For nearly a century, promising writers, many of whom have gone on to be well-known for their work around the world, have called Iowa City their home at some point in their life. It should come as no surprise that in 2008, this beacon for the written word was designated as a City of Literature by UNESCO Creative Cities Network, the first in the United States. Since that time the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization in conjunction with the University of Iowa has been engaged in the development of the LitCity project.
The LitCity project is a digital library and website which features and highlights important Iowa City literary landmarks, including locations where writers lived, worked, gave readings, socialized and were inspired by the town. The site comes equipped with a mapping component for users to pinpoint certain locations in town where these writers spent time writing and socializing in town. This technology allows you to locate places such as where Kurt Vonnegut resided while living in Iowa City, or how Flannery O’Connor considered St. Mary’s Church on East Jefferson Street a home away from home. Essentially, LitCity takes us on a virtual tour of the town, while getting to know a little bit more about the lives of these literature icons.
Using Iowa City as a local level phase of the project, the team behind LitCity hopes this will act as a framework for other literature hubs around the world, are able to customize the app to allow visitors and residents to explore some of the haunts of hangouts in their area that writers have spent time in. For instance, Dublin, Ireland might install the Web-App system and customize it for their own cultural industry and — utilizing the research framework and toolkit developed in the initial phases at the University of Iowa — create their own site-specific map for the humanities-based points of interest of their specific community.
So whether you live in the area currently, have visited, or have never even stepped foot in the Corridor, LitCity wants to enrich the knowledge of your surroundings and take you on a virtual walk through the places that shaped these writers’ work and maybe even inspire you to get started on that novel!
Today, in celebration of International Women’s Day, we reflect on the progress and many achievements that women, past and present, have made around the world. The origins of this day can be traced back to the early 1900s, marked by a strike for better working conditions for women in the garment industry. While the strike didn’t take place in Iowa we’d like to spotlight a few Libraries-housed resources and collections which help to give a little more meaning to the day.
The Iowa Women’s Archives, established by Louise Noun and Mary Louise Smith in 1992 provide a trove of collections and work highlighting women at the University of Iowa and in the state. Some of the fascinating work included in this repository are the Edna Griffin Papers, which share a story through photographs, interviews, and newspaper clippings highlighting the life of this remarkable Iowan and civil rights activist. You can even transcribe her FBI file from 1948 to 1951 in DIY History.
Another resource that connects the Iowa Women’s Archives with Iowa Research Online and the Iowa Digital Library is Scholarship@Iowa. Here you will find theses, dissertations, articles, and collections that present work related to fostering and promoting diversity. Spend a little time here and you might find yourself listening to an interview with Dora Martin Bailey, who in 1955 became the first African American student to be awarded Miss State University of Iowa.
Take a few moments to enjoy the rich history of women in Iowa, and remember that they have played an important role in shaping our past, present, and future. Take time to appreciate these strides and to discover the ways they have positively impacted your life and the world around you.
James Alan McPherson taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop beginning in 1981. In 1978, he received a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his Elbow Room. In 1981, he read his short story, “There was once a State Called Franklin“, the same year he was named a MacArthur Fellow, and in 1995 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
The Iowa Digital Library also contains a lecture he presented in 2003 at the Iowa Memorial Union, giving examples of the types of landscapes across the world that have influenced peoples’ thinking and philosophies.
James Alan McPherson died yesterday at the age of 72.
Earlier this week, the Studio launched Scholarship@Iowa, a curated set of pages promoting scholarly archives related to historically underrepresented groups. To introduce that initiative I wrote a blog post touting the merits of these archives and their ability to help us see ourselves as a part of longstanding tradition of excellence and discovery at the University of Iowa.
In that same spirit, this week we have released over 3,000 manuscript pages into a new and related DIY History collection called Scholarship at Iowa. The collection brings into public view 22 handwritten theses dating primarily from the nineteenth century. More than half of the theses were written by women and the topics are primarily scientific. These documents provide a fascinating window into the nature, scope, and aims of scholarship being carried out at the University by undergraduate and graduate students well over a hundred years ago. They also help tell the story of women within the scholarly enterprise at the UI.
While PDFs of the theses are posted in our institutional repository, Iowa Research Online (IRO), they’re not text searchable. That’s where DIY History comes in. By inviting the public help in the transcription of these materials, we aim to make them searchable. Completed transcriptions will be added to IRO to aid in the discoverability of the documents.
The terrestrial Adephaga of Iowa, including descriptions of all known species which occur in the state, with notes on their habits, distribution, synonymy, etc., part 1 & part 2, 1895, by Fanny Thompson Wickham (B.S. ’90, M.S. ’95)
When I was introduced to this collection by my colleague Wendy Robertson, I was struck by its humanity. The calligraphy and design of the title pages, the detail of the illustrations, the idiosyncrasy of the handwriting. I had not expected the people who wrote these works to be so present in them. I expect that of handwritten letters, but (perhaps tellingly) I didn’t expect it of these (mostly) scientific theses. And looking over them, I was drawn back to my own time as a graduate student toiling away on a dissertation. I was reminded of how many of us come to see our work as both apart from us and as a part of us. I wondered how these writers (and artists!) felt as they toiled here on the thinning edge of the nineteenth century.
