Tag Archives: digital collections

Enslaved Lives in the Archives at FSU- Research Guide and ASERL Exhibit Update

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A list of enslaved people that George Whitfield of Tallahassee owned as of 1862. [Original Object]

Special Collections & Archives wants to share some updates on our work surfacing and highlighting collections documenting local enslavement and sharecropping. Collaborating with the Tallahassee History and Human Rights Project in their creation of the Invisible Lives Tours produced a list of our archival materials that we wanted to make more visible and accessible to researchers and the general public. What followed was the creation of a research guide solely devoted to gathering our primary sources of Enslavement and Sharecropping in Florida in one place.

The guide aims to promote and support historical and genealogical research in Tallahassee and surrounding counties. In the guide you can find relevant manuscript collections, rare books, and oral histories available on-site and/or digitally. To find Special Collections research guides, navigate to the FSU Libraries home page, click on “Research Guides,” select “By Group,” and then select the drop-down menu “Special Collections.”

From that body of material, we digitized and submitted objects for inclusion in the Association of Southeast Research Libraries’ (ASERL) “Enslaved People in the Southeast” collaborative exhibit that debuted November 4th. The exhibit commemorates the 400 years that have passed since enslaved Africans were first sold in the English colonies in 1619 marking the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

FSU and thirty-five other institutions offered a range of primary sources including “photos, letters, bills of sale, emancipation documents, insurance and taxation documents, and maps indicating segregation zones.” With this breadth of archival primary sources, “Enslaved People in the Southeast” seeks to show the social complexity of enslavement and its legacy across sharecropping, Jim Crow, and segregation. 

To access our collections, we invite members of the FSU community and the general public to our reading room on the first floor of Strozier Library Monday-Thursday from 10:00-6:00 and Friday from 10:00-5:30. We also encourage those interested to browse our digital library, DigiNole.

Boots Thomas Digital Collection online from the FSU WWII Institute

Ernest Ivy “Boots” Thomas Jr. was born on March 10, 1924 and raised in Monticello, Florida. He served as a Platoon Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, Company E, Second Battalion, 28th Marines of the Fifth Marine Division during World War II. His collection, held by The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, contains the letters he sent home to his mother during his time training at Parris Island, South Carolina, as well as the time he served as a drill instructor for the Marine Corps.

Through his letters, one can follow his very active and exciting time in the service, starting from his attempts to join (despite having color blindness) and leading him through to his training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Camp Pendleton in California, Camp Tarawa in Hawaii, and eventually into the Pacific Theatre for combat in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Ernest “Boots” Thomas postcard to his mother, Martha Thorton Thomas, September 9, 1943 [original object]

Boots Thomas was known by his comrades and leaders as a natural leader, taking a post as drill instructor early on in his military career. During the campaign for Iwo Jima, Thomas battled through the rough terrain of the island and Mt. Suribachi, taking charge after the platoon leader was wounded. Leading the platoon, he and his men successfully defended against the Japanese and raised the first American flag atop Suribachi on February 23, 1945. The subsequent second larger flag raising, for which Thomas was not present, would later be repeated and captured in the now-famous photograph from Joe Rosenthal of American Press. Thomas was killed in action on March 3, 1945, seven days before his 21st birthday, and awarded the Navy Cross for “extraordinary heroism,” along with the Purple Heart Metal and other combat-recognition awards.

This digital collection was described by FSU student Carmellina Moersch of The Institute for World War II and the Human Experience. Moersch is a senior at Florida State studying Classics, Humanities and Religion. At the Institute, she works as an Archival Assistant, processing collections and gaining important experience related to historical research, analysis, exhibit curation, and more. The Institute works diligently to preserve the photographs, letters, and artifacts of service members and their families. The Institute depends on Undergraduate and Graduate students to process collections, create finding aids, perform administrative tasks, and help further the goal of making our holdings available to researchers and scholars around the world.

To view the Boots Thomas letters in DigiNole: FSU’s Digital Repository, visit its collection there. You can see all digital collections from the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience in DigiNole as well. For more information about the Institute and its programs, please visit its website.

Behind the Scenes: Enslaved Lives in the Archives at FSU

Special Collections and Archives spent this summer contributing to two projects centered on the lives of local enslaved people. Currently, we are supporting the Tallahassee History and Human Rights Project. The first phase of this collaborative effort between the Grove Museum, Goodwood Museum & Gardens, the Tallahassee Museum, and the community seeks to better interpret the lives and experiences of the enslaved people that lived on and built the plantations at those sites.

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The Roderick Kirkpatrick Shaw Estate Division of Slaves

To support them, Special Collections & Archives identified manuscript collections, rare books, oral histories, and historic newspapers held at FSU that provide insight on African and African American lives from Territorial Florida to the Great Depression in Tallahassee and surrounding counties. We primarily found plantation records, personal papers, and business records documenting the era of enslavement and sharecropping in the Tallahassee locale. Please join these three museums for a series of tours on Saturday, September 14th that commemorate the lives and experiences of local enslaved people.

