Manuscripts Miscellany: Alcott Astronomy I notebook

This  Manuscripts Miscellany post highlights a recent acquisition. Special Collections and University Archives has been collecting in the area of Women in Science and Engineering for nearly two decades. Recently, I have been growing this area of the collections by acquiring relevant historical manuscripts. So far, these have been notebooks from women learning or teaching in the sciences, and together, they shed light on women’s education in STEM fields in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The manuscript I am highlighting today is a handwritten notebook showing the work of Margaret T. Alcott for an Astronomy I class in 1914-1915 (collection # MS-0721).

Image shows cover of brown paper composition book with a pasted label with the handwritten words "Margaret T. Alcott Astronomy I."
Cover of Margaret T. Alcott Astronomy I notebook, a brown paperboard bound composition notebook.

The level of work suggests late high school or college-level work. Her work ranges from recording the variable brightness of stars over a number of months, to the description and use of scientific instruments, to observations and calculations of the movements of celestial bodies. Date stamps and occasional pen markings indicate that her work was read over by an instructor.

I find this a fascinating look into women’s education in the sciences slightly more than one hundred ago.

Let’s take a peek into some of the pages of this notebook…

It begins with a four-page table of contents. Here is the first page:

Handwritten table of contents. Includes overall category of "the stars." Constellations are identified, including circumpolar, such as Ursa Major, Ursa minor, Cassiopeia, and others, and zodiacal, including Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, and others.
Alcott wrote a four-page Table of Contents for her notebook.

In an entry dated Saturday, September 26th, [19]14, 7:30-9:15pm, she provides a drawing and description of observations of Jupiter, apparently through a telescope:

Handwritten entry for Jupiter includes a simple pencil drawing of a circle with four shaded horizontal bars and a narrative description describing "four belts" observed on the planet.
Alcott’s description of Jupiter.

An entry for Monday, October 19, 1914 is on Altazimuth circles, including a description of the scientific instrument and how to take a measurement:

Page of notebook shows a hand-drawn scientific instrument referred to as an altazimuth and description of how to use it in measuring altazimuth circles.
Alcott’s description of altazimuth circles.

Dated Monday, October 19, 1914 are two pages of measurements of the moon’s path across the sky for the month of October, followed by positions of the sun for January 1 through May 15:

Two handwritten pages showing the moon's coordinates in the sky for each day, measured in right ascension and declination.
Alcott gives sky coordinates for the moon’s path each day in October.

For Thursday, October 28, [19]14, Alcott includes drawings of four constellations: Hercules, Sagittarius, Capricornus, and Lyra. Notice the stamped date “Oct 26 1914” in the lower right corner of the right page–a mark from an instructor.

Constellation drawings use dots labeled with various symbols. Three include dashed lines to draw out the visual constellation. Short handwritten descriptions accompany the drawings.
Alcott’s drawings of constellations.

For Thursday, January 13, 1915, Alcott’s notebook takes on another level of complexity. Accompanying a written description of the moon’s path across the sky is a folded diagram, which has been pasted into the pages of her notebook:

On left page of notebook is a written description of the moon's path on the sky. On the right page is folded large piece of paper that has been pasted to the page.
Folded diagram.

Here is the diagram, partially unfolded:

Image shows the diagrma partially unfolded, revealing grid paper on which are drawn x- and y- axes and two curves stretching down the left side and the page and gradually curving upward on the right side.
Partially unfolded diagram.

A later entry dated Friday, Jan. 15, 1915 appears to answer a set of questions about the solar spectrum:

Two notebook pages of handwritten notes responding to a series of questions related to the solar spectrum. One answer includes a diagram from a spectroscope with vertical bars on a horizontal range, labeled red, yellow, green, and blue.
Questions on the solar spectrum.

Related manuscript collections include: Mary Ann Wilder mathematics notebook, 1823-1824 (MS-0743) and Hannah Haines teacher’s notebooks, 1836-1837 (MS-0731), the latter of which is yet to be processed.

Rare Books Highlights: Black lives in Early Modern Spain

As part of ongoing efforts to diversify our holdings in Special Collections and University Archives, about a year ago I purchased the book Historia eclesiastica, principios, y progressos de la ciudad y religion catolica de Granada by Francisco Bermúdez de Pedraza, published circa 1638 or 1640. An English translation of the title reads, Ecclesiastical history, principles and progress of the city, and the Catholic religion of Granada.

Image of an engraved title page. Book title is within an architectural archway motif. Two archbishops sit at the top of either side of the arch--the left one labeled St. Es Fon, and the right one labeled SHIS Cio.Standing in front of either column are San Tiago and San Cecilio. There are additional features of heraldry and decorative elements.
Engraved title page of Historia eclesiastica. It was created by Ana Heylan, one of only a few women engravers working in Spain at the time.

I purchased this book for a couple of reasons: we do not have many Spanish language rare books in our collection, and–as highlighted by the book dealer who knows his market–the book contains positive representation of four people of African descent living in Granada. Many academic libraries, including ours, are interested in developing more inclusive library collections, and the book dealer knew to highlight this aspect of the book in his description. And while it is true that this book sheds some light on the history of Black people in Early Modern Spain, I think it behooves me to acknowledge that this book helps to diversify our collections in only a limited and inherently compromised way.

The first critique that I can make of this book as a window into the experience of Black people in Spain is that it is written by (as I presume) a non-Black author. Biographical information available online seems to indicate that Francisco Bermúdez de Pedraza was a white Spaniard from Granada, who studied and practiced law, was later ordained as a priest, and was always very interested in the history of his native city. Given this assumption, his portrayal–positive or otherwise–of Black men and women in Granada is inherently a white gaze. We are not hearing directly from those Black people about what their lives were like.