It’s not hard to hear the enthusiasm in lines like this one from undergraduate student Annette Slotterbec (B.S. ’88) in “The Mosses of Iowa City and Vicinity”:
In no tribe of plants is there so great a similarity between the different species. A simplicity and uniformity of structures runs through the entire family. The individuality of each species is revealed by the microscope, the stem, the leaves, the fruits, so alike they appear in their structure and their flaws, so unalike in their development.
I found myself captivated by the same curiosity that has made Iowa Digital Engagement and Learning’s Archives Alive project so successful. Last year, my colleague Kelly McElroy (now a Student Engagement and Community Outreach librarian at Oregon State University) and I wrote an article on the merits of connecting students with history in this way. And here I was, like my students, like Annette Slotterbec, placing something under the microscope, investigating its individuality.
History is tantalizing. It is (at the risk of making a bad pun–from a guy who wrote his dissertation on James Joyce and the public house) intoxicating. So, I looked up Annette Slotterbec, and a partial story emerged.
She had clearly been an active presence in the intellectual life of the University, competing in the declamatory contest the year she graduated. As The Vidette Reporter, May 26, 1888, notes on page four:
The ladies preliminary declamatory contest was held in Zet Hall last Wednesday afternoon. Prof. Anderson was the only judge. The contest resulted in the choice of the following persons to speak at the final contest held during commencement week: Anna Balor, Florence Brown, Annette Slotterbec, Myrtle Lloyd, Ella Graves and Miss Musson.
Specimens of the more common species of this list have been collected and used in the laboratories of the university during many years. More particularly, Miss Annette Slotterbec, in 1888, collected and identified some forty specimens. But on the whole it has been deemed better to record the collection of such material only as has been gathered for the preparation of this paper.
So there I had been idly looking through the undergraduate thesis of Annette Slotterbec, and there I was tracking down bits and pieces of her intellectual life. This happens all the time with DIY History. It seduces you into asking questions about people and their lives. And as you follow the thread, you find interesting stuff.
According to Trina Roberts, director of the Pentacrest Museums, some of these theses clearly connect to the UI Museum of Natural History‘s collections. For example, Fanny Thompson Wickham’s (B.S. ’90, M.S. ’95) thesis makes use of specimens in the Museum’s insect collection. Likewise, Leah May Gaymon’s (B. Ph. ’92 and M.A. ’95, English) thesis is based on specimens collected during the 1893 Bahama expedition. And it’s possible that she’s in this picture of students drinking coconut milk on that expedition. And that’s exciting!
Asking questions, drawing connections, building the historical record – that means something. That helps us not only tell the stories of the people who came before us, but it also helps us understand ourselves within a longer story about this school and the people who have made it what it is today, one day, one page at a time.
So, I’m thrilled to be sharing these documents with the public. And I’m really delighted to be asking people to engage not only with the work of making their handwriting intelligible to the rest of us, but also to be inviting people to learn more about the individuality of the scholars who wrote these materials. We hope people will find something interesting and engaging in these works. And we appreciate, greatly, the public’s willingness to lend a hand in this scholarly endeavor.
These collections and this scholarship remind us of who has passed through here; who has informed and shaped this institution and this town. They fill gaps in the record. They bring to light the daily lives of students and citizens, from the carefree to the careful. They map out lines of inquiry and the ground we’ve covered as a scholarly community. These archives help articulate where we have been, where we are now, and, arguably, where we are going. We know ourselves through what we keep and what we do. And at Iowa we carry a tremendous history with us and everyday deepen our understanding of who we are in the research we do and discoveries we make.
In service to this idea, we’ve begun creating a series of curated pages as part of a Scholarship@Iowa initiative showcasing some of the digital scholarship and digital collections associated with the UI’s communities of diversity. With the help of our digital scholarship librarian Wendy Robertson, our digital collections librarian Mark Anderson, researcher/developer Ethan DeGross, public engagement specialist Lauren Darby, and Studio intern Andrea Bastien, we’ve begun selecting materials and scholars whose work pertains directly to these historically underrepresented groups. You’ll also find links to Library Guides created by librarians and faculty in cooperation with the Research & Library Instruction department. Our goal is to connect both current and prospective students, faculty and staff, as well as the broader public, with these resources and the wealth of knowledge and insight they provide.
