Commemorating Civil War sesquicentennial with digital collection & crowdsourcing effort

Civil War Diaries and Letters home page

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

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 wrds 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

Scandalous artifacts

The UI Libraries is proud to be a part of “Scandal!”, the featured exhibit at the Museum of American Finance in New York:

“From betrayals of the public trust by government officials to betrayals of investors by Ponzi artists, and from corporate accounting fraud to egregious failures of risk management in more recent years, ‘Scandal!’ explores the history of these episodes in American history, scrutinizing the people involved and the damage they caused. Even though names like Teapot Dome, Credit Mobilier, Ivar Krueger and Tino De Angelis have all but faded from history, they created shockwaves in their time and continue to echo in events that are unfolding today.”

On loan are a number of documents from the UI Special Collections’ Papers of Levi O. Leonard collection that formerly belonged to financier and railroad executive Thomas C. Durant (1820-1885), a central figure in the Credit Mobilier financial scandal. Three of these digitized artifacts can be seen in slides 4-6 of this New York Times feature; thousands more may be viewed at the Iowa Digital Library’s Levi O. Leonard Railroadiana digital collection.

Digitally celebrating books, reading, and writing

In honor of the upcoming Iowa City Book Festival (July 16-18, 2010), we’re featuring some of the literary collections in Iowa Digital Library and Iowa Research Online. We hope you’ll explore the content online and the book fest in real life.

Paul Engle teaching at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, The University of Iowa, ca. 1950s
View similar images from Iowa City Town and Campus Scenes

Lan Samantha Chang reading, Prairie Lights bookstore, Nov. 10, 2006
Listen to more audio from Live From Prairie Lights

Out of the girls’ room and into the night by Thisbe Nissen
Read more e-books from the Iowa Short Fiction Awards

500 years of Western printmaking

Congratulations to the University of Iowa Museum of Art on their new exhibit, “In the Footsteps of Masters: The Evolution of the Reproductive Print,” now on display at Davenport’s Figge Art Museum. For a sneak preview of some of the artifacts on display, please view the “Prints” gallery in our University of Iowa Museum of Art Digital Collection, featuring over 4400 engravings, woodcuts and etchings, dating from 1470 to the present day.

Cornelis Galle the Elder (Flemish; Antwerp, 1576-1650), Procne Showing Tereus the Head of his Child (after Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish; Antwerp, 1577-1640), c. 1637, Engraving, Museum purchase 1980.92

The University of Iowa Museum of Art’s (UIMA) second exhibition presented at Davenport’s Figge Art Museum, “In the Footsteps of Masters: The Evolution of the Reproductive Print,” opens Jan. 21 and will remain on view through May 23. The exhibition is curated by UI student Nathan Popp, a UIMA curatorial graduate assistant who organized the exhibit to examine the role of printmaking in the development of visual culture.

The exhibition spans 500 years, featuring nearly 80 Western reproductive prints from the 15th to the 20th century. Featured in the exhibition are original prints and drawings by artists Albrecht Dürer, Annibale Carracci, Jusepe De Ribera, Edouard Manet, Jean-Baptiste Corot, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, William Blake, Francisco Goya, and Grant Wood, as well as reproductive prints made after the works of famous masters such as Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, Jan Vermeer, Jan Van Eyck, Titian, Michelangelo and others…

‘The man who brought the literary world to Iowa’

In 2000, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack declared Oct. 12 to be “Paul Engle Day,” in honor of the Iowa-born poet who served as head of the Writer’s Workshop from 1942 to 1977, helping to develop it from an obscure experimental program to an internationally renowned literary center. Featured here is an audio recording from the first annual Paul Engle Literary Festival, which includes tributes to Engle from International Writing Program Director Christopher Merrill and from novelist Arnost Lustig.

Audio recording: First Annual Paul Engle Literary Festival, The University of Iowa, 2000

Innovation in history

The Libraries is currently preparing to play host to area junior high and high school student researchers participating in National History Day, a program that teaches critical thinking, research, and presentation skills through a nationwide contest.

Below are a few images from Iowa Digital Library related to this year’s theme, Innovation in History: Impact and Change.

 Diesel locomotive from the Rock Island Railroad, drawing, ca. 1937

James Van Allen in his laboratory, The University of Iowa, 1953

Evelyn Birkby driving a tractor, Shenandoah, Iowa, 1950s

Surgical instruments, engraving, 1655

Men driving automobile, Iowa City, Iowa, 1920s

“Preparing sweet corn for freezing…” by A.M. Wettach, ca. 1948

Carl Menzer broadcasting, The University of Iowa, ca. 1930

“The laugh is on  you,” postcard, 1917

Get your spook on

Fear and dread are no strangers to the Libraries, especially during finals week, as students fight the demons of procrastination, sleep deprivation, and over-caffeination. But this October, DLS is kicking it up a notch from fear to terror with our Halloween digital collection, compiling the scariest bits of data lurking in the dark recesses of the Iowa Digital Library.

Read — if you dare! — a supernatural tale about giving a foot massage to a ghost in Elizabeth Harris’s award-winning short fiction collection from the UI Press. View the monstruous misdeeds of early 20th century politicians in Ding Darling’s late-October editorial cartoons. Thrill to the true account of Helen Grundman’s 4-H Halloween party from her 1928 scrapbook entry, detailing such depraved acts as dressing up in costume, fortune-telling, and eating doughnuts.

Still not afraid? Then drop by Main Library on Halloween for our “Ghosts From the Stacks” event, where library staff will draw from Special Collections, Iowa Women’s Archives and the John Martin Rare Book Room to presents artifacts related to grave-robbing, local hauntings, and demon conjuring. Also we will serve cookies.

Ghosts From the Stacks
Main Library, room 2032
Wednesday, Oct. 31, noon – 1:00 pm

Halloween digital collection

For more information, please see our University of Iowa News Release.

— Jen Wolfe
Metadata Librarian

Love in the stacks

Beneath the calm façade of the Main Library’s exterior, among the dusty book stacks and studious scholars, lies the secret side of the Libraries’ holdings: a seething bed of love, lust, and early 20th-century greeting cards. In our dedication to exposing these hidden collections, Digital Library Services brings you a romantic “Best of” from the stacks — a digital mix tape of artifacts chiefly drawn from the Libraries’ research collections and selected to put you in the mood for Valentine’s Day.

But perhaps you think Valentine’s Day is an ersatz holiday that persecutes the single? As part of the Libraries’ commitment to inclusiveness, we made sure to represent both points of view. Pro-Valentine’s patrons can enjoy images of tennis-playing cherubs and the comically foreign-accented, and accounts of holiday celebrations by Iowa women in the 1940s and 1950s. Those against can peruse the UI Press collection’s tales of discount chocolates and abused cashiers, or the post-WWI (yet sadly relevant today) Valentine’s Day cartoons from political satirist Ding Darling.

Browse the collection here

…and join us for a Valentine’s Day show & tell session, featuring additional artifacts from the Libraries’ research collections, behind-the-scenes info from its curators and archivists, and heart-shaped treats. Feb. 14 at noon, Main Library, room 2032 (second floor, near the south entrance).

–Jen Wolfe
Metadata Librarian