Warren Bower: Radio’s ‘Book Dean’

Warren Bower was a Professor of English at New York University and member of the faculty there since 1930. He launched The Reader’s Almanac on December 5, 1938. That first program was called “A Look Forward,” and was a conversation between Bower and his English Department colleague, Bernard A. Huppe.

Reader’s Almanac host Warren Bower in it’s early days.
(NYU Archives, NYU Libraries.)

The two academics were “observing” novelist Willa Cather’s birthday. Initially, the marking of literary birthdays was a regular feature of the show hence the program’s title.  The birthday feature was eventually dropped but the show name remained, as did the idea of talking about writers of the past.  

By the program’s second year, a discussion between Bower and another member of the English Department at NYU also gave way to interviews with current authors whose books had just been published, a format followed for decades. 

During Bower’s nearly thirty-two year run he interviewed many of the leading figures in literature and the arts including: Robert Frost, Marianne Moore (audio above), Virgil Thomson, Ralph Ellison, Alfred Kazin, John Dos Passos, Robert Penn Warren, Archibald Mac Leish, Budd Shulberg, Eva LeGallienne, Stanley Kunitz, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, James Purdy and Marian Anderson.

In the 1950s the show was also syndicated to some sixty-two public and university stations in twenty-five states as part of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB) tape network. The program was recorded at NYU and fed live by telephone line to WNYC with an elaborate system of signals back and forth.

WNYC issued a press release for the show’s 800th broadcast on March 26, 1957. The occasion was also a tribute to The New York Times music critic Olin Downes and included Downes’ widow, Irene Downes, composer and critic Virgil Thomson, soprano Jarmila Novotna and distinguished composer and educator Dr. Philip James.  The station’s publicity referred to Bower as “Radio’s Book Dean,” and the broadcast was called “the oldest continuous book program on radio.” (Although Bower himself humbly noted it was not the first book program on radio, recalling one by a Northwestern University English professor called Of Men and Books). Bower was also noted for bringing books to television, hosting a weekly series on WPIX-TV (Channel 11).

Warren Bower with author Mark Van Doren on “Reader’s Almanac,” February 18, 1960.
(Photograph by William R. Simmons and courtesy of New York University Archives, NYU Libraries)

A native of Elkhart, Indiana, Warren Bower was educated in Michigan and received a B.A. from Hillsdale College in 1920. He was awarded an M.A. from the University of Michigan, where he taught from 1922 to 1928. Before coming to NYU in 1930 he was on the English faculty of Alabama Polytechnic Institute. Bower served as assistant dean of the NYU Division of General Education, (now the School of Professional Studies) from 1950 to 1966. In addition to teaching he was the author and editor of books on the craft of writing and was formerly a fiction editor at Scribner’s Magazine. Warren Bower died in 1976.

WNYC Director Seymour N. Siegel, Warren Bower and NYU President James M. Hester at the Presidential Citation award ceremony for Bower, December 6, 1968.
(Photo courtesy of New York University Archives, NYU Libraries)

 Special thanks to Deborah Shapiro of the NYU Archives.

Updated: The Tarpon Club Collection, 1931-1994

tarpon We are excited to announce that the Tarpon Club Collection has been recently re-processed and updated by project archivist Christine Bethke. Included in the update are new scrapbooks, memorabilia, photographs, and films that have been acquired over the past 10 years.

threetarponThe Tarpon Club began during the early 1920s as the Florida State College for Women (FSCW) Life Saving Corps. The Life Saving Corps began holding exhibitions in the Montgomery Gym indoor pool demonstrating aquatic skills during the 1930’s. These exhibitions featured form swimming, figure swimming, speed swimming, lifesaving techniques, diving, and canoe handling. In the spring of 1937, members of the Corps under the direction of Betty Washburn formed the Tarpon Club, choosing the tarpon fish as its mascot due to its reputation of being an acrobat of Florida waters. The club presented its first “water pageant” in the fall of that year featuring swimming stroke demonstrations and floating patterns performed with musical accompaniment. In 1938, the Tarpons initiated its first group of “Minnows,” or first year members, and established the tradition of requiring Minnows to participate in the club and improve their skills until they were judged eligible to become full-fledged Tarpons. The Club continued to perform at least one production per year, with each show containing a central theme, until its disbandment in 1994.

During its long existence, the Tarpon Club garnered a number of awards and received invitations to perform at national and international aquatic exhibitions. The International Academy of Aquatic Art and the National Institute for Creative Aquatics recognized the Tarpons’ skill through the years with numerous awards, and the club also received an award for its performance in the United States Synchronized Swimming Collegiate National Championships.

puppetsNotable sports writer Grantland Rice featured the Tarpon Club three times in his “Sportlight” series of short films produced by Jack Eton: “Aqua Rhythm,” filmed in Wakulla Springs in 1941, “Campus Mermaids,” also filmed there in 1945, and “Water Symphony,” filmed in both Wakulla Springs and Cypress Gardens in 1953. The Florida Department of Commerce filmed the Tarpon performance “A Dip in Dixie” in 1964 to promote tourism in the State of Florida. Some Life Saving Corps and Tarpon Alumni continued their film roles. Corps member Martha Dent Perry served as the character Jane’s stunt double in “Tarzan’s Secret Treasure” filmed at Wakulla Springs in 1941, and Tarpon member Jean Knapp served as Jane’s stunt double in “Tarzan’s New York Adventure,” also filmed at Wakulla Springs in 1942. Tarpon Nancy Tribble served as an underwater double for actress Anne Blythe in the 1953 film “Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid,” and designed the famous mermaid logo for the mermaid attraction at Weekiwachee Springs with Sis Myers, another Tarpon alumna. Tarpon member Sherry Brown also swam in the chorus of the 1953 Esther Williams film “Easy to Love.” Another notable Tarpon alumna, 1943 FSCW graduate Nancy Kulp, starred in several television shows, films, and theater productions. Also of note is Katherine Rawls, a swimmer in the 1936 Corps and a two-time Olympic swimmer and diver in the 1932 and 1936 summer games. Rawls would go on to be a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) during World War II.

When the Club disbanded in 1994, it was the Nation’s oldest continuously active collegiate swim group as well as the oldest club on the Florida State University campus.

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



Accessing a new collection: initial thoughts

Posted by Ellen Higgs

‘On Wednesday 22nd June 2016, a small uncatalogued archive of Martin William Frederiksen’s collection of 35mm slides, photographs and negatives was transferred from Worcester College, Oxford to the Institute of Archaeology.


Martin William Frederiksen was in international scholar, attending and teaching at various institutions across the world. He was born in Sumatra in 1930 and grew up in Canberra, before studying history at first the University of Sydney in 1957 and then Balliol College, Oxford in 1954, as a Scholar in Classical Studies and as Craven Fellow. He then attended the British School at Rome, retaining strong links with both the school and Italy throughout his lifetime. After becoming PS Allen Junior Research Fellow and obtaining a Masters from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in 1960 Frederiksen became a fellow and tutor in Ancient History at Worcester College. Unfortunately Frederiksen was killed whilst crossing an Oxford road in July 1980, causing a great loss to classical scholarship both in England and Italy.


Frederiksen’s archive contains 1,183 35mm slides that he had collected or taken throughout his career as well as a number of photographs and negatives of all shapes and sizes. Both media mainly portray the Roman archaeological sites that he visited or was interested in.

From my first look into our newly acquired collection, the majority of the archive itself appears to be in a reasonable condition, with the exception of a few of the slides with a fetching pink tinge as the cyan and yellow dyes have faded. I have, however, encountered challenges with the containers that a number of the slides are housed. Within the collection are two leather slide cases with red interiors that, fortunately for the slides inside, managed to escape the mould that has encroached on the exterior. We had noted that this archive did seem to smell and now we have found and dealt with the source.

mould on the slide box.jpg

Although some of the collection consists of original images taken by Frederiksen, a large number are duplicates which he purchased throughout his career. Frederiksen’s archive includes what appear to be photographs by Fratelli Alinari. Alinari, being established in 1852, is the oldest photographic company in the world and is still active today. The presence of one particular Alinari image within Frederiksen’s collection is particularly interesting due to an image of the Casa di Pansa in Pompeii: a very similar view has already been uploaded onto the Historic Environment Image Resource.


HEIR image ID 44489

Through comparing the two images we have been able to find that Frederiksen’s Alinari image from Pompeii pre-dates the view of the Casa di Pansa we have already uploaded, illustrating the changes that have occurred over time. This therefore shows the relevance and usefulness of even duplicated images within the archive.


The fact that a large portion of Frederiksen’s collection is not his original work then poses the question: is this archive still relevant? Aside from the potential of the images in understanding how landscapes have changed over time (as part of the HEIR project) it is of interest to us as an assemblage – a purposeful collection of objects and images illustrating Frederiksen’s scholarship, locating his ideas in time, space and material cultural context.

