Monthly Archives: September 2013

(Digital Collections) Fire the Celebratory Cannon! The Tull Sermons Project Reaches Completion

With all due respect to the brave men at the Battle of Gonzales, we think this version of the flag is pretty great, too.

For years now, our boss, Assistant Director Darryl Stuhr, has joked that we need a cannon to fire every time we finish up a large project. Since he made that comment, we’ve launched a massive campus newspaper project, put more than 80 years’ worth of campus yearbooks online, and brought numerous other small projects from the archival box to the Internet. Needless to say, any cannon we acquire will need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Today, we’re firing the cannon to celebrate the completion of the Selsus E. Tull Sermons Collection. Just to refresh your memory, Dr. Tull was one of the premier Southern Baptist ministers of the first half of the 20th century, spreading the Gospel from Texas to Arkansas to Florida and back several times over. His handwritten sermon notes touch on topics ranging from the proper way to run a Sunday school program to unmasking the Antichrist and everything in between. For a fuller look at Dr. Tull’s collection, see our blog post from last summer or read his bio on the collection’s landing page.

What’s in the Box?

One of the original wooden boxes that housed Dr. Tull’s sermons.

When we first brought the sermons to the Riley Center back in 2011, they arrived in the original boxes in which Dr. Tull stored them for decades. These varnished wooden boxes were handsomely crafted and in great shape for being more than 50 years old, but they contain chemicals that, over time, could leach out of the wood and damage the envelopes and pages of the sermon notes, so we knew part of the process would include rehousing them in acid-free folders and archival boxes.

The after and before of the sermons’ storage situation.

Because of the compact way the sermons were housed in these wooden boxes, we actually expanded from four boxes’ worth of storage to 12 archival boxes, but the added amount of linear feet is worth the investment to ensure these one-of-a-kind treasures are safe for years to come.

Graduate assistant Chelsea Ferwerda (Museum Studies, 2013 graduation expected) stands with the newly rehoused sermons. Chelsea organized the sermons into their new boxes based on the IDs assigned to them during the digitization process.

The Work of a “Cloud of Witnesses”

This project, which spanned more than two years and multiple sets of student and graduate workers – as well as staff time – was truly a group effort. To wit, the following folks worked on the project at some point in time:

–       Rachel (Carson) DeShong

–       Sarah (Minott) Dodson

–       Chelsea Ferwerda

–       Hannah Kirkhart

–       Elizabeth Edwards

–       Sierra Wilson

–       Hannah Haney

–       Jadi Chapman

–       Allyson Riley

–       Eric Ames

We are truly grateful for the work of all these folks because today, we can unveil a truly unique digital asset to the world.

The finished beauties, ready to return to the archives from whence they came.

Over the next few days, I’ll be working to curate the digital assets and add some additional functionality to the collection – including a way to search quickly by which state Tull was pastoring in when he delivered a sermon, collections of sermons based on particular books of the Bible, etc. – but for now, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating the end of a long journey from wooden box to search box.

(Digital Collections) Rain-Soaked, Pit-Smoked, Pretty Stoked: Digital Frontiers 2013 and Digital Collections as Culinary Theory

Last Friday, I was honored to present on a panel at Digital Frontiers 2013, hosted by the good folks at UNT’s Digital Scholarship Co-Operative. I joined Elizabeth Hansen from the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and Liza Talbot of the LBJ Presidential Library for a discussion titled, “Using Social Media to Engage Users with Digital Collections.” I’d presented a previous incarnation of this talk with Elizabeth at the Texas Association of Museums’ annual conference earlier this year, and it was great to reconnect with her and to meet Liza, whose creative use of Tumblr to present the life of President Johnson is an exciting approach to making mid-20th century history relevant to an expansive audience that includes young users who weren’t even alive during his presidency.

With Liza Talbot (center) and Elizabeth Hansen at Digital Frontiers 2013.

Aside from participating on our panel, I was also pleased to develop further connections with folks like Cindy Boeke, Digital Collections Developer at the SMU Norwick Center for Digital Services and form new connections with relative newcomer to the digital collections field Amy Caton, Reference/Metadata Librarian at the Rosenberg Library in Galveston. Cindy’s session exploring the use of data analysis and documenting outcomes for digital collections was eye-opening and I got lots of great ideas for how we can better engage our users and provide relevant, impactful reports to our command structure further “up the chain.”

