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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

That’s Distinctive!: New Women’s Times

February 23rd, 2024

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

This week on That’s Distinctive! I am sharing some scans of the New Women’s Times, a feminist newspaper from Rochester, New York, circa 1975-1984. I found this item last year while looking for Women’s History Month items. While it didn’t make the cut in 2023, I knew I wanted to share it eventually because the idea behind this paper really interested me. My preliminary research has turned up limited information. The paper appears to have first been published in 1975, and it apparently ended in 1984 after a call for feedback and donations went unanswered. According to the paper itself, it was published on a monthly basis except in August. A basic one-year subscription was $15. The pages shared today are from issues from 1983. As seen from the table of contents, the paper covered topics including women’s health issues, women’s rights, and so much more.

The New Women’s Times is housed within the library’s Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements. Established in 1965, the collection “is one of the largest assemblages of U.S. left- and right-wing political literature in the country.” Primarily covering the 1960s to the present, the collection comprises of more than 100,000 items such as books, serials, audio tapes, ephemera, and archival materials. The Wilcox Collection came to the library by way of Laird Wilcox, a researcher of political fringe movements. According to the finding aid for Spencer’s collection of Wilcox’s papers, “in 1964, Wilcox’s collection of political ephemera earned first prize in KU’s student book collecting contest. Emerging from that nucleus, the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements was established at the University of Kansas in 1965, with Wilcox as its founder.”

Many copies of the New Women’s Times are available online via JSTOR.

This image has the text of the front page story "Depo-Provera: Are the Risks Still There?" with a black-and-white illustration of women in silhouette around a globe, with "we are not guinea pigs" and a shot labeled "Depo-Provera" at the top.
This image has the text of the front page story "Buffalo Nurses Walk Out" with a black-and-white illustration of a nurse shouting the word "nurse!"
This image has the text of the front page story "Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace & Justice" with a black-and-white photograph of women marching with a banner.
The front page of New Women’s Times from March (top), June (middle), and September (bottom) 1983. Call Number: RH WL G561. Click images to enlarge.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

Context Matters

October 24th, 2022

Like many institutions, KU Libraries (KUL) has come a long way in recognizing that we are not neutral and that our collecting practices, descriptive traditions, and operations are often not nearly as inclusive as we would like them to be. We have much, much further to go, but we are taking steps where we can. Libraries do not move quickly or easily when large-scale systems are on the line.

Color photograph of a woman sitting, with her back to the camera, facing a desktop computer. She is writing with a pencil, and there are library materials on her desk.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 32/13: KU Libraries: Cataloging Department (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Realizing we should communicate transparently about our collections and practices, Spencer Research Library colleagues agreed we didn’t want to “disclaim” anything; we do not want to deny our responsibility to cover perceived liability or avoid a lawsuit. In fact, we are proud of our collections and the hard work that has gone into building them for decades. But in the world today, where images can be shared immediately, without context, and where intention is rarely assumed to be good, it was important to try to explain our work to those who might encounter our materials virtually.

Our reasons for collecting disturbing or offensive materials and making them available to users are grounded in library and archival best practices, our mission, and the mission of the larger university. In fact, sharing these materials with researchers, students, and the public around the world is our actual purpose for existing. If we don’t collect these materials, many of the perspectives they capture may not be represented elsewhere. Ignorance and secrecy rarely advance the best of our humanity.

But these reasons might not always be clear to folks outside the library, so we wanted to strike a balance between 1) providing information about why objectionable or even harmful material can be found in our library and 2) acknowledging that, even if we have good reasons to collect and share these materials, they have the potential to cause harm to users. Like libraries everywhere, we began by looking at what other institutions were doing.

We decided to call this work “contextual statements,” to make clear that we want to provide the context of our collections. We wanted to articulate our mission in a way that acknowledges that libraries are doing hard work in trying to capture voices and tell stories, even though we struggle to do enough with limited resources.

The first step was to add a phrase to all images from our collections in KU’s digital repository, where digitized versions of our collection materials are increasingly being made available to the world. This language was drafted by a small group and went through many revisions by the Spencer collections group, and was implemented by our colleagues in KUL Digital Initiatives:

“Users of this collection should be aware that these items reflect the attitudes of the people, period, or context in which they were created. Certain images, words, terms, or descriptions may be offensive, culturally insensitive, or considered inappropriate today. These items do not represent the views of the libraries or the university.”

