Posts related to the archives and rare books category

The Benjamin Gettler Papers: An Introduction to Cincinnati’s New Public Transit

By:  Alex Temple, Gettler Project Archivist

Book on the Cincinnati Transit CompanyFor the past several months, work has continued on processing the Benjamin Gettler Papers donated to the Archives & Rare Books Library.  Gettler was a notable lawyer, businessman, and civic activist in Cincinnati, an international philanthropist, and a former member of the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees.  I’ve been fascinated by the amount of public transit-related history in this collection.  An often over-looked part of urban history is transportation infrastructure.  Public transportation records can tell us not only where people lived, worked, and played, but also the routes taken and who the routes served.  They can also provide insight into how, where, or why neighborhoods changed over time.

Cincinnati’s public transportation, as we recognize it today, really began in 1873 when several horse-drawn tram systems merged to form the Cincinnati Consolidated Railway Company.  Nearly a decade later, it was renamed the Cincinnati Street Railway Company (Gettler, 2012).  It remained the Cincinnati Street Railway Company until 1952, after the company had fully transitioned from rail to rubber-tire service, becoming the Cincinnati Transit Company.

Gettler himself was a prominent figure in Cincinnati’s transit history, as his involvement started slightly before the switch from streetcars to buses and through the sale of the Cincinnati Transit Company to the City of Cincinnati, forming the South Ohio Regional Transit Association (S.O.R.T.A.), and finally serving on the S.O.R.T.A. board beginning in 2003.  A good deal of the collection in the Benjamin Gettler Papers comes from his involvement in public transportation, including items such as meeting minutes from the board of directors.  One in particular which I found exciting to study was the meeting minutes from the board of directors from 1952 to 1954. Continue reading The Benjamin Gettler Papers: An Introduction to Cincinnati’s New Public Transit

How many archives are in the United States?

Archives located in the Gulf South

In recent years, there’s been growing awareness within the United States cultural heritage community about exposure to climate change. Many emerging communities of concerned cultural heritage professionals have emerged. There is now a Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice, the American Library Association Sustainability Roundtable, and ProjectARCC (Archivists Responding to Climate Change). Climate change is showing up at conferences and journals in the field.

One of the major challenges in assessing the risk of climate change to cultural heritage is that data on cultural heritage is inconsistent. How can you predict how many museums, libraries, or archives will be exposured to climate change without adequate data on how many institutions exist in a given vulnerable location? There is a lot of great data on museums thanks to the Museum Universe Data File. There is a semi-representative directory of American libraries (but it leaves out school libraries). But as an archivist working on climate change issues, I was pretty dismayed to discover a few years ago that there really isn’t a comprehensive data set of archives in the United States.

Last year, my research collaborator Ben Goldman (Penn State University) and I received a Society of American Archivists (SAA) Foundation grant to attempt to compile the first comprehensive data set of all US archives. The roots of this project began with an article we co-authored with geospatial experts from Penn State, in which we took a very limited data set of around 1,200 archives (furnished by OCLC’s ArchiveGrid) and examined their exposure to climate change risks, like sea-level rise, storm surge, and changes in temperature/humidity. However, we knew if there was ever going to be a comprehensive risk assessment of US archives, someone had to bring together a comprehensive data set of how many US archives exist and where they are located. This is what we set out to do with our SAA Foundation grant.

Over the course of the grant, we worked with a fantastic assistant, Whitney Ray, who did an incredible amount of heavy lifting with contacting over 150 archival organizations for any data they had. Essentially, we reached out to anyone we thought may have maintained lists of archives in their region or area of interest. What we received was over 30,000 raw data points! The data came to us in every way you can imagine – from very tidy spreadsheets to webpages with broken links to PDFs of archives. You can read much more about our workflow and process on our RepoData project blog.

We’ve now made data available for 30 states plus Washington DC on our public GitHub repository. We plan to work through the remainder of the states through 2018. While we originally created this data because we know it’s critical for future climate assessment work, we know there will be a lot of potential reuse for it – and we’re excited to see how people use it!

Ohio Digital Newspapers & Chronicling America Presentation in ARB on Thursday July 26

Come hear about Ohio’s digital newspaper project and learn how to freely access historic newspapers from around the country.

