Navigating the Early Modern Era in Special Collections

What do Shakespeare, Thomas Hobbes, and Galileo have in common? All three were among the most prominent figures of the Early Modern era, a time period lasting roughly from 1500 to 1700. The Early Modern era was a time of political and religious upheaval.  Catholics and Protestants battled with one another for power, and both France and England experienced bloody civil wars.  It was also a time of innovation.  Advancements in science and technology changed how people saw the world and writers such as Shakespeare contributed the period’s developing literary culture.

To learn more works printed in this era, check out our new subject guide – Early Modern Works in Special Collections!

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The Workshop Reaches Out: The Children’s Television Workshop papers

On display now in the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library through the end of 2019…

One of the largest and most significant collections found in Special Collections and University Archives are the records of the Children’s Television Workshop, best known as the creator of Sesame Street.  The collection contains research studies, production notes, memos and correspondence, promotional material, viewer mail, and other material documenting the first twenty years of the Workshop and its programs.

To observe the 50th anniversary  of the first airing of Sesame Street in November 1969, we are highlighting the ways the Workshop used newsletters to communicate with educational broadcasters, school officials, health educators, and parents.

These newsletters and many others found in the records of the Children’s Television Workshop provide detailed insight into the activities and programs of the Workshop, including some of their lesser known programs.

Educational Broadcasters and School officials

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Staging the Politics and Popular Appeal of “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”

Katherine Anne Porter’s story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” – the titular story of Porter’s 1939 collection – was written on the eve of World War II, but the focus of the story is the last few months of the first World War. Porter was actively involved in political discourse and social protests throughout her life – notably, Porter participated in the protests against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti – but her political positions changed. Janis Stout notes, “The scholar who seeks to construct an account of her [Porter’s] political and social views is well advised to resist the urge to find, or to impose, an undue coherence.” Despite the shifts in Porter’s political thinking, scholars like Janis Stout and Darlene Harbour Unrue argue for the importance of understanding the radical politics of Porter’s literary circle, as well as the political turbulence during her career and lifetime, in reading and engaging with her work. Stout suggests that if we read the views outlined in “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” as Porter’s own “testimony” – Miranda’s critique of World War I, the senselessness of the violence of war, the manipulation of the Liberty Bond system – we can see Porter as “fresh from the scene of a powerful experience in dissent.” If we view Porter’s story, like Stout, as her testimony critiquing war and United States’ political agenda, what then might a McCarthy-era experimental off-Broadway adaptation make of this source material? How can we read Porter’s response to this particular adaptation of her story?

Porter was disappointed with F. W. Durkee’s 1956 television adaptation of her story, as outlined in the previous post in this series, but she was thrilled the following year, when the off-Broadway production of the stage adaptation premiered. Porter was aware of the difference between her own reaction to the play and that of the critics, as she wrote to David Locher:

Did I tell you that my story Pale Horse, Pale Rider, has been made into an experimental play and is now running off-Broadway, and has had not altogether counting pre-views, twenty-nine performances as of tonight. The critics didn’t like it but somebody does, because the people keep coming in, and my friends seem to love it, and I saw it twice and thought it most impressively done, and such old pros as the critic on Variety, and Tennessee Williams, and William Saroyan and my dear friend Robert Penn Warren rushed to the rescue and are being quoted in the advertisements. So it goes on, but I think it will not last very much longer, the audience for that sort of thing is limited, and nobody expected it to go as far as it has! (30 December 1957)

Unrue, Darlene Harbour, ed. Selected Letters of Katherine Anne Porter: Chronicles of a Modern Woman. University Press of Mississippi, 2012. pg. 259.

Porter keeps track of the reviews of the play in her correspondence, and she also created a scrapbook of various reviews and coverage of the play, including both positive and negative press.

Porter saved a clipping of Frank Aston’s December 10, 1957 review for the New York World Herald, in which he writes: “Miss Porter speaks of the futility of war, of hypocrisy bred by war, of the appeal war extends to silly women… Everyone [the actors] does all right but shouldn’t have been implicated to begin with in this unfortunate canter of enthusiasm.” Though Aston critiques the overzealous acting, he accurately assess the heart of the play’s critique of war and propaganda, of hypocrisy in wartime, in the midst of the rampant propaganda of McCarthyism.

