as Rubens, Titian, Veronese and Velasquez, as well as by Renoir and Picasso more recently.
It may be said that these fabulous tales and fantastic legends are unintelligible and meaningless today, except to an anthropologist or student of myths. By the same token the use of any subject matter which is not perfectly explicit either in past or contemporary art might be considered obscure. Obviously this is not the case since the artistically literate person has no difficulty in grasping the meaning of Chinese, Egyptian, African, Eskimo, Early Christian, Archaic Greek or even pre-historic art, even though he has but a slight acquaintance with the religious or superstitious beliefs of any of these peoples.
The reason for this is simply, that all genuine art forms utilize images that can be readily apprehended by anyone acquainted with the global language of art. That is why we use images that are directly communicable to all who accept art as the language of the spirit, but which appear as private symbols to those who wish to be provided with information or commentary.
And now Mr. Rothko you may take the next question. Are not these pictures really abstract paintings with literary titles?
Neither Mr. Gottlieb’s painting nor mine should be considered abstract paintings. It is not their intention either to create or to emphasize a formal color—space arrangement. They depart from natural representation only to intensify the expression of the subject implied in the title—not to dilute or efface it.
If our titles recall the known myths of antiquity, we have used them again because they are the eternal symbols upon which we must fall back to express basic psychological ideas. They are the symbols of man’s primitive fears and motivations, no matter in which land or what time, changing only in detail but never in substance, be they Greek, Aztec, Icelandic, or Egyptian. And modern psychology finds them persisting still in our dreams, our vernacular, and our art, for all the changes in the outward conditions of life.
Our presentation of these myths, however, must be in our own terms, which are at once more primitive and more modern than the myths themselves—more primitive because we seek the primeval and atavistic roots of the idea rather than their graceful classical version; more modern than the myths themselves because we must redescribe their implications through our own experience. Those who think that the world of today is more gentle and graceful than the primeval and predatory passions from which these myths spring, are either not aware of reality or do not wish to see it in art. The myth holds us, therefore, not through its romantic flavor, not through the remembrance of the beauty of some bygone age, not through the possibilities of fantasy, but because it expresses to us something real and existing in ourselves, as it was to those who first stumbled upon the symbols to give them life.
And now Mr. Gottlieb, will you take the final question? Are you not denying modern art when you put so much emphasis on subject matter?
It is true that modern art has severely limited subject matter in order to exploit the technical aspects of painting. This has been done with great brilliance by a number of painters, but it is generally felt today that this emphasis on the mechanics of picture making has been carried far enough. The Surrealists have asserted their belief in subject matter but to us it is not enough to illustrate dreams.
While modern art got its first impetus thru discovering the forms of primitive art, we feel that its true significance lies not merely in formal arrangements, but in the spiritual meaning underlying all archaic works.
That these demonic and brutal images fascinate us today, is not because they are exotic, nor do they make us nostalgic for a past which seems enchanting because of its remoteness. On the contrary, it is the immediacy of their images that draws us irresistibly to the fancies, the superstitions, the fables of savages and the strange beliefs that were so vividly articulated by primitive man,
If we profess a kinship to the art of primitive men, it is because the feelings they expressed have a particular pertinence today. In times of violence, personal predilections for niceties of color and form seem irrelevant. All primitive expression reveals the constant awareness of powerful forces, the immediate presence of terror and fear, a recognition and acceptance of the brutality of the natural world as well as the eternal insecurity of life.
That these feelings are being experienced by many people throughout the world today is an unfortunate fact, and to us an art that glosses over or evades these feelings, is superficial or meaningless. That is why we insist on subject matter, a subject matter that embraces these feelings and permits them to be expressed.
This edition of Art in New York was hosted by Hugh Stix. Hugh Sylvan Stix owned and managed the non-profit Artists’ Gallery on East 57th Street in Manhattan. After its opening in 1936 the gallery became showcase for emerging artists. Among those were Willem de Kooning, Louis Eilshemus and Louise Nevelson.
Stix’s gallery moved to 113 West 13th Street in 1940. He saw it as a stepping stone for struggling artists to help them to become accepted by more established galleries. The progressive tabloid PM described Stix as having studied art at Harvard but making his living “in the sales department of a grocery concern.” [*] He and his wife Marguerite later became absorbed with sea shells and wrote, The Shell: Five Hundred Million Years of Inspired Design. Stix died in 1992 at the age of 85. In a 1976 interview Stix said that Gottlieb and Rothko had originally proposed the WNYC show episode to him.
The New York Public Radio Archives gets several requests each year for this broadcast. Sadly, to-date no audio copy of this program has been found anywhere. We suspect, however, that lacquer transcription discs of the broadcast were cut allowing for someone to produce the above transcript. Since this broadcast was made at the height of World War II, these discs were most likely to have been glass-based rather than the conventional aluminum-based lacquers, as vital metals like aluminum were being reserved for the war effort. Subsequently, many World War II era transcription discs have not survived the ravages of time. On the other hand, if you do happen to find this broadcast recording, please let us know!
