2018 4-H Youth Conference Workshop

This week the Iowa 4-H Youth Conference came to campus. This is an annual event that occurs every June. Approximately 900 teenagers descend onto Iowa State University’s campus for three days filled with workshops, speakers, community service activities, and an assortment of social events. This year, I partnered with Iowa State University Library Instruction Librarian Cara Stone and offered a workshop about preserving family history. Our goals were to help participants identify past, present, and future artifacts. We also addressed basic ways they could keep their stuff safe and provided resources for further information on both preservation resources and what cultural heritage institutions reside in the state.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We had a great time with the 4-H youths and hope they had fun also, and learned a little too, of course.


The Limits of Looking: Landmarks in Iowa History and the White Gaze

By Katie Prout

As the AV and Film Preservationist for ISU’s Special Collections and University’s Archives, I often come across visual and aural content I am tasked to preserve that is beautiful, interesting, and insightful. But sometimes content is the opposite of all those things. So when I came across Herb Hake’s episode Landmarks in Iowa History: Spirit Lake Massacre, a kinescope 16mm black-and-white print, I felt compelled to provide a rebuttal of its narrative. To that end, I am very excited to introduce Katie Prout as my guest blogger. Katie is a writer and graduate of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. She’s currently working on a book about addiction, inheritance, and ghosts. You can read more about her take on Spirit Lake at LitHub. -Rosie Rowe

“If you go to Antigua as a tourist, this is what you will see.” This is the opening line of Jamaica Kincaid’s searing book-length essay A Small Place, and this is what echoed in my head as I watched and then re watched “Landmarks in Iowa History: Spirit Lake Massacre.” Kincaid’s book, an anti-tourist travelogue and history of her native Antigua, reverts the gaze of power by putting the white tourist, the white colonizer, under her critical lens. You think you can know a people just by looking? Fine. Let me take a look at you.

The people doing the looking in “Landmarks in Iowa History: Spirit Lake Massacre” are the tourists in this scenario, though perhaps they wouldn’t see themselves that way, and it’s through their gaze that we, the viewers, are invited to look at an event known as the Spirit Lake Massacre. This short film is one of a series produced by WOI-TV and Iowa State Teachers’ College designed to be a supplemental educational tool for teaching Iowa history in public schools. This film, then, is the official narrative, The Facts of What Happened not to be questioned. It’s easy to imagine children bent over their desks, tongues in the corners of their mouths as they strain to recall what they learned from “Landmarks” for their teacher’s test. The facts, loosely, are this: The winter 1857 was a time of starvation in northwestern Iowa, both for the white settlers who were homesteading beyond federally determined borders and for the native peoples who had first called that land home. That March, members of the Wahpekute Dakota raided the settlers for food, possibly also for revenge for loved ones who died by the hands of white settlers and soldiers—those of Inkpaduta (the man leading the raid) not the least among them. At the three day’s end, over thirty settlers were dead; four white women were kidnapped and held for ransom. Among those four was a girl; a thirteen year-old named Abbie Gardner.

This much is true. It’s also true that tourism has long figured into the economy of  Iowa; indeed, the Gardner family cabin—the essential heart of the Spirit Lake Massacre, the state’s last indigenous-settler conflict in Iowa—later became the state’s first tourist attraction. But is this the truth the film is directing us to see? What does the camera’s lens hide, and what does it really reveal?

From the beginning, “Landmarks in Iowa History: Spirit Lake Massacre” is, knowingly or not, is concerned with who is looking at who and the limits of what can be known through that gaze. The viewer watches the tv (or in my case, the laptop screen). After the opening credits, the camera shows us a white man looking through another camera in turn. We watch him watch nothing. This man is teacher and historian Herb Hake, one of the show’s two co-hosts, and he’s pretending to do that time-honored tourist tick—take photos of a historic site. After a beat, Hake straightens up and winds his camera as he smiles sheepishly into ours. “Well boys and girls, it’s another beautiful day to take pictures, isn’t it?” Dressed in a jacket and cap, as though he’s greeting us from the Iowan outdoors, the host in fact stands on a studio stage. Behind him, a not-quite life-sized backdrop of the Gardner Cabin gleams, shiny with shellacked light. “Today, we’re going to take pictures of this Gardner cabin. You see it here in the background,” Hake says, gesturing to the blown-up photograph behind him. The studio lights invoke sunlight, the photograph of the cabin is a facsimile of the real thing, and the cabin itself is a stand-in for Abbie Gardner, the only survivor of the family who once called the cabin home, and from whose memoir much of the information shared on “Landmarks in Iowa History: Spirit Lake Massacre” is obtained. “As the announcer said, we are in the Great Lakes region today.” As Hake speaks, the gaze of the camera stays narrow enough to hide the stage wiring from our view, but not so narrow that we can’t see co-host Irving Hart’s elbow waiting in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. Specific locations in the Great Lakes region are named to further assist the construction of our belief.