Porter collected her share of published reviews in the scrapbook, but she also received personal testimony. A few months into the off-Broadway production’s run, Porter’s friend and later agent, Cyrilly Abels, arranged for some of her staff members at Mademoiselle magazine to see the play. Abels forwarded multiple personal notes of thanks and praise for the play to Porter, whose letter to Abels in return expresses her delight at the varied responses to the play, with particular praise for Suzanne Wile’s letter.

Suzanne Wile, an employee at Mademoiselle, notes that the stage adaptation of “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” captured “popular appeal,” even as it differed from “ordinary Twentieth Century stage-presentation…” as it:

required a type of theatrical – and literary – appreciation a little different from the ordinary demands (or lack of them) of the successful plays–… for Pale Horse the ability to be absorbed in the fundamentals of life with the aid of  a high–or unfettered–imagination. It demanded a different use of the imagination than that which the theater normally requires, and evidently the critics felt that the popular audience was not up to it.


Suzanne Wile to Cyrilly Abels, 13 January 1958.

Porter was very pleased with Wile’s note, writing to Abels that “If you [at the magazine] ever put in a theatre department, give it to her!” Porter’s enthusiastic approval of Wile’s reading of the play suggests that her happiness with the stage adaptation could lie in part in its ability to challenge the imagination to examine the everyday intrusion of war into life beyond the battlefield, which the story forces readers to do as it intimately reveals the consequences of militarism and critiques of propaganda. What is the disconnect between the critics’ reviews and Wile’s experience, then? How might the play’s rendering of the everyday futility of war differ from the short story’s, while still retaining a recognizable critique of the hypocrisy, the futility of war?

The different adaptations, from stage to television, suggest that there is some ineffable quality about Porter’s story – even Tennessee Williams notes in his review of the play, which was subsequently blurbed in advertisements for the production, that he was “haunted” by the performance. Part of the long-lived success of the story, the motivation for the adaptations, is its relentless questioning of the forces that characterize American political life. What is war, but a chance to sell bonds, or a blunt reminder of the capacity for violence? Porter’s critique of American politics and militarism resonates to the present day, as a recent Literary Hub article argues that contemporary readers stand to gain from Porter’s ability to describe World War I-era “fake news,” and the uncanny resonance of her critique of national propaganda in today’s current moment. But, as Suzanne Wile suggests in the note that so impressed Porter, the draw of Porter’s story is how it explores the toll of war in the everyday, as the forces of war and influenza work hand in hand to separate the story’s young lovers. Even Porter’s sister Gay was pulled to lightly underline in pencil one of the last lines of the story, from Miranda’s internal narrative after her recovery, when she learns that Adam has died:

Adam, she said, now you need not die again, but still I wish you were here; I wish you had come back, what do you think I came back for, Adam, to be deceived like this?

Gay Porter Holloway’s inscribed edition of Pale Horse, Pale Rider, (1939). Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

Adam did not die in battle, and the war ended without him just the same. As Porter’s collection turns eighty years old this year and the story “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” reaches its eighty-first anniversary, it’s worth reflecting on why this story continues to haunt us. The story has been absent in recent years from American television screens and theater stages, but it resurfaces in syllabi and essays online. It is no surprise that this story – haunting as it is – returns to us in conversation with the current political discourse, as we continue to accumulate the dust of wars and ponder how little dazed silence has transpired between each war, each everyday death that has filled these eighty years since.


Jeannette Schollaert is a graduate assistant in Special Collections and University Archives who works with the Katherine Anne Porter Correspondence Project. There, she assists with compiling and organizing metadata and contributing to the Project’s online exhibitions. She is pursuing a PhD in English, and her research focuses on twentieth century American writers, feminist theory, and ecocriticism.

[1] Stout, Janis. “‘Something of a Reputation as a Radical’: Katherine Anne Porter’s Shifting Politics.” South Central Review, vol. 10, no. 1, 1993, pp. 49-66.

New Exhibit: Chester Himes Cover to Cover

If you’re a fan of a good hardboiled detective novel, make sure you stop by the Maryland Room to check out our new exhibit on Chester Himes!  Inspired by the 2019 AHPA annual conference hosted by UMD, “One Press: Many Hands: Diversity in the History of American Printing”, the exhibit displays the work of one of America’s most intriguing crime novelists.