During the drive from Waco to Denton – which normally takes about 3 hours but, due to torrential rain, took considerably longer this time – I had time to think about the state of our digital collections and, because I was trapped in a car with little else to do, how I could derive a metaphor using our collections and awesome food.

It took a little work, but here’s my Unified Theory of Baylor Digital Collections As They Relate to Food. (I’m working on a more concise title, but this is still a working theory.)

Why Food?

I could certainly compare our collections – and our philosophy, our workflow, our center, etc. – to something else, like a precision Swiss watch, an American muscle car, or a football team (like our currently undefeated Baylor Bears – Sic ‘em!). But food is universal, it’s something everyone can grasp, and when people encounter a meal that hits all the right notes, displaying obvious skill and quality, it can impact us in ways nothing else can. So let’s dive right in, shall we?

  1. Like good ribs, we take time to make our collections right

You can’t rush good ribs. Sure, you can quick-grill some country style ribs and pretend that’s good enough, but for something truly noteworthy, you need hours of smoking over choice wood, attention to the right balance of dry rub vs. sauce, and a finished product that’s the right balance of toothy and spicy, with a glaze that should require copious amounts of napkins to clean up. Like these:

Pecan-smoked pork ribs with Mexican corn and barbecue sauce, Woodshed Smokehouse, Ft. Worth (Apologies for the crummy quality photo; it was all I could do to snap a quick shot before diving in.)

Those beauties came from the Woodshed Smokehouse in Ft. Worth, a Tim Love-owned joint that, quite honestly, serves up the best pork ribs I’ve ever eaten. These things deserve lyrical odes, interpretive dance, a Greek chorus, you name it; nothing will be sufficient to describe their awesomeness.

And that’s what I like to think about our collections – well, minus the hyperbolic praise part – because we take the time to do it right. Our philosophy has always been that our collections should be drawn from excellent sources, sufficiently described to make them findable and useful, and presented in a format that is approachable and rich. Some institutions put their stock in quantity over quality, and that’s certainly one way to do it. But we feel having rich metadata, contextual research and a blend of outreach to make them relevant put our collections in a different category altogether. Are they perfect? Certainly not, and we are always working to improve them. But I’d wager if you sat them down side-by-side with any other digital collection online today, their quality would stack up byte for byte.

2. We don’t lose sight of the benefits of mass appeal

Ribs are awesome. But not everyone likes ribs. That’s okay: how about an amazing hamburger? Behold the Cowboy Murrin, a burger tour-de-force from Rodeo Goat, also in Ft. Worth and also totally worthy of your dining dollars.

The Cowboy Murrin burger, goat chips and chips & queso, Rodeo Goat, Ft. Worth.

Hamburgers are about as American as you can get, and people from all walks of life can approach them and enjoy them because they are comforting, you know what to expect with them, and they can be dressed up to meet any palate. We work to strike a balance in our collections that caters to both the hardcore researcher but also the at-home genealogists, the schoolchild working on his homework and the amateur historian searching for her grandmother in our campus newspaper collection.

We want our collections to be useful to everyone, so we make them findable through a simple Google search or an advanced search of our online library catalog. We identify collections in our partner institutions that appeal to a very narrow research focus and we put out mass-appeal collections like the Baylor Round Ups. We believe that balance puts our collections in a category comprising both depth and approachability, a category I’m going to term depproachability. (All rights reserved.)

3. Want to win friends? Be sweet.

In our final piece of “digital collections as food” theory, you can never underestimate the impact you’ll have if you’re nice to people. Because nothing finishes off a nice meal like something sweet, here’s a shot of a tray of apricot kolaches from the famous Czech Stop in West.

Apricot kolaches, the Czech Stop, West, TX

I am constantly amazed at the number of people who tell me about their horrible experiences dealing with libraries and digital collections that treat their users like criminals-in-waiting, scheming ne-er-do-wells looking to defraud an institution by stealing resources or failing to give sufficient homage. It seems that too many of our peers see their role as less a steward of the public trust than a gatekeeper or roadblock.

