Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

KU Greek Archives Project

September 8th, 2017

Image of a Kappa Delta scrapbook title page, 1993

Kappa Delta scrapbook title page, 1993.
Kappa Delta Scrapbooks, 1989-1998.
Call Number: RG 67/459.

One thing that sets Spencer Research Library (SRL) apart from other on campus jobs at KU is that student workers get to see the importance of well-maintained historical records first hand. As a history major, working around these materials is an amazing experience and inspiration. This background got me started on my Undergraduate Research Project, which works within the University Archives.

During a historical research methods class in Spring 2016, it became apparent to me that a great way to evaluate the changing social history of KU is through Greek life records. This is because each chapter keeps detailed minutes on weekly proceedings; records their events through monthly or yearly reports; and has a plethora of pictures and a rich collection of ephemera such as t-shirts, banners and flyers.

However, when examining the archives, I found that there are significant gaps of multiple years in the records of the Greek houses. Usually, there is little to no material after the 1980s. While KU students are still engaged in Greek life, this gap showed me that the materials simply are not being deposited into the University Archives. There could be several reasons for this; perhaps many Greek chapters are switching over to mostly paperless records, or perhaps the chapters do not know that SRL would be interested in their records. Either way, this seemed to me like a problem that needs addressing. With encouragement from my history professor Jonathan Hagel, I utilized my background at SRL and my connections to Greek life at KU to get the KU Greek Archives project off the ground.

My project is twofold. First, I’m conducting a survey of the University Archives to get a more complete picture of the types of materials that are already in the library and which Greek organizations are represented. Once this is complete, the gaps in the historical record where there are little to no materials will appear and indicate what years to focus on when gathering materials.

The next step is reaching out to the Greek chapters still currently on campus to see what materials they have in their possession that they would be willing to donate to University Archives. This process has taken the form of attending Panhellenic meetings with all of the chapter presidents to explain my project and sending many emails to chapter presidents and historians.

In the midst of the outreach and the archival survey, I wanted to use my own chapter, Kappa Delta (KD), to catalyze the process and lend credibility to my project as a sort of trial period. To begin, I looked around my chapter house for any relevant materials. Since KD is one of the newer houses on campus, the materials I expected to find would not be as old as some of the other chapters at KU; at the earliest, these sources would originate from KD’s establishment in 1990. The sources I did find are rich in the history of my chapter as well as others in the Greek community.

Image of an excerpt of the Kappa Delta Historian’s report, November 1990

Excerpt of the Kappa Delta historian’s report, November 1990.
Kappa Delta Scrapbooks, 1989-1998. Call Number: RG 67/459.
Click image to enlarge.

The most common materials are scrapbooks. These depict Kappa Delta’s new members, the remodeling of the house, and the first few years after Kappa Delta was established. Additionally, I found a binder of historian’s reports, which are composed of several pages summarizing each month’s activities of the KDs. Paired with some of the photographs in the scrapbooks, I found a comprehensive record of Kappa Delta from its founding in 1990 to about 2008.

While filling the gaps in the archival record is important, ensuring that the record is current is vital to the social history of KU. But gathering sources that are more current presents a problem. While Greeks are still documenting their social experience at KU, the majority of this is now digital. Minutes are distributed electronically, and scrapbooks can now be made in the form of videos posted online. Electronic minutes and records can always be printed and donated to University Archives, but saving videos is a problem that I have not yet explored.

As my project continues, I hope to uncover many more sources from each individual chapter at KU. However, this project cannot be complete without the participation of those in the Greek community. Several chapters have offered to donate materials, and I hope to recruit many more.

For more information about my project, please check out my blog.

Check out the Spencer website to learn about the University Archives records of student life and about the process of donating materials to the library.

Shea O’Sullivan
Public Services Student Assistant


Throwback Thursday: Jayhawk Edition, Part II

September 7th, 2017

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

We love all iterations of Jayhawks! Fans at this weekend’s KU football game will see Jayhawks that look very different from the one in this week’s photograph.