Alongside the research done for the Tallahassee History and Human Rights Project, Special Collections and Archives digitized and submitted objects to a collaborative online exhibit curated by the Association of Southeast Research Libraries (ASERL). The exhibit recognizes and commemorates the 400 years since the arrival of enslaved Africans in the United States.

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The Notebook of George Whitfield, a Slave trader in Tallahassee and Leon County. Digital version available here

The exhibit covers five periods: Colonial, American Revolution and Constitution, Antebellum, Civil War, and Twentieth Century. The digital exhibit is slated to debut on the Omeka platform in November. Our contributions, including the Whitfield Notebook to the right, have been digitized and added to our digital library, DigiNole.

Supporting these initiatives led Special Collections and Archives to question how to make our own holdings more visible and accessible. We started with the objects submitted to the ASERL Exhibit and added them to our digital library. The documents below are examples of what we identified that will be digitized in the near future. Alongside digitization, we have begun to incorporate these materials in class visits and aim to include them in research guides. As always, we encourage everyone to visit our reading room to view and work with our collections.

New additions to the digital library documenting enslavement and sharecropping include manuscript and printed sharecropping contracts, the Whitfield Notebook, and the R.F. Van Brunt General Store 1911 Day Book.

Special Collections & Archives welcomes visitors to our reading room on the first floor of Strozier Library Monday-Thursday from 10:00-6:00 and Friday from 10:00-5:30.

Scrapbooks to the Past, Gadsden County Edition

Scrapbooks are one of the best time capsules an archives may hold in its collections. These books, some giant, some small, were put together with care and love by the people who were actively looking to document and save their history as it was happening. Here at FSU, we hold dozens of scrapbooks that students have put together over the years, showing what student life was like on campus but also what was happening outside of FSU in the wider world that was affecting them as they worked on their degree.

Today, I share a very different kind of scrapbook. In partnership with the Havana History & Heritage Society in Havana, Florida, we digitized and described seven large scrapbooks kept by the Home Extension Services agent in Gadsden County, Florida from 1916 until 1961. These books showcase the work of 4-H clubs and women’s groups throughout some of the toughest years this rural Florida county faced during the Great Depression and into World War II.

A page from the 1928-1932 scrapbook. The caption reads “4-H Club Girls’ Exhibit of Canned Products. Achievement Day 1929” [See Original Scrapbook]

As a 21st century woman through and through, I marvel at the skills these children and women had to grow, preserve and produce the food, clothing and other resources they and their families needed during these years. Looking at the photos included in these books, what they called a “garden” was actually a small-scale farm. This was brought home to me especially when I found a FSU connection. It seems, in the 1930s, Florida State College for Women (FSCW), what FSU was called until 1947, often bought produce and their Thanksgiving turkeys from the Extension Services in Gadsden County. Which means, these small farms, helmed by women by the looks of it in the scrapbooks, were producing enough for themselves, their community and then some!

Take a look at these scrapbooks and some photographs that we digitized as part of this project with the Havana History & Heritage Society. I look forward to working with more community groups in our region to continue to bring to light the history and work of the people in Big Bend Region through partnerships like this one.

New Digital Exhibit on Integration at FSU

Integration Statue
Integration Statue

A new digital exhibit is now available, featuring information and documents that expand on the items currently on display in at the Heritage Museum in Dodd Hall. The exhibit is titled A University in Transition: The Long Path to Integration and focuses on the role of institutional racism in delaying state university integration. It also highlights acts of resistance by students, such as John Boardman, who was expelled for his active involvement with the black Inter-Civic council during and after the Tallahassee Bus Boycott.

Picture of Bob Leach, Vice President for Student Affairs (1978-1988)
Bobby E. Leach, Vice President for Student Affairs (1978-1988)

African American students, faculty, staff, and alumni also tell their story during the 40th anniversary of integration, for which a statue was commissioned featuring the first black graduate, athlete, and homecoming queen. The exhibit concludes with a spotlight on FSU’s first black administrator, Dr. Bob E. Leach, whose speeches inspired students for over a decade (1978-1988) and who served as a model of leadership for the university.

The exhibit also aligns with the goals of FSU’s recently established Civil Rights Institute. The interdisciplinary institute will sponsor events, speakers, publications, education, and research on civil rights and social justice. Its collections will be housed in Strozier Library and include historical African American newspapers, the Tallahassee Civil Rights Oral History collection, microfilm editions of NAACP and ACLU organizational records and the Emmett Till archives.

For more information, check out the library’s Civil Rights LibGuide.

