Friday, October 23, 2020

The Task of Exhibits — A Student’s Perspective

by Janet Danek and Leah Ryal

Leah installing pieces from the Olga Denison Collection

Click on this image or any image to open a slide show
of all the full-size photographs in this post

Janet Danek:

Many of the artworks exhibited throughout the Park Library were gifts from generous donors. The late Olga Denison, a Mt. Pleasant resident, gifted to CMU her collection of contemporary Anishinaabe art, which she had passionately assembled over a 40-year period. The Clarke Historical Library is fortunate to be steward to this diverse resource.

To share these works with library patrons, an exhibition space on the fourth floor of the library is dedicated to featuring a glimpse of this vast body of material. The display is rotated regularly to provide exposure to the hundreds of artifacts in the collection.

The process of rotating the exhibit is complex, as each object is cataloged, archivally packed and securely stored. Precise records must be created to track all objects going on and off exhibit. Interpretive labeling and photographic records must be created. On installation day, a team is assembled to provide access to the cases, and re-secure after each is cleaned, and new objects and interpretation are set on exhibition. The task is extensive.

The complexity, necessity of archival handling and the need for project management makes it a valuable hands-on opportunity for a student interested art, history, and/or exhibits. Fortunately, student worker Leah Ryal, who has worked on exhibits in the library since 2018, fits that criteria and was up to the challenge.

Leah working with the Olga Denison Collection

Leah Ryal:

With a full year of work behind me in preparing the Denison Collection art exhibition, I can now say that the development of an exhibit is no simple task. Throughout the process, I was able to try on many different hats from researcher, writer, designer, and more while also learning from the guidance and expertise of Janet Danek, Park Library Coordinator of Exhibits, and Marian Matyn, Clarke Historical Library archivist and associate professor.

One of the first steps of this process was research, which started at the Clarke Historical Library. I delved into the Denison Collection and learned about the art objects I could work with. During this process, I came across a wide variety of objects such as black ash flowers, alabaster stone sculptures, and sweetgrass baskets. As an art history student, I am particularly interested in sculpture and three-dimensional objects. One of my favorite sculptures on display is an orange alabaster turtle by Gary Quigno. Handling this object surprised me because the sculpture is quite heavy. While the sculpture is visually beautiful and elegant, I also appreciate the solidity and grounding weight that the sculpture has. Being able to handle the art, I could feel the weight and texture of each object, giving me a better understanding of the objects themselves.

I also conducted research about the Anishinaabe and other Native American tribes in Michigan so I could write the interpretation. For this exhibition, we introduced interpretative text that described the thematic content of each case. The goal for these texts was to provide a broader context to understand these objects. While the objects tell a visual story simply through their color, texture, and shape, the interpretation was used to further tell the story of the art that you couldn’t glean from looking at the object. Perhaps the most challenging part of this task was learning how to write for a new audience. During my studies at CMU, the majority of my writing is for professors or other students. In the case of the Denison Collection, it became an exercise in learning how I write, in order to communicate a message to a wider audience.

The final step of the exhibition process was the de-installation and installation of the objects. This was my favorite part of the process because it is the culmination of all our work. The de-installation and installation occurred on a single day and were the most physically laborious part of the development process. However, I particularly enjoyed it because I enjoy working with my hands and designing the look of each case. One of the more unexpected aspects of this process was the need for extreme organization. With so many works leaving and entering the cases, I had to keep close track of the items. To streamline this process, I kept detailed records with a spreadsheet I created. The spreadsheet helped me note when objects left the cases, how they were packed, and when they were returned. The document also had a description of each item and its accession number which helped me correctly place the labels in the cases. On this final day, with the help of many library employees, we completed the installation of the new Olga Denison Collection of Anishinaabe Art exhibition.

The completion of this exhibit has felt satisfying but also rewarding. While this is my job, I also treat it as a continuous learning experience. Through projects like these, I can learn about the unique processes and skills necessary for exhibits. Hands-on experiences give me more confidence in my skills and opportunities to strengthen my weaknesses. After graduation, I am interested in working in the art or museum field so experiences like this are truly invaluable to me. Post-graduation, I hope to continue working to make art accessible and engaging for the public. Developing the Denison Collection art exhibition has not only given me an in-depth experience with exhibits, but it has also made me excited for the possibilities to come.

A bit more about Leah Ryal:

I’m in a senior, graduating in May 2021. I will graduate with a BA in Art History and Psychology. I am a part of the Honors Program. I started working for the library in Fall 2018. My academic interests focus on the intersections of art, psychology, and well-being. Outside of school, my interests include cooking, traveling, making art, and environmental activism.

Click on this image or any image to open a slide show
of all the full-size photographs in this post

Monday, October 19, 2020

Homecoming Traditions Turned Upside Down

by Bryan Whitledge and Casey Gamble

Marching Chips, Homecoming 2002

The 2020 Homecoming at Central is not your usual event. With a public health emergency changing many aspects of our lives, Homecoming is changing, too. This year, Homecoming doesn’t involve a football game or a parade or a pep rally. Instead, the Office of Student Activities and Involvement has created the “Fired Up Challenge” with events like virtual trivia, a virtual concert, and a campus photo challenge. Some traditions will continue though, like the Homecoming Ambassadors. Others are being tweaked to fit our physically distant existence, like the virtual Medallion Hunt and the Special Olympics Homecoming Virtual 5K walk/run that participants can complete on their own.

