The Continuity Will Be Televised: MPT’s Our Street and Afro-American Perspectives

What does public television have in common with many libraries and archives? As arenas of discussion, education, and reflection, all three aim to engage with the communities they were ostensibly created to serve. How are communities enriched and strengthened through engagement with collections of manuscripts, text and mass media? What role does this type of engagement play in civic discourse and reflection? 

Recognizing the important role of public television in cultural dialogue, Maryland Public Television (MPT) founded, in 1969, the Urban Affairs Advisory Council, a group of 60 men and women from the Baltimore area. Together, this group designed a variety of half hour-long programs that addressed issues specific to Baltimore, including the daytime serial Our Street and the documentary series Afro-American Perspectives, produced as part of MPT’s educational arm, ITV. Episodes of both these programs are available in the University of Maryland Libraries Digital Collections, and in watching them, viewers get access to both the perspectives of the past and commentary on the present.

The 56 episodes of Our Street tell the fictional story of the Robinsons, a Black family from East Baltimore. Syndicated to 20 stations around the country, Our Street introduced Baltimore to communities beyond Maryland, examining challenging themes within the framework of domestic drama. 

Picture of a newspaper with two photographs and a block of text. The top photo takes up most of the page and features a man with dark skin leaning over a couch to talk to a woman with dark skin, who sits with her lands in her lap. Text next to them reads black family's search for dignity and respect. Below, a photograph of a group of four people with dark skin, and 1970s fashion.
“Our Street” featured in Daytime TV, October 1972. Image: Daytime TV, October 1972.
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Education Over the Air: Still Free After 50 Years

As a result of the quarantine, Maryland Public Television has returned to daytime programming not too different from programs they broadcast 50 years ago. When MPT was being organized in 1969, the Maryland State Department of Education was also developing a Division of Instructional Television (ITV) that would produce programs for use in public and private schools. This was cutting-edge at the time; classroom television would help relieve the teacher shortage, enrich the curriculum, and engage students in new and creative ways. 

MPT is broadcasting an At-Home Learning program schedule from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Find connected digital resources and hands-on activities in support of educators, students, and families to provide continuity of learning.

This decades-old approach to education has taken on new relevance during the pandemic, and MPT has returned to a daytime schedule of educational programming specifically for at-home students from preschool to high school. This “At-Home Learning” initiative – a collaboration with WETA and WHUT (Howard University Television) in Washington – is available weekdays to viewers free over the air, through cable and satellite providers and, in the case of MPT, on a live stream

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Katherine Anne Porter & the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, Part II, “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”

Katherine Anne Porter was a young, aspiring writer when she contracted influenza during the 1918 pandemic in Denver, Colorado. Her case was so severe she was essentially given up for dead before making a surprising, albeit slow recovery. Read more about her experiences in “Katherine Anne Porter and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic Part I, The Influenza Pandemic in Colorado”. Shortly following her recovery, Porter moved to New York and began her professional writing career. By the 1930s, she waswell on her way to becoming an established author, publishing, among others, the short stories “Maria Concepcion” (1922) and “Flowering Judas (1930).

Katherine Anne Porter portrait, circa 1934-1935. Katherine Anne Porter papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider

Nearly two decades after surviving the 1918 influenza pandemic, Porter drew upon her experience for the short novel “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”. First published in 1938, it is a tragic, surreal, and striking portrayal of facing death during both a pandemic and a period of American history that was already dominated by the immense death and devastation of the First World War.

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Live from Baltimore: Maryland Public Television’s Crabs

May is here, bringing with it bouts of summer weather that have us eager to shed the stress the spring semester. While the library often represents serious intellectual pursuits, at Hornbake Library we have plenty of materials documenting the lighter sides of history. May I present Crabs, an irreverent sketch comedy show produced by Maryland Public Television (MPT) in the 1980s. Crabs serves up clever commentary on culture and politics both local and national. The pilot episode, “Nature’s Way” premiered September 5, 1984 and invited the Mid-Atlantic to taste Baltimore comedy.

Each 30-minute episode was taped before a live studio audience and cast members served as both actors and crew. Our featured episode consists of nine hilarious skits, ranging from spoofs to musical numbers. While the entire show has plenty to discuss, today we’ll be focusing on three  comedic gems that make light of the dynamic between Baltimore and Washington, DC. 

