MDHC Reaches Milestone of 100 Transcriptions!

Recently the staff and volunteers in the Maryland and Historical Collections collecting area completed transcribing 100 of its primary source documents in the Maryland Manuscripts collection. This collection of nearly six thousand individually cataloged items bears witness to a wide breadth of Maryland history, primarily from 1750 to 1900. 

This phase of the project focuses on the series “Slavery-related Documents, 1752-1877 and undated.” The documents describe such topics as escape, manumissions, sale, military service, and abolition. Hundreds of these documents are already digitized and available online in our Digital Collections, making transcription the next priority.

While these transcriptions are not yet available online, researchers can reach out to Special Collections and University Archives at AskHornbake@umd.edu for individual access to select transcripts from this series.

Thanks to the small-but-mighty staff, MDHC is fulfilling UMD Libraries’ commitment of increasing access and use to the collections we steward.


Joni Floyd is Curator, (State of) Maryland and Historical Collections in Special Collections and University Archives, UM Libraries.

Spiro T. Agnew Papers Utilized for Research in Bag Man

UMD Libraries played a pivotal role  in the creation of Rachel Maddow and Michael Yarvitz’s new book Bag Man, based on Maddow’s Peabody-nominated podcast of the same name. Both the book and podcast explore the surprisingly lesser-known stories of former vice president Spiro T. Agnew’s various crimes, briberies, and cover-ups. These accounts of Agnew’s vice presidency have  been described as “one of the most brazen political bribery scandals in American history” and “the other scandal that rocked Nixon’s White House.”

Maddow turned to several archival institutions for her research on the project, including UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives and Frostburg State’s Ort Library. When her Peabody nomination was announced, she credited libraries and archives  with making this extensive research possible and helping tell Agnew’s story, tweeting, “God bless you and keep you, Maryland college and university libraries!”

The Spiro T. Agnew papers at Hornbake Library’s Special Collections and University Archives contain roughly 750 linear feet of materials. This collection covers wide swaths of his career, including files from his time as Maryland’s Governor, audio of speeches he gave  as vice president, and additional materials from after his resignation.

Luckily, the bulk of the audio recordings utilized by Maddow had recently been made accessible for patrons to use by the time of her research. Special Collections and University Archives undertook a massive twelve-month digitization project in October 2018 to digitize much of the audio materials in the collection, which number over one thousand items and include both open reel tapes and cassette tapes. They are now accessible online through UMD Libraries Digital Collections

This project involved sending out the tapes for digital processing by an outside vendor, and then painstakingly listening to and taking notes for each tape, some of which are nearly 90 minutes long. With these notes, SCUA employees were then able to upload the recordings and create unique titles and descriptions for each one, cataloging them and making them searchable. 

Large projects like these not only promote accessibility and preservation, they allow new stories and perspectives to emerge from old materials. Without the work of librarians and archivists, deep retrospectives like Maddow’s podcast and book wouldn’t be possible.


Gabrielle Puglisi is a second year MLIS graduate student with a specialization in Archives and Digital Curation. She is a student assistant working in the Maryland Collections at the University of Maryland Special Collections and University Archives.

AFL-CIO Films on YouTube!

We now have 40 short films from our AFL-CIO film collection uploaded to George Meany Labor Archives playlist on the Hornbake Library YouTube channel! Many of these films were digitized as part of the “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History In America,” exhibit. This post intends to expand and explore upon a selection of films that we not only think are interesting, but also contextually relevant to the present day.

The first of these films is “CORE: Freedom Ride,” 1961, Presented by the Social Action Commission of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

Narrated by James Farmer, National Director of CORE and founder of the Freedom Rides, this film recounts the experiences of Freedom Riders shortly after the rides ended in December 1961. This film includes footage from the Freedom Rides, and testimony from Freedom Riders Jim Peck, Albert Bigelow, and Genevieve Hughes.

You can view all the videos in the George Meany Labor Archives playlist and explore more from the Labor history collections online. Have a question? Contact us!

New Resource: Black Writers and Artists in Special Collections

Literature and Rare Books in Special Collection and University Archives is a rich resource of works black artists and writers. Explore these items in our new subject guide on Black Writers and Artists!  

Non-fiction writing by black authors covers a wide variety of topics, including pamphlets on politics, racism, activism, and culture in our African American and African pamphlet collection. The subject guide also highlights fiction ranging from children’s books by Chinua Achebe to literary masterpieces by writers such as James Baldwin.  Contributions of black artists and printers to other parts of the bookmaking process, such as illustrators like Cledie Taylor and black owned presses like the Broadside Press, are also included.

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New Resource: 19th Century Literature Libguide

Even if you have never studied literature you are likely familiar with authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson or Charles Dickens.  While these authors may have written in different styles and about different subject matter, they were among the most notable authors of the 19th century.  To learn more about Emerson, Dickens, and other notable writers of the 19th century take a look at our new libguide on 19th Century Literature!

The libguide draws attention to some of the main collecting areas for Literature and Rare Books, such as illustrated works.  Hornbake’s holdings include a variety of different kinds of illustrated works that were popular in the 19th century, from scientific illustrations (Thomas Bewick’s woodcut portrayals of animals) to satirical illustrations (Punch Magazine).  The libguide also features highlights from our collection of 19th century literature, such as books published by Kelmscott Press, which reacted against the consumerism and mass production of the late 19th century by producing expensive, high quality books that doubled as works of art.

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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) 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 her work in earnest.

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“Get Out the Vote”: New Gallery Exhibition Coming Soon

As millions of voters visit the polls to cast their vote this Super Tuesday, we want to share some exciting news about the work that goes on behind the scenes in Special Collections and University Archives. Librarians are busy preparing the next gallery exhibition, to be installed in 2021, which will explore the history of voting rights in the United States. An online exhibit will be available in the Fall.

The people who have organized at the local level have been incredibly important to voters’ rights and their local stories make up the larger national story of changes to American voting rights throughout this nation’s history. “Get Out the Vote”, the upcoming exhibition will feature material from our collections that illustrate the history and stories of those who have organized to “get out the vote.”

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.

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