ISU Special Collections and University Archives has a wealth of information about student organizations over the years. Here is a rare late-70s photo of SAE fraternity members dressed as bunnies and staying out of trouble. The ISU chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (“Iowa Gamma”) was established in 1905. For more images and documents, see RS 22/11/2/33.
One of my duties is cataloging old bachelors theses in the University Archives. I have worked my way up to 1916 with lots more to go. At some point ISU stopped generating so many theses at the bachelor level of study, but there’s no end in sight for me, so it’s a good thing some of the theses are interesting. I have blogged about them before: see my July, 2016 item entitled In 1913, students had designs on the Campanile’s chimes.
In 1915, a horticulture student named John Hampden Allison wrote his thesis on efforts to bring plants from around the world to Ames. I was intrigued to learn of the existence of the “Ames Plant Introduction Garden.” Receiving shipments of plants was just the beginning since the point was to grow and study them for a variety of reasons. I had not realized there was such a thing as the United States Office of Seed and Plant Introduction, either. “Invasive species” come to mind when I think about such matters from my non-farmer, non-horticulturalist perspective 100+ years after Allison submitted his thesis. In fact these plant introduction activities were admirably thoughtful. We use plant matter for innumerable purposes from food to medicine to building materials. It stands to reason that science and commerce would benefit from ongoing systematic programs of this type.
Nowadays we are beginning to take genetic engineering of plants and animals for granted. It still seems futuristic, but genetic engineering is a well-established means of modifying organisms’ traits to better suit human needs. In 1915 genetic engineering was science fiction; selective breeding and the acquisition of desirable variants or alternative species were the only games in town. Hence the existence of seed “banks” and “libraries” and places like the Ames Plant Introduction Garden.
As you can see from the photo caption above, a major area of interest was how various species would respond to Iowa’s climate. It is unclear whether the 1911-1912 winter low temperature of -35° should be interpreted as Fahrenheit or Celsius, but either one would be lower than expected. Weather Channel data for Ames (as found at Wikipedia) states that the “highest recorded temperature was 102° F (39° C) in 1988 and the lowest was −28° F in 1996.” For comparison a list entitled Des Moines Climate 1878-Present gives a lowest daily minimum of -30 [sic] on January 5 of 1884. Not having time for further research into this subtopic, I conclude that Allison’s cited reading of -35° is Fahrenheit and is plausible, but only as a record-breaking historical anomaly.
Allison contextualizes the photo further on page 6. He describes Amygdalus davidiana as “a wild peach native to China” that came to Ames by way of Chico, California. The story is that the Ames Plant Introduction Garden had a “peach orchard of hardy native varieties [that] was practically killed out” by the extreme winter lows of 1911-1912 but that the Chinese peach trees (Amygdalus davidiana) “withstood the temperature like oaks.” Good to know.
Other topics are covered in Allison’s book as well – greenhouse versus outdoor cultivation results, characteristics of fruit, potential for hybridization, et cetera. The text is not particularly scientific in itself, but I can see its usefulness as a readable summary of its subject matter.
Working with this book (and then blogging about it) is a good example of what it’s like to be a cataloger in special collections. There is no time for me to learn about all the diverse topics that I encounter. I have to learn enough to create bibliographic descriptions, and maybe the occasional blog entry, but if I spend too much time learning about unfamiliar subjects my productivity suffers. In conclusion, I hope I have done justice to J. H. Allison’s thesis and related topics. As always, readers should feel free to comment. Share your knowledge or life experience in relation to my themes.
UPDATE: In comments, reader Brian Mayer provided information about the North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station and a link to its website. It’s gratifying to know that the NCRPIS and affiliated organizations remain committed to “preserving and providing plant genetic resources for agriculture since 1948.” Thanks, Brian.
When I was a kid schoolteachers used slide projectors quite a bit. Slides and transparencies are very easy to use. Film projectors and reels are a little trickier, but those were commonly used as well. Some instructors were still using these media when I was earning my degrees (roughly 1995 to 2007). Doing so could make sense: not all topics are subject to change, and if the teaching aids and apparatus are durable, why not use that slide show on Renaissance art for 20 years?