The show opens with an exterior shot of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, the original home of the Orioles. Voice-over informs the audience  about a concerted effort to encourage more D.C. baseball fans to come see the Baltimore Orioles. Wearing a “Where’s the beef?” t-shirt that is three sizes too small, the Baltimore fan in the stands is a ballpark classic: heckling the players, waving his arms and spilling his beer. Sliding in to take the seat  beside Where’s the Beef (despite the fact that the section is otherwise totally empty), our man from D.C. comes complete with a picnic basket, a quiche, and a cravat to boot. The two new companions are both thrown off by the other, with Where’s the Beef asking Cravat “Are you from a foreign country?”, to which he disdainfully replies “I’m from Washington.” The juxtaposition and back-and-forth between the two  pays irreverent homage to the dynamic between the two cities, a theme that runs throughout the episode.

Two men sit closely to each other on a yellow stadium bench. One wears a grey suit with a cravat and yellow pocket square. The other wears a Baltimore Orioles cap with a yellow shirt that says where's the beef? They gaze at each other with confused expressions.
Washington, D.C. and Baltimore go head-to-head on MPT’s Crabs, 1984
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Katherine Anne Porter & the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, Part I: The Spanish Flu

“I think of my personal history as before the plague and since the plague.” 
– Katherine Anne Porter to Alfred Crosby, 13 June 1975

An unknown illness, shortage of hospital beds, fever induced hallucinations, and growing fear about a contagious and deadly plague. All of these frightening realities take place against the backdrop of young love and the First World War in Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse, Pale Rider.” “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”  tells the story of trauma and survival during the 1918 Influenza pandemic. A masterfully written short novel woven with poetic and, at times, surreal prose, “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” is also a personal story for Porter, recalling her experience contracting the illness in Colorado in October 1918. With striking similarities to the current pandemic, it is a beautiful, complex, and intimate glimpse into the experience of making it through the other side of a pandemic and the First World War.

Portrait of Katherine Anne Porter taken in early spring, Texas, 1918. Katherine Anne Porter papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

In the years leading up to the 1918 influenza pandemic, Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) was a bright, aspiring writer who had already faced a tumultuous life. Born in Texas, she was largely self taught and moved often with her family following the deaths of her mother and grandmother in 1892 and 1901 respectively. She was married and divorced three times, briefly worked as a movie extra in Chicago, taught children in a Dallas hospital, and wrote for several newspapers. Although she had begun writing, she had yet to publish in earnest.

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Modernist Writers in Special Collections

For years, works by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Robert Frost have been staples of high school English classes across America.  While The Great Gatsby and “The Road Not Taken” may now be regarded as classics, modernism, the literary movement that Fitzgerald and Frost participated in, was originally considered to be a disruptive force against the literary establishment.

Modernist works by Fitzgerald and Frost, along with Katherine Anne Porter, Djuna Barnes, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Franz Kafka can all be found in the Literary and Rare Books Collections in Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland.

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Add Terp Flair to Your “Animal Crossing” Island

The release of “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” could not have come at a better time. People across the globe are stuck indoors and “bored in the house, and in the house bored.” The popularity of the game has led to numerous articles touting the merits of the game and its timeliness, even dissecting the politics of Tom Nook and his island

We, too, have enjoyed countless hours of trying to get our favorite villagers, catching fish and bugs (and tarantula hunting), gathering materials, crafting, and building towards that ultimate rush of achieving a 5-star island. 

“Interacting with friends through the game and visiting their islands has been helpful for me during this time of isolation. It’s also really nice to have something pretty low-stress and low-stakes to focus on.”

Sharona Ginsberg, Head of Terrapin Learning Commons 
View of our Animal Crossing kitchen
View of Animal Crossing villager with tarantulas

As the nostalgia for campus and being surrounded by fellow Terps has hit us, we began experimenting with adding images that represent UMD to our islands.

