Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Iowa City Book Festival

One of just eleven UNESCO Cities of Literature in the world and the only one in the United States, Iowa City, Iowa is hosting the seventh annual Iowa City Book Festival, October 1-4, 2015. In partnership with the University of Iowa's International Writing Program and Writers' Workshop, FilmScene, the Mission Creek Festival, as well as other organizations and individuals, the four-day event will feature a Book Fair, readings by numerous authors, and non-stop programming at many venues in and around downtown Iowa City. The 2015 Program can be downloaded as a PDF, and full details can be found at the festival website.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Scenes from Seed Savers Exchange's Annual Conference at Heritage Farm

The above photographs were taken at Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa during the 35th Annual Conference and Campout at Seed Savers Exchange held July 17-19, 2015.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The National Book Festival: I Cannot Live without Books

The 15th annual National Book Festival, organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress, will be held on Saturday, September 5, 2015, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The festival is free and open to the public.

To observe the 200th anniversary of the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's personal library by the Library of Congress, the theme of this year's festival is the following well-known quotation from Jefferson's letter of June 10, 1815 to John Adams: "I cannot live without books."

As in prior years, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are honorary chairs for the event. More than 170 authors, poets, and illustrators will be making presentations throughout the day in the theme-based pavilions for Children, Teens & Children, Fiction & Mystery, History & Biography, Contemporary Life and Poetry & Prose.

Further information, including a schedule of events and a map of the festival grounds, can be found at the festival website. The 2015 poster, shown here, was designed by Peter de Sève.

An earlier Common Curator post provides more background on the Library of Congress' acquisition of Jefferson's library: The British "Light Up" the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tossed in Space

NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have grown and consumed produce in space for the first time, a small crop of red romaine lettuce. Further information on the Veggie greenhouse system used on ISS is available in this NASA interview with the developer.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Iowa Soil Conservation Farmer of the Year

Tim Smith, the owner-operator of the Smith Farm in north-central Iowa, has received the 2015 Iowa Soil Conservation Farmer of the Year Award, which has been sponsored by the Iowa Farm Bureau (IFB) since 1952.

As cited in the IFB news release:
Smith’s Wright County family farm uses many conservation practices to protect the environment and each brings its own set of measureable improvements and added benefits; strip-till and no-till planting and cover crops boost soil organic matter. Grassy waterways, field borders and a bioreactor serve to slow and filter rainfall. And prairie strips, planted with native grasses and forbs not only prevent runoff, they provide habitat for a variety of bird species. Smith also uses a nutrient management plan for all his fields. 
Smith's contributions to conservation advocacy were also noted, as he given numerous field demonstrations, media interviews, and hosted tours for agricultural representatives from Europe, as well as made presentations to middle school students in Des Moines and graduate students from Iowa State University.

Previous Common Curator posts about conservation practices on the Smith farm include: Cover Crops Reduce Nitrogen Run-Off, Improve Water Quality and The Boone River Watershed: Why Strip-Till and Cover Crops Matter.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Advent of Atomic Weaponry: Hiroshima and Nagasaki

A Day That Shook the World, a short British Pathé film from 1945, briefly describes the dropping of "Little Boy," the first atom bomb to be used as a weapon, on the city of Hiroshima at 8:15am on August 6, 1945 (Japan time). It was quickly followed by the dropping of "Fat Man" on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Both caused unprecedented death and destruction.

A previous Common Curator post, The Legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, discusses, among other matters, Tsutomu Yamaguchi [1916-2010], who at the time of his death was the only nijyuu hibakusha, or "twice-bombed person," officially recognized by the Japanese government. Other resources of interest are Democracy Now's interview with Japanese Nobel Laureate Kenzaburo Oe and the National Archives' photographs and sound recordings documenting the Hiroshima bombing.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Medicare and Medicaid at 50

The video above depicts the signing of the Social Security Act of 1965 by President Johnson on July 30, 1965. The act created the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and the signing ceremony was attended by former President Truman who had long supported the development of public health care. Johnson in fact also signed as a witness on Truman's personal application for enrollment, and presented his predecessor with the nation's first Medicare card.

Further information on Medicare can be read in the earlier Common Curator post, Operation Coffeecup and Socialized Medicine, which describes the American Medical Association's 1961 campaign against what it termed "socialized medicine." It enlisted the services of Ronald Reagan and the AMA's Women's Auxillary to mount a grassroots public relations effort to defeat pending legislation intended to create a Medicare-type program.

Friday, July 17, 2015

No Longer "Not Yet Explored"

Issued in 1991 by the United States Postal Service, the 29-cent Pluto commemorative stamp bore the words "Not Yet Explored." The July 14, 2015 flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft definitively put to rest the implicit challenge expressed on the stamp. The stamp design at the bottom was proposed several years ago via petition to the US Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee of the USPS in anticipation of a successful mission.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Save Iowa History 3

The President and Executive Director of the American Historical Association (AHA), the leading professional organization of historians in the United States, sent the above letter on June 16, 2015 to Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and the leadership of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs to protest further cuts in funding for staff, services, and research collections at the State Historical Society of Iowa.

