‘Now Do Not Let Your Courage Fail’: Voices from the Civil War


An illustration of Civil War camp life from a contemporary magazine

University of Iowa News Release
May 5, 2011


University of Iowa Libraries has launched a new exhibition and digital collection to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and it’s enlisting the help of a few good men and women (well, lots, really) to help make the collection even more accessible and useful.

The exhibition, “‘Now Do Not Let Your Courage Fail’: Voices from the Civil War,” on display at the UI Main Library through July 30, includes letters and diaries from three manuscript collections held by Special Collections & University Archives that offer intriguing perspectives on the war. The experiences of Ferdinand Winslow, an officer in the Union army; Thomas Rescum Sterns, a soldier in the Union army; and Amanda and Mary Shelton, nurses who cared for soldiers through the Christian Commission, bring to life the everyday reality of the conflict.

Accompanying these manuscripts are artifacts from the war, including two Civil War-era quilts from a private collection and a dress worn to a wedding that is on loan from the Kalona Quilt and Textile Museum.

While viewing the exhibition in person, visitors can access digitized versions of the letters and diaries by scanning codes under each piece. This allows viewers to see pages from these collections that are not on display and follow the stories told through the letters.

The digital collection, which was scanned by UI Special Collections & University Archives, is also available online from any computer through the Iowa Digital Library at http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cwd.

But the 3,000-plus diaries and letters are digitized images — effectively photographs — that require viewers who want to read them to interpret the handwriting of hundreds of different writers. It also means users cannot search the text for particular words or phrases.

To transcribe that much documentation could take decades and thousands of dollars. But UI Libraries is experimenting with “crowdsourcing,” or collaborative transcription of manuscript materials, in which members of the general public with time and interest conduct the transcription and check one another for accuracy in much the same way contributors to Wikipedia help create a collection of data, information and knowledge.

“Crowdsourcing is revolutionizing the study of the humanities by making available to the public and scholars miles of documents that were previously off-limits, difficult to read or unsearchable,” said Nicole Saylor, head of Digital Library Services.

UI Libraries is inviting volunteers to take a few minutes, hours or days to read and help transcribe some of the pages of a Civil War-era diary, which will not only benefit the library and patrons, but give crowdsourcing participants a glimpse into a more personal side of one of American history’s most significant events. To learn more about this opportunity, visit http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cwd/transcripts.html.


To be the first to receive updates  about our programming and holdings, please “like” our University of Iowa Special Collections & University Archives page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/uiowaspecialcollections

Being Biblical Through the Ages


How did versions of the Bible reflect the struggles of the European Reformation? How did the Bible “migrate” to America? What is a Cherokee Testament? How did President Lincoln use the Bible in his private and political life? Can the Bible be a comic book?

Editions of the King James Bible around the world are coming out of the woodwork to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the “Authorized Version.” You may want to keep an eye out for any King James Bible sightings in your neighborhood – all the more so because Special Collections is launching a temporary exhibition on the cultural influence of the Bible and its 1611 King James Version.

Our exhibit  follows a timeline from the 13th through the 21st century, but it also traces certain themes and developments in bibles as well as Bible-related and -inspired materials. Foremost among these is how books made for biblical performances and experiences – in church, meditation, literature, education, and political decision making. As Dr. Blaine Greteman observes, “For hundreds of years the King James Bible provided the script for life – used for weddings and funerals, swearing in presidents, and documenting family histories.”

One example:

Bible Book of Maccabees II Chapters 24 leaf recto

Special Collections call number: xfMMs.Bi3


It wasn’t merely church doctrine and Latin language that kept early Bibles out of the hands of the laity. Manuscript Bibles, produced on vellum (sheep or goat skin) were tremendously expensive to produce.  Often elaborately illuminated, they were both holy writ and objects of desire. This is a leaf of a Bible produced by the workshop of William de Brailes, a 13th Century artist who illuminated the famous “Oxford Bible,” which consists of thirty-four illuminated miniatures depicting biblical events from the fall of the Rebel Angels to the Last Judgment. This page is from Maccabees II, a book that Catholics and Orthodox Christians consider canonical, but most Protestants consider as part of the “Apocrypha.”


