Throughout the history of journalism, there have been different mediums in which writers tell their stories. Print, TV and radio have all dominated the journalistic world at one point in time, and while there are many forms to share information, Special Collections explores Tom Brokaw’s stories from the greatest generation through an exhibit, Stories Worth Telling: Marking 20 Years of “The Greatest Generation.”
Stories Worth Telling: Marking 20 Years of “The Greatest Generation” uses pages, photographs and artifacts from the book, The Greatest Generation, which documents the experiences leading to World War II and those who fought in the war. It also uses materials from the African American Museum of Iowa, Iowa Women’s Archives, and the State Historical Society of Iowa.
Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation, hit the book shelves 20 years ago and became a quick bestseller. The book stirred something within the memory of American citizens, and soon letters from readers poured into Brokaw’s office, sharing their thoughts and own stories about their time on the battlefield or on the home front.
These letters were kept and eventually made their way to the University of Iowa Libraries when Brokaw donated his papers to Special Collections in 2016. Elizabeth Riordan grew up watching Brokaw, and being a history fanatic herself, she wanted to know more about the collection. So, in 2017 Riordan was hired as the Graduate Research Assistant for the Papers of Tom Brokaw: A Life & Career.
“It’s a fascinating collection,” Riordan said. “You get the biggest events from the last 50 years from the point of view of a reporter, as well as the people he interviewed. It’s also interesting just to look at the history and evolution of journalism.”
While processing the material, Riordan found a lot of interesting objects, including rocks from the Great Wall of China and poems about the moon landing. However, her favorite part of the collection are the letters from readers that came in after The Greatest Generation was written.
And it’s these letters that are the focal point of the exhibit in the Main Gallery.
“So many people shared their personal stories of triumph and tragedy through manuscripts and letters,” Riordan said. “It opens a different window into a moment of time not always seen in our history books.”
Surrounding the avalanche of letters in the gallery, the “Greatest Generation” unfolds along the walls through quotes from the book, with more stories of people with Iowa connections added along the back wall. Material from Special Collections, Iowa Women’s Archives, African American Museum of Iowa, and the State Historical Society of Iowa all add a part to the WWII narrative.
“I wanted the exhibit to speak for itself,” Riordan said. “There are so many individual voices telling the story of our past, that I feel it makes it unique. I encourage people to read the stories in the avalanche art piece; don’t just stand and look at it from afar.”
“The letters share where we were as a country and where we can still go,” Riordan continued. “Brokaw called them the “Greatest Generation.” My hope is that this exhibit makes you think about what that term means.”
The exhibit is open to the public from Sept. 7th – Jan. 4, 2019 and visitors can see it Monday- Friday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m., with Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. The exhibit is in the Main Gallery on the first floor of the Main Library.