ArchiveGrid jogs historical memory of women in the Boston Marathon

This Easter weekend, athletes are getting ready to run the Boston Marathon on Monday the 21st. It was also on a Monday in April 1897, when the first Boston Marathon was run – 10 years after the Boston Athletic Association was established.

Image source:

As the Boston Marathon has grown in prestige, so has its historical significance in women’s sports – running in particular. Roberta Gibb in 1966 was the first woman to run the race, although she participated unofficially that year and again in 1967 and 1968. Women weren’t allowed to officially sign up until 1972. However in 1967, Kathrine Switzer registered herself under a vague name and despite efforts to physically remove her from the course, she officially completed the marathon. The next year she earner her master’s degree from Syracuse Univeristy, where her papers are held. Gibb in 1981 wrote about her experience for Ms. Magazine and that piece is in a collection at Radcliffe College of letters to the magazine.

In the early 1980s, Joan Benoit Samuelson became the first person to win the Boston and Olympic marathons. Also an author, her books include Running Tide, and Running for Women. New England University in Maine, her home state, houses a collection of her newspaper clippings and articles. Crowning her achievements in 1996, Samuelson was on a Wheaties cereal box commemorating the Boston Marathon’s 100th running. Radcliffe College has a box in a collection of female sports ephemera.

Other collections at Radcliffe College around the history of women in America include one for Hazel Hitson Weidman, a medical anthropologist who served in World War II. The finding aid includes details about her correspondence with family members, including her daughter-in-law running marathons barefoot – in 2013, she was about a mile-and-a-half out from the Boston Marathon finish line when terrorist bombs exploded.

What do repeat race runners do with their collections of race shirts? Diane Sherrer made a quilt out of hers, and it’s in a collection at Cornell University of other materials spanning 40 years of her competitive running and journalism career. Her years at the Boston Marathon are recorded in that collection. Can’t remember what the race’s 1999 shirt looked like? There’s one in the collection.

Posted in Collection Close-ups | Leave a comment

Weed woes inspire a ‘dandy’ ArchiveGrid search

Libraries holding too many materials and gardens exploding with dandelions both need weeding. While working evenings this week on weeding the latter, I wondered what a search in ArchiveGrid for the springtime invader would retrieve, and if grouping my favorite results here would help me learn to love the weed, commiserate with past efforts to abate it, or offer a new way to look at garden weeding.

Hopefully this list will achieve all three goals:

  • That dandelions are edible doesn’t keep them out of my yard debris bin, but cooking them is recorded in a Northwest folklore archive collection at University of Oregon as both a custom and a superstition. And although I could search online for some dandelion recipes, I would like to see the ones in a collection of pamphlets published last century by Cornell University’s New York State College of Agriculture for the state fair commission.
  • Can dandelions be used to make rubber? A retired Michigan State Archives reference archivist wanted to know and a subject that his collection at Central Michigan University covers is dandelions as an emergency source of post-World War II rubber, according to the finding aid.
  • Collections of dandelions in artistic expression aren’t hard to find in ArchiveGrid because they are vivid and symbolic in their nature. William E. Stafford referred to them in two of his poems, which are held in a collection at Lewis & Clark College. This photograph by a scientist who worked in weed control shows what happened when he fertilized part of an invaded lawn (which looks like parts of my lawn). Also in the collection is a photograph of a what is probably a beautiful-looking, dandelion-covered field.
Posted in Collection Close-ups | Leave a comment

Missing flight collections found in ArchiveGrid

Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 may permanently join history’s record of other vanished flights. What archival collections surrounding these unsolved air mysteries exist and can be found in ArchiveGrid? Here is a quick list:

Amelia Earhart – There are files at Radcliffe College of the FBI’s investigation into her 1937 disappearance over Pacific Ocean, as she tried to be the first woman to fly around the world.

Flight 19 in formation. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Bermuda Triangle – A former Arizona State University librarian’s papers include research sources for his books about Flight 19 – a fleet of bombers that disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle in 1945 – and other vanishings in that area. They include the Star Tiger in 1948 (Lincoln Memorial University has an item relating to one of the crew members) and the Star Ariel a year later.