Please come visit our Bible exhibit in the corridor on the 3rd floor of the University of Iowa Main Library.

Library Guide on the 1960s


Image from the 1965 University of Iowa Hawkeye yearbook, University Archives.


What was it like to be a student, a professor, university staff, or a resident of a US college town in the 1960s? Special Collections & University Archives is launching a Library Guide – a collection of resources for learning, teaching, and researching the history of the 1960s at the University of Iowa, the state of Iowa, the United States of America, and internationally. The events of the 1960s and ‘70s at the University of Iowa and in the Iowa City area may serve as representative of the larger trends in the US and the world. In other words, you can use Iowa City, and the state of Iowa as case studies to compare with the larger processes and other case studies of the 1960s. This era, which scholars also call “the long 1960s,” actually started in the 1950s and stretched into the 1970s. The Sixties is an exciting period because, as of this writing, many of its participants are still with us, eager to tell us about how their youth continues to shape our present. Through their memories and the surviving documents, artifacts and cultural forms, we can better understand who we are and choose what kind of future we want to make for ourselves.

Our LibGuide is divided thematically and based on the forms and media of the information you may be looking for. As you will see , it is also “illustrated” with some photographs taken from the pages of the University of Iowa Hawkeye yearbooks of the 1960s and early 1970s.


“A Background to the 1960s” gives you a cursory overview of social and political activism in the US and the world, the ideological influences of the Cold War, and interpreting popular cultural forms as documents and expression of the larger historical context. 

“Search Terms” explains you the importance of generating phrases that serve as key words for your searches in a variety of databases, and will yield results that pertain to your project.

Our section on “Teaching Resources” enables those looking to educate students about the 1960s to get a sense of the kinds of courses taught about this theme at the University of Iowa, to browse the multitude of syllabi posted on the Internet by professors from other schools, and to survey teaching resources in other media forms such as books, conferences, and Internet portals.

“Books & Articles” gives you a list of scholarly publications about the 1960s. The library call numbers at the end of each entry enable you to locate the books at the University of Iowa Libraries. Starting here, our sections are also organized into a triad: the center column is a list of “Local (Eastern Iowa and Iowa state)” resources; the left column lists “Regional and US National” resources, while the right column is a window to the “international” sites on the 1960s.

Our “Newspapers” section lists a variety of serial publications that may serve as primary sources for the study, teaching and research of the 1960s.

The “Research Collections” section gives you a list of physical collections on the history of the 1960s, mostly in archives and libraries.

“Web Resources” gives you links to a number of virtual exhibitions and digital collections on the 1960s and related topics.

Finally, our “Museum Collections” section takes you to websites of museums that have either permanent or temporary exhibitions on themes around the 1960s. Please keep in mind that even if a temporary exhibition has already closed, sometimes you may still be able to do research on its materials in the particular museum’s holdings. For this you will need to contact the museum directly before you make plans to visit it.


The Art of the Counterculture: Talk Featuring Collection on Lil Picard


For a personal excursion into the art of the counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s, join WorldCanvass at 5:00 p.m. on January 28 in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol Museum. Among other guests of the show, the head of Special Collections & University Archives Sid Huttner will talk about the life and work of 20th century feminist artist and critic Lil Picard.  Picard was born in Germany in 1899 and worked as a cabaret actress, accessories designer and journalist in the avant-garde art scene of 1930s Berlin before leaving Germany for the U.S. in 1937.  For the next six decades she led a rich life working both as a journalist and as an artist in New York City, moving in the circle of Andy Warhol, Carolee Schneemann, Ad Reinhardt and their contemporaries.  The works in Picard’s estate, as well as personal letters, diaries, and photographs, were given to the UI in 1999 and they form the basis of the UI Museum of Art’s upcoming exhibit “Lil Picard and Counterculture New York.”  The collection and exhibit curators will give us a peek at the energy, experimentation and iconoclasm represented in the show.