Screenshot of a black-and-white photograph with textual description.
An example of an image in the University Archives Photographs digital collection with the contextual statement about problematic language. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

We also decided we needed a longer statement about our collections, and added more information to our previously published collection development statements, also freely available. Initial work came from Head of Public Services Caitlin Klepper and Head of Manuscripts Processing Marcella Huggard with input from a group from across Spencer.

Finally, we saw an opportunity, as have many of our peer institutions, to expose the work of description, a professional specialty that has long been hidden behind card catalogs and filing cabinets, frequently in the basements of buildings and at the end of a long series of tasks that take collections from the donor’s attic to the loading dock and to the shelves (or laptops). We published a statement about that as well, initially drafted by Caitlin Klepper and Marcella Huggard, based on the work of other institutions.

Photograph of a large open room. Large tables in the foreground are full of boxes and other library materials.
A view of the Processing and Cataloging workspace at Spencer Research Library. Click image to enlarge.

In all of this, we relied heavily on the good judgement and best efforts of colleagues at peer institutions. We realize that every environment is unique, so we tailored it to the KU world, talking with colleagues and, where we could, members of our communities. We hope to get feedback as we go, as we begin a larger conversation with those who use our collections in various ways—about what we collect and why, how we describe it, and how we use the impact of our collections to make a better, more just world.

Beth M. Whittaker
Interim Co-Dean, University of Kansas Libraries
Associate Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library

Ho Chi Minh, the Black Panther Party, and the Struggle for Self-Determination

January 15th, 2020

The temporary exhibit described in this post will be on display in Spencer’s North Gallery through the end of January.

Photograph of one of the title labels in the Ho Chi Minh temporary exhibit
One of the title labels in the Ho Chi Minh temporary exhibit. Click image to enlarge.

As a student assistant for the African American Experience Collections, I recently had an opportunity to produce a temporary exhibit in Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

After reviewing the 1968-1970 issues of The Black Panther, which was published by the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California, I uncovered an astonishing connection linking African Americans and Asians: In 1969 and 1970, the Minister of Information of the Black Panther Party, Eldridge Cleaver, led delegations of African Americans to visit North Vietnam, North Korea, and China.

Although I would have loved exploring the connections between the Black Panther Party, North Korea, and China, as a Vietnamese-American, I found myself inextricably drawn to the history of Ho Chi Minh and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. With the topic of my temporary exhibit decided, I scoured Kenneth Spencer’s collections in search of material relating to Ho Chi Minh and the Black Panther Party.

Photograph of the Ho Chi Minh temporary exhibit under development
Developing my temporary exhibit. Shown here is the second exhibit case focusing on African American anti-war sentiment. Click image to enlarge.

For my first exhibit case, I decided to focus solely upon Ho Chi Minh. (Notably, Ho Chi Minh is one of many pseudonyms he adopted.) I found two Black Panther Party newspapers in the African American Experience Collections but for the rest of my materials, I went digging around in the Wilcox Collection. I was fortunate enough to find a wonderful poster of Ho Chi Minh in the Counter Culture Posters Collection, along with two primary sources written by Ho, including Ho Chi Minh Answers President L.B. Johnson (Call Number: RH WL B3690) and Against U.S. Aggression for National Salvation (Call Number: RH WL B3593).

A poster of Ho Chi Minh, circa 1960s-1970s
A poster of Ho Chi Minh, circa 1960s-1970s. Counter Culture Posters Collection. Call Number: RH MS R23, Folder 3. Click image to enlarge.

Around the same time I was creating my temporary exhibit, I was also participating in an independent study relating to eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century Vietnamese history. There I learned that in 1924 Ho Chi Minh had penned two essays titled “Lynching” and “the Ku Klux Klan.” In these essays, Ho Chi Minh wrote about the violence and racism African Americans faced in the United States, demonstrating his awareness of the oppressions endured by peoples outside Vietnam. It is highly probable that Ho read documents published from the NAACP’s anti-lynching campaign, which included information and statistics about African Americans lynched in the United States each year beginning in 1909. However, it is also worth noting that Ho worked aboard a steamship and traveled internationally to the United States, France, England, and other European countries.

