Denim Day: A Triumphant Return

My job here at Virginia Tech is Community Collections Archivist & Inclusion and Diversity Coordinator for the University Libraries. I forgive you if you got lost in all that. Essentially, the part of my job that is archival in nature is to engage with traditionally marginalized communities around their histories. I help them preserve and make available documentary evidence of their existence so that history will better reflect the full human experience. This post is about a project that fell squarely within that scope – and helped me really see what doing this work can mean.

Nancy Kelly smiling
Nancy Kelly, “The Instigator”

About a year ago, I got a request for a meeting with Nancy Kelly, a lesbian alumna who wanted the university to acknowledge the early history of the Gay Rights Movement at Virginia Tech. At the time, I assumed this would be a fairly standard discussion with a potential donor about materials they had and whether Special Collections would be interested in adding them to our collections. I was wrong. Nancy, certainly had some wonderful documents and we talked about the donation process. But, Nancy had a vision. She wanted us to document her experience as a lesbian at Tech during the birth of the publicly visible LGBTQ+ community here. And, she wanted it done on video. And, she wanted us to document the experiences of all of her friends and fellow alumni from that same time period. And she wanted the university as a whole to celebrate the events of 40 years ago and publicly display support for the LGBTQ+ community here. This seemed an impossible dream at the time.

Having some familiarity with the events of January 1979 from the coverage in the Collegiate Times, I wasn’t about to say no. It’s a fascinating exploration of late-1970s attitudes toward gay and lesbian people. At the time, I had no idea how I would make a video oral history project a reality. I had no personal experience as an oral history interviewer. I also knew we had limited storage space and that video files are huge! Still, this was a project with potential, so I said yes. No conditions. No mentioning all the potential issues. I just said yes. Luckily, the university made Kaltura available institution-wide for video hosting about the time I needed to put the interviews online.

What happened over the next year was a mixture of serendipity and perseverance. Working with Jessica Taylor, Assistant Professor of Oral and Public History, and Luis Garay Director of the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, we held an oral history workshop in late November specifically targeted to the LGBTQ+ community and preservation of its history.

Oral History Workshop banner ad

At that workshop, I found out that Joe Forte, Shelving Supervisor with the University Libraries (and an amazing DJ for Stacks on Stacks, the University Libraries Radio Show), and Slade Lellock, PhD candidate in Sociology, were very interested in recording some interviews. I also met Adri Ridings, a student who was similarly interested in helping to document LGBTQ+ history.

From there, we began recording interviews with alumni who hadn’t engaged with the university in 40 years. It was emotional. It was cathartic. It was a labor of love for everyone involved. Nancy did the work to engage them and tell them we could be trusted. Without her, there would be no interviews because these alumni had no reason to trust someone from Virginia Tech to care about their experiences and sharing them honestly.

While I worked with the alumni to preserve their stories, Luis Garay, from the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, Latanya Walker, Director of Alumni Relations for Diversity and Inclusion, Mark Weber, from the Ex Lapide Alumni Society, students from Hokie Pride, the LGBT Faculty and Staff Caucus, and more were all working on putting together an amazing schedule of events for a 40th anniversary commemoration of Denim Day combined with Pride Week and Queer in Appalachia, an annual event celebrating what it is to be queer here in appalachia.

Pride Week 2019 calendar

Meanwhile, we were busily recording and transcribing as fast as possible to get as many interviews online as we could before Pride Week and the planned #VTDenimDayDoOver. I worked with our media folks to create a cool promo/intro video (linked below – click on the picture) for the collection.

Screenshot of a video player showing the starting shot from the Denim Day 2019 promo/intro video.

As the Denim Day events grew near and we had recorded almost all the scheduled interviews with the alumni from 40 years before, I worked with Susanna Rinehart, Chair of Theatre and Cinema in the School of Performing Arts on content for Jeans Noticeably Absent: The Story of Denim Day 1979 which combined theatre students reading newspaper articles and letters reacting to Denim Day with clips from the oral histories.

Overall, this experience has been amazing and triumphant. We gathered great oral histories and engaged the community. Nancy and her fellow alumni were celebrated by the university that had once ostracized them and called them an embarrassment. We were in the VT News, and the Roanoke Times. We were on the home page of the university – for 2 days running so far!!!! (see picture below)

Screenshot of the vt.edu homepage featuring the VT News article.

We had the main university Twitter account tweeting about us.

