Tuesday, June 4, 2019

八九民运 / 天安門廣場 [1989 Democracy Movement / Tiananmen]

Friday, May 31, 2019

Walt Whitman Sings Out at 200

The bicentennial of the birth of the great poet Walt Whitman [1819-1892] is today, May 31, 2019. The irrepressible Whitman still sings in the 21st century, but if you would like to check out his sole surviving recording, circa 1889-90, you can listen to it here. The recording is a recitation of the following poem, though the last two lines are not captured on the wax cylinder:

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons, 
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old, 
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich, 
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love, 
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother, 
Chair'd in the adamant of Time.

The story of how it came about, and its technical aspects, can be read in Professor Ed Folsom's "The Whitman Recording." The scholarship on Whitman is of course vast, with (re)discoveries in recent years including Whitman's novel, Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, and a lengthy newspaper series curiously called "Manly Health and Training," both texts being uncovered by Zachary Turpin.

The University of Iowa has long been a center for Whitman scholarship, with Prof. Folsom and others maintaining the extensive Walt Whitman Archive and editing the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review. The first MOOC (or Massive Open Online Course) that Iowa's International Writing Program ever offered, in 2014, was "Every Atom: Walt Whitman's 'Song of Myself.'"

In 2005, Iowa mounted a major exhibition that drew heavily upon the Whitman collection of Dr. Kendall Reed, and for which Prof. Folsom wrote an extensive illustrated catalog, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog & Commentary. The catalog delves deeply into not only Whitman's writing practice but how his knowledge of printing influenced the design and make-up of his ever-evolving masterpiece, Leaves of Grass. A fascinating study (and freely available online), it begins:  

Walt Whitman is the only major American poet of the nineteenth century to have an intimate association with the art of bookmaking. Everyone knows Whitman as a poet and the author of one of the most studied books of American poetry, Leaves of Grass. What is less well known is that Whitman was trained as a printer and throughout his life spent time in printing shops and binderies, often setting type himself and always intimately involved in the design and production of his books. Whitman did not just write his book, he made his book, and he made it over and over again, each time producing a different material object that spoke to its readers in different ways.

No nineteenth-century American author was more involved in the range of actual activities of bookmaking than Whitman. He began his career as a newspaper worker, learning typesetting at the young age of twelve as an apprentice on the Long Island Patriot under the tutelage of William Hartshorne (1775–1859), a master printer (Whitman called him "the veteran printer of the United States") who later became Brooklyn's city printer. Late in his life, Whitman wrote a poem called "A Font of Type," in which he imagines all the "unlaunch'd voices—passionate powers, / Wrath, argument, or praise, or comic leer, or prayer devout" that lie "within the pallid slivers slumbering" in "This latent mine" of the type-box . . . .

To commemorate Whitman's enduring body of work, the University of Iowa Libraries offers the exhibition, Walt Whitman: A Bicentennial Celebration, through August 9, as well as Walt Whitman at 200: The Bicentennial Symposium, on June 18-19. Additional events and programming nationally can be found at the Walt Whitman Initiative website

Note: The illustration above is from the frontispiece for the first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855), as found in the University of Iowa Libraries' copy

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Path to Women's Suffrage: The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

House Joint Resolution 1 (H. J. Res. 1), proposing an amendment to the Constitution extending the right of suffrage to women, was introduced in the House of Representatives on May 19, 1919, and passed on May 21, 1919--100 years ago today. The resolution was soon approved by the Senate, on June 4, 1919, and over the course of the next 14-1/2 months was ratified by three-fourths of the states (with Tennessee becoming the 36th and last state necessary for ratification on August 18, 1920). On August 26, 1920, U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified H. J. Res. 1 as the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, the text of which reads: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Pete Seeger on Vellum

Pete Seeger [1919-2014], who would have turned 100 on May 3rd, featured a wise and well-worn calligraphic inscription on his banjo head, also known as a "vellum," for the parchment out which it was made. The credo, "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender," parallels one that fellow traveller Woody Guthrie displayed prominently on his guitar, namely, "This machine kills fascists."