So, what now? Due to the archives’ current home in cardboard boxes and mouldy slide cases, my next job is to clean and re-house the 35mm slide collection into the appropriate archival boxes and find the best way to store the wide size range of photographs. This will not only make it much easier when it comes to cataloguing the contents of the archive, in order to make the archive more accessible, and help to prevent any further damage to Frederiksen’s archive, but will enable us to have a better understanding of what exactly we have acquired and what we can learn from the collection.’

About Ellen

Ellen has been volunteering in the archive for several years while studying for her BA in English and History at Oxford Brookes University. She will soon be beginning a postgraduate course in archives…


Felker Talking Telstar

 “Our engineers have had to create a lot of new techniques that are on a heroic scale,” computer and communications satellite pioneer Jean H. Felker reveals in this 1962 talk. A quiet, unassuming speaker, Felker seems to embody the can-do spirit of American technology in the latter half of the 20th century. Speaking before a gathering of scientists and communications executives, he refers to a model of the Telstar satellite “out in the hall.” This satellite, forerunner of the our modern, global communications system, had not yet been launched. Felker refers to it as “the closest thing to a living animal that…engineers have ever made.” Its 1,000 transistors will measure radiation, the impact of cosmic dust, and other forces in the hostile atmosphere of space.

DEC 7 1961; Jean H.. Felker Holds Scale Model Of Telstar; He calls satellite 'a sort of onion in the sky.'; (Photo By Cloyd Teter/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

NASA will launch the satellite (AT&T and Bell Labs footing the bill) with the eventual aim of transmitting both telephone calls and live TV between America and Europe. Because the satellite must be light and run on very little power (supplied by solar cells) much of the technology has shifted to ground stations. Felker shows a picture of an enormous station in Maine, calling it “one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen.” Over 300 tons, yet precision crafted, much of it is a balloon made of 20 tons of rubberized canvas. A 40 ton gear could not be shipped but had to be assembled on-site inside the balloon! This satellite is just a test. What AT&T eventually envisions, and what indeed came to pass, was a system of satellites covering the entire planet so global communications could be continuous.

There follows a question period in which Felker explains the eventual fate of Telstar—it will burn up. He predicts the picture quality will be as clear as regular TV, and guesses that the rates, though quite literally astronomical at first, will with increased use prove cheaper than those of the current submarine lines. When someone asks about potential collisions, he points out “space is an awfully lonely place.” As an engineer he’d rather launch a satellite than try to hit one. Finally, he rejects the idea of “jamming” by foreign powers, saying when it comes to international communications “people generally behave.”

This is a fascinating glimpse of space and communication science in its initial “golden” period, when every problem seemed solvable by engineering and the future one of boundless progress.

Jean H. Felker (1919-1994) received a degree in electrical engineering but seems to have combined his technical expertise with an almost visionary approach to the possibilities of technology. His early recognition of the importance of the transistor led to significant work on the first generation of computers. The website of the Computer History Museum tells how:

Jean H. Felker led a Bell Labs team including engineer James R. Harris that designed and built a fully transistorized computer dubbed TRADIC (TRAnsistor DIgital Computer) for the U. S. Air Force in 1954. Involving about 700 point-contact transistors and over 10,000 diodes, the prototype operated at 1 MHz while requiring less than 100 watts of power. A lighter airborne version (Flyable TRADIC) using junction transistors replaced an analog computer for navigation and bombing control in a C-131 aircraft.

Felker then moved on to communications. It is hard to overestimate both the practical importance of the revolution ushered in by Telstar and the way in which it embodied the cultural Zeitgeist. The NASA website relates how: 

Although operational for only a few months and relaying television signals of a brief duration, Telstar immediately captured the imagination of the world. The first images, those of President John F. Kennedy and of singer Yves Montand from France, along with clips of sporting events, images of the American flag waving in the breeze and a still image of Mount Rushmore, were precursors of the global communications that today are mostly taken for granted.

What becomes apparent in this talk, which is neither too technical nor at all condescending, is the earnest good will and pride with which Felker touts his team’s achievements. There is a real sense that any problem can be overcome by a combination of original thought and sound application of scientific principles, a far cry from today’s anti-intellectual suspicion of anything “scientific” and that profession’s own unwillingness or inability to make its findings and suggestions relevant and convincing to large sections of the public.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150276
Municipal archives id: LT9551

Vintage Viands: Last Call!

Vintage Viands offers opportunities for students, staff, and the local community to sample foods from an earlier era, and reflect on how taste and ingredients change over time. The event, connected through the Home Economics Pamphlets Collection and the Home Economics and Household Collection, offers attendees an online or physical exhibit. 

This year, Vintage Viands is honored to receive the University Libraries’ Innovation Grant to support the promotion of the event itself and of the collection. See: 2016-17 Libraries’ Innovation Grant will Showcase Home Economics Pamphlets for more details!

No tickets are needed; ticket link will take you to more information about the event.

University Libraries staff are invited to contribute vintage dishes; there will be prizes and it is possible to be reimbursed for the cost of ingredients. Here’s how:

Join us on Friday, September 23, 2016 as we recreate the tastes of the 1920’s!

More information here…

We want to hear from you! NARA’s Open Government Plan 2016-2018

I am proud to announce the publication of our fourth Open Government Plan. To get started, check out the Executive Summary, which provides an overview of the commitments the agency is making to make the National Archives and the Federal government more open over the next two years.

Open Government Plan on Github

We want to hear from you! This plan is a living document and we will update it over time based on the feedback we receive.

We have published this plan on the social coding platform, Github so that the public can provide feedback through the “Discuss” feature and can suggest edits through the “Edit” function. If this is not your preferred method of feedback, please check out all available feedback opportunities, provide comments below on this blog post, or email opengov@nara.gov.

While one could anticipate the enthusiasm for open government winding down during the end of a second term of the administration, we have seen the opposite. During the development of this plan we saw an increase in momentum and greater engagement from the public and staff in open government initiatives. We held more than 20 internal and external brainstorming sessions and briefings, including our first Open Government Webinar on March 29, 2016, for our external stakeholders with nearly 100 participants. Our engagement efforts brought in more than 180 ideas, comments, and suggestions that we considered for inclusion in this plan.

This plan, our fourth, will see us through a Presidential transition and contains more than 50 specific commitments to strengthen open government at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and across government from 2016 to 2018, including:

  • our launch of a social media campaign to collect stories about people’s own personal artifacts and documents from the Vietnam War to enrich the experience of visiting our new exhibit on the Vietnam War;
  • our Office of Research Services will provide additional customer service training for staff members so that we can better serve the public, along with exploring how to incorporate digital tools, like social media and our History Hub pilot to make it easier for the public to find the records that interest them;
  • flagship Initiatives including our work engaging the public and staff in our Innovation Hub, expanding History Hub and Citizen Archivist programs, and developing a solution for user-generated finding aids about our records that update dynamically as needed;
  • commitments from our Office of the Chief Records Officer to provide greater transparency and expanded reporting to better evaluate records management risk in agencies and promote accountability of government officials to the public;
  • commitments from our National Declassification Center (NDC) to develop a special systematic declassification review program for records that were accessioned prior to the creation of the NDC in 2010;
  • in addition to implementing components of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, our Office of Government Information Services will develop tools to teach students about the power of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to hold the government accountable and work within the Department of Justice to develop standards for agency FOIA webpages; and
  • our Information Security Oversight Office will continue to monitor and report on the state of classification and declassification in government and will also provide guidance and report on agency adherence to the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review.

As we look forward to the next two years, I am confident that we will continue to strengthen and build momentum for our efforts to provide transparency, and foster greater participation and collaboration in our work so that we can better serve the public.

The New York Public Radio History Notes Newsletter

Slices of curious, eclectic, and fascinating WNYC/WQXR history in text and sound links, for your inbox every Friday. New York Public Radio History Notes, the organization’s oldest continuously publishing E-newsletter (16 years! – 841 editions!). Sign-up here.

Catch up on the newsletters we’ve published since June 14, 2013.







Back to School

Part of the back-to-school ritual in the Archives & Special Collections is meeting new faculty and trying to figure out what we have in our collections that they might use. Recently, we had a couple of new faculty ask about what resources we have about Latin America and the Caribbean.

For the course “The Colonial City: Global Perspectives” several people in the department went in search of maps and/or architectural illustrations of cities and towns in the Caribbean. We were confident we would have something for this course given our strong holdings of books, manuscripts, and maps from the era of the French & Indian War:

Plan of Bridge Town This document — “A Plan of Bridge Town, in the Island of Barbadoes”– is part of the Plimpton Collection of French and Indian War Items, 1670-1934 (Box 10, Folder 1).