Photograph of the Jayhawk mascot at a football game, 1923

KU’s Jayhawk mascot at an away football game against
Kansas State University, 1923. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 0/25 1923 Prints: University General: Jayhawk mascot, dolls, etc (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: September 4-10, 1917

September 5th, 2017

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: nineteen-year-old Forrest W. Bassett, whose letters are held in Spencer’s Kansas Collection. Each Monday we’ll post a new entry, which will feature Bassett’s letters to thirteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

Forrest W. Bassett was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, on December 21, 1897 to Daniel F. and Ida V. Bassett. On July 20, 1917 he was sworn into military service at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after, he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for training as a radio operator in Company A of the U. S. Signal Corps’ 6th Field Battalion.

Ava Marie Shaw was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 12, 1903 to Robert and Esther Shaw. Both of Marie’s parents – and her three older siblings – were born in Wisconsin. By 1910 the family was living in Woodstock, Illinois, northwest of Chicago. By 1917 they were in Beloit.

Frequently mentioned in the letters are Forrest’s older half-sister Blanche Treadway (born 1883), who had married Arthur Poquette in 1904, and Marie’s older sister Ethel (born 1896).

Forrest spends considerable time in the first of this week’s letters questioning the progression of his relationship with Marie and seeking her opinion. “Do you think we have gone too far,” he asks her. “That is one reason why I thought you should go with other boys, although I hate to think of you with anyone else…Marie tell me exactly what you think. Would you prefer that we just be very good friends?” Highlights from the second letter include Forrest’s new “mighty fine military wrist watch” (“it is sure some watch – 15 jewel with Swiss movement, and luminous dial and hand”) and Forrest’s close call with a mule (“I was brushing the hind legs of 1 of the new mules, he suddenly plunged around sideways at me, kicking with both feet”).


Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917

Did you get the postcard in my last letter?

Wed. Sept. 5, 1917

Dear Marie,

I have just been reading your last letter from Rockford. You sure spoke the truth when you said that we would never tire of eachother, no matter how much we were together, if we really loved eachother. Every time we have been together has strengthened my love for you, but I know that I never realized how much I cared until leaving you. I think about what D.B. said in the clipping was right, as a rule. But do you think we have gone too far. That is one reason why I thought you should go with other boys, although I hate to think of you with anyone else. Marie, I want you to do the things that are for your own good. You are very young, but you seemed to understand me so well that I couldn’t help but treat you like an older girl. Marie tell me exactly what you think. Would you prefer that we just be very good friends? Surely your mother knows what is best. I hate to think of giving you up even for just a few years, but love you too much to think of anything but that which will make you the happiest in the long run. What is it, Marie, that you don’t like to write to me? I am telling you everything; can’t you do the same and trust that I will understand? I was not surprised at the change in your regard for L. I have exactly the same experience when I saw her “at home.”

Won’t you write everything you think, and not wait until we see eachother? Your letters are exactly as I would have them. They do make me mighty lonesome for you but the things that make me lonesome also make me happy in a different way so please don’t write any different because of that reason. Marie let’s be as close to eachother as we can even although there are a good many miles between us. I am wondering what the surprise is that you and your mother are planning. I am losing lots of valuable sleep for fear I won’t be pleased. We don’t get up until 5:45 A.M. now, but we drill later in the afternoon. This afternoon we cleared a lot of rock out of the A-6 corral so the horses wouldn’t break their legs galloping around. Believe me it was some hot piece of work. I had to scrub my pants, shirt and four handkerchiefs after supper. We have three bathtubs in the basement for washing clothes. We soak our clothes, then lay them on a board across the tub and scrub them with yellow soap and a big brush. It’s a gay life. Can you picture it? We groom our horses every morning now. It has been my luck to draw one horse and a packmule every day for the last 4 or 5 days. I sure do wish that I could go bike riding and hiking with you this Fall. Didn’t we have some fine times up the river, and “everything ‘n everything.”

Marie, is there anything I can do that would make you the least bit happier? In your next letter please answer the things I ask.


I am sending the card you asked me to.

This picture of the erection of a field wireless station is a very true representation of how it is done.


