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
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.Continue reading
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.
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.Continue reading
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:
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 BreadContinue reading
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.