But, 2020 isn’t the first time that the Homecoming traditions changed. With nearly 100 years of Homecomings at Central, there have been many changes to the tradition over the years.

For example, this isn’t the first Homecoming when football wasn’t the centerpiece event. In 1943, 1944, and 1945, World War II put many campus happenings on hold, among them a Homecoming football game. In 1946, however, Homecoming came back bigger and better than ever at Central with the addition of a new tradition—the Homecoming Queen.

Twenty-five years later, in 1971, it wasn’t a global war that shook up Homecoming traditions—it was the spirit of the times. The Student Alumni Association decided to get rid of the parades, dances, residence hall decorations, and even the Homecoming court. It was reported that students didn’t particularly care about the court and that there were simply not enough parade participants to make that tradition worthwhile. The Student Alumni Association wanted to try something new that all students and alumni could enjoy, so they organized a carnival, a bazaar, and a "style show" instead. The only Homecoming events they held onto from previous years were the pep rally and the football game.

CMU President Boyd and Students at the Homecoming Carnival, 1971
This experiment proved both controversial and short-lived. An editorial in CM Life following Homecoming weekend reported that returning alumni were unimpressed with “coming home” to a Ferris wheel ride, and many people felt there was a lack of school spirit. The editorial writer suggested that the next time big changes were to be made for an event such as Homecoming, those changes should be voted on by the student body to see just how many people cared what weekend festivities might be enjoyed.

Homecoming Carnival, 1971
In a rebuttal published two days later, the co-chairs of the Homecoming Steering Committee offered several answers and explanations for their decisions. For example, the co-chairs felt that the Homecoming Queen did not really represent the CMU student body, but rather she represented the group that sponsored her. They said that Miss CMU, a student chosen from among all CMU students in a pageant the previous spring, would be a better representative of the CMU student body than the Queen and her court. And the students in 1971 might have been a onto something in terms of changes to the Queen and her court—in 1997, CMU did away with Homecoming royalty altogether in favor of Homecoming Ambassadors.

As for the parade, the co-chairs declared the bazaar a more than satisfactory replacement. They said that “at least 50 groups requested to build a booth for the bazaar,” which they said meant there was more interest in the bazaar than there was for previous parades. The Homecoming Steering Committee also noted that they did not intend for students to refrain from decorating their residence halls, only that students should decorate lightly and donate to charity the rest of the money that they normally would have spent on decorations. This was another example of the 1971 experiment being more in line with the twenty-first century. The idea of students giving back and supporting a good cause is why the contemporary Homecoming 5K benefiting Special Olympics is such a popular event.

Over the years, Homecoming traditions have faced hurdles, but those hurdles never stopped the events. The cancellation of the football games during WWII didn’t mean and end of Homecoming—in fact, after the War, the tradition expanded. The experiment of the alternative Homecoming of 1971 might not have been popular with everyone at the time, but the spirit of updating Homecoming traditions has lived on—the dances that were popular in 1950s have faded away, while the Medallion Hunt, started in 2003, and the cardboard boat race, started in 1998, have become campus favorites.

Cardboard Boat Race, ca. 2014

In 2024, when Central celebrates the 100th anniversary of the first Homecoming, who knows what new traditions created during the remarkable 2020 Homecoming will live on to be new CMU traditions.

This blog has been adapted from one that appeared in a slightly different form on October 9, 2017.

Monday, September 28, 2020

CMU Professor’s Opera Now Showing Online


Nearly 20 years ago, From the Diary of Sally Hemings premiered at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The solo opera was composed by William Bolcom of the University of Michigan with libretto (text) by now-retired Central Michigan University professor of English, Sandra Seaton. The opera is a fictional account of the thoughts and feelings of Sally Hemings, the enslaved women owned by Thomas Jefferson and mother to six children fathered by Jefferson. As Seaton said at the time of the premiere, in the spring of 2001, “I wanted to give Hemings a voice and bring her to life. I wanted her to be more than a slave or a sexual role.” In 2001, Professor Seaton joined an audience that included descendants of Hemings and Jefferson at the Library of Congress for the premiere, which was covered in both the Centralight magazine and the CM Life student newspaper.

Mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar (left), Sandra Seaton (center), and William Bolcom (right) at the Library of Congress Premiere of From the Diary of Sally Hemings

Sandra Seaton (back, center) with descendants of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson

Sandra Seaton (front row, fourth from the right) with descendants of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson 

Now, the opera is again in the spotlight. The piece was scheduled to be part of the line-up of the 2020 Glimmerglass Festival, an opera festival held in upstate New York. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, live performances of the selected operas were cancelled. But that didn’t mean that show wouldn’t go on—the General Director of the festival, Francesca Zambello, decided to create videos of all of the operas to be performed. Professor Seaton’s work was performed and recorded at Merkin Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. And now, that recording can be seen by anyone with a connection to the internet. Enjoy the 47-minute video on the Glimmerglass Festival YouTube page.

