All posts by Lynn Phillips

Degrees of Discovery: The History of Science at Florida State

FSU_HPUA_2016003_B7_F2_005The Florida State University Heritage Museum exhibit Degrees of Discovery examines the history of science at Florida State, tracking the school’s development from early educational institution to twenty-first century research facility. Since the late nineteenth century, science has served as a fundamental aspect of education at Florida State University and its predecessors. After World War II, a surplus of wartime laboratory equipment and veterans allowed FSU to meet the increasing demand for science education across the country. Early programs focusing on physical sciences laid the groundwork for the development of advanced courses in a variety of fields, including meteorology, oceanography, chemistry, and physics. The creation of innovative research facilities offered new avenues for interdisciplinary collaboration and continues to encourage scientists from around the world to take advantage of the advanced technologies offered on and around the Tallahassee campus.

The process of creating this exhibit included extensive research into both the history of the University and scientific trends throughout the past century. Though Heritage Protocol & University Archives contains a wide array of scientific photographs from the 1950s and 60s, locating a variety of primary source material to tell a cohesive narrative was a challenge. In addition, as a literature student, my scientific knowledge was sorely lacking. In order to contextualize FSU’s developments, I interviewed faculty and current students involved in the sciences to gain a wider understanding of practice and principle. Research also involved reading transcripts of oral histories, scanning negatives from laboratory photo sessions, tracking the development of honor societies, and comparing a century’s worth of course catalogs to determine how science education changed over time.

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Another challenge of working with such a broad subject was that relevant items were spread throughout the collections of both HPUA and Special Collections. A newsletter published by the 1973 Speleological Society was tucked away in the Archives, for example, while a postcard donated by two alumni offered an early look at the Science Hall. Perhaps one of the most interesting finds was a set of hand-crafted lab equipment from the 1960s; as part of a chemistry class, students were responsible for creating their own glass stirring rods and tube connectors. During this time period, glassblowers on campus would even create unique, made-to-order equipment for scientists who needed a particular shape or style of instrument.

The practical side of installing the exhibit, however, limited some of our object selections. Because we cannot regulate the natural light from the large, albeit beautiful, stained glass windows in the Heritage Museum, older photographs were digitally reproduced and mounted to avoid damaging the original items. Adhering images to foam board for support and cutting them down to size was more difficult than I anticipated – straight lines and I clearly don’t get along – but with the help of the Archives Assistant, the resulting photos offered an impressive visual timeline of the school’s scientific evolution. Curating this exhibit was an incredible learning process about creative design, museum principles, and even some scientific facts. Degrees of Discovery offers visitors a glimpse into the ever-changing world of science while reminding us that the basis of discovery – curiosity, inquiry, and creativity – will always be a part of human nature.

Degrees of Discovery: The History of Science at Florida State will be on display in the Heritage Museum in Dodd Hall beginning in mid-April. The museum is open Monday-Thursday, 11AM to 4PM. An online exhibit with additional content will follow.

Introduction to Instruction

As the caretakers of Special Collections, staff work diligently to preserve the integrity of materials for future researchers. This includes reducing materials’ exposure to light and preventing fluctuations in temperature and humidity within carefully controlled environments. Interaction with collections usually occurs in the Reading Room to ensure these conditions can be regulated. Sometimes, though, materials leave the Special Collections vault in order to venture into the wider world. Class instruction sessions are a way to bring collections directly into the hands of students who might otherwise never know of their existence.

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Dr. Craft’s Travel in the Ancient World class studying translations of ancient texts.

Recently I led an instruction session with the Manuscript Archivist for the course Travel in the Ancient World. The class was held in the Special Collections instruction room where students observed several types of ancient texts, including cuneiform tablets, papyrus fragments, and Greek and Latin ostraka. For many students, this was their first experience with Special Collections materials; as some of the oldest items in the library, the ancient texts arguably offered one of the more dramatic introductions to our holdings. The 2,000 year old papyrus fragments, for instance, were previously used as mummy cartonnage – layers of linen or papyrus covered in plaster as part of Ancient Egyptian funerary masks. Seeing these objects up close allowed students the chance to create tangible, meaningful connections to otherwise distant ideas.

When collaborating with professors about class visits, it’s often helpful to communicate in advance so Special Collections can provide the best supporting materials for the course. In this case, a course on travel meant we wanted to highlight letters and other mobile documents. Preparing for the session involved studying translations of the materials to cultivate a selection that would match this need while also representing the collection as a whole. Class sessions offer the Special Collections instructors just as much opportunity to learn about the collection as the students – and perhaps even more so. In an effort to prepare for any questions that arise, we study the stories and context of our materials as diligently as possible. That way, if a student wants to know how our cuneiform tablets compare to the Flood Tablet, or why some ostraka were written in Latin instead of Greek, we can provide the answer.

So while teaching assistants teach and research assistants research, graduate assistants get the best of both worlds. We not only learn more about our collections every day, but we then get to teach others about the incredible histories behind our objects, hopefully inspiring students to visit us again after class lets out.

Meet Gloria Jahoda

Coming from a strictly public library background, at first the world of Special Collections felt just as foreign and mysterious to me as I’m sure it does to many people. Luckily, as a graduate assistant in Special Collections & Archives, I’m in exactly the right position to learn more about it every day. While it might seem obvious why some books are special — they’re often very old, or very scarce, or both — archives are a bit more elusive. As the Manuscript Archivist explained to me, archives provide contextual primary source documents to help researchers understand the environment surrounding a person or event.

img_20170223_105153.jpgMy first project as a graduate assistant involved the Gloria Jahoda Collection – or rather, collections. An author whose husband taught at Florida State University, Gloria Jahoda initially donated a portion of her personal notes and manuscripts to FSU Libraries forty years ago. Some donors might offer more material to the archives after the first gift; this can happen quickly or many years later. These new items are assessed to see if they fit within the scope of the initial donation and, in many cases, added to the same collection. Sometimes, though, this doesn’t happen. When I started working with her manuscripts, Jahoda’s work was spread across seven collections, all donated at different times. I was first tasked with looking over the materials to find a major theme that might unite them into a single collection. I divided the work into new series – like smaller chapters in a single book, series help organize a collection by grouping items together based on their original purpose. I then rearranged the materials, removed duplicate publications, relabeled folders, and copied unstable materials (like old newspaper articles) onto paper that wouldn’t discolor or deteriorate. As this was happening, I learned a lot about who Gloria Jahoda was.

She was born in Chicago and was very proud of the fact that her first poem was published at the age of four. She liked to write on overlooked areas of Florida, including Tallahassee, which she described as being “200 miles from anywhere else.” She photographed her cats. She enjoyed classical music, especially by the English composer Frederick Delius. Her book The Road to Samarkand chronicled Delius’s life, including his time spent managing an orange plantation in Florida. She was an elected registrar of the Creek Nation. She spoke about ecology and conservation. Gloria Jahoda was bold, witty, and passionate.

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What’s left behind after her death in 1980 are her books and, now, the Gloria Jahoda Papers. Visitors to Special Collections can track the development of Jahoda’s works, learn about her personal interests, and laugh at the jokes in her letters. Jahoda’s books document an interesting time in Florida’s development, and I’m proud to say I contributed to preserving her work for future research.

To learn more about the Gloria Jahoda Papers, the finding aid can be found here.