Radio broadcasting played many important roles during World War II. Comedy, drama, music, and information programs entertained, boosted wartime morale, promoted the war effort, and informed listeners about the progress of the war. As a broadcasting archive, the Mass Media & Culture Collections at the University of Maryland has many resources that document the roles radio played during World War II. One such resource is Vox Pop Travels America, 1935-1948, a story map highlighting Vox Pop, a long-running radio interview program that spent the war years interviewing service men and women and defense plant workers from locations all over the United States.
The Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) records document the founding and organization of CTW, as well as the public television programming that they produced and distributed. Included are administrative reports and correspondence, program files, research articles and data, press clippings and notices, international programming files, and the files of the Community Education Services.
CTW, now known as Sesame Workshop, was conceptualized as a television program that would promote early childhood education, especially for low0income families. Two years later, in 1968, CTW was officially founded. With support from several organizations, including the United States Office of Education, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Ford Foundation, and NET, among others. In 1968, Cooney also managed to recruit Jim Henson and his puppets for their help on their new program Sesame Street, which debuted in November 1969 and continues on air today.
CTW debuted several subsequent programs including The Electric Company, Feelin’ Good, The Best of Families, 3-2-1 Contact, and Square One TV, among others. In 2000, CTW officially changed its name to the Sesame Workshop which today continues with the mission to “help kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.”
What is a finding aid?
A finding aid is a description of the contents of a collection, similar to a table of contents you would find in a book. A collection’s contents are often grouped logically and describe the group of items within each folder. You rarely find descriptions of the individual items within collections. Finding aids also contain information about the size and scope of collections. Additional contextual information may also be included.
Earlier this year, I wrote about our ongoing efforts in Mass Media & Culture to amplify women’s voices in broadcast history. Investigating intriguing figures in our collections – people once prominent in their fields – often reaches a dead end when trying to assemble a career timeline. Such was the case with a female journalist, active from the 1940s to the 1960s, whose literal voice was among those news stories from Westinghouse broadcasting which we recently digitized.
Ann Marjorie Corrick achieved several “firsts” as a journalist, research showed, but she seems to have disappeared from the public record after 1970. A published interview or two, an occasional quote in newspapers, and one or two sentences in trade publications during her career were all I could find. Many of her male colleagues at Westinghouse received obituaries in major newspapers. When Corrick died in Palo Alto in 2000, there wasn’t any notice, even in the local press (2). However, what I was able to uncover illuminates the work of a tenacious reporter who forged an impressive career by any standard.Continue reading
One of the intriguing aspects of working with the Library of American Broadcasting (LAB) collections is discovering, through routine processing, people who developed interesting careers in early network radio and television but are not well-known among broadcast historians. In particular, information on women in broadcasting can be especially scarce, making it challenging to discover the full scope of their contributions to the industry. The relative lack of archival documentation compared to their male counterparts certainly reflects their historic marginalization in the industry.
Sometimes, we have only a few items from which to assemble personal histories, such as those I find while working with our photo archive. Take, for example, this press photo of a woman seated in front of an early NBC “box camera” microphone. An included caption describes her: “Continually on the trail of celebrities to present on the National Farm and Home Hour, Helen Stevens Fisher generally succeeds in presenting at least one nationally famous personality each week. Her early experience as a newspaper reporter serves her in good stead when it comes to getting her guests to tell some of their most interesting experiences.”Continue reading
Autumn is quickly sliding into winter, and we at Special Collections and University Archives are hunkering down, already reminiscing about summer days spent in the sunshine. For coping with quarantine, Maryland Public Televison’s (MPT) program On Nature’s Trail is a true delight. University of Maryland (UMD) alumni Jean and Elmer Worthley take viewers on an exploratory trip into the woods. Jean, the author of The Complete Family Nature Guide, studied human development and childhood studies at UMD, and was the host of the beloved MPT children’s show Hodgepodge Lodge. A noted botanist who received his PhD from UMD, Elmer grew plant specimens under the sponsorship of the UMD School of Pharmacy. These two approach nature with a conversational tone reminiscent of a science class field trip. Each one of On Nature’s Trail’s 26 episodes focuses on a specific environment or landscape, from summertime woods to railroad tracks and hedgerows.Continue reading
The Mass Media and Culture unit in Special Collections and University Archives holds a wide range of collections documenting U.S. television and radio broadcasting history, including the Maryland Public Television (MPT) collection. In celebration of the University Libraries’ extended “Year of MPT” celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary, we just published our finding aid for the MPT records! This finding aid is an invaluable resource for our campus community and for the public to learn about this unique and vital collection documenting the history of Maryland’s only state-wide public television broadcaster.
