American Indian Dancing Exhibition

Image of Native American DancingWe are pleased to announce our summer exhibition outside Special Collections & University Archives titled “American Indian Dancing: Ethnic Stereotypes, Community Resources, Living Traditions”.  What follows is the Curator’s Statement from Olson Fellow Gyorgy Toth who will shortly be finishing his two years with us as an indespensible part of the team as well as finishing his PhD in American Studies.

Curator’s Statement

A culmination of my training as a scholar and an archivist, this exhibition aims to showcase items from the holdings of our Special Collections and University Archives related to American Indian dancing. This topic cannot be separated from the longer history of Euro-American and Native American relations, which includes trade, mutual cultural influences, violence, material and cultural dispossession, resistance, and revitalization.

The Native Peoples of the Americas had used music and dancing in their communities for social functions, cultural expression, and spiritual events for thousands of years before Europeans ever landed on their shores. Yet the rest of the world learned the meanings of American Indian dancing largely through European eyes, and with European biases. Our collections are especially rich in items that illustrate how Euro-American explorers, scientists, artists and cultural entrepreneurs imagined, depicted and understood American Indian dancing. Our Harvey Ingham Collection contains a great number of accounts about American Indians ranging from the scientific to the popular, the lurid, and the sensational. The Redpath Chautauqua Collection’s wealth of talent brochures yielded many examples of how Euro-Americans impersonated Indians, and how some Native Americans advocated for their nations, as they educated and entertained primarily white middle class audiences in the late 19th and early 20th century. Dr. Betsy Loyd Harvey graciously lent her expertise to our installation on ‘playing Indian’ on the Chautauqua circuit.

Even as Euro-Americans appropriated some of their culture to define Americanness, Indians never stopped using music and dancing for their own purposes. To provide a corrective to the many Euro-American images of American Indian dancing, I turned to our collections of Native American-produced materials. From the Records of the Latino-Native American Cultural Center and other University Archives collections emerged items that powerfully link our own university’s history to the larger Native American revival of the post-World War Two period. Foremost among them are items produced by the UI’s American Indian Student Association for their annual powwow. Please support this cultural festival by donating to The American Indian Student Association, The University of Iowa, 308 Melrose Avenue, Iowa City, Iowa  52246 Fax: 319-335-2245 Email: I am especially thankful to Christine Nobiss for lending her beautiful powwow artwork to decorate this exhibition.

Like the origins of the powwow, the meanings of American Indian dancing are many-layered. In them, Euro-American biases like fascination, good will, business and cultural exploitation, masquerading, tribute and scientific interest are intermixed with Native agendas and motivations that include cultural revival, resistance to domination, profit ventures, and social and spiritual functions. Instead of judging just one aspect, we need to be aware of how these meanings are all intertwined in any image or performance of Indian dancing. Only this way can we truly appreciate the history and enduring vitality of American Indian dancing.


Gyorgy “George” Toth –


PhD Candidate, American Studies

Robert A. Olson Fellow, Special Collections and University Archives

The University of Iowa


The exhibition is on display anytime the Main Library is open in the third floor corridor outside Special Collections & University Archives and will be on display through early September

Life of Napoleon Extra-Illustrated and Vincent Fitzgerald & Co. Acquisitions

Napoleon Letter and booksOur collections continue to grow through the generosity of our donors, who have made it possible for impressive new resources to become available to our community. 

Recently acquired is an extra-illustrated copy of The Life of Napoleon Bonapart by William Sloane, which joins an extra-illustrated set of the same biography that has been part of our collection for over 100 years, and thought to be the only one of its kind.  The original set is Monastery Hill bookbinder Ernst Hertzberg’s own extra-illustrated copy of The Life of Napoleon.  Hertzberg transformed the set from four to twelve volumes with the addition of portraits, engravings, maps, original letters and more. The set, completed with his own beautiful fine bindings, earned him a gold medal for binding at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis.   It was purchased by Martha Ranney and donated to the University in 1907.  A descendant of the Hertzberg family, Fritz James, CEO of LBS in Des Moines, has now purchased for the UI Libraries another extra-illustrated Life of Napoleon, which was also bound by Monastery Hill.  This copy, from Michigan supreme court judge and Napoleon scholar Thomas Weadlock, is bound in 10 volumes and with its numerous illustrations are not only more than a dozen letters from generals and historic figures but also three handwritten and signed letters from Napoleon himself.  The two copies together open up countless avenues for scholarship and admiration through their beauty and historic context, through the documents and artifacts bound inside, but also through the study of the collectors and binders responsible for such unique pieces of art and history. 

