Combo Category

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The Treasure in the Old Will: Iowa Women’s Archives Inherits Valuable Nancy Drew Collection

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There were no missing documents, phony relatives, or suspicious fires — just a straightforward bequest from Peggy Wirt, whose mother, the late Mildred Wirt Benson, was the original ghostwriter of the Nancy Drew series. But the collection that was recently left to the Iowa Women’s Archives calls to mind another mystery trope – the hidden treasure: the gift of 150 books, written and signed by Benson, was appraised at $115,000. According to IWA Curator Kären Mason, however, the true value of the donation lies in further documenting an important figure in American popular culture.

The first student to earn a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa, Mildred Wirt Benson wrote the original Nancy Drew novel, The Secret of the Old Clock, in 1930 under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. She completed nearly two dozen more titles in what has become one of the most successful children’s book series ever. Benson published numerous other children’s novels, both as a ghostwriter and under her own name, before turning to a career in journalism. The Peggy Wirt bequest will be added to the IWA’s Mildred Wirt Benson collection, used frequently by scholars and fans alike, that was donated by the author in 1992 and subsequent years until her death in 2002.

Two additional sets of new acquisitions complement the book donation. Purchased at auction from the estate of Peggy Wirt are a vintage typewriter of Benson’s, along with several photo albums. The latter include the original snapshot of an image that has become iconic to fans of the author: a college-age Benson, circa 1925, making a daring swan dive into the Iowa River near the current site of the UI’s student union.

The other recent donation comes from UI Journalism Professor Emerita Carolyn Stewart Dyer, who gave the IWA her collection of foreign-language Nancy Drew novels. The covers of these French, Japanese, and Swedish translations depict a Nancy both familiar and strange – renamed Kitty or Alice, holding a gun, her trademark titian hair changed to brown or blonde.

In any language, the character continues to serve as a feminist icon who inspires women “to persevere, to achieve, to ask questions and find answers,” according to Dyer. While coordinating the UI’s 1993 symposium on Nancy Drew, she heard from many women who grew up on the series:

Most compelling of the many elements of the stories women told us about reading Nancy Drew were the accounts of how, as girls, they saw in Nancy an alternative to conventional notions of what a woman could be. Women in many occupations told of learning from Nancy to see adventure in solving problems and the joy of self-reliance. These qualities, they said, led them to the futures they chose as lawyers, researchers, librarians, and detectives, among other roles. (1)

The Mildred Wirt Benson materials may be viewed at the Iowa Women’s Archives. Selections from the collection have been digitized and made available at the Iowa Digital Library: digital.lib.uiowa.edu/mwb

  1. “The Nancy Drew Phenomenon: Rediscovering Nancy Drew in Iowa” by Carolyn Stewart Dyer, in Rediscovering Nancy Drew, edited by Carolyn Stewart Dyer and Nancy Tillman Romalov (University of Iowa Press, 1995)

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From top: the bequest of novels from Peggy Wirt, waiting to be processed; a vintage typewriter used by Benson; Benson’s photo albums; foreign-language versions of Nancy Drew novels, donated by Carolyn Stewart Dyer. Photographs by Hannah Scates Kettler

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Iowa Women’s Archives, Rhetoric faculty and students to present on digital humanities teaching project May 7

University of Iowa faculty, students, and staff will be discussing a curriculum project that combines historic documents with digital tools and methods as part of the Irving B. Weber Days local history celebration. The one-hour presentation “Archives Alive!: Teaching with WWII Correspondence” will take place at 12:30 on Wednesday, May 7, in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library.

Iowa Digital Library: Evelyn Birkby World War II scrapbook, 1942-1944. Iowa Women's Archives

Iowa Digital Library: Evelyn Birkby World War II scrapbook, 1942-1944. Iowa Women’s Archives

Iowa Women’s Archives Curator Kären Mason will provide background on the IWA and its mission to chronicle the history of Iowa women, their families, and their communities by collecting personal papers, organizational records, and oral histories. IWA artifacts on display at the event will include a World War II correspondence scrapbook, donated by author and radio personality Evelyn Birkby, upon which the Archives Alive! project was based.