While the library is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, explore the finding aid from home. There is something for everyone in the 3,920 itemized videos (including over 700 with links to digitized content) and the 47 boxes of print records and photographs:
Behind the scenes: What’s in the finding aid?
The finding aid is a guide to the entire Maryland Public Television collection, including print records, photographs, and recordings on open-reel film, Betacam, U-Matic, and VHS tapes. The print records include administrative records, correspondence, memos, program guides, promotional materials, publications, marketing and development plans, newspaper clippings, budgets, and reports. The thousands of videos represented in the MPT finding aid document the breadth and depth of MPT’s broadcast programs, primarily from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s but dating as late as 2013.
This most recent phase of documenting the MPT collection began in January 2019 in anticipation of last fall’s exhibit opening, Made Possible by Viewers Like You: Maryland Public Television Turns 50. Processing Archivist Jen Wachtel spearheaded the inventory and finding aid project. Although previous archivists documented portions of the collection, Jen started from scratch with the audiovisual inventory so that we would have an up-to-date and accurate record. An important milestone for Special Collections in working with large audiovisual collections, the publication of this finding aid also reflects an enormous effort on the part of many other people from MMC including graduate student assistant Emily Moore, past graduate assistant student Liz Holdzkom, and Curator Laura Schnikter.
Of course, documenting thousands of videotapes takes time, as does ensuring the accuracy of the metadata (the detailed information in a library catalog record). Proceeding shelf by shelf throughout 2019, the team updated and refined the inventory. Just as they neared the last few stacks of videotapes in early 2020, the University Libraries shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Working remotely with the pre-pandemic inventory, Jen Wachtel and Archival Metadata Librarian Liz Caringola experimented with workflows for reconciling large amounts of data across multiple inventory spreadsheets and linked digitized videos to the corresponding items on the inventory. In the meantime, Jen Wachtel created descriptions about the print and audiovisual series so that public viewers would be able to navigate all components of the collection. For example, although the physical videotapes and film reels are not necessarily shelved by program title, for the sake of discoverability, each item is arranged alphabetically by MPT program title in the finding aid.
We are so excited to share this public broadcasting collection, made possible by viewers like you!
Jen Wachtel is the Mass Media and Culture and Processing Archivist and Special Collections Engagement Specialist at the University of Maryland Special Collections and University Archives. She is also a graduate student in the History and Library Science (HiLS) dual master’s program and Museum Scholarship and Material Culture graduate certificate program at the University of Maryland, concentrating in modern European history and archives and digital curation.
For the uninitiated, the term “Wolf Trap” likely inspires visions of fur trappers, wintery wilderness and small, cozy cabins. For anyone familiar with the Wolf Trap of Fairfax County, Virginia, however, the name evokes something quite different. The only national park for the performing arts in the United States, Wolf Trap is a “unique marriage of arts and nature” (https://www.wolftrap.org/about.aspx) that has played host to performers from Elvis Costello to the classic improv troupe Second City (https://www.wolftrap.org/calendar.aspx). A 117-acre campus, only 30 minutes from the University of Maryland College Park, Wolf Trap, like every other venue, has had to close due to covid, canceling all live performances until 2021. Luckily, Special Collections is home to recordings of “On Stage at Wolf Trap”, a behind-the-scenes show that features some of the park’s most famous musical and cabaret performances. Rather than underscoring the loss of live performances, these recordings, full of archival images and interviews with performers, offer a depth of access typically only available to ticket holders with the best seats. Combine that with the technical and contextual information provided and you’ve got yourself a real-deal cultural experience, pandemic-style.