A bound volume from the same era also has a lot of what we were looking for:

French Dominions 1760 title

The Natural and Civil History of the French Dominions of North and South America (London, 1760) is a very thorough survey of French territories, many of which had just been captured by the English during the French and Indian War. It includes numerous maps of Caribbean islands, like this one

French Dominions 1760 Hispaniola

And some of the maps include detailed city plans:

French Dominions 1760 Harbor

An even earlier book may also be a fruitful resource for this course:

America 1671 title

This copy of America: Being the Latest, and Most Accurate Description of the New World (London, 1671) once belonged to Amherst College alumnus, Dwight W. Morrow (Class of 1895), who served as US Ambassador to Mexico under President Calvin Coolidge. The Archives holds several books from Morrow’s library along with his personal papers. The illustrations in this volume include more maps:

America 1671 Jamaicae

In addition to maps, some illustrations give a very clear rendering of some of the architecture:

America 1671 Potosi

Others are less architecturally detailed, but we hope will be useful:

America 1671 Lima

A third item worth mentioning doesn’t have any illustrations, but may be useful to the Colonial City course as well as another new class on Race and Religion in the Americas. The professor for that course told me he was particularly interested in Guatemala, and it turned out we had a very interesting item that fit the bill:

Gage Survey of the West Indias

This copy of The English American, his travail by sea and land: or, A new svrvey of the West-India’s also comes from Dwight Morrow’s library. It’s the extraordinary narrative of Thomas Gage, an English Catholic whose travels included “Twelve years about Guatemala.”

One of the ways we like to teach with our collections is to get at least one or two relevant books or documents into the hands of the students, then we can point them to deeper online repositories where they may find much more material on their topic. In this case, it is likely that the Digital Library of the Caribbean may be quite handy. And for more material on Guatemala, there are a wealth of resources to be discovered via the Latin American Networked Information Center, the Latin American Open Archives Portal, and others.  Our hope is always that the experience of seeing seventeenth and eighteenth-century books and documents will enable students to make better use of digital resources and bear in mind the physical artifacts that these digital projects are based on.

New Acquisitions: Artists’ Books

FSU Special Collections & Archives is pleased to announce that a number of new artists’ books have been cataloged and are now available through our Research Center Reading Room.

  • IMG_0964
    A detail of one of the “cells” from Ellen Knudson’s Made Up

    Made Up by Ellen Knudson at Crooked Letter Press (2015) – According to artist Ellen Knudson, “Made Up is a non-scientific science book about the imaginary cellular composition of the human body.” Anger, Curiosity, Failure, Fear, Jealousy, Joy, Knowledge, Location, Love, The Past, Success, Talent, Trust, Work – the cells that “make up” a person – are depicted in vivid multiple block linoleum prints. The deluxe edition contains 14 unfolded prints alongside the book in a sectioned clamshell box.

  • Diagram of Wind : Architectural Book with Poem by Michael Donaghy by Barbara Tetenbaum at Triangular Press (2015) – A letterpress printing of Michael Donaghy’s poem “Glass,” featuring texts and images backed with Japanese silk tissue and set on a wave-shaped wooden platform. The varied shapes and textures create different sounds as the pages are turned.
  • IMG_0963
    Postcards and ephemera tell the story of How to Transition on Sixty-Three Cents a Day

    Soil Dwellers by Emily Van Kley at May Day Press (2015) – Inspired by insects that live beneath the soil, featuring handmade papers dyed and printed through contact with plants, sewn in a double-sided accordion format.

  • Blocks off the Block by Katya McCullough’s 2009 Block Printing Class at San Quentin State Prison – 23 linoleum cut prints created by 8 members of Katya McCullough’s 2009 Block Printing Class at San Quentin State Prison.
  • How to Transition on Sixty-Three Cents a Day by Lee Krist (2013) – Artist Lee Krist dedicates this book “to all the people, places, and institutions who helped me transition at such little cost.” It is a non-linear narrative of the artist’s transition from male to female, told through a series of letterpress postcards to the artist’s mother and pieces of ephemera stored in a film canister.

    The familiar childhood Fortune Teller game format reveals gender biases in Indian society

  • The Fortune Teller by Malini Gupta at Ochre (art + design) (2016) – A cootie catcher fortune teller game and a japanese stab-bound book printed on waxed paper infused with incense. According to artist Malini Gupta, “Through this work I seek to investigate the deeply entrenched gender biases that plague the Indian society… The fortune teller is designed in beautiful patterns to entice the viewer to interact with it but also to camouflage the darkness it holds–the darkness of a child being sexually abused and a family choosing to ignore it.”

For a list of these and other artists’ books in FSU Special Collections, visit the Artists’ Books Research Guide.

Wayfaring Stranger Burl Ives Performs at the Book and Author Luncheon

Burl Ives lets his guitar do the talking. In this 1954 Book and Author Luncheon, moderator Irita Van Doren introduces the well-known folk singer who is here to promote his recently published Burl Ives Songbook. She tells an amusing anecdote about Ives’ last appearance at this event, when he shared the stage with Dwight Eisenhower and got the future president to sing a few bars of The Cowboy’s Lament. Ives then gives a short, witty introduction to this miniature concert, also referring to his previous appearance, when he thought he would talk but was instead asked to sing. This time he has brought his guitar but is expected to say a few words! He then launches into an Irish folk song, “The Stuttering Lovers,” and gets the audience to sing the chorus of “Goober Peas.” Sir Edmund Hillary, the conqueror of Everest, is also on the dais and requests “The Foggy, Foggy Dew.” Ives concludes his performance with the old favorite “Blue Tail Fly.”

Burl Ives (1909-95) was a multi-talented performer who first made his mark as a folk singer. A large man with a commanding stage presence, he had previously played football and considered the ministry as possible careers. As the website allmusic.com reports:

After spending his early twenties traveling the country as an itinerant singer, Ives moved to New York City in 1937. By the end of 1938, he had made his Broadway debut, and he also sang folk songs in Greenwich Village clubs. In 1940, Ives began to appear regularly on radio, including on his own show, The Wayfarin’ Stranger, on CBS. Ives made his first records for Stinson, a small folk label, then was signed to Decca, a major label. He made his movie debut in Smoky in 1946. In 1948, his first book, Wayfaring Stranger, was published. In 1949, he had his first chart hit with “Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly).”

With the rise of McCarthyism, his association with the folk music scene and its ties to organized labor and the Communist Party caused him to be threatened with blacklisting. In 1952 he testified before HUAC Committee, earning the enmity of his former fellow performers. The website for the Association for Cultural Equity notes:

In his testimony he defended folk music as patriotic, not subversive. He distanced himself, as required, from his former associates, explaining that his first audience had just happened to have been “various unions and so-called progressive organizations.” “I am very sorry that I have to bring up names in this manner,” he said, “because I would like to be able not to mention other names, but I can’t [avoid it].” He thanked the Committee “for the very fair and democratic way in which you have heard my story. I believe that in no Communist country would such a hearing be possible at all…” Ives named four people, including his former publicity director, Arthur Meltzer and his friend Richard Dyer Bennet (whose bookings were cancelled forthwith and whose career basically ended.)

Championed by the director Elia Kazan (who had also chosen to testify before the HUAC committee), Ives received his greatest break when asked to create the role of Big Daddy in Tennessee Williams’ play Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. As The New York Times recalled in Ives’ obituary:

Lumbering about the stage as he angrily puffed on a cigar and snarled about the “mendacity” of those around him, Mr. Ives gave a vivid, larger-than-life performance that had critics and audiences cheering. And his skillful work as Gregory Peck’s business rival in the 1958 film The Big Country brought him an Academy Award for best performance in a supporting role. “I was typecast a bit,” Mr. Ives said much later, “and not everyone thought I could act. But that didn’t matter to me because I always saw myself as an entertainer. The movies, plays, music, it’s all entertainment of one kind or another.”

Ives went on to have a long successful career as a character actor on screen and later in television. It’s notable that for this 1954 appearance, fresh off his testimony and recently disowned by the folk community (notably Pete Seeger who blamed him for ruining several people’s lives) he sticks to the more traditional, slightly insipid examples of folk, rather than the questioning, potentially subversive strain of that music popular in the years leading up to World War II. Unlike Seeger and others, Ives clearly saw himself as a performer first, not a social activist. It was a rare moment in American history when so many artists were forced to make a stark decision as to which path they would take and what sacrifices they would be willing to suffer.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150181
Municipal archives id: LT2743

So Ya Think Ya Know Yer Morning Edition Hosts?

WNYC started broadcasting NPR’s Morning Edition on November 5, 1979. Since then, the national show has had several local hosts —some occasional, some long-term. Before and during Soterios Johnson‘s tenure (2002-2016) they include, among others, Eric Zoro, Jo Ann Allen, Mark Hilan, Dick Hinchcliffe, Brian Zumhagen, and Marty Goldensohn. See if you can identify these six voices in these six audio clips. (Answers are at the bottom of the page)

1. An earthquake hits Connecticut, 1981
(and did he just make fun of the Richter scale?)
2. A rainy weather report, 1989

3. A bishop encourages love, 1990

4. A giant shark off Long Island, 1991

5. D’Amato loses Senate election, 1998

6. Electronic wallets (ooh!), 2012

Mark Hilan
(WNYC Archives/NYPR Archives)

Jo Ann Allen
(WNYC Archives/NYPR Archives)

Eric Zoro
(WNYC Archives/NYPR Archives)






Solutions: 1. Marty Goldensohn, who apparently hosted some early ME shows   2. Jo Ann Allen, a regular host   3. Eric Zoro, a regular host  4. Dick Hinchcliffe, an occasional host  5. Mark Hilan, a regular host from 1992 to 2002   6. Brian Zumhagen, who occasionally sat in for Soterios.
Do you know any other early Morning Edition hosts? Post a comment below.