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Back in the Yard: MPT’s Basically Baseball

We are over a month into quarantine, and for many of us, the loss of baseball hits hard, no pun intended. In lieu of visiting the ballpark, I’ve reached for another Maryland Public Television (MPT) gem: Basically Baseball, a four episode mini-series made in 1973 when MPT was known as the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting. Shot on-location in Florida during spring training, each 30-minute show features the Baltimore Orioles working on the field and sharing advice on technique. Heavy in hot tips and the inside scoop, Basically Baseball may not be the season as we know it, but it’s basically better than no baseball at all.

A man in a Baltimore Oriole's uniform stands with his leg stretched nearly into the splits, with his back foot resting on a baseball plate. His gloved left hand reaches forward as if to catch a ball.
Boog Powell, Orioles first baseman, demonstrates stance on MPT’s Basically Baseball, 1973

Our featured episode  aired June 4, 1973. Focusing on fielding, the show acts as an instructional document for young athletes, but could also help the adults who have been recruited to coach despite having zero experience. Split into five sections (“Stance”, “The Glove”, “Ground Balls”, “The Cross-Over Step” and the all-important “Throwing the Ball”), viewers get the excitement of immediate and up-close access to baseball legends while also benefiting from their sound advice. The relatively advanced age of the show does nothing to take away from its value – the tips are as sound today as they were almost fifty years ago. In addition, Basically Baseball’s nostalgic appeal, an enduring element of baseball fandom, is massive, offering today’s fans with a time capsule to experience a slice of the Orioles’ golden years.

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Dipping into Maryland Public Television

The coronavirus pandemic has many of us from Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) working from home, which provides the opportunity for me, student assistant Emily Moore, to get to know our collections in a new way. My current project at Hornbake involves working closely on our collection of Maryland Public Television (MPT), which celebrated its milestone 50th anniversary in 2019 (check out the online version of our gallery exhibit.  As a recent transplant from the West Coast, I have discovered that working with MPT content provides me a unique lens into Maryland culture and history. A wide range of television content that dates from the 1970s is available from SCUA in our Digital Collections database. Through watching four episodes of MPT programs, I got an intimate, first-hand introduction to Maryland. Today’s post focuses on  Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields, but be sure to check back for subsequent posts about MPT classic programming including Crabs, Our Street and Basically Baseball.

Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields is hosted by Baltimore native John Shields, who balances interludes of cooking with explorations of the Mid-Atlantic landscape, combining his love of animals, plants, learning and food. Each episode features a different region, offering viewers an armchair trip that is especially welcome as we socially distance and remain in our homes. In his April 7, 1998 episode on Bishop’s Head, we learn how to make Maryland fried chicken and bread in the shape of a crab. As a woman born and raised in Colorado, I had to Google what a blue crab looked like in order to make sure I structured mine correctly. Turns out they’re beautiful. Here’s a picture of one featured on a postcard from the National Trust Library Postcard Collection:

Love from Maryland, circa 1981-2000. Postcard features word "LOVE" created from photographs of Maryland.
Love from Maryland, circa 1981-2000. National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection, https://hdl.handle.net/1903.1/20592.

Fried chicken

I love fried chicken, but I have always been reluctant to try making a batch without a fryer. John Shields, however, demonstrates an easy way to use a pan frying technique. Thankfully, I already had most of the ingredients, but because of the pandemic I had to create my own homemade buttermilk and Chesapeake Bay seasoning substitutes. (Was Shields referring to Old Bay? Keep in mind I only learned about Old Bay six months ago, and I definitely don’t have any in my kitchen (yet!). I approximate my own and hope for the best; I won’t be able to tell if it’s wrong anyway.

I put the chicken in one morning to soak up all the goodness overnight. Shields really sells this recipe by promising lots of secrets, and boy does he deliver. Here they are: hot oil (400 degrees), a BIG skillet with a cover and cooking for 20 minutes. It turned out as juicy as Lizzo’s big hit last year. 

Crusty Crustacean Bread

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Digital Resource: The Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven Papers

Happy National Poetry Month!  As we celebrate some of our favorite poets, it’s also an opportunity to discover someone whose poetry you may not have read before.

One poet worth examining is the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927), the avant garde German poet.  Von Freytag-Loringhoven was a woman of many talents. In addition to her work as a poet, von Freytag-Loringhoven was an artist who was active in the Dada movement, which rejected logic and reason in favor of absurdity. 

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