When:  Thursday July 26 from 11:00am-12:30pm

Where:  Archives and Rare Books Library, Seminar Room 814

Westliche Blatter mastheadDid you know that 90 Ohio newspapers including foreign language papers have been digitized and are now part of the Library of Congress’ free newspaper database Chronicling America?  Learn how to access the over 13 million pages of historic newspapers from 47 states and territories covering 1789-1963 on Chronicling America.  Jenni Salamon, Coordinator for the Ohio Digital Newspaper Program, and Bronwyn Benson, Quality Control Technician, from the Ohio History Connection will demonstrate basic and advanced search strategies and how to work with your results to find information about local, state, national and international events, people, places and culture. They will also provide a brief overview newspaper digitization process and an update on the digitization of Ohio’s foreign language newspapers.

The Colored Citizen mastheadTreasures from the Archives and Rare Books Library collections including items from the German Americana collection that complement the digitized newspapers will be available for viewing before and after the presentation.

Snacks and drinks will be provided.

The Cycle of Knowledge and Do Unto Others: The Ouroboros of Blegen Library

By:  Kevin Grace

For several months from July of 2017 to April of this year, each day on the Archives & Rare Books Library’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/ArchivesRareBooksLibraryUniversityOfCincinnati/, featured an architectural element of Blegen Library, from printer’s marks to the original floor tiles and terrazzo walls.  In the way the cultural Belgen Library exteriorheritage of the building was presented with its sculptures and carvings representing the history of the book and the legacy of education, every detail was explored with a capsule account of its meaning and importance.  The figures in the bas reliefs of “Ex Occidente Lux” and “Ex Orientale Lux” were freshly discovered.  The bronze symbols of knowledge over the front door were explained.  The human stories behind the plaster and bronze printers marks were revealed. Continue reading The Cycle of Knowledge and Do Unto Others: The Ouroboros of Blegen Library

The Cincinnati House of Refuge and Asylums for Children in 19th century Cincinnati

The Children's Home of Cincinnati, 1093
The Children’s Home of Cincinnati, 1903

In my previous blogs, I have explored the history of Cincinnati’s House of Refuge and the records of the institution that are still available.  Throughout my journey, I have been struck by the number of homeless children and children without adequate homes who were placed in this juvenile detention facility.  One of the questions that I have been exploring is why these children were placed in the House of Refuge and not in another institution.    My first thought was that there must not have been anywhere for these children to go, but a search for orphanages and other institutions in 19th Century Cincinnati has revealed that there actually were institutions that cared for children who had been abandoned, neglected, or whose parents were simply unable to care for them.  So why were children who were not juvenile delinquents living in the House of Refuge?  It seems that one reason may have been because there was not a standardized or centralized way of dealing with neglected, abused or homeless children in the city.[1]

Services for children in need in 19th century Cincinnati were controlled by different entities and the placement of children was often influenced by religion, ethnicity, and race.  Orphanages in Cincinnati were almost exclusively privately run and they were often affiliated with a particular religion.  Some took in children who were homeless or children who the administrators felt were not adequately cared for by their parents, but other institutions only accepted orphans whose parents were either both deceased or whose parents were contributing members.  In addition, only a few institutions in 19th century Cincinnati, including the House of Refuge, accepted African American children.  A closer look at a few of these early Cincinnati orphanages shows how their services differed and overlapped. Continue reading The Cincinnati House of Refuge and Asylums for Children in 19th century Cincinnati

“I Am Dying, Egypt, Dying!”: A Cincinnati College Soldier-Poet’s Embrace of the Battlefield

By:  Kevin Grace

William LytleOn September 20, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, General William Haines Lytle of Cincinnati was shot and killed by a Confederate sniper’s bullet in the Battle of Chickamauga.  A few days later, his body was carried back to his hometown.  Lytle’s funeral was held at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Cincinnati and the thousands of mourners followed his casket in the cortege to Spring Grove Cemetery, miles away from the church.  The slow procession took up most of the day, the general’s body not arriving at Spring Grove until dusk.  Sometime later, his grave marker – a broken column – would dominate the landscape of the garden cemetery.