New Acquisitions: Medieval Facsimiles

By Marco di Bartolomeo Rustici (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Image from the Codex Rustici, via Wikimedia Commons

FSU Special Collections & Archives is pleased to announce that three new, high-quality facsimiles have been added to our rare books collections and are ready for use in our Research Center Reading Room.

  • Codex Rustici – an Italian manuscript from Florence (circa 1444) depicting a pilgrimage from Florence to the Holy Land. This codex, currently housed at the Library of the Archbishop’s Seminary of Florence, is famous for its ink and watercolor illustrations of the architecture of early 15th century Florence. It was recently restored and made into a complete facsimile through a grant from Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, and a video about the codex can be viewed at their website.
  • Splendor Solis – a sixteenth-century German treatise on alchemy, featuring 19 illuminations of the creation of the philosopher’s stone. It is thought to be the earliest known alchemistic treatise and is an important work for scholars of the history of science.
  • Officiolum di Francesco da Barberino – a richly illuminated early 14th century Italian manuscript, considered one of the oldest Books of Hours produced in Italy. The original manuscript, thought lost for centuries, is now in private hands and can therefore only be studied through facsimile.

Visit our Facsimiles of Medieval Manuscripts and Incunabula LibGuide for more information on these and other facsimiles in our collection.

Leonard Bernstein Conducts the New York City Symphony at City Center

Leonard Bernstein’s “Big, Big Night”

It was the afternoon of October 8, 1945, and Leonard Bernstein had a cold. This wasn’t unusual for the 27-year-old maestro; he was a competitive chain-smoker who sometimes taunted friends for buying filtered cigarettes. Still, his cold couldn’t have come at a worse time. Bernstein was about to make his debut as conductor of the New York City Symphony, a shoestring orchestra created by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia to bring symphonic music to the masses. Tickets were 75 cents, and the balcony at New York City Center was packed with bohemians, bobby soxers, and working stiffs. It was Bernstein’s ideal audience, according to the critic Virgil Thomson: “real New Yorkers, many of them young, most of them working people, and all of them twentieth-century minded.”

Bernstein was giddy to be leading his own orchestra for the first time. “Tonight’s my big, big night,” he wrote his friend David Oppenheim. “I’m a nervous wreck, but the orchestra is so fabulous and excited and young and interested and in tune and precise and enthusiastic, etc., etc., that if it’s not a hit tonight I won’t understand it.”

It was indeed a hit—the Brooklyn Eagle reported that “Mr. Bernstein created a kind of white heat”—and WNYC was there to bottle that white heat. In honor of Leonard Bernstein’s birthday, we’re making the live broadcast of his New York City Symphony debut available for streaming. Recorded on October 8, 1945 at City Center, the program features Aaron Copland’s Outdoor Overture, Shostakovich’s First Symphony, and Brahms’ Second Symphony.

Click here to read more about Bernstein’s salad days conducting “the youngest, poorest symphony in the world.”

Original poster promoting Leonard Bernstein’s debut season with the New York City Symphony. 

(Graphic courtesy of the City Center Archives.)

Special thanks to Marie Carter and The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc. for permission to stream the WNYC broadcast concert.

Anna Kross, Commissioner of The New York City Department of Correction

“The purpose of the Department is to correct,” Department of Correction chief Anna M. Kross reminds, in this 1959 edition of City Record. The program gets off to a stiff start with Kross reciting statistics and budget data, but once she begins to describe her vision for reforming the jails we are given an excellent overview of the system at that time…and one which looks alarmingly familiar today! There are anywhere from 8,000 to 8,500 people in the city jails, yet capacity is only 5,000, so inmates are “doubling up.” Because of drug-related arrests there has been an influx of new prisoners, yet many of these are “sick people…not criminals.” Kross has been attempting to get them shifted over to city hospitals where their addictions can be treated as medical problems. She is also instituting educational programs in the jails, both for youthful offenders and adults. Because of understaffing (there are only two corrections officers for every 240 inmates, sometimes only one) she has formed councils, both a Youth Council and an Adult Council so prisoners’ concerns can be raised before unrest leads to violence.

Her goals are to foster a realignment between the state and the city. At the present time the state is not reimbursing the city in a timely fashion for housing inmates. There is also a tremendous lag in simple court procedures such as setting bail which means those arrested but not convicted spend needlessly long periods in detention when they have not, in fact, been sentenced for committing any crime. Kross is passionate and well-intentioned, but the problems she cites sound so depressingly familiar one wonders if the faults of this department she is attempting to remedy are, themselves, “correctable.” 

 Anna M. Kross (1891-1979) came from a poor immigrant family which she helped to support by teaching English and working in a factory at night. She attended law school and eventually rose to become a prosecutor, private lawyer, then City Court judge. From early on her commitment to improving the conditions of the poor and under-represented were evident. The Forum on Law, Culture, and Society reports how:

…Kross realized that criminal domestic violence issues posed a unique problem: accused abusers present a future danger and are in need of punishment and monitoring, while alleged victims are vulnerable and in need of ongoing protection from defendant abuse and control.  A hearing or trial in open court, with the couple testifying against each other, often in front of neighbors, would not serve to “bury the hatchet,” but would instead provide additional hazard to future family tranquility.  A judgment with a jail sentence or restraining order simply would not provide the remedy that these families desperately needed. Aware of this, Kross came up with innovative approaches, including the development of a “dedicated court team” to monitor defendants, provide comprehensive services to victims, and inform judges on how to make quick and effective decisions.  By inviting victims’ advocates and resource coordinators to the court, and not just judges and lawyers, Kross was able to adapt to the particular dynamic of criminal domestic violence situations. 

Another area in which she was a leading figure was prostitution. Mae C. Quinn, in a paper published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal, argued:

Kross believed that prostitution, a social issue, could not be meaningfully addressed by the criminal justice system. Over several decades, she questioned the motivations behind the Women’s Court, condemned the police practices it encouraged, criticized its day-to-day processes, and argued the institution simply failed to do what it was intended to do – that is, prevent prostitution. In 1967, the Women’s Court, which had been plagued by decades of controversy, finally closed its doors.

But it was in the area of prison reform that Kross may have left her most lasting mark. As can be heard in this broadcast, she brought an entirely new emphasis to the Department of Correction, focusing on improving conditions and decreasing recidivism. While many of these problems do seem intractable, one can only imagine (or see, simply by reading today’s headlines) how much worse the state of the jails would be without a fair-minded, forward-looking administrator like Kross in charge. The Jewish Women’s Archive describes:

As commissioner, Kross was responsible for making the city’s prison system less dungeonlike and more humane, she installed new shower rooms and mess halls, established token wages for some prison jobs and built separate facilities for adolescents. She also introduced programs for rehabilitating prisoners through training in trades such as baking, stenography and woodworking. Program graduates received certificates of proficiency and help in placement. During her tenure as commissioner, Kross received a great deal of publicity for her outspoken manner and criticism of government policies that discriminated against poor people. She served with the corrections department until her retirement (after several extensions) in 1966 at age seventy-five.


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150247
Municipal archives id: LT8459

Myrtis Elizabeth Herndon 1932-2016

myrtisherndon.JPGMyrtis “Myrt” Herndon, FSU alumna and friend of Heritage Protocol & University Archives, passed away in March 2016. Myrtis graduated from FSU in 1954 with a degree in physical education and was involved with various campus athletics around campus. She served as the Intramural Manager for the University Recreation Association Women’s Division, secretary of the Theater Dance Group, and was a longtime member of the F Club. While in college, Myrtis received a National rating by the Women’s National Officials Rating Committee in basketball and volleyball, which allowed her to officiate in high school girls’ basketball and volleyball games.
After graduating from FSU, Myrtis earned her master’s degree in education from Northern Illinois College, then began teaching at Hiram College in 1958. She briefly left the college to work for the Peace Corps, but returned in 1966 and taught until her retirement in 1995. While at Hiram, Myrtis served the head coach for the softball and volleyball teams, and played an integral role in developing women’s intercollegiate varsity sports from a local to a national level. In 2003, a new state-of-the-art softball field was named Herndon Field, or “The Myrt,” after her generous funding of the sports complex.
Over the years, Myrtis Herndon has donated many of her personal artifacts to Heritage Protocol & University Archives, documenting her time at FSU. In her collection are F Club song books, Evens memorabilia, and a beautiful hand drawn map of Camp Flastacowo, along with other material that illustrates the development of women’s athletics at FSU.

