Happy Thanksgiving!

All of us here at Special Collections & Archives wish you and your families a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. We will close at 4:30pm on Wednesday, November 25th and reopen to our normal hours on Monday, November 30th.

In case you are still working on your Thanksgiving menu, here is a menu from an 1845 cookbook in a new collection we’ve been working on bringing into our digital library. Best get cooking!

From the American economical housekeeper, and family receipt book, 1845.


Accessioning a Rare Book Collection: Part I


One of the most common questions I get from undergraduate students during instruction sessions is some variation of “How do materials end up in Special Collections?” There are many answers to this question, of course, but one of the most important ways we receive materials is through donations. With our rare book collections, we are particularly fortunate when collectors decide to donate their personal collections. Book collectors often spend a lifetime amassing carefully curated collections that reflect deep personal interests and expertise. This is certainly the case with FSU Special Collections & Archives’ newest rare book collection: The Marsha Gontarski Children’s Literature Collection.

Bins back from transport and ready to be unloaded.

Marsha Gontarski (Ph.D, FSU, 1993) has a background in Education with a research focus on visual literacy in children’s literature. Her children’s literature collection contains over 1,000 titles, ranging from classic fairy-tales to contemporary pieces featuring modern art. The wide variety of authors, illustrators, styles, sizes, shapes, and languages in the collection will be of interest to those studying Education, Literature, Illustration, History of Text Technologies, and Book Arts – not to mention those who want to feel nostalgic about their favorite childhood books! Every member of our staff who has seen the collection coming out of bins and being put on shelves has found something that strikes a cord – “I remember that book!” – which is surely a testament to the lasting impression left by our earliest memories of reading.

After a couple of trips to the Gontarski’s residence, Special Collections’ staff transported the books in about twenty bins, which were then unloaded in our stacks. The next step in the process will be to create an inventory of the donation before they are sent to cataloging and given records and call numbers. Since the books were donated with notes from the collector about significant illustrators, authors, and groupings of texts, it will be important for us to transfer these notes to the collection inventory and preserve information that could be useful to future researchers. In the next post in this series, I will share with you the progress being made in the accession process as well as a few highlights from the Marsha Gontarski Children’s Literature Collection.


Mittan: A Retrospective

Mittan: A Retrospective is the photographic exhibit currently on display in the Special Collections and Archives gallery space in Strozier Library. The works of J. Barry Mittan candidly capture the student experience at Florida State University in the 1960s and 1970s. As a student and photographer for numerous campus publications, including the Tally-Ho yearbook and Florida Flambeau newspaper, Mittan often photographed students at official university-sponsored events and spontaneous student gatherings alike. Through his documentation of sporting events, Greek life, protests, concerts, study sessions, socials, and so on, he was able to construct a comprehensive view of FSU student life in which individuals banded together to share a common voice in an age of social change. Mittan’s unique perspective as a student informed his photographic purpose to see the individuals among the crowd.

For my first project as the Special Collections & Archives Graduate Assistant, I was tasked with designing and installing the Mittan exhibit. Faced with a daunting job of going through twenty-something boxes of unprocessed photographic materials, I was thrown head first into this new position. But having a background in art history and previous experience processing archival collections, I was up for the work. After an initial assessment, I determined that there was some order already established as slides, negatives, and prints were generally arranged by time period and subject. Because of this order, it was pretty easy determining what boxes would be useful for the exhibit knowing that we wanted to focus on Mittan’s work from when he was a student.

The most time consuming, yet entertaining, part of the design process was physically pulling negative strips out of sleeves and examining them through a magnifying glass over a light table. Although I’ve never worked with photography before, I eventually adapted to looking at the thousand or so tiny negative images. Having a pretty good eye for composition, my skills were tested when I digitally scanned the negative strips to determine the clarity and balance of the image. Having scanned about a hundred and fifty images, I eventually narrowed my choices down to thirty black and white images and twenty color images for the final exhibit.