Secondly, let’s take a look at the historical context in which this book was written. The year of its publication, 1640, was almost 150 years following the end of the Reconquista, or Christian “reconquest” of the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslim kingdom of Al-Andalus. A number of Arab or Berber rulers out of Northern Africa ruled parts of the Iberian Peninsula from around 711 to 1492, until Emir Muhammad XII of Granada surrendered to King Ferninand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile in 1492. The Treaty of Granada of 1491, in which Emir Muhammad XII surrendered the emirate to the so-called Catholic Monarchs, also granted Muslims living in the territory the right to practice their faith free of molestation. (The same rights were not granted to Jews living in the territory, who were forced to convert to Christianity or leave.) It did not take long for the Spanish authorities to break the terms of the treaty, however. By 1499, the second Archbishop of Granada, Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, began the practice of mass forced conversions of Muslims. When this led to an uprising, the Catholic Monarchs revoked the treaty rights, and beginning in 1501, Muslims in Granada were forced to convert or be expelled, or even executed. Some moved to Northern Africa, but others remained and converted.

This book was also written 150 years into the Spanish Empire, begun under the very same Ferdinand and Isabella, who you may recall, sponsored Christopher Columbus on his voyage across the Atlantic, seeking a shorter trading route to Asia, and ultimately leading to Spanish colonization of the Americas. In 1640, the Spanish Empire included some outposts along the North African coast as well as the colonies in the Americas. Closely bound up with the empire was the Iberian slave trade, in which Spain and Portugal, under the same monarch until 1640, were the first European powers to transport African captives across the Atlantic to be sold as enslaved people in the Americas.

This history reveals a relationship between Spain and Africa in which Spanish officials persecuted Muslims of African descent and in which Spanish slave traders committed atrocities against Black Africans–severing them from their homes, communities, and cultures; de-humanizing them; and commodifying them for the ultimate enrichment of the Spanish monarchy. I cannot see but that this context must have some influence on how a Spanish writer would represent individuals of African descent in their community.

Let’s take a look at the mentions of these Black men and women in the actual pages of the text. It is a short passage, spanning a couple of pages. Outlined in red in the images below, you can read four names:

  • Juan Latino, a professor at the University of Granada
  • Cristobal de Meneses, a priest
  • Licenciado Ortiz, a lawyer for the Royal Court
  • Catalina de Soto, an artist and embroiderer
Image of text on a page in an older Spanish. The name Juan Latino is outlined in a red box digitally added to the image. The name Juan has an archaic spelling of I-U-A-N.
Entry on Juan Latino.

With the help of Google Translate, I find that Bermúdez de Pedraza describes Juan Latino as “a dark black man” (negro atezado), that Latino was raised in the house of the Duchess of Terrano, and that he was a scholar of rhetoric and Latin in both prose and verse. (What does it mean that he was raised in the house of a duchess? Was he enslaved, or the son of an enslaved person? Was he a servant, or son of a servant? I am no scholar of Spanish history, and so I have no idea.)

Image of a page of Spanish text with red boxes added to outline three names: Christobal de Meneses, Licenciado Ortiz, and Catalina de Soto.
Passage mentioning Christobal de Meneses, Licenciado Ortiz, and Catalina de Soto.

Bermúdez de Pedraza’s discussion of three more prominent Black people continues in the second column of the page. He writes that Father Christobal de Meneses belonged to the Order of Santo Domingo and was also Black. He was a good priest and preacher with a graceful and agreeable conversation.

Third is the Lawyer Ortiz, who was the son of a Black woman and a military man. (Though part of the sentence is unclear, it seems that Ortiz is attributed with saying something along the lines of something being due more to my mother who gave me a good father, than to my father who gave me such a mean mother.)

The fourth of the “black prodigies” (negros prodigios) is Catalina de Soto, who deserved for her illustrous parts to be queen of Black women, was of a gentle body and a well-liked face, and of the best hands of labor in her time, was the first needle of Spain to knit and embroider and draw,…

(Here I have recorded loose translations Bermúdez de Pedraza’s descriptions, taken largely from Google Translate, but with some interpretation of my own. Some portions of the text were less decipherable due to the combination of my elementary Spanish knowledge and the archaic quality of the text. Any misinterpretations are due to that dangerous combination.)

These descriptions of four Black residents of Granada are largely positive, but they also clearly portray that white gaze, which I see especially apparent in the use of the term “black prodigies.” It also hints at social hierarchies, norms, and biases that someone with more familiarity of the history and culture of that place and time would be better able to parse.

For a broader context on the representation of Blacks in Spain from a Black scholar of Spanish and the African Diaspora, check out this article: Nicholas R. Jones. “The Legacy and Representation of Blacks in Spain.” Black Perspectives, June 1, 2018,

Work Cited:

Francisco Bermúdez de Pedraza. Historia eclesiastica, principios, y progressos de la ciudad y religion catolica de Granada, corona de su poderoso reyno, y excelencias de su corona. Granada: Andrés de Santiago Palomino, 1638 [ie, 1640]. Call number: BX1588 G7 B4 1638

In Honor of Juneteenth: A brief history and a tool for African American primary source research

Black and white photograph of a group of well-dressed African Americans, two women and four men, standing in a field with trees, horses, and carts behind them. The woman wear nice dresses and one wears a hat. The men are in three-piece suits and hats.
Stephenson, Mrs. Charles (Grace Murray). [Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900], photograph, June 19, 1900; ( accessed June 16, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.
Today, June 19th, is Juneteenth, a holiday that is widely referred to as “the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.” In honor of Juneteenth, I would like to point to sources on the history of Juneteenth, highlight some Juneteenth celebrations happening in Iowa, and feature Umbra Search African American History, “a digital library and widget that aggregates materials documenting African American history and cultural life from archives, libraries, museums, and other US repositories” (see Umbra Search FAQ). Acknowledging that I am a white archivist working at a predominantly white institution, I hope to amplify the voices of the Black community in the United States and Iowa and the work of archivists of many institutions to bring more visibility to some of the African American collections across the country.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth marks the date in 1865 when Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Grainger arrived in Confederate-run Galveston, Texas, to announce that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved people were free. This was more than two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, proclaiming that all enslaved people in the Confederate states were free. The proclamation had little effect in Texas, however, where there were few Union soldiers to enforce it.