[*] “PM’s Weekly News of Art,” July 28, 1940. pg. 45.
“What manner of man is U Thant?” Alistair Cooke, the noted BBC journalist, asks in this unusually candid and thoughtful 1962 interview with the United Nations Secretary General. Instead of peppering him with the usual political questions of the day and receiving the usual diplomatic non-responses, Cooke starts by asking about U Thant’s childhood. Nonplussed at first, he then good-naturedly enters into the spirit of the talk, reminiscing about his youth in a rice-producing region of Burma, his early careers in teaching and journalism, before an eventual entry into politics encouraged by his friend the future Prime Minister U Nu.
When Cooke does finally broach some of the pressing questions of the day, U Thant’s answers are low key and sensible. In response to the accusation that with all the new (and poor) nations gaining entry to the UN, a majority resolution can be passed in the General Assembly with only seven percent of the paid dues represented, he points out “Your Mr. Rockefeller only gets one vote, the same as the elevator man who may pay only five dollars in tax.” When people complain about the UN overspending he reminds Cooke that peace-keeping missions (which are supported by a separate assessment, often not paid) account for the current deficit. Otherwise the organization works within its budget.
The conversation becomes more interesting when U Thant contrasts the West’s “stress on development of the intellect” with the East’s “stress on the moral and spiritual development of man.” He argues that there should be “a healthy compromise” of these two outlooks on life, leading to a “better psychological climate.” Bertrand Russell and Freud are discussed. It’s (sadly) not the kind of talk one would expect from today’s type of world leader. Yet the problems of 1962 seem no different. “I think mental qualities like bitterness, intolerance, and hysteria have been rampant all over the world,” the Secretary General observes.
U Thant (1909-1974) was the first non-Western diplomat to hold the post of UN Secretary General. He ascended to the position after the untimely death of his predecessor Dag Hammarskjöld and served from 1962 until 1971. At first U Thant had to overcome suspicion from both camps (the West and the Soviet Bloc) that he favored one side over the other. But in his first term he proved to be adept at playing the peacemaker. As the website History in Pieces reports:
Respected for his tough neutralism, and marveled for a poker face that the wife of a leading diplomat likened to an “inscrutable Buddha,” and known for a fondness for smoking cheroot and imbibing daiquiris, Thant had played a crucial role in the settlement of the Cuban Missile Crisis and had long been involved in the increasingly deep involvement of the United Nations in the Congo.
During his second term, the problems he faced as well as the administrations he dealt with proved less tractable. Indeed, listening to the earnest, detached, moderate sentiments the devout Buddhist expresses in this interview, it is hard to imagine him dealing with the raging conflicts and egos that dominated the international scene in the second half of the decade. Biography On Line notes:
In his last period of tenure, the UN had to face a succession of conflicts, such as the Six Day War between Arab countries and Israel, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971. The late 1960s also saw an escalation of the Vietnam War. U Thant’s criticism of US involvement led to a deterioration in relations with the Johnson administration, making his period more difficult. U Thant attempted to create direct peace talks between Washington and Hanoi, but these were rejected by the US. He was criticized by the US and Israel during the Six Day war, despite making a last minute flight to Egypt to try and dissuade Nasser from going to war with Israel.
Preceded by the more dynamic Hammarskjöld, who (some argued) died a martyr’s death, and succeeded by Kurt Waldheim, who lied about his connection to wartime massacres and deportations, U Thant seems to be the “forgotten” Secretary General. He comes across in this talk as a genuinely decent and likeable character. One senses this in his New York Times obituary, which notes how:
…in time Mr. Thant proved himself less autocratic than Mr. Hammerskold, he emerged as a quiet, patient negotiator of considerable suavity and composure. …he showed unfailing courtesy to his subordinates and to newspapermen.
Alistair Cooke (1908-2004) was a familiar presence to both American and English audiences for many years. Harold Evans, writing for the Reuters Blog, recalls how:
…Alistair Cooke was the epitome of the civilized man. His English voice, redolent with informed nonchalance, enchanted millions who heard his Letter from America over BBC radio. His observations of American life were cool, witty, empathetic and insightful. He typed them up wherever he was in America, and for 58 years, until he was 95, unfailingly read his words into a microphone in such a beguiling manner it was as if you and he had just struck up a friendly conversation.
These are the very qualities that raise this encounter above the usual cliché-ridden interview.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.
