Creating First-hand Experiences with Manuscript Open Houses

Below is a reflection from Micaela Terronez, Olson Graduate Assistant, on the “Manuscripts at Special Collections” open houses.

Can I really touch it?

One curious visitor asked this question in amazement as they gazed at one of the twenty-one visiting manuscripts from Les Enluminures, a gallery of unique text manuscripts with locations in New York, Paris, and Chicago. As a part of the program, “Manuscripts in the Curriculum,” Les Enluminures temporarily loans a select group of unique manuscripts to educational institutions. Fortunately, The University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections was able to host the manuscripts, covering various contexts and locations from the 13th to the 19th century. In addition to classroom integration, Special Collections planned a series of open houses for the University and broader community to have hands-on experience engaging with these one-of-a-kind pieces. From August to November, around 200 visitors viewed the visiting manuscripts—along with a couple favorites from our own collections.

Logistically speaking, each open house exhibited 10 to 12 manuscripts aligned with a pre-decided theme. The themes included: Signs of Production, Decoration and Illumination, Script and Scribe, Manuscripts Outside Latin West, Medieval Society, Vernacular Texts, Music, Medieval Authors, and Bestsellers. This diverse set of themes allowed us to highlight certain texts each week without exhausting the materials or the visitors. The open houses were marketed through classroom instructions, social media, departmental networking, events, newsletters, and blogs. These efforts garnered an audience of students, scholars, and outside community members of various ages and backgrounds.

At the open houses, guests were given brief guidelines to handling the manuscripts and were encouraged to turn the leaves by the margins. Like the curious visitor above, many could not believe that they could touch, let alone, move through the leaves of a codex to see every script and image. However, in cases with a large number of visitors, guests were advised to admire the manuscripts without touching as to protect the longevity and structure of the manuscript. During these events, special precautions were taken to make sure the manuscripts were handled carefully, while also allowing the viewer to engage and ask questions. Non-flash photographs were highly encouraged, and many patrons took away some amazing captures to keep and share with friends and family. We also offered an interactive matching game of medieval authors, temporary tattoos, buttons, and bookmarks for visitors to take home.

Because of an increase in public visitors, the fall semester was a whirlwind of planning, marketing, curation, learning, and teaching. For example, Elizabeth Riordan (Outreach and Engagement Librarian) and I created specially made description cards for each manuscript on display—that’s a lot of writing and research! The description cards served two purposes. First, it was the perfect way for us to learn more about the visiting manuscripts, along with the interesting details and histories. This knowledge proved highly valuable during open houses and classes. Secondly, visitors were able to easily understand the terminology, history, production, and uses of the items exhibited. These descriptions also helped to spur questions and discussions throughout the weeks. Riordan and I also enjoyed choosing manuscripts from our own collections to feature alongside the visiting manuscripts. In this way, we were both able to think more contextually about the manuscripts from Iowa and what themes can be highlighted throughout them. In addition to our visitors, we both walked away from the open houses more knowledgeable about medieval manuscripts, their features, and histories.

There were several other benefits and take-aways from these open houses. Perhaps most importantly, we learned a great deal about the value of increasing access and visibility of the manuscripts through hands-on exploration. Patrons made incredible observations about the texts, while also initiating fruitful discussions amongst themselves and with staff.  They also inquired about the contexts, materiality, users, producers, and authors. More so, visitors were able to actually feel the hair of the parchment, translate scripts, study the bindings, and so much more! With calm medieval chants playing in the background, many also took the events as an opportunity to relax and purely admire the artistry behind the texts. I would say friendships and interactions were created among these beautiful works, an effect that perhaps wouldn’t have happened without the hands-on experience with the manuscripts.

The open house series ended with one last exhibit, as well as a visit and talk titled “People and the Book: the Voices of Manuscripts from the Middle Ages” from Laura Light of Les Enluminures. These final events allowed visitors to ask intriguing questions about the visiting manuscripts from Light, an expert historian on medieval works. As November comes to a close, it is now time to say goodbye to these works. I, for one, am going to miss the manuscripts very much. Here are a couple of photographs from my favorite visiting manuscript, a “Roll of Arms” created during the Elizabethan period in England. The manuscript features stunningly detailed shields, illustrated crowns, and stylized arms shaking hands to signify marriage. Like myself, I am sure many visitors appreciated the work and talent that went into these lovely pieces.

The successful planning and implementation of the open houses was a team effort of the library and conservation staff, and we were incredibly grateful for the opportunity to engage with the community, students, and faculty during these open houses. Thank you to all that visited Special Collections, asked questions, and made us ponder the creation and use of these manuscripts. We hope you continue to visit us in the future, whether it is for research, exploration, or just admiring a cool book or leaf.

Relevant links:

Les Enluminures manuscripts

Manuscripts in the Curriculum program

Dean Sieperda (Delta Tau Delta) dressed as Herky

Reflections of UI’s Furry and Feathery Mascots

As we get ready to celebrate Herky’s 70th birthday, curator of the “Hatching Herky” exhibit, Chloe Waryan, looks back on her experiences and Iowa mascots of old. 