With our collections living freely available on the Internet for users around the world to access to their heart’s content (and in their own locales), we embrace a different philosophy. We think it’s important to treat our users as potential partners, people whose passion for their area of interest has led them to our collections in search of new information, better resources or confirmation of something they’ve suspected all along but could never quite prove. And in their search, we do our best to be accommodating and helpful, fulfilling their requests when it’s within our policies and rights to do so, and striving to do so with a smile. Because the old marketing adage applies to digital collections as much as it does to restaurants: “If we did well, tell ten people. If we did not, tell us.”

***

This year marks the 12th year of digital projects at Baylor University, and next month will mark our fifth year in the Riley Digitization Center. In that timespan, we have grown from a handful of collections to more than 55 publicly-accessible collections comprised of some 250,000+ items. We are humbled by the kudos we receive from researchers around the world and are impressed by the innovative ways they are utilizing the collections to impact scholarship on a local and international level every day. And we continue to be thankful for working with our amazing on-campus partners whose physical collections are the basis of our digital collections. We look forward to augmenting our existing offerings with new content on a regular basis and to finding new ways to connect those resources with our users.

In other words, we’re staying hungry.

(Digital Collections) The Unsurprisingly Consistent Vein of Sorrow in the Works of the Armstrong Browning Library’s Women Poets Collection

Title page from “A Story of Doom and Other Poems” by Jean Ingelow, one of the uplifting titles from the 19th Century Women Poets Collection.

You could be forgiven for assuming that a collection of 400 works written by 19th century poetesses would encompass a mostly positive worldview. It would even be safe to assume, for example, that the kinds of women who had the educational backgrounds, available leisure time and access to commercial (and private) printers would tend to fill the pages of their volumes with odes to Greek myth, the beauty of a countryside idyll or the joys of being part of the landed nobility.

To be fair, the 19th Century Women Poets Collection contains its fair share of material dedicated to just these sorts of inoffensive, uplifting and mildly amusing pursuits. But a closer examination of the works in this collection also reveal a startlingly high number of works dealing with difficult subjects ranging from the deaths of infants to loves gone awry and the martyrdom of Christians for the cause of Jesus. And that may be because even the relatively luxurious life of a lord’s wife or daughter was not enough to shelter these women from the often brutal truths of life in the nineteenth century.

What is Death?

A simple keyword search for “death” in the Table of Contents field for this collection returns only seven titles – a very small subset of 400, to be sure. But that simply means seven occurrences of the word in titles where a table of contents is present. Searching for “death” across the entire collection returns 387 results: a whopping 96.75 percent of the collection. It would be very difficult to pick a work in this collection that does not include at least a mention of death on at least one page. This number alone speaks volumes (pun intended) about the prevalence of death in the lives of these authors and about their attempts to come to grips with it through the muse of poetry.

And that is by no means the only way to describe death via poetry. Take the example of Hella, and Other Poems by Mrs. George Lenox-Conyngham. Poems from this work feature titles including, “The Last Words of Girlamo Olgiato,” “Death the Mediator,” “What is Death?” “The Memory of Grief,” The Last Days of a Good Man,” and “The Skeptic and His Dying Son.” That means six of 38 total works deal explicitly with death and dying, a fairly significant percentage. While these works deal with the explicit sadness surrounding death, there are works in the collection that view death as a transition into the afterlife, where friends will be reunited, as in the poem “Friendship” by Mary Anne Evans from her work, A Few Short Poems by M.A.E., which reads in part:

“Oh for a Christian friend,

Whose heart to God is given;

When death this friendship seems to end,

‘Twill be renewed in heaven.

Works dealing with the death of children comprise a particularly challenging subset in this collection. A search for the exact phrase “dying child” returns 22 pieces in the collection; a deeper search of similar phrases will turn up dozens more. In today’s world of oversharing and me-centric communication – an experience anyone with a social media account has no doubt encountered – it can be hard to imagine a time when any subject was off-limits for public discourse. But even today, we can find it difficult to come to grips with the death of a child, and many of us would be hesitant to address it more than was absolutely necessary out of a fear of judgment or professions of surface grieving from our online “friends.”