To mark his birthday centennial, Smithsonian Folkways has just released "Pete Seeger: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection," a career-spanning anthology that contains 137 tracks on 6 CDs (including 20 previously unreleased), as well as a book of essays and other documentation. Seeger himself once offered some curatorial advice to the archivists and production staff at Smithsonian Folkways, recommending that they "find the homemade honesty of great folk music in every country of the world."

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

MayDay 2019: Saving Our Cultural Heritage

Since 2006, the Society of American Archivists (SAA) has designated May 1st as MayDay, or a day of action for both individuals and organizations such as archives, libraries, museums, and historical societies to improve their capacities to deal with emergencies that can threaten or destroy historical collections. The ravages of natural disasters such as the tornadoes and hurricanes of recent years are just some of the physical risks facing cultural heritage institutions.

Although the landmark study, A Public Trust at Risk: The Heritage Health Index Report on the State of America's Collections (2005), systematically documented that most institutions lack an adequate disaster preparedness plan, the SAA has worked to mitigate these deficiencies. The SAA web site provides recommendations for MayDay activities, as well as a compilation of resources, including technical literature and tools, disaster plan templates and examples, tutorials and courses, bibliographies, and other resources.

In recent years, the State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI) has undergone severe cuts to both collections and services, which are documented in detail in a White Paper produced by the Save Iowa History Alliance. Leading historians on both a state and national level have addressed their concerns directly to the Iowa Governor and to the Director of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees the SHSI.

Further details on these efforts, as well as contact information for key decision-makers, is available in the previous Common Curator posts: Save Iowa History and Save Iowa History 3. The complete White Paper on the State Historical of Iowa can be downloaded as a PDF.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Earth Day: 1970 to the Present

Earth Day was first celebrated on April 22, 1970. Founded by former US Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in, Earth Day is now coordinated by Earth Day Network, with extensive programming and events around the world. In 2009, the United Nations also declared April 22 to be International Mother Earth Day, an observance that "recognizes a collective responsibility, as called for in the 1992 Rio Declaration, to promote harmony with nature and the Earth to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations of humanity." Look magazine first published the ecology flag shown above on April 21, 1970.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The First Observed Black Hole

Scientists with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) announced on April 10, 2019 that they have obtained the first visual record of a supermassive black hole and its shadow. Utilizing an international network of eight ground-based radio telescopes, a collaborative team of more than 200 researchers captured images of the black hole at the center of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the Virgo galaxy cluster. The black hole is some 55 million light years from Earth and has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun. The results of the years-long effort were published in a series of six papers in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, and were announced in a joint NSF/EHT press conference.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Ritchie Valens, Dexter Gordon & Nina Simone among Artists Added to the National Recording Registry

Now in its seventeenth year, the National Recording Registry has grown to 525 entries with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden having just announced 25 additional sound recordings as the official entries for 2018, stating: “The National Recording Registry honors the music that enriches our souls, the voices that tell our stories and the sounds that mirror our lives. The influence of recorded sound over its nearly 160-year history has been profound and technology has increased its reach and significance exponentially. The Library of Congress and its many collaborators are working to preserve these sounds and moments in time, which reflect our past, present and future.”

Under the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, selected recordings must be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and at least ten years old.