Screenshot of Tweet featuring a short video of the VT Denim Day Do Over event.

We had departments from across the university sending out messages of support even though they couldn’t attend our coordinated commemoration photo.

Screenshot of a tweet from the VT Department of Dairy Science.
Screenshot of a tweet from VT Rec Sports.

We also got more members of the community to sit down and record their own stories for our collection.

There’s still a ton of work to do to process the material we’ve gathered related to these efforts. There’s also a ton of work needed to engage the parts of the community not represented by the story of Denim Day: those members who aren’t white, cisgender, gay, or lesbian. Hopefully, the work we’ve done here will be a step toward showing that we care enough to do this work honestly and with respect.

To see the collection we built about Denim Day (in progress) and our broader documentation of LGBTQ+ history at Virginia Tech visit here and here.

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Exploring our technology

When people think of Special Collections or of archives generally, they typically think of boxes of old dusty papers or shelf after shelf of rare books.

In truth, we aren’t very dusty. Dust damages our materials, so we try to keep it away. And, while we do have many rare books, that is only a small part of what we’re about. Archives exist to house information. In the past, that information was mainly recorded on some form of paper whether that be a scroll, a sheet of paper, or a book. In the mid-20th century, this began to change. More and more content was created on computers and stored on removable media such as floppy disks, CDs, DVDs, zip drives, removable hard drives, thumb drives, etc.

Image from @palak_dev on Twitter: https://twitter.com/palak_dev/status/962137797640388608

During the same period, archives continued to focus mainly on paper. The form of more recent records became printouts of work done on computers. But the long-term preservation format remained paper. Multiple efforts within the profession focused on figuring out how to handle material given to archives on disks and, more recently, as files in the cloud. Today, the profession has a fairly good idea of how to deal with digital data as material in archives, preserving the data and migrating it to new formats while showing that the intellectual content hasn’t been altered.

Unsurprisingly, our Special Collections has followed along this evolution in practice. We have many records on disk sitting in boxes and many records that have been transferred off their original disks in order to preserve them better. We also have a collecting focus on the History of Science and Technology. The developments in the field of archival practice and our topical interest in the history of technology have provided ample reason for us to acquire various forms of hardware.

The hardware we have allows us to convert many types of digital content to more modern formats for continued use. We’re also exploring making some of the older hardware available for our patrons to experience its use. Let’s take a look at some of the technology we have in our Special Collections.

First up, we have the humble copier. We have a couple of these. They are networked and can scan items at high resolutions. While this doesn’t convert digital content to newer formats, it can help quickly create digital copies of physical materials.

We also have a variety of scanners. The one pictured above is an Epson flatbed scanner. These scanners help us digitize content to share it online. We have many types including flatbed, book scanners, and an overhead camera. With the variety of scanners we have, we are able to create digital copies of our physical materials for use in online content distribution.

For video conversion and playback, we have a number of machines. Pictured above:

  • Panasonic PV-V4623S 4-Head HiFi VCR
  • JVC HR-S6900U HiFi Stereo S-VHS VCR
  • Pioneer LD-V4200 LaserDisc Player

And here we have some video and some audio equipment including:

  • Funai ZV427FX4A DVD Recorder/VCR with Line-in Recording
  • JVCRX-111 AM/FM Stereo Receiver
  • JVC TD-W505 Hi-Fi U-Turn Auto-Reverse Double-Mechanism Cassette Deck
  • Sony CDP-591 Stereo Compact Disc Player
  • Technics SL-Q300 Direct Drive Automatic Turntable System (record player – not pictured)

Of these, the Funai VHS/DVD player gets the most use for conversion purposes which makes sense because it has built-in VHS to DVD conversion capabilities. The others live on our A/V media cart and can be wheeled into our reading room if a patron wants to view an item that is on VHS, DVD, or LaserDisc or listen to one of our cassette tapes or records.

This little gadget does most of the work for our video conversion operations. It is an Elgato Video Capture S-Video/HDMI/Component Video Capture Device. It allows us to connect almost any video player directly to a computer and record the video playback as a digital file. So, even if we don’t maintain a machine for playing a certain type of media, if we can get ahold of one with S-Video, HDMI, or component video outputs, we can convert the contents to digital formats.