In the summer of 2018, I was fortunate enough to be awarded an internship at the University of Iowa Special Collections and University Archives in which I was tasked to design an exhibit celebrating the 70th birthday of Herky the Hawk. I am so touched by the kindness that I received from University Archivist David McCartney, Director of Development Mary Rettig of the Center for Advancement, and donor Jane Roth. I am happy to report that I had a lot of fun learning about the history of the University of Iowa during this internship too!

Press Citizen's picture of Burch the Bear on a chair
Burch the Bear

Though the pre-Herky mascots didn’t make it into the exhibit, their history is fascinating. With the popularity of St. Burch’s Tavern, a new downtown restaurant, many Iowa Citizans may already know that our first mascot was a real live black bear cub named Burch. The significance of a bear as an emblem of UI is unknown, though we do know that the Chicago Cubs also had a black bear sent to them to serve as a mascot around this same time. When Burch became a full-grown bear, he broke out of his cage in the City Park Zoo (yes, City Park once had a zoo), and fled to the riverbank where he was later found dead. On March 10, 1910, the Press Citizen released an article titled “Burch is Found with Taxidermist,” detailing the plans of taxidermist Homer Dill who did work for the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History. However, after talking to Cindy Opitz, current Collections Manager of the UI Museum of Natural History, we learn that if he did indeed drown, Burch’s head was probably bloated and therefore not suitable for taxidermy. According to a Press Citizen article on April 8, 2018, Trina Roberts, Director of UI’s Pentacrest Museums, does not know where Burch’s head or bones may be.

Homecoming button with Rex the Dog on it
Rex (the first) in button form

Almost 20 years later, the University adopted a 200-pound Great Dane named Rex as their next mascot. Lieutenant Colonel Converse K. Lewis, head of the UI Military Department, originally gifted the dog to Alpha Sigma Phi. Rex wore a tailored band uniform at football games and acted as the UI mascot until his death in 1933. Following Rex’s death, the University received another dog (either a Great Dane or St. Bernard) which they cleverly named Rex II. The University also used a real hawk as a mascot before Delta Tau Delta’s own Larry Herb donned the first Herky costume in the late 1950’s. From then on, Herky was always cast as a Delta Tau Delta until the fraternity lost their UI charter in 1998 due to drug and alcohol use. Tryouts for Herky the Hawk opened up to the entire student body of UI. In 1999, Angie Anderson and Carrie MacDonald were the first female students chosen to be the mascot. Anderson was injured while playing Herky when an Ohio State band member wielded a 3-foot foam banana at her head. She filed a lawsuit against Ohio State and in 2002, Anderson was awarded $25,000. Shortly after, Herky’s “human identity” was kept a stricter secret and security members were also hired each year, in order to keep the mascot safe.

Dean Sieperda (Delta Tau Delta) dressed as Herky
Dean Sieperda (Delta Tau Delta) dressed as Herky

As a graduate of the UI School of Library and Information Science program, I learned through this internship many things about collaboration in libraries. I was welcomed onto the Herky Birthday Committee with open arms. I formed a great partnership with the Spirit Coordinator of UI. I learned about the awesome physical education collection at the Iowa Women’s Archives. All in all, I will truly treasure my time at the Special Collections. Even the rainy days were fun!

Join us September 14th, 2018 for a special Open House to celebrate the history of Herky. Event starts at 11AM and runs till 2PM, 3rd Floor of Main Library. Herky will even be joining us for the party starting at 12PM! All are welcomed to join! 

 

Photo Credits: Burch from Press Citizen, Rex from Regalia and Artifacts Collections (RG 31.01.01), and Dean Sieperda as Herky from F.W. Kent Photograph Collection (RG30.0001.001)

Cover of New Challenge with image of Dora Lee Martin

Dora Lee and Arthurine: A Story of Two Black Women in 1955-1956

By Jacque Roethler, Manuscripts Processing Coordinator

In the firestorm that was the desegregation movement of the nineteen fifties and sixties, the experiences of two women of color makes a nuanced statement about race and its implications.  Dora Lee Martin attended the University of Iowa and sixty years ago on December 10, 1955, the seventeen year old freshman from Texas was elected “Miss SUI”. Arthurine Lucy was admitted to the University of Alabama but was denied entry in March of 1956 and suffered many abuses. The two experiences are a telling contrast that was remarked upon in several news clippings from the time.

Cover of New Challenge with image of Dora Lee Martin

Dora Lee was raised by her grandmother as only child of a partially paralyzed mother. She had an aunt who had no children, so she was surrounded by relatives as the only child of the entire family. She lived in Loving Canadan, a black enclave in the Third Ward of Houston, where the whole area functioned as an extended family. She rarely left this enclave until she went to Jack Yates High School. There she had a hard time at first because she was coming from a two room schoolhouse to a school that served about a thousand students. Also, she says in her oral history recording that she was fat and they called her “doughbelly”.  Between the second and third years, however, she lost weight and in the fall of her third year, she became very active in school. In her senior year she was elected “Miss Jack Yates.”