Spanning the years 1901-2001, the selections for 2018 are as follows:

  1. Yiddish Cylinders from the Standard Phonograph Company of New York and the Thomas Lambert Company (c. 1901-1905)
  2. “Memphis Blues” (single), Victor Military Band (1914)
  3. Melville Jacobs Collection of Native Americans of the American Northwest (1929-1939)
  4. “Minnie the Moocher” (single), Cab Calloway (1931)
  5. “Bach Six Cello Suites” (album), Pablo Casals (c. 1939)
  6. “They Look Like Men of War” (single), Deep River Boys (1941)
  7. “Gunsmoke” — Episode: “The Cabin” (Dec. 27, 1952)
  8. Ruth Draper: Complete recorded monologues, Ruth Draper (1954-1956)
  9. “La Bamba” (single), Ritchie Valens (1958)
  10. “Long Black Veil” (single), Lefty Frizzell (1959)
  11. “Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Vol. 1: The Early Years” (album), Stan Freberg (1961)
  12. “GO” (album), Dexter Gordon (1962)
  13. “War Requiem” (album), Benjamin Britten (1963)
  14. “Mississippi Goddam” (single), Nina Simone (1964)
  15. “Soul Man” (single), Sam & Dave (1967)
  16. “Hair” (original Broadway cast recording) (1968)
  17. Speech on the Death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy (April 4, 1968)
  18. “Sweet Caroline” (single), Neil Diamond (1969)
  19. “Superfly” (album), Curtis Mayfield (1972)
  20. “Ola Belle Reed” (album), Ola Belle Reed (1973)
  21. “September” (single), Earth, Wind & Fire (1978)
  22. “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” (single), Sylvester (1978)
  23. “She’s So Unusual” (album), Cyndi Lauper (1983)
  24. “Schoolhouse Rock!: The Box Set” (1996)
  25. “The Blueprint” (album), Jay-Z (2001)
The full National Recording Registry can be viewed online here. The Registry solicits nominations annually for inclusion on the registry; further information on the criteria and procedures for making nominations for 2019 is available at the Registry website.

Friday, March 8, 2019

International Women's Day: #ThinkEqual

March 8th marks the 108th anniversary of International Women's Day. The United Nations' theme for International Women's Day 2019 is "Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change." The video above features remarks by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka as well as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and other UN leaders.

First celebrated on March 19, 1911 by more than one million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland after a proposal by Clara Zetkin [1857-1933] in 1910 at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, International Women's Day is now observed in many nations throughout the world.

The United Nations first began celebrating March 8 as International Women's Day during International Women's Year in 1975, and in 1977 approved a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace for member states.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

WFMU: Freeform Station of the Nation

Love free-form radio? Then consider supporting independent station WFMU during its annual fundraising Marathon that runs March 2-17, 2019. WFMU first hit the airwaves sixty years ago on April 24, 1958 at the now-defunct Upsala College and has never looked back. Currently based in Jersey City, New Jersey, WFMU broadcasts at 91.1 Mhz in New York and via a second signal at 90.1 Mhz in the Hudson Valley. WFMU has long been an Internet pioneer, and has multiple online streams, as well as an extensive archive of past shows.

What is free-form radio you might ask? WFMU describes itself as follows:
WFMU's programming ranges from flat-out uncategorizable strangeness to rock and roll, experimental music, 78 RPM Records, jazz, psychedelia, hip-hop, electronica, hand-cranked wax cylinders, punk rock, gospel, exotica, R&B, radio improvisation, cooking instructions, classic radio airchecks, found sound, dopey call-in shows, interviews with obscure radio personalities and notable science-world luminaries, spoken word collages, Andrew Lloyd Webber soundtracks in languages other than English as well as country and western music. 
And because the station is listener-supported, WFMU DJs have for years maintained complete autonomy and control over their own programming, which is extraordinarily eclectic. Check out the current WFMU audio smorgasbord, and see for yourself.

Note: The image above is the Common Curator's antiquarian twist on WFMU's classic "Woof-Moo" logo designed by Aaron Taylor Waldman. The premiums for this year's marathon can be viewed here.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

A Student Free Speech Landmark: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969)

Fifty years ago today, on February 24, 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark decision held that First Amendment free speech rights applied to students in public schools. The case, Tinker et al. v. Des Moines Independent School District et al., 393 U.S. 503 (1969), was decided by a 7-2 vote, with Justice Abe Fortas delivering the majority opinion of the Court; Justices Hugo Black and John M. Harlan II each wrote dissenting opinions.