Our audio station provides capabilities for audio cassette tapes and reel-to-reel tapes. To support this, we have the following equipment:

  • Apogee Duet FireWire Audio Interface
  • TEAC W-865R Double Auto-Reverse Cassette Deck
  • Technics RS-T992 Stereo Double Cassette Deck (not pictured)
  • Tascam DA-30 mkII Digital Audio Tape Deck
  • Pioneer RT-909 2-Channel Stereo Auto Reverse Tape Deck (reel-to-reel player – front)
  • Tascam 44-OB 4 Channel Recorder/Reproducer (reel-to-reel player back)

Our audio conversion is done on a Macbook Pro using the open source Audacity software.

When it comes to converting computer files, one of our most versatile tools is the lowly CD drive. Since many computers today don’t include one, we have one centrally located in a cabinet for anyone who might need it.

For more advanced digital processing, we have a forensic recovery of evidence device or F.R.E.D. The FRED allows us to capture a disk image of a computer disk without altering any of the data contained on the disk. Along with the FRED, we have a number of different types of drives that can be connected including a 3.5″ floppy drive, a 5″ floppy drive, a zip drive and more.

Osborne 1 Microcomputer in operational configuration

As we move further into the technology space by offering the chance for our patrons to interact with older technology, we’re acquiring older hardware as part of our collections. Pictured above is the first such piece we acquired: the Osborne 1 Portable Microcomputer. For more about this item, check my blog post from last fall.

Commodore 64 with peripherals

Our newest addition is a Commodore 64 complete with a printer, joystick, monitor, and floppy disk drive. It includes multiple programs and is in excellent condition. It’s not quite ready for its public debut as it has a faulty power supply and requires some maintenance and repair before getting listed in our public catalog.

That’s just a small overview of the technology we use in Special Collections. Our jobs as archivists continue to evolve and we strive to be experts on the past and the present with an eye to the future when it comes to technology. The variety is one of the best parts of working here. I certainly couldn’t have predicted I’d be repairing hardware on an old Commodore 64 as part of my job but I love it anyway.

I hope you’ve found this post interesting and educational. If you’re interested in learning more about our Osborne 1 and Commodore 64, keep an eye on this blog. We’ll post more when they’re ready for people to stop by and try them out.

Osborne 1 Portable Microcomputer

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Osborne 1 Microcomputer in portable configuration

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Osborne 1 Microcomputer in operational configuration

We recently received an Osborne 1 Portable Microcomputer as a donation from Virginia Tech alumnus, Bob Sweeney. We asked him some questions about his background and this computer. Here are his answers:

Q: Tell us a little about your background as it relates to computing in the 1970s-1980s.

A: At the time, I was a technical writer for a software house that developed products for the HP-3000. We were a small company and I could not always get access to a terminal to access the LARC-3000 word processor I used (Los Altos Research Center – chosen because it spelled Larc, as in “Going out on a larc.”). I was an experienced TW, but this job was the first that allowed me to us a WP.  Well, allowed is the wrong word. My buddy – Steve White, VT Class of 1962 – was our head of sales. I mentioned to him that I was ready for my manuscript to go to the typing pool. He replied, “Bob, we’re a computer company.  You use the computer.” (I never wanted to do it any other way again.  I’d spent 2/3rd of my time proofreading!)

Q: What initially attracted you to the Osborne 1?

A: The Osborne 1 ads showed people carrying the machine in elevators, buses, through an airport. At $1600 with a printer and a bundle of software, this was an affordable machine. When I bought the O1, for instance, a business man was buying a comparable machine (same printer, same processor, same drive, same memory) and he paid twice as much for his IBM. By the by, you probably can find one of those ads online.

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Osborne 1 ad c.1981

Q: What was your experience with the computer? Did it work as advertised?

A: It was great! I used its WordStar WP to do my stuff at home and prepare files for the HP. (LARC-3000 was an embedded-command WP. For example, like HTML, <b>….</b> for bold, <p>…</p> for paragraphs.) I could encode the files for HP. With a simple application (included) I could conduct work as though the Osborne was a terminal to the HP. Best of all, I could save my files on a floppy, allowing me to work at home, offline!

I loved the Epson printer, too. In fact, I had trouble reloading the paper one day. I got out the manual and was surprised to find no loading instructions! In frustration, I tried again. The path was so simple, if you just stuck the paper in, it would load properly! I’d thought too hard about it!

Q: The computer was advertised as portable, did you transport it from place to place like one would with a modern laptop?

A: Yes, I carried it from home to work and back. But best of all, we were working on a proposal with a customer in Boston. We took the Osborne up with us on the plane and that night updated the propsal!