With this, the viewer enters the white imagination, but that imagination is presented as fact. Hake-as-host is grave and charming, a kind of history-loving Mr. Rogers, but the imaginative play presented before us is no game. When dealing with the magic of television, how are we to understand the reality of the warfare described? What are the young students, for whom this film was originally intended, to take away? The film goes on to present more facsimiles, reproductions, artifacts that are similar and or closely related to the real thing, but that thing they are not. In “Landmarks,” the viewer is caught in the strange place of being asked to believe but also to do the work of creating a thing to believe in. We’re to take as fact what we see, but what we see is itself a stand-in, a reproduction, a retelling of the real thing.

Here’s why this matters. In an era of fake news, the more difficult work is in looking at an incident of violence not as an isolated aberration, but as a complex response to a chain of events that stretches back and forth in time. This film was made in the 1950s, but historians should know that in any decade. The hosts of “Landmarks,” describe the violence perpetrated by the Wahpekute against the settlers in detail, with words like “ruthless,” and “dragged,” but they don’t explain that the federal government was terribly late on annuity payments to the tribe, payments that might’ve been able to keep the tribes from having to choose between raids and starvation. Hake describes Inkpaduta a “big, ugly-looking Indian,” inviting the viewer to imagine all kinds of racist caricatures, but he doesn’t explain that this “ugliness” comes from horrific smallpox scars, a European disease sometimes deliberately introduced to indigenous populations by colonizers as a method of biowarfare. The camera eventually shows us a picture of a memorial near the Gardner cabin, constructed in memory of the settlers who died; the memory of the Wahpekute is represented to the arrow-shaped stone at the top of the memorial, reducing them to nothing more than weapons, objects of death.

Towards the end of the film, the camera lingers on a picture Hake tacks up to an easel. The picture is of one of the cabin’s inside walls. On this wall, an oil painting hangs, depicting burning cabins, teepees, and cold snow. Again, we have our gaze directed to another reproduction, but this one was created by a survivor who was there. Remember Your History, Gardner admonished. She painted these words on the bottom of a painting much like this one, one of a series of scenes from the memories that haunted her. This film brought to my mind Kincaid’s A Small Place, but Gardner, a very different woman, also wrote down her observations of a land and its history; first as a settler, then as a captive of the people who her kind forcibly replaced:

“In [writing this memoir], I hope to benefit myself, pay a lasting tribute to the memory of those whose lives were consecrated to civilization, and save from oblivion the historical matter within these pages.”

History, as is so often said, is written by the victors, and it seems that educational television programming is too.  While Gardner was absolutely a victim, it is her written testimony of the conflict that has been preserved and saved, and it is this version that is preserved and uplifted by “Landmarks.” Nowhere in her above sentence, quoted from the beginning pages of her memoir, is there mention of the lives of the Wahpekute; their version of history is not the “historical matter” Gardner is concerned with saving from oblivion. Working to recognize indigenous experiences and perspectives alongside those of white settlers would undoubtedly lead to another kind of conflict; an ideological one, with educators and historians striving to understand who shares what responsibility in violence, and why, and what can be done to repair that violence rather than replicate it again. This kind of history would create programming less easily reduced to symbols, more uncomfortable for some viewers to look at, but perhaps it would show us something more true.


Ralph Ellison, Film, Jazz, and Cultural Memory Gaps

On 18 March 1970, Ralph Ellison spoke at ISU as part of the University’s Lecture Series program. Mr. Ellison was a 20th-century, African American author, whose first and only novel, Invisible Man, won the National Book Award. In spite of his renown, the lecture was not recorded (or, if it was, apparently did not survive). Nor have I been able to locate any documentation about his lecture. I’m left wondering how he would have engaged with the Iowa State audience. I wonder whether he spoke about his love of jazz and how music influenced his writing.