Born in Jefferson City, Missouri, Chester Himes (1909-1984) began writing and publishing short stories while serving a 25 year sentence for armed robbery in Ohio Penitentiary in the 1930s.  His first novel If He Hollers Let Him Go was published in 1945.

Himes moved to Paris in the 1950s, where he was celebrated in literary circles alongside fellow expatriate writers Richard Wright and James Baldwin. While in Paris he began writing pulp detective novels, including the popular Harlem Detective series, and achieved critical acclaim. In 1958, he was awarded France’s most prestigious prize for crime fiction, the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, for The Five-Cornered Square (alternate title for For Love of Imabelle).

Himes wrote pulp fiction and protest novels that confronted issues of systemic racism in America. His unique style of noir fiction combined violence, anger, humor, absurdity, social realism, and gritty drama into an entertaining and unflinching portrayal of prejudice and corruption.

Lauded in Europe, Himes found less critical success in America, where his works were frequently published in paperback editions featuring lurid, provocative, and visually striking imagery.  The cover art of these inexpensive paperbacks reveal the unique marketing of pulp fiction titles.  

In response to the cover of the Dell paperback edition of Run Man Run, Himes wrote: “If it is necessary to put this type of cover… on this book in order to sell it to the American people, the American people are really and truly sick.”

Himes passed way on November 12, 1984 in Moira, Spain. Decades later, his works still provides enjoyment and debate. To see the unique and classic pulp fiction cover art featured in many American editions of Himes’ work, stop by the Maryland Room room the next time you are in Hornbake Library.

Explore more literary collections held at Special Collections and University Archive here!

Also, make sure you check out the exhibit by the entrance to the Maryland Room, Women in Print, highlighting the work of women binders, illustrators, and book artists!

Sounds of the Silent Majority: Digitizing the Recordings of Political Culture in the Spiro T. Agnew Papers

“In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism.”

Rhetoric like this, found scattered throughout the hundreds of speeches performed by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew illustrates the quotable, and sometimes comedic, aspects of the nation’s most vocal Vice President. As a man of controversy and alliteration, Vice President Agnew’s voice called out to the theoretical “Silent Majority” from 1968 to 1973 to speak up about their opinions opposing “corrupted” national news media and supporting President Richard Nixon’s withdrawal from the Vietnam War among other social and political topics.

The audio recordings after being returned from vendor.
Photo by Jen Piegols.

In October 2018, Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) began a twelve month project to digitize, describe, and make accessible 559 audio recordings (407 ¼” open real tapes and 152 cassette tapes) found in the Spiro T. Agnew papers . With the support of a Council on Library and Information Sources (CLIR) Recordings at Risk grant, SCUA has added approximately 253 hours of recorded speeches, press conferences, broadcasts, and constituent-created content to the University Libraries’ Digital Collections.

Starting in 1977, Agnew began donating his personal collection of over 500 linear feet of materials to the University of Maryland Libraries. Included in those materials, were 1,368 audiotapes spanning Agnew’s time as Governor of Maryland, the 39th Vice President of the United States, and his post-resignation career. Identified as preservation concerns and potentially high- use items, the audio recordings became a digitization priority for the University Libraries. In 2017, SCUA unit ran a pilot digitization program converting 173 of the tapes to digital recordings and making them accessible to patrons visiting the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library. In 2018, curators identified an additional 559 audio recordings within the Spiro T. Agnew papers to be digitized and made accessible to researchers.

Obtaining funds and selecting recordings was only the beginning. In November and December 2018, the 559 open reels and cassette tapes were pulled from various boxes in the Spiro T. Agnew papers. This process included verifying metadata for the materials confirming the correct material was pulled. The reels and tapes were then packed in shipping boxes and prepared for shipment to the vendor. About 40 of the open reels were previously identified as mold risks and were packaged separately with new containers for their return. The digitization vendor baked the tapes to prevent further mold damage as part of their work. We received our newly created digital files and physical materials in April. The files were then checked by staff in our Digital Conversion and Media Reformatting Lab to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the files. At that time, issues with speed, pitch, and volume were identified.