Q: What was your favorite thing about this computer?

A: That flexibility. WordStar was easy to use. There was also Basic and VisiCal, although I used neither much. We did do several proposals and business plans using the Visicalc and its links to WordStar (A mail merge function). (If I remember, VisiCalc was the first spreadsheet for microcomputers. We could probably dump it into LARC-3000, too.)

Q: What was your least favorite thing?

A: As you’ve seen, the screen is small! I got a magnifier for the screen, but my nephew – with good eyes – threw it away!

Q: Why did you decide to find a home for the computer rather than recycling it as many would do?

A: It has no value, so I just couldn’t send it off to some beach in India. It was my first and started me out on a career of the future. I still marvel at how any writer did it in the old days! You spent twice as much – possibly three times as much – of your days proofing than writing. (Of course, we also had to learn a new skill – usually from several hard experiences – backing up.

Q: Is there anything more you would like to share about the Osborne 1 Computer?

A: Not as famous as the Apple, but the Osborne 1 was an important step for businesses in the computer revolution. They would be better known if they’d developed an IBM clone. They did have a machine with a larger screen, but it was still CP/M.

Some Computer History

When looking at history, we often ascribe specific importance to that which is first. For example, in 1911 Roald Amundsen from Norway was the first person to reach the South Pole and in 1926 he was recognized as the first person to reach the North Pole. Regardless of the objective truth of these claims (whether indigenous people reached the North Pole before him) he is granted a certain cachet by being recognized as the first. You can find an entire list of similar firsts on Biography Online‘s site.

What does all of this have to do with the Osborne 1 portable microcomputer? Well, it is one of those special things that is special because of its status as first. The Osborne 1 was the first portable microcomputer. For those not familiar with computing history, this was the first (type of) computer (the woman, not the machine):

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Computer at her work with microscope and the Friden calculating machine. (NASA).

After human computers came large room-sized machines such as the Harvard Mark 1 in 1944.

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Harvard Mark 1 room sized computer. 1944. (computerhistory.org)

As the world of computer technology progressed through the later half of the 1940s and through the 1950s and 1960s, improvements to computer technology were developed and introduced. Punch card input gave way to keyboard input. Components got smaller, leading to “microcomputers” which are just computers that are small. The term generally refers to computers smaller than room sized. Screens were added. Networking via phone lines was added. New and exciting programming languages were created.

As the 1970s progressed, we saw the introduction of the first personal computers (meaning small machines that were within the grasp of an individual to own/operate) from companies such as IBM, with the IBM 5150 Personal Computer being released in 1981. The 5150 followed a great deal of work by IBM in developing a commercial personal computer. Their main competitor was Xerox who introduced the Xerox PARC Alto (a computer that we would recognize today – with a monitor, mouse, and keyboard) in 1974.

In 1976, Apple released the Apple I and then followed with the Apple II in 1977. That year, Tandy Radio Shack (TRS) released their TRS-80, Atari released their computer gaming console, and Commodore entered the market with the PET. Computers were entering the public consciousness and it wasn’t unheard of for people to have a computer at home. It was also becoming much more commonplace to have one at work. During this time, the subject of portable computers was a hot topic and there were entrants to the space as early as 1973 (HP-9830A). Still, an affordable, easily portable personal computer was something that remained mostly a dream until the Osborne 1 was announced in 1981.

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Osborne 1 ad: Afghani Mujahadeen posing with the Osborne 1. c.1981

The Osborne 1 was billed as revolutionary, hence the ad featuring the Mujahadeen. It was the first really portable computer. It weighed 24 pounds and came in a case designed to absorb the inevitable knocks it would receive being transported from place to place. It was the first product of the Osborne Computer Corporation, named for its founder Adam Osborne, and known for lending its name to the Osborne Effect – a company going out of business by announcing a new product too soon and killing sales of their current product. Despite its demise in 1985, the Osborne Computer Corporation succeeded in producing a viable portable computer

The corporation had effective marketing and certainly grabbed the attention of the computer-savvy business professional of the early 1980s.

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BYTE magazine, March 1982, page 33

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BYTE magazine, August 1981, page 35

And, Interface Age magazine whose tag line was “published for the home computerist” named it an “outstanding buy” in November of 1981.

Our Osborne 1 is the first of what we hope will be many classic computers housed in Special Collections and available for the public to interact with. If you want to see this piece of computing history, stop by Special Collections in Newman Library anytime Monday-Friday 8:00 AM-5:00 PM.

Safe Zone at Virginia Tech

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month in the United States. It is a separate observance from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History Month which takes place in October. LGBT Pride Month (or LGBTQ+ Pride Month, or LGBTTIQQ2SA, or whatever umbrella term you are comfortable with) was created in response to the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City which followed a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village. It is now 49 years since the Stonewall Riots, and 59 years since the Cooper’s Donuts Riots in Los Angeles, and Pride Month has become a worldwide phenomenon celebrating the spectrum of sexualities and genders encompassed within the umbrella of LGBTQ+. But, there are still instances of bullying and violence against this community. Just last year, during Pride Month, a mass shooting happened at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Given the violence against the LGBTQ+ community that prompted the creation of Pride Month – and the violence that still happens to the community today, I thought I’d write about Safe Zone at Virginia Tech in honor of Pride Month this year.

SafeZone_1

The Safe Zone program at Virginia Tech was established in 1998 in an effort to create a more welcoming environment for members of the LGBTQ+ community. We recently finished processing the HokiePRIDE Records (RG 31/14/15) which include some early documents related to the Safe Zone program defining what or who a Safe Zone is. Listen to David Hernandez talk about the definition of a Safe Zone in his 2014 oral history from The Virginia Tech LGBTQ Oral History Collection (Ms2015-007).

An early Safe Zone Resource Manual (circa 2000), includes information about the history of the program as well as basic information about terms and symbols used by members of the LGBTQ+ community.

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Over time, the Safe Zone program has evolved. It was initially guided by the direction of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Alliance (LGBTA) of Virginia Tech (later known as HokiePRIDE). Later, it fell under the direction of the Department of Student Affairs and the Multicultural Center. Most recently, it has been run through the LGBTQ+ Resource Center. Safe Zone has been a part of Virginia Tech for the last 20 years!

Society has advanced significantly regarding acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and so has Virginia Tech. Still, educating people on campus about LGBTQ+ issues remains important and the Safe Zone program remains a vital way for members of the community to identify people who are supportive and have a basic training on issues affecting the community.

I hope you enjoyed learning a little about the Safe Zone program at Virginia Tech. If you want to see more of the materials from the HokiePRIDE records (RG 31/14/15), stop by Special Collections and have a look!

If you have materials related to the history of the Safe Zone program at Virginia Tech, HokiePRIDE, or LGBTQ+ history at Virginia Tech and are interested in donating to Special Collections, please contact us using the link at top of this page.

R. Buckminster Fuller

R. Buckminster Fuller. This name is probably familiar to most people in the United States. It conjures images of futuristic domed cities of the type typical to a mid-20th century vision of the future.

Richard Buckminster Fuller, also called Bucky, was a celebrity. He was an engineer, an architect, a veteran, an environmentalist, a philosopher, and a poet. He was a celebrity because of these things rather than in spite of them. He was born July 12, 1895 in Milton, Massachusetts. He went to Harvard University for two years but did not finish. He later went to the United States Naval Academy (1917). He was an officer in the United States Navy during World War I.

For me, Fuller is a legendary figure. I grew up with cultural references to “bucky” balls, images of domed cities in speculative fiction, and knowing conceptually about the structure of fullerenes. So, when I was wandering through the archives looking for something to post about this week, I was excited to see a box labeled “R. Buckminster Fuller Collection 1949-1978” (Ms1975-007). Opening it up was like opening a present.

Our collection includes one folder of correspondence from and to Fuller, three folders containing copies of things Fuller wrote, six folders of things written about Fuller, and two oversized folders containing some rather large items within those categories. Looking through the materials, they aren’t like what most people expect to find in an archives. They aren’t handwritten. They aren’t really old. They aren’t deteriorating. They’re just extremely fascinating.

The letters are from November 1953 – December 1962. Most are from Fuller’s time working on his business Geodesics, Inc. They are typed. They are unsigned. Yet, for a fan of his work, they are exhilarating to read. The first one I laid eyes on was written while Fuller was with the Department of Architecture at the University of Minnesota. As if these being Fuller’s own words wasn’t enough, a connection to Minnesota biases me in favor of something from the start.