Scene from Glimmerglass Festival performance of From the Diary of Sally Hemings

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Welcome Back into the Building

by Frank Boles

On August 3 the Park Library Building will welcome users into the building for the first time since the building closed in accordance with the governor's executive orders. Re-opening however, does not mean access will be the same as it was before the pandemic struck. In accordance with both the governor's executive orders and CMU's own decisions, new rules will be in place. The two most important rules will be:
  • All visitors must wear face masks at all times.   
  • Social distancing of a minimum of six feet must be observed. To accomplish this rule:   
    • One researcher (or one, related group) will be allowed at each table in the reading room. 
    • Generally four people at a time will be allowed in the exhibit area at the same time to view the exhibit (exemptions will be made for a related group who wish to see the exhibit together, such as a multi-generational family). 
In order to enforce the social distance policy, beginning August 3 and throughout the fall academic semester, an appointment will be required to enter the Clarke Historical Library, either to view the exhibit or the use of the library resources in the reading room. 

To make an appointment either 
  • Email us at Please let us know if you wish to see the exhibit or conduct research, and the tentative date and time you plan to visit. If you wish to do research, we would also appreciate an estimate of how long you believe you'll be visiting.
    • We will contact you by email to confirm the date and appointment, or if necessary, request you adjust your schedule.  
  • Telephone 989.774.3352 and ask to make an appointment.
The library will be open 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday (excluding academic and national holidays), and Saturday, September 19 and Saturday, October 17 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. 
  • Please contact us a minimum of 24 hours before your proposed visit, during normal working hours. 
  • Reservation dates and times will be made in the order in which they are received. Calling early is recommended. 
Although electronic resources have proved a lifeline for many library users, sometimes there is no substitute for coming in the door. We look forward to seeing you soon. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

The Flowers Of Summer

by Frank Boles

As an occasional gardener, I was delighted when the library recently received a complimentary copy of Passion for Peonies: Celebrating the Culture and Conservation of Nichols Arboretum’s Beloved Flower, edited by David Michener and Robert Grese (Ann Arbor University of Michigan Press, 2020).

As the authors point out, peonies were once America’s favorite flower, and because they are so easy to divide they remain a cherished, flowering heirloom in many families, where a part of “grandma’s peony” still blooms every summer in the garden.

Noting the flowers' long history in gardens, the book includes a section on “Peonies in Classic Garden Writing.” There I found a piece of writing by an old acquaintance of the Clarke Historical Library, Louisa Yeomans King. In the early years of the twentieth century, Mrs. King, who lived in Alma, Michigan, was one of the nation’s leading gardeners and an important author about gardens. Her home and garden in Alma, Orchard House, was something of a shrine. But when Mrs. King’s husband died in 1927, he left his wife without the means to maintain her extensive garden. Mrs. King sold Orchard House and its garden. After an extended tour of Europe, she settled in New York state where she continued her career as an author and planted a new, far less extensive, garden.

Mrs. King chose to destroy her personal papers, and for many years there were no good pictures of her Alma garden. But in Alma, the family of Mrs. King’s long-time gardener, Frank Ankney, had preserved a treasure: an album of photos taken of the garden that had been given to Frank. That album is now preserved in the Clarke Historical Library. Pictures from the album of Mrs. King’s peonies illustrate her reprinted article in Passion of Peonies.

Mr. Ankney’s album is a small piece of mid-Michigan summer beauty the Clarke Historical Library is happy to hold, preserve, and make available for use. As for the garden itself, without Mrs. King’s inspiration it slowly declined. Eventually this small piece of paradise did actually become a parking lot. But we remember it in its glory, through pictures, some taken more than a century ago.

If you would like to know move about Mrs. King and her Alma garden, visit the Clarke library's website

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Covid and DigMichNews

By Ed Bradley

During this pandemic, time spent finding social media items in CMU’s Digital Michigan Newspapers portal has taken an interesting turn.

In searching the Clarke Historical Library-administered portal – and Michigan newspapers digitized by the Clarke for the Library of Congress “Chronicling America” site -- for potential entries for the DigMichNewspapers Twitter site, I came to wonder about the similarities in coverage of Covid-19 and the last great world health crisis: the “Spanish flu” outbreak of 1918-19.

Big-city papers of that time gave substantial coverage (albeit much less on the front page in comparison with 2020) to the pandemic, but much less attention was paid by the kinds of small-town dailies and weeklies found in the DigMich collection. Their focus was on local, not national, news, and the flu hit cities harder. But the town papers did not ignore the crisis. As with Covid-19, their concern was expressed in multiple attitudes: warning, suspicion, exploitation.

For example, an October 11, 1918, story in the OxfordLeader was meant to provide help on how not to become infected, with language not unlike that of 2020. The syndicated “Uncle Sam’s Advice on Flu” article quoted U.S. Surgeon General Rupert Blue with a strong sense of concern – and a call for social distancing without using the term that would be ubiquitous a century hence.

“It is now believed that influenza is always spread from person to person, the germs being carried with the air along with the very small droplets … expelled by coughing or sneezing, forceful talking, and the like by one who already has the germs of the disease,” Blue said. “… [E]very person who becomes sick … should go home at once and go to bed. … It is highly desirable that no one be allowed to sleep in the same room as the patient.

“When [outdoor] crowding is unavoidable … care should be taken to keep the face so turned as not to exhale directly the air breathed out by another person.”

Indeed, some folks did wear masks in 1918, but the Great War was still foremost in the public mind. A public-service message that accompanied the above Leader article read “Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases … As Dangerous as Poison Gas Shells,” a reference to the deadly chemical weapons used overseas.

As there have been conspiracy theories regarding the coronavirus, so were there regarding the 1918 flu. The October 2 issue of the BeldingBanner-News blared that the flu “May Be Spread by German Spies.” This was a local story of sorts, for the source of the story was a Banner-News editor, Hubert Engemann, a sailor who had returned to Michigan after a stay in the U.S. Naval Hospital in Annapolis, Maryland, which had been overrun by the flu.