Black and white photograph of six Black men outdoors in front of trees and a field. The men hold instruments: a violin, two guitars, a clarinet, and an upright bass. There is an American flag hanging from a tree in the background.
Stephenson, Mrs. Charles (Grace Murray). [Emancipation Day Celebration band, June 19, 1900], photograph, June 19, 1900; ( accessed June 16, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.
Juneteeth celebrations gradually grew from those of the original formerly enslaved people from Galveston and their descendants to the broader African American community throughout the United States. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s brought renewed attention to the celebration. In 1980, Al Edwards, an African American state legislator from Texas, succeeded in passing a bill that named Juneteenth an official state holiday in Texas. Since then, many states have officially recognized the holiday.

More information on the history of Juneteenth can be found on:

Juneteenth in Iowa

The Iowa Juneteenth Observance was founded by Gary Lawson in 1990. The Iowa Department of Human Rights Juneteenth webpage notes that Iowa was the seventh state to officially recognize Juneteenth when Iowa Governor Tom Vilsak signed legislation establishing Juneteenth as a state holiday on April 11, 2002, known as Juneteenth National Freedom Day. The holiday is celebrated annually on the third Saturday in June.

2020 Juneteenth Events in Iowa

This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, many of this year’s events have gone virtual. Find information about Iowa Juneteenth events at and Also check out the African American Museum of Iowa’s virtual event at The City of Ames is holding an in-person event this afternoon (6/19/2020) at 4:00 pm.

What is Umbra Search?

Umbra Search aggregates materials documenting African American history and cultural life from archives, libraries, museums, and other U.S. repositories. Content comes from many contributing institutions that have digitized parts of the collections and made those materials available online. You can use to search for materials on different topics related to African Americans. The results list includes thumbnail images of the materials and brief descriptions with links out to the repositories where the digitized items are featured. Umbra Search is a critical tool for scholars and members of the public to readily access digitized primary sources from African Americans, which have been and still are largely underrepresented in institutional repositories.

The images featured in this blog post were identified using Umbra Search.

COVID-19 Stories: Hansen’s Dairy, Hudson, Iowa: Feeding Our Community during the 2020 Pandemic

This post is part of the COVID-19 Stories: Agriculture, Food, and Rural Stories project. This submission is from Jordan Hansen of Hansen’s Dairy.

We’d love to hear from you! Please visit the COVID-19 Stories webpage for more information about our projects and to participate.

Woman standing next to an open trailer with seats for people to sit in that is attached to a tractor. In the background is a farm with two silos and other farm buildings.
Jordan Hansen. Image provided by Jordan Hansen.

My name is Jordan Hansen, and I’m telling the story of how Hansen’s Dairy, a small dairy farm in Hudson, Iowa, adapted to business changes during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

My family’s farm is designated a Heritage Farm, and the land has been in our family since 1864. Dairy cows have been milked here since the 1950s. In the early 2000s, Jay and Jeanne Hansen and their four sons decided to add value to the operation by beginning their own on-farm creamery. The first gallon of milk was produced and sold to the public in 2004. Our product line now includes milk, butter, heavy cream, cheese curds, ice cream, egg nog, and beef. We opened two retail stores, Hansen’s Dairy Waterloo (2006) and Hansen’s Dairy Cedar Falls (2007), where we sell our own products plus a variety of food and goods from other local farmers and entrepreneurs. We also offer farm tours, where we teach visitors how milk gets from the cow to their table. In 2019, we welcomed 9,100 visitors, a record high.

Farm with silos and farm buildings surrounded by empty fields form the background and middle-ground. In the foreground is a sign reading "Hansen's Dairy Tour Center" and a tractor pulling a trailer loaded with people in seats.
Hansen Dairy Tour. Image provided by Jordan Hansen.

In 2020, that will look very different.

Mid-March was very unsettling as COVID-19 became the main news story. The World Health Organization declared the virus a pandemic on Wednesday, March 11; I knew things were serious when the NBA and NCAA suspended their basketball seasons on March 12. States began to lock down and shelter in place. That weekend, people all over the country began hoarding groceries.

Gallon-sized milk cartons being filled and capped by factory machinery. Cartons have label indicating Hansen's Dairy skim milk.
Hansen Skim Milk. Image provided by Jordan Hansen.

While Hansen’s Dairy milk is available at Fareway and Hy-Vee grocery stores in the Cedar Valley, people were quickly finding that panic buying left dairy shelves empty in those stores. That led to customers either rediscovering or visiting our stores for the first time, looking for milk. We enjoyed a surge in demand for our milk as people stocked up on essentials. Being that our business is vertically integrated — and the cows don’t stop producing — we were able to keep processing milk and distributing it without issue. Things were chugging along.