Alaska – At University of Alaska in Fairbanks are the papers of Democratic Congressman Nick Begich, who disappeared in 1972 with Louisiana Representative Hale Boggs during a flight over Alaska.

Posted in Collection Close-ups | Leave a comment

The 21st packs March birthday madness

It’s fun to learn who shares your birthday. Here is a list of historical figures who share my birthday today and have related collections in ArchiveGrid:

Image of Johann Sebastian Bach courtesy of Wikimedia. Stanford University houses an engraving of Bach.

  • Another musical legend born today was Florenz Ziegfeld, who wrote the musical Show Boat and was behind the Ziegfeld Follies and Broadway revues. He died in July of 1932 at age 65. University of Texas has a Ziegfeld collection, and materials relating to a his life when he was married to stage performer Billie Burke is at New York Public Library.
  • Forty-six microfilm reels at University of Texas contain the papers of Benito Juarez, Mexican national hero and president, who lived from 1806 until July of 1872 when he died at age 66.
  • A fellow native Oregonian, Phyllis McGinley was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, writer and author of juvenile books. Syracuse University has an extensive collection of her papers. In 1906, exactly one year after McGinley was born, John D. Rockefeller III was born in New York City, where McGinley would later live. They both died in 1978, both at age 72. She died in February and he died in July. The Rockefeller Archive Center has the family’s archive.
  • Arthur Honegger was a 20th century Swiss composer whose works include a piece named for his country’s patron saint Nicholas of Flue, who lived five centuries earlier and died on his March 21 birthday in 1487 at age 70. University of British Columbia’s archives has a recording of the piece.
  • A collection at New York Public Library of Lola Maverick Lloyd, an international activist for women’s rights, includes materials having to do with Alice Henry, who was born today and died on Valentine’s Day in 1943 at age 85. She was an Australian journalist and promoted women’s suffrage and social reform.
  • In 1960, an oral history was made at of Maurice Farman, a French aircraft designer and manufacturer who lived from 1877 to February of 1964. He was 86. Columbia University houses the transcript.
Posted in Collection Close-ups | Leave a comment

Faneuil Hall led new world forums

Today in 1743, America’s first recorded town hall meeting was held in Faneuil Hall in downtown Boston, according to the New York Times. At the University of Virginia are materials about its architect, John Smibert. He was a Colonial artist who had moved from Europe to New England, opened an art supplies shop in Boston , ran a gallery, and still painted portraits.

Image of Faneuil Hall and modern skyscrapers courtesy of Wikimedia.

Faneuil Hall’s original mixed-use design with a public gathering space above ground-floor retail was inspired by English country markets, but I wonder how much Smibert’s design was influenced by his earlier life in London when he lived in an apartment in Covent Garden.

Nearly four decades of pieces of Smibert’s life are contained in his journal, and ArchiveGrid has other records as well for related images and collections. Knowing what Faneuil Hall looked like when it was finished in 1742, and what was said during those first meetings, may be a scholarly mystery.

However, what Faneuil Hall paved for the future of the American public meeting space can be traced in other gems in ArchiveGrid for researchers to discover, such as announcing the death of a president and lottery results.

Posted in Collection Close-ups | Leave a comment

With MARC filter-flexing, ArchiveGrid index exceeds 3 million records

While March came in like a lion weather-wise in many places, the saying meant good news index-wise for ArchiveGrid. This week we updated the index and once again, the number of collections and items represented in ArchiveGrid spiked. In January’s update, the index grew by around 600,000 records and reached 2.4 million. Now we’re over 3 million.

A snow-drizzled "Fortitude" guards one side of the New York Public Library entrance, while "Patience" (not pictured) guards the other. Image source: Flickr Creative Commons

Here’s why:

MARC records from WorldCat represent at least 90 percent of ArchiveGrid’s descriptions. Since no particular MARC record field tells us “Hey! Include me in ArchiveGrid,” we use a combination of elements. In the “recall vs. precision” performance metric, we’ve tended to err on the side of recall. Details on how we filter WorldCat records for inclusion in ArchiveGrid are here.

