In August 2013 I was extremely excited to begin my position as the Houston Arts and History Archives Fellow at the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections. I was straight out of my graduate program at the University of Michigan and ready to dive into the field as a professional archivist. I was also thrilled to return to Houston, my hometown and favorite city, and to work with materials that reflected the community where I grew up. Over the following two years, I worked on some amazing projects, developed inspiring working relationships, and gained knowledge and skills that I’ll use throughout my career.
The two largest portions of my time here at UH have been dedicated to arranging and describing archival collections and to assisting with the curation of digital projects. I have worked with a wide variety of materials in our Houston Hip Hop, Houston and Texas History, Performing and Visual Arts, and Contemporary Literature collections. I’ll admit that when I started, I was most excited to work with Houston hip hop materials. I felt that hip hop materials were in particularly great need of collecting and that they would resonate particularly strongly with students. I was right! But at the same time, I discovered that each of the collections I worked with, whether they included materials from a German singing club with over 100 years of history, one of the largest regional theatres in the nation, or 1970s and 1980s science fiction and fantasy conventions, documented an important part of our history and held direction connections to the Houston community. I’m proud to have contributed to making so many new materials accessible to our students and researchers, and working with such a diverse array of materials certainly kept me on my toes and made coming to work every day exciting!
I’m grateful that this position also provided many opportunities to work directly with our patrons. Throughout my time at UH I spent about eight hours a week manning the reference desk, and this January I also began serving as contact point for Performing and Visual Arts reference. It’s always my pleasure to help students and researchers find the materials they need. One of the most exciting (and unexpected!) outreach projects I worked on was co-curating the “Nina Vance and the Alley Theatre: A Life’s Work” exhibit with our Architecture & Art Library Coordinator Catherine Essinger. Designing and implementing the exhibit, which ran from October, 2014 to May, 2015, gave me the opportunity to work with people all over the library, across campus, and with former and current Alley Theatre actors and staff. I’ll always remember it as one of my favorite accomplishments here.
UH has also been very supportive of my professional development, which I think is essential for any early-career librarian or archivist. I have attended several conferences and workshops during my time here, and completed my first professional presentation at the Society of Southwest Archivists convention in 2014.
But perhaps my favorite thing about working at the University of Houston Special Collections was the opportunity to work with such an amazing group of colleagues, both in our department and across the library. I’ll miss coming to work with them every day, but I look forward to our paths crossing in the future as I continue my archives career.
The Beloit College Mindset List, a must-read for anyone who wants to feel time quickly slipping away, was recently published for the incoming collegiate freshman class, the majority of which were born in that magical year of 1997 (?!). While it might make some of us feel just a little bit older, the list is worth a read and always provides some eye-opening perspective.
Ron Nief, Tom McBride, and Charles Westerberg (the creators of the list) provide some real marvels, reminding us that, “Among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.” They came into the world around the same time as Dolly the sheep and Michael “Prince” Jackson, Jr. In addition, these young’uns have never licked a postage stamp (#3) and, frankly, it can get a little confusing when old people say, “around the turn of the century” (#17). The one that makes these old bones ache a little more this evening? “The eyes of Texas have never looked upon The Houston Oilers.” (#26)
In a salute to the University of Houston Cougars Class of 2019, we have gone digging through the archives and share with you a few highlights from the year 1997 housed here at your University of Houston Special Collections.
And, no, we’re not trying just to make you feel old.
Whether it’s a rare book printing found at long last or piece of ephemera found in an archival collection by chance, those who visit the University of Houston Special Collections almost always find something they cannot wait to share with others. Here we celebrate what makes the University of Houston Special Collections so special–our Favorite Things.
DJ Steve Fournier was partly responsible for hip hop’s popular emergence in the Houston club scene during the 1980s, hosting rap contests and peppering his sets with more and more rap at Struts Disco, the Boneshaker, and the Rhinestone Wrangler. His papers include photographs, memorabilia, as well as performance contracts from emerging acts like Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, and Ice-T. In this particular instance, I’m fascinated by a contract drafted for a performance by “EAZY E/NWA” that maps out the terms for payment ($1,900 now, $1,900 at the show), equipment to be provided by Fournier (“2 1200 turntables, mixer and mics”), locale (“ULTIMATE RHINESTONE WRANGLER… 478 Parker,” Houston’s Northside?!), and the hour and date of the engagement (“12Midnight” on “Thursday – June 16, 1988,” over two months prior to the release of N.W.A.’s first studio album).
The incendiary Straight Outta Compton was released August 9, 1988 on Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records. It enjoyed the commercial appeal of the recently-instituted “Parental Advisory” stickers, along with the unfiltered imagery of glorified criminal violence and hedonistic misogyny that more than delivered on the promise of something truly illicit. Against a backdrop of moral conservatism and prosperity gospel of the Reagan-Bush presidential arc, that forbidden nature translated into surprising and enduring commercial success. It was a party record for our victory in the Cold War, echoing from the edge of Manifest Destiny–Compton, California. A thunderous shot from the ghetto, it was brash, boisterous, aggressive, and is now universally acknowledged as one of the most important records in the history of hip hop (see #144).
But, in 1988, I’d yet to hear those three little letters and be jolted awake by their meaning and music. So, I still can’t help but wonder if the show ever came to pass. The old Ultimate Rhinestone Wrangler (a cavernous venue for a club that easily held over 1,000, it has since been converted into a storage facility) was just a stone’s throw from where I grew up and the idea that N.W.A. might have slipped in and out without me even knowing, makes them feel both so close and yet out of reach–the one that got away, the shows one never sees. Fitting I suppose, for a group that frightened and thrilled us, both then and now. With no signature at the bottom representing “EAZY-E/NWA,” I’ll remain curious to hear from anyone who attended and got a rare, early look at “The World’s Most Dangerous Group.”
Whether you have just been introduced via F. Gary Gray’s film or you are an O.G., who has always down for the C.P.T., you’ll enjoy seeing this contract in person along with all the other trips down memory lane waiting in the DJ Steve Fournier Papers.
categories: Department News
In the spring of 2015 UH Special Collections and the English Department’s Professional Internship Program partnered to launch the Special Collections Social Media Internship.
The Professional Internship Program provides some of the University’s most academically outstanding English majors the opportunity to learn about professional careers that interest them while gaining valuable work experience as an undergraduate. As part of this program during the past spring semester, Shelby Love staffed our first-ever Special Collections Social Media Internship, working with the University of Houston Special Collections to assist in the week-to-week operations of producing and publishing communications highlighting our holdings.
Duties of the internship included researching, writing, editing, photographing, and scheduling content for our blog and Facebook page, and provided hands-on opportunities to work with a variety of software platforms and content management systems in the process. Love’s previous study of literature naturally drew her to our Contemporary Literature collections as well as our collections of rare books, where she curated a series of titles we continue to feature as part of our Book of the Month series. In addition, Love was able to build upon her previous undergraduate research in the area of sociolinguistics and social media, drafting a study of current social media use by archives and special collections as well as a proposal for future development.
We thank Shelby Love for her work and contributions during the evolution of this internship’s inaugural run and we look forward to collaborating with the English Department’s Professional Internship Program in the future.
In addition to the over 7,000 linear feet of archival collections made available for study at the University of Houston Special Collections, we are also proud to offer over 100,000 rare and antique books for use in our reading room. Each month (some more dutifully than others) we will highlight a text from our collections and what makes it so special.
In the spring 2015 semester we had the good fortune to host our first-ever UH Special Collections Social Media Intern, Shelby Love. As part of her duties, Love curated a number of selections for our Book of the Month series here on the blog. For this month (and many to come, no doubt) we share a Book of the Month selection from Shelby Love.
Book of the Month: The Vision of Hell by Dante Alighieri, translated by Henry Francis Cary, and illustrated with the designs of M. Gustave Doré.
Why so Special? In this 1866 edition, Dante Alighieri’s literary masterpiece is skillfully presented through the two archetypal interpretations of Henry Francis Cary and M. Gustave Doré. Cary, a graduate of Christ Church College, Oxford and assistant librarian in the British Museum, translated the Divine Comedy from Italian to English in the early 1800s. Despite the availability of numerous alternative translations, Cary’s version remained the standard into the twentieth century. That would be over 100 years of beating his competitors. In fact, his poetic translation was admired by other literary giants such as Wordsworth, Keats, Lamb, Coleridge, Macaulay, and Ruskin. Cary dedicated countless hours and even his own funds to complete the project for public consumption, truly a meritorious example of just how important our librarians are to society.
The second distinguished interpretation is through Doré’s vivid illustrations of the otherworldly adventure. Doré was an incredibly successful and productive French illustrator and printmaker in the 19th century known for his imaginative and fantastical artwork. His work was mainly centered around themes like the (pessimistic) fate of mankind and meditations on life and death, making him and Dante such a compatible ideological pair, the likes of which even match.com couldn’t hope to recreate. In fact, one contemporary critic found the illustrations to be so conscientious that he suggested Doré and the long deceased Dante were communicating through the occult. Dante enthusiasts and scholars still consider Doré a determiner for how the Divine Comedy is visualized by readers today, ranking his hypnotic renderings along with those of Sandro Botticelli, William Blake, Eugène Delacroix, and even Michael Angelo.
With a detailed red and gold hardcover, this edition is one of the most eye-catching items among our larger-format books. The sheer size of it can strike the modern day book lover as both whimsical and puzzling, eliciting the question, why would such a serious classic need to be so colossal? A rewarding perusal in the reading room will reveal a uniquely intimate way to engage with Dante’s beloved classic as Cary’s poetic translation of the writer’s imaginative vision is presented side by side with Doré’s exquisite renditions of the literary masterpiece. This incredible edition contains the crowning achievements of three fruitful lifetimes, brought together by one vision.
Location: Those interested in consulting with this edition of Dante’s classic may request call number PQ4315.2 .C4 1866 in the Special Collections Reading Room.