 

She came to the University of Iowa on a scholarship and within months she had been elected by her dormitory mates to participate in the Miss State University of Iowa 1955 contest. In an oral history she emphasizes that this was not a beauty pageant, but rather a contest involving performance, poise and popularity. She and her dorm mates and her campaign team worked hard, creating a unified presentation (what would be called a brand today) around “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” She was a singer who sang with a band at parties in Iowa City so, as part of her campaign she went to boys’ dormitories and fraternity houses and sang this song for them.  They made paper roses to hand out as favors.  Martin said that none of the gowns were hers, but her dorm mates would lend her theirs. She had overwhelming support from the Black community. She has said of this experience:

Never before had I been a part of anything where there was such single-mindedness and such dedication – it really felt special to have all these people working together for the same goal. And there was such harmony and unity.  It made me appreciate what it meant to be a proud Black American in 1955. What we could accomplish if we all . . .  put our efforts together and work for something.”  (IWA0331 Oral history transcription, page 19)

 

Image of Dora Lee Martin being crowned

She won the contest by fifty votes. Her election made international news. The University of Iowa Archives has clippings in the vertical files from various towns in Iowa (Oelwein, Humboldt, Mason City, Storm Lake, Sioux City, to mention a few), Kansas City, Des Moines, London, New Delhi. One clipping from Cedar Rapids even states that a woman from Cedar Rapids living in Leopoldville, Belgian Congo reported, “The natives were flocking into the office asking all sorts of questions. Could she speak French, did they think she would adopt them to be a godmother and would she be able to come over here on a trip?” Special Collections even has one publication in Arabic, possibly from Libya.

Contrast this to Authurine Lucy’s experience just a few months later. She was born one of ten children born to farmers in Shiloh, Alabama. She graduate from high school in 1947 and attended Selma University, a school for blacks, and then transferred to Miles College, another all black institution. She wanted to be a technical librarian so she applied to, and was accepted, by the University of Alabama in 1952. That is, she was accepted until school administrators discovered she was black. They then told her state law did not allow her to attend. She sued and it took three years for the case to make its way through the courts, but in 1955 the US Supreme Court ruled that she could attend the University of Alabama. However, she was told that she could not stay in the dormitories or eat in the dining hall.  She would have to live in Birmingham and make the 51 mile commute each day to Tuscaloosa and faced expulsion and egg peltings. (See Washington Post article below).

On the third day of classes — time enough for word to get out that a black student was taking classes — upon arriving on campus she was met with an angry crowd of about 500 people. She was whisked into an auditorium. Meanwhile the crowd had grown to some 3000 people, some of them not connected with the University. She was pelted with rotten produce and eggs. At the end of the day she was suspended, supposedly for her own safety. The student body protested the suspension, and she sued the University again. Sometime during the intervening time, her lawyers accused the administration of colluding with the anti-desegregation protesters, which would have dire consequences later. The courts decided in Lucy’s favor and ordered the school to accept her again. They used the accusation of collusion to say that Lucy had slandered the school and thus she could not be accepted. Exhausted from all the court battles, Lucy decided not to sue again.

The two women’s experiences were often compared in the news at the time.  Below are three clippings from The Washington Post, The London Daily Mail, and from Mason City, Iowa that make the comparison:

 

But that’s not the end of these stories. Martin says she never heard anything positive from the administration of the University. This letter from President Hancher may explain some of this silence but Martin says that the events in which previous campus queens had participated were simply silently cancelled. The rules of the pageant were changed so that there was faculty oversight.

Letter to Virgil Hancher
Letter from Virgil Hancher

 Martin has said in her oral history interview,

“. . . my experience had demonstrated that while laws may be different, people are still the same. The only difference being in the South we knew where things stood. We knew what to expect, while in the North people say one thing, but behave in a very different way. And so we were constantly finding ourselves having to figure out where we were wanted and where we weren’t. . . On the campus at the University it was very, very clear in 1955 that institutional racism was still very prevalent at that University.” (Oral History, page 21)

She got on with her education, but left Iowa before she graduated. She married and followed her husband to Chicago, where she attended Roosevelt University, and finally Rutgers, where she received a Master’s in Social Work in 1969. She worked as a social worker in schools.

Lucy also taught as a profession. In 1988, the University of Alabama reversed her suspension and she returned to the University, and in 1992, she finally received a Master’s degree in Education. The University also named an endowed fellowship after her and unveiled a portrait of her in the student union.

These two scenarios played out during roughly the same time period. They look like different ends of the spectrum. But were they really?  A closer look at the situation reveals that there’s more to each one than meets the eye.

 

References come from these collections in Special Collections:

Clippings from Dora Lee Martin Berry’s file in Alumni and Former Students Vertical File in the University of Iowa Archives, RG01.15.01.

Cover of the New Challenge is in the Progressive Party Papers,  2015 Addendum – The Progressive Party of Massachusetts. MSC0160.

Oral history recording with Dora Lee Martin is part of the Giving Voice to their Memories: Oral Histories of African American Women in Iowa project. IWA0331.