Some of the most memorable quotes from his essay on “Lynching” include:

  • “After sixty-five years of so-called emancipation, American Negroes still endure atrocious moral and material sufferings, of which the most cruel and horrible is the custom of lynching.”
  • “From 1899 to 1919, 2,600 Blacks were lynched, including 51 women and girls and ten former Great War soldiers.”
  • “Among 78 Blacks lynched in 1919, 11 were burned alive, three burned after having been killed, 31 shot, three tortured to death, one cut into pieces, one drowned and 11 put to death by various means.”
  • “Georgia heads the list with 22 victims. Mississippi follows with 12. Both have also three lynched soldiers to their credit.”

Upon Ho Chi Minh’s death, The Black Panther’s newspaper issue printed on September 13, 1969, included these two essays, along with an essay commemorating Ho’s death. However, Ho wrote these essays almost four decades before the Black Panther Party newspaper issues were printed in 1968-1970, during the height of the Vietnam War (1955-1975).

In addition, I also wanted to showcase the Black Panther Party’s anti-Vietnam propaganda and demonstrations. Once again, I found myself digging around in the Wilcox Collection. Among the items I chose for the second exhibit case include A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story by Elaine Brown (Call Number: RH WL C2210). Brown acted as the Black Panther’s Southern California Chapter’s Deputy Minister of Information. Brown also accompanied Eldridge Cleaver on his visits to North Vietnam, North Korea, and China.

One of my favorite items in the exhibit is Vietnam: An Anti-War Comic Book by Julian Bond, a founder of the Atlanta sit-in movement and of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The comic book is a piece of anti-war propaganda that highlights the connections between the struggles of African Americans and the Vietnamese people during the 1970s.

Photograph of the cover of Vietnam: An Anti-War Comic Book by Julian Bond
Vietnam: An Anti-War Comic Book by Julian Bond. Frederick Allan Whitehead Papers. Call Number: RH MS 162, Box 8, Folder 8. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of the Ho Chi Minh temporary exhibit
The finished exhibit. Click images to enlarge.

A huge thank you to Caitlin Donnelly Klepper, Angela Andres, and Letha Johnson for helping me at various stages of my exhibit, as well as to my supervisor, Deborah Dandridge, for supporting my interest in exploring a fascinating side of history that was unknown to me at the time that Kenneth Spencer Research Library provides in its variety of collections of resources. Another thank you to the staff and students at the Reading Room reference desk, who helped me with my requests.

Sophia Southard
African American Experience Collections Student Assistant

30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

November 6th, 2019

The Berlin Wall stood in the center of Berlin, Germany, from 1961 to 1989. It acted as a physical symbol of the divide between East and West, not just in Germany, but between Western European democracy and Eastern European communism after the end of World War II. It was a literal “Iron Curtain,” in Winston Churchill’s words, and its fall in the late 1980s coincided with the end of the Soviet Union and Eastern European communism.

Materials related to the Berlin Wall at Spencer Research Library focus on its meaning soon after it was built in the early 1960s and its obliteration in the late 1980s and early 1990s. To commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall thirty years ago this month (November 9, 1989), we thought we would share some of the more interesting pieces we have at Spencer Research Library related to this topic.

Holland Roberts, then director of the American Russian institute in San Francisco, wrote about the wall soon after it was built, in 1962. He argued that it was to protect East Berlin and East Germans from the militarism rising in West Germany, led by former Nazi officers. “The Wall will come down when the two Germanys disarm and form the core of a neutral peaceful zone in the heart of Europe,” Roberts wrote.

Image of “Behind the Berlin Wall” by Holland Roberts, 1962
The first page of “Behind the Berlin Wall” by Holland Roberts, 1962. Call Number: Josephson 2427. Click image to enlarge.

American journalists Margrit and John Pittman also wrote about the Berlin Wall soon after its construction. They too focused on West German propaganda against East Germany, as well as German perceptions of Americans visiting or stationed in their divided country.

Image of "Sense and Nonsense About Berlin” by Margrit and John Pittman, 1962
“Sense and Nonsense About Berlin” by Margrit and John Pittman, 1962. Call number: RH WL B1977. Click image to enlarge.

The items in Spencer’s collections from when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 seem more hopeful than these earlier written works. For example, Bob Swan’s Citizen Diplomacy Archives collection focuses mostly on the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union rather than the relationship between the German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany) and the U. S. However, Mr. Swan donated a chunk of the Berlin Wall as part of his collection. Throughout the 1980s, East Germans increasingly filed requests to immigrate to West Germany; with the (false) announcement of a new emigration policy on November 9, 1989, thousands rushed the Wall. Thereafter, individuals began picking off pieces such as this one to keep as souvenirs until the wall was finally dismantled systematically in the summer of 1990.

Photograph of a piece of the Berlin Wall
While it does not look like much, this piece of concrete from the Berlin Wall saw a lot of significant twentieth-century history. Call Number: RH MS Q426, Box 1. Click image to enlarge.

Professional photographer Gary Mark Smith spent some time in Europe in 1990 and took pictures of the streets in Berlin before the wall was entirely dismantled. He also took pictures of proud Germans waving a reunited German flag in Cologne.

Photograph entitled “Berlin Wall #1," 1990
An East German Trabant car is visible through the holes in the concrete in this photograph, entitled “Berlin Wall #1,” by Gary Mark Smith, 1990. Call Number: RH MS-P 1380, Box 6, Folder 16. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph entitled “Berlin Wall Guard Tower,” 1990
Does the graffiti at the base of the guard tower diminish its forbidding height in any way? This photograph was taken by Gary Mark Smith in 1990 and entitled “Berlin Wall Guard Tower.” Call Number: RH MS-P 1380, Box 6, Folder 15.
Photograph entitled “Flag Celebration #2," 1990
Germans parading with a German flag in honor of reunification on October 3, 1990. This photo by Gary Mark Smith is titled “Flag Celebration #2.” Call Number: RH MS-P 1380, Box 6, Folder 9. Click image to enlarge.

The fall of the Berlin Wall is one of those globally historic moments, the kind that has people asking each other “Where were you when….?” Were you alive when the Berlin Wall fell? Do you remember what you were doing that day in November 1989 when you heard the news?

Marcella Huggard
Archives and Manuscripts Processing Coordinator

The Hippie Cookbook

April 20th, 2018

Just when you might think you have a solid understanding of the range of materials in the holdings at Kenneth Spencer Research Library, they surprise you. A recent addition to the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements, which brings together U.S. political literature and documents, is a terrific (and somewhat humorous) example: The Hippie Cookbook, or, Don’t Eat Your Food Stamps was authored by Gordon and Phyllis Grabe and published in 1970 by the Paisley Shawl Publishing Company of Forestville, California.

Image of the cover of The Hippie Cookbook, 1970

Cover of The Hippie Cookbook, or, Don’t Eat Your Food Stamps, 1970.
Call Number: RH WL AK105. Click image to enlarge.

Recipes in The Hippie Cookbook range from average fare such as cheesecake (page 25) and stuffed bell peppers (page 57) to hippie lifestyle-specific dishes such as “Paddy Wagon Rice Patties,” which are “good hot or cold and can be carried with you as quick snacks for emergency eating” (page 11). Other dishes are unremarkable in their ingredients but have intriguing titles such as “Peace Pancakes” (page 14) and “Good Karma Casserole” (page 67).

Image of a recipe for peace pancakes in The Hippie Cookbook, 1970

Recipe for peace pancakes in The Hippie Cookbook. Call Number: RH WL AK105.
Click image to enlarge.

Included in The Hippie Cookbook are sections offering advice on hippie food preparation, including “Brown Bagging for Peace Marches” (page 10), “Cooking in the Nude” (page 24), and “Presentation and Composition of Care Package Requests from the Folks” (page 2).

Image showing information about care packages in The Hippie Cookbook, 1970

Instructions for requesting and receiving care packages “from the folks”
in The Hippie Cookbook. Call Number: RH WL AK105. Click image to enlarge.

In addition, shorter “hippie hints” are included throughout the text. As an example, Hippie Hint No. 9 advises that “if you burn your dinner put butter on it” (page 90).

But perhaps my favorite feature is the book’s dedication, which reads: “TO PEACHES: A four ton African elephant at the San Diego Zoo who has so far eaten a pair of glasses, two sweaters and a raincoat and is still grooving.”

Image of the dedication in The Hippie Cookbook, 1970

The dedication to Peaches in The Hippie Cookbook. Call Number: RH WL AK105.
Click image to enlarge.

Sarah Polo
Public Services Student Assistant