Dog days offer year-round research opportunties in ArchiveGrid

National Dog Day was Tuesday the 26th and it started 10 years ago as a public effort by celebrity animal advocate Colleen Paige to promote kinder treatment toward dogs. Paige has since founded other pet and animal awareness holidays which get noted throughout the year. For the rest of summer and into fall, for example, you can celebrate National Wildlife Day on Sept. 4, National Walk Your Dog Week, running Oct. 1-7, National Cat Day on Oct. 29, and National Mutt Day on Dec. 2.

National Puppy Day won’t happen until next year on March 23, following National Pet Travel Safety Day (Jan. 2), National Dress Up Your Pet Day (Jan. 14), and National Horse Protection Day (March 1).

A bloodhound. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

So that means there is plenty of time to do some research in ArchiveGrid for people and they pets they loved. One idea is George Brooks of LaCrosse, Wisc. He trained bloodhounds and while in his 30s, he started helping law enforcement officials track and apprehend criminal suspects and find lost people. His dogs helped in more than 3,000 cases, according to the finding aid for his papers at the LaCrosse Public Library.

Two names in criminal justice history associated with Brooks are Jens Thompson of Freeborn, Minn., and Ray Olson of Wisconsin. Both men were wanted for murder and found with the help of Brooks’s scenting bloodhounds.

When he wasn’t training dogs, Brooks worked at the Bodega Lunch Club – which is now the Bodega Brew Pub – and appeared in articles in the Saturday Evening Post, Life Magazine, American Magazine, and Reader’s Digest.

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What two changes we made to ArchiveGrid mean for users

When Morristown National Historic Park in New Jersey was dedicated on July 4, 1933 as the first national historic park in the United States, there was a parade. Its theme was Spirit of ’76, referring to the Revolutionary War when a cluster of three historic military posts, Jockey Hollow, the Ford Mansion, and Fort Nonsense, served as George Washington’s army headquarters.

Imagine you’re in Google looking for photographs of the parade. You click on something and go to a page in ArchiveGrid, and this digitized black-and-white photograph from the dedication is discovered:

If you have visited ArchiveGrid before, you’ll know you’re looking at an archival collection description. You’ll be able to find out who holds the collection (this one’s at the Morristown and Morris Township Public Library) and how to access it.

Google Analytics shows that around 80 percent of ArchiveGrid visitors arrive this way, by clicking on a collection description or item they found in Google. These descriptions act as a kind of “home page” for most new visitors to our site, and this might be our best opportunity to show them what ArchiveGrid is all about and provide them maximum value.

With our new “More like this” feature, we’re hoping to do exactly that. Located in a box on the right-hand side of an individual record display, “More like this” uses connections made in ArchiveGrid’s Solr index to offer extra contextual information and links to related materials – without disrupting the flow for those who just want contact information and to learn more about access to the resource.

Success of “More like this” depends on how rich the collection description is and the extent to which related people and topics can be found in other descriptions.

Right away we noticed this feature seems to work well for items from digitized collections, such as in the example above. It provides a way to view other items in the collection without searching:

For other collections, it can suggest closely-related resources at other institutions:

Now imagine you’re doing a search in ArchiveGrid. A relevance ranking algorithm that mostly paid attention to keyword matches, compared to the number of times they occur in a description, and the description’s overall length, used to generate your search results.

We made some adjustments so now matches in certain metadata elements (title, author, scope and content) get emphasized over other fields in the keyword index. Behind the scenes, we’re grouping descriptions by their extent into small, medium, and large. This allows us to give greater weight to collection descriptions over sub-series and items.

As a result, we’re doing a better job of making “key collections” appear near the top of a related search result in ArchiveGrid.

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You won’t believe what people preserved until you see these collections

A wearable herbarium? Flowers preserved in a necklace. Image by Ellen Eckert.

A recent ArchiveGrid blog post comment by Mount Holyoke College pointed us to a woman’s collection of interesting items, including an herbarium – a collection of plant specimens. We wondered what else a search for “herbarium” in ArchiveGrid would retrieve. It turns out, names of people who collected plants for various reasons surface and preserving fragile biota is a unique challenge archivists face.