Sept. 9, 1917

Dear Marie,

If any girls’ letters could fill a man with enthusiasm and ambition, your’s surely do. You are every bit the girl that I have always believed you were and I know I need never have any case to doubt you. I know that this war can’t last very much longer and I feel that I will surely come back to you no matter how things go. Somehow, I can’t see the dark side of anything anymore. Everything seems to come my way. I wonder if you expect very much of a change in me when I come back. If you do you will surely be disappointed because I’ll be the same boy that said “goodbye” that Tuesday night. Marie are you sure you love me enough to give yourself to me for all time? I should like to know just what you think you know of me. That is something you can tell me when we see eachother again. I am anxiously waiting for the fudges. Blanche sent me some more but they go pretty fast. Sorry you had hard luck the first time. I just got a mighty fine military wrist watch from Art Goss. It is sure some watch – 15 jewel with Swiss movement, and luminous dial and hands. Almost half of the men and all the officers have wrist watches; no fobs are allowed to be worn. I guess we get paid tomorrow so I will get the Vest Pocket camera. Corporal Westrum and I went out taking pictures this afternoon. If they are good I will send some. Westrum is acting as Co. clerk at present and he says they expect to hear from Washington what is to be done with photographers very soon now. I don’t want to leave here very soon as this is sure a great place. Yesterday the Vth section moved into a separate room of our own. We have got a fine sergeant. He cusses us up and down during the foot drill period but I guess we deserve it. Friday 5 other men & I were detailed to round up 11 new mules and lead them to the A-6th stables. They were loose in a little half acre corral and believe me we had our troubles. They were a wild bunch and it took the six of us over an hour to get the ropes on them. I’m glad there are no mules in the wagon section. Yesterday morning I had my first very close call. When we groom the horses we take them from the corral and tie them a yard apart to a chain stretched taut between posts about four feet high. I was brushing the hind legs of 1 of the new mules, he suddenly plunged around sideways at me, kicking with both feet. I stepped ahead just in time to miss the hoofs but was pinned in between the picket chain & the mule. The chain caught me between the ribs and the hip bone and the force of the blow doubled me up for a minute. Friday afternoon another fellow from the Vth section went to the hospital – more horse thumbprints. Take it from our truly, this lad is going to watch his step.

I know just exactly how you felt about that sweater coat. It is yours until I come back and Ethel had no right to urge you to loan it to her after you refused it. I do not care if she wears it – but I want you to do just as you want to. I do think your folks were wrong in making you give the sweater to Ethel.

Well I suppose you will be back to school when this reaches you. If I were you I would drop that piano playing at school. Do your own work the best you can and no more.



Meredith Huff
Public Services

Emma Piazza
Public Services Student Assistant

Brian Aldiss, 1925-2017

August 31st, 2017

On August 19th, science fiction writer and critic Brian Aldiss died, a day after turning 92. In an obituary for The Guardian, fellow writer Christopher Priest characterized Aldiss as “by a long chalk the premier British science fiction writer.” As fans and scholars of speculative fiction around the world mourn this loss, some will be surprised to discover that part of the British writer’s literary legacy resides in Kansas: the Spencer Research Library a holds significant collection of papers for Aldiss, including materials for his Billion Year Spree and his Helliconia Trilogy. The trilogy, which consists of the novels Helliconia Spring (1982), Helliconia Summer (1983), and Helliconia Winter (1985), is among Aldiss’s most admired works. “This depiction of a world that circles a double star, where an orbital Great Year lasts long enough for cultures to emerge, prosper and fail,” Priest writes in his remembrance of Aldiss, “is a subtle, deeply researched and intellectually rigorous work.”

Brian Aldiss accepting the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Helliconia Spring, Lawrence, KS, 1983.

Brian Aldiss accepting the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel for Helliconia Spring (1982) in Lawrence, KS in 1983.  Call number: RG 0/19: Aldiss, Brian

The collection of Aldiss’s papers at KU provides a wealth of evidence for the research and rigor that went into his writings. The 25 boxes of materials for the Helliconia Trilogy include, for example, Aldiss’s extensive correspondence with scientists and scholars to determine the scientific basis for the world he was creating. Those consulted include Iain Nicholson of Hatfield Polytechnic Observatory on the subject of astronomy, Peter Cattermole of the University of Sheffield on geology and climate, and Tom Shippey, then at the University of Leeds, on the languages of the novel. The result is a world  striking in its attention to detail.