The last tasks were just hard labor: printing, framing, and installing. I severely underestimated the stress of installing an exhibit seeing as this was my first experience. Using a large format professional printer was definitely a skill I acquired with a serious learning curve. I regret the loss of paper and ink that was sacrificed as we printed test strip after test strip trying to configure the color, size, and saturation of the first batch of prints. And I will never again underestimate the brutality of the small metal brackets holding the backboard of the frame as thirty sets of them pinched and bruised my fingers over the course of an afternoon.

After what seemed like a mad dash to the finish line, the exhibit actually opened fairly smoothly and nearly on time. Every day I’m proud of my hard work as I walk to Special Collections in the back of the library and am greeted by a poster that advertises the accomplishments and legacy of J. Barry Mittan. It makes me realize that what we do as college students has the potential to make a difference for the years to come. As a student in a time of social, cultural, and political change, Mittan captured the power of the individual to enact change. A sentiment college students still strongly hold on to today.

Mittan: A Retrospective, the photographic exhibit showcasing the work of J. Barry Mittan, is open in Strozier Library’s first floor exhibit space. The exhibit will be on display until mid-January and is open to the public Monday through Thursday, 10am to 6pm, and Friday, 10am to 5:30pm. An accompanying online exhibit is also available here which includes more images and descriptions not available in person.

FSU’s first Homecoming, 1948

Homecoming Illustration, Florida Flambeau, 1948
Homecoming Illustration, Florida Flambeau, 1948
Amidst all of Homecoming Week’s non-stop events, one doesn’t have time to think about the festivities of the past and their influence on the present.  FSU’s first Homecoming, celebrated over the weekend of December 3-4, 1948, boasted concerts, dances and dinners held by various organizations, skit night, Pow Wow, and a football game for students and alumni alike to enjoy. Many of FSU’s greatest traditions started at the 1948 Homecoming.
Friday’s Homecoming events started with a continuation of an older tradition from FSCW by hosting an Odd-Even Archery event. Men weren’t excluded from the fun, and competed in an intramural volleyball match. Festivities continued with an Odd-Even modern dance, Garnet and Gold Key Banquet, a Tarpon Club exhibition, with Friday’s activities culminating in the first annual Pow Wow. Pow Wow, now a concert featuring popular comedians and performances by various student groups, used to be held at Centennial Field (now the location of Cascades Park). The Pow Wow program consisted of skits and performances by students, speeches by the President and Master of Ceremonies, and concluded with a “pyrotechnics show.”
Homecoming brochure, 1948
Homecoming prop outside Pi Beta Phi house, 1948, Lillian M. Mandyck Photograph Album
Homecoming prop outside Pi Beta Phi house, 1948, Lillian M. Mandyck Photograph Album

Saturday was packed full of activities for students and alumni to attend. Starting with breakfast and followed by campus tours, visitors were able to view the newest buildings on campus (including the new music building, the first building on campus to have air conditioning), as well as see the entries in the House Decorating Competition. In the afternoon, students held a parade from campus to centennial Field, just in time to catch the game against the University of Tampa Spartans. The first Homecoming game set the precedent of the Seminoles winning bowl games. Homecoming coincided with the first bow game of the newly reorganized Dixie conference. The Seminoles finished their second season by trouncing the University of Tampa Spartans with a 33-12 victory.

After the game, students reconvened on campus for a dance that featured Hal McIntyre and his 15-piece Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Orchestra. Formerly a saxophonist for Benny Goodman and later the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Hal McIntyre toured over seas and around America during the mid-century. FSU students and alumni were excited welcome him and his band to campus. At the dance, students chose their new Homecoming Queen. Whittled down from an original 32 Homecoming hopefuls, 5 finalists were rated on an applause-meter, and junior Clara Moffat Howell was chosen to reign supreme.
To see more photographs, ephemera, and artifacts related to the history of Florida State, check out the FSU Heritage Protocol Digital Collections or like the Heritage Protocol Facebook page.

