One of my favorite duties as a graduate assistant is working the reference desk in the Maryland Room. Having only been a part of Special Collections and University Archives for less than a year, there are still a number of collections I haven’t seen, and helping others with their research is one way that I get to learn more about our holdings. Recently, a researcher introduced me to the illustrated letters of Hendrik Willem van Loon in the Helen Sioussat papers. I was delighted by the brightly colored, whimsical illustrations van Loon drew on the envelopes he sent Sioussat, and seeing them inspired me to learn more about the two friends, both of whom were compelling historical figures I knew little about.
Between 1943 and 1947, the Council on Books in Wartime shipped nearly 123 million books to American soldiers. Not just any books, the specially designed Armed Services Editions were lightweight paperbacks designed to easily fit in a soldier’s pocket. The 1,227 unique titles in the series were selected to appeal to a wide variety of interests, including literary classics, contemporary bestsellers, and various works of nonfiction.
At a time when books were banned or burned in Nazi Germany, sending books to soldiers overseas was seen as patriotic act. The slogan of the Council on Books in Wartime, “Books are weapons in the war of ideas,” reflected their belief that books were important for spreading the ideals of freedom and democracy. The books selected need not have lofty themes to be a part of the program, however, they simply had to be something that soldiers wanted to read. Books, the military discovered, were excellent morale boosters. A book could entertain a soldier anxiously waiting during long periods of inactivity, or it might be a soothing distraction for a soldier who had recently endured the agonies of battle.
This past month, we went on summer vacation in the stacks! We’ve been highlighting our vast postcard collections on Instagram as a part of the #librarygetaway challenge (check out our posts from each Wednesday in July).
The postcards in our collections are a significant source for understanding how Americans have spent their leisure and vacation time throughout history. Our online exhibit, Greetings from Vacationland: Early Postcards and the Rise of Leisure in the United States: 1890-1920, takes a deep dive into our collections and features early postcards of national parks, scenic resorts, amusement parks, historic sites, world’s fairs, and American cities.
This year October 5th is “Ask An Archivist” Day! For us, Ask an Archivist Day usually means fielding questions from the public about what life in an archive is like.
However, this week a group of student archivists working at the University of Maryland’s Special Collections and University Archives are taking this time to start a conversation about the nature of archives more broadly. This “Ask An Archivist” Day, they are asking: “Can I break the archive?”
In the 2009 article published in Archival Science, Jeannette Bastian concludes that, “a cultural expression has no end; it is always becoming something else.” In one sense, this is intuitive: there is “culture” all around us and it is constantly evolving. This ceaseless evolution is exactly what can make the dinner table at Thanksgiving so uncomfortable. After all, having so many generations in one place is bound to cause friction. But, it’s not just “culture” that’s evolving. It is all the things that culture entails. The objects, documents, and evidence of culture–typically the stuff of archives–is itself bound to the constant flux of relationships and activities that frame and contextualize their existence. We tend to think of archives as evidence of a distant past that are static. Safe in their archival boxes, nothing can harm or change the objects that have been chosen to represent the past.
You may know about teen sleuth Nancy Drew, but have you head of Beverley Gray, Sue Barton, Cherry Ames, Judy Bolton, Penny Parker, or Vicki Barr?
Special Collections and University Archives is home to many wonderful book collections dating from the 16th century to the present day. One of our favorite, and perhaps most fun, is the Rose and Joseph Pagnani Collection Girls Series collection, available in Hornbake Library.
These books were targeted to young readers in the 1930s and beyond. They featured independent, fearless, and clever women who solved mysteries and foiled crimes in their everyday lives. The heroines in these novels were often young students or career women. Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton were a teen detectives, Cherry Ames was a nurse, Vicki Barr was a flight attendant, Penny Parker was a newspaper reporter, and Beverly Gray was a college student. And since many of these series spanned several years/decades, it is fascinating to see how these literary women evolved over time, growing older (sometimes) and adapting to cultural changes.
Special Collections and University Archives in Hornbake Library is home to a wide array rare and unique literary collections. From personal papers of authors and poets to early printed works, our collections cross a variety of subjects and time periods in the literary world.
Below are some highlights from our archival literary collections in Hornbake Library:
- Katherine Anne Porter papers
- Personal papers of American author Katheriane Anne Porter (1890-1980), best known for her short stories and novel Ship of Fools (1962).
- Djuna Barnes papers
- Personal papers of avant-garde American writer and artist Djuna Barnes (1892-1982), best known for her novel Nightwood (1936).
- Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven papers
- Personal papers of avant-garde artist and poet Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927). She is associated with Djuna Barnes and the Dada movement.
- Ernest Hemingway collection
- A large portion of the collection consists of serials that include stories and nonfiction written by and about Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). It also includes some original correspondence to and from Hemingway. In addition, there are manuscripts and proofs of Hemingway’s work and biographies of Hemingway.
- Literary First Appearances
- Periodicals containing the “first appearance,” or first public dissemination, of many noteworthy 20th century literary works.
- French Pamphlet Collection
- Approximately 12,000 pieces dating from 1620 to 1966, covering many key episodes in the history of France. The largest part of the collection is made up of 7000 pamphlets from the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, 1788-1815.
- African American Pamphlet Collection
- 20th century materials on African, African-American, and Caribbean culture and literature. The collection spans the years 1905-1979, although the majority of the pamphlets date from the 1960s and 1970s.
Rare Book Collections
- German Expressionism collection
- Contains serials and books that reflect German Expressionism, a culural, literary, and artistic movement that began in Germany prior to the First World War.
- William Morris collection
- Works by 19th century British author, socialist, designer and founder of the Kelmscott Press, William Morris (1834-1896).
- Eikon Basilike
- Guide to the Eikon Basilike and related materials held by Special Collections and University Archives
By Margot Willis, Labor Collections Volunteer
In 2013, the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) donated the entire holdings of the George Meany Memorial Archives to the Special Collections and University Archives Department of University of Maryland Libraries. This collection contains the most important documentation of the history of America’s largest federation of labor unions, founded in 1955. Comprising over 20,000 linear shelf feet of a wide variety material, including documents, photographs, audiovisual materials and artifacts, it represents the single largest donation of archival material to the University to date.
Until this summer, the artifacts portion of the AFL-CIO collection had gone almost entirely untouched by university archival staff due to other higher priorities. Packed away in the same bubble wrap and cardboard boxes in which they were transferred to the University three years ago, the AFL-CIO artifacts sat in out-of-the-way corners of Hornbake Library.
Back in April, when I first spoke with University of Maryland Labor Archivists Jen Eidson and Ben Blake about a possible volunteer project over the summer, I mentioned that I have an interest in museum studies, and would like to learn more about the care and organization of artifacts in an archive. Because they needed immediate help in verifying identifications and locations of AFL-CIO artifacts in anticipation of an upcoming exhibit and due to the fact I was willing to work for free, they granted my wish and set me to work.
I worked wherever there were boxes, which happened to be in the very bottom and the very top floors of Hornbake library. Oftentimes, the spaces I worked in were very small, and the boxes very large.
Originally, the plan was for me to go through the boxes, locate each object in the original Meany Archives inventory of over 2500 records and enter the object’s new location in Hornbake. However, after about five minutes on the job, it became clear that the project would be a bit more complicated than that. There were items in the boxes that were not on the spreadsheet. There were items whose accession numbers appeared on the spreadsheet but whose descriptions did not match the items. There were boxes of dozens of items inside other boxes that had not been recorded as being there. The original inventory indicated that some boxes contained certain items, which, upon further examination, were not there at all. In other cases, boxes should have had only one object, but ended up containing six.