Ralph copy

WOI TV News Clip 452 (AV07469) 16MM single perf  image of  Ralph Ellison 1970

Charles ‘Buddy’ Bolden (1877-1931) was a well-known, African American coronet player and a progenitor of the jazz movement in New Orleans. His trombonist claimed that at least one cylinder phonograph was made of Bolden’s music at the turn of the century by a local New Orleans saloon owner, but no known recordings have survived. Major music industry labels – Edison, Columbia, and the Berliner – regularly paid white artists to record Black music. In fact, the earliest known jazz recording is a 1917 album by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, an all-white group. So, despite its apparent uniqueness, labeling the Original Dixieland Jazz Band recording as a foundational document of jazz would be a misrepresentation of American history. In doing so, we would be ignoring the racism of the music industry that refused to record Black musicians and erasing the people and communities who were the actual creators of this American art form.

The loss of early jazz recordings – probably through neglect and mishandling – is one of the greatest examples we have of a cultural memory gap.

Cultural memory gaps within memory institutions are why modern archiving practices are slowly shifting toward intentionally collecting and prioritizing records of marginalized communities. This is why Black Archives, and other archives focused on marginalized communities, are so important. But we shouldn’t rely solely on these dedicated institutions to do ALL the collecting, prioritizing, and describing of these records. All archives must be responsible for hiring staff that can properly identify and interpret the records of marginalized communities. And as archivists, all of us share in the responsibility of preserving them.

Film and audio-visual (AV) records already have notoriously patchy documentation. What records have been collected have often not been effectively described. Combine that inherent lack of information with institutional and societal-level systems that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, erase the work of marginalized groups, and we are left with a huge cultural memory gap. We have little film and sound recordings from marginalized communities at ISU.

The scarcity of these records makes the ones that we DO have even more valuable. I happened upon one of those valuable records while wrangling the Iowa State University Film Collections.

What we do know about Ralph Ellison’s visit to ISU is that Dorcas Speer, a WOI TV reporter, interviewed him before his lecture. That the interview was filmed, and that I was able to find it. This footage is from the WOI Radio and Television collection (more information about this collection is here). We are working towards making WOI TV’s film collection more discoverable for researchers in the near future.  To see the interview, watch  here.


Black History in Iowa

February marks Black History Month, or African-American History Month, in the U.S. and Canada. It’s true that the population of Iowa is mostly white, and African-Americans only make up about 3.4% of the state population. One of the largest (if not the largest) populations of African-Americans in the state is centered in Iowa’s largest city, Des Moines, making up 10.2% of the population of the city. African-Americans first started migrating to Iowa and Des Moines in the 1800s. Since then, there has been a history of opportunity, but also prejudice and discrimination, like every other part of the United States.

In our film collection, we have a recording that discusses all of this, entitled Black Des Moines: Voices Seldom Heard. It was recorded in 1985, produced by WOI, and produced, narrated, and written by Verda Louise Williams. It’s available on our YouTube channel, and you can watch it here below (approx. 60 minutes). If you have the time, watch it. It reveals a lesser-known side of Iowa and examines the history of African-Americans in Des Moines, featuring interviews with people who lived it.

Admittedly, our collections largely document the white experience – likely due to the fact that most of our population is white. We do, however, try to document diverse experiences, and we have a subject guide devoted to that. Collections directly tied to the African-American experience include the George Washington Carver Collection (please also see the digital collection), the Jack Trice Papers (please also see the digital collection), and the Verda Louise Williams Papers (also linked earlier in this post). In addition, we have relevant records of student organizations and subject files, which can be found in the University Archives Subject Index.

We also have reference files regarding African-American alumni, faculty, and administrators of Iowa State. Contact us or stop by if you have any questions or want to see any of our collections!


CyPix: A gallery of dolls

In honor of Iowa Museums Week, here are a couple of photos from one of our University Museums, the Brunnier Art Museum, featuring an exhibit from its Doll Collection.

Doll Collection exhibit at Brunnier Art Museum, Iowa State University, unknown date. University Photograph Collection, RS 5/8/A,D, Box 433.

Doll Collection exhibit at Brunnier Art Museum, Iowa State University, unknown date. University Photograph Collection, RS 5/8/A,D, Box 433.

Children exploring the exhibit of the Doll Collection at Brunnier Art Museum, Iowa State University. University Photograph Collection, RS 5/8/A,D, Box 433.

Children exploring the exhibit of the Doll Collection at Brunnier Art Museum, Iowa State University. University Photograph Collection, RS 5/8/A,D, Box 433.

If you are looking for an interesting museum in Iowa, here is a handy Iowa museum locator, created by the Iowa Museum Association.