A week later, things had ground to a halt. By March 17, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds had ordered bars and restaurants to close. Being that we supply dairy products to restaurants and coffee shops, that part of our business began to see reduced demand. Eateries had to decide if they would continue to stay open with carry-out and delivery only, or temporarily shut down. Schools in Iowa also closed.

As unemployment soared, so did the need for food assistance. Unfortunately, this was also about the time that word spread across the country that some dairy farmers had to dump their milk and fruit/vegetable growers had to plow under perfectly good produce because there was no way to get it to consumers. There were two primary reasons for this break in the distribution chain:

  • Production employees couldn’t — or wouldn’t — work due to a virus outbreak or fear of outbreak.
  • Processing plants who typically supply restaurants and schools suddenly had no buyers for their end product and couldn’t easily change their production capabilities to retail sales.

Most of the time people don’t think about the path food travels to get to their table. The ability to get food from the farmer to the American consumer has become so consolidated, streamlined and efficient that it’s usually taken for granted. But when there’s a crack in that process, things also go downhill quickly. Suddenly, Americans were seeing how interconnected the food system is, and how a broken link in the chain has a rippling effect. Plants that typically supply schools or the food service industry package foods differently than they would for retail sale. These specialized production lines are tweaked and calibrated for maximum efficiency. They can’t just flip a switch and change their packaging and distribution to go to retail buyers instead of commercial buyers. Who wants 5 pound bags of mozzarella cheese, 8 oz cardboard cartons of milk, or individual pats of butter in their homes?

Here at Hansen’s Dairy, we feel fortunate that we process our own dairy products and have an established history and loyalty with our customers. Our plant is diversified enough that while our restaurant demand diminished a bit, we were able to put more products on the retail shelves and accommodate a different demand. Sometimes a small producer has an advantage over large-scale facilities — the ability to adapt quickly.

Another way we quickly improved our services was to offer online purchasing through our stores. Since we sell groceries, we were able to stay open as essential businesses. But as people became hesitant to venture out of their homes, we wanted to provide online grocery delivery and curbside pickup options. We were able to get our 200-plus items online and offer these services at both stores by March 30.

Meanwhile, our tour season would have opened April 1, but people were not permitted to gather in groups, so we delayed the opening until June 1.

A person wearing a face mask stands in the back of a delivery truck and hands a gallon carton of milk and another product to another person standing on the ground who is also wearing a face mask. The truck appears to be in a parking lot within a town.
Truck sale. Image provided by Jordan Hansen.

As quarantine measures ramped up and people were being told to “just stay home,” we had another idea. Instead of customers coming to us, why not go to them? We decided to take our delivery truck to small towns in the area and sell groceries off the truck. We sold all of our dairy products and beef, plus eggs, ground chicken, potatoes, onions and yogurt from other local producers. We parked in a large parking lot in each town and used a drive-through format, allowing customers to stay in their cars and pay via credit card for a contactless experience. We wore masks and gloves, as did many of the customers who pulled up. The benefits of these events went both ways: The sales would provide additional income to make up for the tours we weren’t allowed to host, and customers would have a convenient, safe way to get some of those perishable essentials between larger grocery trips. The small towns and neighborhoods we visited — Grundy Center, New Hartford, Wellsburg, Jesup, Dike, Buckingham and Sunnyside Country Club in Waterloo — were very appreciative, and the community exposure rejuvenated interest in our brand.

I believe this pandemic was an eye opener to consumers, and hopefully people are now better able to connect the dots between the farmer and their table. ​When COVID-19 becomes a distant memory, I hope people will remember how we small producers rose to the occasion. When the large meatpacking plants shut down and meat became more scarce, people went to small hog and cattle farmers to inquire about buying directly from them. The pandemic illustrated that while the U.S. has one of the most efficient food systems in the world, problems can arise faster and hit harder when large, consolidated plants fail. They certainly have their place in feeding the world, but I hope people remember that during the pandemic, we small producers were out there feeding our neighbors.

Family portrait of 3 generations wearing color coordinated Hansen’s Dairy t-shirts showing nuclear families. In the center at the back are a man and woman (grandparents) with their adult children and spouses on either side. Seated in front are 16 children.
Hansen family 2018. Image provided by Jordan Hansen.

Rare Book Highlights: Dicken’s Bleak House in monthly parts

Don’t you hate it when the show you are watching ends on a cliff hanger?

In these days of streaming shows, maybe I should say, Remember when your favorite broadcast TV show ended on a cliffhanger, and you had to wait a whole week to find out what happened? Well, that format was pioneered by Charles Dickens in his wildly popular serialized novels.

Portrait of Charles Dickens. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Charles Dickens popularized the format of the serialized novel during the 19th century. Serial publishing, or the printing of a longer work in sequential installments over a period of time, began in the early days of printing; however, it wasn’t until the publication of Dickens’ novel The Pickwick Papers in 1836-1837 that it really became a thing.

Serial literature could be published within periodicals or as separate fascicles in cheap paper wrappers. The latter is how Dickens’ novels appeared. After Pickwick, many other 19th century novels were published in this way, including French novelist Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Wilkie Collin’s The Woman in White.

Serialized novels were popular because they could be printed and sold cheaply, and were therefore available to a wider audience. Publishers could judge the popularity of a work before committing to publishing a more expensive bound edition. All of Dickens’ novels were initially published in monthly or weekly parts and later issued in book form.

Special Collections and University Archives has several of Dickens’ novels in their original parts, including Bleak House, shown here:

Photo of a stack of pamphlets with illustrated, light blue paper covers. Also pictured is a case made to hold the pamphlets. The case is made to look like a bound book and has two parts: a bottom with a lid that fits over the top.
Stack of 20 original parts of Bleak House, with the slipcase that houses them.

