The Voting Rights Act, Its Reauthorization, and Its Relevance Today

A big topic of conversation for 2021 has been the For the People Act (HR1). HR1 is an expansive bill, spanning a number of voter issues including registration, early and mail-in voting, voter roll purges, election securing, campaign finance, and outlines conflict of interest and ethics provisions for federal employees. With the bill being hotly debated by Congress, we are reminded of other contentious battles over American voting rights legislation.

For decades, people of color and other marginalized groups were denied the right to vote and met with violence and intimidation when they challenged the status quo. Civil rights organizers worked at various levels to challenge the discriminatory laws and segregationist attitudes prevalent across America. During the height of the Civil Rights movement the increased brutality inspired greater activism, which in turn led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The landmark legislation sought to combat voting laws that discriminated against voters on the basis of race.

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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.

Join us for a pop-up museum celebrating activism

Participate in our pop-up museum celebrating activism on Wednesday, February 21st from 12-4pm in the first floor lobby of Hornbake Library.

Bring your badgers, flyers, posters, pins, photos, audio and music, video and other material from social media, marches and cultural events for our temporary museum.

We want to preserve your stories of activism. Record your story at the event.

Be a part of campus history!

PopUpMuseum

Contact Laura Cleary with questions
lcleary@umd.edu
301-405-9988

50 YEARS AGO:  Maryland Responds to Floods in Italy

Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland Libraries is home to political collections such as the Spiro T. Agnew papers, the Theodore R. McKeldin papers, the Daniel Brewster papers, and the Hervey Machen papers, which contain information and interesting perspectives on local, national, and international events. One such event documented in these four collections is the effort of Marylanders to assist in the relief of Italians flooded out of their homes fifty years ago this month. In early November 1966, much of north-central Italy was inundated by flood waters. As many as 300 people may have been killed, up to 50,000 farm animals were drowned, and countless shops and buildings destroyed (1). Refugees sought shelter in makeshift housing. The cities of Florence and Venice were especially hard hit. Devastatingly, the great concentration of art, architecture, and cultural heritage found in Florence was subjected to flood waters that reached 22 feet high in some places. The National Library of Florence was underwater. Astride the Arno River, the Ponte Vecchio, which dates back 2300 years to Roman times, had been badly damaged.

mdhc-blog-on-italian-flood-relief-1966

The Baltimore News American collection includes photographs of the Italian floods of 1966. Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

The response to the 1966 flood in Florence was decidedly international, as Americans Continue reading

Presidential Campaigns – Through the Candidates’ Eyes

Think the current presidential election campaign has been unusual?  The new exhibit in the Maryland Room of Hornbake Library explores some of the strange techniques that presidential candidates have used to appeal to voters across much of American history. Candidates (or their spokespeople) have spread serious ideas and spurious notions; built interest from specific demographics of people; sought the support of parties and coalitions of parties; and deployed advertising to increase public visibility and name recognition.

The documents and artifacts in this exhibit date from the 1830s to the 1980s, and are drawn from a variety of collections available for research in the Maryland Room. These include the Spiro T. Agnew papers, the James Bruce papers, the Joseph Tydings papers, the archives of the National Organization for Women (Maryland Chapter), the Rare Books collection, and the Marylandia collection.

Items of particular interest, perhaps, are the autograph letter signed by Senator John F. Kennedy after his nomination by the Democratic Party in 1960, and two official White House photographs, which separately depict Vice President Spiro T. Agnew and President Ronald Reagan. But, then again, there’s the 1932 poster for Franklin D. Roosevelt which promoted “Beer Instead of Taxes.”

Visit these and more in the Maryland Room through the end of October.