New JFK Tribute combines public art and local memories

JFK Tribute in downtown Fort Worth

JFK Tribute in downtown Fort Worth (Photo by Stephanie Stegman)

JFK now stands in downtown Fort Worth. Or, at least, his statue does.

Recently, I had the opportunity to learn more about the new JFK Tribute, an open air, permanent exhibit and website that pays tribute to President John F. Kennedy and the final two speeches he gave on the morning of November 22, 1963. My latest article on The Ultimate History Project talks about that day and the development of the project, done in part by Downtown Fort Worth, Inc.

I was surprised to learn about all the North Texas connections to this national story. It’s a timely topic with the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination later this year. One of the upcoming events will be the bringing back together of a special art collection, Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, to be shown at the Dallas Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth.

Watch the video interviews on the JFK Tribute’s website, and then you’ll understand why I enjoyed finding this copy of Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign song, based on Frank Sinatra’s hit “High Hopes.”

Want to find more of Kennedy’s or other presidential speeches and public statements? Check out the JFK Presidential Library and Museum and The American Presidency Project.

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Election predictions from the past

Election predictions — not a new thing as I was reminded last year while working with pre-Civil War records from the New Orleans Custom House.

On Election Day, the election prediction I have in mind is from the presidential election of 1860. This particular prediction is significant, as I wrote on the National Archives Text Message blog Inside the New Orleans Custom House, because it was written by Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard in July 1860. Beauregard’s predictions were wrong. (He projected the Southern Democratic candidate John C. Breckingridge to win by a slim margin.) Less than a year later,  Beauregard would become the Confederate general who fired on Fort Sumter. Therefore, the 1860 prediction represents part of a particularly fractious chapter in our nation’s history.  However, with its meticulous breakdown of states, candidates, and probabilities, it also demonstrates how detailed electoral predictions were, even without the benefit of dry erase boards and touch-screen electoral maps.

Presidential Election Prediction by J. K. Duncan and G. T. Beauregard, July 1860 (The National Archives)

You can find more documents from the New Orleans Custom House on the National Archives Flickr page or in the ARC catalog. Learn about the new digitization project underway in New Orleans to make colonial Louisiana records more accessible.

For all things presidential, check out The American Presidency Project from UC Santa Barbara, an online resource and searchable database of American presidential papers, including executive orders, proclamations, and public addresses.

Tip of the week: To Google or Not To Google

Card catalog in Central Search Room, July 31, 1942.

Card catalog in the National Archives Central Search Room, 1942 (National Archives Flickr photostream)

Finding Aids & Beyond offers quick tips and easy go-to resources that make doing historical research less stressful and more successful. Do you have a helpful tip to share or a topic to suggest? Hit the comments section above. (This is the internet; No. 2 pencils not required.)

To Google or Not To Google — that is the question when doing historical research online.

The digital card catalog known as Google offers a multitude of primary resources at your finger tips. They come from libraries, archives, and museums. However, you have to know how to search for items online. Unfortunately, there is no rule of thumb for what has and has not been digitized and made available online.

When searching for items online, there are two important factors to consider:

  1. Level of interest to potential viewers and users (higher interest = more likely online)
  2. Date of creation (Newer = more likely online)

In digital history, as in commerce, there is a direct relationship between supply and demand. Digitization requires time and funding to transfer that stack of dusty records into thumbnails for easy viewing on multiple devices. If a newspaper, photo, or video wasn’t born online, there is no guarantee that it has a digital presence. Both the level of general interest and the date of creation can influence the availability of historical resources.

However, there is good news! Digital history and digital humanties are a trending topic, as I mentioned in my previous post about the recent 2012 Digital Frontiers Conference at the University of North Texas in Denton. Whether you’re looking for information on the history of The Great Migration or biographies of women Changing the face of Medicine in the United States, there are a wide breadth of online resources to find.

What a quick Google search cannot replicate is the depth of research required to understand how documents relate to one another. You can still be left clicking page after page of search results, image after image for a particular name or phrase.

Sometimes, digital history projects assist in replicating this process online like the subject guides and other resources included on the Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech University — a cool website I discovered at the Digital Frontiers conference last week. With the technical, acronym-driven words found in government and military reports as well as changing names of units, political factions, and geographic locals, this website helps the researcher consider the best search words within its collections. There are also links to other Vietnam history resources online.