WNYC archives id: 150269 Municipal archives id: T9453
Over the last few weeks of volunteering in the Institute of Archaeology’s Archive, I have been attempting to sort the 1908 dissertation of the scholar Paul Jacobsthal. Jacobsthal came to Oxford in the mid 1930s after the Nazi regime legislated to bar Jewish people from public offices, which included university professorships. He is well known for his comprehensive work Early Celtic Art, one of only four books published by Oxford University Press in 1944. His fascinating story has been disentangled from his archive, which was found in the Institute in 2009, by Sally Crawford and Katrina Ulmschneider and is featured in their forthcoming book Ark of Civilisation: Refugee Scholars and Oxford University, 1930-1945. Before Jacobsthal became a prestigious Celtic specialist he started his academic career as a Classical Archaeologist. His dissertation, completed at the University of Bonn under the supervision of Georg Loeschcke, is entitled ‘Archaeological Studies in the Pediments of Grave Monuments’.
The dissertation was discovered in the depths of the Institute as a disordered brown box of original drawings with annotations, pages of rough notes, large photo boards and the bound handwritten dissertation. My first job was to clean the material, which was unfortunately covered in a thick black dust reminiscent of Victorian London smog. I had never previously attempted to clean paper or photographic records. This was done by gently using an archival dry cleaner, rather like soft putty, to pick up the dust, avoiding removing any of Jacobsthal’s pencil annotations. As the dust was lifted, the quality of some of the photos became evident, with the inscriptions clear. These photos are important as it is not known if the grave monuments have been eroded over time, or are even still extant.
The battered box housing Jacobsthal’s dissertation in its cleaned state
It quickly became apparent that there was sense to the chaos in the box. Annotations reveal that the hand-drawn inscriptions and stelae were from Thebes and Tanagra, perhaps made by eye from the ancient sites themselves. Many of these drawings had codes that referred directly to the figure list within the dissertation, and the photographs on the large boards. The folder pages and boards show architectural elements, predominantly focusing on the pediments and inscriptions of these grave monuments. Many were ornately carved and Jacobsthal seems especially interested in those with floral and vegetation motifs, such as lotus flowers and vines. Only two of the images had the addition of colour, in red and blue, perhaps as an experiment for the drawings used in the dissertation figure list.
One of the photo boards showing Jacobsthal’s figures. These beautiful photographs show grave monuments in situ in Tanagra.
Details of Jacobsthal’s photographs
I was especially interested in the limited pieces of correspondence with Jacobsthal, as an insight into the scholarly community at that time, and the transmission of academic information across countries; Jacobsthal was communicating with a director of a French museum, for example.
Most striking of all in the box was a number of pages of mathematical proofs. These extremely complicated calculations were likely made by Jacobsthal’s brother, Ernst Jacobsthal. This is quite extraordinary. Ernst was a famous German mathematician credited with inventing the ‘Jacobsthal numbers’, a specific integer sequence, which like the Fibonnaci numbers was a type of Lucas sequence.
Although the foundation of Ernst’s work had been laid by his own dissertation in 1906, these pages might represent some of his earliest thinking, perhaps unpublished. I think this really exemplifies the joy of archives: you can never be sure what sort of material will emerge, and how significant it may be for understanding the developments of any number of academic disciplines and the lives of remarkable people.
Jacobsthal’s writing is difficult to decipher (and in German), so my engagement with the dissertation was limited to an organizational and visual capacity. I managed to work out thematic patterns from the material, but was sadly unable to read all of Jacobsthal’s annotations, which must surely provide an interesting insight into how the man thought and developed his own work. Some of the rough sketches are beautiful and indicate real artistic talent. It was also interesting to consider the process of writing a dissertation in the early 20th century, which must be vastly different to my experience using computer technology.
One of the annotated sketches found in the box of Jacobsthal’s dissertation
I urge anyone who has an interest in Greek epigraphy, or Jacobsthal himself, to come look at the dissertation!
Mst in Classical Archaeology
Brasenose College, Oxford
Several years ago, when we were just beginning work on the archives at the Institute of Archaeology, we were lucky enough to have the volunteer help of Marissa Kings. Marissa was invaluable, working tirelessly to put some of the more chaotic papers into some kind of order. Many researchers who have spent time in the archives have benefitted from her work.
Since moving on from Oxford, Marissa has trained as an archivist and recently got in touch to say she has taken up a post working on a project with the Biodiversity Heritage Library in California. Given that it is cold, dank, and trying to snow here in Oxford, this seems like an enviable move in so many ways. She writes:
I’ll be at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles for the next year researching digital library best practices and possibly how to introduce a crowdsourcing component to the museum’s library and archives.
We look forward to updates from Marissa about her work and will be keeping an eye on the BHL blog!