Here are 10 collections containing herbaria, pulled from the first 100 set of search results in ArchiveGrid. Do you have an herbarium to let us know about? If so, please leave a comment.

1. While at Amherst Academy, poet Emily Dickinson produced a large herbarium which is now at Harvard University.

2. This herbarium Henry David Thoreau started in 1850 grew to about 900 specimens of New England plants. Like Emily Dickinson’s herbarium, access to this rare collection at Harvard University is restricted.

3. Another New England writer’s herbarium at Harvard University is in the Frederick Goddard Tuckerman collection.

4. It makes sense that the Olmsted family of American landscape architecture and park design fame had herbariums. They’re at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Massachusetts.

5. Caroline Henderson was quite a lady. During the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, Caroline and her husband remained on their farm in the Oklahoma panhandle. She was in her late 50s when she earned a Master’s degree, and on the farm she canned, cooked, grew vegetables and flowers, ironed, and kept chickens. Her collection at Mount Holyoke College – her alma mater – includes an herbarium of native Iowa and Massachusetts growth.

6. Lillian Rhoades put ferns and wildflowers in her herbarium for a botany class in 1891 at Ursinus College. Now the cloth-bound volume is at University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

7. “Under Tuition of Mr. Horace Sprague” around the mid-1800s at Kingsboro Academy, Miss M.A. Andries made a notated volume of pressed plants, which is now at Johnstown Historical Society in New York.

8. What Selma Heideman collected in the late 1800s in La Crosse County, Wisc., are at the Lacrosse Public Library.

9. And what Ella Damp of New York collected in the 19th century, and from whose funeral came some of the flowers, are at the Capital District Library Council in Albany.

10. Not all herbaria are in east coast archives. Pressed plants from Pennsylvania made by Elva E. Stoner are at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore.

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Here are 10 collections in ArchiveGrid about Ken Burns

When a Ken Burns film on PBS ends and the credits roll, I enjoy seeing which names listed as archival sources also contribute collection descriptions to ArchiveGrid. Hopefully ArchiveGrid will help scholars find archival footage for a future Emmy-winning Burns work about American history. In the meantime, we’re paying tribute to our favorite documentary filmmaker’s 61st birthday today by highlighting 10 records in ArchiveGrid describing collections with materials about Burns’ career:

Ken Burns turns 61 today. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

1. In the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, there are around 4,900 items in the archives of Burns’ production company, Florentine Films.

2. A script draft at the National Baseball Hall of Fame for the series “Baseball” also includes the music log sheets.

3. An interview on videocassette with Burns was recorded in 1998 as part of a television history collection project at Syracuse University.

4. After the series “The War” came out, Burns gave a presentation at the University of North Florida about his research interests and goals for the film. The DVD recording is in the school’s special collections.

5. Burns also gave a lecture at Brown University and a file for that occasion is in the school’s special events department archives.

6. Thirty-eight boxes in the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming include the client files of Gerard F. McCauley, a literary agent who represented Burns.

7. Here is a collection at the Library of Virginia of the Charles McDowell papers. His career in news reporting landed him spots on PBS shows, most notably as a panelist on “Washington Week in Review” for 18 years. McDowell provided voice-overs for Burns’ “The Civil War” and “Baseball.”

8. Papers of another name related to “The Civil War” are at Stanford University. Don Edward Fehrenbacher was a historian, writer, professor, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and he was a consultant on the film.

9. The papers at the Rhode Island Historical Society of Maj. Sullivan Ballou, a Woonsocket lawyer and Civil War solder, include a letter he wrote to his wife shortly before dying from wounds. Dated July 14, 1861, it is known as one of the most stirring letters written during the war and Burns featured it in “The Civil War.”

10. Sports history is documented in the papers of Peter Levine, a historian and retired Michigan State University professor. He was a consultant for “Baseball.”