Mirrored book with transparent lazer cut textA generous donation from the Angora Ridge Foundation has made it possible for us to complete our collection of works from Vincent Fizgerald & Co., a New York based publisher founded in 1980 that produces limited edition artist’s books.  Most of the works from this publisher are hand-printed with handset type, using handmade paper and images created through linocut, itaglio, lithography, silkscreen and photogravure.  Several of the new aquisitions are available on our browseable new aquisitions shelf for artist’s books in the reading room.  Stop by and unfold the layers of this (remarkably difficult to photograph) sculptural book called Fragments of Light 5 by Linda Schrank that features the poetry of Rumi translated by Partovi.

Mad for Mad Men Exhibit

Are you a fan of the show Mad Men, 1960s fashion, or the cut-throat world of advertising?  Check out our new exhibit on Pinterest featuring items from Special Collections & University Archives and the Pomerantz Business Library!

Source: via Special on Pinterest

Source: via Kimberly on Pinterest


Source: via Special on Pinterest


Source: via Special on Pinterest

New Perspectives as Museum Studies Students Process Archives

Four students pursuing certificates in Museum Studies recently completed internships with The University Archives in the Spring 2012 Semester.  Krystal Rusk processed the records of WSUI/KSUI Broadcasting Services, Elizabeth Blind processed the Macbried Field Campus record, Kirsten Glover processed the record of the UI Early Childhood Education Center and Jessica Wittry processed the Murray (Fiske) Family Papers.  Students in libraries, archives and museum studies programs are increasingly finding value in crossing boundaries to find out how different institutions respond to similar concepts and problems.  We would like to thank them very much for their hard work and assistance and wish them well in the future.

Archives offered a unique perspective to complement the goals for each student.  Elizabeth Blind got caught up in the stories that unfolded as she worked, saying, “It taught me that no matter what collection you are working with it has a story to tell–even one mainly comprised of official proposals and budgets. One of the most enjoyable aspects of working with this collection for me was getting to know the people involved with the campus through their letters and correspondences. I really feel like I know Betty van der Smissen and Richard Holzaepfel, two of the campus directors, and enjoyed reading their letters following the establishment and continued maintenance of the Macbride Field Campus.”   She will pair her Museum Studies Certicate with her recently completed BA in Anthropology and minor in Art History working part-time this summer while volunteering at a local museum and applying to Art History masters programs for the fall of 2013.

Jessica Wittry will be a senior in the fall and is a double major in Anthropology and International Studies. She wanted to process a collection because,  “It seems like a very basic part of managing a museum. So many museums have a backlog of items that haven’t been processed, so no one knows exactly what they have and that is crucial in order to both take care of the artifacts and to create an exhibit from them.”  While she has not decided what kind of cultural heritage institution she’d like to work for, she says she learned a lot that applies to any kind of collection.  “In processing a collection I’ve learned about the basic care of manuscripts as well as how to document the collection through creating finding aids for the collection. I’ve also indirectly learned a little about the managerial work involved with running an archive as I would see others helping students use the collections for different types of research.”  Wittry said that one of the highlights for her was finding a letter that she realized came from president Grover Cleveland.  Though the handwriting is tough to make out it seems to involve a discussion of a Judge Parker and specifically mentions imperialism.  Can you help puzzle out what the letter says?

Handwritten letter from Grover Cleveland.



New Aquisitions from The University Archives

Foam maskThe University Archives recently received an unusual object from donor Emil Rinderspacher, a UI alumnus: A human head-shaped plastic form, created by students in the UI School of Art and Art History as part of an anti-war protest over 40 years ago. Students created hundreds of these “heads,” which were placed on trees on the Pentacrest one spring morning in 1970. This item accompanies papers from Mr. Rinderspacher which document campus activism at the time. The materials are now part of the student life collections of the University Archives.



military documentOver two dozen resource guides help University Archives researchers find what they’re looking for. These guides may be found at A recent addition is our guide to military and wartime service collections, at This guide lists such collections as the Records of the Department of Military Science and Records of the Civilian Pilot Training Program, 1942-1944.