Matt Gilchrist and Tom Keegan, Rhetoric faculty and co-directors of the Iowa Digital Engagement and Learning (IDEAL) initiative, will speak about using digital humanities methods to engage undergraduates through hands-on learning and technologically innovative assignments. For Archives Alive!, they developed a four-week curriculum module that required their Rhetoric students to participate in DIY History, the UI Libraries’ transcription crowdsourcing project. After transcribing, researching, and analyzing digitized correspondence from the Birkby scrapbook, students conveyed their findings in a variety of ways; this includes three-minute video screencasts uploaded to YouTube that form a collection of open-access works of original digital scholarship based on primary sources.

Wednesday’s event will also feature presentations by Rhetoric students James Burke, Jessica Graff, and Zach Stark.

For those who can’t make it in person, “Archives Alive!: Teaching with WWII Correspondence” will be broadcast live on The Library Channel, Iowa City cable channel 10, and archived at the Iowa City Public Library web site.

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New milestone for DIY History: 40,000 pages transcribed!

Iowa Byington Reed diaries

We’re thrilled to announce the latest milestone for DIY History, the Libraries’ transcription crowdsourcing project: 40,000 pages transcribed!

To mark the occasion, we’re featuring our most prolific diarist — Iowa Byington Reed, an Iowa City native who wrote in her diary nearly every day from 1872 to 1936 — along with one of our most industrious volunteers, David Davenport of Fresno, California. In most crowdsourcing initiatives, a small minority of “power users” does a large majority of the work, and DIY History is no exception. David, a retired history professor, explains how he first started working with the Byington diaries:

I “joined” your project with the expectation that I would do only Civil War related materials, but those had been done, and since my family has lived in Iowa since territorial days (my g-g-grandfather James Blake Gray is responsible for naming Burlington — it was called Flint Hills when he and his brother in law Thomas Stephens operated a trading post there in the very early 1830s) I decided to try the Reed material because my mother grew up on a farm near Centerville. I figured I would learn a bit about what life was like for her mother and her mother’s mother. I have not been disappointed. Iowa Reed engaged in the same rather “mundane” activities for well over 50 years, and faithfully recorded her life for almost every day during the span of her diaries…

I really don’t think we appreciate in 2014 how very different “the work” was 125 years ago — washing that took 4-5 hours every Monday morning, followed by ironing, sometimes drying the clothes in the garret (which my mother tells me was the term for the unfinished portions of the attic) accessible with a folding ladder in the ceiling of the upstairs hallway, etc. But in some ways their lives were so similar to ours — Iowa’s record of her brother Robbie’s death, or the death in 1886 of the two day old son of Ott and Fanny (or was it Charlie and Ida? — I can’t recall right now), or the sudden and completely unexpected death of Charlie in mid-October 1895 that I just saw a few minutes ago. I was transcribing her entry for November 14 1895 and she wrote “it was three weeks ago today that Charlie died” so I had to look back to find out what happened. I’m not a medical doctor but it seemed that he had a mild heart attack that was undiagnosed a couple of days earlier and then a massive heart attack while changing clothes – he was gone in an instant.

I really wish I was still teaching history because I can see assigning student the “task” of reading her diaries, cover to cover. Most students today could learn far more from what Iowa wrote about herself and those around her than I could ever hope to “teach” in a more conventional lecture. She has given voice to hundreds of thousands of women who lived as she did, from day to day, doing “the work” and often “so tired” she “went to bed early.”

A heartfelt thank you goes out to David and everyone else who has contributed their time and efforts in support of our mission to make historic documents more accessible. There’s still plenty more work to be done — please visit the Iowa Women’s Lives collection to transcribe Iowa Byington Reed’s diaries, or stop by the DIY History home page to select other materials, including historic cookbooks and pioneer-era documents.

Iowa Byington Reed diary, 1875

…In the evening I wrote a little and looked over my old diary and indulged in a retrospective view of the past year. I most sincerely hope that I will not know some of the sorrow this year I did last… | Iowa Byington Reed diary, January 1, 1875

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Upstairs and downstairs in historic cookbooks

Anne Bayne cookbook, circa 1700 | Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts and Cookbooks

Anne Bayne cookbook, circa 1700 | Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts and Cookbooks

While “Downton Abbey” fans tune in to season 4 in record numbers and our Special Collections department celebrates with an exhibition of period cookbooks, volunteers at the Libraries’ DIY History crowdsourcing site continue to transcribe historic recipes handwritten by real-life Mrs. Patmores.