Working in archives often means working with outmoded technology and information-bearing media. It’s interesting that while archivists are not stuck in the past — we use cutting-edge tools, we collect and preserve modern stuff — archivists can never forget about the old media, machinery, methods, and materials. All that is donated to (and actively collected by) institutions like archives, museums, and special libraries.
Today I will blog about glass slides and the projectors that love them. ISU Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) has more than one set of glass slides, but our largest set of them is part of the Warren H. Manning Papers (manuscript collection MS 218). Manning (1860-1938) was a giant in the realm of landscape architecture. Photography was one of his favorite tools. Among other things, SCUA’s Manning collection includes over 2000 glass “lantern slides” and over 1000 photographic prints made from the slides. Take a look — 1554 images are online here. Quite a few are of scant interest to laypeople, but there are interesting and beautiful ones too:
The word “lantern” in “lantern slides” sounds a bit archaic, doesn’t it? When I think of lanterns, I think of wicks and flames, not light bulbs. Similarly, some people — Brits, possibly others — refer to flashlights as “electric torches” or just “torches,” a usage I find appealing. Lantern slide projectors use bulbs, but they are descended from magic lanterns. The basic idea is very old and requires nothing more than a source of light (the brighter the better) and something to shine it through (not necessarily a photograph: stained glass invites comparison). In this way it reminds me of the camera obscura. What could be simpler, and yet so pregnant with possibilities?
Of course, making glass slides with photographic images on them is a 19th century development. While archives and collectors should take good care of the slides, and maintain some projectors of the same vintage, we have an interest in reformatting the images. Glass slides are heavy and fragile. The projector pictured above is very heavy (take my word for it). Most people do not need to use the originals; photographic prints and digitized versions are usually better options. We pursue the same strategy when we offer facsimiles of rare books and manuscripts. Certain researchers need to see the real artifacts, and within reason we love to show them off.
The work of reformatting information resources takes as many forms as there are types of media. Consider that some things can be viewed with the naked eye, while others require an intermediary device (such as a projector). Computer programs and data storage are an extreme case; since the “goalposts” have moved so quickly, meeting requirements for preserving and accessing legacy digital resources is a daunting challenge.
Being a musician I am tempted to digress into digital audio reformatting and related topics, but I’ll save those thoughts for another time.
Prior to this week, I had never cataloged maps or atlases. My favorite thing about being a cataloger is learning new things — unfamiliar subject matter, but also how resources differ, and why those differences matter. Cartographic materials contrast greatly with the books and periodicals I normally encounter on the job. As a child, I was fascinated with maps and plans; sometimes I would draw maps of imaginary places, or cross-sections of fantastic buildings and caves. As an adult, however, I did not pursue cartography, geography, architecture, or any of the other professions that involve graphical representations of our natural and built environments. As a cataloger, I work with symbolic representations of primarily textual materials, so I faced a learning curve in cataloging Sanborn maps.
The Library of Congress maintains the world’s largest Sanborn Map Collection, which includes “some fifty thousand editions of fire insurance maps comprising an estimated seven hundred thousand individual sheets.” I recommend you read the linked essay, which is more interesting than I expected it to be, and provides a depth of context that’s not possible here, even if I knew the topic well.
One day I was hard at work, minding my own business, when along came three big books. You could have heard a pin drop: these bad boys are just over two feet square, and heavy. I ended up describing them as “1 atlas in 3 loose-leaf volumes (ca. 310 sheets).” In other words, it’s a huge map of Des Moines divided into a grid on about 310 sheets. If you’ve used road maps, then you know the basic format — once the map is too big to fold, it gets broken up. Breaking up these maps introduces the need for indices and “key maps,” without which the user would be lost.
Above you see a small portion of the key map (scale: 1:12,000). Each numbered shape corresponds to one of about 310 “sheets” (scale: 1:600 or sometimes 1:1,200). As we’ll see further on, the 1:600 scale sheets are rich in details that the fire insurance companies valued.