 “There was some talk,” read the story, “that the disease was spread by German agents or spies, but [Engemann] was rather inclined to discredit this himself, although he said that there was nothing that the enemy would not stoop to do.”

As the pandemic lingered into 1919, opportunities came for commercial entities to take advantage. A page of the January 16 Leelanau Enterprise included competing ads for anti-flu medicine: the stomach acid remedy Eatonic promised to clean “Toxic Poisons Out of the Digestive Tract,” and the touting of Hill’s Bromide Cascara Quinine was even more direct: “Don’t wait until your cold develops Spanish Influenza or pneumonia. Kill it quick.”

By the way, the 1918-19 sickness was generally referred to in print as “the Spanish ‘flu,’” not “the ‘Spanish’ flu” or “the ‘Spanish flu.’” The small difference in punctuation signaled doubt on whether the malady was influenza while affirming it was Spanish in origin. Actually, there is no clear evidence of the latter, but Spain was likely saddled with the blame because it was hit hard early by the flu – and, as a World War I-neutral nation without imposed censorship, did not curtail reporting of its troubles.

Regarding some of the phrases we’ve been hearing as we battle Covid-19, a search of the Clarke collection reminds us of the fluidity of linguistics. A 1994 Oxford Leader advertisement advised us to “Be Safe at Home!” – only this safety came in the purchase of a home security system. And a 1964 ad in the same weekly informed us we would save money by staying home to shop -- but this “Shop at Home” strategy was in buying from local merchants and not from those out of town.

Clarke Staffer Pens Film History Volume

By Ed Bradley
The photograph on the cover of my newly published movie history book is from It’s Great to Be Alive, a 1933 mix of music, comedy, romance, science fiction, and gender-role reversal – all set amid a global pandemic.
Ripped from the headlines? No, the image on the front of Hollywood Musicals You Missed: 70 Noteworthy Films from the 1930s (McFarland & Co.) was selected well before Covid-19. Much stranger than the real-life menace is the malady in It’s Great to Be Alive, which leads to the demise of the Earth’s entire male populace … save for one conveniently golden-voiced swain portrayed by Brazilian heartthrob Raul Roulien.
Even if It’s Great to Be Alive doesn’t seem quite as frivolous now as when I viewed it during my research, I love it, and its ilk, no less. This is my fourth book about Depression era American musical films. There have been decades of movie musicals with more patriotism, bigger bands, splashier color, pricier budgets, and rock ’n’ roll. But it is easy to dive into ’30s tune fests – and the talents of Fred Astaire, Busby Berkeley, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and others, with Tin Pan Alley and the advent of swing music – and not want to come up for air.
The more obscure, the better. Stellar figures such as Astaire, Berkeley, and Judy Garland deserve appreciation, but historians have discussed them and their pictures to death. That is why the new book includes entries on The Way to Love (1933), in which star Maurice Chevalier gets upstaged by a dog, and The Girl Said No (1937), a wonderful tribute to Gilbert and Sullivan that was a jukebox musical before there were jukeboxes.
Then there are the little-seen pictures starring Herbert Jeffries, the Detroit-born actor billed as the first African American singing cowboy; Dorothy Page, the first female Western singing actor; and Lou Gehrig, the New York Yankees star whose emoting in Rawhide (1938) makes you wish he would have spent some time away from playing first base to take acting lessons.
Screen musicals aren’t very popular in 2020. The thought of actors bursting into song unprompted is somehow too fanciful for the audiences who thrill at Star Wars or the Marvel Universe, although the success of La La Land and recent Queen and Elton John biopics provide some hope for the genre. As time passes, the sounds of the early films seem to grow fainter, more remote.
For my first book, The First Hollywood Musicals (1996), Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Maureen O’Sullivan, George Burns, Dorothy Lee, and other stars were alive for me to interview about their forays into song. They are gone now, but their vintage tune films should not be allowed to disappear. They won’t, as long as there are caretakers to make sure they are seen, heard, and preserved.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Piecing Together History

Archives, museums, and libraries are sometime seen as stodgy, but most are actually highly creative organizations that engage the public with all sorts of fun and interesting programming. During the COVID-19 public health emergency, institutions large and small across the world have gotten even more creative to connect with people. During a meeting with CMU Libraries staff, Marian Matyn, the Archivist at the Clarke, mentioned that some institutions are using images from their holdings to create virtual jigsaw puzzles.

That suggestion sparked an idea for Janet Danek, the CMU Libraries’ Coordinator of Art, Exhibits, and Projects: are there any images from past exhibitions that we might be able to give the “jigsaw” treatment? Janet worked with Bryan Whitledge, the Archivist for University Digital Records, to transform images from the Shaping Memories through Three Lenses exhibit into virtual puzzles. This exhibit, from the fall of 2019, featured the photography of three of CMU’s photographers: Robert Barclay, Peggy Brisbane, and Steve Jessmore. Over the course of nearly forty years, these three documented the history of the Central Michigan University, from big events with nationally known guests to quiet moments of studying, and everything in between.

