Choose Your Own Civil War Letter Adventure!

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 2.58.14 PM

“Choose Your Own Adventure” book covers, image via Google image search.

We’re currently processing a couple of Civil War letters collections – to be unveiled soon! – and getting them ready for online access¬† inspired this week’s blog post. After reading and/or transcribing dozens of examples of 1860s correspondence, certain patterns in their organization and content began to emerge. And for whatever reason, that reminded me of a beloved book series from my childhood: the Choose Your Own Adventure series! So, after an examination of the content and structure of these letters, we’ll let you get in on the action with a Choose Your Own Civil War Letter Adventure!

The Internet of the 1860s

Putting yourself in the shoes of a person who lived in centuries prior to your own existence can be extremely difficult. It’s as hard for us to consider what daily life was like for someone alive in the 1860s as it would be for someone in the 1860s to picture life in the 1710s. So when you start to examine material like someone’s written correspondence – something that was created as an intimate conversation between two distinct individuals with a shared history and their own inside jokes, casual references, etc. – it can be hard to separate the person from the artifact.

One thing that jumps out immediately as you work with these kinds of resources is their repetitive nature. They open almost without fail on a statement like, “I’m taking a moment to sit down and write you these lines to tell you …” and then a modifier like, “… I am well” or “I am tolerable well” or “I am very sick” and the like. To a contemporary reader in 2015, this can quickly become boring – “We get it! You’re sitting down to write a letter and are feeling okay! Move on!” – but to a reader in 1860s rural America, just seeing something comforting like a documented case of someone taking time to sit down and use their resources to write a letter would be cause for celebration, especially in a time of war.

The letters tend to be a mix of mundane daily details (“I slept well last night”), updates on health (“I am well except for a terrible cold”) and news on shared acquaintances (“Johnny is with a new regiment, Bill is dead”). And there’s almost always news that someone has died. It was, after all, the 19th century and the middle of the bloodiest conflict in American history; what else would you expect?

Unexpected jewels I’ve come across include a repeated request for cornbread (the writer is eating plenty of beef and white bread but asks repeatedly for cornbread – a true Southerner!), a story about soldiers killed while playing cards near an outhouse, and the statement, “I am almost bare footed but its [sic] a free country.” Considering that last one was written by a Confederate soldier in 1863, it carries a particularly poignant irony.

All of this works together to create archival resources that are at times repetitive, often surprising, and always informative, the kind of thing you hope for from a favorite blog or website today but written in iron gall ink and hastily scribbled on a piece of scrap paper procured in the heat of 19th century combat.

Choose Your Own Civil War Letter Adventure!

Now it’s your turn! Read through the template below and fill in your favorite response from the list of options, nineteenth century battlefield spelling and punctuation preserved (mostly) for authenticity. No pen or iron gall ink required!

(NOTE: many of the choices are drawn from actual letters in the collections we’ll be posting soon. Others are purely for my own enjoyment. See if you can guess which are which!)

Click to Enlarge!


All Hallows’ Eve in Poetry, Prose and Photos: Excerpts from the “Roundup” and the “Phoenix”

It’s the week of Halloween and there’s no better time to highlight some items from our University Archives collections, specifically the Baylor Roundup (our campus yearbook) and The Phoenix (a literary magazine sponsored by the English Department). First up, a poem called Halloween from the 1902 Roundup.

1902_RoundupFrom the 1950 Roundup

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 1.54.04 PMA short story from the 1981 Phoenix titled Autumn

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 10.26.27 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 10.26.44 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 10.27.04 AMIn the 1981 Roundup, there were basically a ton of Morks and Richard Nixon together in a crowd. Seems legit.

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 2.05.59 PMIn 1993, kids got in on the act

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 2.08.12 PMTwo cats and a vampire (?), 1996

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 2.10.37 PMAnd lastly, if it’s 1998, it’s a guy in a “ghost face killer mask” from Scream

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 2.12.30 PMThere’s a lot more instances of the word “Halloween” in the University Archives (639 to be exact) to explore. Happy Halloween from all of us at the DPG!


