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.

Why does it take so long to digitize everything?

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to, oh, let’s say, seven months ago.

On the night of Sept. 2, 2018, the National Museum of Brazil was engulfed in flames.  Several historical an irreplaceable artifacts that called the museum home were lost forever.  The world mourned such a massive loss of our civilization’s rich history.  The tragedy sparked concern for other historical artifacts and ways to make sure that something like this never happened again.

Right after the devastation, the idea of preserving historical artifacts through digitization was brought up.  It certainly didn’t go unnoticed by our students here at UMD especially with all of the artifacts and collections stored in our very own Special Collections at Hornbake.

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Our Digitization Services room located in Hornbake. (Photo courtesy of http://www.lib.umd.edu/dss/services/digitization.)

Here’s the thing: the university has been very active in trying to preserve the histories of both the school and the state of Maryland for many years.  After all, the university suffered a similar fate 107 years ago.

So why aren’t we trying to digitize our archival materials faster?  We don’t know what will happen at any given time.  So… what’s the hold-up?  

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The Letters of Katherine Anne Porter Now Available Online!

We are proud to announce a new online resource exploring the life and work American author Katherine Anne Porter is now available!

Katherine Anne Porter: Correspondence from the Archives, 1912-1977  provides access to digitized correspondence written by Porter, whose literary archives is held in Special Collections and University Archives in Hornbake Library. Previously, researchers interested in reading her letters visited the Maryland Room (the reading room for special collections and University Archives) in person or requested photocopies/scans of the materials. Now, users have instant access to approximately 3800 items of her correspondence, which have been digitized and made accessible online, via a searchable and browsable database .

This online resource is the result of an extensive digitization project in the Libraries. The Katherine Anne Porter Correspondence Project is an ongoing collaboration between the University of Maryland Libraries Special Collections and University Archives and Digital System and Stewardship units, supported by a grant from the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Trust. 

Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) is known primarily for her short stories and novel, Ship of Fools. She was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1966 for The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter. She lived a rich life, traveling across the United States and abroad while writing both fiction and nonfiction. Her correspondence highlights her interests in writing, travel, politics, and current events, as well as documenting her private life and career.

Katherine Anne Porter: Correspondence from the Archives, 1912-1977  offers a glimpse into her bustling life and career, providing background information and historical context for both Porter enthusiasts and those unfamiliar with her work.

Along with images of Porter throughout her life, users can explore details of Porter’s life by decade, as well as by the places she lived and visited, both in the US and abroad. These glimpses into her biography reveal fascinating aspects of her life. For example, did you know Katherine Anne Porter contracted the Spanish Influenza while working as a reporter in Denver? That she lived in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party? Did you know Porter lived in College Park, MD? And she lived in Washington D.C. at the time of the Kennedy inauguration?

Visit Katherine Anne Porter: Correspondence from the Archives, 1912-1977 and discover more!

Rare Community Radio Broadcasts Now Digitized

Photo of stack of audio reel boxes from NFCBSpecial Collections & University Archives is pleased to announce 600 historic community radio broadcasts are now available for streaming in UMD Digital Collections. These programs represent a portion of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB) Program Archive, which resides in the National Public Broadcasting Archives (NPBA) held by Mass Media & Culture. They were digitized through a Recordings-at-Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) in 2017.

Spanning the years 1965-1986, these broadcasts come from community stations mostly throughout the U.S. and Canada, many of which are still thriving, and others which are no longer on the air. The breadth of programming contained in these programs is remarkable, and underscores the still-active mission of the NFCB to support and promote the participation of women and people of color at all levels of public broadcasting. This collection is one of few known archives that feature underrepresented voices in the history of American media.

Photograph of audio reel boxes with titles of programs including

Anna Johns, the student assistant who created the enhanced metadata for the programs, described some of the more intriguing contents she encountered as she listened. For instance, the Feminist Radio Network, a project created and managed by women at Georgetown in the 1970s, offered some especially valuable content:

One particularly interesting recording, “Mabel Vernon: Suffragist” presents an interview with a 91 year old woman who participated in the woman’s suffrage movement. A program called “Writing about Women’s Lives” meanwhile, features both interviews with authors Grace Paley, Maxine Kumin, and Alice Walker and readings of their short works, while a “Classic Blues” program presents the music of influential women while discussing their importance to the development of the genre. These recordings preserve the momentous impact of diverse women through history, allowing contemporary feminists to observe their predecessors firsthand.

Among some of the interviews, lectures and speeches, Ms. Johns found valuable material there as well:

The program “Kahn-Tineta Horn of Mohawk Nation” contains a lecture by Native American activist Kahn-Tineta Horn about suppressed truths regarding Native Americans throughout history, as well as injustices imposed upon Native American people historically and in the contemporary era. The program “Auburn Avenue and Atlanta Black Commerce” features an interesting discussion about the city of Atlanta between World War I and World War II from the perspective of African American individuals, largely through interviews with people who lived through the era. And the program “Nikki Giovanni on Education” is a particularly notable 1978 speech by poet Nikki Giovanni discussing the importance of literacy, and the difficulties faced by African American children in schools.

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Additionally, there is a substantial number of musical programs that feature live performances from cultures throughout the world, including Javanese gamelan, Russian folk, Brazilian capoeira, Japanese koto, African mbira and American bluegrass.

With access to these rare and vital primary source materials, scholars from a wide range of disciplines including anthropology, media studies, sociology, political science, ethnomusicology, folklore, African-American history, and LGBTQ and women’s studies will be able to enrich historical contexts in both their research and teaching, broadening understandings of the human experience in the latter half of the 20th century. These recordings will also be useful to educators from kindergarten through graduate school because they illustrate American history from alternative perspectives and demonstrate the vital platform that community radio has provided for people whose voices aren’t often heard on commercial airwaves.

Laura Schnitker, Curator of Mass Media & Culture, was interviewed about the project on a podcast called Radio Survivor. Listen 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

Photo of stack of audio reel boxes with titles including

I need a primary source now!

Having trouble finding primary sources? Want to research outside of Special Collections hours? Can’t visit Hornbake Library in person? No problem! This post is all about finding digitized primary sources in Special Collections and University Archives at UMD.

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We have lots of digitized material from Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland that is available 24/7!  Look through photographs, documents, film, and audio on our Digital Collections site, browse photographs and documents on Flickr, and read books and periodicals on the Internet Archive.

Here’s a list of places to look online for our digitized content:

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The Early Printing Collection: An Introduction

Special Collections and University Archives at UMD is home to a new (very old!) collection of early printing. The collection has been processed and digitized, and is available in Digital Collections or by request in person in the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library. You can also view our Flickr album featuring images from the collection.

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Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493

The Early Printing Collection is a set of thirty-six leaves and pages that were printed in Europe in the late 15th century. It includes printed pages from many well-known works, including the The Nuremberg Chronicle, Historia Scholastica and The Cologne Chronicle.

Incunabula

Typographical printing done before 1501 in Europe is often called Incunabula, a funny pseudo-Latin phrase that refers to the birth of printing in the 15th century. The 15th century saw important advances in the movable type printing press thanks to Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press invented around 1450. The Gutenberg Bible is the first (and probably most famous) book printed using movable type, and while you won’t find any of its pages in the Early Printing Collection, the collection does feature many other pages from Bibles and other religious and historical chronicles printed around the same time period. Within the collection the printing itself is generally clear and easy to read — that is, if you understand Latin or Middle German!

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