One of the best parts of seeing live performance is the sense of immediacy and intimacy – the feeling that anything can happen. Watching the National Symphony Orchestra perform Shostakovich on my screen at home takes that sensation of proximity to a new level – in On Stage at Wolf Trap: Rostropovich Conducts Shostakovich (episode 102), we see close-ups of the conductors face, zero in on the musician’s hands, see the wiggling eyebrows of the woodwinds section, and admire the lace edge on the sleeve of the harp player. After so many months without live music or the feeling of camaraderie that performances bring, this footage is balm for my music-starved self. The same goes for Great Performances at Wolf Trap, episode 139, which features a Dizzy Gillespie performance from 1987. We see Gillespie, dapper in a salmon jacket, sing and start a call and response with the audience during setup; it’s like being present for a studio recording session.
Beyond feeding our appetite for live performance, On Stage at Wolf Trap gives viewers a peek behind the scenes, rounding out the music with insider’s info on how the shows get made. In the Shostakovich episode, for example, we watch the assembly of the stage, a process that takes six people a full two hours. The ceiling, made from three massive pieces of douglas fir that each weigh 1,200lbs, sits on top of 24 sections of wall, each 30 feet tall and weighing 3,000lbs. The construction of the stage is a feat of engineering, and one that remains unseen to most attendants at a Wolf Trap performance. Another backstage look, this one of the legendary Soviet Kirov ballet company, is offered by Weeknight Alive!, a Maryland Public Television series focusing on the arts. Hosts Brian Whitley and Michael Joyce take viewers behind the scenes to show how the live performance, shown simultaneously on 273 public television stations, was successfully made. Seven camera operators choreograph their work alongside 100 dancers, and the episode offers some serious technological throwbacks, made all the more impressive when we realize that this 1987 performance was done decades before the era of the drone. The final product, the first time the Kirov ballet had performed in the United States in 25 years, is available in our digitized archival collections here.
So while you’re transporting yourself to this beautiful Virginia site, imagining the fresh air and buzzing energy that accompanies live performance, be sure to check out a few more gems from the collection:
- A full intimate performance of the King’s Singers, a British a cappella ensemble, that includes the beloved Beatles classic “Can’t Buy Me Love” sung in the style of a medieval madrigal.
- For our classical music fans, our Special Collections in the Performing Arts score database has more than 25,000 scores, with over 15 by Shostakovich.
- Our LP collection at the Performing Arts Library, which includes recordings of Gillespie in France and at the Village Vanguard, New York City’s oldest operating jazz club. Come and listen once we’re all back up and running!
Next up, join us for a little virtual nature break with an episode of Nature’s Trail, another treat from MPT.
Emily Moore is a second-year MLIS student with a background in art and theory. In addition to her role as a student assistant at Special Collections and University Archives, she works as the Archival Assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
For decades girls’ series books like the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories have been entertaining and inspiring readers of all ages. However there are many other girls’ series books such as the Dana Girls Mystery Stories or the Cherry Ames Nurse Stories. If you want to learn more about Hornbake’s collection of girls’ series books take a look at the finding aid for the Rose and Joseph Pagnani Collection of Girls’ Series Books. To learn more about the collection and girls’ series books in general be sure to visit our online exhibit Girls’ Series Books Rediscovered: Nancy Drew and Friends or our Flickr albums on Nancy Drew and other Girls’ Series books.Continue reading
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.Continue reading
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.
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.Continue reading