Harry Potter and the Quest for Enlightenment

group photo of students

Dragons, mandrakes, and potions have taken over the cases outside Special Collections & University Archives!

Students in Donna Parsons’ Honors Seminar titled “Harry Potter and the Quest for Enlightenment” have curated an exhibit using materials from Special Collections. The exhibit is one part of a semester long project utilizing Special Collections materials for research.  The students chose one item to represent their research and worked together to fit their items into themes for display. 

Parsons’ seminar has the students closely read the texts and analyze their themes as well as investigate the influences from the literary cannon and the effects on popular culture in the US and Britain.  She envisioned the collaboration with Special Collections as an exciting opportunity to enhance student learning. “The Harry Potter series is filled with extensive references to science, literature, mythology, and history,” Parsons says. “Partnering with Special Collections has supplied my students with the resources needed to trace a specific reference and discuss its relevance to a particular scene, character, or plotline.  The partnership has also provided the context for a deeper understanding of the series and its appeal to a diverse audience.”

Greg Prickman, Head of Special Collections & University Archives,  welcomed the collaboration.  “The idea to have the students create an exhibition was Donna’s, and we quickly agreed to it. Rather than showing or telling, we are giving them the chance to do their own showing and telling, which results in a unique learning opportunity that can only be experienced with access to original historical documents.”

Kelsey Sheets, a student in the seminar, loved finding out how complex the world of Harry Potter really is.  “In the past I have read books about how J.K. Rowling draws inspiration from a wide variety of historical and mythical sources and incorporates them into the series, but my own research [on links between the study of Potions and the muggle study of Chemistry] really solidified this point and made me appreciate the depth of the wizarding world.”

The exhibit will be on display until June 12th on the third floor of the Main Library outside Special Collections & University Archives anytime the library is open.

Cooking Pamphlets as Culture

On April 14th Special Collections & University Archives staff visited the International Students’ Cooking Club. György Tóth, a PhD candidate in American Studies and the senior Olson Fellow, prepared some dishes from his native Hungary. Besides the dinner, the evening also featured an introduction to the Chef Louis Szathmáry II Collection of Culinary Arts, with an assortment of pamphlets on hand to browse and a discussion on culture as seen through cooking ephemera led by Outreach and Instruction Librarian Colleen Theisen. Since many of the international students in attendance were from China, the biggest hit of the evening was “The Art and Secrets of Chinese Cooking,” a pamphlet from the Beatrice Foods Company (including the La Choy line of products) from 1949.

Louis Szathmáry was a Hungarian émigré chef, teacher, writer, philanthrophist, an avid book collector, and is considered by many to be the first “celebrity-chef”. The Szathmáry Collection is made up of his extensive collection of books, pamphlets, and manuscripts relating to cooking. You can see digitized versions of many of the pamphlets from the Szathmáry collection here: http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/szathmary/ and the finding aid to the entire collection is here: http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/MSC/ToMsc550/MsC533/MsC533.htm

Hevelin Collection

This week the University of Iowa Libraries is pleased to announce the acquisition of the James L. “Rusty” Hevelin Collection of Pulps, Fanzines, and Science Fiction Books. The original press release can be viewed here.

Rusty Hevelin passed away on December 27, 2011 after an illness. He was a science fiction fan, pulp collector, huckster (a dealer at conventions), and voracious reader for most of his 89 years. He hitchhiked to his first science fiction convention in Denver in 1941. The convention was called Denvention, and it was the third World Science Fiction Convention (the cons known as World Cons). He was the Fan Guest of Honor at Denvention 2 in 1981, and was a presenter at the Hugo Awards ceremony at Denvention 3 in 2008 (photo below from Keith Stokes).

Rusty Denvention, Hevelin Collection

To get a sense of what Rusty’s collection is like, it is helpful to get a sense of what Rusty himself was like. Those who knew Rusty were always impressed by his remarkable memory, and his many years as a science fiction fan made him the stereotypical “walking encyclopedia” of fandom. His early years as a fan, convention attendee, and fanzine writer and publisher were spent in the company, and often personal friendship, of great science fiction writers like Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, Lester Del Rey, and many others. He witnessed the evolution of fandom, the adoption of science fiction by mainstream entertainment companies, and many other changes over the course of his lifetime.

There are several sources online for more details on Rusty’s life:

Interview in Transformative Works: link

Obituary at File 770: link

Gay Haldeman’s bio of Rusty for the Demicon 20 program book: link

Rusty’s collection is now here at the University of Iowa, but Rusty’s connections with the state go back much further. He was one of the founders of the state’s two ongoing science fiction conventions, Icon in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area, and DemiCon in Des Moines.

We will be highlighting many of the interesting items in the collection in the months (and likely years) to come as we begin to unbox and process the collection. Watch this space for future announcements, and also keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter pages. You will also soon be able to subscribe to our upcoming email newsletter.

American Indian Powwow & Exhibit Share Native Living Traditions

Addendum to blog entry on August 7, 2012:


Are you looking for a cultural activity for this coming weekend? How about attending the Meskwaki Powwow in Tama, Iowa? Here is a little historical preview from our exhibition titled “American Indian Dancing: Ethnic Stereotypes, Community Resources, Living Traditions”:


The Powwow Then and Now

By the 1960s, American Indians were using the so-called “powwow circuit” – a network of dance competitions held near Native population centers across the U.S. – to socialize and revitalize their cultures. Eastern Iowa also hosted Indian dancing events. In dated language, Laurence Lafore mentioned it in the October 1971 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

“The surviving red men of the Mesquakie tribe are said to be degraded and oppressed, although the Tama Pow-Wow is a celebrated and good-natured show, and at the approach to Sac City there is a large billboard announcing “Welcome to the home of friendly Indians. You’ll like them without reservations”.”