In the letter, Fuller is telling Tyler Rogers of Owens-Corning Fiberglas Co. about the challenges and modifications of his designs that have been necessary because of a lack of  the necessary facilities to safely employ fiberglas in their construction. The letter is a finely crafted plea for assistance from this fiberglas manufacturer, and, according to a note added at the end, the plea was successful leading Owens-Corning to supply all the fiberglas used in the project to construct Fuller’s dome.

Take a look. Maybe you’ll find it as fascinating as I do:

Fuller Letter 1Fuller Letter 2Fuller Letter 3

Digging further into the materials, even just glancing, I learned much more about this mythic figure from my childhood. Had he been alive today, I am confident Fuller would have been viewed as an activist. His engineering ideas were rooted in his conception of the need for humanity to work together to support itself. He felt that domes could solve world housing problems. He also felt that industrialization had led the world to war and that as long as income inequality was creating “energy slaves” we would inevitably progress into further wars. Dipping into our small collection yields evidence of these views quite quickly.

Fuller graphics 1.jpg
An illustration created by Fuller in 1927.

The above illustration hints at Fuller’s environmentalism and highlights his concern for housing the population of the Earth. It reads:

26% of Earth’s surface is dry land
85% of all Earth’s dry land is here shown
86% of all dry land shown is above equator
The whole of the human family could stand on Bermuda
All crowded into England they would have 750 sq feet each
“United we stand, divided we fall” is correct mentaly and spiritualy but falacious physicaly or materialy
2,000,000,000 new homes will be required in next 80 years

An example of his analysis of the world’s energy economy and its effect on the incidence of world conflict appears on the same folded sheet:

Fuller graphics 2.jpg

This graphic is from 1952 and is titled “The Twentieth Century.” His analysis reads:

World Industrialization: Its rate of attainment as an industrially objective advantage to individuals. i.e. When 100 inanimate energy slaves* are in continual active service per each and every family existing in governing economy and those energy slaves are primarily focused upon regeneratively advancing standards of living and in articulating amplifying degrees of intellectual and physical freedoms until critical point is reached majority of world men are “have nots” and are incitable to socialism by revolution against the seemingly ever more unduly privileged minority after 1972 majority are “haves”.
* One energy slave equals each unit of “one trillion foot pound equivalents per annum” consumed annually by respective economies from both import and domestic sources, computed at 100% of potential content

Overall, it’s an interesting plot. His analysis, while raising the specter of Communism as villain (typical of the early 1950s), shows global instability and a trend toward possible conflict through 1972. That tipping point is supposedly when most people in the world will go from being “have nots” to being “haves”. His predictions may or may not have been accurate (I’ll leave the correlative analysis up to you) but they certainly are interesting.

The last thing I’ll share is a portion of something I found somewhat interesting from among Fuller’s writings. Most of his writings in our collection are reprints of articles he had published. From a publishing standpoint, I find them interesting because of how they are printed. They are self-contained. In the case of the one I will share, an entire page describing articles in the publication is present but the only one that is printed with full clarity is the one by Fuller – the others have been “blurred” via the addition of slight pixilation of the ink in the printing process. I have yet to actually read this article, so I won’t go into depth. I also won’t share the entire thing here because I really don’t want to make the publication if came from mad at me. Also, just to be clear, I’m reading it for the article (I mean, really, that’s all that’s even here!).

This is just a hint of what’s in our R. Buckminster Fuller Collection (Ms1975-007). I plan to delve into it more myself to satisfy my curiosity about this fascinating man. Please stop by and do the same! And, if you want even more Buckminster Fuller content, Fuller donated his full archive to Standord University in 1999 where it is available as the R. Buckminster Fuller Collection.

 

 

Flora Virginica and the Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands

An advertising graphic that reads: "Flora Virginica" within a border of dogwood blossoms. Below the graphic is the text "On display in the Special Collections Reading Room February 5 - March 16." In the lower right corner is the Virginia Tech University Libraries logo.Over the past few months, I’ve stepped outside my normal topical areas of social justice and the history of traditionally marginalized communities. This departure was related to an exhibit titled Flora Virginica that is on display in our reading room from February 5, through March 16. I enjoy putting together exhibits, so I was happy to take this on even though it was something I knew nothing about. This blog post will include a description of the exhibit, the reasons for its existence, and the interesting history I discovered while putting it together (only not in that order). Enjoy!

An Exhibit, In Partnership

In 2012, the Flora of Virginia Project published Flora of Virginia (QK191 .W43 2012), a 1,572 page comprehensive compendium of Virginia plants. It’s a thick botanical tome of little interest to most people outside the botanical sciences. We acquired multiple copies in the library when it was first published and it isn’t one of our particular collecting focuses. It wasn’t something we were particularly focused on highlighting.