It is 1967, and Clark has just returned from a “secret meeting” of Martin Luther King, Whitney Young, and other black leaders that was held in Suffern, New York. Reporters are anxious to learn what was discussed in this attempt to “reinvigorate” the Civil Rights movement. Since it was an ostensibly secret meeting Clark is understandably tight-lipped. An attempt is made to probe the split between these elder statesmen of the movement and the younger “Black Power” representatives. Why weren’t Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown of SNCC in attendance? Because Carmichael is in jail, Clark notes, and H. Rap Brown is trying to get him out of jail. He claims the press exaggerates the differences between these two branches of the movement, admitting there is “a gap” but that these men can sit down together. He also points out the leaders of SNCC are very young and that the press reports their wildest statements, something it does not do, for example, when covering Mario Savio, leader of the Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement. He is then asked about another potential rift caused by King’s recently stated opposition to the Vietnam War. Clark finds it a “logical” extension of King’s stated policy of non-violence. A lighter note is struck when Clark is asked about the recent substitution of “African-American” for “Negro,” with Adam Clayton Powell discarding both and simply referring to himself as “a black man.” Clark, who had famous clashes with Powell, expresses surprise, as Powell “…doesn’t seem black to me.” He ascribes the change to impatience of “younger Negros” and doesn’t see it holding any real significance. When asked to use his academic training in human behavior to gauge if there is more hope or despair in the black community, he ruefully answers, “I wish I were that good a psychologist.”
Dr. Kenneth Clark (1914-2005) was a major civil rights figure focusing particularly on matters of education. Along with his wife, Mamie Phipps Clark, he conceived and executed the famous test using dolls to illustrate the inherent unfairness of segregated education. As the Encyclopedia of World Biography explains:
Clark and his wife…used four dolls, two that were black and two that were white—all identical, to measure how children felt about the color of their skin. They tested dozens of children in Washington, D.C., New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Worcester, Massachusetts, and rural Arkansas. The majority, both black and white, said the white dolls were nice and they all preferred to play with them. The majority also said the black dolls were bad; most of the black children identified with the black dolls. The couple took the results and published them in a book Prejudice and Your Child in 1953. Clark concluded that black children thought of themselves as inferior due to society devaluing them because of the color of their skin. Clark’s research came to the attention of Robert Carter, an attorney who was trying to dismantle segregated schools in South Carolina and was also a part of the NAACP legal team. Clark used the doll test on children in Clarendon County, South Carolina. His results were the same. Carter persuaded Thurgood Marshall, the leading attorney for the NAACP, to use Clark’s findings in the case. Many at the NAACP were skeptical, but Marshall agreed. When the ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education came down that the “separate but equal” doctrine of segregation was unconstitutional, Chief Justice Earl Warren cited Clark’s findings as having a pivotal role in the justices reaching their conclusion. He told the Washington Post, “The court saw the issue clearly.… A racist system inevitably destroys and damages human beings; it brutalizes and dehumanizes them, blacks and whites alike.”
Clark went on to become the first black professor to gain tenure at the City College of New York (1960), the first black man elected by the New York legislature to serve on the State Board of Regents, and the first black elected President of the American Psychological Association (1971). Yet despite a lifetime devoted to advocating for integration and equality, he was not comfortable with the amount of progress that had been made. Indeed, many years later, he gave the New York Times a much more sardonic answer to one of the questions posed in this interview:
Despite the many honors he won and the respect he commanded, Dr. Clark said he thought his life had been a serious of “magnificent failures.” In 1992, at the age of 78, he confessed: “I am pessimistic and I don’t like that. I don’t like the fact that I am more pessimistic now than I was two decades ago.”
Yet as a conscience of New York politics and of the civil rights movement, he remained an unreconstructed, if anguished, integrationist. A decade ago, during one of his last lengthy interviews, he chain-smoked Marlboros in his home, flanked by vivid African carvings and walls of books wrapped in sun-faded dust jackets, as he professed optimism but repeatedly expressed disappointment over dashed expectations about experiments in school decentralization, open admissions at City University and affirmative action.
“There’s no question that there have been changes,” he said then. “They are not as deep as they appear to be.”
Among the cosmetic changes was an rhetorical evolution from Negro to black to African-American. What, he was asked, was the best thing for blacks to call themselves?
“White,” he replied.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.
WNYC archives id: 5709 Municipal archives id: T2661
We are excited to announce our most recently processed collection, the Pride Student Union Records, 1964-2015. Now a major fixture in the Student Government Association, the collection documents Pride’s predecessor organizations and their steps towards becoming an official agency, introducing non-discrimination policies on campus, and empowering FSU’s LGBTQ+ population.
In 1969, gay and lesbians in Tallahassee organized the People’s Coalition for Gay Rights, which later became the Alliance for Gay Awareness, as a response to the Stonewall Riots. The group was primarily a political organization active in the gay rights movement of the 1970s. In 1973, staff of the University Mental Health Center (now the Student Counseling Center) formed Gay Peer Counseling to provide support and counseling for gays and lesbian students. It became the most active LGBTQ+ group on campus in the early 1970s. In 1978, the group evolved into the Gay Peer Volunteers (GPV), which provided students opportunities for services in the community outside of the counseling environment. To include all students directly served by this student organization, the Gay Peer Volunteers changed its name to the Gay/Lesbian Student Union (GLSU) in 1989, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual Student Union (LGBSU) in 1994, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Student Union (LGBTSU) in 1998, and finally Pride Student Union in 2005.