For further information, see earlier Common Curator posts: Save Iowa History (with petition and contact information) and Save Iowa History 2 (with survey).

Thursday, June 11, 2015

R.I.P. Ornette Coleman

Jazz great Ornette Coleman [1930-2015] died today at age 85 in Manhattan. In an interview in the above BBC program excerpt, Coleman states: "I'm not trying to prove anything to anybody. I want to be as human as I can get. Believe me. There's nothing I'm trying to hide. There's nothing I'm trying to climb above. There's nothing I'm trying to destroy." His obituaries can be read in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, and elsewhere.

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Good Stamp Is Hard to Find

The United States Postal Service is honoring the author, Flannery O'Connor [1925-1964], with the issuance of its 30th stamp in the Literary Arts series. First Day Covers of the commemorative will be available June 5, 2015. The watercolor portrait of O'Connor is based on a black-and-white photograph taken while she was a student at the Georgia State College for Women.

O'Connor subsequently earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop in 1947. One of her acerbic observations--about academia--is recorded on a plaque along Iowa City's Literary Walk: "Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them."

Among O'Connor's major works are the novels Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away, as well as the short story collections A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Everything That Rises Must Converge, and The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor, for which she was posthumously awarded the National Book Award for Fiction in 1972.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Save Iowa History 2

The State Historical Society of Iowa is presently soliciting public input about its collections and services via an online survey, as described below:

WHAT: The State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI) wants your input about what and how you use our historical collections to conduct research.

WHO: The survey is open to the public. We encourage all Iowans interested in history and other researchers to participate - from students to scholarly to general interest.

WHEN: The survey will be open through Tuesday, June 30, 2015. You may complete it only once.

HOW: Take the survey here. It will take approximately 10 minutes or less to complete.

WHY: This survey is an important step in the SHSI Collections Planning process currently underway. It will help SHSI plan for how Iowa's history is best managed, preserved, and accessed by Iowans and researchers.

Your input is valuable as SHSI sets priorities for future care of its historical collections. We will continue to serve those already invested in Iowa history--and want to inspire new generations of historians across Iowa's 99 counties.

NEXT STEPS: To receive news about SHSI, please sign up for the Iowa Historian, the Society's newsletter.

More information about the Society's resources and activities can be found at the SHSI website.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Save Iowa History

The following petition, which has nearly 3,000 signatories to date, was initiated by Professor Tyler Priest of the University of Iowa:

Reorganization plans for the State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI) endanger the preservation of Iowa history contained in diaries, letters, photographs, maps, oral histories and other materials housed at the Society's two libraries in Des Moines and Iowa City.

Drastic reductions in operating hours and staff, the diversion of resources to unrelated activities, and recommendations to "streamline" the SHSI libraries threaten public access to the state's history.  Iowans risk being severed from their past.

On behalf of all Iowans and others interested in the history of the greater Midwest, we make the following requests of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees the SHSI:

1) Guarantee accessibility to the physical records of Iowa's history at the State Historical Society of Iowa libraries and archives.  Maintain the operation of the Iowa City branch located in the Centennial Building, which manages the materials collected since the institution's 1857 founding under the auspices of the University of Iowa.

2) Provide funding sufficient to enable library staff to conserve, process, and manage the SHSI's valuable collections and acquire new ones.  Ensure that the libraries remain open to the public during regular business hours at least five days per week.

3) Make the budget and decision-making process for the DCA and SHSI more transparent and allow for public input into plans for the reorganization, dispersion, or digitization of the SHSI research collections.

If you wish to make your voice more widely heard, write or call the Governor of Iowa, your Iowa state legislators, the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and/or the State Historical Society of Iowa. Tell them to restore the cuts to staff and hours of the SHSI libraries that have longed served the state so well.  

:: Governor Terry Branstad, 515-281-5211, @terrybranstad

:: Mary Cownie, Director, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs,, 515-281-8741

:: Chris Kramer, Deputy Director, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs,, 319-281-3223

:: Anthony Jahn, Iowa State Archivist,, 515-281-4895

:: Susan Kloewer, Administrator, State Historical Society of Iowa,, 319-281-8749

:: Senator Jeff Danielson, Senate Chair, State Government Committee,, 319-231-7192

:: Representative Guy Vander Linden, House Chair, State Government Committee,, 515-281-3221

Further information is available on the website.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lame Duck Social Media?

Although it has taken President Obama until May 18, 2015 to send his first tweet, the @POTUS Twitter account has already acquired more than 1.83 million followers in less than 24 hours. @FLOTUS, the account run by the Office of the First Lady, with occasional tweets by Michelle Obama, currently has 1.93 million followers and was established in January 2013.

Monday, May 4, 2015

New from Seed Savers Exchange: The Seed Garden

The Seed Savers Exchange has just published The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving. Written by Micaela Colley and Jared Zystro, the book is extensively illustrated with photographs and provides invaluable information for both novices and seasoned gardeners on gathering and saving seed from heirloom and open-pollinated plants. Further details and ordering information is available at the SSE website.