For more on the Papers of Lil Picard, red our online finding aid:


From Iowa to Soviet Siberia: The Zimmerman Steel Journey II

In 1931, Henry Zimmerman of Lone Tree, Iowa traveled to Kuznetsk, Siberia, to oversee the building of steel mills in the Soviet Union. The University of Iowa Special Collections has been collaborating with Russian History doctoral student Irina Rezhapova (Kuzbass Institute of the Federal Penal Service) on a special digital project which tells the story of Zimmerman’s journey. Special Collections will be making available online Henry Zimmerman’s personal letters and scrapbooks of photographs, news clippings and ephemera about his time in Soviet Siberia – all part of our Records of the Zimmerman Steel Company (http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/MSC/ToMsC900/MsC850/zimmermansteelworks.html).

 This is Entry 2 of 3 of the Zimmerman Steel Journey.


“Foreign Specialists” in the Soviet Union: Exchanges of Technology and Work Ethic

The kinds of exchanges that took place in Siberia between the “foreign specialists” – experts from the US, Germany, Italy, France, Austria and Romania – and the Soviet workers, servants and administrators involved much more than one-way technology transfer. Planning and working side by side, steel experts from these countries also exchanged ideas and attitudes about labor. Thus Henry Zimmerman, who probably brought with him a strong individualist American work ethic which he acquired from his father’s business and other US companies, was now exposed to a Soviet work ethic that emphasized labor as an achievement and sacrifice for the collective: the ruling Communist Party and the future of Communism in Russia. In this Soviet work ethic, the individual’s achievement was valued not in its own right, but as another example of the supremacy of the working class of the Soviet people, and of Communism as a political and economic system. Soviet mines, factories and steel plants organized “socialist competitions” between working brigades in making bricks, loading coal, completing buildings or molding steel in larger quantities or well ahead of their original deadlines. The winners of such competitions received awards such as the designation “foremost worker,” vacations, and appearances at national holidays, political parades and historical commemorations. 

Even without being able to read Russian, we can see that the images in this 1932 article were posed to make Soviet workers appear heroic people who move mountains in building a robust new industry out of nothing for the glory of the Soviet Union.

Pages from a Russian magazine article about the construction of the steel mills in 1932


Was there harmony in the workplace between American engineers and Russian workers?

Hardly. In addition to the harsh weather and the differences in work ethic, Western specialists like Henry Zimmerman also faced professional rivalry from Soviet engineers and workers, who had strong national and occupational pride. “The Russian engineers insisted that they could do the various jobs themselves. They refused to follow our instructions. We pulled off of one job because of this, and they went ahead and caused an accident that killed 32 men. [….] We later organized our own bunch to keep the Russians out of our hair. All our recommendations were typewritten, and they stuck their necks out if they didn’t follow them. We got good cooperation from the [Soviet] government.” (“Personality Profile: Ageless Wizard is still Going Strong,” by Jim Arpy, Sunday Times-Democrat July 26, 1964)


Did the Soviets try to convert the Americans to Communism?

 You bet! The Soviet leadership not only wanted to acquire technological expertise from the Western advisers, but they also wanted to educate their guests in the ideology of Marxism – hoping to convert them to the Soviet political and economic system. Accordingly, Russian officials included Communist propaganda in their briefings and lectures for Western advisers, as well as Russian language courses and group discussions of technology and life in the Soviet Union.

Were U.S. and other Western specialists successfully indoctrinated with Communist ideology? Even Russian researchers are doubtful about the outcome. “[Western experts] had a double attitude towards political messages: some were listened to, especially if reports were read in their native language, but others were ignored.” (O.A. Belousova, “Foreign Experts and the Soviet Reality: Life of the First Kuznetsk Builders.” 2003, translation by Irina Rezhapova) Do you think that they managed to convince Henry Zimmerman that Communism was the best political and economic system?


Please check our blog for the first and the third entry of the Zimmerman Steel Journey.


By Gyorgy “George” Toth, PhD Candidate in American Studies, Olson Fellow, The University of Iowa Special Collections & University Archives,
Irina Rezhapova, PhD Candidate, Russian History, Kuzbass Institute of the Federal Penal Service

UI alumni heed the Homecoming call

Ah, homecoming: A nearly century-old UI football ritual with more traditions than you can punt, pass or kick. A few of them are described in the October “Old Gold,” a monthly feature by university archivist David McCartney for Spectator@Iowa, a publication of the Office of University Relations for alumni and friends of the University of Iowa: