The following piece appears courtesy of Dan Johnson, 2013 Mosaic Fellow, wherein he provides a look at a sampling of projects benefiting from his internship with the University of Houston Special Collections.
I was selected as a Mosaic Fellow in the Fall of 2013 by the Association of Research Libraries and the Society of American Archivists. I’m presently a MSLS student at the University of North Texas, studying Archival Studies and Digital Image Management. The Mosaic Fellowship included an internship component, pairing up fellows with host ARL institutions; I was glad to have the opportunity to intern here at UH Special Collections since September 2014. I’ve since had the pleasure of working on a variety of special projects, working hands on with archival materials.
I first started a digital audit of the Ewing Family Papers, comparing the physical archival collection to its finding aid and existing digital collection. In that review of the Ewing family scrapbooks, I worked with Valerie Prilop, Digital Collections Librarian, and we discovered that the finding aid for one of the scrapbooks provided descriptions for only the front side of each scrapbook page, but did not describe the reverse side, while the digital collection had page-level descriptions for both front and back sides of the pages. Ultimately, we were able to identify places where the finding aid could be improved, and we made some recommendations to combine two digital collections, one per scrapbook, into a single consolidated digital collection, a project for a later date.
I then started a project under the guidance of University Archivist Mary Manning, processing and describing additions to the William C. Moffit Papers. The collection was originally donated by Dr. Moffit himself, but several additions were later donated by his wife and family after he passed away. I was able to process and describe some additional manuscript parts, published musical arrangements, and Patterns of Motion training materials, among other things. Working with a member of the faculty from the School of Music who was intimately familiar with Dr. Moffit’s work helped me better describe and arrange the materials in a way that will make the most sense to researchers using this collection.
I started work on a third project with Hispanic Collections Archivist Lisa Cruces, auditing the physical material of the Alonso S. Perales Papers and comparing the physical archival collection to the finding aid. There were a handful of items in the physical collection that were not reflected in the finding aid, and I have been correcting the finding aid to more faithfully represent the collection.
Most recently, I’ve been given the opportunity to work with Librarian Emerita Pat Bozeman on a project transcribing and contextualizing some handwritten letters. Two of these items were taken from the Early Texas Documents collection. One item is a letter from Sam Houston written after he was wounded in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. It documents his request to be transferred from New Orleans to a more northern location upon the advice of several physicians. Another item is a letter that highlights Stephen F. Austin’s efforts to gather support from the United States government and people for Texas Independence and was written in Nashville, Tennessee days before Texas declared independence from Mexico. Working intimately with historical documents such as these has been a very exciting and rewarding experience.
The following comes to us courtesy of Julia Taylor, Graduate Fellow of the Carey C. Shuart Women’s Archive and Research Collection.
While Friday’s SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality marks a milestone in the struggle for LGBTQIAP rights, Special Collections’ booth at this year’s Houston Pride documented the genealogy of LGBT activists who set the stage for this historic win.
This year’s Pride festival and parade took place in downtown Houston instead of the usual shady Montrose locale, making the air-conditioned atmosphere of the LGBT History tent a welcome respite from the Texas heat. Special Collections proudly exhibited rare books and artifacts from the Edward Lukasek Gay Studies Collection and the Norma Lee Gay Studies Collection, as well as papers and ephemera from the Houston Area NOW Collection, the Debra Danburg Papers, and the Kanellos Latino Literary Movement Book Collection. Library staff and volunteers stood by to answer questions and show support as families, couples, and friends perused the display of historical and literary materials.
The LGBT history tent, which was sponsored by AT&T, also housed exhibits from Rice University Special Collections, the Botts Collections of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History, the Houston Public Library, and the Old Lesbian Oral Herstory Project. To learn more about the history of Houston Pride, visit their website.
The University of Houston recently hosted Dr. Maria Cotera of the University of Michigan and her talk, “Decolonizing the Archive: Chicana por mi Raza and the Challenge of Digital Humanities.” Dr. Cotera’s talk focused on her work with Chicana por mi Raza, a public humanities project centered on the collection and digital preservation of archival materials, ephemera, and oral histories that document the development of Chicana feminist thought during the civil rights era. A panel discussion, “Pushing Back: Chicana, Latina, Hispanic Women Preserving our Narratives,” followed Cotera’s talk and featured the founder of Studio One Archive Resource, Patricia Hernandez, Director of Research for Arte Público Press, Dr. Carolina Villaroel, and the first Hispanic Collections Archivist at the University of Houston, our own Lisa Cruces.
Sponsored by a number of organizations on and off campus, Dr. Cotera’s talk was broadly attended and included students, staff, and faculty from UH as well as local universities and high schools. The “digital turn,” Dr. Cotera argues, has allowed for a certain de-centering of authority in the work of scholarly research and the Chicana por mi Raza project establishes a collaborative venue providing broad-based public access to oral histories, correspondence, and out-of-print publications for scholarly research in and out of the classroom. Her work with Chicana por mi Raza represents a challenge to the pedagogy and influence of archival politics, prejudices, and patriarchal legacy of the existing structure. The result is a democratization of the archives and an engagement with communities that have been underrepresented in more traditional research models.