By transforming their work into puzzles, people have a new way to interact with the Clarke’s holdings and the history of CMU. If you loved seeing the photos before, focusing on detail while piecing the images together will give you a new appreciation for the art of Barclay, Brisbane, and Jessmore. Iconic pictures, like the toilet paper toss, CMU’s Baja car flying over a dune, or Jeff Daniels’ performance in downtown Mt. Pleasant (pictured above) are available to anyone at the click of a mouse. The puzzles have been created to offer up a range of difficulty levels: from breezy, forty-piece breaks that might take five minutes to 200-piece stumpers that could occupy a couple hours.

Each week, the Clarke will upload a new puzzle. So, check back regularly to piece together the history of CMU, one iconic image at a time.

Monday, June 15, 2020

International Childrens Book Reading

In February, the Clarke Historical Library held its sixth annual “Children’s Book from Around the World” event. During the six-hour event, 190 people stopped by the Park Library’s Baber Room to listen to over 35 volunteers from all corners of the globe read children’s books in 20 languages other than English. For the Clarke, this event is always a great opportunity to showcase the library’s collection of award-winning international children’s literature, with books from over 75 countries in over 50 languages.

For our readers, many of whom are affiliated with the Office of Global Engagement or the Department of World Languages and Cultures at CMU, the event offers other opportunities. For those who are native speakers of the language, this event is a chance for them to share a bit of their language and culture. For those who are learning the language through their courses here at Central Michigan University, they can demonstrate the language skills they have acquired through their studies. And for the whole campus, it is an excellent chance to highlight the rich diversity of languages found on the CMU campus.

In a twist this year, and to coincide with the Clarke’s exhibit, The Surprise and Wonder of Pop-up Books several readers read pop-up books in languages other than English. There were other memorable moments, such as when the Japanese 202 class took turns reading from their book so that all seven students from the class would have a chance to read. Or when one reader read in five different languages found in the same South African book – Zulu, Sesotho, Xhosa, Setswana, and Sepedi!

The Clarke appreciates the support of the Office of Global Engagement and the Department of World Languages and Cultures in bringing this event together. To view an “Art Review” segment from MAC TV about the event, take a look at their Vimeo page.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

50 Years Later: CMU Activism in the Wake of the Kent State Shootings

by Bryan Whitledge

After Richard Nixon’s April 30, 1970 announcement that military action would intensify in Cambodia, protests erupted across the country. Colleges and universities were a hotbed of activism, including Central Michigan University and Kent State University in Ohio. In Kent, Ohio, things became tragic on Monday, May 4, 1970: four students died and nine were injured after National Guardsmen opened fire on the assembled students.

"Freedom Hall," Click to enlarge
The events at Kent State did not happen in a vacuum and the reverberations were felt far and wide. That evening, in Mt. Pleasant, activist students went inside Central Hall on the CMU campus with the goal of occupying the building. Central Hall was the first gymnasium building at CMU and was the headquarters of the ROTC for many years. After taking over the building, students bestowed the name “Freedom Hall” on the building. Those occupying Central Hall effectively locked out the regular occupants of the building for the next five days. Reports of the number of occupying students in “Freedom Hall” range from 50 to 200. In addition to those in the building, hundreds established a “People’s Park” on the grounds around the building on the Warriner Mall.

On Saturday, May 9, the activist students and the University administration, led by President William Boyd, negotiated an end to the occupation of “Freedom Hall.” They also agreed that the tents in the “People’s Park” would come down each morning and could be reinstalled at dusk. By Monday, May 18, there were no more reports in the CM Life about tents on Warriner Mall.

All in all, the peaceful nature of the reaction of Central’s students and administration to the Kent State shootings was remarkable. Very little property damage was caused (CM Life reports $650 of damage), there were no arrests, and no confrontations between protesters and authorities.

To mark the 50th anniversary of these events, we are sharing some of the memories of those who were at Central during the time. These quotes are from two oral history interviews conducted by the staff of the Clarke Historical Library: one with former CMU President William Boyd (2014) and one with several activist students on campus during the occupation of “Freedom Hall” (2016).

"People's Park" viewed from above, click to enlarge

Central Hall was chosen as the object of the takeover because it was the headquarters of CMU ROTC. Former student Jon Childs remarked,
“They [Ohio National Guardsmen] shot these kids at Kent State, and the next day or that night, maybe, myself and a few other people decided to take over the ROTC building. There was a big -- one of the big movements here at that time was to get ROTC off campus. There was a group called SCAR, Student Committee to Abolish ROTC.”
Several former students remembered the environment in the building. While talking about the ROTC student staff who was in charge of the armory, where the weapons were stored, Dan Manville remembered,
“He [the student in charge of the armory] was not coming out […]. He was scared we were going to take over the weapons […]. He was in there, we had to feed him, he had to use the bathroom, so we gave him a bucket to use and whenever he wanted food, we would go and get food for him. […] He started trusting us, so we ended up taking care of him. So, it's like [the others in the interview] said, we weren't there to do anything [destructive]. It was a protest against the War.”
Ron Barrons said of his time in "Freedom Hall," “I can still hear the rattle of the chains [that padlocked the front doors of the building], and feel the rock hard floor under my sleeping bag.”