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Since 1887, hope has been kept alive in Esperanto

The Esperanto flag. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Ludwik Lazarus Zamenhof “…grew up fascinated by the idea of a world without war, and believed that this could happen with the help of a new international language which he first developed in 1873,” according to the Polish physician’s Wikipedia page. That language became Esperanto, which Google Translate added as its 64th language two years ago after gaining global support in the last century. Considered to be easier to learn than English, Esperanto is a written and spoken blend of various languages and is used today by up to two million people, 1,000 of which claimed is as a native language.

Doctor Zamenhof wrote the first book about Esperanto and it was published on July 26, 1887 under his pseudonym, Doktoro Esperanto. Esperanto means in its own language, “one who hopes.” He hoped Esperanto would bring about international peace, harmony, and neutrality – hopes which are even more relevant today.

Other works by Zamenhof in Esperanto can be found in WorldCat. For archival researchers, ArchiveGrid has leads to collections of materials related to Zamenhof and the history of Esperanto. For example: A search for “Zamenhof” retrieves information about a collection of his letters and pamphlets at the Washington state library. At the state library of Western Australia, there is a collection containing a photograph of Zamenhof and the language’s green and white flag.

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World Cup images aim at archival goals

Germany’s emotional 1-0 victory over Argentina in Sunday’s FIFA World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro repeated history. In 1990, West Germany beat Argentina 1-0 to win the World Cup in Rome and avenged its 3-2 championship loss to Argentina four years earlier in Mexico City.

German World Cup wins before that were by West Germany in 1974 in Munich, against the Netherlands, and in 1954 in Bern, against Hungary. When East and West Germany re-unified after the 1990 World Cup, three German soccer teams merged into the current one governed by the 114-year-old German Football Association (DFB).

West Germany beat the Netherlands 2-1 in the 1974 FIFA World Cup final. After the Cold War, Berti Vogts (second from left) was the first coach of Germany's newly-unified soccer team. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Growing with the Germany-Argentina grudge was Annie Leibovitz’s photography career. She was the official World Cup portrait photographer for the 1986 games and ArchiveGrid lists a collection containing one of her images, of a Mayan sculpture with a soccer ball. Leibovitz has since established fame for photographing soccer players for major publications such as Vanity Fair. Hopefully more of her early soccer photography will soon become discoverable online.

Soccer is a photogenic sport. Thanks to organizations who photograph, preserve, and enable access to images from the World Cup, Mario Götze’s winning goal at the 2014 games should go down in history much like Andreas Brehme’s penalty kick in 1990.

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“Sultan of swat” swung into MLB history 100 years ago today

A Babe Ruth baseball card from 1914. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Today is the 100th anniversary of Babe Ruth’s Major League Baseball debut after a short assignment with the Baltimore Orioles, which was a minor league team then. At age 19, Baltimore-born George Herman Ruth Jr. arrived in Boston as the new Red Sox pitcher and won the game 4-3 against the Cleveland Naps (now the Indians). His star career with the Red Sox, New York Yankees, Boston Braves (now the Atlanta Braves), and the Brooklyn Dodgers flourished and included seven World Series wins.

Ruth’s last appearance at Yankee Stadium was in 1948 for its 25th anniversary celebration and the team retired his number three jersey. After the celebration, Ruth sent  former Yankee Vice President George Weiss a typed thank-you letter on a Babe Ruth letterhead. The Bambino died two months later at age 53 of cancer. That letter along with other Babe Ruth collections are at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 1939.

Such an artifact would make a nice candidate for digitization. It may appeal to English author Shaun Usher of the website Letters of Note where he exhibits scanned and transcribed correspondence with scholarly value. Or if Usher can acquire blank Babe Ruth stationary, an image could go on his eyecandy-of-a-Tumblr, Letterheady.

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Pipe company keeps Missouri corn cob history burning

In “Frosty the Snowman,” Frosty smokes a corn cob pipe, hinting at this time of summer when corn’s cheap and chomped off the cob. In fact, it was 145 years ago when Henry Tibbe, a Dutch immigrant to Missouri, started making and selling corn cob pipes out of his woodworking shop in Washington. Within nine years he had switched to making corn cob pipes exclusively and put a patent on the fire-proofing process he invented for his pipe bowls. He called them Missouri Meerschaum pipes, got the trademark patented, and in 1907 the Misssouri Meerschaum Company was born, along with Washington’s reputation as the corn cob capital of the world.