At issue was the right of several students to wear black armbands in protest against the Vietnam War and to support the Christmas truce called for by Senator Robert F. Kennedy in December 1965. The students included four members of the Tinker family (John, 15; Mary Beth, 13; Hope, 11; and Paul, 8) and Christopher Eckhardt, 16, who wore black armbands at their respective schools in the Des Moines Independent School District. Mary Beth Tinker and Eckhardt were suspended on December 16, and John Tinker on December 17. The controversy lead the Iowa Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union to support the suspended students, and after losing in U.S. District Court, the case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court, where attorney Dan L. Johnston argued for the petitioners on November 12, 1968.

In his opinion, Justice Fortas observed that:
"First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years."
Fortas articulated further that:
"In order for the State in the person of school officials to justify prohibition of a particular expression of opinion, it must be able to show that its action was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint. Certainly where there is no finding and no showing that engaging in the forbidden conduct would 'materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school,' the prohibition cannot be sustained."
The standard of material and substantial disruption has subsequently become known as the Tinker Test in determining free speech rights for students.

Pictured to the right are Mary Beth and John with armbands, circa March 4, 1968, when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear their case. The armbands originally worn in protest were simple strips of black cloth, unadorned with peace symbols, as shown below by Mary Beth in a photo from December 1965.

The Tinkers have ever since remained strong advocates for free speech and civil liberties, particularly for the young. Mary Beth and John, along with other Tinker family members, guests, and students, are featured in the video above that commemorates the 50th anniversary of their landmark case. The event was held at the State Historical Museum in Des Moines on February 22, 2019, and aired on Iowa Public Television.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Happy Year of the Pig / 豬 年 快 樂 !

The image above is featured on the reverse of a 2019 Australian gold proof coin issued to commemorate the Lunar New Year. The coin was struck by the Perth Mint and has a nominal value of $15 Australian. The obverse of the coin depicts the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II, which is based on the design of Ian Rank-Broadley.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Day the Music Died, 1959

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson all played their last concert, which was part of the Winter Dance Party Tour, at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Headed out to their next gig after the show, a plane crash killed all three and the pilot, Roger Peterson, shortly after takeoff at around 1am on February 3, 1959--60 years ago today.

Musician Don McLean released the song, "American Pie," which references the tragedy, on the American Pie album in 1971. In 2017, the song was selected for the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. The above video depicts a live performance at the BBC in 1972.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The National Film Registry Hits 750 Films

Established by the National Film Preservation Act of 1988, the National Film Preservation Board is an advisory body for the Librarian of Congress. The Board helps shape national film preservation planning policy, and also recommends films for the National Film Registry.

Chosen for their cultural, historic, or aesthetic significance, the Board's 25 annual selections for 2018 cover a wide gamut of genres and time periods, from such early films as Something Good--Negro Kiss and The Girl Without a Soul to such later works as The Shining and Smoke Signals. The full list for 2018 is as follows:


Brokeback Mountain (2005)


Smoke Signals (1998)
Eve's Bayou (1997)
Jurassic Park (1993)                

Broadcast News (1987)
Hairpiece: A Film for Nappy-Headed People (1984)
The Shining (1980)

Hearts and Minds (1974)     
Monterey Pop (1968)
My Fair Lady (1964)
Hud (1963)
Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
Pickup on South Street (1953)
Cinderella (1950)

On the Town (1949)
The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
Rebecca (1940)

The Informer (1935)                       


The Navigator (1924)                   

The Girl Without a Soul (1917)         


Dixon-Wanamaker Expedition to Crow Agency (1908)   

Something Good--Negro Kiss (1898)    

Further information on the Registry as well as the films themselves can be found on the Library of Congress' web site. All 750 films selected for the Registry since 1989 can also be browsed online. In addition, the public is encouraged to make nominations for next year's selections to the National Film Registry.