William Lytle was more than another officer killed in battle.  He was a literary man, a soldier-poet whose verse in antebellum America was popular in both the North and the South, and whose lines reflected his experiences on the battlefield.  They showed a view of the bloody vista typical of the Romantic era and they embodied his view of duty as well, in his eyes, a terrible beauty of death and destruction.  Lytle was a part of the Romantic tradition in his poetry, incorporating his classical education as a boy with his notions of heroism and duty in life.  This is an excerpt from a poem he wrote in 1840 as a fourteen-year-old, “The Soldier’s Death”: Continue reading “I Am Dying, Egypt, Dying!”: A Cincinnati College Soldier-Poet’s Embrace of the Battlefield

Art and Empire in Nineteenth-Century India

By:  Alia Levar Wegner

Travel literature in 19th-century India was closely linked to the British empire. Behind every picture was an army. This is especially true of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Ramus Forrest’s illustrated book, A Picturesque Tour Along the Rivers Ganges and Jumna, In India, (SpecCol RB Oversize DS408 .F65) published in 1824.

Picturesque Tour Title Page
Title page of A picturesque tour along the rivers Ganges and Jumna, in India. (Spec Coll RB Oversize DS408 .F65)

Continue reading Art and Empire in Nineteenth-Century India

What does records management have to do with maintenance?

Coast Guard and Agencies Response to Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

In April 2016, Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel published an article in Aeon titled “Hail the Maintainers.” Russell and Vinsel called for a closer examination of how our culture venerates technological innovation. We elevate innovation and innovators, while overlooking the important role of maintenance in keeping society going. The concept took off, and there has been a subsequent conference known as The Maintainers and many academic articles on maintenance, particularly on the history of technology.

Archivist Hillel Arnold has applied the idea of maintenance theory to the work of archivists, noting that archivists “do the hard and invisible work of maintaining records. Not only do we perpetuate the physical existence of records through preservation activities, we also manage ongoing access to records, in part by maintaining the context of record creation and maintenance through arrangement and description processes.” Hillel and I collaborated last fall on a paper tracing the connections between recordkeeping, maintenance, and environmental regulation. In recent months, I’ve started to examine how the maintenance of regulatory recordkeeping breaks down during fossil fuel industrial accidents and disasters – with significant consequences both for workers and the environment.

Fossil fuel energy production is a highly regulated industry – at least on paper. However, despite the thousands of regulations that govern the extraction of coal, oil, and natural gas, and subsequent downstream production and transmission activities, these regulations have failed to protect the health of workers, nearby communities, and the environment due to several factors that include regulatory capture and lack of enforcement capabilities. Recordkeeping violations are also an explanation for regulatory failures. Industry failure to maintain authentic records – whether by manipulating existing records, or by destroying incriminating records – can accelerate dangerous situations.

Examples of these failures of recordkeeping can be found in two deadly energy industry accidents that happened just two weeks apart in April 2010.  On April 5, an underground mine explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed twenty-nine miners. On April 20, an explosion occurred at the offshore drilling platform known as Deepwater Horizon, located 40 miles off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven workers were killed on Deepwater Horizon, and oil leaked from the site for close to 6 months, resulting in the worst domestic oil spill in history.

Investigations of the Upper Big Branch disaster found that Massey Energy, the parent company, routinely underreported safety violations in the records they shared with regulators. In other words, Massey Energy manipulated the very records that could have demonstrated to regulators that the mine needed to make necessary safety improvements.

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, many of the recordkeeping concerns that surfaced were over questions of responsibility and accountability for the months-long oil spill in the Gulf. One BP executive was accused of manipulating oil spill estimates. Others were accused of destroying evidence associated with the post-disaster investigations.

We are currently in a period of increasing deregulation of environmental protections. When it comes to American fossil fuel companies, there is a clear role that recordkeeping – or rather, attacks on recordkeeping – play in deregulation. Effective regulation – whether over fossil fuel production and emissions, or workplace safety rules – requires comprehensive and accurate recordkeeping. In contrast, American politicians who support expansion of fossil fuel energy production in the United States routinely deride regulatory oversight as limiting economic progress and domestic energy independence. One of the primary tools of deregulation has been to cut back the amount of information that industry is required to share with regulators, or the amount of recordkeeping it must maintain internally for safety and accountability.

Recordkeeping alone cannot produce environmental health and workplace safety. But achieving either is impossible without baseline records that provide accountability and information to affected communities.