Paul Puma also remembered life in the occupied building:
“When you're in a building and the mere fact that you're in the building and you're controlling it, that is your statement, life goes on. So, within that building, relationships were formed, people met boyfriends, girlfriends. […] It was a little society within the society.”
Freedom rally on Warriner Mall, click to enlarge

Jon Childs noted that not everyone had the same strategies for change – some were into peace and love, some were political, some were hot-headed:
“[W]ithin the ROTC building, it wasn't all one big happy family. There were factions in there, too. […] At one point, someone came in to burn it down, brought in gasoline […]. We had a big fight about [strategy]. Where do we go from there? What does that mean, now we're destroyers?”
Rally in front of "Freedom Hall," click to enlarge

As the protest wore on, questions about when and how it would end began to bubble up. Cathy Courtney mentioned a time when she talked with President Boyd about how it would all end and his successful dialog with the students:
“I said, […] ‘it's not going to be much longer, you [President Boyd] don't need to bring in the cops. You're doing really good, you're negotiating just great, but it's going to be coming up because finals is coming up. People aren't going to miss their finals, they're not going to take incompletes. It will be over, and we're going to do freedom school instead.”
In a solo interview with Clarke staff, President Boyd offered a similar take on the events of May 1970, albeit from the administration's point of view. When asked, “In comparison to Berkeley, how did you view these events?,” Boyd answered:
“Well, I was surprised and pleased by the good nature of the Central student body. For example, when they occupied what became Freedom Hall, the ROTC building, they permitted an inspection every day by the administration to be sure that sanitation was OK, etc. I couldn't have imagined that happening at Berkeley.
"When Sproul Hall [at UC-Berkeley] was occupied, for example, it took police to get the kids out. There weren't any daily visits by an administration member.
“So, I was surprised by the good nature of the students who occupied Central Hall -- I mean Freedom Hall. And the same was true for the tent village. At Berkeley the People's Park episode, which occurred after I had left and gone to Central, was a violent episode in which Reagan had called out the National Guard. Our People's Park was really never anything but peaceable. I never felt threatened by it for example, though I did regret it very much because it was ugly. And because of the sanitation problem. And most students got tired of it and agreed to the university's request that they take down the tents.”
President Boyd, standing to the right of the tree, speaking to
students on the Warriner Mall, click to enlarge

President Boyd’s legacy in maintaining calm was a major part of discussion with former students. Almost 50 years after the events, the praise for President Boyd’s handling of the situation could not be overstated. Many former students expressed appreciation with statements like Paul Puma’s: “President Boyd, who… I really loved him, because he was very fair. He wasn't one of the people that would just say, ‘you radical bastards,’ you know? No, no, no. He had an open mind.”

During the 2016 interview, students had a chance to speak with President Boyd by phone and Judy Lewis expressed her appreciation directly to him:
“I was at CMU for two years and how you handled the situation, like they said, kept us out of trouble. We got our point across and it was an amazing two years under your watch, taking good care of us and making sure that we had our -- we could express ourselves but be safe at the same time. So, thank you for that.”
Jon Childs followed up, noting that it took 45 years to tell President Boyd this: “I don't know whether you know it, but I think you may have saved some people's lives during that situation, and mine may have been one of them. Some of us were a little hotheaded. Thank you so much for what you did, I really appreciate it.”

After a comment about the CMU president never losing his humanity while negotiating with the students, Janice Fialka remarked: “People can be skilled, but there's that superficiality, and I think that's why you hear, at this table, such love [for President Boyd].”

"Freedom Hall" and Warriner Mall, click to enlarge

The level-headed decisions of all of the parties involved kept the CMU campus rather peaceful during what could have been a very tense time. Cathy Courtney’s assessment of the events of May 1970 were echoed among the interview participants: “Ours was one of the only schools that had successful, and I mean occupied, educate, activated, tents, campus, occupy, with no violence, no personal injuries. That's considered success.” And Paul Puma followed up, “Yeah, totally, and a lot of the responsibility for that, I think goes back to President Boyd.”

After the occupation of Freedom Hall and the People’s Park, the building and grounds were left relatively undamaged. Things returned to business as usual and the students went mostly unpunished. Although some professors held students accountable for missing classes and President Boyd did not offer amnesty for those who missed class. Jon Childs noted, “My bowling instructor flunked me. I remember that (laughs).”

You can read more about the response to the Kent State Shooting at Central in the in the May 6, May 8, and May 11, 1970 issues of CM Life. And you can view the transcripts of these interviews at the Clarke Historical Library.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

50th Anniversary of Earth Day

by Bryan Whitledge

“Give Earth a Chance”: The words that ran on the front page of Central Michigan Life 50 years ago feels as relevant today as it was then. Before 1970, “Earth day” had a very different meaning: usually an astronomical measurement of the length of one rotation of our planet about its axis – an Earth day vs. a Mars day or sometimes the two words came together as a coincidence of two sentences, one ending in “Earth” and the next beginning with “Day.” But in April 1970, that all changed—Earth Day became synonymous with conservation, ecology, and environmentalism. One of the many places where Earth Day went from an idea to a movement was on the campus of Central Michigan University.

Earth Day display in University Center, 1970

During the spring of 1970, CMU students, along with students at hundreds of colleges and universities around the country, prepared for the first Earth Day. The proponents of the first day of collective ecological activism expressed fears that the atmospheric pollution and unclean rivers plaguing the environment would only get worse if people didn’t act immediately to change things. In Mt. Pleasant, the activists who planned events didn’t limit themselves to a single day—they planned a four-day program of seminars and teach-ins about a range of topics: environmental crises, government & citizen action, population control, ecology, environmental awareness, and more. And those who planned the events got many of their peers on boards: Central Michigan Life took a stance in the articles written during April of 1970—everyone should do their part to save the planet. The Intra-Fraternity Council planted trees. Others collected cans from off-campus housing to sell back to the brewing companies to be reused (this was six years before Michigan’s ten cent deposit for bottles and cans came into being).