Confusingly, Sanborn “sheets” are printed on both sides of the leaves (at least in this format). It’s tempting to think of these “sheets” as the pages of a folio, but the similarities are superficial. The distinction is a subtle one that I have struggled to describe. Documents have different structures; consulting a reference work is very different from reading a linear, unidirectional text. The Sanborn atlases are graphical reference works for a very particular audience. Numbered sequences — whether of pages, leaves, or other elements — are a feature of resource types that are in other ways dissimilar. Looking at our three-volume map of Des Moines, I can see why some owners would choose to disassemble it (or not acquire the whole set). It’s not surprising that the Library of Congress collection includes a great many “sheet maps” that are not bound into loose-leaf volumes like ours.
Here we have a city block represented in a specialized manner. Notable are (1) the nature of the details, and (2) the evidence of revision.
(1) Annotations like “fire proof construction” and “paints & oils” were obviously of interest to the fire insurance companies that bought these maps. What is not clear from this closeup is that the buildings are color-coded: a brick building is shown in pink, a stone building in blue, etc. The insurance companies were also very interested in doors, windows, elevators, and certain other features; you’d need the key to understand the relevant symbols. Not shown above: notes on building security. Important buildings had one or more night watchmen who were noted on the map. Regular patrols might be tracked with watchclocks; “approved clock” is a favorable map note, “no clock” is a bad one indicating that the watchman could muck up his route or skip patrols altogether.
(2) Look closely — see where littler pieces of paper were pasted over the original sheets? These maps were originally issued in 1920, but they were revised many times. Sanborn employees would revise your maps and note the changes in a log. Sometimes they removed whole sheets and replaced them with new ones. An index might get an addendum, or it might be completely pasted over with a new one. The big changes are not mysterious — they are labelled or logged. The little changes are impossible to nail down. Did a Sanborn representative do them?… All I know is that our copies were altered at least twice a year, 1934 through 1937. The sheer number of little paste-overs is mind-boggling!
You can see these books at Special Collections and University Archives, ISU Library. Here they are in the online catalog.
Construction of ISU’s C. Y. Stephens Auditorium was completed in September of 1969. Visit “History of campus buildings” for more information. The auditorium is noted for its award-winning design, but today I’ll concentrate on some of what’s happened inside.
The Ames International Orchestra Festival Association formed circa 1969-1971. It brought the world’s greatest orchestras, conductors, and soloists to the annual festival. Not having attended, I can only imagine the festivals as simply super, as classical music at its classiest and most musical. Here are a few glamour shots to give you some idea of the level of artistry I’m talking about. Google them if you must, folks, or take my humble word for it: this is top-shelf talent!
Source of photos: Ames International Orchestra Festival Association Records, MS 137, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library. (Some photos are uncredited; copyright for the publicity photos presumably belongs to the artists or their agencies.) For more information about the collection, see our finding aid.
I’ll admit that while I’d be pleased if a blog reader visited Special Collections to look at the AIOFA scrapbooks, photos, programs, etc., what I really want you to do is treat yourself to an evening at Stephens Auditorium. I myself have seen two shows there: the incomparable Tedeschi Trucks Band, and the Moscow Festival Ballet performing “Sleeping Beauty” as imagined by Tchaikovsky. Great shows, great venue. Look what’s coming up. There’s something for all tastes!
A patron has been examining our 350-year-old copies of the first issues of Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London, which gives me something interesting to blog about. The patron is Marcia Prior-Miller, an Associate Professor Emeritus from the ISU Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication. I met Marcia when she visited Special Collections a year or so ago, and I enjoyed talking to her about her research and writing. Now she’s back, and working on a book chapter. Its topic is the historical emergence of magazine and journal publishing. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London is one of the four earliest examples of magazines or journals; the other three publications are in German, Italian, and French, and we won’t address them here.