New Exhibit: War Stories

The political causes and effects of war are well-documented by scholars and politicians, but the details of life during wartime are the provenance of the fighters on the ground, in the air, and at sea. Throughout recorded time, soldiers have shared their stories, told with humor, pathos, hope, and pride. In honor of Veterans Day, library staff have assembled a new exhibit, “War Stories,” featuring veterans’ experiences in their own words from across 2,000 years of human history.

Continue reading New Exhibit: War Stories

Who Wore It Best: A Renaissance Costume Party

While it might be a little late for you all to change your Halloween costume plans, the following woodcut illustrations from Habiti Antichi, et Moderni di Tutto il Mondo (1598) could still provide some last minute inspiration.

Sixteenth-century sheet ghost. Member of the “shamefaced poor” of Venice.
Inhabitant of Virginia in the New World.






A Roman soldier.

Costume books became popular in the sixteenth century, as increases in travel, technology, and literacy fed the innate human curiosity to know about the dress and customs of people in other parts of the world.  Habiti Antichi, et Moderni di Tutto il Mondo features men and women from a wide variety of regions and social statuses. Everyone from the pope to the peasants are featured in often highly-stereotyped woodcut illustrations. As the book was published in Venice, there is a particular emphasis on the wealthy Venetian merchant class, but other people from as far away as Russia, China, and the Americas are also included.

A wealthy Venetian.
A woman in ancient costume.
A Turkish fighter with some fierce headgear.

An interest in costumes of the world did not end with the Renaissance, as the popularity of sites such as The Sartorialist and other street-style blogs attest. “Who wore it best” polls are a common feature of celebrity tabloids, and the internet has made it easier than ever to know what people all over the world look like. On Halloween, most of us decide we want to be someone else for the night. Who knows, maybe you’ll see a dogalina antica wandering the streets this weekend!

School Spirits: Ghosts at Florida State

ghostHave you ever felt a slight chill while walking up the College Ave. hill, and it was much more than a midsummer sweat? Perhaps you’ve woken up in the middle of the night in Cawthon and seen a girl peering through your window (on the 4th floor!). Don’t worry – you’re not ill or in the middle of some sort of mental episode – you’ve probably just had a paranormal experience. FSU is home to several ghost stories, with wraiths purportedly haunting different buildings and landmarks around campus. While many students and alumni hold these stories near and dear to their hearts, keep in mind: they’re campus mythologies born of the imagination of FSU’s inhabitants.
Westcott Gate, where Gallows Hill used to be located
Westcott Gate, where Gallows Hill used to be located

The oldest ghost story originates decades before the institution was even founded. Written about in Tallahassee: A Capital City, Gallows Hill was constructed in 1829 as a place to hang Tallahassee’s most unsavory criminals, right about where the Westcott Fountain is today. The first and most famous execution to happen at Gallows Hill was of a mother convicted of killing her own child. Over the years, students have reported feeling chills and hearing strange sounds while traversing the Westcott Fountain at night. Another story from long ago involves the ghosts of the Confederate Cadets trained at the (briefly named) Florida Military and Collegiate Institute, one of FSU’s predecessor institutions. Members of the FSU ROTC have made claims that the ROTC parade grounds are haunted by the cadets, where they continue their drills and turn off the lights during showers.

Sarah “Tissie” Landrum Cawthon, ca. 1920s

For those who live in Cawthon Hall, they don’t have one ghost to worry about – they have two. One story told is about the ghost of Sarah “Tissie” Landrum Cawthon, the namesake of Cawthon Hall. Cawthon, the first Dean of the College Home (now known as Student Affairs) at FSCW was hired to oversee that students were consistently on their best behavior, and representing themselves as fine young women. She was described as becoming dismayed when students picked up more modern and revealing fashion, started drinking and smoking and public, and expounding more liberal ideas during the Roaring ’20s. In Haunted Halls of Ivy: Ghosts of Southern Colleges and Universities,  it is said that her ghost moved into Cawthon Hall after its dedication, and she continues to look over the female students in the dorm. Some say that her new residency in Cawthon Hall occurred not-so-coincidentally when campus became co-educational and men moved into the dorm.