There are several other auxiliary groups at FSU that have served the LGBTQ+ population. In 1984, Gay/Lesbian Support Services formed to continue and expand upon the goals and services of the preceding organizations. In the 1990s, a specialist in student counseling continued the mission of GPV by founding Gay and Lesbian Allies (GALA), which was later absorbed by Tallahassee LGBTQ+ community center, Family Tree. Safe Zone-Tallahassee was founded in 1997 as a response to FSU administration to fund an LGBTQ+ committee or office space. In 2012, Safe Zone was revamped into Seminole Allies & Safe Zones, and provides workshops to students, faculty, and staff.
The collection contains administrative records, promotional materials, artwork and banners, newspapers, and journal and magazine clippings produced and collected by the organization since the late 1960s. Spanning from meeting minutes to posters for drag shows, protest banners and queer literature, the Pride Student Union Records provide a varied look at the voices of the LGBTQ+ community in Tallahassee.
In conjunction with our annual Exhibition & Program Series, PPL offers a Creative Fellowship for a Rhode Island artist who creates new work incorporating imagery from or inspired by the library’s Special Collections. Our 2017 Creative Fellow, Keri King, is a fantastic Providence-based artist who creates collage and illustration-based work. Keri has been researching in Special Collections and in our historical magazine collections for several months; below is the first of two guest blog posts showcasing Keri’s creative process!
In my work, I like to blend drawing and collage. I incorporate a lot of source imagery from magazines, newspaper clippings, vintage posters, and such, into each piece. I enjoy how each cut-out element has its own history and adds to an overall narrative with tonal/ textural results.
Research is an essential part of my work flow! For most projects, my process is as follows:
I draft what I like to call my “grocery list” (figuring out what source images I need) & site “shopping centers” (where I can find those images).
I research (I look, I tab, I get a little off track while exploring, I check things out from the library…)
I play with a xerox machine.
And I’m back to drawing, synthesizing the varied materials within a collage into one cohesive image.
My process is slightly different for the Creative Fellowship at the library, where I’m creating an 8 foot x 8 foot mural that will be displayed inside the Empire Street entrance to the library. I’ve proposed a collage illustration of a dinner party, with families from a handful of time periods in America coming around a table to eat.
One distinction from my usual research process is that I can’t just pull things off the shelves in Special Collections. Instead, I use the library’s “human Google”: I tell Angela, the Curatorial Assistant, what I’m looking for, and she pulls books and magazines from the stacks for me, which I then look at in the Reading Room. (I got a tour of Special Collections at the beginning of my fellowship, so I have some idea of the frankly magical wealth of resources that are available to me.)
The stuff that Angela finds is always much more than what I bargained for. She thinks of sources I wouldn’t ever have on my radar, and these unexpected shares lead to new, playful connections in my work. My process is energized by our collaborative research.
Since the summer, I’ve looked at all kinds of things, including:
-images of food and characters
-images of locations that could provide a backdrop
I’m leaning towards an alfresco backdrop, and I’ve been focusing on outdoor locations in Rhode Island.
One day I went picnic table shopping.
-advertising from old home magazines
I’m fascinated with food advertising from the 1940s into the 1950s, much of which is not very appetizing. I particularly love this savory tomato aspic gelatin. I’m exploring the possibility of a savory aspic hostess.
Because Special Collections materials are often fragile, I can’t Xerox them, so I’ve been working with high-resolution scans and photographs. Right now I’m in my collage and drawing phase.
Keri’s mural will be unveiled on March 1st at the opening event for our 2017 Exhibition and Program Series. Stop by any time between then and June 30th to see the final results of Keri’s work. She’ll also be giving an artist’s talk at the library on April 30th–mark your calendars!
Today’s tale, the unsubtly-titled “Don’t Blow Out the Gas,” comes from the June 1870 issue of The Nursery: A Monthly Magazine for Youngest Readers (Boston: John L. Shorey).
The first sentence lets the reader know right off the bat that this story is 100% likely to feature a bad child of history:
There was a little boy named Andrew, who thought that he knew better than older folks what ought to be done.
Know-it-all Andrew was visiting his uncle in the city, whereupon his uncle’s maid instructed Andrew to extinguish the gas flame “in a way that she explained” upon retiring, rather than blowing out the flame. You get one guess what Andrew did the moment that she left the room.
The room filled with terrible fumes, and Andrew’s uncle rushed in at the last possible moment to turn down the gas and scold his nephew. You’ll be relieved to learn that Andrew learned his lesson well, in the course of less than a page and a half:
Andrew was much mortified, and felt that he did not know as much as he thought he did. He is now willing to learn from others; and in this way he does not blunder as he once did. He will never blow out the gas again.