This Is The Most 1990’s Video In Our Collections, And It Is Glorious

Oh, man. Let all that mid-90’s goodness settle in. It’s so perfect, it’s causing a Pavlovian response in my mind where everything tastes like Surge and smells like CK One and is swathed in flannel.

The context on this piece is that, in celebration of Baylor’s sesquicentennial year (1995), a fundraising packet was sent to previous donors and members of the Sesquicentennial Associates group encouraging their support of a major fundraising campaign. The video – on VHS, natch – was included along with a standard form letter.

A friend at the Mayborn Museum Complex, Trey Crumpton, found it in their archives and gave it a watch. It was important to his team because it mentions the goal of raising money for a new home for the Strecker Museum, which was then housed in the basement of the Sid Richardson Building. It was important to OUR team because, as the digital repository for the University Archives, it is our responsibility to preserve, provide access to and promote resources like this.

Plus, it’s really, really rad.

Let’s break it down from start to finish, shall we?

bu_archive_vhs_fundraising_video_1995First off, that’s not legendary voiceover actor Don LaFontaine (a.k.a. the “in a world” movie trailer guy, a.k.a. “Thunder Throat”). I KNOW, RIGHT? I asked my friends in university marketing if they could find out who it was, and Brenda Tacker dug into her personal archive to come up with a name: John William Galt of the Dallas area. Yes, the V/O was done by a guy whose name is synonymous with a character in an Ayn Rand novel. And that’s just within the first five seconds.

Football Throw Fake Out Kid

Fake_out_throw_kidC’mon, kid, we all know you wanted to throw the ball; why’d you choke? Sweet “bear paws on shoulders” jersey, though.


NrpIyMThat is the bowliest of bowl cuts, a true paragon of the Moe Howard School of 90’s Haircuts. (This coming from a guy who once rocked the George Clooney/Caesar Cut for a BIT too long past its expiration date, so I’m able to cast a few stones here.)

90’s Technology!

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 3.58.22 PMYou have more computing power in your smart phone than that entire lab did 20 years ago.

Synchronicity 3

bu_archive_vhs_fundraising_video_1995(1)“We’re walking, we’re walking, we’re walking … ”

Nice ‘Stashe

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 4.00.25 PMAnd that’s a whole ozone layer’s worth of hairspray, too.

It’s Like Watching A Blacksmith Train His Apprentice!

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 4.11.07 PM No one under 25 knows how to develop and print their own photos anymore. But that is one tastefully lit darkroom shot!

Dead Things In The Basement

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 4.19.55 PM“Any ideas how we can make our natural history museum less creepy?”
“Stop making people go underground to see mounted skeletons?”

Bold Vision, Avant-Garde Scene Framing

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 4.21.01 PM“See the artist in his natural habitat, as framed through the slats of his studio’s staircase!”

A Democrat Governor of Texas!

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 4.29.00 PMOh, look, it’s alumna and former governor Ann Richards. That’s one pink ensemble, Madame Governor!

All He’s Missing Is A Member’s Only Jacket

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 4.30.51 PMMan, Bugle Boy. That takes me back.

The Best On-Screen Graphics Money Could Buy

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 4.33.43 PMTake a good look at that logo, cause now it’s reserved for use with materials related to the President’s Office exclusively!

Those are just a few of my favorite moments found in this 7-minute treasure, but let us know if there’s something here that really brought you back to the Clinton Era. And, as a bonus, if you saw yourself somewhere in the video, tell us and we’ll add your name to this post (if you give permission, of course; you might have a deep-seeded aversion to people knowing about your questionable fashion choices)!


You can view the entire record for this video in our Digital Collections here. Special thanks to Lori Fogleman, Brenda Tacker, Trey Crumpton and everyone involved in making, saving and unconditionally loving this video.