"Is there a ghost in Cawthon Hall?" by Lucy Weber, Florida Flambeau, 1971
“Is there a ghost in Cawthon Hall?” by Lucy Weber, Florida Flambeau, 1971
The other ghost of Cawthon Hall isn’t nearly as benevolent as the ghost of Tissie Cawthon. In 1971 the Florida Flambeau ran an article entitled “Is there a ghost in Cawthon Hall?” and speculation about new ghosts began. Legend has it that an FSCW student was sunbathing on roof of Cawthon when suddenly a thunderstorm rolled in. Trapped on the roof, the girl pounded on windows and doors, hoping for someone to let her back into the dorm, but she wasn’t discovered until after she had been killed by a lightning strike. To this day, students who live on the top floor claim they occasionally hear someone pounding on the window, crying and screaming, and sometimes will see a girl looking into the window from outside.
Do you have a favorite FSU ghost story that isn’t listed here? Leave it in the comments and we’ll be sure to add it to our collection! To see more photographs, ephemera, and artifacts related to the history of Florida State, check out the FSU Heritage Protocol Digital Collections or like the Heritage Protocol Facebook page.

The Days of Our Lives: FSU Archives Edition

What do archivists do all day, anyway?  Look at old photos?  Dust yearbooks? Take papers from one file folder and put them in another?

Those are all true to some extent, but university archivists play more roles in their community than one might think.  Take a look at some of the extraordinary events during an average week in FSU Special Collections and Archives:

Thursday, October 15:

Students from the ART5928 workshop “Creating Experiences” visit the Claude Pepper Museum.  Their project this semester involves creating a public event that could be held in in a museum space.  The students have designed a Claude Pepper Pajama Party event and social media campaign, and today they’re walking through their ideas with Pepper Library Manager Rob Rubero.

Rob Rubero with ART5928 Students. (c) Justyn D. Thomas Photography. Used with permission.
Rob Rubero with ART5928 students in the Claude Pepper Museum. (c) 2015 Justyn D. Thomas Photography. Used with permission.

FSU Special Collections has always considered local history one of its collecting strengths. In an effort to deepen community connections and learn more about the Tallahassee music industry, Rory Grennan and Katie McCormick attend a public appearance by influential songwriter and producer George Clinton.  Aside from smiles and photo opportunities, our archivists enjoy many conversations with Clinton’s family and associates about his work and his legacy.

Rory Grennan and Katie McCormick enjoy photo opportunities with songwriter and producer George Clinton.
Rory Grennan and Katie McCormick enjoy photo opportunities with songwriter and producer George Clinton.

Friday, October 16:

Today, the Special Collections Research Center reading room has the privilege of hosting the members of the Florida State University History Club.  A dozen history undergraduates attend an informational presentation by Manuscript Archivist Rory Grennan and Rare Books Librarian Kat Hoarn.  Presentations and instructional sessions for students, faculty, and the public are a core part of the Special Collections mission, and occur frequently at the beginning of the school year.  History Club members are excited to see 4000 years of human history laid out in documents from our collections including cuneiform tablets, a page from a Bible printed by Gutenberg, and artist books from the 21st century.

Rory Grennan looks on as Kat Hoarn closely examines a rare book with the FSU History Club.
Rory Grennan looks on as Kat Hoarn closely examines an illustration by Theodore de Bry with members of the FSU History Club.

Monday, October 19:

Monday morning, archivists Sandra Varry and Krystal Thomas visit the University Registrar’s office to consult on the preservation of student transcripts on microfilm.  The filmed student records see heavy use, and unfortunately enough of the film has been worn down that some records are losing information.  The group discusses modern strategies such as digitization to preserve these essential historical records that document a century of higher education.

Later, Sandra Varry and division staff prepare for a new exhibit opening today in the Special Collections Exhibit Room on the first floor of Strozier Library.  “Mittan: A Retrospective” celebrates the work of photographer Barry Mittan, and documents student life at FSU in the 1960s and 1970s.  The exhibit was curated by graduate assistant Britt Boler and runs through January 2016.