Bleak House was Dickens’ 13th major publication. It followed the standard format for all of his serialized novels: 20 monthly installments, each containing 32 pages of text and two illustrations by Hablot Knight Browne, a.k.a. Phiz, the last two installments published as a double issue. Each issue cost one shilling; the final issue cost 2 shillings.

Cover illustrated with detailed black and white illustrations showing scenes of men, women, and children in a number of scenes representing 19th century English life.
Cover of first installment of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House is engraved with illustrations by H.K.Browne.

My favorite part of these fascicles are the advertisements, which open up a window into the commercial world of Victorian England. See, for example, the ad below for Edmiston’s Pocket Siphonia, essentially a raincoat that folds to fit into a pocket. As the ad explains, “the most important feature in this Waterproofing is being mineralised, … obviating the stickiness and unpleasant smell peculiar to all other Waterproofs.”

Advertisement includes illustrations of a man in the rain with an umbrella turned inside out, a man wearing an overcoat in the rain with the words “no umbrella required” above him, and illustrations of other products including leggings, a hat, and a hood.
Advertisement for Edmiston’s Pocket Siphonia and other products. Inside front cover of first part of Bleak House.

Charles Dickens. Bleak House. Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1852-1853. Call number: PR4556 A1 1852x

Announcing COVID-19 Stories Project

What began in March as an activity for library student employees to record their experiences with COVID-19 has expanded into a project with a much broader scope. Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) is inviting not only the ISU community, but also folks throughout Iowa and the Midwest, to participate in COVID-19 Stories, a group of projects that ask people to record their experiences with the pandemic on specific topic areas:

  • ISU Stories: Open to the entire ISU community, this project seeks to record how faculty, students, staff, alumni, and others are responding to and dealing with the effects of COVID-19.
  • Agriculture, Food, and Rural Stories: Open to the broader community, these projects focus on the effects of COVID-19 on rural and small-town life, people’s relations to agriculture and local food systems, and cooking during the pandemic.
  • Chronicling Race and Ethnicity During COVID-19: Open to the broader community, this project seeks to record the experiences of communities of color that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and/or have experienced harassment and stigmatization.

Stories can take a many forms, such a journal, notes, essays, photographs, or creative works. They can be submitted digitally or physically. If you need inspiration for what to record, prompts are given on the website.

Black and white photo of a large gym acting as a hospital ward. Beds with patients fill the entire space in six rows. Cloth barriers are set up between each bed. Nurses and men in uniform wearing masks across their nose and mouth stand throughout the room.
State Gym converted into a hospital ward during the 1918 influenza pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a significant historic moment. Just as today historians look back to see how the University responded to the 1918 flu pandemic, so researchers in the future will want to know how students, faculty, and staff, as well as alumni, are handling the challenges of this historical moment. ISU Stories helps to add these current narratives to the University Archives.

Text reads: Serving Our Community. East Poweshiek Ambulance Service. Community Cookbook, Brooklyn, Iowa. Call 911 for Emergency. Images include a bald eagle in front of an American flag, a 9-1-1 graphic, a caduceus symbol, a red cross, and an ambulance.
Cover of the East Poweshiek Ambulance Service community cookbook. Call number TX715.2 M53 E27x 2002.

The Agriculture, Food, and Rural Stories project includes three components, and participants can engage with one or more of these:  Rural and Small-Town Life, Gardening and Local Food Systems, and Cooking During COVID-19. These aspects of the project correspond to the some of the existing strengths in the Agriculture and Rural Life area of Special Collections. The cooking component also ties in with the Iowa Cookbook Collection, which gathers together community cookbooks from around Iowa. We know many people are doing “quarantine baking,” trying new recipes or sticking to old favorites, and adapting recipes when staples are not available on grocery store shelves. We hope that many of you will capture your experiences in these areas and donate to the COVID-19 Stories project.

Across the country, communities of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, as Black, Latinx, Asian, and American Indian individuals make up a significantly higher proportion of confirmed cases of and deaths from COVID-19 compared to their percentage of the population. Additionally, Asian Americans have experienced harassment and xenophobia in relation to the pandemic. Here in Iowa, a high percentage of the Latinx community has been exposed to the virus as the result of negligent labor practices in meatpacking and meat processing plants throughout the state. The inclusion of these stories in archives is  critical to keeping an accurate historical record of this period. Historically, and still today, institutional archives such as this one have routinely failed to adequately include the perspectives of people from a range of marginalized groups. The Chronicling Race and Ethnicity During COVID-19 project is a step towards rectifying this. If you are a person of color living in Iowa or the Midwest, we welcome your stories of your experiences during COVID-19. If your stories include sensitive content, we are more than happy to work with you to determine an appropriate amount of time to keep your story restricted (not available or advertised to the public) until it is safe to release it. We also welcome feedback and suggestions for ways to make this project more inclusive and welcoming.

For more information, please check out the COVID-19 Stories webpage. Please send any questions or comments to

Manuscripts Miscellany: Illuminated Book of Hours Leaf

Illuminated manuscripts. What could be more exciting than a sheet of parchment with Latin text in a Gothic script and intricate illustrations?

Medieval manuscripts are not a major collecting area at ISU Special Collections and University Archives. However, we do collect a few leaves to aid our teaching of the history of the book. Featured here is a leaf from a medieval book of hours from Northern Italy, probably Ferrera, created around 1470.

Books of Hours are the most common type of Western medieval manuscript book surviving today. They are a Christian devotional book, containing the prayers and passages of scripture to use during the canonical hours, or the specific times throughout the day marked for prayer in the monastic practice of Christianity. Books of hours enabled lay people to imitate the monastic life. These books were commissioned by wealthy families for personal use, especially among women, and each one is unique, containing varying verses from the Psalms, along with hymns and prayers, and decorated to greater or lesser degrees of ornateness, depending on the wealth of the commissioner.