Twice this year, we tuned the filter we use to extract MARC records from WorldCat to include more record types based on the MARC Leader byte 6 value. January’s update brought in records with the value of “k” (two-dimensional, non-projecting graphics). This update includes records with the value of “g” (projected medium), “i” (nonmusical sound recording), or “j” (musical sound recording). We think these adjustments allow more descriptions of the types of materials ArchiveGrid searchers could expect to find, without overloading the index with records we’d prefer to filter out: irrelevant materials or published works, items held in multiple locations, etc. So we expect to continue adjusting the filter and see the total number of records change as we get more precise.

Here are some highlights of what valuable primary sources the added g, i, and i indexes in ArchiveGrid have to offer:

  • Around 1,800 sound discs, tape reels, and cassettes of nearly all of Duke Ellington’s commercial and non-commercial recordings and also some radio broadcasts. Collected by Joseph Jeffers Dodge, Harvard University acquired the collection in March 1998.
  • A live 1963 recording in Germany of John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, at Ball State University.
  • A May 2, 2003 VHS recording of the “Service of death and resurrection for Fred McFeely Rogers, or Mister Rogers, at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Another addition with this update is documentation for ArchiveGrid indexes. We use a number of “hidden” indexes in ArchiveGrid for testing and trouble-shooting, so in a new how to search page, we explain what these indexes are and how they can be used in a search. This should be considered a work in progress, so if you have suggestions for improvements or questions about how the indexes work, please let us know.

Posted in Building ArchiveGrid | Leave a comment

ArchiveGrid reveals pluck of Irish women

Image source: Drew University.

While March honors Women’s History Month in the United States, the world celebrates International Women’s Day March 8. However, March in the United States is also Irish-American Heritage Month, with St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th as the observance’s highlight.

Relevant keywords to these two events were combined in an ArchiveGrid search and  collections that were found highlight influence Irish women have made to women’s progress. Five examples:

  • Mother Jones scholars may be interested in a manuscript for a memoir of her life, written by her caretaker. It’s called, “Mother Jones: the Life Story of the Irish Immigrant Girl Who Became the Most Unique Character in the American Labor Movement, Living Past 100 Years.”
  • New York University houses the papers of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a leading Irish-American socialist, feminist, labor organizer, orator, and campaigner for civil liberties, according to the collection’s finding aid. She helped start the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • Frances Power Cobbe was a philanthropist, social worker, author, and advocate for women’s rights and education for poor and neglected children. She also opposed medical experimentation on live animals. Finding aids at the Huntington Library describe a collection of 12 boxes of letters to her by influential people of the 20th century, and a collection of letters Cobbe wrote to them.
  • Carol McLellan Connolly made a name for herself and for women in St. Paul, Minn., as an active member of feminist groups, the liberal Democratic party, and Twin Cities arts and culture groups. According to the finding aid for her papers at the Minnesota Historical Society, her public work included serving on the St. Paul Human Rights Commission.

There are more collections in ArchiveGrid of women who have contributed to history. Try a search or let us know what you have found in ArchiveGrid.

Posted in Collection Close-ups | Leave a comment

ArchiveGrid packs cool Mardi Gras krewe facts

Party-goers watch the Krewe of Endymion float during 2014 Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Photograph by Ray Mikell.

Like the celebratory weeks of Carnival before Mardi Gras and the somber weeks of Lent after it, traditions drive the Fat Tuesday season flair in New Orleans. Members of local clubs – or krewes – prepare to be seen in one of the Big Easy’s Mardi Gras costume parades, and the Mardi Gras king gets handed a key to the city. That some krewes formed more than 100 years ago and are still going strong, while others have formed this decade, means tradition doesn’t die where the Mississippi River nears its end.

Members of the Mytic Krewe of Barkus during a 2014 Mardi Gras pre-parade "pawty" in New Orleans. Photograph by Ray Mikell.