Postscript: can we make a collective New Year’s resolution to start using the phrase “much mortified” as often as possible in 2017?
If you follow this blog –and you should– then you know that Amherst has a lot of collections from missionary families. Because I work with these collections a lot, especially in arranging and describing new ones, I’ve settled into a comfortable theory about how the work of missionaries changed over the decades and generations. I notice a first generation of “strict missionaries” whose goal is first and foremost to spread the gospel. Their children, often born and raised abroad, speak two or three languages, and they know their parents’ work and where it succeeded and where it failed. They’re still usually missionaries working for the American Board, but their work often branches into teaching at primary and middle-school levels, or working in a medical clinic. A third generation is even more removed from the original mission work and its members become professors or doctors. Fourth and fifth generations might see some diplomats, government professionals, and journalists. The shift feels linear. But I always knew this way of thinking was a broad generalization, and too comfortable. I knew there would be someone to rock the boat, to mess with my theory — to zig where so many seemed to zag.
Mary-Averett Seelye, ca. 1965
The Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Franck Family Papers (the “Franck Papers,” to be succinct but less accurate) contain an unexpected and substantial section of papers from Kate and Laurens Seelye’s daughter Mary-Averett Seelye, a professional dancer whose particular interest was what she termed “poetry in dance.” Seelye was careful to explain that she didn’t dance to poetry, she danced poetry – she danced a poem. It wasn’t an easy concept for some audiences to understand – reviews and articles show repeated explanation.
Seelye seems to have had an eye to her archives fairly early on: her papers make it possible to follow her career from start to finish, and include over 65 years of documentation illustrating the determination and hard work she put into that career. It contains correspondence, photographs, publicity materials, reviews, interviews, an audio recording of a performance, and one film.
Mary-Averett Seelye was born in New Jersey but her family moved to Beirut (then in Syria) when she was only a few months old. For one of the many résumés in the collection, Seelye made notes describing her childhood in a way that captures the years that formed her character and provided inspiration for her work:
Mary-Averett Seelye grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, where father taught; mother was active in voluntary women’s organizations. Grandparents occupied a top floor apartment. Turkish, French, Arabic filled the air. She attended an American school, summered under olive trees overlooking the Mediterranean; mosquito netting; jackal howls. Community-all-ages-baseball every Saturday afternoon provided public measure of the youngsters’ developing prowess to catch a fly and hit a homer. Parents loved to dance. Father taught daughters. Daughters taught brother. Easter holidays took the family to Palmyra, Jerusalem, Cairo, Damascus. Part of an ethnic minority–yes–but a privileged one in which occupations were to learn and discover, educate, provide medical, spiritual, and economic help and “live in international brotherhood.”*
The Chambers-Seelye clan in Adana, Turkey, about 1922. Back row: Laurens H. Seelye (AC 1911); Kate Chambers Seelye; Dorothea Chambers holding her niece Dorothea Seelye; William Nesbitt Chambers. Seated: Cornelia Williams Chambers and her granddaughter Mary-Averett Seelye.
A stop along a Seelye family excursion, 1931.
Seelye’s notes go on to record the family’s furlough in the United States that became permanent for Mary-Averett. New England replaced the Middle East as home. Seelye attended Bennington College in Vermont, where she studied drama. In the winter of 1940, she formed the “Trio Theatre” with Carolyn Gerber and Molly Howe, two fellow graduates from Bennington. The group performed”pieces incorporating movement and words,” including their version of Abel Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit.” Seelye then went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for her M.A., which she received in 1944.
Mary-Averett Seelye (at left), ca. 1943, with an unspecified member of the Trio Theatre at the Forest Theatre, located on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Seelye at right. Forest Theatre, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
In 1949 she formed the Theatre Lobby with Mary Goldwater and worked as its production director for nine years. The Theatre Lobby was a “pocket theatre” located in an old carriage house in the mews behind St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The cast performed classic and modern works and was interracial at a time when other Washington theatres weren’t. Seelye’s last work as director for the theater was Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” in 1959. The collection contains a note from Beckett to Seelye congratulating her on her work. (Click on images for gallery.)
By the 1960s Seelye’s interest had turned increasingly to solo performances, specifically the concept of poetry-in-dance. It was work that had grown out of her studies in drama and dance at Bennington College and that she had performed early on, then intermittently during the Theatre Lobby years, and then again — under the title of “Poetry-in-Dance”– beginning in 1957. She would perform “Poetry-in-Dance” regularly through the 1960s and 70s. Georgetown University’s Donn B. Murphy wrote a short memoir about Seelye in which he described the work that gathered momentum in this period:
Although American choreographers worked with words as early as Martha Graham’s American Document in 1938, Ms. Seelye was virtually alone in the continuity of her work in this mode, and in the individuality of her performances, presented over a period of more than thirty years. She was noted for choosing exceptionally challenging literature and joining it with a movement idiom which is more often abstract than illustrative…
Extremely tall and thin, Ms. Seelye’s striking physical presence onstage was enhanced by minimal sculptural forms, carefully imagined costumes, and arresting lighting effects. Though her works sometimes used music composed by Stephen Bates and Jutta Eigen, they were more characteristically performed to the sound of her voice alone. She moved around, on top of, and through the sculptural pieces…
Investigating several cultures through personally devised visions in motion, Seelye was an actress-choreographer-dancer linked both with the earliest performers of antiquity, and the latest creators of avant-garde.”*
(Click for gallery.)