A selection of research Correspondence for the Helliconia Trilogy.

A selection of research correspondence with Iain Nicholson, Peter Cattermole, and Tom Shippey concerning the creation of Helliconia. Brian Wilson Aldiss Papers. Call #: MS 214: A.

Not only do these letters reveal the extent to which technical and scientific matters underpin the trilogy’s concept, plot, and themes, but they also offer lighter moments of humor between on-going collaborators. Aldiss, for example, begins a June 1981 letter to Cattermole by quipping, “Helliconian scholars have failed to study Helliconia’s sister planets in any depth; they have been too busy drinking the whisky out of their orrerys.” (MS 214:Aa:2:14a).  Writing again to Cattermole in September of 1982, following the publication of Helliconia Spring earlier that February, Aldiss reports,

Vol. 1 has been very well received, especially in the States; over here there were complaints, as you say, about names. Well, it’s no good building up an intense winter atmosphere in Embruddock and then call[ing] the sods Joe and Charlie. There will be more complaints of that nature with Vol II, where I have a vast character list, with over fifty speaking parts, but I see no way of evading the problem and so forge on hopefully.  Wait till you meet Queen MyrdalemInggala….. (MS 214Aa:2:16b)

Spencer Research Library’s collections also include manuscript materials for Aldiss’s groundbreaking Billion Year Spree (1973)subtitled “The True History of Science Fiction,” which he later expanded with David Wingrove into Trillion Year Spree (1986). The volume argues for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) as the birth of science fiction.

Aldiss’s ties to the University of Kansas grew out of his relationship with fellow science fiction writer and critic, James Gunn, Professor Emeritus of English and the founder of KU’s Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. “We were long-time friends, although an ocean between us limited our encounters,” Gunn explains.

I was a guest in his Oxford home for a couple of days after the founding of World SF in Ireland [in 1976], and he was a guest in my home during his author’s visit here.  We were competitors only in the writing of science-fiction histories.  We both started in 1971, but circumstances (and maybe the complexities of illustrations) held up Alternate Worlds (1975) [Gunn’s illustrated history of SF] for a couple of years.  When I wrote him for a photograph, he suggested that we exchange blurbs–that I would say his history was the best and he would do the same for mine.

Though the delay in the publication of Gunn’s Alternate Worlds meant that the exchange of blurbs never came to pass, researchers can explore both Aldiss’s and Gunn’s processes in writing their respective histories of science fiction by examining the collections of their papers at Spencer Research Library.

Cover of Brian Aldiss's Billion Year Spree (1974 paperback edition)  Cover of James Gunn's Alternate Worlds (1975)

Left: Brian Aldiss’s Billion Year Spree (1973). Schocken paperback edition, second printing. New York: Schocken Books, 1975. Call #: ASF B1245. Right: James Gunn’s Alternate Worlds. First edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J : Prentice-Hall, 1975. Call #: E2598.

In his introduction to Billion Year Spree, Aldiss mused, “Possibly this book will help further the day when writers who invent whole worlds are as highly valued as those who re-create the rise and fall of a movie magnate or the breaking of two hearts in a bedsitter. The invented universe, the invented time, are often so much closer to us than Hollywood or Kensington.” Thank you for those invented universes, Brian Aldiss.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Throwback Thursday: North Gallery Edition

August 31st, 2017

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Spencer’s North Gallery has been the library’s iconic space since the building opened in 1968. Earlier this summer we finished a renovation of the space and installed a new permanent exhibit featuring a snapshot of Spencer’s collections.

Come see the changes in the North Gallery any time Spencer Research Library is open, or attend the grand reopening next Thursday, September 7th, 3:00-4:30pm. The opening reception is free and open to everyone, and we hope to see you there!

Photograph of the Spencer Research Library North Gallery, 1960s

The North Gallery at Spencer Research Library, 1960s.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/22/82/i 1960s Prints:
Campus: Buildings: Spencer Research Library: Interior (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services