Box of Captain Crunch

 Once in a while, the University Archivist donates material to the Archives. After chowing down several bowls of Cap’n Crunch cereal, David McCartney donated his empty box featuring former UI student Brandon Routh as Superman in the 2006 blockbuster movie of the same name. Hooray for Hollywood!




1893 yearbook coverYearbooks and student newspapers are two of the University Archives’ most popular resources. Nearly daily researchers’ questions are answered by consulting one or both of these collections. Now, both are online as part of the Iowa Digital Library. The Hawkeye yearbook, published from 1892 to 1992, is at You may browse by decade and year by using the drop-down menu at the left of the screen. The Daily Iowan newspaper (previous names include The Vidette, The University Reporter, and the Vidette-Reporter) collection spans 1868, its first year of operation, to the present. It can be accessed at Both online collections are text-searchable, though the Daily Iowan search feature is still being refined.

“The Defaulter,” or, the Loan Crisis on the American Stage

Did you know that U.S. society lived through major economic crises before the Great Depression? How did American popular theater depict these financial crises?


A reference question sent our graduate fellow Gyorgy “George” Toth looking in our John Springer Printed Ephemera Collection, which has some amazing playbills, programs, and advertisements of popular theater from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. There he found an advertising booklet for the play “The Defaulter,” which has some arresting imagery, as you can see below.

"The Defaulter" melodramatic stage play, cca. 1890s
"The Defaulter" play advertising booklet page 3


The play is advertised as “A Play of Today – showing Scenes of Today –  of the Life of Today – in the World of Today – with the Aims of Today,” and “a Play Understood by All because of its Thorough Truthfulness to Nature.” What was “the world of today”? And what real events was the play based on?


A quick search by our Instruction and Outreach Librarian Colleen Theisen revealed that the play was advertised (and likely performed) as early as January of 1896. If it was based on real events, this means that the crisis it refers to predates the Great Depression!

"The Defaulter" play advertising booklet page 2


In fact, by 1897 the United States had been in an economic depression for years. Farmers had been losing their land, the unemployed had been traveling the country for work, some people had defaulted on their loans, while others had made a run on the banks for their money. Yet others organized and marched to Washington, D.C. to plead their case with the government. While the play’s humor made the audience laugh, the tears they shed likely came from the viewers’ empathy for those in dire straits, and their fear of their own ruin.

"The Defaulter" play advertising booklet page 5
"The Defaulter" play advertising booklet page 7


Why the wide gestures, the bombastic poses? This play was part of a long tradition of stage acting called the melodramatic mode. Americans in the Victorian era (the second half of the 19th century) watched melodramas as a major pastime. Melodramas were plays for the American popular stage, accompanied by music, featuring stock characters such as a hero, a heroine and a villain, and conveying messages about morality in rather dramatic and overblown, sensational fashion. Setting the economic crisis, a highly complex and scary experience, as a melodrama allowed people to easier understand the situation, to identify with their favorite characters, and to experience a cathartic but happy ending – something most people wanted. In this way, the producers used popular culture not only to make a profit, but also to comfort the spectators and give them hope for the future.




By the late 19th century, melodrama as a stage and literary genre had acquired a reputation for being a lowbrow cultural form consumed by the unsophisticated members of the lower classes. This may be the reason why a reviewer (or promoter?!) assured newspaper readers in 1896 that “It is a drama abounding in strong situations and thrilling climaxes, but there is nothing of a Melodramatic character about it.”


After the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the genre of melodrama migrated from novels and the stage to film and pulp literature. In the Victorian era and beyond, melodrama was a major cultural form in which people were both entertained and processed the complex experiences of romantic love, urban life, immigration, and industrial labor relations. Special Collections and University Archives has several major collections about the history of the U.S. stage and popular culture. Please look at their descriptions here:


Do you know any plays or movies that are trying to give hope to Americans struggling with today’s global recession?