The first issue of Philosophical transactions […] contains ten entries on various scientific and technical topics. Some are essay-length; others are just paragraphs. None have illustrations, charts, or graphs. Nor are there bibliographical references or citations as we know them, although in some cases titles and names are provided. Henry Oldenburg seems to have edited the whole, drawing on an array of publications and correspondence. I find it to be interesting reading; the prose style is more colorful and lively than the scientific writing of our time.
Issue number two has pages numbered 17-32, i.e. it takes up where issue number one left off. To this day, journals (as opposed to magazines) commonly have “continuous paging throughout a volume.” Notably, volume two of Philosophical transactions […] does not begin with a fresh page one; rather, after some unnumbered pages, it carries on from p. 409. (Pardon me for noting these details. I am a librarian and a cataloger, so I can’t help but notice them!)
Issue two also feature the title’s first illustrations. They are beautifully done on a leaf that folds out. These figures are associated with the article (?) on pages 21-26 concerning “a way of producing Wind by the fall of Water.”
Visit us here in special collections if you’d like to see our extensive collection of the Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. You can also view and download scans of individual issues (here, and I imagine elsewhere).
(My blog post’s title is borrowed from an exhibition catalog called Philosophical transactions: 350 years of publishing at the Royal Society (1665-2015). The catalog is an excellent resource in itself. You can view or download a PDF of it here.)
Today let’s look at an old (1913) bachelor’s thesis housed in the University Archives. Cataloging them is one of my duties, and some of them are quite interesting. I doubt many ISU undergraduates write theses these days, but they used to write quite a few. The theses are unpublished hardbound typescripts. Most are little more than essays: our subject today consists of 13 leaves, of which seven leaves are photos and blueprints. Others are substantial volumes with multiple authors (students were allowed to collaborate, and often did). Blueprints of technical drawings, etc. are typically bound in after the text. The blueprints are often much larger than the theses, so they’re folded as many times as necessary to fit between the covers.
You can read about the “Margaret Chimes” and their namesake, Margaret MacDonald Stanton, here and read about Iowa State’s Campanile here. (If you’re interested in learning more, contact us at Special Collections.) For our purposes today, it’s enough to know that the Margaret Chimes are a set of ten bells and that the 110′ tower was constructed to house them. The Campanile’s carillon and other renovations came later.
Flash back to 1913. Electrical engineering students Don H. Kilby and Joseph J. Shoemaker have become aware that ringing the ten chimes by means of ropes is problematic. They write that the operator must pull with a force of between 20 and 50 pounds (depending on the size of the bell). “This makes it practically impossible to maintain musical cadence. At present the system is in very bad order and on average one bell rope is broken each day.” Kilby and Shoemaker conclude that an electric remote control system would be relatively simple. It would cost an estimated $657.40 including labor ($15,952.64 adjusted for inflation). Their system’s “keyboard” and bell-clapper system would require far less maintenance. Perhaps more importantly, it would make better music: the operator could choose a “light, medium, or hard stroke” with predictable delay-times between striking keys and the sounding of chimes. I’m not an electrical engineer, but I am a musician, and their system looks good to me!
Kilby and Shoemaker did not get to install their system in the Campanile, but they did test it. At left see the counter-balanced clapper, acted upon by a magnet, to which is sent either no current (key off) or one of three voltages (light, medium, or hard stroke). Adjustable spring tension allows for fine calibration.
I applaud these students’ ingenuity. If you want to see their 1913 thesis in person, please visit us here in Special Collections at your earliest convenience.
All quotes herein are excerpted from, and images scanned from:
Electric Remote Control System for the Margaret Chimes by D. H. Kilby and J. J. Shoemaker (1913).
A few months ago I took a phone call from a farmer in another state. The man and his son were restoring a piece of farm equipment made in the 1890s. His dilemma was not knowing what color(s) to paint the machine. His research led him to our website, where he found an inventory for a collection of agricultural literature, including advertisements and brochures put out by the manufacturer of the machine being restored. I told him I would get back to him soon, hopefully with evidence of the machine’s original paint-job.
I began examining the companies’ ephemera. Most of it was illustrated in black and white: nice, precise work, probably supplied to the printer as engravings. The brochures, pamphlets, etc. were very wordy by modern advertising and marketing standards, but none of them mentioned the products’ color. Everything imaginable was detailed, except color and finish!