Page of Gothic script in 13 lines. Left margin and top of page decorated with a floral design in red, green, and blue inks with gold leaf. Capital letter D is contains a floral motif in three colors on a gold ground. Capital letter A in blue and red ink.
Recto (or front side) of the leaf from a Book of Hours in ISU’s collections.

On the page shown here, there is an illuminated three-line initial “D” that begins the Hours of the Virgin, Hour of Sext. These prayers would have been said at noon. The D begins the word, “Deus” (God). Below the D is a 2-line initial “A” in blue and red ink. This begins Psalm 122 in the Vulgate (Psalm 123 in the King James Version), “Ad te levavi oculos meos…” (I lift my eyes…).

Page of Gothic script in 13 lines. Four illuminated initials. Two are in burnished gold leaf with intricate violet penwork and two are deep blue with red penwork. These alternate down the page.
Verso (or back side) of the leaf from a Book of Hours in ISU’s collections.

On the other side of the page, a 2-line illuminated “N” burnished gold begins Psalm 123 (Psalm 124 KJV) with “Nisi quia diis erat in nobis dicat nunc Israel…” (If it had not been that the Lord was with us…).

The images here have nothing to show scale. The leaf is quite small—96 x 70 mm, or just under 4 inches x roughly 2.5 inches. These were small enough to carry in a pocket and fit comfortably in a hand.

You may be wondering, if this leaf came from a book of hours, where is the rest of the book? It is not common practice today, but in earlier decades, some booksellers took apart manuscript books and sold individual leaves to purchasers who might not be able to afford entire books. This practice also enabled the book seller to make a much larger profit in the end by selling the leaves piecemeal. This profit, however, comes at a great cost to scholarship when the entire book is dispersed, and the context of the entire work is lost. Some booksellers that broke up manuscript books in this way argued that it enabled a wider range of purchasers to have access to these magnificent cultural objects who otherwise would not be able to afford an entire manuscript book. While acknowledging that owning and purchasing such objects is ethically problematic, I still make use of these objects in our collections for the purpose of instruction and am happy to be able to share it with a broader audience here.

This Book of Hours leaf comes from MS-0030, Manuscript Leaves and Ephemera Collection, box 1, folder 4.

Rare Book Highlights: Elizabeth Gould’s contributions to The Zoology of the Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle

As we quickly near the end of Women’s History Month, let’s take a look at the contributions of one woman, Elizabeth Gould (1804-1841), to the field of ornithology in her work as a scientific illustrator.

Oil portrait of a woman with hair done up in ringlets, wearing a gauzy dress, and holding a bird, an Australian cockatiel.
This image is from an oil portrait by an unknown artist, painted after Elizabeth’s death in 1841.

Elizabeth Coxen was born in 1804 to a middle-class English family. Part of her education, like that of many middle-class English women of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, included drawing and illustration. It is also likely that she was taught natural history, as this was considered an appropriate pursuit for women of the time period. As a young woman, she moved to London and worked as a governess. There, she met John Gould. Gould had been trained as a gardener by his father, but by this time, he had set up a taxidermy shop in London and also become the first curator and preserver at the museum of the Zoological Society of London. The two likely met through Elizabeth’s brother, who worked as a taxidermist in Gould’s workshop.

John and Elizabeth married in 1829, when they were both 24. She immediately began to assist John in his taxidermy shop by producing scientifically accurate drawings of specimens for his clients. Under the guidance of Edward Lear, she learned the art of lithography and began transferring her sketches to lithographic stone to make prints. Her lithographic designs were purchased by subscribers, and in this way, she contributed directly to the family’s income.

John Gould published his first work, A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains (1830-1832), from a collection of specimens from India that he had acquired through his work in taxidermy. This is the only publication where the Elizabeth Gould’s contributions are directly acknowledged on the plates. They are signed: “Drawn from nature and on stone by E. Gould.” In later works published by John Gould, although there is evidence that Elizabeth was the principal artist, the plates either tend to be attributed jointly to “J & E Gould,” or the plates contain no attribution to Elizabeth at all.

The Zoology of the HMS Beagle

Three volumes of the Voyage of the HMS Beagle bound in leather.
Iowa State University copy of the Zoology of the Voyage of the HMS Beagle.

As an example, let’s examine The Zoology of the H.M.S. Beagle (1839-43), edited by Charles Darwin. When Darwin returned from his trip to the Galapagos islands aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, he presented the mammal and bird specimens he had collected to the Zoological Society of London. John Gould agreed to take the bird specimens to identify new species and to write descriptions of them. These descriptions were published in volume 3 of Darwin’s publication. In addition to John’s descriptions, Elizabeth Gould created all 50 of the lithographic plates in that volume.

In the “Advertisement” at the beginning of volume 3, Darwin first describes John’s work on the written descriptions. Regarding the the illustrations, although acknowledging Elizabeth’s execution of the lithography, he seems to downplay her contributions as secondary to those of her husband. He writes, beginning at the bottom of the page, “The accompanying illustrations, which are fifty in number, were taken from sketches made by Mr. Gould himself, and executed on stone by Mrs. Gould, with that admirable success, which has attended all her works.”

