A Diverse Topic Demands A Diverse Collection: The John Armstrong Collection

This is the final installment in our series of blog posts exploring the digital collections related to the life and legacy of John F. Kennedy. To read the previous posts, click here for part one, here for part two and here for part three.

THE BEGINNING of a life-long obsession can often be hard to pinpoint exactly, but in the case of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, it often starts on that blood-soaked day in Dallas: November 22, 1963. Much like the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, no one who was alive and over the age of five can forget where they were when they heard reports that the president had been shot while riding in his presidential motorcade as it rolled through Dealey Plaza.

In the decades since that fateful day, many thousands of pages have been written about the event that changed American society forever. They run the gamut between carefully worded, scholarly examinations to full-on philippics attacking the author’s personal bête noir/cause of death. But the common thread that ties them all together is the author’s need for raw material, for the documents, photos, films and newspaper reports that serve as the basis for their various theses, regardless how far-fetched or ponderously grounded they may be.

For sheer scope of content, no other JFK-related digital collections in our care match the range of materials to be found in the John Armstrong Collection. Spanning dozens of notebooks and ultimately tallying more than 2,100 items, the Armstrong collection is a rare peek into the mind and method of a Kennedy author as he works to create his magnum opus (900+ pages and an accompanying DVD of more than 2,000 images).

A typical example of an item from the John Armstrong Collection, which features Armstrong’s notations on a sticky note (at top).

Armstrong spent years filing FOIA reports, photocopying articles from newspapers and generally being an obsessive collector of any and all documentation related to his task.  While some of the material in this collection may be found elsewhere, there is no doubt that the sheer volume of the material available in one place – especially the items that were cleared through FOIA requests – makes it of particular value to researchers.

While the collection has been crawled with OCR technology to make it keyword searchable, users should be advised that due to the nature of the source materials – which include poor quality photocopies of original documents, as well as materials that have been heavily redacted – it is advisable to browse the collection by its well-documented tab- and box-level listings, which are available on the collection’s home page.

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ON FRIDAY, November 22, Americans will pause to honor the memory of a young president, struck down by an assassin’s bullets and ultimately added to the honored rolls of great men lost in their prime. As the nation continues to determine what President Kennedy’s lasting legacy will be even at fifty years removed from his death, we are proud to partner with our friends at the Poage Legislative Library to present these materials to the world so that they, too, can make their own evaluations on the events before, during and after 11/22/63.

For more information on the John Armstrong Collection, visit the Poage Legislative Library’s collection homepage. For more digital collections content from the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections, visit our homepage.

An Update on the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project

All good things require patience, as the Evangelistic Soul Seekers well knew, given the title of this ca. 1965 track.

If you’ve been reading the local newspapers of late – the Waco Tribune-Herald and our on-campus daily, the Baylor Lariat – you’ve seen Baylor’s Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP) get some generous front-page coverage. This publicity has centered around last week’s Pruit Symposium, a two-day affair held at Truett Seminary celebrating the project and the impact of black gospel music on American culture.

One of the most tantalizing possibilities being discussed is the possibility of sharing content from the BGMRP with the still-in-development National Museum of African American Culture and Heritage (NMAACH), the newest project of the Smithsonian Institution. The NMAACH is currently under construction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (check out their live construction cam here!) and is scheduled to open in 2015.

In recent months, several members of the project – most notably Prof. Robert Darden of the Baylor University Journalism Dept. and Tim Logan, Associate Vice President for the Electronic Library – have been in talks with staff at the NMAACH about potential ways to integrate content from the BGMRP into an exhibit on black gospel music at the museum. These discussions have focused on ways to provide unique content from the project for access by patrons visiting the museum’s exhibits. While these discussions are in the very early stages, we have received positive feedback on working together to explore ways in which this partnership might benefit NMAACH visitors and further the goals of the BGMRP.

One thing that will not change, regardless the outcome of discussions with the Smithsonian, is the way in which the important work of gathering, digitizing and presenting online the materials from the BGMRP is being done. The project will stay at Baylor University, and it will continue to be carried out by members of the Digital Projects Group – a group housed in the Electronic Library, a special collection of the Baylor University Libraries. Control of the project will continue to reside with Baylor faculty and library staff.

Obviously, we are excited about the interest being generated in this important project, and we look forward to finding new ways – and partnerships – to promote the BGMRP and its impact on scholarship, research and enjoyment by people around the world. We look forward to sharing more details on the project’s growth and development as they are solidified, and we encourage you to direct any questions, ideas or offers to assist the project to digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu.

Baylor University Libraries staff members involved with the project are:

–       Darryl Stuhr: Assistant Director for Digital Projects Group

–       Stephen Bolech: Audiovisual Digitization Specialist

–       Kara Scott: Metadata Librarian

–       Eric Ames: Curator of Digital Collections

–       Allyson Riley: Digitization Coordinator

–       DPG graduate assistants and undergraduate student workers

For more information on the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, please visit http://www.baylor.edu/lib/gospel. The publicly accessible collection may be found at http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/fa-gospel30.

Extending the Discussion: Penn Jones, “The Continuing Inquiry” and the Uncomfortable Questions About the JFK Assassination

As we approach the 50th commemoration of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, we will be highlighting a number of JFK-related collections here on the Digital Collections blog. The William R. “Bob” Poage Legislative Library has become a hub for materials related to the assassination and its fallout, and we look forward to exposing those collections to a wider audience via the blog, our Facebook page and other promotional avenues. Read part one of the series here, part two here and part three here.

The quest to uncover the “truth” behind the Kennedy assassination (as understood by those who discount the official narrative outlined in the Warren Commission’s report, at least) has drawn legions of adherents almost since the day the fatal shots were fired in November 1963. This has become fodder for comedians and others who lampoon those who embrace a range of theories including the Mob Theory, the Cuban Theory and the Alien Theory. The upshot is that people who present genuinely compelling questions about the case are often lumped in with people who earnestly believe the Israeli government was behind the event.

For those who steadfastly resist toeing the Warren Commission line, there was a powerful voice whose publication presented alternative information about the assassination for more than seven years. From 1977 to 1984, Penn Jones – a World War II veteran and Texan and firebrand author – published “The Continuing Inquiry,” a newsletter dedicated to giving a voice to those whose beliefs about the Kennedy assassination were outside the mainstream.

Masthead of the August 22, 1984 edition of “The Continuing Inquiry”

As part of the digital collections derived from the Poage Legislative Library, the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections contains a run of “The Continuing Inquiry” from the March 22, 1977 issue to the August 22, 1984 issue. These full-text searchable items give startling insight into Jones’ obsession with proclaiming the “real story” behind 11/22/63. It includes illustrations, diagrams, photos and other illustrative techniques designed to refute and/or support the purported version of events being presented.

To learn more about Penn Jones’ life and “The Continuing Inquiry,” visit the Poage Library’s website. Access the Digital Collections’ copies of “The Continuing Inquiry,” visit our website.

We will conclude this series of posts on November 21 with a look at the John Armstrong Collection, our largest collection of Kennedy-related materials.