Earth Day events registration table in the UC, 1970

Among the highlights of the Earth Week activities was the impressive line-up of guest speakers: U.S. Senator Philip Hart, singer/songwriter and activist Malvina Reynolds, Michigan Governor William Milliken, noted journalist and activist Norman Cousins, beloved Michigan author Jim Harrison, and several others came to CMU to offer their takes on conservation and the environment. Governor Milliken mentioned proposed legislation to go after polluters of Michigan’s waterways. Senator Hart spoke of federal leadership in the quality of the environment. Malvina Reynolds sang songs in praise of the Earth and lamenting the harm done in the name of progress.

Crowd listening to Earth Day presentation in the Finch Fieldhousem 1970

Because of the hard work of the organizers and the community spirit of many at Central and in Mt. Pleasant, the CMU Earth Day events in 1970 were a success. The same can be said for those who organized similar events at countless colleges and universities across the country.

Earth Day events in the University Center, 1970

Earth Day panel of speakers, 1970

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Emergency Libraries Provide Access to Books For CMU Researchers

by Bryan Whitledge

In these extraordinary times, it is impossible for anything to be “normal.” How can you do your “normal” research if all of the library buildings are closed? One answer is to toss your hands up in the air and forget about research. But that’s not what resilient and strong researchers at a world-class institution like Central do. So, there has to be another option. And thanks to the extraordinary efforts of institutions large and small across the county, the CMU Libraries is able to make your research as “normal” as possible. Two particular tools of note are the Hathi Trust Emergency Library and the National Emergency Library.

The Hathi Trust Emergency Library is exclusively for Hathi Trust member institutions, like Central Michigan University. The Hathi Trust already makes 6.5 million+ public domain books and documents in their holdings freely available to anyone with an internet connection.

Now, with the Emergency Library, Hathi Trust provides member institutions temporary access to those items that the member institution’s library holds and for which Hathi Trust has a digital copy. This doesn’t mean that all of the 17 million+ items in Hathi Trust are available to CMU-affiliated researchers. But it does mean that researchers with valid credentials can access about 46% of the books from the shelves of the Park and Clarke Historical Libraries in a virtual format, even those titles that are protected by copyright. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is no longer off-limits to you behind the locked doors of the Park Library. Hathi Trust makes it available to you in just a few clicks. Simply find the link for "Temporary Access," click on it, and then click “Check Out,” in the orange banner on the next page. The "Temporary Access" link may appear as a lock with "Limited (Search Only)" written next to it, if you are not logged in to Hathi Trust.

click on the image to view a larger version

In order to follow the Trust’s interpretation of US copyright provisions, Hathi Trust has put several measures in place that researchers should be aware of:
  • Affiliates of member institutions are required to log-in with their credentials.
  • “Temporary Access” books can be read online only.
  • You can Check Out a book for 1 hour. Your access will renew automatically at the end of that hour, unless another user requests the book after that hour is over.
  • Only one user may Check Out a book at a time (or one user per each copy of the book we hold).
  • Use the Return Early button to make it available for another user.
  • To read a book that is being used by someone else, you will need to check back periodically.

The second resource is the National Emergency Library. It is an effort of the Internet Archive to support education and research across the country. In the last week of March, they made 1.4 million books accessible to people across the country without their customary one-at-a-time lending practice. In order to access materials, you must create a free account with the Internet Archive. Many of the titles available are not in the public domain and some have argued that opening broad access to copyrighted materials is piracy. The Internet Archive argues that, in times of an unprecedented emergency, they are answering the needs of educators and learners with the National Emergency Library’s holdings, the bulk of which date from before the year 2000 and do not have a readily accessible e-book version. So, should you need to consult Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, you don’t have to worry that you can’t access DT33. F3 1968 in the Park Library, you can get it from the National Emergency Library.

Other than oral traditions, printed words on paper pages have been where, for centuries, we found most of the knowledge created and passed down by generations of humans. The digital information age is a relatively recent phenomenon. Often, researchers need information from a text created before the digital revolution. And the only place to get that information is from a book. And the only place to find that book is on the shelves of a library. With library buildings closed to help combat the spread of COVID-19, the next best thing for your research might just be an online emergency library.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Working During a Pandemic

By Frank Boles

March has been an extraordinary month for almost everyone, not the least of which has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the operations of the Clarke Historical Library. Working first under Governor Whitmer’s executive order closing places of public accommodation (which included libraries) and then dealing with her subsequent order to “Stay Home, Stay Safe, Save Lives” has caused the library staff to respond with ingenuity and flexibility.

Like the rest of the library staff, I am working from home “for the duration.” What that means is, in addition to the resources always available online,  the library’s work continues, with one important exception, reference. Unfortunately, to answer most reference questions that come to the library we need access to the material in the collection. I trust that people who are still sending us reference requests will understand that while we are monitoring email and messages left on the telephone, we can only create a log of inquiries to be dealt with as soon as we can return to the library itself, on campus.

But aside from reference, a tremendous amount of work, some typically done every day and some often postponed, is being undertaken. Marian Matyn, the library’s archivist, is spending time preparing finding aids to be eventually uploaded onto the internet, making collections more accessible, as well as documenting CMU’s response to COVID-19 for the University Archives. In Cataloging, records are being created for uploading into the catalog, making material discoverable in the future.

Although the Microfilm and Digitization Project cannot photograph newspaper pages onto microfilm or scan new material, the unit’s staff continues to manage digitization projects with customers throughout the state, communicate with contracted vendors in three countries as well as with the Library of Congress, while also conducting quality control work, remotely, on existing scans. One example of this work will be over 70,000 newspapers pages from Paw Paw coming online at the library’s newspaper portal later this month.

One of the underappreciated aspects of the program is the tremendous amount of quality control that goes into making sure the raw scans from a project like the Paw Paw paper meet user expectations when they are made available for online use. Users find searchable online newspapers the next best thing to magic. Put a name or a term into the search box and very quickly a hopefully short list of pages to read appears. Those of us who remember “the old days” recall spending hours sitting in a darkened room, head more or less inserted into an old Kodak microfilm reader (aka “the tin can”) looking patiently for that same information which is now so effortlessly delivered. But making that effortless search happen takes a very large commitment of “back room” time and energy. It may be magic, but like any good magician, there is a lot of hard work performed by those who prepare the files that underlies the illusion of “effortlessness.” It may be a point I make too often, but it is a point too often forgotten by online users.

Bryan Whitledge is busy continuing his work on University electronic records and records management. He is also bringing a few seconds of delight everyday with videos of pop-up books on the Clarke’s social media channels. 

While reference librarian John Fierst cannot do much reference, he is working on a long-discussed project to transcribe and place online some of the John Greenleaf Whittier letters in the library’s collection. Whittier was a strident activist opposing slavery and well-known nineteenth century poet. Beginning in the 1830s, Whitter published widely about the abolitionist causes, editing several abolitionist newspapers, while unceasingly badgering the New England members of Congress to adopt pro-abolitionist positions. He would work to end slavery, until it was legally abolished in 1865.

At the same time as he worked towards abolition, Whittier wrote and published poetry. After the Civil War, Whittier exclusively wrote poems. His most enduring work, “Snow-Bound,” was published in 1866. After 30 years of writing poetry, he was surprised that “Snow-Bound” actually made him money. Whittier is also remembered for championing women writers, in an era when female authors were not taken seriously.

The Whittier papers in the Clarke, while both extensive and interesting, are something of an accident. A now-deceased CMU professor gathered the material together, and eventually gifted it the Clarke Historical Library. Because they reside in a midwestern college, separated from their New England home, they have largely been ignored. John’s work, we hope, will make the collection better known and share some of this important resource online through scans and transcriptions of selected letters.

As for myself, there are grants to be written, letters to compose, material about the current exhibit that can be drafted for eventual use on the website, and similar tasks to be done.

In these stressful times, I like to remind people of the great pandemic of 1918, which caused campus to close and left two members of the Central community dead. It was very, very bad, but it eventually ended. So, too will the COVID-19 pandemic we are currently enduring.

Take care and be well.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Welcome Laura Thompson

by Frank Boles

Laura Thompson has joined the Clarke Historical Library’s staff as our new cataloger, as well as having responsibility for cataloging music in the University Library.

While new to the Clarke Historical Library, Laura has been at Central Michigan University since 2015. Prior to her new role as Cataloger and Music Librarian, she worked as a Research and Instruction Librarian in University Library, supporting the areas of Music, Art & Design, Fashion Merchandising & Design, Interior Design, and Recreation, Parks, and Leisure. In 2014, she received her MLS and MA in Musicology degrees from Indiana University, Bloomington (IU), where she specialized in Music Librarianship.

Her cataloging experience includes working with historical sound recording formats (78s, LPs, 45s, cassettes, reel-to-reel tapes, acetate transcription discs) and accompanying documentation at the Archives of Traditional Music at IU. She also participated in a month-long codicology (the study of codices or manuscript books written on parchment (or paper) as physical objects) and manuscript description course in Italy, titled, “Musical Collectorship in Italy in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: A Survey of the Greggiati Collection in Ostiglia and a Model of Electronic Research Tool.”

The project studied and worked with early 19th-century Italian music manuscripts (mostly Italian opera). She described these materials for inclusion in an eventual digital tool that makes possible both connecting data from different musical collections and also help scholars reconstruct how the music was gathered together and collected. She gained additional experience working with special collections materials as a student working in IU’s Lilly Library.

She is very excited to be able to put her knowledge into practice working with the collections of the Clarke Historical Library.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Clarke's Pop-Up Book Exhibit is Coming to You!

The current COVID-19 public health emergency has resulted in several extraordinary changes in our lives. Navigating the new public health precautions can be difficult. Many of us are saddened or distressed because we were looking forward to events and gatherings that have been cancelled or postponed. And some of us are left looking for ways to bring joy into our lives while practicing social distancing.

To help bring a moment or two of happiness and delight into our lives, the Clarke Historical Library will use our social media accounts to post short videos of books featured in our new exhibit, the Surprise and Wonder of Pop-Up Books. Every day, you can catch a glimpse of one of the items we have on display. This is a fun and engaging way to admire the ingenuity and artistry found in pop-up books from the comfort of wherever you are practicing social distancing.

Because the Clarke Historical Library is closed to the public until at least April 13, we will make lemonade out of that lemon and bring the pop-up books to the people. Be sure to follow the Clarke's Twitter and Facebook pages to see the magic unfold!