Political Maneuvering: Updates and Changes to the Digital Collections, Fall 2015

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 1.48.47 PM

Screengrab of portion of the new BCPM homepage, available at

We’re taking the opportunity of this week’s blog post to highlight some changes to one of our partner institutions and – as it directly relates to us – their digital collections.

Announcing the Baylor Collections of Political Materials
Digital Collections!

Our friends at the W.R. Poage Legislative Library recently announced a return to their longstanding practice of referring to their unit as the Baylor Collections of Political Materials (BCPM), housed in the W.R. Poage Legislative Library. Debbie Davendonis-Todd, the Bob Bullock Archivist at the BCPM, sent along this history on the use of the BCPM name:

In 1979, the W. R. Poage Legislative Library Center was established to honor the public service of former Representative and Baylor alumnus W. R. “Bob” Poage. The Center has been home to a number of departments including a unit of the Baylor Libraries focusing on legislative materials. On April 18, 1991 an official name was unveiled: Baylor Collections of Political Materials or BCPM.”

Returning to a previous moniker and launching a shiny new website meant we had a chance to do a little reorganizing of the BCPM digital collections, with some collections relocating into new, thematically-focused curated collections and others receiving updated branding to reflect the Poage/BCPM name change.

The BCPM Digital Collections
These collections, created from materials housed in the BCPM, have been updated to reflect their holding institution’s name change; they can all be accessed from the BCPM institutional page in our Digital Collections site, or via the links below.

Two New Curated Collections

The JFK Assassination Analysis Collection
This collection contains materials related to the ongoing analysis surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Its contents span the spectrum of thought on Kennedy’s murder in Dallas on November 22, 1963. The JFKAAC is comprised of the following collections:

Political Campaign and Propaganda Materials
This collection contains materials related to political campaigning, propaganda and the pursuit of political office, as well as ephemera related to political campaigns. The PCPM is comprised of the following collections:


We hope you’ll take a moment to peruse the new BCPM site, and to take a look at the materials in the collections highlighted in this post. We’ll be adding new content from the BCPM in the coming weeks and months, and as new batches are ready for public consumption we’ll be highlighting them in this space. In the meantime, please follow the BCPM’s blog, “like” their Facebook page and check out their Tumblr site.

Thrown Down, Fired Up and Glazed Over: Introducing the Harding Black Collection

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 12.03.34 PMHow do we honor an innovator? Do we associate their name with their creation forever, like Eli Whitney and the cotton gin? Do we raise a statue in their honor? Do we put their name on a piece of currency?

Around here, we make a digital collection out of their work, like we did with Harding Black.

From the 1930s to the 1990s, Black was a master ceramist operating out of San Antonio. His pieces are sought after by collectors and, thanks to his long friendship with a Baylor art professor, hundreds of them have been housed in the Department of Art since Black’s retirement in 1995.

Black is perhaps most known for his innovations in the realm of color. Black kept notebooks filled with his formulas –¬† labeled with codes like C543, D349 and 4FUY30 – that specified the mix of pigments to create colors like Orange-Peel Oxblood and Pale Blue Celadon.

Now, thanks to the efforts of Museum Studies graduate student Josh Garland and professor of art Paul McCoy, Baylor’s collection of Black’s work has been photographed and cataloged and loaded into our new Harding Black Collection. In the collection, you can view hundreds of examples of Black’s work, watch videos of interviews with and about Black and even peruse his glaze formulas notebooks.

Special thanks to our metadata librarian, Kara Long, for guiding the staff at The Texas Collection to ensure these items have robust, searchable metadata and to Amanda Dietz for coordinating the project in your neck of the woods.

Sample Items from the Digital Collection

Connect with Harding Black Materials Online

Harding Black Portal

Digital Collection

Discovering Harding Black (via the Department of Art)

(And, as ever: Fire the Cannon!)