Camp Flastacowo map
Herndon's FSU artifacts

National Sporting Heritage Day Event, Friday 30 September

SHDay logoHosts & Champions Open Day

University of Stirling Archives

Friday 30 September

1 – 5 pm

On National Sporting Heritage Day we invite you to celebrate and explore our Commonwealth Games Scotland Archive. We’re opening up the University Archives on the afternoon of Friday 30th September to present a pop-up version of our Hosts & Champions exhibition. Celebrating over 80 years of participation and achievement by Scotland in the Commonwealth Games the exhibition has visited ten venues across Scotland, travelled hundreds of miles around the country and been seen by thousands of visitors since Glasgow 2014.

Members of our Hosts & Champions project team will be on hand to provide further information on the Commonwealth Games Scotland Archive and our fascinating personal collections of sporting memorabilia of former competitors and sporting administrators. There will also be an opportunity to view unique home movies of sporting competition from the 1940s to the 1970s that have recently been donated to the archive.

If you’re a researcher thinking of using our collections; a sports administrator interested in finding out more about the value of sporting heritage; a Commonwealth Games athlete, volunteer or baton-bearer; or just have a general interest in the history of sport we’d love to see you on the 30th September!

For further details please contact us at archives@stir.ac.uk


Bad Children of History: The Exhibit!

If you like this blog’s Bad Children of History, you’ll LOVE the Library’s new exhibit… of Bad Children of History!


It’s true: the exhibit cases in the Rhode Island Room on the first floor of the Library are currently featuring all manner of ill-behaved, 19th- and 20th-century children, including greatest hits from the blog alongside some never-before-seen mischief-makers.

These misbehaving moppets are only on display through September 23rd, so hurry on over to see them before they’re gone!

Sharing the Excitement about Open Government

This week I had an opportunity to address the World Library and Information Congress of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) on the work we have been doing here at the National Archives in support of the Administration’s Open Government Initiative.  Thirty two hundred librarians, archivists, and other information professionals from 145 countries traveled to Columbus, Ohio for this week-long conversation on the themes of Connections, Collaboration, and Community.

IFLA World Congress 2016

I chose to share our experience in implementing the President’s Open Government Directive in the creation of three, soon to be four, agency Open Government Plans and how that work has contributed to the creation of the United States National Action Plan which is shared with the International Open Government Partnership.  It is the story of how a small agency can not only contribute, but lead in fulfilling the vision of open government’s three principles:  transparency, participation, and collaboration.

But it was more than an opportunity to celebrate our accomplishments, it was an offer to work with the attendees who are members of the International Open Government Partnership to ensure that their voices are heard in the development of their country’s plans.  More importantly, it was a challenge to those who are not already members to influence their own government about the Partnership’s work and the commitments articulated in the Open Government Declaration.

You can read the entire address here. I ended with:  “We share a common mission—connecting people with the information they need to improve their lives.  Let’s work together to make that happen and make this a better world.”

Association of Canadian Archivists Conference 2016

I had the privilege earlier this year to present at the Association of Canadian Archivists annual conference, which was held this from June 1-4 in Montreal. This year’s conference theme was Future Proche, and (quoting the conference program) sought to “explore how archivists are responding to the needs and pressures of a technologically-driven society and how we are reacting to the demands of the ‘near future’.”

Montreal skyline. Photo courtesy of Luciana Duranti

Montreal skyline. Photo courtesy of Luciana Duranti

The program was particularly strong this year, and I attended many excellent sessions. Some of the sessions that stood out in particular were Innovative Application of Technologies, which looked at potential uses for digital forensics in archives work;  Archiving the Web and Digital Media: Collaboration, Research and Access, which looked at strategies for preserving web content and the ways this type of content is used in research; and Technologie Proche: Envisioning the Archival Systems of Tomorrow with the Tools of Today, which discussed how emerging technologies from many disciplines might be applied to preservation of and access to archival material. The sessions were nicely bookended by Peter Van Garderen‘s keynote address that addressed how technology is changing archives, and Kate Theimer‘s closing plenary that mused on ways technological changes will affect the archival profession.

My session was delivered with other presenters from the University of Manitoba, University of Saskatchewan, and Simon Fraser University. Titled Making AtoM “Da Bomb”, it looked at recent improvements to AtoM, the open source archival description and access software used by us, and by ever-increasing numbers of archives in Canada and around the world. The session was designed to set aside over half the allotted time for audience interaction, and many good discussions emerged about the diverse use cases different institutions have, and potential direction for future AtoM development.

Proposed relationships in an improved accession module for AtoM. Presentation slide photo courtesy of Luciana Duranti

Proposed relationships in an improved accession module for AtoM. Presentation slide photo courtesy of Luciana Duranti

On the final day, the members of Canada’s National Archival Accession Standard Working Group presented an update on their work to develop a national accession standard – the first attempt to produce an archival accession standard anywhere. Their work to date is promising, and I think the Canadian archival community is looking forward to seeing an implementation of the proposed standard.

The day before the conference, I was also able to attend the Archives and Technology Unconference (TAATU), an pre-conference gathering that has been held since 2008, where archivists with an interest in technology and archives get together to discuss initiatives, projects and problems in an informal manner.

Play ball! Photo courtesy of Luciana Duranti

Play ball! Photo courtesy of Luciana Duranti

Of course, no ACA conference is complete without the annual East-West softball game, handily won this year by Team East. Congratulations and thank-you to the organizers for putting together a great conference.

The Library of Babel and Special Collections

The following is a guest post by student assistant Blaise Denton.

The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges. (PQ7797 .B635 B5213 2000)

Here in the Florida State University Special Collections we have a very special volume, Jorge Borges “The Library of Babel.” The standalone volume in our possession is illustrated by Erik Desmazieres. The Book details life in the great and infinite Library of Babel. It is never ending, universal, broken up into hexagonal rooms and filled with an uncountable number of books. Filling each book are letters, clumped randomly to spell out nonsense. Every so often people find a book with words, real words that spell out ideas and thoughts. Because the library is infinite, there must be one book somewhere in the collection that details the past and future. There must be a book that catalogues the rest of the books. There must also be an infinite number of false narratives, false leads, and even more books that are unreadable.

Special Collection isn’t infinite. Most of the books in the collection are carefully catalogued and lodged in a place where we can find them. We know what almost all of them say. But the task of the librarian is the same, whether it is in the Library of Babel or here in Special Collections. We live in a big world, rather full of books, and more full of things. In Special Collections we find those books that “matter”, a rather subjective verb, and we keep them here, safe. They deteriorate; they get lost. We bundle them up safe with boxes and paper wrapping; we hunt them down and bring them back to their preordained place. The librarian’s tasks, in fiction and in life, are to bring order to chaos and to decide what matters.

La Tour de Babel. Plate II etching by Erik Desmazieres

Many of the books in Special Collections are in languages we can’t read. Many of them are so small you need a magnifying glass to examine them, some are so big it takes two people to open them. Some are serious tomes on theology and philosophy and some are tiny children’s books. Some of them are pornographic. But they all have two things in common: they are kept in place by a complex cataloging system, and they are meaningful.

In “The Library of Babel” when someone finds a book with meaning, that book becomes incredibly valuable. People travel from all over the universe, that is to say the library, to look at it. Whether it is fiction, poetry, prophesy or biography the book becomes something invaluable. It has meaning, it proves that there is truth.

Special Collections is rather like that, if a bit less grand. People choose things as

Haute Galerie Circulaire. Plate VII etching by Erik Desmazieres

meaningful enough to write about or otherwise document. Someone has combed through all the books to buy, all the books that have been donated, and selected these. These are the most valuable, the rarest, the oddest books that FSU libraries has. Come look at a book inscribed by a medieval monk. An Akkadian trader. A 60’s beat poet. Come look at “The Library of Babel” by Borges. There are books from every age and perspective here. There are so many books you could never read them all. Try reading a few, very different books and see if you, like the fictional librarian, find some meaning in order.

Leo Rosten Analyzes Humor

“I have no speech. I am not entirely speechless, though,” Leo Rosten begins his talk, titled, “On Humor, and What It Is” at this 1959 Books and Authors Luncheon. Instead of the usual folksy sales pitch writers and celebrities often provide at these affairs, Rosten presents serious thoughts about the place of humor in society, interspersed with amusing anecdotes, in some cases just one-liners, to illustrate his points. In this, he prefigures the form of his wildly successful reference-cum-joke-book The Joys of Yiddish, which was not published until 1968.

Humor, for Rosten, is an entirely positive social force. It frees us from “the prison of the familiar.” All humor is based on compassion and has an element of pathos. It teaches us proportion and liberates us from clichés. No other way of seeing can match its economy and ability to help us “perceive freshly.” He makes about a good a case as one can for “gentle” mainstream humor, entirely ignoring the more corrosive, satiric, transgressive approach of then-contemporary comedians such as Mort Sahl or Lenny Bruce. But the jokes are funny and the audience receptive. He even tells a mildly risque joke and twits fellow speaker and former New York governor Averell Harriman for not laughing. Rosten is ostensibly plugging the second of his H*Y*M*A*N  K*A*P*L*A*N books but, as much a professor as a writer, he seems content to both educate and entertain.

Leo Rosten (1908-1997) was a successful short story writer, novelist, screenwriter, professor, and, as showcased here, authority on humor. He will chiefly be remembered, however, for two books related to his Jewish heritage. The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N (1937) transcended its roots in mere dialect humor to become a moving evocation of the immigrant experience. As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz explains:

The title character …Hyman Kaplan, was based on a man named Kaplan who had studied English with Rosten, and who evoked both astonishment and begrudging admiration in his teacher. “I walked out of that first night’s class in a daze,” Rosten explained at the time. “I thought the conjugation of verbs meant saying, ‘Drink, drank, drunk.’ I asked Kaplan to conjugate ‘fail,’ and he said, ‘Fail, failed, bankrupt.’ I was stunned.’’

It is not clear whether Kaplan the character is an idiot savant, and thus oblivious to his own brilliance as a mangler of both English and logic, or a poker-faced nemesis who will never let on how much satisfaction he derives from confounding his teacher. What is clear is that Kaplan — who refers to the first president as “Judge Vashington” and the debonair actor as “Clock Gebble,” who thinks the opposite of “new” is “secondhand” and the plural of “dog” is “doggies” — is good not only for some warmhearted laughs, but also for providing insight into the world of immigrants like him, who have to learn not just a new language but also a new way of thinking.

Rosten wrote two more books in the series as well as a stream of works in many other genres. But it was not until 1968 that he had a similar success with The Joys of Yiddish a strange amalgam of dictionary, inquiry into language, and joke compilation that once again struck a chord, this time not with bumptious, newly-arrived immigrants but their more assimilated and affluent modern-day selves. The work both celebrated and legitimized what Middle European Jews had brought both to the language and to the culture of their new country. The Independent newspaper of London points out how: 

…The Joys of Yiddish (1968) was inspired not only by the intrusions of Yiddish words such as “chutzpah” into the American and English language, but by what he called Yinglish, by which he meant English forms of Yiddish expressions such as: “Clever he isn’t” or “It’s all right by me”. It illustrated, he said, “how beautifully a language reflects the vitality and variety of life itself; and how the special culture of the Jews, their distinctive style of thought, their subtleties of feeling, are reflected in Yiddish, and how this in turn has enriched the English we use today”.

Rosten himself was born in Lodz, Poland and brought to the United Stares when he was three. One could argue that these works represent, in veiled form, a kind of autobiography. Certainly humor was a touchstone he returned to over and over again. The New York Times, in its obituary, quotes him as insisting:

Humor is an indication of a wholeness of character structure. …Indeed, I would say that one of the requirements for sanity is a sense of humor — and its absence is crippling.


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150521
Municipal archives id: LT8896

Sir Edmund Hillary Scales the Heights of Literary Society

Sir Edmund Hillary scales the heights of literary society. In this 1954 meeting of the Books and Authors Luncheon, the recent conqueror of Everest is given a rapturous introduction by mistress of ceremonies Irita Van Doren. She is careful,  though, to emphasize the team effort required in climbing the world’s tallest peak. Two other members of the party are also present. It’s interesting to note how climbing at that time still retained its amateur status. Charles Evans is a brain surgeon, George Lowe a New Zealand schoolmaster. Sir Edmund himself is cast as a beekeeper and former gold prospector!

Here to promote the book The Conquest of Everest, written by the expedition’s leader, John Hunt, Hillary is a model of modesty, assuring the audience that no one has “less pretensions to being an author than I.” He goes on to praise Hunt’s focus and sense of duty. Of the expedition itself, which had taken place less than a year before, Hillary is typically reticent. He prefers to dwell on the great reception they have been given proving “how the spirit of adventure does seem to live in the human breast.” He encourages people to keep this spirit alive, suggesting future forays to the Arctic, the Antarctic, and “the depths of the sea.” He expresses a particular interest in attempting to find The Abominable Snowman, and would indeed undertake a (fruitless) search for that creature in 1960. He then narrates a story about nearly drowning in a Nepali river after his homemade raft was sucked into a whirlpool. The experience, he concludes, was “quite good fun.”

Throughout his life, Sir Edmund Hillary (1919-2008) portrayed himself as an ordinary man who had greatness thrust upon him. This is only partly true. His beginnings may have been undistinguished, but his sense of purpose was strong and unrelenting. As The Guardian reported:

…he attended Auckland grammar school, where he was younger and smaller than most of his class and not socially adept. Years later he was to say: “I was a shy boy with a deep sense of inferiority that I still have.” His taste for mountaineering began when, at 16, he went on a school trip to Mt Ruapehu, where he first saw snow. By the second world war, Hillary had become seriously involved in climbing. He served in the New Zealand air force for two years as a navigator, but was discharged after being seriously burned in an accident. “Some day I’m going to climb Everest,” he told a friend just before the war. After the war, he spent as much time preparing for Everest as he could, practising rock climbing and ice-pick work. In 1951, he made his first trip to the Himalayas.

Hillary’s skill and physical conditioning made him a natural to be invited on Hunt’s Everest expedition. But there was no guarantee he would be chosen to be on one of the teams assaulting the peak. After a previous team turned back, Hunt chose Hillary and the Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay to make the next attempt. On May 29, 1953, the two became the first men to ever set foot on the world’s tallest mountain. National Geographic Magazine describes what happened next: 

The men shook hands, as Hillary later wrote, “in good Anglo-Saxon fashion,” but then Tenzing clasped his partner in his arms and pounded him on the back. The pair spent only 15 minutes on top.  “Inevitably my thoughts turned to Mallory and Irvine,” Hillary wrote, referring to the two British climbers who had vanished high on Everest’s Northeast Ridge in 1924. “With little hope I looked around for some sign that they had reached the summit, but could see nothing.” As the two men made their way back down, the first climber they met was teammate George Lowe, also a New Zealander. Hillary’s legendary greeting: “Well, George, we knocked the bastard off!”

The unexpected reception that greeted Hillary upon his return could easily have destroyed a lesser man but “Sir Edmund,” as he quickly became, seems to have handled it well, not only refusing to be exploited by the enormous media interest but actually using his newfound fame for good. As The Encyclopedia Britannica concludes:

Hillary never anticipated the acclaim that would follow the historic ascent. He was knighted in 1953, shortly after the expedition returned to London. From 1985 to 1988 he served as New Zealand’s high commissioner to India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Over the years numerous other honours were bestowed on him, including the Order of the Garter in 1995. Throughout it, however, he maintained a high level of humility, and his main interest came to be the welfare of the Himalayan peoples of Nepal, especially the Sherpas. Through the Himalayan Trust, which he founded in 1960, he built schools, hospitals, and airfields for them. This dedication to the Sherpas lasted into his later years and was recognized in 2003, when, as part of the observance of the 50th anniversary of his and Tenzing’s climb, he was made an honorary citizen of Nepal. 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150181
Municipal archives id: LT2743

Bad Children of History #27: George Graceless

Oh hooray, it’s time for another installment of Bad Children of History! Today’s bad child is culled from a book with a true emotional rollercoaster of a title:


Melancholy! Intrigue! Danger! A little white horse! This wee book is undated, but was probably printed around 1820.

As the saga unfolds, the reader is introduced to good children with names like Kitty Kindness, Billy Meanwell, Sammy Sober, Bobby Bright, and Tommy Telltruth. (King Pippin himself is actually Peter Pippin, the King of the Good Boys.) YAWN.

The tension builds as we meet a gaggle of ne’er-do-wells with equally alliterative and terrible names such as Harry Harmless, George Graceless, and Tom Tiger.

It’s clear that trouble is brewing when the bell rings to return to school, the Good Boys race to see who can get to the schoolhouse first, and the Wicked Boys stroll into the woods with the express purpose of destroying birds’ nests.

After tearing down innumerable nests, including that of a robin who was left “making such piteous moans, as would have melted a heart of stone”, George Graceless scales a “great high tree” to reach the nest of a turtle dove. What happens to a wicked boy who climbs a great high tree?


You guessed it! He plunges head-first into a narrow but apparently very deep river while one friend reaches out a tentative finger and another takes a picture with his iPhone!

Oh save me, save me, I shall be drowned; oh, that I had attended to the good advice of Little King Pippin, cried he, and with these words, down he went to the bottom, and was never seen more; the rest of his companions began now to see the folly and wickedness of neglecting their books for idle mischief; and heartily repented that they had not staid at school instead of playing truant.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I heartily repent, I usually head back out of the woods, but this questionable quartet is filled with dread and decides to “stroll about” until it becomes “quite dark”. (Cue scary violin music!)

They fall asleep under some bushes, which seems like a good idea, until:

in less than an hour, they were awakened with such terrible howlings of wild beasts as was scarce ever heard, tigers, wolves, and lions, hunting for their prey, with eyes that glared like balls of fire, rushed by them every instant.

Amidst this impressive biodiversity, Harry Harmless falls to his knees to pray, whilst his companions, who have never even bothered to learn any prayers, are quickly devoured by two monstrous lions.

Not that the title gave it away or anything, but the next morning, a pretty little white horse awakes Harry Harmless with her neighs. He climbs into her mysteriously unpopulated saddle and is promptly delivered to his home.