This type of qualified attribution seems characteristic of what author Melissa Ashley describes as contemporary depictions of Elizabeth Gould that emphasized her role as assistant and wife, and subjugated her scientific contributions to those of her husband. Ashley argues that,

The skills that Elizabeth possessed and developed during her eleven-year artistic career were not passed on to her by her husband. Rather, John and Elizabeth had complementary skills and abilities. John was an ornithologist, taxonomist, writer and book-publisher but not an artist: Elizabeth was a fine artist skilled in drawing, watercolour painting and lithography.

Below is pictured the first page of the written description of the species Craxirex Galapagoensis and the accompanying illustration. The description is attributed to [John] Gould, but the illustration, as you can see, has no signature.

It is no wonder, then, that Elizabeth’s significance has been obscured until more recent work by historians of science, largely since the 1990s, to uncover the contributions of women, and particularly women illustrators, to the development of scientific fields.

For more on Elizabeth Gould and the contributions of other women to the field of scientific illustration, see the Linda Hall Library’s online exhibit “Women’s Work: Portraits of 12 Scientific Illustrators from the 17th to the 21st Century.”

Works Cited

Ashley, Melissa. “Elizabeth Gould, Zoological Artist 1840-1848: Unsettling Critical Depictions of John Gould’s ‘Laborious Assistant’ and ‘Devoted Wife’.” Hecate 39.1/2 (2013): 101-22,217.

Darwin, Charles. The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, under the Command of Captain Fitzroy, R.N., during the Years 1832 to 1836. London: Smith, Elder, 1839. Call number: QL5 .D25z.

Manuscripts Miscellany: Buxton, Iowa

Black and white photograph showing a broad, open area with many houses set in plots of land.
Looking S.E. from Water Tower, Buxton, Ia. From the Dorothy Schwieder Papers, RS 13/12/54, box 20, folder 21.

The coal-mining town of Buxton, Iowa has captured the imagination of many people throughout the state and beyond. Buxton was a company town owned by the Consolidated Coal Company to house the miners and other employees working the nearby coal mines or supporting the miners. Built in 1900, its heydey lasted for about 15 years, until the nearby mines were exhausted. By 1905, 55% of the population was Black. Company-owned housing was given to employees on a first-come, first-served basis, so that the town was largely integrated. As Buxton grew, it developed suburbs, and some of these were segregated, such as the primarily white East Swede Town and West Swede Town. Churches were also segregated, but schools and many social activities were integrated.

Black and white photograph of schoolchildren lined up in five rows in front of a school building. At the back is a teacher. The children are both male and female. A large portion are black, while the rest are white. The teacher is female and may be black.
Buxton schoolchildren, undated. From the Dorothy Schwieder papers, RS 13/12/54, box 20, folder 21.

Buxton was also unique among coal company towns in that many individuals, and not just the coal company, owned businesses; many of these were owned by Black individuals. Interviews with many of its former Black residents reveal that they considered the town a Black utopia. Rachelle Chase, in her book Lost Buxton, writes,

“But to understand this label of utopia is to view it in the context of the African American residents’ experience.

“Buxton was started a mere 35 years after the end of slavery. Numerous African Americans interviewed stated that their parents or grandparents had been slaves, repeatedly sharing stores of their life of slavery. And those who had not been slaves still experienced extreme racism.

“They came from that to Buxton–a place where they could go anywhere they wanted, live any way they wanted, eat or shop where they wanted, and have the freedom they wanted.”

Black and white portrait of a Black man wearing a suit jacket, vest, shirt and bow tie. Photogaph is in an oval frame.
Portrait of George Woodson, a prominent lawyer in Buxton and later the founder of the Iowa Negro Bar and National Bar Association. From the Dorothy Schwieder papers, RS 13/12/54, box 20, folder 21.

Dorothy Schweider was a white ISU professor in the department of History, who, along with her husband Elmer Schweider, ISU professor of Family Environment, and ISU professor of Sociology Joseph Hruba, conducted a large-scale research project on Buxton in 1980, interviewing many former residents about their experiences living in Buxton. They asked them a variety of questions about the mining and businesses in the town, schools, social life, family life, and race relations.

Below are some passages from interview transcripts that are part of the Dorothy Schwieder papers (RS 13/12/54): [Note: some passages use dated language to describe people of color.]

From an interview with Jeanette Adams, a Black resident, about Swede Town (Q are the questions by interviewers Joe Hraba and Elmer Schweider; A are answers from Adams):

From the Dorothy Schwieder Papers, RS 13/12/54, box 12, folder 8.

Q. We discovered something yesterday, that we talked about, or Gus talked about East Swede Town and West Swede Town.

A. Oh, yes, I used to ….

Q. [Why] did they call it Swede Town, were there an awful lot of Swedes?

A. Oh, yes, there were a lot of Swedes. Yes, they had their own church and everything. Yes, it was quite their own town. Course they had to go down to the company store; I guess to deal. But they had their own little churches, their own little settlement. […]

Q. Well, let me talk a little more about that. Here’s Buxton with the company store, now is there a place called East and West Swede Town where most of the Swedes lived, and then another place where many of the Blacks lived? Or Italians, or was there a kind of segregation?

A. No, no, no, no segregation. The Swedes just had their own way up there cause they wanted to. But Buxton had no, ah, no colored and white. There were more colored [than] there were white. I think the population was higher for colored there than it was for white.

Later, Adams described black and white neighbors socializing together:

Dorothy Schwieder Papers, RS 13/12/54, box 12, folder 8.

Q. (S) Were you ever, did you ever have white people come visit you in your home?


A. Oh, my yes. We had neighbors that we just loved like little sisters and brothers.

Q. And then you went in some of the white homes, back and forth, you mixed socially with that, no problem.

A. Oh yes, indeed, we mixed socially. …

Another former Buxton resident, Lester Beamon, describes the experience of Black people in towns other than Buxton, including the Ku Klux Klan and sunset laws. Heydock was the town that the Consolidated Coal Company moved on to after the Buxton mines were depleted.