From June through August, I listened to each of the 559 audio recordings to create an accurate and searchable title and a description that informed researchers of what kind of topics were addressed during that recording. Some of the recordings were short, while others were as long as 90 minutes. While this process was tedious, all our newly digitized recordings now have unique and searchable titles and descriptions that will allow researchers to discover these material and learn more about the political climate between 1969 and 1973.

Notes made while listening to the recordings.
Photo by Jen Piegols.

Once the metadata was complete and reviewed by our metadata librarian, the files were ingested to University Libraries’ Digital Collections and the finding aid to the collection was updated. Researchers now have access to these recordings online. Recordings with copyright protection are available for education use only on campus at the University of Maryland.

Topics of these recordings range from

  • the Vietnam War
  • urban renewal plans
  • dissent on college campuses
  • the flights of Apollo 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, and 14
  • revenue sharing plans
  • the 1968, 1970, and 1972 campaigns
  • the SALT talks
  • foreign relations between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Soviet China
  • and many other political and social issues.

The recordings also demonstrate the support Agnew received from constituents, including homemade songs and voice recordings praising the Vice President for his integrity and candor.

The breadth of information that these recordings hold are not only valuable to Vice Presidential scholars and Agnew supporters, but for anyone interested in learning about the United States at the turn of the decade.

More information about the CLIR grant program, made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Post by Jennifer Piegols, Special Collections Services Specialist.

Jen Piegols graduated in May 2019 with her MLIS from the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. She works in the State of Maryland and Historical Collections at UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives, and is assisting with the digitization of the collections’ unique audio recordings.

New Exhibit Celebrating Maryland Public Television’s 50th Anniversary Now on Display in the Maryland Room Gallery

Special Collections in Mass Media & Culture is pleased to announce the exhibit “Made Possible By Viewers Like You: Maryland Public Television Turns 50” is now on display in the Maryland Room Gallery at Hornbake Library through July 2020. It celebrates the milestone anniversary of Maryland’s only statewide TV broadcaster, and highlights the fruitful partnership between MPT and UMD Libraries. 

The exhibit includes artifacts and documents from 1969 to the present, including the very first Program Journal from 1969, an original script from the 1977 production “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, a GoPro camera smashed during a Motorweek shoot, a trophy case filled with Emmys® and other prestigious awards, and dozens of videos featuring segments from some of their best-known programs. 

Nothing in the exhibit would have survived if MPT hadn’t taken great care to preserve their rich and unique history. Unlike most other TV stations—commercial and noncommercial alike—MPT has dedicated the resources to maintain an archive both at its Owings Mills headquarters and at the University of Maryland.  After UMD Libraries established the National Public Broadcasting Archives in 1990, MPT was one of the first organizations to begin depositing print and audiovisual materials. The latter presents particular challenges because simply saving AV materials isn’t enough; due to the obsolescence of playback machines and deterioration of master copies, videotapes must be migrated to modern formats in order to ensure the content remains accessible. This is a timely and expensive process. 

Fortunately, efforts to preserve public broadcasting in the U.S. have risen dramatically, thanks in large part to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), which just announced the availability of over 50,000 historic public media programs available in the Online Reading Room (ORR). When the AAPB launched in 2013, MPT immediately answered the call to submit programs for digitization, sending over 1500 tapes during the first phase of the project. Since then, MPT and SCUA have continued to work together to digitize their AV holdings at Hornbake Library, which are comprised of Umatic, betacam, VHS, 1” and ¾” tapes and 16mm film. As of fall 2019, nearly 700 programs have been reformatted and are steadily being uploaded into Digital Collections. The newly-established Maryland Public Television Preservation Fund is designed to support this important work well into the future. 

Visit the Maryland Room Gallery and find out how MPT has become a national leader in public television and a treasured resource for the state. Hours vary by semester, check current hours online


Post by Laura Schnitker | Ethnomusicologist, Audiovisual Archivist, and Curator of Mass Media & Culture in Special Collections and University Archives at University of Maryland Libraries

Collection Highlight: Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO records

A recent addition to the UMD Labor Collections is now available for the public: the Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO records, containing material dating from 1896 to 2016.  The Metro Washington Council (MWC) is a local labor council representing a federation of 175 diverse local unions in Washington, DC and the surrounding area.  Presented to the archives in September 2018, the Metro Washington Council records examine

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