Magician of the Week #44: Brian Mainwaring

It’s Tuesday, so we’re currently having open hours, featuring some beautiful floral pochoir prints by Edouard Benedictus and the classic Flowers in Nature and Design by Fritzi Brod. (The latter features layered transparencies showing the color separations for various floral motifs.)

For those of you who can’t make it over in person, we also have a virtual featured magician from our Percival Collection: Brian Mainwaring, “The Gentleman From London.”


Here’s Mainwaring gleefully sawing a woman in half while his lovely assistant takes said woman’s pulse. (Isn’t it always reassuring to get medical support from someone in opera-length gloves? They just look so… chic yet authoritative.) The image above is from the souvenir program of the Twentieth Annual New England Convention of Magicians, held in 1958 in New Haven, Connecticut.

Mainwaring was born outside of London, attended Naval Military School, and spent time living in India. After marrying Christine Sanders, he settled in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He doesn’t seem to have left much of a paper trail, although I did find him listed as entertainment in a fantastic newspaper article with the headline “5 Santas to Greet Trumbull Kids”. Five santas! How extravagant!


Summer Report

A look at what a student worker has been up to in Special Collections & Archives this summer

My name is Meg Barrett and I started working with Special Collections and Archives at the beginning of the summer. When I found out that I was going to be working on digitally archiving old pictures from the College of Nursing and the French Napoleonic newspaper Le Moniteur, I was ecstatic. I’m currently a sophomore, majoring in Art History and minoring in French, so old photographs and French newspapers are exactly the sort of things that I love.

Because I am working on two different projects, I generally spend the first half of the week in the Research Center Reading Room and the second half in the Digital Library Center (DLC). In the reading room, I go through and catalogue the volumes of Le Moniteur. On my first day, I started with papers from the year 1792, and I finished the summer with papers from the year 1800. I think it’s amazing to be able to say that I’ve gone through over 2,000 newspapers from the 18th century! In the DLC, I have boxes of photographs in file folders, and my job is to scan the pictures onto the computer, type up information about them into a metadata spreadsheet, and then upload them onto DigiNole so that people anywhere can access them. The dates of the photos range from the 1950s to today, and seeing things from pinning ceremony traditions and headshot styles transition from then to now is such an interesting thing.

School of Nursing Pinning Ceremony; April 29, 1988 http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_HPUA_2014111_B42_F4_4_004
School of Nursing Pinning Ceremony; April 29, 1988 

Working in Special Collections has been such a wonderful experience: what I’ve been doing has been interesting, the people have been so kind and helpful, and I enjoy it every day. When I found out that I got the job a few months ago, I couldn’t believe it. It’s now the end of the summer, and I will continue working on these projects, and I still can’t believe it!

The Social Dorms

As the social dorms have just been torn down this summer, replaced for the moment by a giant construction site, let’s take a moment to look back at their beginnings.  The five social dorms (Pond, Coolidge, Crossett, Davis, and Stone) were built as part of a $17 million development plan (the Amherst Capital Program) which included building Frost Library and the Valentine Annex, among other projects.  Construction began in 1962, they began housing students in 1963, and the last of the dorms were completed by 1964.Construction was not without hiccups- several dorms were without hot water for the first months of school when they opened in September of 1963, and the entire complex was without heat for two months.


Social dorms 1962 groundbreaking B&G b18 f70

1962 groundbreaking (site of Davis dorm) with Plimpton, McCloy, and Knight

Socials dorms 1962 groundbreaking B&G b18 f79

1962 dorm construction

Social dorms- 1962 trustee spouses visit Crossett B&G b19 f2

A 1962 visit by Trustees’ spouses, in front of Crossett

Social dorms B&G b19 f24a

A view of the completed social dorms

The social dorms were built to alleviate overcrowding in Amherst’s housing- to accommodate more students from the growing student body, and provide more comfortable, private, effective accommodations.  A 1930s faculty committee tasked with a study of the student environment stated that:

“Without discounting matters of age, individual variation, maturity, or custom, it does not seem unreasonable to associate much of the immature irresponsible behavior of some of our students with the physical conditions under which they live. Crowded, impersonal, barracks-like accommodations are too apt to invite a lack of respect both for those surroundings and for their other inhabitants… To be housed like a schoolboy or a recruit is for many to behave like one.”

The creation of the new dorms, which were organized around a suite-style model, with singles clustered around a common room and bathroom, were intended to address such criticism and provide space for students to not just sleep, but also work, as school work was increasingly carried out in student rooms instead of the library.  The dorms were quite popular with students at the outset, and their layout and design were widely praised.  They were seen as largely quieter than the fraternities during the 70s and early 80s, but with the abolition of fraternities in 1984, they began to become more a center of student activity and partying.

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Coolidge interior


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1960s Crossett interior

The dorms were named for a variety of Amherst graduates.  Coolidge Hall was (obviously) named after President Calvin Coolidge (AC 1895); Stone was named after Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone (AC 1894).  Davis Hall was named after Arthur Vining Davis (AC 1888), former chairman of the board of the Aluminum Company of America, who gave funds for the dormitory’s construction.  Crossett was named after Edward C. Crossett (AC 1905), a long-time beneficiary of the college.  Pond is the namesake of Peter Pond, an 18th century fur trader, soldier, and explorer who once served under Lord Jeffery Amherst and was an ancestor of the anonymous donor for the dorm.

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Getting Our House in Order: Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace

Yesterday, I had the privilege to speak to my colleagues in the archival profession at the Joint Annual Meeting of the Council of State Archivists and the Society for American Archivists in Atlanta, Georgia, about an important topic to me and an ongoing focus for us at the National Archives: diversity and inclusion.

CoSA - SAA 2016 Program cover








In my remarks, I said:

I’m pleased to be able to join you this morning and especially pleased to have been slotted just before Chris Taylor takes the stage because it gives me an opportunity to talk about Diversity and Inclusion from my perspective.  I was also inspired by Dennis Meissner’s column on “Building an Inclusive Profession” in the Spring issue of Archival Outlook in which he reminds us that “We remain too white, too traditional, perhaps too blind to the varieties of diversity that surround us.”

One of the joys of heading an Executive Branch Agency in the Federal Government is the what sometimes seems daily delivery of White House Executive Orders or Directives or Initiatives.  For me each one presents more than just a compliance mandate,  each one provides what I call an insinuation opportunity—is there a way to insinuate the National Archives and our work into the new venture.  And, better still, where can we provide some leadership to the rest of the Federal Government.  So, I remember when in the Summer of 2011, Executive Order 13583 hit my desk.  “Establishing a Coordinated Government-wide Initiative to Promote Diversity and Inclusion.”

I think anyone who has worked with me over the years can testify to my commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive work environment—from my early days at MIT working with the Cambridge Public Schools to introduce kids to careers in libraries and the appointment of our first community outreach librarian; at Duke winning the President’s first Diversity Award for our work with the Office of Institutional Equity; and at the New York Public Library with the most diverse clientele of any public library in the world, ensuring that our staff of 2500 was as diverse as our user profile.

President Obama’s Executive Order spells out the Administration’s commitment:  “Our National derives strength from the diversity of its population and from its commitment to equal opportunity for all.  We are at our best when we draw on the talents of all parts of our society, and our greatest accomplishments are achieved when diverse perspectives are brought to bear to overcome our greatest challenges.”

The Order was followed 120 days later with the “Government-Wide Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan” challenging each agency to RECRUIT from a diverse, qualified group of potential applicants to secure a high-performing workforce drawn from all segments of American society; CULTIVATE a culture that encourages individuals to contribute to their full potential and further retention; and DEVELOP structures and strategies to equip leaders with the ability to manage diversity, be accountable, measure results, refine approaches on the basis of such date, and institutionalize a culture of inclusion.

At the National Archives, this mandate is reflected in Goal Four of our most current Strategic Plan:  “Build Our Future Through Our Staff” where we commit to implementing innovative practices and tools to recruit, sustain, and retain a 21st Century workforce.    So let me tell you how we are turning those promises into action.

Our Office of Equal Employment Opportunity is responsible for the management of our Diversity and Inclusion Program—the proactive side of EEO providing a number of services and educational opportunities for all employees in an effort to attract, sustain, and retain a diverse highly qualified workforce from the nation’s best and brightest talent available.  Through this program, employees are encouraged to promote and support an inclusive culture that embraces the Agency’s values of collaboration, innovation, and learning.  We strive to foster a work environment that recognizes individuals for their unique perspectives and experiences, establishing a culture where all employees are included and are able to contribute to their full potential.

The Diversity and Inclusion Program has three components:

The Affirmative Employment Program (AEP) created to assist the Agency in establishing and maintaining a model EEO program to ensure that our workforce is representative of the Nation we serve.  This is accomplished through the AEP initiatives—The Special Emphasis Program and the Disability Program.

