Thursday, September 28, 2017

Ask a CMU Archivist Day

On Wednesday, October 4, archivists across the country will participate in the Society of American Archivists' "Ask an Archivist Day" event. Archivists will answer questions about what we do, how people can preserve their documents, how people can get involved with archives, and tons of other questions that archivists are (hopefully) fully-equipped to answer.

Here at the Clarke, we are going to answer your questions about CMU history for Ask an Archivist Day. In addition to our exhibit and our monthly brown bag lunch series, "Ask a CMU Archivist" Day is a way of celebrating the 125th anniversary of the founding of Central Michigan University. We will use this day to answer questions about CMU history and what it is that we do in the Clarke to collect and preserve that history and then make it available to anyone and everyone.

To participate, simply send a question on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #AskACMUArchivist. You can also send questions to the Clarke's e-mail using the subject "Ask a CMU Archivist." The archivists and staff at the Clarke will work throughout the day answering your questions and making those answers available to the world via our Twitter and Facebook pages. For more information, visit the "Ask a CMU Archivist" web page.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Professor Roderick McGillis

By Frank Boles

On Tuesday September 19, Roderick McGillis delivered the annual David and Eunice Sutherland Burgess Endowed Lecture to a large group of students, faculty, and other guests. A distinguished senior scholar of children’s literature Dr. McGillis presented a fascinating history of the development of children’s literature as an academic discipline, and ended his presentation by sharing one of his many stories; something he is justly famous for.

When Doctor McGillis began his career children’s literature was not taken very seriously. Books for children were considered nothing more than brightly illustrated and cleverly written teaching tools. The point of children’s literature was simply to educate children, with words and illustration having no real importance other than to keep the child’s interest. “Real literature,” the books English professors read, discussed, argued over, and eventually taught to their students, was written by adults for adults.

Over his long career Dr. McGillis struggled to help create professional organizations dedicated to children’s works, a professional discourse about children’s books, and to make those organizations and that discourse a recognized and accepted part of literary study. His presentation talked about the development of these goals, and contained more than a little concern that even today children’s literature is still dismissed by some “serious” academics as beneath their concern. But today those who dismiss children’s literature as a mere trifle are in the minority.

It was a presentation that captured the development and change of a field by one of the individuals deeply responsible for that development and change, offering insight not only into what happened, but more importantly why it happened.

But Doctor McGillis is also a well-known story teller, who proved the acclaim he has received for his ability in the field with a wonderful tale to end the evening. I cannot do the story justice, so let me simply say it was about his relationship with his grandmother, Grandma Burchill, how she claimed to him she was always up first in their house because she awoken by “the crack of dawn,” and that someday, when she died and no longer could beat him into the kitchen, she would be sure that he too knew the secret of hearing it. True to her word, the morning after she died, at first light, “Roddie” heard the crack. 

Is the story true?  As Professor McGillis reflects here,  it is a story he first heard someone else tell, over twenty years ago. He retells it placed in his own childhood home, with his own Grandmother, as it would have happened for him.

So, is it true?  Ernest Hemingway once wrote: ““You make something from things that have happened and from things that exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, and you make something through your invention that is truer than anything true and alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality.” 

Professor McGillis story about the crack of dawn I think would pass Hemingway’s test as something “truer than anything true.”

Monday, September 18, 2017

Boundary Voices: Snapshots of the Student Experience at Central Michigan University

By Frank Boles

On September 13 Professors Jay Martin and Brittany Fremion opened the Clarke’s current exhibit celebrating the University’s 125th anniversary by sharing some of the results of an oral history project with CMU students, past and present, that they have been conducting.  Their presentation offered insights into why students come to CMU, their experience on campus, and their views about the institution.

One of the many interesting points made in the presentation was on the importance of mentorship. Two stories told by individuals who attended CMU in the 1950s made this point vividly.

John “Jack” Harkins also told of how individual insight could help a student in need. The Harkins family owned a farm on what is today the CMU campus (when you visit the Music Building you are on the Harkness farm) and Jack had attended CMU’s “Lab” School, where student teachers learned their skills teaching students in a real school located on campus. Harkins went to college in Ohio and after three semesters returned home, without an invitation to return to his school. He applied for admission to Central and was rejected. He did not meet the normal admission criteria and was told, in so many words, to join the military and “grow up.”
Jack was not of a mind to enter the Service so one evening his father walked over to President Anspach’s house (which is today the Alumni Center) and knocked on the door. Anspach answered and the two men had a discussion about Jack, which ended with Anspach promising to look into the boy’s case. After reviewing transcripts and talking to his former teachers at Central, Anspach called Jack to his office, and told him he was reversing the decision of the Admission Committee and admitted Jack to Central. As it turned out, Anspach did this a few times every year – using his judgement to admit a student who he thought had the talent to succeed, but not the background to pass muster with the admission committee. As one of “Charley’s boys”, Harkins would go on to obtain both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Central, become very successful as a local Mt. Pleasant business person, and become a generous benefactor to both the school and the community.

Walter Beach was a talented football player from Pontiac who was being recruited by Michigan, Michigan State, and Central. In the end he came to Central because, as he told it in the interview that was shared, his mother decided that Central’s football coach, Bill Kelly, was an “honorable man” who would do right by her son. Kelly would quickly prove her right.

In the first few days of practice Kelly’s assistant coaches organized the squad into four practice teams, with Beach always being placed on the fourth team with the poorest prospects. Kelly, knowing Beach’s potential, kept moving Beach to the first team, only to have the assistant coaches put Beach on the fourth team the next day. After a few days of this, Kelly called a team meeting of coaches and players. He announced by name who he expected on his first team at practice – Beach among them. The point could not have been made more clearly – judge Beach by his talent, not his color.

It was a lesson the NFL had yet to learn. Beach would go on to a career in the NFL, shortened because he was considered a troublemaker. In 1961 when the Boston Patriots went to New Orleans for a pre-season game the team was housed in a luxury hotel – except for Black players who the facility would not accommodate. Black players were to be housed with Black families in the community. Beach would have none of it, and made the decision to fly down to New Orleans on the day of the game, play, and then fly back to Boston that evening. Boston’s coach, Mike Holovak, decided this was unacceptable behavior, and cut Beach from the team the day after the game.

In 1963, while working as an elementary school teacher back in Pontiac, he was picked up as a free agent by the Cleveland Browns. Just before the 1964 season was to begin, he was suddenly cut from the team. He was packing his bags for the drive back to Pontiac when Jim Brown, then Cleveland’s outstanding star player and a man who recognized Beach’s talent, told Beach to wait a few minutes before leaving camp. Brown went to talk to management. Management never apologized for the “mix-up”, but Beach was back on the team. With his help Cleveland would win the 1964 NFL championship. However when Brown retired Beach knew his days with Cleveland were numbered. He was quickly fired.

In 1967 Beach would be present at one of the most iconic moments of sports history. Jim Brown asked him to come to a meeting where several Black athletes would gather to publicly support world champion heavy weight boxer Muhammad Ali, who had announced he was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and had refused to be inducted into the military.

“It was an unforgettable moment. It was one of the most significant moments in my life. Ali was one of the most principled and moral human beings on the planet at the time.  …We met as black men around a moral and ethical issue, not as celebrity football or basketball players.”

Beach’s words, while true, understate the public importance of the moment and the risk those who participated took, because of the widespread publicity received when a group of Black men, who also were a stellar assembly of athletes, publicly took a moral stand to support Ali.

The people who made Central was it is today are both the students who attended here, and the faculty and staff who helped them achieve their dreams. There stories were an integral part of Professors Martin and Fremion’s presentation, and is part of what we celebrate this anniversary year.

Friday, September 8, 2017

CM Life Issues 1999-2016 Added to Digital Repository

The student newspaper CM Life and its predecessors have been a part of the CMU campus since 1919. Recently additional issues have been brought online in Clarke Historical Library's digital repository, expanding the run up through June, 2016. The preservation microfilming unit of Clarke first brought issues online back in 2013 including Central Normal Life (1919-1927), Central State Life (1927-41), and Central Michigan Life (1941-98). This was accomplished by taking microfilmed issues of the newspapers through the scanning process in order to digitize them. Now you can find all of the digitized issues available via the CMU Digital Collections.

Whether you do a single search that covers the entire run or zero in on a time period, each issue appears as an individual PDF file which presents the newspaper exactly as published. Issues can be searched individually too.  Additionally, the page content pane displays plain text, which aids researchers with transcriptions.

The student newspaper project was the first newspaper digitization project undertaken by the Clarke. Since the original project in 2013, upgraded software provides an improved user experience to CMU digital collections which include Digital Michigan Newspapers, the Digital Michigan Newspaper Portal, CMU History, CMU Scholarly & Creative Works, Clarke Digital Collections, and the Historical Soo Locks Images. By hosting the newspaper collection, Clarke qualified for participation in the National Digital Newspaper Project, a partnership between the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

With 1,714 newly added issues including 14,700 pages, CMU's recent past is a near as your keyboard.