Hailed as “America’s poet” by poet Ezra Pound and others, Walt Whitman is a familiar name to most Americans, even if they haven’t read his most famous work Leaves of Grass. Even 200 years after his birth, Whitman finds himself the center of countless research questions and an inspiration for modern writers. For someone who starts one of his famous poems with “I celebrate myself, I sing myself,” it only makes sense that the University of Iowa Libraries follow suit and take time to celebrate Whitman’s legacy with the exhibit Walt Whitman: A Bicentennial Celebration.
Curated by Stephanie Blalock, a Digital Humanities Librarian, James O’Neil, a Ph.D candidate in English, and Ed Folsom, a professor of English, this exhibit aims to highlight Whitman‘s life through his early works of fiction, as well as his famous editions of Leaves of Grass.
“What we’re going to have on display here is just the tip of the iceberg in our collection, really,” O’Neil said.
All three of the curators have a different focus when it comes to Whitman’s life. This aided to the curation of the exhibit, as each curator was able to fill in specific gaps of knowledge about the poet’s life.
This exhibit has been in the works since 2016. With the vast amount of resources available about Whitman through the Whitman Archive and the holdings at University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections, the exhibit looks at several versions of his notable work Leaves of Grass, including a first edition. However, the curators also want to focus on his fiction, journals and old age prose.
“Whitman is generally remembered as the author of Leaves of Grass, but not as a fiction writer,” Blalock said. “He actually got his early start in the early 1840’s when he was about the age of some of our undergraduates here, writing for newspapers as a journalist and writing fiction.”
There will also be a connection to Iowa. The University Press reprinted several of Whitman’s political pamphlets he wrote after the Civil War, so there will be a case about Iowa, as well as other references sprinkled throughout the exhibit. The curators also stress looking at the screen outside of the exhibit entrance. The screen will have different artwork and interactive maps to give viewers more areas of exploration outside of the exhibit space.
Walt Whitman: A Bicentennial Celebration will open April 5th and there will be a talk in the exhibit space from 3:30-6:00 by curators Stephanie Blalock and Ed Folsom that day. Their talk will kick off a series of events to take place throughout spring and the beginning of summer. The schedule of Walt Whitman Symposium Events can be downloaded through the link.
Exciting news from University Archivist, David McCartney, about the incredible recordings found in the Eric Morton Civil Rights Papers.
In 1963 and 1964, attorney Bob Zellner recorded a series of interviews with civil rights activists in Mississippi and Alabama. Zellner conducted the interviews on behalf of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in an effort to document the activists’ experiences, which were often under challenging and violent circumstances.
The interviewees participated in the Mississippi Summer Project in 1964, later to be known as Freedom Summer, a drive to register African Americans in the Magnolia State to vote. For decades, attempts by blacks to register at county court houses across the state were met with intimidation, harassment, and even violence. Freedom Summer was an organized response to this situation, with activists from across the U.S. participating, including over 800 college and university students. Among them were about a dozen students from the University of Iowa.
Why Mississippi? At the time, only seven percent of eligible black adults in the state were registered to vote, the lowest rate in the nation. SNCC, the Council of Federated Organizations, the NAACP, and other civil rights organizations targeted Mississippi for this effort due its discriminatory Jim Crow laws and practices. In response to this, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson the following year.
The interviews are part of the Eric Morton Civil Rights Papers (MsC 0999). Morton (1934-2015), a native of Detroit, Michigan, and a U.S. Army veteran of the Korean Conflict, held various positions with SNCC from 1962 to 1966 in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and North Carolina. He was Materials Coordinator for Freedom Summer and later served as Project Director for the North Carolina Project, which covered nine Black Belt counties. After this he worked to elect black officials including John Conyers and Ron Dellums to Congress and Coleman Young as mayor of Detroit.
In 1968 Morton worked with a group of local activists to organize the 1969 National Black Economic Development Conference where James Forman presented his historic speech, “The Black Manifesto.” In later years, Morton worked as an International Organizer for AFSCME organizing hospital workers and housekeepers in northern California and UC Berkeley. Later, his academic career included the position of Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fort Valley State University of Georgia.