In 1972 she formed Kinesis, a logical extension of Poetry-in-Dance. She continued to dance into her late 70s. (Click for gallery.)
Of course, Seelye never forgot her youth in the Middle East. Her way of remaining connected to the family’s roots there included a trip in the 1980s to perform in Beirut and Istanbul. She also used Turkish and Arabic poetry in her repertoire in the United States.
Mary-Averett Seelye, posed among ruins, around 1984.
Seelye’s papers indicate that she had some concern that her particular brand of dance might die with her if she didn’t take care to document her work. Toward the end of her career she began to work with videographer Vin Grabill to film some of her performances. The result was a three-DVD collection of Seelye’s work, as well as a smaller film, “Poetry Moves,” featuring Seelye’s work with poet Josephine Jacobsen. Seelye and Jacobsen collaborated for many years, and some of their correspondence is in the collection. Clips of Seelye’s later performances may be seen at Vin Grabill’s Vimeo site, here.
One of our long-time volunteers, Cathmar Shaw Prange, was unable to come visit this winter and we’re missing her but she did send us a blog post! Cathmar has helped us curate her father’s collection for many years.
Years ago, on one of my visits to the art world of Santa Fe, Richard Maitland greeted me in his studio as an old friend. His painting, “After the Carnival,” hung on the wall. I gasped! It struck me like a bolt of lightning, reawakening an experience I’d had as an eight-year-old and evoking the last lines of John MacKay Shaw’s “Circus Roundels.”
The poet was my father. Mother was moving us into our new home in New Jersey. So he took us across the Hudson to the circus at New York’s Madison Square Garden to keep us out of her hair.
The painting, like the poem, reflects the longing we feel when a joyous event has ended. I would like this poem even better these days had he written it in shorter lines, but I can accept his admiration for Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter.
“Circus Roundels” appears on page 19 of John MacKay Shaw’s second book of poems, Zumpin’. It was published by The Friends of The Florida State University Library in 1969. “Read us zumpin’, Daddy!” we cried every night as he came in the door after work. And soon we were sitting on his lap listening, reciting and singing again.
The Friends published his first book of poems for children in 1967 titled The Things I Want.
The Execution of Kenneth Brown – Edith Cowan’s father – in 1876
Staff at the SRO’s Search Room are on hand to guide clients with their research; helping to navigate our online catalogue, and to find a path through a selection of in-house finding aids. Assisting clients in exploring WA’s largest archival collection and making State Archives accessible is a vital function of the SRO. Often when visiting the SRO’s Search Room, members of the public convey information about aspects of their research to staff. Sometimes clients are seeking information from archives which may provide answers to questions, conundrums and riddles about historical incidents in the past.
One of these riddles is about the execution of Kenneth Brown, the father of Edith Cowan (nee Brown), Australia’s first woman elected to Parliament; her image features on our $50 bill. Some do not know that on 3 January 1876 Kenneth Brown shot and killed his second wife, Edith’s step-mother Mary Ann, at Geraldton. He was tried in Perth before two juries who could not agree to a verdict, before being found guilty of murder by a third, the judge sentencing him to death.
The Brown family arrived in WA in 1841 and was part of the colonial elite. Kenneth Brown’s father, Thomas, was appointed to the Legislative Council by the Governor in the 1850s and was also a Resident Magistrate. In 1876 Kenneth’s brother, Maitland Brown, was one of the elected members in the Legislative Council, at a time when the electorate was limited to male landowners and leaseholders and those with a prescribed level of income. Over the years several people have speculated that Kenneth Brown was not executed and was secreted away to America. A few have alluded to Maitland Brown being involved in his escape. Even the Wikipedia entry on Kenneth Brown refers to this possibility, although it also states that this is “improbable”.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to delve deeper into the State Archives Collection, to discover the documentary evidence of Brown’s imprisonment and execution. The SRO has the criminal indictment records (Cons3473, item084 – Cases 741 & 753) as part of the Supreme Court criminal case files. However, these are trial records, depositions and the like, and while they state he was sentenced to death, they don’t record it occurring. It is one set of records in particular – WA’s Convict Records – which reveal the details of Brown’s execution. Chronicling the activities of the Western Australian colonial administrative department, known as the Convict Establishment, which oversaw the running of WA’s convict and penal system from 1850 until the 1880s, there are various types of archives accessible – convict registers, character books, returns, letterbooks, etc.