The panel that followed provided attendees an opportunity to ask questions and hear from women in the field with a variety of traditional and non-traditional archival backgrounds address the subtleties, nuance, and challenges of preserving the historical narratives in this new landscape. As Archivist for the Hispanic Collections here at UH, Cruces certainly has faith in aspects of the traditional archival models, but pointed out that Cotera’s work necessitates the bringing together of multiple vested interests and provides a great opportunity to partner with members of the community outside of the traditional institutional walls. In turn, this work allows a means of introduction to the archives while also allowing participants to look critically as to how historical memory is collected.
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 we will highlight a text from our collections and what makes it so special.
Book of the Month: The Spirit of Houston. The First National Women’s Conference. An Official Report to the President, the Congress, and the People of the United States, published by President Jimmy Carter’s National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year.
Why so Special? A number of reasons, really.
First, there’s the timing. Whether you’ve been celebrating Women’s History Week since 1981 or you go all the way back to 1909 and celebrated International Women’s Day last weekend, one thing is certain–March is Women’s History Month. Then, what time like the present to view this report and delve back into a history that captures a moment in time when so-called second-wave feminism was on the rise, the world was beginning to notice, and, for a moment, Houston found itself at the epicenter of the domestic debate and struggle.
The timing of the events that brought about this report is also worth noting. When the United Nations declared that 1975 would be “International Women’s Year,” President Gerald Ford established the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year. In the wake of 1975, the work taken on by UN partnerships, and the issues and questions raised from the World Conference of the International Women’s Year (held in Mexico City in the summer of 1975), President Carter’s Commission proposed a National Women’s Conference to take place in Houston in 1977. That November 2,000 delegates from all fifty states and six territories descended on Houston along with an estimated 20,000 observers in attendance. Included among these numbers were first ladies, activists, artists, writers, and more. The topics addressed and reported on by the Conference seemed to buoy support for the floundering Equal Rights Amendment on through 1978. President Carter expressed as much in his comments on the one-year anniversary of the Conference, including ratification of the ERA to be among the goals necessary “for all citizens to participate fully in every part of American life.”
Or, maybe what makes this report so special is the tip of the research iceberg it represents. The Spirit of Houston… is just one title in the larger Peggy Hall Collection. Hall was a charter member of Houston Area NOW, active member of the Harris County Women’s Political Caucus on issues related to the ERA, and witness to the events of 1977. Examples of other works comprising the collection bearing her name include Notes from the Third Year: Women’s Liberation (a collection of radical feminism that includes Judy Syfers’ biting essay “I Want a Wife,” just prior to its appearance in the premier issue of Ms. magazine) and the iconic 1972 Our Bodies, Ourselves. But, if you had rather keep your focus on the First National Women’s Conference, maybe you would be interested in the Marjorie Randal National Women’s Conference Collection. Randal, an active supporter of women’s rights in the greater Houston-Galveston-Gulf Coast region, was also involved in the events of 1977 and played critical roles in establishing local NOW chapters. Her collection features correspondence, newsletters, publications, and other assorted materials dating from the mid 1970s into the 1980s, with the bulk of the materials focusing on the critical year of 1977 and the National Women’s Conference.
Location: The Spirit of Houston… is available for study this and every month in the University of Houston Special Collections Reading Room (call number HQ1403.N34 U54 1977). Interested in viewing this report or any of the other resources mentioned above? Then, we look forward to your visit to Special Collections.
The UH Public History Program prepares graduate students interested in history for positions in various historical venues, government agencies, business enterprises, and educational institutions. This fall, students enrolled in Dr. Kairn Klieman’s course “Archival Practice and Organizational Histories” spent three weeks immersed in the theory behind archives and the work of professional archivists. Coordinator for Instruction Julie Grob welcomed the students to Special Collections, where they focused their learning on the fascinating collections that make make up the Carey C. Shuart Women’s Archive & Research Collection (WARC). The goal of the unit was to encourage students to consider archives as a potential career, introduce them to the riches of WARC, and lead them to understand how archivists and institutions make collecting decisions which may perpetuate the dominant narrative or fill in gaps in the historical record.
Students in the course read a variety of journal articles about archival theory and practice, attended lectures and discussions led by Grob, toured Special Collections, and completed a project in which they arranged a photocopied version of an archival collection in order to duplicate the work on an archivist. Their favorite activity was probably exploring some of the WARC archival collections related to local organizations such as the Hispanic Women in Leadership Records, Women in Action Records, and Women in the Visual and Literary Arts Records. One pair of students was excited to find correspondence between the Houston Council of Texas Garden Clubs and (then Senator) Lyndon B. Johnson, related to an environmental cause. Students also enjoyed a visit from Vince Lee, curator for WARC, who spoke to the class about his background and career path to the field of archives, and his work with donors and incoming collections.
Following the archives unit, the students went on to work extensively with the local nonprofit Voices Breaking Boundaries, recording oral histories and writing an organizational history to document the organization. The records of Voices Breaking Boundaries, and the oral histories created by Dr. Kairn’s students, will be added to WARC.
If you are interested in exploring the collections yourself, you may visit the WARC website to view finding aids (guides to the collections) and digital collections, or stop by Special Collections during our open hours. If you are a faculty member interested in having a unit developed around archival practice or our primary source collections, please e-mail Julie Grob.
“Archival Practice and Organizational Histories” Course Visits Special Collections