John M. Zielinski, Mesquakie and Proud of It. Kalona, Iowa: Photo-Art Gallery, 1976. Special Collections x-Collection FOLIO E99.F7 Z5


The Meskwaki are proud that they got some of their territory back not through the grace of the U.S. government, but through their own peaceful efforts: they bought their old lands back from white settlers in Tama, Iowa. Thus they made Tama a settlement, and not a reservation. The billboard’s phrasing not only advertised the powwow, but it also expressed Native resistance to oppressive U.S. Indian policy with subtle humor.

This year’s Meskwaki powwow will be held in Tama between August 9 and 12, 2012. For details, please see the powwow website at http://www.meskwakipowwow.com/


Original blog entry on April 5, 2012:

Are you going to attend the University of Iowa Powwow this weekend (April 7-8)? Have you ever wondered about the origins of the event? This June, Special Collections and University Archives will be presenting an exhibit on the popular history of American Indian dancing from our collections. Here is a preview that can help you understand what goes on at the powwow.

UI Powwow 2009 poster - made by Christine Nobiss


The Powwow as Cultural Revival

Even as white Americans appropriated some of their culture to define Americanness, Indians never stopped using music and dancing for their own purposes. Having moved to the big cities on the U.S. government’s post-World War Two relocation programs, many Native Americans reached back to their tribal cultures for spiritual sustenance and dignity in the face of prejudice and poverty. By the 1960s, American Indians were using the so-called “powwow circuit” – a network of dance competitions held near Native population centers across the U.S. – to socialize and revitalize their cultures.

Student lobbying for more ethnic inclusion and cultural diversity on The University of Iowa campus led to the 1971 creation of the Chicano and Indian American Cultural Center, the predecessor of today’s Latino and Native American Cultural Center. The UI’s American Indian Student Association (AISA) became a separate entity in 1990. In addition to organizing conferences, service learning projects and outreach, the Center and AISA have been greatly enriching our communities with the annual University of Iowa Powwow ever since.

2002 UI Powwow poster


The powwow is an opportunity for all to respectfully share and support Native American cultures. The event has a well-defined structure and a program. It is usually held in a large hall with the dance arena in the center, with places for the drum groups, and surrounded by sections designated for resting dancers and their relatives, and the audience. Along the inner walls of the hall are the booths of arts and crafts vendors, as well as stands that sell Native American foods such as fry bread.

There is a protocol all must follow to make the event enjoyable and respectful. The program usually opens with an invocation or prayer ceremony. The opening event is almost always the marching in of veterans of U.S. wars with the country’s colors, stepping to a song that honors their military service. The subsequent dances have a strict order, and they are announced by the master of ceremony, a position of honor in Native America. Various dances for each sex include traditional style, jingle, and fancy dancing, and they differ in footwork, regalia, posture, and meaning. Often dancers perform their own story. Their regalia are the result of years of hard work, monetary investment, and meaningful gifts. Judges evaluate the dancers in each category, but also the drum groups and singers, who come from many corners of Native America. Besides the cash prize, winning a powwow category honors the dancer or musician, and furthers their own and their family’s reputation across Native communities.

2012 UI Powwow poster

The American Indian powwow is a combination of a variety of cultural forms. Some of its most prominent dance forms like the Omaha or the Grass Dance are derived from the old warrior society dances that Karl Bodmer and George Catlin recorded in their paintings back in the 1830s. Another origin of the modern powwow are the Old Glory Blowout gatherings held by Buffalo Bill in the 1880s near Indian reservations as auditions for the rodeos, dancing and re-enactment performances of his Wild West Show. These events encouraged inter-tribal interaction and cultural exchange, and led to more frequent gatherings with participants from a variety of Native nations. Community dancing also expressed resistance to white domination when the government’s officials were suspicious of or tried to suppress dancing on reservations. Since the mid-20th century, powwows have also featured honoring dances for Native American veterans of the U.S. military – which makes them events of veterans homecoming. When you experience a powwow, you can ‘read’ the event for traces of this rich history of Native-white relations.


Please mark your calendars and visit the UI Powwow website here: http://powwow.uiowa.edu/


The American Indian Student Association welcomes donations to offset the costs of staging the powwow in our community. AISA accept checks sent to their address at

The American Indian Student Association, The University of Iowa, 308 Melrose Avenue, Iowa City, Iowa  52246 Fax: 319-335-2245 Email: studorg-aisa@uiowa.edu


Farewell to Elizabeth Catlett

Image of Catlett's final sculpture "Negro Mother and Child"The New York Times reported today that “Elizabeth Catlett, whose abstracted sculptures of the human form reflected her deep concern with the African-American experience and the struggle for civil rights, died on Monday at her home in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where she had lived since the late 1940s. She was 96. “
Elizabeth was among the first three students to be awarded the MFA degree at the State University of Iowa, and the first African American woman. Her 1940 thesis is in the University Archives; it is a discussion of her sculpture in stone, “Negro Mother and Child.” SUI (as it was known until 1964) was the first public university in the U.S. to accept creative works in lieu of written theses for the Master of Fine Arts degree.