A corn cob pipe. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Today the company runs out of the original building, sources its corn from local crops, and has enough cobs stored to sustain its handcrafted production for three years. History researchers may be interested in trolling the Tibbe family papers at the State Historical Society of Missouri. Or seeing a photograph at Library of Congress of General Douglas MacArthur famously smoking a corn cob pipe. Mark Twain also must have helped business at Missouri Meerschaum because he too was known for smoking that pipe type. So was Popeye, and characters in Normall Rockwell paintings.

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70 years ago, Versailles peace treaty led to political discord in the U.S.

Last month this blog featured the 75th anniversary of the start of World War I, when Archduke of Austria Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo by a teenage Serbian rebel. On June 28, exactly five years after the assassination, warring countries signed the Treaty of Versailles in the French palace’s Hall of Mirrors, officially ending the “war to end all wars.”

What was being there on that day like? In ArchiveGrid, researchers can learn about a unique collection at the University of Maine that holds some answers: A first-hand account of the scene outside the palace, and later in Paris.

Records also found in ArchiveGrid are papers at George Washington University from the peace conference; copies of telegrams from Versailles at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center documenting the agreement; photographs taken by Wilson’s aide in France at the Hagley Museum and Library; and materials in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace collection at GWU, documenting these historical events.

President Woodrow Wilson (right) with British, French, and Italian delegates at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Treaty of Versailles was part of a series of international peace treaties that came out of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, which U.S. President Woodrow Wilson attended and returned from 70 years ago this week. Mixed approval at home of the Treaty of Versailles had Wilson trying to garner support for it all summer until he suffered a stroke.

A major opponent of the treaty was Republican Senate Leader Henry Cabot Lodge, mainly because it allowed the newly-formed League of Nations to declare war without a U.S. vote. Wilson and Congress didn’t agree on terms. That November when it was time for countries represented at the Paris Peace Conference to pass the treaty, the U.S. declined.

In 1921 under President Warren Harding, Germany and the U.S. officially ended their hostilities – they started in 1917 when Germany tried to ask Mexico to side against the U.S. Still, not signing the Versailles treaty kept the U.S. out of the League of Nations until after World War II when it became the United Nations, and gave the U.S. the voting power Lodge wanted.

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Slugger’s gracious farewell speech still a hit after 75 years

One of the most lasting and heroic Fourth of July oratories of the 20th Century celebrates 75 years today.

Known as “The Iron Horse” during his professional baseball career with the New York Yankees, Henry Louis “Lou” Gehrig played in a record 2,130 consecutive games between 1923 and 1939. He was a seven time All-Star, a two time MVP and a six time World Series champion.

A 1933 Lou Gehrig baseball card. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Ironically, the first baseman known for his rugged durability fell to a progressive neurological disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), now often called Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Gehrig was forced to give up baseball forever at the age of 35. In ArchiveGrid, there is a record for a collection at the National Baseball Hall of Fame consisting of a letter Gehrig wrote to his wife in the spring of 1939 after he removed himself from the team’s lineup to rest.

About a month later, a Mayo Clinic doctor explained Gehrig’s condition and that he can no longer play baseball. That letter is also at the hall of fame.

Instead of wallowing in his misfortune, Gehrig re-established himself not only as a hero to baseball fans, but created a lasting American tribute to gratitude.

In the two most famous stanzas of his speech delivered at Yankee Stadium, Gehrig speaks his mind about his good fortune to play the game he loved so much with so many great people: “today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth….So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”

As if to prove the words were delivered straight from his heart, no full copy of the speech exists. There are only partial recordings, but they are enough.

The disease claimed Gehrig’s life in 1941, at the age of 37. But in his final speech to faithful fans on July 4, 1939, he left a final message of hope, optimism and grace that will last throughout the ages.

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