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A recent post at the Smithsonian’s Paleofutures blog — “A history of the future that never was” — cites the University of Iowa’s W9XK as the first American university station to broadcast TV. Read about this failed experiment to bring free education to the masses below.
Predictions for Educational TV in the 1930s
Today most universities offer online courses that allow students to study and take tests without physically being on campus, but in the 1930s the distance learning technology of the future was television.
Both radio and television were initially envisioned as methods for point-to-point communication, but once radio broadcasting became mainstream in the 1920s universities saw the potential of the medium to reach a broad audience with educational programming. This was especially true in rural farming communities where long distance commuting to a university was out of the question.
Universities in the U.S. may have been at the forefront of experimenting with radio broadcasting, but frankly, they weren’t great at attracting sizable audiences. As Douglas B. Craig explains in his book Fireside Politics, “many university stations [of the 1920s] began operations with high hopes of bringing education to the masses, but soon faltered as broadcasting costs increased, audiences diminished, and professors demonstrated that lecture-hall brilliance did not always translate into good radio technique. These problems were quickly reflected in an unfavorable allocation of frequency or broadcast times, sending many of these stations into a downward spiral to oblivion.”…
Experiments in television brought universities that had failed at radio a fresh start, but it was still unclear as to whether these technologies should be used for narrowly targeted or broadcast purposes. In 1933, the University of Iowa became the first American university to broadcast TV. The first public demonstration of television in the state had occurred just two years earlier at the 1931 Iowa State Fair, and there was tremendous excitement by scientists at the University of Iowa to see what it could accomplish…
In an interview on NPR May 29, Professor J. David Hacker was interviewed about his census data research which leads him to posit that the accepted estimate for number of Civil War casualties is too low, and instead should be roughly 750,000. This is an enormous number, but to truly convey the magnitude of the tragedy and its impact on the country, Hacker points out that the population of the U.S. in the 1860s was about 10 times less than it is now, so that an equivalent war loss today would be 7.5 million deaths. Reading our Civil War diaries and letters with this in mind, we marvel that any of our writers lived to return to their families, and we are grateful that both the survivors and those who lost their lives took the time to make a record of their experience. Imagine the anxiety of those back home, waiting for the next mail, and wondering if they would ever see their loved ones again.
The Figge Art Museum and the University of Iowa Libraries are pleased to announce the release of the Grant Wood Digital Collection, http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/grantwood, in conjunction with the Grant Wood Biennial Symposium 2012, April 13-14, 2012.
This unique digital collection includes more than 12 scrapbooks and albums of news clippings, photographs, postcards, letters, and related ephemera assembled by Grant Wood’s sister, Nan Wood Graham, chronicling her brother’s professional life.
For the first time, scholars, students and the general public will have unprecedented virtual access to the scrapbook materials. Due to their fragility, access to the actual scrapbooks is simply impossible.
“Nan Wood Graham is one of the most famous faces in the history of art, immortalized in Wood’s iconic painting American Gothic. The materials Graham compiled provide wonderful insight into Wood’s life in Iowa and his development as one of the most famous American artists of the 20th century,” says Figge Art Museum registrar Andrew Wallace. “It is gratifying to know that, through this digital collection, people around world are able to learn about the life and times of Grant Wood through the words of close friends, family, and fellow artists.”
This digital collection project would not have been possible without the generous assistance of the Henry Luce Foundation American Art Renewal Fund and through additional funding for imaging equipment provided by an anonymous donor.
These materials, along with several hundred artifacts, including the artist’s wire-rimmed glasses, palettes, paint box, and easel, are part of the Figge Art Museum’s Grant Wood Archive. The Archive has provided primary source material for numerous articles, catalogs, and monographs for over 40 years, most recently by R. Tripp Evans for his award-winning 2010 biography Grant Wood: A Life.
Mauricio Lasansky, the innovative printmaker and founder of the printmaking workshop at the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History, died last week at the age of 97. Lasansky studied and worked at the Atelier 17 workshop prior to his arrival in Iowa City where he continued to influence the course of printmaking in the United States.
Renowned sculptor and printmaker, Elizabeth Catlett, died this week at age 96. Though she called Mexico home for most of her life, she spent a few of her formative years at The University of Iowa. Catlett moved to Iowa City in 1938 to study under Grant Wood at the University’s newly established art school. She received her M.F.A in 1940, the first ever awarded at The University of Iowa.
Catlett called Wood “a very generous teacher” who encouraged his students to “paint what you know.” For Catlett, this meant strong black women and themes of social justice.
It is hard not to imagine that “what she knew” at Iowa influenced her work. Catlett excelled in her art, but like many African American students at the time, the social segregation of Iowa City meant working harder than her white classmates to succeed. Though African Americans could enroll at the University, they were not accepted in the dormitories and so were left to find off-campus housing on their own.
Catlett later recounted her surprise at Iowa’s combination of openness and segregation. “I’d lived in an African American culture my whole life…In Iowa City, I suddenly was living among white people, but I still couldn’t do things like live in the dorms.”
Scholar Richard Breaux, in his article on the housing problems faced by African American women students, notes that Catlett lived at a number of places during her time at Iowa, including the Federation Home at 942 Iowa Avenue, a private rooming house for African American women students. Black students were not allowed entrance to the student Union or most Iowa City restaurants, so Catlett sometimes waited tables for meals at Vivian’s Chicken Shack, a restaurant opened by fellow African American alum, Vivian Trent.
While at Iowa, Catlett connected with writer Margaret Walker, then a student of the newly created Iowa Writers Workshop. Walker and Catlett lived together briefly and graduated from their respective Masters’ programs the same year. Much later in their lives, Catlett produced a series of six prints inspired by Walker’s 1937 poem “For My People” for a 1992 limited edition reissue of the poem.
In addition to these prints, The University of of Iowa Museum of Art holds a number of Catlett’s works, all accessible through the Iowa Digital Library.