Online or on-site, a variety of factors influence access to historical records and artifacts. Think about the format, creator, repository. This information can help to explain why different types of materials are available. For instance, public figures might donate personal papers to their alma mater, but their professional papers may be located at collecting agency for the branch of government for which they worked. Government produced reports, documents, and other publications should be available through state and federal repositories like libraries and archives. But, depending on the subject and time period, they may have been destroyed, not retained, or remain restricted from use.

Bottom line: you have to be a “history detective” to find history resources online, but Google and other web browsers certainly can help.

(This post is a revised version of a paper I had the opportunity to present as part of the session “Benefits and Issues Arising from Availability of Online Content” at the recent Digital Frontiers 2012 conference. To learn more about digital history or for online tools and examples of digital history projects, check out the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.)

Digital Frontiers conference at UNT in Denton, TX

Mark your calendar! The University of North Texas in Denton, TX (home of The Portal to Texas History) is hosting the Digital Frontiers Conference and THATCamp on September 21-22, 2012. Digital history and digital humanities continue to be a trending topic at universities and libraries. As a researcher, I always want to learn more about how and why different types of records are available online in digital portals, catalogs, etc. To see examples of online historical content, check out a few of my favorite Finding Aids & Catalogs in the blogroll or on the History Resources page. Do you have a favorite not on the list? Let me know.

For more information on registration and an overview of the conference schedule, visit the Digital Frontiers website. Go to THATCamp to learn about similar digital conferences in your area. (THATCamp = The Humanities and Technology Camp)

McNitzky Printing Company 1917 calendar

North Texas State Normal College 1917 calendar, McNitzky Printing Company (Denton Public Library from The Portal to Texas History)

Out of the frying pan and into the history books

Workers Preparing Food

Two women prepare breakfast with Corn Flakes and milk for campers at Glen Lake Camp in Glen Rose, TX (Archives of the Central Texas Conference, United Methodist Church from The Portal to Texas History)

Food history — it’s a popular research subject these days. A renewed interest in locally grown food and headlines about childhood obesity have, no doubt, contributed to this trending topic.

The latest issue of the journal Public Historian highlights the range of food-related exhibits recently on display in museums and historic sites throughout the country. As the authors note, the history of what we eat and how the food gets to our table is part of many fields: cultural and social history, history of agriculture, and ecology, not to mention the history and psychology behind packaging and advertisements.

Food is such a great example of how history comes in many different formats: objects, documents, books, oral histories. Each requires a different type of analysis and, sometimes, a different search method, depending on collecting institution and online access. A quick Google search demonstrates this point.

Objects may be ordinary for their time but are unique to us today. Most often, they are displayed in physical exhibit spaces. But more often now, they also are online as digitized collections, like the old-fashioned kitchen utensils in the online exhibit “Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project” from Michigan State University Library. My favorite is the Raisin Seeder. Thank goodness for seedless grapes!

Documents and pictures can come from many different creators (people, companies, organizations). Often, it is the creator’s name that is the title of the collection. For example, the National Archives’ What’s Cooking Uncle Sam? exhibit includes photos and ephemera (posters, etc.) from different government agencies that show how the U.S. agencies were involved in setting nutrition standards and growing food, particularly during wartime like the famous Victory gardens in World War II.

Books are usually the easiest to search for, if you know where to look. In my hometown of Fort Worth, TX, a browse of “food” related entries in the Cultural District Library Consortium (an online catalog of non-circulating items from some of the city’s prominent cultural institutions) gets 349 hits ranging from art and history to botany and pharmacology, books on medieval cooking and healing to a 2009 report from the United Nations on grasslands and climate change. It also includes cookbooks from the National Cowgirl Museum.

A shelf of cookbooks can tell a history, too.
Photo by author

Cookbooks also can be an important resource. The stories behind the recipes are less likely to be found in a library or archive. But they are equally valuable. They can help to tell the history of a family and a community, like the women whose recipes and interviews fill the pages of Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook, edited by Katie Sherrod (TCU Press, 2010).

Bottom line: that 3 by 5 index card of my grandmother’s famous bread pudding recipe is a historical artifact to be treasured. It also shows how recipes and their ingredients change over time… I cut the amount of sugar and eggs by half.

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