Exhibit title card at gallery entrance; Sandra Varry adjusts a framed print in the exhibit room.
Exhibit title card at gallery entrance; Sandra Varry adjusts a framed print in the exhibit room.

In the afternoon, Krystal Thomas carefully reviews and uploads recently-digitized cookbooks and herbals to the FSU Digital Library.  The Digital Library features digitized versions of the highlights of our collections, as chosen by Special Collections staff and our users, and new content is added regularly by archives staff.

Tuesday, October 20:

Things They Don’t Teach You In Grad School #47:  Water and vinegar makes an effective, non-abrasive cleaner for a headstone.

Former FSU faculty member Paul Dirac was a giant in the fields of mathematics and quantum mechanics, and his papers are a frequently-consulted resource by researchers at FSU Libraries.  Since no members of the Dirac family remain in Tallahassee, it has become the unofficial duty of our library and archives staff to visit Dirac’s grave once a year and see that it is kept clean.  October 20th is the anniversary of Dirac’s death, and seems an appropriate time to visit the site.  Archivists Katie McCormick, Rory Grennan, and Krystal Thomas, accompanied by library Director of Development Susan Contente and a handful of Physics Department students, scrub the headstone and plant fresh flowers this afternoon.

Top: Krystal Thomas, Katie McCormick, and Susan Contente remove grime from the Dirac headstone. Below: A clean headstone with fresh flowers planted on either side.
Before: Krystal Thomas, Katie McCormick, and Susan Contente remove grime from the headstone of Paul and Margit Dirac.
After: A clean headstone with fresh flowers planted on either side.

Wednesday, October 21:

Early this morning, archives staff notice an uncharacteristic rise in temperature in the stacks.  After confirming initial impressions with a few temperature readings, contact is quickly made with library facilities staff to take steps to correct an issue with the building’s HVAC systems.  Constant environmental monitoring is an important part of preserving our collections, as paper, film, and other substrates are vulnerable to fluctuations in temperature and humidity.  There’s no point to collecting items that can’t be made to last!  You never know what someone might need next week…

Rest in Peace Professor

Yesterday was the 31st anniversary of Paul Dirac’s death. As has become tradition, faculty and staff from the FSU Libraries, where we hold the physicist’s papers, and students from the Physics departments visit Dirac’s grave to clean it and plant flowers. Learn more about this in a post later this week but for now, we honor Professor Dirac.

Headstone of Paul and Margit Dirac in Roselawn Cemetery, Tallahassee.
Headstone of Paul and Margit Dirac in Roselawn Cemetery, Tallahassee.

October is LGBT History Month

October is LGBT History Month which gives us all the opportunity to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community and its history around the Tallahassee and right here at Florida State University. LGBT History Month began in 1994 when Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher who believed that a month should be dedicated to teaching the history of the gay and lesbian community. He organized teachers and community leaders where they picked the month of October because public schools were in session and existing traditions (such as National Coming Out Day on October 11th) already occurred during October.

Gay & Lesbian History Month was recognized and endorsed by a number of national organizations including: GLAAD, Human Rights Campaign, National Education Association and others. By 2006 the Equality Forum took over the responsibility for providing content, promotion, and resources for LGBT History Month.

FSU Special Collections is currently processing the records of FSU’s Pride Student Union. The collection is part of FSU Special Collections Heritage Protocol & University Archives. This collection shows the rich history of members of the LGBTQ+ community in Tallahassee and at FSU fighting for their civil rights as members of this community and as students fighting to be recognized as a student organization by the Student Government Association.

This year has been an effective year for positive change though there’s still so much more work and education that needs to be done. So far 2015 has brought increased awareness to transgender visibility (though #KeishaJenkins has become the 18th transgender woman of color killed in the United States this year). The Supreme Court ruled in favor of legalizing nationwide marriage equality earlier this year. For the second time ever (EVER!) the White House held a briefing on challenges facing bisexual people.

Research shows that incorporating LGBT history into our curriculum and conversations contributes to a safer environment for LGBTQ+ students.

There are a number of events you can attend this month right here at FSU to show your support!

Now go learn some history!