Later, I was relieved to find a few cards featuring color illustrations (shown above; the backs carry text). The farmer was pleased with the information I gave him. I thanked him for pointing me in the right direction at the outset; the work had gone quickly. Now he had at least some evidence to consider when painting his piece of 1890s farm equipment. Ephemera in an archive had been the key.
Archives collect and preserve ephemera, among other things. It’s a pretty word that, outside of archives, I’ve encountered most often as the adjective “ephemeral.” It comes to us from the Greek for “lasting only a day.” There are ephemeral things that literally last one day; for example, an old medical text refers to “that Feaure [fever] which we call Ephemera, not exceeding foure and twenty houres.” Nowadays the noun form is typically used the way archives use it, and for this, Wikipedia gives an adequate definition: ephemera is “any transitory or printed matter not meant to be retained or preserved.”
A crucial distinction, then: it is the ephemera’s intended use or purpose that is ephemeral. The item itself could be saved indefinitely. But why would someone save “such things as a bus ticket, a circus poster, a Christmas card or a Valentine, a police summons, […] a train timetable, or a travel brochure,” after their intended purposes are fulfilled?
The most general answer is that human beings repurpose things. It’s nice to know why something was made, by whom and for what purpose—we can’t fully understand the thing without such knowledge—but we’re free to use things (and ideas) differently. We decide what’s significant and how; we decide what it all means.
Perhaps most ephemera should be recycled. So much ephemera is produced that saving it all is not an option, but where do we draw the line?… I’m raising questions that I cannot begin to answer. I do know that experts are best-prepared to assess the significance of ephemera related to their areas of expertise. I know that ephemera is never enough in itself. A historian, for example, needs other sources, sound methodology, and a great deal of creativity. That being said, ephemera is indispensable.
The subject is a deep one that I plan to explore further. I hope to have inspired you to think about the ephemera in your life. You don’t have to save it, but what if you did? What could it be used for, other than the obvious?
(Except as noted, quotations are from Ephemera: a a book on its collection, conservation and use by Chris E. Makepeace. 1985.)
The University Library Digital Initiatives unit has completed a major digitization project that’s guaranteed to please a great many people. It’s The Bomb – figuratively and literally! Those of us who work in Special Collections & University Archives are always happy when people make use of the set of yearbooks in our reading room; now researchers around the world will enjoy access to them online, including OCR (Optical Character Recognition) functionality.*
Digital Initiatives Archivist Kim Anderson will send out a press release soon, but here’s an early “heads up” for SCUA blog readers. Special thanks goes to Bill Yungclas, who was primarily responsible for the execution of this six-year project, along with the Digital Initiatives students who worked with him over the years. It was no mean feat, since it involved 109 hefty volumes (1894—1994, the last year of publication).
As you can imagine, The Bomb varied quite a bit during its century of existence. In 1971 it consisted of six separate books and a supplementary 33⅓ RPM phonograph record! You can view and even download The Bomb here, including a digitized version of the recording.
*Note that the text generated automatically by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software can look odd and contain errors. When in doubt, read the scanned pages yourself. Some of the yearbooks feature indexes, but most do not. Thankfully, OCR text allows you to search for words or phrases; however, it’s not perfect, particularly when there are special fonts or unusual layouts.
Today I have a special challenge for our readers. You may wonder what this blog post’s title has to do with ISU. The quoted phrase comes from an 1872 report from the Board of Trustees to the Governor, and it pertains to examinations given to prospective students:
I found the sample exam interesting enough to share. Unfortunately, we do not have an answer key. Nevertheless, the boldest minds among you are invited to test their worthiness!
I would not score the required 75/100. I might not even be admitted as a remedial student.
What do you think about the exam? As freshmen in 1872 would we have met in the remedial courses? Could you pass the test so as to “avoid the expense of a useless journey” to and from your family’s farm? Did you remember to bring your own straw tick, as instructed? I look forward to your comments!