Skip ahead to fall of 2017 and an email from the Massey Herbarium to the Director of Special Collections mentioning an exhibit about Flora of Virginia that the Massey was going to be hosting. Special Collections was being involved because there was an opportunity to display an original Flora Virginica in support of the Massey exhibit. This is where I entered the process.

Over the course of a couple of months, I worked with Jordan Metzgar at the Massey Herbarium and Bland Crowder, editor of the 2012 Flora of Virginia, from the Flora of Virginia Project to arrange a loan of an original 18th century Flora Virginica. During the process of arranging this part of the exhibit, it was suggested that I might also wish to exhibit some 18th century Mark Catesby prints alongside the book. Still not knowing much about the project or the books, I opened discussions with Lynn McCashin, the Executive Director of the Garden Club of Virginia, to arrange a loan of some of their Catesby prints. The next few months consisted of multiple emails negotiating the logistics of the loans. As the date for the exhibit approached, I began to research these items so that I could create some didactic labels for the exhibit (those short little descriptions that go next to items in museum-type displays).

In order to adequately describe the 1762 edition of Flora Virginica and the 1771 Catesby prints – and explain what they had to do with one another and Virginia history, I had to learn that history myself. Where did I start? A general web search, of course. Wikipedia offers great superficial overviews on just about any topic. That was enough to get me oriented before moving on to better sources including the Encyclopedia Virginia, JSTOR Global Plants, the Catesby Commemorative Trust, The Royal Society, and the University of North Carolina Libraries. During the course of this research, I learned some interesting details about the people who created these items and their places in botanical and zoological history.

Flora Virginica, 1762

A photograph of a copy of the 1762 Flora Virginica open to the section on Monandria and Diandria. On the left side is a fold-out map of the Virginia colonial region that is larger than the bound book.
Flora Virginica, 1762 printing

Flora Virginica (QK191 .G86 1739a) is a precursor to Flora of Virginia. They are actually named the same – just in different languages. The original Flora Virginica was published in two parts, the first in 1739 and the second in 1743. Then, a combined edition was published in 1762. All three editions were published in Latin by Lugduni Bavatorum publishers in Leiden, Zuid Holland, Nederland. They all list Johannes Fredericus Gronovius as the person who classified the specimens and wrote the book. They also list John Clayton as the observer and collector of the plants. This attribution has led to much debate over the correct citation of authorship. Many, using modern standards, have claimed that Gronovius plagiarized Clayton’s work. Scholarship as recent as 2004 has addressed the authorship issue directly and concluded that Clayton likely did not have much chance of being published without the help of someone like Gronovius and the actions of the latter would not have been deemed plagiarism using the standards of the 1700’s. Proper credit for authorship, then, is probably to list them both.

Amidst the issues of authorship, I discovered some interesting things about the men who created what was the only comprehensive listing of Virginia plants for over 200 years. John Clayton was born in England in 1694/5 and came to America sometime before 1720. His move to the Virginia Colony was likely due to his father’s position as Attorney General of Virginia. Clayton was an amateur botanist. He was a plantation owner, a slave owner, and Clerk of Gloucester County, VA for more than 50 years. He liked to travel around the state and collect specimens of flora and fauna.

Gronovius was a Dutch naturalist and friend of Carl Linnaeus. He built up a reputation in the Netherlands as a botanist and had his own herbarium. He was considered a professional and had standing within the scientific world to publish. As part of Clayton’s  amateur botanical work, he compiled for Gronovius a catalog of various plants using Linnaean classification. This catalog is what Gronovius eventually turned into Flora Virginica.

So what about Mark Catesby?

Mark Catesby was born in 1683 and was an English naturalist and a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. He first traveled to Virginia in 1712, accompanying his sister and her children. Over the next seven years (1712-1719), he collected and sent to England a variety of botanical specimens from Virginia and Jamaica before returning to England himself. During this time, at least one ornithological specimen and several plants were provided to Catesby by John Clayton. That one connection is why the Catesby prints are often displayed with Flora Virginica … that one connection and the fact that the Catesby prints include gorgeous illustrations of many of the plants mentioned in Flora Virginica.

After a few years in England, where he became a member of The Royal Society, Catesby returned to America to begin work on his grand project. He spent the next 20 years compiling specimens, teaching himself to illustrate them, and writing his Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (QH41 .C28 1754).

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He wrote and illustrated the book(s) entirely himself, publishing them in eleven sections totaling more than 220 hand-colored etchings. In order to finance all this work, Catesby sold subscriptions, offering the book in sections of 20 plates every four months. The first section was published in 1729 and he presented Her Majesty Queen Caroline with her copy in person. Following Catesby’s death in 1749, his work was republished twice, in 1754 and 1771. Catesby’s work was done before Linnaean classification was developed but the 1771 reprint includes a catalog of the Linnaean names for the flora and fauna depicted in the book.

While Flora Virginica is recognized as the most comprehensive listing of Virginia plants from 1739 to 2012, Catesby’s History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands is known as the earliest published work illustrating and describing North American flora and Fauna. It was published almost 100 years before Audubon’s The Birds of America (QL674 .A9 1827a).

The Exhibit

Through the generous courtesy of the Flora of Virginia Project and the Garden Club of Virginia, we have an exhibit containing a 1762 original Flora Virginica, a 1946 reproduction Flora Virginica, and two Catesby prints from the 1771 reprinting: The Summer Red-Bird, The Western Plane Tree and The Red Start, The Black Walnut. This exhibit gives viewers a chance to appreciate the wonderful history of all of the items with an abbreviated version of the information presented here. If you’re in the area and want to see the exhibit in person, stop by Special Collections and take a look.

While you’re visiting, if you are interested in taking a look at a copy of Flora Virginica in person (reading Latin helps),  Special Collections has one copy of the 1946 reproduction on site and two in remote storage (QK191 .G86 1739a). If you want to see the amazing Catesby illustrations in person, Special Collections has a copy of the 1754 reprinting of Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (QH41 .C28 1754). As for the 2012 Flora of Virginia, Newman Library has two copies and Special Collections has one (QK191 .W43 2012). And, if you’re curious about Audubon’s The Birds of America (QL674 .A9 1827a), Special Collections has a 1985 issue of the double elephant folio in our reading room – it’s our only item with its own piece of furniture.

A full listing of events related to the Massey Herbarium Flora of Virginia exhibit is available at masseyherbarium.org/fov.

The History of the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement

Have you ever thought about the history of LGBTQ rights in the United States? Did you learn about historic figures and events in the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement in elementary school? middle school? high school? college? Did you ever learn about these important figures and events in US History? For the majority of people, the answers will be “no”. It’s a sad reality that this topic isn’t covered in most schools and that most students will not be exposed to this history unless they choose a course of study in college that requires a course about LGBTQ people.

As part of our efforts to collect and highlight archival material about the LGBTQ+ community, our partnership with the LGBTQ+ Resource Center at Virginia Tech, and in support of LGBTQ+ History Month (October), we arranged to host an exhibit from the ONE Archives Foundation highlighting archival material from the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California (USC) Libraries. The exhibit is titled The History of the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement.

Photograph of a directional sign reading "The History of the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement exhibit begins here"
The start of the “The History of the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement” exhibit on display at Virginia Tech. The exhibit is on display from right to left due to the normal traffic patterns in this part of the library, so a sign noting the start of the exhibit is helpful.

The exhibit consists of 39 panels that are 24 x 36 inches. We had them printed on adhesive vinyl and put them up in the hallway outside the library’s new digital humanities classroom. The exhibit includes information on early “gayborhoods” in the 1940s, the Lavender Scare during 1950s McCarthyism, the Stonewall Riots in the 1960s, the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, the push for marriage equality in the 1990s and 2000s, and more.

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We first posted the exhibit during LGBTQ+ History Month and invited attendees at our LGBTQ+ History at Virginia Tech archival exhibit to take a look after viewing documents from local LGBTQ+ history. Since then, many people have stopped to read through the exhibit panels.

In November, Aline Souza, a graduate student in Creative Technologies and Architecture, took some time to look through the exhibit. After reading through the panels, she said “I like the exhibit because it gives me a chance of a transformative experience on my way to class. I find it unique because it combines good graphics and colors with information about things that happened that I’d never know about.”

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The History of the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement exhibit was put up on on October 16, 2017 and will be on display through December 21, 2017 on the first floor of Newman Library (from the cafe, head up the ramp and turn right at the bathrooms). If you’re on campus, take a moment to stop by Newman Library and take a look.