When I arrived at the University of Houston Special Collections a year and a half ago as the first dedicated Audiovisual Archivist in the department, I was delighted to discover that UH was home to the KUHT Collection. I personally have a long-time love of public broadcasting, and KUHT holds the notable, and perhaps surprising, title of the “first educational non-profit television” in the country. Educational television was championed in the 1950s as a way to turn every living room into a classroom and would eventually evolve into what we know today as the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
One of my first tasks was to gain better intellectual control of the collection in order to help set preservation priorities and ensure access to researchers. Under the guidance of Special Collections Program Manager Matt Richardson, several dedicated and hardworking student workers shifted over 2,000 films and 10,000 videos out of boxes and to new dedicated AV shelving. This new shelving meant that videos could be stored standing up on edge, rather than stacked in boxes, which put the fragile tapes at risk of damage.
The improved storage method also allowed for easier access to tapes for inventory purposes. Working on and off on the inventory over the past year, I am now nearing completion, with just a handful of shelves left to go. Over the year, I have learned a lot about the programming of KUHT over their sixty-three-year history. I’ve come across such curious titles as “Heartbreak Turtle” and “Teenager: A Disease of What?” as well as moments of historical significance captured on film, such as an early 1960s interview with Houston civil rights leader Rev. William A. Lawson. One of my personal favorites from the collection is the series, “People are Taught to Be Different,” available to view on the UH Digital Library. This series, a 1956 collaboration between KUHT and Dr. Henry Allen Bullock from TSU, utilizes interpretive dance and narration to describe the universality of emotion across race, nationality, and culture.
In an effort to make these materials more readily accessible to the public, the KUHT Collection finding aid has been updated to note the extent of the audiovisual holdings, and now includes an abridged list of collection titles, with an eventual eye at making the entire inventory available online. Furthermore, we have digitized and posted one pre-existing Rolodex-style catalog of 1″ Video for researchers to use. Our hope is that this resource will be a valuable asset to those with an interest in the history of public television, Houston, and the many other topics touched upon in six decades of non-profit television productions.
The University of Houston has long had an ambitious and experimental thread running through its history. Our University Archives are a wonderful resource for tracing that history, as they document both the victories won and the challenges overcome.
Of particular interest is the concept and experiment of the Open University program. In the 1970s, the University of Houston and a small handful of other U.S. universities attempted to implement a concept being established in the U.K. In an attempt to increase access to higher education, the British government sought to wed the resources of the BBC with a new university concept to target those interested in distance learning and pursuing higher education on a more flexible schedule. The non-traditional student and students with disabilities became the natural fit for this new concept.
The University of Houston, with its on-campus resources of KUHT and KUHF, as well as its long-time commitment to increasing access to higher education, seemed a fertile ground for this experiment to take root stateside. The Open University Records contain correspondence, reports, program information, workbooks and classroom supplements that serve to document the implementation of this goal.
Trends in education have a tendency to ebb, flow, and often cycle back. While the Open University is still going strong across the pond, it is not terribly common to hear the term “Open University” tossed about these hallowed halls of academia. However, as evidenced by the recent announcement of the partnership with Coursera and the long-running success of UH’s Distance Education program, that legacy of delivering higher education via non-traditional means to non-traditional students has remained a constant.
If studying trends in education is of interest to you, or if you simply want to look through the class materials for “Anyone for Tennyson?” and “Cinematic Eye,” browse the finding aid for the Open University Records or come visit us when you have a moment.
The University of Houston’s own beloved public television station, and the very first of its kind in the country, will celebrate its 60th birthday this weekend.
Dont’ worry, KUHT. You’re not old, you’re just long in the
tooth booth (broadcast booth, that is).
Before there was a Corporation for Public Broadcasting, before there was the Public Broadcasting Service, and before there was everyone’s favorite oversized fowl, KUHT was broadcasting on good ol’ Channel 8.
KUHT first hit the airwaves on May 25, 1953. A first for the nation, it was originally licensed to both the Houston Independent School District and the University of Houston, envisioned as an educational channel serving both communities. As the University of Houston became the sole licensee by the end of the 1950s, KUHT would become a home for UH’s first televised credit classes — continuing a UH tradition of expanding access to higher education in the city. As similar television stations began to crop up around the country in its wake, KUHT would go on to become a member of National Education Television and later PBS, as a politically muddy merger of stations took place. Programming has evolved throughout the years, but education has always remained at the forefront of the station’s mission.
As part of the University Archives here in Special Collections, the KUHT Collection looms large in our stacks, weighing in at nearly 500 archival boxes. Not surprisingly, over half of those boxes are comprised of video material. The challenges of preservation and the unique proprietary formats of the bygone eras dictate that not all of these videotapes are immediately available for public viewing. The remainder of the boxes and materials contained therein record the history of pioneering educational television. A finding aid is available for your review and our University Archivist should be able to help you with any specific questions regarding detailed inventories or the accessibility of specific materials.
If you’re just curious to take a glance, however, our Digital Library serves up some wonderful highlights from the collection. Hundreds of black and white photographs provide glimpses into KUHT over the years. In addition, a number of fascinating videos have been preserved, digitized, and are available for your viewing pleasure from the comfort of your computer. For example, a scathingly forthright documentary on the business and politics of H.L. Hunt (1965) portends the coming political woes and merger of public television stations, while films like Integration: Two Towns in Texas; The World of Billy Joe (documenting the struggle of integrating public schools in Southeast Texas) show the critical role public television can play towards a greater society.
Image Café is a great new service that presents some of the most interesting images from the UH Digital Library. From within the Image Café you can browse and download images, find computer wallpapers, or get batches of images organized by theme. You can also find the image in the Digital Library and easily get citation information.
Many of these images come from collections found in Special Collections, including the KUHT Collection, the Burdette Keeland Architectural Papers, and the George Fuermann “Texas and Houston” Collection. Take a look!