Notes on how to “send up” a dish – a final step in some of the recipes from our Szathmary collection of manuscript cookbooks – might seem a little mysterious to the uninitiated. But “Downton Abbey” viewers have become familiar with the geography of meal preparation in historic upper-class households, with servants cooking elaborate dishes in kitchens located below stairs, then presenting them with fanfare in the dining room above.

For food historians, tracking down specific information like this in the Szathmary collection used to involve countless hours skimming thousands of hard-to-read manuscript pages. Now, thanks to the painstaking efforts of our volunteer transcribers who provide data for full text searches, it can be found in seconds.

Below we present a few of our favorite “send it up” examples, in case anyone wants to get fancy and “stik a light flower in the centre” of dinner tonight.

To frigasy rabbits (Anne Bayne cookbook, circa 1700)
…when you send it up put in 2 or 3 spoonfulls of white wine so serve it up. if you would have it a browne frigasy. You must take it out of your pan after it is boiled & fry it browne & strain in some broth. After you have powdered it put in your butter you fryed it in & grate in a little nutmeg & work up a little butter in a little flower & shake all well together. So dish it up with what pickles you please.

Gravi sase for torkie chickins pollits Ducks wild & tame & all sorts of wild fowle & hare & venson (Penelope Pemberton cookbook, 1716)
send it up in poringers: ye venson & hare must have gravis sase in ye dish: ye tong & uder nothing I had forgot to tel yu: yu must sweeten ye venson sase with powder suger to yr tast: not to sweet.

Savoury Sauce for a Rosted Goose (English cookbook, 1799)
… pour this into the body of the goose by a slit in the apron just before you send it up.

Raspberry Cream (Susan Gilbert cookbook, 1848-1887)
…put the remainder of your cream into a deep china dish and your frothed cream upon it as high as it will lie on. Stik a light flower in the centre & send it up. It is proper for a middle at supper, or corner at dinner.

View more results

Transcribe handwritten cookbooks at DIY History

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Wishing you an animated holiday

Featuring images from Helen Grundman 4-H scrapbook, 1928-1932

Animated gif featuring Helen Grundman 4-H scrapbook, 1928-1932 | Iowa Women’s Archives

LULAC Christmas party, Davenport, Iowa, early 1960s

Animated gif featuring LULAC Christmas party photo, Davenport, Iowa, early 1960s | Iowa Women’s Archives

LULAC Christmas party, Davenport, Iowa, early 1960s

Animated gif featuring LULAC Christmas party photo, Davenport, Iowa, early 1960s | Iowa Women’s Archives

The big story at the Libraries this year has been our Special Collections department’s ascendancy to social media superstardom. Here in Digital Research & Publishing, we’re happy to hook our wagon to that stardom for promoting the Libraries’ digital initiatives to the 18,000 (and counting!) followers at the UISpecColl Tumblr, and to loan our multimedia expertise to film and edit their YouTube video series. Here’s to even more public engagement success in 2014!

Digital projects featured on Tumblr:

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Exploring pioneer lives: UI Libraries and Rhetoric students partner on new digital collection and crowdsourcing project

DIY History: Pioneer Lives

This November, as Thanksgiving brings thoughts of pilgrims, the University of Iowa Libraries is exploring a later period of American history with a new digital collection, crowdsourcing initiative, and curriculum project based on pioneer-era documents.

Featuring more than 2,500 pages of letters, diaries, and photographs dating from the mid-to-late 19th century, the Pioneer Lives collection is available for browsing at the Iowa Digital Library: digital.lib.uiowa.edu/pioneers

The documents have also been added to DIY History — diyhistory.lib.uiowa.edu– the Libraries’ crowdsourcing site, where the public can help with historical research by providing transcriptions for handwritten texts. Earlier this fall, the collection got a test run from rhetoric students participating in a curriculum pilot project developed by IDEAL (Iowa Digital Engagement & Learning) to incorporate digital humanities in the undergraduate classroom.