Imagine, then, just how difficult it would be for a woman in the nineteenth century to express her feelings of gut-wrenching sorrow on the loss of a child. After all, this was a time when it was expected that almost every family – certainly a majority of them – would experience the death of a pre-adolescent child in their extended family, whether from accident or illness or some other trauma associated with life in the 1800s. In many ways, the poetesses in this collection who chose to address the deaths of children were serving as proxy mourners for a nation of women whose outlets for grief were few and whose expectations were to bear the burden of loss with quiet dignity as they went forward with the daily tasks of raising and bearing still more children.

That’s not to say that mothers were the sole targets for these works on childhood mortality. In a book called, Children’s Poetry by the Author of ‘John Halifax, Gentleman,’ we see a poem entitled, “A Dying Child.” Here, in a book ostensibly written to instruct and uplift the youngest members of society, we are presented with a work that addresses a deep-seated fear experienced all too often by children in the nineteenth century: the death of a sibling.

“How the trembling children gather round,

Startled out of sleep, and scared and crying:

“Is our merry little sister dying,

Will men come and put her underground,

 

As they did poor baby, last May-day?

Or will shining angels stoop and take her

On their snow-white wings to heaven, and

Make her

Sit amount the stars as fair as they?”

 

Pestilence, Famine, War (and Death)

But death itself is not the only macabre theme uniting practically every work in this collection beneath the umbra of sorrow. A search for several other equally depressing topics returns a veritable cornucopia of the troubles of mankind, including:

War: 280 results

Famine: 98 results

Plague: 75 results

Broken hearts: 258 results

Loss: 273 results

Sickness: 173 results

You get the (increasingly depressing) picture.

So what does recurring litany of woe tell us about the women who wrote these words more than 100 years ago? Were they all obsessed with death, a coterie of depressives venting their sorrows onto the printed page so that others may share in their sadness? Or were they bravely putting to words the often unutterable darkness that confronts women (and men) of all ages and has since the beginning?

Though it is by no means indicative of the kinds of lives lived by all the women in this collection, perhaps the life, career and death of Christina Rossetti can shed some light on the kinds of motivating influences that drove these women to write in the manner they chose.

Rossetti as a young woman, from a sketch by her brother, Dante Rossetti.

Rossetti was born in London in 1830 to an exiled politician/poet father and a mother who was sister to Lord Byron’s personal physician. Her early years were pleasant and filled with poetry, outings to cultural attractions and visits from “Italian scholars, artists and revolutionaries.”

But in 1843, her father’s declining mental and physical health – he was diagnosed with “persistent bronchitis, possibly tuberculosis and faced losing his sight” as well as depression – took a toll on the family. As her siblings left to begin their careers, she became increasingly isolated and suffered a nervous breakdown at the age of 14. She turned down three offers of marriage, due mainly to her increasingly devout religious beliefs, and though she wrote several well-received poems over the next thirty years, she suffered greatly in her final days from both Graves Disease and breast cancer. [1]

With all of this turmoil, sorrow and sickness to deal with, is it any wonder that recurring themes of sadness and struggle pervade her works? Though the other poetesses in the Women Poets Collection certainly led lives of varying degrees of suffering compared to Rossetti, it is easier to understand why they chose to address their subject matter in their works.

Perhaps there is no more fitting way to end a rather gloomy post than with the full text of Rossetti’s work, “Song,” from her book, Goblin Market and Other Poems. As you read it, think of the impact of the somber things in life and what it meant to a poetess’ soul. But as you do, remember that it is the sorrow in life that makes us appreciate the light, and the words written by these women more than a century ago are but fixed reminders of the balance between darkness and light that must be sought by every living soul.

Song

When I am dead, my dearest,

Sing no sad songs for me;

Plant thou no roses at my head,

Nor shady cypress tree:

Be the green grass above me

With showers and dewdrops wet;

And if thou wilt, remember,

And if thou wilt, forget.

 

I shall not see the shadows,

I shall not feel the rain;

I shall not hear the nightingale

Sing on, as if in pain:

And dreaming through the twilight

That doth not rise nor set,

Haply I may remember,

And haply may forget.

 

For more works from this collection, visit the 19th Century Women Poets Collection.

[1] Details on the life of Christina Rossetti from her entry on Wikipedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christina_Georgina_Rossetti. Accessed 9/10/2013.