The Special Emphasis Program (a Federal Government wide program) was launched at NARA in November 2013 to assist in identifying gaps and providing recommendations to management officials and employees on matters the affect equal employment opportunities in the workplace.  And who better to work as change agents than the employees themselves?  We now have 57 volunteer Special Emphasis Program Managers throughout the agency in 15 states ranging from grade level GS3 to GS14. These folks are a resource to managers and supervisors, employees, and prospective applicants throughout the employment cycle—outreach, recruitment, hiring, employee development and advancement, and retention.  The assist in the evaluation of policies, procedures, and practices as well as in the elimination of potential or existing barriers.

An integral component of the Affirmative Employment Program is our Disability Program which handles reasonable accommodation requests; collects and analyzes data to assist in the recruitment, hiring, and advancement of persons with disabilities; provides training and educational awareness for managers and supervisors; and manages our Agency-wide American Sign Language program.

The second component of our D and I Program is Targeted Outreach and Recruitment which partners with our Human Resources personnel to provide consultation services to hiring managers in an effort to hire qualified diverse candidates; and manages our Summer Diversity Internship Program.  This year 11 qualified interns worked with nine NARA program offices.

And the last D and I component is our suite of Workplace Culture Programs.  One is our D and I Education Program which focuses on educating agency leaders and employees about inclusive behaviors that impact employee engagement.  It offers a comprehensive approach to cultivating a diverse workforce as well as fostering and sustaining a more innovative, inclusive, and respectful workplace.  It also provides a wide range of tools to help increase the behaviors during day-to-day engagement—training using a variety of delivery methods focusing on awareness, attitudes and behaviors, knowledge and skill, and policy and practice.  Some of the most important training deals with dignity and respect in the workplace; stereotypes and bias; fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace; hiring and interviewing through a diverse and inclusive lens; and other soft skills training in support of employee engagement.

Lastly our newest effort is the creation of Employee Affinity Groups.  These are self-forming NARA communities of interest who raise cultural awareness, enable collaboration and knowledge, share, and promote personal growth.  Remember, that we are an agency of 3000 spread across the country, so the opportunity to develop community this way is especially important to our goal of creating One NARA.  Launched in 2015, we now have six Employee Affinity Groups.

Stonewall—serving the LGBTQ community
IKE—serving our veteran community
Hispanic and Latino Organization (HALO)
disABILITY—serving our disabled community
Women’s Affinity Group (WAG)—serving NARA women
Say It Loud!—serving our African-American community

As you can see, we employ a wide variety of approaches and opportunities in an effort to create a culture which embraces diversity and inclusion. We are making a commitment from the top of the Agency to ensure that this is core to who we are and how we do business.  Are we there yet?  No.  But I am confident that together we can create a more inclusive work for NARA and for the Federal Government.

The Battle of the Slums Revisited

The Battle of the Slums Revisited, is how this 1950 edition of the Cooper Union Forum might be titled. Fifty years after Jacob Riis’s famous speech on the subject at the Great Hall, his son, Roger William Riis, addresses the same issue, tenement conditions and the need for affordable housing. Alas, the younger Riis is not the firebrand his father was.  In measured if not stultifying tones, the reporter and roving editor for Reader’s Digest presents an array of both historical and modern-day “dragons” standing in the way of housing reform. The historical ones include greed, indifference, race discrimination, etc. He paints a sad if familiar picture of turn-of-century tenements. The practical test police used to see if a hallway was ill-lit was if you saw a baby playing in the hallway there was sufficiently illumination; if you stepped on the baby first, there was not. As early as 1889 statistical evidence showed poor blacks were being charged higher rents than poor whites. Turning to the current situation, Riis lists six new dragons, although some seem to have survived the intervening fifty years quite comfortably, greed and race discrimination among them. The cost of land has now become a factor, however, and “the microscopic minds of bankers.”

Riis’s argument is two-fold: he sings the virtues of public housing, comparing them to well-run businesses that, contrary to public opinion, bring more money to the government than they cost to maintain. At the same time he argues strenuously against the equally common misconception that housing for the working poor is unprofitable and therefore of no interest to the private sector. In particular, he argues that the presence of blacks does not economically depress a neighborhood. Rather, when a neighborhood is already on the downslide, slumlords increasingly rent to blacks. Marshaling a numbing array of statistics, Riis attempts to show that today’s bankers and entrenched real estate interests make a tidy profit on the poor, mainly by charging disproportionate rents and providing almost no services in return. His description of absentee landlords and the myriad of shell corporations employed to protect owners is depressingly familiar.

The question and answer period that follows is an interesting glimpse of mid-century political rhetoric. The meeting seems “packed” with socialists and communists who, one after the other, rise and give obviously prepared soapbox speeches against private ownership of property and free enterprise. Riis refuses to take the bait, however, defending the current system, once again making newly-built public housing sound like Shangri-La, and putting his faith in General Thomas Farrell, at that time head of the New York City Housing Authority. The recording breaks off in the middle of the Q&A.

Riis had no way of knowing that he did his research during the short-lived Golden Age of public housing. Following the end of World War II, the housing market was flooded by returning veterans and, soon after, their young families. This pressure led to the construction of vast developments of publically-owned units. Then, at some point in the mid-fifties, for reasons that are still hotly debated, a mass exodus of these same families either caused or was precipitated by a change in the population of public housing. The slow decline began in which the poor and minorities were in effect “warehoused” in increasingly substandard and badly-maintained dwellings. While Riis’s indignation at the way the poor are housed remains as fresh-sounding today as it did then, his championing of the government as landlord now sounds more than a little suspect.

Jacob Riis (1849-1914) came to America as a penniless immigrant from Denmark. His reaction to the poverty he found here turned him into one of the first and most prominent social activists. Rather than simply plead for charity to be delivered from on high, he forcefully stated his case that the poor deserved basic elements of human comfort such as clean air, sufficient light, and drinkable water. He seized upon technological improvements in photography as a way to further his aims. As Jimmy Stamp, writing for smithsonian.com noted:

The recent invention of flash photography made it possible to document the dark, over-crowded tenements, grim saloons and dangerous slums. Riis’s pioneering use of flash photography brought to light even the darkest parts of the city. Used in articles, books, and lectures, his striking compositions became powerful tools for social reform.

Jacob Riis strikes one today as a curiously “modern” figure, with his “slum tours” for the concerned well-to-do, and his expert playing of the media. Disturbingly, one could argue that not much has changed in the city he is most associated with. As NPR commentator Robert Siegel puts it:

Poverty struck Riis as abnormal — even for the various immigrant groups whom he regarded as exotic. When he lived in New York City, about 40 percent of the population was foreign-born. It’s just about the same share today.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

WNYC archives id: 150177
Municipal archives id: LT1349

PIDB Public Meeting Recording Now Available

The PIDB hosted a public meeting on Thursday, June 23, 2016 at the National Archives.  The meeting was an opportunity to engage publicly with White House leadership on progress in developing a technology investment strategy for the management of classified information.  The meeting was also a chance to hear comments from current and former members of the PIDB and have a dialog with civil society groups, government stakeholders and the public on the work of the PIDB.  You may view the meeting here and its transcript here.

Mr. John Fitzpatrick, Senior Director for Records Access and Information Security Management at the National Security Council, provided a summary of the progress he is making to instigate White House commitment to improving declassification through the use of technology.  Mr. Fitzpatrick provided an update on the collaborative work of the Classification Reform Committee and the Office of Science and Technology Policy to build a cross-agency program leveraging technology and altering long-standing policy and practice.  This is a challenge never before addressed at this level of government.  Mr. Fitzpatrick indicated the expressed interest of the President has incentivized the Executive Branch to complete the framework for the technology investment strategy in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of a new program in the years ahead.

The impetus for White House-level commitment in building a technology strategy stemmed from previous recommendations made by the PIDB.  The members have recommended in all of their previously published reports the need for the government to seriously commit to improved technology for the specific purpose of modernizing classification, declassification and records management.  In an effort to expand on these ideas, the PIDB published its newest white paper, The Importance of Technology in Classification and Declassification.  The white paper describes the work of the PIDB to study in-depth agency declassification technology initiatives.  It summarizes findings made by the PIDB’s Declassification Technology Working Group to understand how ready agencies are for managing classified information in the digital age and what challenges, barriers and opportunities exist for modernization across the government.  The narrative also makes more specific recommendations on next steps and addresses the needs of agencies, including the requirement of more resources to fund technology investment for these programs.

The public meeting was also an opportunity for the public to hear from the members.  Nancy Soderberg, the PIDB’s outgoing Chair, had an opportunity to provide observations from her time on the PIDB, including giving candid commentary on the need for immediate action by the White House to provide resources and solidify a policy and strategy for improved technology investment for classification, declassification and records management.  The PIDB’s Acting Chair, William Leary, also announced the impending appointments of new members James E. Baker and Trevor W. Morrison (who will also be the PIDB’s new chair).

The PIDB will continue its engagement with civil society groups and the public in the coming months as it begins discussing what policy recommendations it will make to the incoming Administration concerning transformation.  Please continue to remain engage with the work of the PIDB through its blog and website.