Documenting Iowa’s early settlers, the Pioneer Lives collection lends immediacy to this historic period through the first-hand accounts of ordinary citizens. This is particularly true of the correspondence, with its descriptions of new lives written for loved ones left behind:

“Dear Father, I am in a place which at my coming here was very strange, but I have got acquainted and very contented, much more than I expected. I will give you a short sketch of what life I live here…” – Henry Eno letter, 1813

“My Dear Cousin, I thought I would write to you as it is my birthday. I am 11 years old… I go to school now… We have three boarders. I am going to learn to scate [sic] this winter…” – Emma Ward letter, 1866

“Dear Brother McCormick, Yours received, some time since, asking a sketch of my career as an M.D. during the past year, which… I must admit has far exceeded my hopes…” – Dr. Mila Sharp letter, 1885

Students in honors Rhetoric taught by Tom Keegan, faculty member and co-director of IDEAL, explored the collection during a four-week assignment that involved transcribing historic correspondence, conducting background research with primary source materials, performing rhetorical analyses of the documents, and presenting findings via screencast videos uploaded to YouTube.

In addition to learning new skills and information, many of the students enjoyed themselves along the way.

“I had a fun time analyzing my document which is rare because homework is almost never fun for me,” wrote one student in a class blog post. “I thought this was one of the first projects that I actually felt like I was making a legitimate discovery and that was a really unique experience.”

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Historic photos: JFK at the UI, 1959

As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, we’re celebrating the 54th anniversary of his 1959 visit to the University of Iowa campus. Not yet an official presidential candidate (coverage of his trip only made page 6 of The Daily Iowan, which instead led with some student workers’ two-day strike for a food allowance raise), Kennedy still drew a healthy audience of 1,500 to a reception at the Iowa Memorial Union. He rounded out the visit watching a home football game the following day, where he “cheered for Iowa, but prayed for Notre Dame.”

View additional Kennedy photographs from the Michael W. Lemberger Collection

View the Nov. 24th 1959 edition of The Daily Iowan

Senator John F. Kennedy visits the Iowa Memorial Union, University of Iowa, Nov. 21, 1959. Photo (c) Michael W. Lemberger | Michael W. Lemberger Photographs

Senator John F. Kennedy visits the Iowa Memorial Union, University of Iowa, Nov. 21, 1959. Photo (c) Michael W. Lemberger | Michael W. Lemberger Photographs

Senator John F. Kennedy talks to supporters, University of Iowa, Nov. 21, 1959. Photo (c) Michael W. Lemberger  |  Michael W. Lemberger Photographs

Senator John F. Kennedy talks to supporters, University of Iowa, Nov. 21, 1959. Photo (c) Michael W. Lemberger | Michael W. Lemberger Photographs 

Pressbox quarterbacks, The Daily Iowan, Nov. 24, 1959  |  The Daily Iowan Digital Collection

Pressbox quarterbacks, The Daily Iowan, Nov. 24, 1959 | The Daily Iowan Digital Collection

Next president?, The Daily Iowan, Nov. 24, 1959  |  The Daily Iowan Digital Collection

Next president?, The Daily Iowan, Nov. 24, 1959 | The Daily Iowan Digital Collection

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Great mustaches of the Iowa Digital Library

The libraries and archives that feature historic mustache images — from NYPL to the Smithsonian to our own Special Collections — are kicking into high gear in honor of Movember, so we thought we’d join in. Stealing from In tribute to the Library of Congress’ collection, we present some of the great mustaches of the Iowa Digital Library. Special thanks go to Wendy Robertson for her mustache-searching expertise.

UI President Charles A. Schaeffer, 1893  |  University of Iowa Yearbooks

UI President Charles A. Schaeffer, 1893 | University of Iowa Yearbooks

College of Dentistry Dean W.S. Hosford, 1908  |  Dentistry College Class Photographs

W.S. Hosford, 1908 | Dentistry College Class Photographs

Unidentified man, circa 1879  |  Pioneer Lives

Unidentified man, circa 1879 | Pioneer Lives

J.L. Small, 1885  |  Dentistry College Class Photographs

J.L. Small, 1885 | Dentistry College Class Photographs

General James B. Weaver, 1907  |  Traveling Culture - Circuit Chautauqua in the 20th C.

General James B. Weaver, 1907 | Traveling Culture – Circuit Chautauqua in the 20th C.

Billy Brooks, 1930s  |  Mujeres Latinas

Billy Brooks, 1930s | Mujeres Latinas

Personal favorite:

L.K. Fullerton, 1885  |  Dentistry College Class Photographs

L.K. Fullerton, 1885 | Dentistry College Class Photographs

Mustache manuscript:

Leigh Hunt letter to Charles Ollier, 1854  |  Leigh Hunt Letters

Leigh Hunt letter to Charles Ollier, 1854 | Leigh Hunt Letters

“I have not been idle, nor has my beard been growing for nothing. Had it not vented its energies this way, it would assuredly have struck towards the table, with the intention of growing through it, like the dead Emperor’s that was found sitting in the mausoleum. Seriously, it is a curious & hopeful coincidence, at any rate, that my cough has continued to grow better & better, though my beard is but of a month’s existence. I cannot afford to confine myself to the moustache &c., as you do; for I have, or have had, a regular cough, which you have not. Moustaches may do well enough for occasional coughs; but the cough proper demands the whole hairy investment.”

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Crowdsourcing continues!

Pioneer Lives transcription collection-in-progress

Pioneer Lives transcription collection-in-progress

Special Collections staff survey World War II letters and diaries

Special Collections staff survey World War II letters and diaries

A letter for transcription about transcription!

A letter for transcription about transcription!

Things might seem a little quiet at DIY History, the Libraries’ transcription crowdsourcing site, but behind the scenes we’ve been working on several new initiatives that should be launching over the next few months.

First up is a long-overdue redesign of the DIYH home pages that we hope will make for a less cluttered and easier to navigate user experience. That will be rolling out next month along with the debut of a new collection up for transcription: Pioneer Lives, featuring hundreds of letters and diaries from Midwest settlers during the mid- to late 1800s. While conservation and preservation staff continue the pioneers treatment and digitization work that’s taken up much of their summer, our curators have already begun compiling lists of handwritten materials for the next initiative, which will focus on the Libraries’ small but growing collection of World War II diaries and letters. In the meantime, there’s still plenty of transcribing left to be done on cookbooks, women’s lives, and railroads at DIY History, so please stop by and help improve access to these historic documents.

Along with a new look and new content, we’re also working on a new collaboration; this fall, the Libraries is teaming up with the IDEAL (Iowa Digital Engagement and Learning) initiative on a pilot project to teach DIY History in Rhetoric classes for incoming freshman. Currently wrapping up the four-week assignment module, students have transcribed a document, conducted research on its writer’s life and times, performed a rhetorical analysis of its contents, and created brief video screencasts to present their findings on YouTube. We hope to showcase some of these videos here, so check back soon.

Alas not all of our new developments are good ones. The past few weeks have been challenging as we figure our way around the project without the support of superstar library assistant Christine Tade, who recently retired after 27 years with the Libraries. From overseeing workflows, to training student assistants, to fielding user comments and questions, she was instrumental in keeping the project running smoothly. We’re very grateful to Christine for all her dedication and hard work that helped make DIY History a success.

Christine Tade, circa 1970

Christine Tade, circa 1970

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Move over, fried twinkies: Iowa State Fair historic recipe contest

To make almond cheese cakes, Ann Kenwrick cookbook, 1770 | Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts

To make almond cheese cakes, Ann Kenwrick cookbook, 1770 | Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts

This August, traditional Fair fare such as deep-fried Twinkies, Snickers, and sticks of butter will be making room for even more old-school treats featured in the UI-sponsored Szathmary Historic Recipes cooking contest. Up for recreating 18th- and 19th-century desserts like Almond Cheese Cakes, Summer Mince Pies, and Mrs. Matson’s Marlborough Pies? Unintimidated by units of measurements such as “about the bigness of an Egg” and ingredients like “Orange Flower water”? Then see contest details on page 53 of the Iowa State Fair food booklet.

And to get in a historic mood, please visit our Iowa Digital Library Pinterest site to view a selection of digitized State Fair cartoons and clippings, ca. 1894-2004.

Iowa State Fair @ IDL Pinterest

Iowa State Fair @ IDL Pinterest