Eric Morton donated his papers to the University of Iowa in 2014, in large part because of his friendship with Stephen Smith (1944-2009), a University of Iowa student from Marion, Iowa. Morton and Smith worked together in Mississippi during Freedom Summer; both were assaulted by white supremacists on the night of July 15, 1964 while delivering voter registration materials from Jackson to Greenwood.
More about how the Eric Morton papers arrived at Iowa is here.
Listen to the interviews from these activists and other recordings from Morton’s collection below:
The great thing about artists books is that it shows us the various shapes, sizes, and textures that books can come in. Publishing companies, who also vary in shapes and sizes, help get these books out into the world for everyone to enjoy.
Curated by University of Iowa Professor Jennifer Buckley, Seeing Seeking Feeling Reading: Granary Books is an exhibit highlighting the book’s flexibility as a concept and as an intellectual and sensory experience by exploring the works published by just one company, Granary Books.
Granary Books is an independent publishing company in the United States and one of the proprietors is a University of Iowa graduate, Steven Clay. Clay graduated with a Bachelor’s in English and Religion in 1978. He describes Granary’s mission as “exploring the relationships between seeing and reading, reading and seeking,” which is where the name of the exhibit comes from.
The exhibit will feature Granary editions all organized into three categories: limited edition artists’ books, writer/artist collaborations, and books about books.
“These Granary Books live on the third floor in Special Collections, but many library patrons don’t know that they exist, or where to access them,” Buckley said. “The Main Library Gallery is a wonderful publicly accessible and beautiful site in which to share the riches of Special Collections.”
Buckley was able to work with Clay and library staff, including Exhibition Designer Kalmia Strong and Head Conservator Giselle Simón, in order to make this exhibit happen.
Seeing Seeking Feeling Reading: Granary Books will be open to the public on February 1 until March 15 on the first floor of the Main Library.
In addition to the exhibit, Cecilia Vicuña, a multidisciplinary artist-activist who makes poems, paintings, installations, books, performances, and films, is coming for a lecture on February 14 at 7:30 p.m. in 240 ABW and she will be doing a poetry reading on February 15 at 4:30 p.m. at the Dey House.
Steven Clay is also coming to give a lecture about the publication and materials in the Main Library on February 15 from 3 p.m.-4 p.m.
“I want viewers to leave the exhibit reminded that books come in many forms and formats, and that viewing is not all we do to or with them,” Buckley said. “Readers can interact with books in multiple ways while using multiple senses. Exhibitors should come back to Special Collections to see, hold and feel Granary Books for themselves.”
If you’re like me, then you haven’t really given them much thought. Growing up in pre-Google days, my family owned a 1988 set that was used and abused by my siblings and I, for both school reports and building forts, and they proved a go-to for school projects and reports in those early years of my education. However, I was more concerned about the information contained within these volumes that I never thought about these encyclopedias as an object in themselves.
On February 13th, Iowa Bibliophiles will finally give you and me the chance to take a moment to appreciate the encyclopedia as an object. Professor Emeritus Arthur Bonfield will be giving his talk “Development of the Eighteenth Century English Encyclopedia or Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences,” exploring not only the history of the English encyclopedia, but also examining early Latin and French encyclopedias that preceded the 18th century English publications.
Professor Emeritus Bonfield has been collecting rare books for over 60 years now. His collections includes over 1,000 original copies of books from early printing days, including volumes on exploration, geography, English literature and history, and of course encyclopedias.
Encyclopedias might seem like an uncommon topic to collect, but as Rebecca Romney and J.P. Romeny explain in their book Printer’s Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History,
“The ability to organize information and distribute it to the public is an incredibly powerful tool…to prioritize information is to control information. And to control information is to control people.” (Romeny 90)
Please join Special Collections and Iowa Bibliophiles on February 13th to hear a fascinating talk about something so many of us take for granted with Professor Bonfield.
Event starts at 7pm in the Special Collection’s Reading Room (3rd floor of the Main Library), with refreshments served at 6:30pm. Find out more on our Facebook event or on the UI Event Calendar.
Do you have an interest in bookbinding? Have you always wanted to be a boy or girl scout but never took the opportunity to join? Or maybe you miss those scouting days? Well, now is your chance to earn your Bookbinding badge and join the Book Scouts.
Curated by Olson Graduate Assistant Laura Michelson, graduate student Zoe Webb, and graduate student Damien Ihrig, How to Earn Your Book Scouts Merit Badge is an exhibit now on display in the reading room of Special Collections.
This exhibit breaks down the process of bookbinding in chronological order, starting with a 1950’s Official Boy Scout Bookbinding Kit, which they discovered up in the Conservation Lab of the Main Library. From there, the three graduates display the materials used in making books, including parchment and minerals used in making different colored paints and dyes. The exhibit continues with displays of several historical book binding models, as well as their own creations from their classes in Center for the Book.
“There’s more to the creation of books that people don’t understand sometimes,” Michelson said.
The addition of their own bookbinding work brings their curation of this exhibit to a personal level.
“It does a good job of capturing the specific things that we’re interested in individually,” Ihrig said.
Michelson, Webb, and Ihrig are three graduate students in the School of Library and Information Sciences with a graduate certificate in Book Studies (BLIS). They were asked to create an exhibit about their experiences in the BLIS program and they found that bookbinding was something they all had in common.
But, what made this exhibit really come to life was the boy scout bookbinding kit.
“We weren’t sure how to set up the exhibit,” Webb said. “We had a lot of the pieces but it was still a little confused, and the kit made everything fall into place.”
They also wanted to add an element of interactivity with the exhibit because the boy scout bookbinding kit included a checklist on how to earn the badge in bookbinding. So, they created their own list for participants to earn their book arts badge for the new Book Scouts.
Along with the list, there will also be a pop-up exhibit on March 6th from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. where people can make their own book and check-off an item on their list to get their badge. Other items include visiting the exhibit, visiting Special Collections, attending a bibliophiles talk and then submitting a form by April 2nd. Then you could be an owner of a Book Scouts Merit Badge.
You can download the list here or pick one up at the front desk at Special Collections. Once filled out, turn it into the Special Collections front desk to receive your own badge!
How to Earn Your Book Scouts Merit Badge is currently on exhibit and will be up until the mid-to-late April.
My Favorite Things (a la Special Collections) by Hannah Hacker
For the past two and a half years, I have had the honor to work as a graduate assistant at the University of Iowa Special Collections. I am thrilled about graduating from my Library Science and Book Arts program this semester, and I am excited to see what adventures I’ll embark on next, but I will certainly miss my Special Collections family. I am thankful for the friends I have met here and the opportunities that I was given. I’m not the best at waxing emotional, so, instead, I will leave you all with my own little rendition of a classic, “My Favorite Things”:
And sketches of spaceships
Bright crimson wax on some very aged papers
Gray Wonder boxes high on the shelves
These are a few of my favorite things
Cream-colored parchment and crisp comic pages
Dress swords and old maps
And Medieval doodles
Really small books with tiny wood-prints
These are a few of my favorite things
Kids in the classroom with handwritten letters
Red rot that stays on my shirts and nice sweaters
Staple-bound fanzines and pulp magazines
These are a few of my favorite things
When the day’s long
When the class is done
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad
Thanks to Hannah for the hard work, laughs, and pure librarian magic that you brought Special Collections!
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.
Driving along Highway 77, there is a small sign indicating the way to Rubio, Iowa. I nearly miss it, but catch the sign in time to make a sharp turn down what looks to be the main road in this town of 35 people. I pull into Carroll Steinbeck’s driveway. He’s waiting for me, announcing that I have, indeed, found the right spot.
Carroll, who will be 95-years-old this November, was born and raised in Rubio, the house he grew up in just across the street from his current home. Familiar with small town Iowa myself, I can see Carroll’s pride in his hometown. The first time he left home was to study at the University of Iowa, followed shortly to fight in WWII.
He ushers me into his home, and we sit down at his dining room table. Carroll has laid out a few pictures of him in uniform from the 1940s for us to look at. While WWII ended 63 years ago, Carroll is still able to recall memories from those days with utter clarity. He joined the army after his sophomore year at the University of Iowa, entering the 66th Division as a mortar gunner. Carroll landed in England on his 21st birthday.
While Carroll had several stories to share about his time at war, what I loved hearing the most was his love story, something that doesn’t seem to match our images of war. Carroll came home to Rubio before shipping off to Europe. While home he went on a picnic with friends and met Evelyn, who was studying to be a nurse and also home for a short time before leaving for more training. With a grin, Carroll tells me he had one date with his future wife, but that was all that was needed. They started corresponding while he was overseas, their letters now part of the Stories Worth Telling exhibit. When he realized he was likely to come home safe, he sent Evelyn a proposal from France, and she said yes. Carroll still gripes that he had to wait 20 whole days after coming back home to marry her. Just one date lead to 56 years of marriage.
On November 2nd, the University of Iowa is fortunate enough to have Carroll Steinbeck come share his stories with us starting at 2pm in Shambaugh Auditorium at the Main Library. From 3pm to 3:30, there will be a tour of the exhibition Stories Worth Telling: Marking 20 Years of the Greatest Generation with curator, Elizabeth Riordan, and Head of Special Collections Margaret Gamm. This event is free and open to everyone. Come share these stories with us.
The University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections is looking for the next Olson Graduate Research Assistant. If you are a graduate student, or an incoming graduate student, find out more here.
However, you might be asking what does being the Olson Graduate Research Assistant actually mean? Well, who better to explain that then those with the experience. Hannah Hacker was Special Collections’ Olson GA from 2016-2018 and will be graduating with her Masters in Library and Information Science this winter. Micaela Terronez has been our Olson GA since 2017, and she will be graduating May 2019 with a Masters in Library and Information Science. Below they explain what it means to be an Olson GA and the experiences and opportunities that come with the job.
From Hannah Hacker:
Being an Olson is like being at a buffet, but with rare books and archives. You get a little taste of everything in special collections librarianship. If an aspect of the department gets you really excited, you can dive right in and have a big helping.
For me, the areas that I dove into were instruction and reference. My passion for librarianship stems from the enthusiasm of a student or patron who discovers something for the first time or is eager about researching a particular topic, and that happens the most when I’m in a classroom or at the front desk. Talking with people one-on-one and listening to what gets them excited is one of the main reasons why I’ve enjoyed my time as an Olson as much as I have. It’s those small moments with people that get me fired up about being a full-fledged librarian some day.
From Micaela Terronez:
This past year as the Olson Graduate Research Assistant has been a wonderful opportunity for me to gain practical knowledge and experience in the work of special collections and archives. For example, I have learned about the day-to-day operations and responsibilities of a large university special collections — an experience that nicely complements my MLS coursework and previous professional work. Additionally, I cannot express how thankful I am for working alongside such incredible and supportive coworkers. Through this fellowship, I’ve been lucky to gain several mentors that have taken the time to listen, discuss, and collaborate with me as a new staff member.
Thus far, my favorite experiences in this position have been in the Special Collections classroom where I’ve had the opportunity to instruct courses utilizing library materials — a responsibility that I was completely terrified to do originally! But because of the support and training I received as the Olson, I’m more comfortable than ever to conduct classes and experience some great moments with students. One of these moments was with a group of 20 Latinx high school students from Upward Bound, a program that brings first-generation students from the state to experience life as a college student for six weeks. The students gravitated toward stories of migration and underrepresented individuals that could be seen in several collections from the University Archives and the Iowa Women Archives. By far, this was one of my favorite classes because I saw firsthand how archival materials can resonate with students and the effect it can potentially have on their self-identity.
For more information about the Olson Graduate Research Assistant position or application, please contact Lindsay Moen. The deadline is October 29th, 2018 at 5:00pm.