The digital exhibit is available here: https://universityintransition.omeka.net/exhibits/show/a-university-in-transition/introduction

Celebrating the Start of Summer

We recently completed digitization of the newspaper from Leon High School here in Tallahassee. Started in the 1920s, the paper has gone through several name changes to end up at Leon High Life today. Our recent additions to the newspaper started in 1988 and bring us up to the end of Spring 2019. To write this update, I took a look at the newspapers published just at the end of the school year.

As a school publication, there are few to no issues published beyond the beginning of June. These papers are the last hurrah for the seniors, celebrating the next steps for those leaving, looking back at the year of academics and athletics.

2001-2002 Sports Year in Review spread [original item]

They also used these issues to talk about what they’d loved and hated that year, making these issues time capsules to what the kids thought was cool at the time.

Spread from the May 31, 1988 High Life Graduation Issue [original item]

But they were also looking forward to their summer and looking at what would be on deck to go see, hear, and do for their last few months of freedom if they were Seniors or just looking forward to the break if there was more high school ahead of them.

What students were looking forward to in the summer of 1992 [original item]

You can explore the entire run of the Leon High Newspaper for a unique look at life in Tallahassee from a high schooler’s perspective from the 1920s up to 2019.

Godby High Yearbooks Online

FSU Libraries continues to partner with local organizations to bring the history of our region online and available for research. Today’s new digital collection comes from a local high school, Godby High School. Opened in 1966, it officially became a school for grades 9-12 in 1968, graduating its first class in 1970. Much younger than the other high school we’ve partnered with in the past, Leon High School, Godby brings another perspective to student and family life in Tallahassee from the mid-1960s up to the 2018 yearbook.

Spread from the 1975 Godby High Cougar [original item]

You can explore more yearbooks from Godby High here. Yearbooks from 1969 to 2018 are available to browse and search.

Castro Archaeological Site Collection

The Digital Library Center (DLC) recently uploaded a new set of material to the Castro Archaeological Site Collection in DigiNole! The most recent additions to this collection contain comprehensive notes, drawings, and analysis of the Castro archeological site in Leon County. More information on this collaboration between the DLC and FSU’s Department of Anthropology can be found on our previous post from August 2018.

Feature Inventory Form - Castro Site
Feature Inventory Form – Castro Site [original object]
In addition to preserving important details about the excavation of the Castro site, digitizing and uploading this collection to DigiNole gives visitors a glimpse into the day-to-day operations of both professional and student archeologists.

Though this marks the end of digitization of the Castro material, our collaborative efforts with the Department of Anthropology will continue. Keep an eye out for more updates as we continue to add more archaeological content to DigiNole!

New records from St. John’s in DigiNole

We are pleased to announce that additional records of the St. John’s Episcopal Church are now available online through DigiNole: FSU’d Digital Repository. These include records of baptisms, marriages, and burials at St. John’s throughout the 20th century, as well as early vestry minutes, detailing early church events such as establishing the site of the building and cemetery, selecting rectors, and historical practices such as renting seats in the pews. These supplement previously digitized records of church rites and the journals of Reverend W.H. Carter. Genealogists, St. John’s parishioners, and researchers of Tallahassee history will all find value in greater access to these materials.

A page from the St. John's Vestry Records, 1836-1873, discussing pew rates
A page from the St. John’s Vestry Records, 1836-1873, discussing pew rates [original object]


St. John’s is the mother church of the Diocese of Florida. It was founded as a mission parish in 1829, and the church’s first building was erected in 1837. The Diocese was organized at St. John’s in 1838 and Francis Huger Rutledge, who became rector of St. John’s in 1845, was consecrated the first Bishop of Florida in 1851. The original church burned in 1879; a new church was built on the same site and consecrated in 1888, and it is still the parish’s principal place of worship.


The physical collection includes administrative records; member registries; meeting minutes of the Vestry and church circles; Bibles, Books of Common Prayer, hymnals, and other liturgical works; documentation of the history of St. John’s Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Florida; service bulletins and other periodicals; sermon transcripts; photographs; and motion pictures.

For more information about the collection, visit its finding aid. You can also explore the digitized materials from St. John’s in DigiNole: FSU’s Digital Repository.

Summer Quiet

Summer is indeed a quieter time on campus. Today starts the summer term here at FSU and we wish all students the best of luck in their summer classes.

Title page from the Summer Holiday issue of The Girl’s Own Paper (1883). See the entire issue here.

We recently posted in DigiNole: FSU’s Digital Repository more volumes of The Girl’s Own Paper, or The Girl’s Own Annual as it was eventually titled. You can browse issues from this publication geared at young British girls and teenagers from the years 1880-1893 in DigiNole. This is an ongoing digitization project so be sure to look out for “new” issues in the future. This publication is a part of the larger John MacKay Shaw Childhood in Poetry Collection. Titles from that collection which have been digitized may be browsed and searched in DigiNole as well.

Happy Summer!