One series of archives is called ‘Occurrence Books’ recording daily comings and goings in various prisons, gaols and convict depots throughout the colony. These were transferred from Fremantle Prison into the State Archives Collection in November 1967 along with the main tranche of records detailing WA’s convict past. The Occurrence Books of Perth Gaol (Series 690), which have been microfilmed, date from 1875 to 1888, and one Cons1156, Occ18 records activities at Perth Gaol from 31 March 1875 to 31 December 1878, covering the period of Brown’s incarceration in 1876. It gives details of the reception and discharge of transported convicts and local prisoners, visits by officials (such as the sheriff, the medical officer and police) and visits by members of the public, religious observances, warders on night duty, etc. Perth Gaol is now part of the Western Australian Museum in the Perth Cultural Centre.
Kenneth Brown is first recorded at the Gaol on Monday 17 January 1876 when he was received from Champion Bay (Geraldton). At 5.50pm the same day it is reported that “The Revd The Dean visited Prisr K. Brown”. Next day the Dean is recorded as having “read prayers” at 6.10am and then later again at 5pm after which he visited “Prisr K. Brown”. “Mr Parker Solicr” had visited Brown earlier the same day and as Kenneth Brown’s lawyer he was a frequent visitor in the months ahead. On Wednesday 18 January 1876 Brown received 5 visitors at the Gaol on “Sheriff’s order”. These included Mr Howard, Mr Parker, Mr and Mrs Hamersley (Mrs Hamersley being Kenneth’s sister Matilda) and “Mrs Brown” Kenneth’s mother who is noted as having a “private interview” with him. Over the next few months the Dean is recorded as visiting Kenneth Brown several times a week, often accompanied by “Mrs Brown”. It is interesting to note that prior to his appointment as Dean of Perth in 1875, Rev. Joseph Gegg had been for a time chaplain at Wandsworth Prison in Surrey. Other members of the Brown family are frequent visitors too, especially “Mr M Brown” – Maitland Brown.
The Occurrence Book reveals that Kenneth Brown received a large number of visitors – almost daily – in comparison to others incarcerated in the gaol. But then he is the only white man recorded as being executed. Three other men were executed on 22 April 1875, “Aboriginal natives ‘Bobbinett’, ‘Wanabu’ & ‘Wandagarru’”. No visitors are recorded for them.
As well as visits, Occurrence Book 18 also reveals Kenneth Brown’s journeys in April and May 1876 to and from the Supreme Court for his trials where successive hung juries could not convict him. It was only when a third ‘tales’ jury was called from those bystanders in and outside the court, was a guilty sentence finally delivered. On 29 May an entry states that Brown was found guilty and at 6.20pm “returned from Supreme Court and placed in irons”.
Kenneth Brown’s daughter Edith turned 15 in 1876 and a “Miss Brown” is recorded in the Occurrence Book as visiting with Kenneth’s mother “Mrs Brown” on 6 March. On 1 April it states “visited by Miss E Brown (private) Sheriff’s order”, so she visited alone. Again she is listed as visiting with “Master C Brown” on 15 May. On several other occasions relatives and friends visit are recorded as visiting with “2 children”. The day before Kenneth Brown is executed, “Mr M Brown and 4 children” are shown as visiting the condemned cell at 4.15pm. Kenneth Brown had four surviving children with his first wife Mary Eliza Dircksey nee Wittenoom (a daughter of WA’s first colonial chaplain Rev. J.B. Wittenoom). It was a busy afternoon as Mr Parker had visited at 3.20pm, and the Dean visited at 5.10pm. Maitland Brown visited again at 8pm followed by the Dean again at 8.15pm. This flurry of activity conveys the sense of an impending event. We can only imagine what these visits were like.
At 6am the next morning – Saturday 10 June 1876 – Warder Fishwick is recorded as being “on duty inside” the co ndemned cell and the Dean attended to Kenneth Brown at 6.15am. At 6.55am “Messrs A Brown, M Brown” (Kenneth’s brothers) “S.H. Parker and J. Logue J.P.” visited K Brown. At 7.30am the Sheriff arrived at the prison and at 8am Kenneth Brown was executed. Witnesses present were “The Sheriff, The Rev. The Dean, The Medical Officer (Doctor Waylen), the Gaoler and Assistant Gaoler, Warders Fishwick and McGovern, Sub Inspector Kelly, Serjeants McLarty and Rowe with others of the Police Force – also Mr Maitland Brown J.P. and Mr S.H. Parker (Counsel)”.
At 9.30am the Coroner E.W. Landor arrived with “Messrs James, Churchyard and J. Chipper, as Jury” to conduct an inquest on the body of Kenneth Brown. At 4.30pm the occurrence book shows that Kenneth Brown’s body was “removed by his family under permission of the proper authorities”. A brief coroner’s report is also recorded in the WA Police Gazette of 14 June 1876.