(Digital Collections) Expectations for the Freshman Class: An Examination of the Annual Catalogue of 1889-1890

Cover of the 1889-1890 Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Baylor University. Image courtesy the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections, from an original held by The Texas Collection, Baylor University.

Classes roared back into action last week, and the campus of Baylor University is once again full of vitality, excitement, confusion and triumph – and that’s just what’s involved with trying to find a parking space near the library. But seriously, we’re excited to have students back, as it’s their passion for learning that makes this beautiful campus come alive every fall.
That longing has been part of the Baylor student experience since 1845, a common tie to the earliest days of the university. But much of the college experience has changed since our founding at Independence, Texas, and that is nowhere more evident than in sections of the 1889 Annual Catalogue with headings like “Discipline,” “By-Laws,” “Extravagance” and “Moral and Religious Instruction.” Let’s take a look at some of the established norms for the men and women of Baylor’s freshman class of 1889.

Discipline

Although occupying only a paragraph’s worth of printer’s ink, this section outlines the basis for recording and enforcing the university’s system of demerits and other “violations of the regulations and laws of the University.” While disclaiming that discipline is “firm, but kind,” the section indicates that each department had an officer whose responsibility it was to keep a log of all violations and make a report of them to the President. This officer, the catalogue warns, will have “all the respect of a teacher or professor.”

“Discipline” section of the 1889-1890 “Catalogue”

By-Laws

The by-laws of the university kept order by employing a system of demerits that were issued to students who violated any of the 43 items listed under this section. Some of the more interesting points include:

3. Disturbances in the chapel, or lecture room, or in any part of the college premises, shall incur a demerit of from two to ten.

5. Absence from rooms after dark and before 9 p.m. a demerit of five; after 9 a.m. a demerit of ten.

6. Any student guilty of playing cards, or any game of hazard, shall be suspended or otherwise severely punished.

10. No student shall be guilty of nocturnal disorders or revelings, nor become connected with any dancing school, society, or social club without the approval of the faculty …

20. Any student guilty of using profane or obscene language, shall be publicly reprimanded, and for the third offense shall be suspended or otherwise punished.

28. No young lady of the Institution, boarder or day student, shall receive the attention or escort of young men. A violation of this rule will incur a heavy penalty at the discretion of the faculty. Books and beaux never go together.

41. Any student who shall ring the University bell, not directed to do so by the proper officer, shall be suspended or otherwise punished.

Extravagance

In a section that reveals just how much the philosophy behind what “parental support” means to a college student has changed, the “Extravagance” section outlines the dangers of providing money to students beyond what is necessary for tuition, room and board. Noting that “there is such a diversity of taste and means among our patrons and students,” (in other words, some students will come from much wealthier backgrounds than others) the section essentially tells students that having extra spending money will negatively impact their ability to succeed in classwork. And while it remains true that college students all too often fall prey to the trap of spending far beyond their means/needs, to see a prohibition against profligacy spelled out in the student handbook is unusual for modern eyes.

“Extravagance” section of the “Catalogue”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moral and Religious Instruction

One major element of a Baylor education remains consistent over the years: moral and religious support, encouragement and exploration. And while this section contains the expected information about Baylor’s beliefs in the Bible, regular church attendance and honoring the Sabbath, the last two sentences reveal the university’s concern about the influence of popular culture on the student body.

All reading of novels is forbidden as an unmitigated evil. All indiscriminate reading o[f] novels, unless selected by parents or teachers, is an injury.

***
One wonders what the writers of the 1889 catalogue would think if they were to see the campus of 2013? Perhaps after they took in the sheer size of campus, the technological wonders on display, and the drastic change in the clothing choices sported by today’s student body, they would find that today’s Baylor Bears share a common core of beliefs about God, education and country with their 19th-century ancestors.

One thing is certain, though: they’d be hard-pressed to pry the smart phones – on which they can access millions of digital novels at a moment’s notice – out of their hands. No amount of demerits can accomplish that Herculean task.

To view the entire 1889-1890 Catalogue, click here. You can view the entire collection of digitized University Catalogs – including items created during the Baylor at Independence years and the catalogs of Waco University – click here.