More information on ISU’s University Museums can be found in the University Archives, Records Series 5/8.



Extension Service rural programs in Iowa after Pearl Harbor

When the bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States was catapulted into World War II. Although the United States had remained neutral while countries in Europe and Asia had gone to war, Americans all over the country were keenly following events overseas and trying to understand them. The people of Iowa were no different.

"The Iowa Farmer and World War II" Extension Service pamphlet from March 1941.

“The Iowa Farmer and World War II” Extension Service pamphlet from March 1941. Box 16, folder 5, William H. Stacy Papers, RS 16/3/57.

Seven days after Pearl Harbor, on December 12, during a regularly-scheduled radio program, Iowa State College Extension Sociologist Bill Stacy outlined efforts already underway by community groups to understand the world around them:

“The 4-H girls’ clubs, for three years, have been studying a ‘World Conscious Program.’ …Out of school Rural Young People have organized programs in 61 counties. This year these groups have as the theme for their major study, ‘Our Job in Strengthening Democracy.’…Farm women’s groups for a third year, are studying ‘The Farm Family and the World Today’….Then, as you know, the Extension Service has published eight circulars in a series called ‘The Challenge to Democracy'” (Script for Radio Dialogue in Box 10, Folder 1, William H. Stacy Papers, RS 16/3/57).

Understanding and supporting democracy as a means of combating the totalitarianism of the Axis Powers was of prime importance. Stacy also emphasized the need to bring communities together to support war efforts and also to support the well-being of citizens during a time of national stress and hardship.

Iowa State Extension Service 1942 Annual Report, "Iowa On the Front Line of the Food Front."

Iowa State Extension Service 1942 Annual Report, “Iowa On the Front Line of the Food Front.” Box 16, folder 5, William H. Stacy Papers, RS 16/3/57.

During World War II, every effort and activity was directed toward the war, and Iowa State College Extension Service put its shoulder to the wheel throughout all its departments. Extension agronomists supported programs for higher crop production throughout the state. Home Economics Extension nutritionists developed programs to keep Iowans strong and healthy. Home management specialists helped homemakers to make do with less and save on resources needed for the war. Rural Sociology Extension, headed by Bill Stacy, supported community councils and assisted community leaders with discussion programs. Even recreation programs were designed to ease wartime tensions!

Stacy created the Program Service for Rural Leaders, guides to be used by community organizations for leading discussions on timely topics with suggestions for different types of recreational activities. One Program Service from February 1943 included in a pamphlet on “American Square Dances for Wartime Relaxation” that included a Victory Reel!

 "American Square Dances for Wartime Relaxation" pamphlet. Box 16, folder 5, William H. Stacy Papers, RS 16/3/57.

“American Square Dances for Wartime Relaxation” pamphlet. Box 16, folder 5, William H. Stacy Papers, RS 16/3/57.

To learn more about wartime Extension Service programs in Iowa, see the William Homer Stacy Papers (RS 16/3/57) and the Ralph Kenneth Bliss Papers (RS 16/3/13). For other World War II-related collections, check out our Subject Guide for World War II manuscript collections.


Beautiful printing: highlights from Iowa private presses ephemera

Several advertisements for new works by the Penumbra Press, circa 1976-1980.

Several advertisements for new works by the Penumbra Press, circa 1976-1980.

Today’s blog post highlights selections from our Iowa Private Presses Ephemera Collection (MS 414). Let’s start off by defining some terms. A private press is a printing press that creates what might be called artisan books — book production that emphasizes the artistic nature of books and the craft of bookmaking, as opposed to a purely commercial venture. They often set type by hand, employ interesting and unusual typefaces, use fine and sometimes handmade papers, bind books by hand, and sometimes specialize in artist’s books.

Ephemera describes material, often printed, that is designed for a limited use and frequently collected as mementos. Examples include programs, flyers, and brochures. Even when printing advertisements, private presses will often do their work with artistic flair!

The private press movement began in the late 1800s and early 1900s in England and the United States in response to

This printed card uses a drop cap red 'F' to begin a quote from typeface designer Frederic Goudy, using a Goudy Lombardic Capital initial, Toothpaste Press 1980.

This printed card uses a drop cap red ‘F’ to begin a quote from typeface designer Frederic Goudy, using a Goudy Lombardic Capital initial, Toothpaste Press 1980.

growth in the mechanized production of cheaper books. Famous private presses include the English designer William Morris‘s Kelmscott Press and the Doves Press in London, both of which was associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement. Private presses in Iowa began around the same period, but the material we have in the collection comes from presses established much later than that.

The Iowa Private Presses Ephemera Collection includes material collected by the Special Collections during the 1970s and early 1980s. It includes mainly handbills and leaflets advertising new works released by the presses, or small sheets of printed poems. Most of the presses represented in the collection are from the area around Iowa City.

One final thought: one of my favorite things about private presses are their names–poetic, cheeky, or evocative–they fill me with glee! Some of my favorites from this collection? Toothpaste Press, Fingernail Moon Press (can’t you just see it?), and Grilled Flower Press. Names as creative as these must produce beautiful books! See more names in our finding aid, and come check out the collection yourself to see more beautiful designs.

Several small pieces by the Toothpaste press, circa 1974-1981.

Several small pieces by the Toothpaste press, circa 1974-1981.


Harry Beetison, “King of the Hoboes”

It came to my attention recently that Britt, Iowa, is home to the annual Hobo Convention. Britt has a Hobo Museum, as well, which displays materials collected by hobos and is open between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. The convention includes a parade and a crowning of a King and a Queen of the Hobos and seems to be quite a crowd-drawing event and has earned press from sources as varied as NPR, Buzzfeed, The Economist, and The New York Times. Special Collections does not offer up much regarding the hobo culture of the Midwest, but I did find a vivid photograph and interesting history related to the Hobo Convention in the Wayne O. and Gayle Carns Burchett Papers (MS 355).

Meet Harry C. Beetison, one-time King of the Hobos.

Harry Beetison, aka King David 1

Harry Beetison, also known as King David 1, was voted King of the Hobos in the late 1930s

According to commentary provided by Ann Burchett Barton, the Burchetts’ daughter, Mr. Beetison crossed paths with her mother Gayle around the time of the Great Depression. Gayle’s parents, Francis and Lucille Carns, and the rest of the family met Beetison through their generosity to the hobos who rode the rails across the U.S. in search of work.  The collection also includes a few newspaper articles about Beetison that paint the man as a colorful character. His platform for Kingship, for example, included edicts such as: “to make bumming easier, to cover box car floors with straw and hay, and to give every hobo a better chance to have a place in every town and city throughout the nation where they can rest up…” (article circa 1937). According to another article, Beetison – a native of Ashland, Nebraska – once campaigned for a seat in the state legislature before earning his hobo title. Other clippings include a poem by Beetison and tales of his travels through a number of states; in 1945, Salt Lake City’s Deseret News called him a “gallivanter par excellence.”

There is some mystery around Beetison: the clippings refer to him as King David I but the list of hobo kings and queens refers to a King David II. King David II shows up again on the list in the 1960s – did Beetison return to reclaim his crown?  We know he’s buried in his hometown, Ashland, but there’s no telling where he went in between. I’m planning on making the trip to the Hobo Convention this year, so maybe the museum will hold some clues as to the Burchett family friend’s life. In the meantime, this small slice of family history offers a glimpse of Iowan and U.S. history as well.


Rural electric cooperatives in Iowa

Turned on a light recently? If you live in a rural area, chances are you have an electric cooperative to thank!

Two men stand on top of the metal scaffolding of an electric substation, while a large piece of equipment is lilfted on a wire by a crane. Ten men work or watch from below.

Construction of a substation near Creston, Iowa. Box 38, folder 27. Iowa Rural Electric News, June 1962.

In 1936, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act (REA) to provide federal loans to rural communities to cover the cost of developing their own electrical distribution systems. Commercial power companies by that time had provided electricity to the majority of city dwellers, but they felt that it was not cost-effective to run electric lines through the rural areas. Because of this, farmers were not able to take advantage of electrical power in their work. Nor were their wives able to use the newly burgeoning market of electrical appliances for the home.

Rural communities in Iowa joined thousands of others across the country in developing power cooperatives with the help of REA loans. Members jointly owned and ran the cooperatives and shared the benefits. In 1942, the Iowa Rural Electric Cooperative Association was founded to represent the state’s rural electric cooperatives, and later changed its name to the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives (IAEC). The IAEC came to represent 41 cooperatives throughout the state of Iowa and is still operating today. I recently processed the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives Records (MS 40), and you can check out the finding aid here.

The IAEC supports its member cooperatives in a number of ways, including legislative representation at the state and national levels, safety programs, education and training programs, electrical promotion programs, and youth activities. To learn more about the IAEC, stop by Special Collections.