These pages also look beyond IRO and the IDL to other collections purchased by the UI Libraries. Under the guidance of Associate University Librarian Carmelita Pickett, the UI Libraries recently purchased several digital scholarly collections from publisher Adam Matthew. In particular, African American Communities focuses on Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, New York, and towns and cities in North Carolina. The collections provides access to “pamphlets, newspapers and periodicals, correspondence, official records, reports and in-depth oral histories, revealing the prevalent challenges of racism, discrimination and integration, and a unique African American culture and identity.” By acquiring these kinds of collections, the UI Libraries adds to its existing databases (available on-campus) like Readex’s African American Newspaper Series and expands the depth and breadth of primary source material available for research and study.
We’re also growing our collections on DIY History this month with the release of over 3000 pages of digitized manuscript dissertation material from the late 19th century. These materials are noteworthy both for addressing scientific discoveries in the latter half of the 1800s and for having been written by women at the University of Iowa. We’re excited to be making these primary source materials more accessible to the public and look forward to bringing more pieces of the scholarly record into view.
Throughout the year we’ll be adding pages to Scholarship@Iowa and sharing more voices that help tell the historical and contemporary stories of Iowa for new audiences. I was reminded recently of a story my predecessor Nicki Saylor shared on this blog in 2007. She was grappling with how to best explain the value of digital collections in a world informed by global and local strife and burdened with the understandably weighty concerns of everyday life. She wrote:
But the most compelling evidence of the power of digital collections arises from stories of people like Craig D. Spotser of Texas. His email, forwarded to us by Susan Kuecker at the African American Historical Museum and Cultural Center of Iowa, started this way: “GOD…..This is a picture of my Grandfather. He passed away when my father was a small boy. I only had a small picture of him, far way, standing in front of his car and home in Iowa. My father, Craig W. Spotser, has never seen a picture of him that close up, but he passed away in February 2002. This is amazing. How can I obtain a copy of the photo of my Grandfather? I was surfing the web, and this is the first time that I have seen this picture. I almost started crying. I look almost identical to him, and so does my son.”
Here is a case of a man literally finding himself, his family, at Iowa. As Nicki noted then and as I am continually reminded, discoveries like Craig D. Spotser’s are why we do this work. Use animates collections – and the collections, in turn, shape who we are and how we understand ourselves. The lives recorded in our archives come to life in communion with the people using them.
When we welcome new students, faculty, and staff to The University of Iowa; when we welcome new people to Iowa City, we welcome them into the ongoing stories of our communities and our community. To the extent that we make these resources as available and as visible as possible, we invite a growing audience of people to participate in the work of scholarship and discovery.
With that in mind, what you will find in these pages is only a small part of what you’ll find in our archives. And we encourage everyone to explore our holdings, to encounter something you didn’t know, to create new knowledge with what you find, and in so doing, perhaps, to find yourself in Scholarship@Iowa.
The Iowa Digital Library is fortunate to host the college scrapbooks of three University of Iowa students from the 1920s and 1930s, which provide views of the African-American community during their time on campus.
Hal and Avril Chase of Des Moines, Iowa, funded the purchase of this album for the University of Iowa Archives.
James Morris was the son of James Morris, Sr., a long-time publisher of the Iowa State Bystander, an African-American newspaper. James Morris Jr. married Arlene J. Roberts Morris, the first African-American woman psychologist to be licensed by the Iowa State Board of Psychology.
A few months ago, I saw a photograph (not in our collection) taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine of students drawing a live nude model. The photo is undated other than 1961. Looking through the Daily Iowan archive, it was easy to determine that he visited campus in May 1961. DI reporter Anne Stearns, wrote in the May 12, 1961 issue:
A pleasant surprise for a journalist during the Wednesday morning presentation was photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt of Life Magazine, who commandeered ladders, tree branches and people (notable or students) and arranged them for his pictures. Named Photographer of the Year in 1950, Eisenstaedt noted his 25th anniversary as a photographer in 1954, and is known for his superb portraits and for his sensitive news pictures. The voice of authority was speaking when he ordered Paul Engle and Donald Justice to move their class to another spot on the riverbank for a shot.
The May 16 issue has a much longer piece by Dianne Grossett and Jerry Parker.
Eisenstaedt, 63, left the SUI campus Saturday after a two-week stay on assignment with Life reporter Elizabeth Baker. The team was here “to re-create in pictures the life of graduate students in the creative arts at SUI,” Miss Baker explained.
Their interest is in more than the conventional classroom situation, she added — in how students relax, where they live, their work, pasttimes, parties. They have visited several students’ homes, browsed about the Art, Theatre and Music Buildings, and have even been to Kenney’s.
Eisenstaedt pointed out that they do not know the publication date of the story — or even that it will be published. SUI was chosen for the possible feature, Miss Baker said, “because of its varied and active creative arts program which has national reputation.” She mentioned outstanding persons such as Mauricio Lasansky and Paul Engle.
During the time Eisenstaedt was on campus, the Gibson A Danes, Dean of the School of Art and Architecture, Yale University, spoke at the opening of the annual Festival of the Arts and the dedication of the expanded art gallery (May 9, 1961) . The text of his speech as well as pictures from the festival are also available in our collection.