New Orleans during Mardi Gras isn’t for everyone. So while Rex, Zulu, Barkus – the dog krewe – and dozens of other krewes hit the streets of New Orleans, the krewe tradition prevails not in just the south. Here are five examples, some whose records are in ArchiveGrid:

1. Each winter in Tampa, Fla., the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla throws a pirate festival complete with a parade, a royal court, invitation-only parties, and a mock pirate invasion – all meant to spark revelry like a New Orleans Mardi Gras. Called the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, the first parade was 110 years ago this May. Records from the krewe’s early years are also in Tampa, at the University of South Florida’s special collections.

2. During Gasparilla, the Krewe of Sant’Yago throws a night parade through Ybor City. Also at University of South Florida are records pertaining to that krewe and a family of restaurant owners in that area.

3. Elsewhere in Florida, costumed krewes rule in April during Springtime Tallahassee, which includes a parade where each krewe represents a time period in the state’s history.

4. Near the northern end of the Mississippi River in Wisconsin, church-based krewes from around the town of La Crosse participate in the city’s New Orleans Mardi Gras.

5. Even further north on the Mississippi River in St. Paul, Minn., a Vulcan king and queen reign over a January winter carnival, complete with the Vulcan Krewe and its parade of members in Vulcan attire.

Posted in Collection Close-ups | Leave a comment

Gena talks about genealogy, family history, and ArchiveGrid

Gena Philibert-Ortega

To find archival materials, genealogy and history researcher and writer Gena Philibert-Ortega says she regularly uses ArchiveGrid and recommends genealogy and family history researchers do the same. “I try to talk about ArchiveGrid in almost every genealogy presentation I give,” Gena said.

At Food.Family.Ephemera, the California-based author documents her focused research of community cookbooks to learn about women’s lives. Gena’s current research project involves a the life of a 19th century British woman who left behind a commonplace book. “That research has led me to study topics such as mineralogy, fossils, scrapbooks, and ‘spinsters,’” Gena said.

Gena has promoted ArchiveGrid on Twitter (@genaortega) and in her writings as an important research tool. She was willing to answer questions by email about her work and how ArchiveGrid plays a role, in an effort to learn more about our users.

How did you end up in your line of work?

I’ve always been interested in history and love to research, so after many years in the non-profit field I decided to switch careers. In my graduate work I concentrated on women’s history so genealogy seemed like a natural fit. My current research focus is on documenting female ancestors, food history and social history. I’ve been working in genealogy for about twelve years.

How did you learn about ArchiveGrid? How do you use it, and what do you want others to know about it?

I’m not sure how I first learned about ArchiveGrid but I use it almost daily to search for unique collections that family historians could use to tell the story of their ancestor’s lives. I use it to find collections documenting organizations and groups a particular ancestor may have been involved in. I also use it to see what is available for a particular geographic area. ArchiveGrid is a hidden treasure for many who are not in the academic world but still conduct research.

What impact has ArchiveGrid had on your work? Can you point to some specific collections in ArchiveGrid you have used, or found interesting?

I think the one impact ArchiveGrid has had for me is just the ability to uncover these collections and see what vast archival materials exist about individuals, groups and communities. ArchiveGrid makes searching and discovering materials easy. Some of my favorite collections have to do with women’s organizations like the Dorcas Society or the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

How do you think genealogists/family historians research, and what would improve research for them?

Typically genealogists are taught to search by an ancestor’s name which is effective when using genealogy websites. In the case of archival collections, it is better to search on a keyword or keyword phrase. Unless an ancestor is the author of a collection, searching by their name won’t yield results but it would be a mistake to think there is nothing that might be of use. I think examples of keywords and keyword phrases, outside of just searching on a place name, would be helpful. I also think guides of how to conduct searches would be of some benefit so that researchers know how to craft the best possible search.

Gena also blogs for genealogy and family history researchers at Gena’s Genealogy and her latest book is From the Family Kitchen: Discover Your Food Heritage and Preserve Favorite Recipes. In addition to hundreds of articles, her bylines can also be found on the GenealogyBank blog and in the magazine Internet Genealogy.