Dorothy Schwieder Papers, RS 13/12/54, box 12, folder 9.
Dorothy Schwieder Papers, RS 13/12/54, box 12, folder 9.

Q. Did you ever hear any stories about the Ku Klux Klan being active in…?

A. They were supposed to have been active right there in Heydock.

Q. Really?

A. Yeah.

Q. Did you ever have any direct experiences with that…?

A. Well, no, I wouldn’t just say so, but they said they were active right there in Heydock.

Q. Who told you this?

A. Oh, just hear the older people talk, you know.

Q. Anything else about the treatment… Ah, obviously Black people could go into Albia and these other towns and shop.

A. Yeah.

Q. But did they have like what were know as sunset laws in those days that Black people couldn’t be there after dark? Remember anything like that?

A. I’ve heard, my mother and them said someplace, now I don’t remember where its at, but someplace they had a sign that said …let me get it straight now. “Read and run,” or maybe “don’t let the sun go down on you” or something lie that. I don’t know where that was at. I really don’t know.

Oliver Burkett lived in Buxton before his family moved to Waterloo. He seemed to experience culture shock on leaving Buxton:

Dorothy Schwieder Papers, RS 13/12/54, box 12, folder 13.

Q. In your classes there was about a third of the kids were white kids, Oliver something like that?

A. A third was white, huh huh.

Q. I know we talked about this but let me ask you again this. How did black and white kids get along together at school?

A. Real well. There wasn’t a lot of friction at all. When I come here [to Waterloo] it was just like going to a foreign country.

Q. Really, tell me about it.

A. Like I say, the black was dominant there, I mean in population and we come here. I went to Grant School, it’s right up here on Mobile Street and many times I was the only black one in my room. Yeah, see that’s been 51 years ago and there wasn’t very many black people here.

The Dorothy Schwieder papers contain many more interviews of former Buxton residents, along with other research notes from her Buxton project.  More information on Buxton can be found in a number of publications, websites, as well as collections held at the State Historical Society of Iowa.

Selected Bibliography

In Iowa State University Library:

Chase, Rachelle. Creating the Black Utopia of Buxton, Iowa. HISTORY Press, 2019.

–. Lost Buxton. Arcadia Publishing, 2017.

Dickey, LeeAnn. Before Buxton: the Muchakinock Years, 1874-1900. PBL Ltd., 2014.

Dorothy Schwieder Papers, RS 13/12/54, Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives.

Gradwohl, David M., and Osborn, Nancy M. Exploring Buried Buxton: Archaeology of an Abandoned Iowa Coal Mining Town with a Large Black Population. Iowa State University Press, 1984.

Schwieder, Dorothy, et al. Buxton: Work and Racial Equality in a Coal Mining Community. Iowa State University Press, 1987.

–. Buxton: A Black Utopia in the Heartland. University of Iowa Press, 2003.


“Buxton: A Lost Utopia.” Primary Source Sets, State Historical Society of Iowa.

“The Great Buxton.” Iowa Pathways, Iowa PBS.

Smith, Eric A. “Buxton, Iowa (1895-1927).” Black Past, January 29, 2007.

Rare Book Highlights: new purchase by William Morris

Page on left hows a black and white print of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eve is seated on a fallen log with a fur wrapped around her lower abdomen and long hair somewhat covering her naked breasts. At her feat are two young children, one with its arms wrapped around her leg. Adam is standing, bending over to push a spade into the ground. Printed text at the bottom reads, "When Adam Delved and Eve Span Who was then the Gentleman. There is an intricate black and white printed border around the image on the left page and the text on the right page. Both borders have design sof leaves, and the righth one includes bunches of grapes.
Frontispiece and first page of William Morris’s “A Dream of John Ball; and, A King’s Lesson.”

Just look at that frontispiece! Is that classic William Morris, or what? The book featured here is among our newest additions to the rare books collection.

William Morris was a Victorian British designer, craftsman, and author, known for his wallpaper and textile design and associated with the Arts & Crafts Movement. You may be familiar with his famous quote:

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

In rare book circles, he is known as the founder of the Kelmscott Press and the designer of the famous Kelmscott Chaucer.

William Morris believed in the importance of manual labor and skilled craftsmanship. In the wake of mechanization during the Industrial Revolution, he made sure that his own decorative arts company performed impeccable handwork in crafts that he first made sure to master himself. In 1891 at the age of 56, Morris founded the Kelmscott Press to produce books that were a pleasure to look at and to read. Following his principles of skilled craftsmanship and handiwork, he learned the skills of hand printing, type design, and paper making. Taking inspiration from the type of the famed 15th century type designer Nicholas Jensen, who created one of the earliest Roman typefaces, he designed three typefaces for use by the press–Golden, Troy, and Chaucer–that were clear, readable, and beautiful. He also designed ornamental letters and borders. You can see that the ornamental borders in the image above look very similar to Morris’ wallpaper and textile designs (see examples here).

The book we purchased is William Morris’s A Dream of John Ball; and A King’s Lesson (1892). It includes two of Morris’s own writings. The illustration for the frontispiece was designed by Morris’ friend, longtime business partner, and Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones. See more pictures of this book below:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The founding of the Kelmscott Press marks the begininng of the private press movement that flourished around the turn of the 20th century, in which private individuals set up presses that were focused on producing high-quality handmade books emphasizing the book as a work of art and generally without a strong profit motive. Other famous private presses include the Doves Press and the Ashendene Press.

%d bloggers like this: