Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fall Speakers at the Clarke Library

by Frank Boles

On November 3, the last of six programs sponsored this fall by the Clarke Historical Library was held. The speakers offered their audiences a great deal of information on a wide range of topics.

The Clarke’s current exhibit, Photography: Process, People & Preservation, was opened on September 18 with a lecture about pre-digital photography by CMU Professor Al Wildey. Professor Wildey, who also generously loaned cameras from his personal collection for our exhibit, highlighted a variety of photographic processes used through time, noting how each played a role in the development of photography.

On September 25, Janice Harrington demonstrated why she has performed at the National Story Telling Festival in Washington, DC, as she enthralled her audience with story, personal narrative, and an impromptu poetry reading. She discussed where she drew inspiration for her children’s books and the process through which an idea eventually became a book. The poetry reading came about when Professor Harrington met the founder of the David M. and Eunice Sutherland Burgess Endowment, which made the evening’s event possible. Ms. Burgess expressed her admiration for Professor Harrington’s poetry. Although it wasn’t planned, the evening ended with a Harrington reading a few poems, among them one of Ms. Burgess’ favorites.

On October 1, the focus shifted to barns as Steve Stier, one of the state’s leading experts on the subject, presented an illustrated lecture describing Michigan barns. A basic introduction to barn architecture and styles flowed seamlessly into a discussion of the people who built Michigan’s barns. The photos reminded the audience of the poses, none of them likely to meet contemporary OSHA standards for construction safety, local boys and men often assumed high up on the barn rafters, when a photographer came calling.

On October 14, Professor Andrew Mahon took the audience on a research trip to Antarctica. The stories of serious research were mixed with photographs of the awe and wonder found amid the continent’s unending ice, and what life aboard a research vessel was really like.

On October 23, author Keith Widder opened a fascinating window on the capture of Fort Michilimackinac by Ojibwe warriors on June 2, 1763. The story commonly told ends with the capture of the Fort, but Mr. Widder’s story only began on June 2. He told a fascinating and complex tale of diplomacy involving Britain and several Native American nations. The capture of the Fort by the Ojibwe did not have the support of all of the Native American tribes in the region, and some tribes, including some bands of Ojibwe, were distinctly displeased with the attackers. Eventually the British soldiers who were taken captive after the fighting ended were returned to Montreal, but they traveled in a most peculiar convoy that mixed imprisoned British soldiers with other British redcoats from Green Bay traveling freely back to Montreal with their Menominee and Odawa tribal allies.

Finally, on November 3, Michigan State University librarian Michael Unsworth discussed the underutilized but extremely valuable Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections. A forty volume set of pioneer reminisces, historical sketches, original documents, and the occasional “historical paper,” the long-running series offers a true insight into early life in Michigan. It does not necessarily give up its secrets easily; the multi-volume set was actually published under three different titles and finding online a single, searchable set of the volumes takes more than a bit of persistence and skill.

Stay tuned to the Clarke's News and Notes blog for more information about our upcoming spring speaker series, which promises to be informative and captivating.