Posted in From the Frontlines | Leave a comment

“The Monuments Men” frames an epic scene in cultural preservation history

As current events include news of libraries, museums, and archives suffering casualties caused by war and conflict, the recent film “The Monuments Men” is a decent attempt to ask: How do we preserve items of cultural heritage from destruction, and are such attempts worth the human lives lost in the process?

The real-life Monuments Men were a collection of art historians and museum personnel under the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program, dispatched by the American military in the waning months of World War II. Its mission was to thwart plans by Adolph Hitler to destroy thousands of cultural icons the Nazi Army stole during its march through a devastated Europe.

After D-Day in 1944, Hitler left standing orders as the United States and its allies gained control of the war: If he couldn’t have the art for a giant “Fuhrer’s Museum” he planned in his Austrian hometown, nobody could. The Nazis intended to burn, break, or bury every piece on their retreat to Germany.

Other works about the Monuments Men include the 1964 film “The Train,” the 1966 film “Paris is Burning,” The Rape of Europa by Lynn H. Nicholas, and a documentary film by the same name.

“The Monuments Men” co-writer, co-producer, and director George Clooney tried to make this serious war story enjoyable by bringing aboard veteran comic actors like Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, and John Goodman to play a special unit tasked to find stolen art and return it to their rightful owners. Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett also star in the German-American film, which is based on the book Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert Edsel. One is his earlier works, Rescuing Da Vinci, is of a similar theme.

Michelangelo's Madonna and Child statue. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

This likeable team tries to intercept the art before it’s too late, including Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child statue and the Ghent altarpiece, and the one-liners fly fast and furious. The laughs work on some level as these intellectuals try to navigate the difficulties of basic training and the battlefield as soldiers. Given what the actual men had to work with, the facts of the successful missions of the platoon are remarkable in their breadth and scope.

A chronological plot stretching 118 minutes can drag and Clooney and and co-writer and co-producer Grant Heslov could have tightened up the story’s focus by re-arranging the structure some. More character dimension could have made the protagonists more convincing art and history experts. Otherwise the film does a lot well: Orchestral music by the well-known Hollywood composer Alexandre Desplat set against a lovely backdrop of war-time Europe make a nostalgic audio-visual package.

While the mixture of comedy and war picture miss the mark in revealing the true price the men paid for the lasting impact of their work (with the exception of when Bill Murray’s character stares down a leading antagonist into surrendering stolen art), the refreshing omission of graphic violence, profanity strings, and sexuality that can make movie-going awkward depending on who you’re with align with the PG-13 rating.

Clooney also proves that depiction of gruesome events in the style of “Schindler’s List” and “The Piano” do not necessarily a war movie make. Empty apartments, leveled towns, bloody military hospitals, displaced art and furniture, and discovered barrels full of gold teeth salvaged from concentration camps do enough to powerfully symbolize the horror of war and the Holocaust. However, in terms of violence toward culture, even Mel Gibson could not have taken the scene of enemies flame-torching heaps of unique paintings to a more gut-wrenching extreme.

When otherwise weak narrative wasn’t also trying to humor, simple elements hit the mark in expressing big ideas. Toward the end of the film, Clooney’s character proclaims to a captured Nazi official that news of his death sentencing for war crimes will run in the New York Times and a Jewish deli owner in New York City will read it, then not care, and use the newspaper to wrap fish. What precedes that line is perhaps the most chilling revelation of Nazi psychosis in movie history. Captured solder asks Clooney’s character:

“Are you Jewish?”


Then the solder says something along the lines of, “Then you will thank me.”

Overall, “The Monuments Men” is a convincing story about the power of art and its importance to the dignity of the human spirit. In the final scene, a senior version of Clooney’s character visits the Madonna and Child in the 1970s with his grandson. As crowds of young tourists wearing backpacks meander around the statue, he remembers his comrade’s death while trying to save the statue from Nazi theft was, in fact, worth it. It was a touching gesture to the momentous nature of the mission, and the continuing importance of preserving cultural heritage for future generations.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments