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Dubliners and James Joyce fans around the world celebrated Bloomsday through the wee hours of this morning. The festival celebrates Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, and takes its name from the novel’s central character, Leopold Bloom. The book follows the life of Bloom and others from the morning of June 16, 1904, to the early morning of the next day. In Dublin the single day has expanded into a week-long literary street carnival with performances, readings, pub crawls, and reenactments. Photos of Bloomsday celebrations can be browsed in The Irish Times.

But at the heart of all the festivities is the novel that was banned in the United States for twelve years. In Ulysses Joyce wrote about the everyday intimacies of his characters which in the 1920s and early thirties was deemed obscene material. It wasn’t until December 1933 that US District Judge John Woolsey ruled that Ulysses was an artistic rather than pornographic work, and therefore could not be ruled obscene.

In Simpson Library’s Rare Books Collection, the works of James Joyce comprise one of our  largest and best collections. There are 14 editions of Ulysses, including the highly collected first edition.  Only 1,000 copies were printed in 1922 by Sylvia Beach, the American woman who owned an English-language bookstore in Paris. Beach had opened her bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, two years before, but despite her lack of experience, Joyce and Beach came to an agreement that she would print his book.  UMW’s copy is #522 printed on handmade paper and finished in blue wrappers.

Ulysses First Edition. 1922

Ulysses First Edition. 1922

Other editions of Ulysses in our Rare Books Collection include:
Henri Matisse’s illustrated edition. In 1935 George Macy, an American publisher, offered Matisse $5,000 to create as many etchings as this budget would afford for a special illustrated edition of Ulysses.  While Joyce was thrilled that an artist of Matisse’s stature would illustrate his masterwork, he worried the artist might not actually read the book.  He was right, Matisse did not read the book and turned in drawings based on six episodes from Homer’s epic poem Odyssey, assuming that Joyce’s book was based on the ancient Greek hero Odysseus, known as Ulysses in Roman mythology!

Ulysses, Illustrated by Henri Matisse, 1935

Ulysses, Illustrated by Henri Matisse, 1935

The first authorized American edition from Random House in 1934 is in our collection, as well as the first 1936 British edition. The latter is a beautiful copy with a gilded Homeric bow embossed on the front cover.

Green cover with bow of Ulysses, British edition, 1936

Ulysses, British edition, 1936

So as the Irish say, Tabhair Cuairt Orainn (Visit Us!), and you can see all of our many additional editions of Ulysses.

Mitchell, Sidney H. “Ulysses and The Holy Office”. News and Views from Trinkle, December, 1972.
“Ulysses by James Joyce, 1934 American edition.” British Library: Discovering Literature: 20th Century. Accessed June 16, 2109.

June 17, 2019

What’s New? Records Management!

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UMW’s Records Management program has a new home here in Special Collections and University Archives! 

So, what does that mean? 

As an agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia, UMW is required to follow the guidelines set forward by the Virginia Public Records Act. The Library of Virginia establishes retention and disposition schedules for different types of records based on their content, and agency records officers (like me!) help make sure our records are maintained by their standards and process the necessary forms. 

Essentially, our records management program assists records custodians across UMW with maintaining their records. This includes figuring out what we have and where we have it, where and how we should keep records, and what to do with the things we don’t need any more.  

That’s right—you can get rid of stuff! 

Lots of us have the “better safe than sorry” mentality when it comes to our records. It makes sense that we would want to keep all available documentation to prove something—like a purchase or an action—that we might be called on to justify years down the road. However, this isn’t always the case, and can sometimes even be a liability. While some records are permanently retained, many materials governed by state retention schedules can and should be destroyed at the expiration of the retention period. This might mean shredding, incinerating, permanent deletion, or some other method, depending on the nature of the record.  

At this point, you may be wondering: What is a recordGood question! 

The technical definition goes something like this: a record is recorded information documenting a transaction or activity by or with any agent of the commonwealth (if you work for UMW, you are an agent of the commonwealth). Regardless of physical form or characteristics, the information is a public record if it is produced, collected, received, or retained in connection with the transaction of public business. This generally means that the recorded information can be anything on paper, audio, video, or digital/electronic. If it’s part of state business, it’s a record! 

For further clarification, the LVA created a handy flowchart to help determine when a document is a public record.

We hope to have lots of new, helpful resources for our UMW community available soon as we work on building up our Records Management program, but there are several useful links throughout this blog if you’re curious to learn more. Check our Special Collections and University Archives website for any updates and announcements. You’re also always welcome to reach out to us at if you have any questions!

May 24, 2019

Commencement: Mary Washington Style, 1911-2019

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In celebration of Mary Washington’s 108th Commencement, Special Collections and University Archives staff curated the exhibit, Commencement: Mary Washington Style, 1911-2019. On display through July 31, the exhibit highlights Mary Washington’s Commencement changes and milestones through the years.

The exhibit includes the University’s first commencement program and one of its earliest diplomas.

Photograph of the light tan cover of the First Commencement Program, 1912

First Commencement Program, 1912

Professional Elementary Certificate, State Normal School, June 10, 1912

Professional Elementary Certificate, State Normal School, June 10, 1912

In 1910 the State Normal & Industrial School for Women (University of Mary Washington) was approved to offer professional elementary studies. This program proved to be very popular, certifying graduates for primary and grammar school teaching. University Archives’ earliest diploma is from this period, 1912, and these first graduates completed their studies in 1911. The first students to complete the longer two year Normal School program graduated in 1913. The class size numbered thirty-two, and all students were from Virginia.

Other “firsts” and traditions showcased in the display are:
Graduation in the Amphitheatre

The Amphitheatre was completed in May, 1923, and that year graduation moved from Monroe Hall to the “Open Air Theatre”. The Battlefield,, 1923

Amphitheatre, The Battlefield, 1923

The Amphitheatre was completed in May, 1923, and that year graduation moved from Monroe Hall to the “Open Air Theatre”.

The Daisy Chain tradition

One of the annual events of the early commencements was the creation of the daisy chain. It was the task of the freshmen to gather daisies and tie them into bunches, fashioning the finished chain. Graduates receiving two-year diplomas carried the chain into the amphitheater and laid it on the sides as a decorative backdrop. The daisy chain continued to be a feature of Class Day exercises until 1942.

One of the annual events of the early commencements was the creation of the daisy chain. It was the task of the freshmen to gather daisies and tie them into bunches, fashioning the finished chain. Graduates receiving two-year diplomas carried the chain into the Amphitheater and laid it on the sides as a decorative backdrop. The daisy chain continued to be a feature of Class Day exercises until 1942.

The First African-American Graduate and Early Male Graduates

The Battlefield, 1968 and 1971

Venus R. Jones, ‘68 (left) was Mary Washington’s first African-American graduate, earning a degree in Chemistry in 1968 after just 3 years. Jones would go on to earn her MD from the University of Virginia’s medical school, breaking gender boundaries at the graduate level. 

Joseph Grimes (right) was one of four male Mary Washington graduates, receiving his history diploma in 1972. However, back in 1929, President Combs allowed male students to attend in the summer only. Many of these men completed their degrees in the 1930s through their summer school attendance.

First Graduate Level Commencement

The James Monroe Center (now the UMW Stafford Campus) walked their first graduate students in 2001 on Ball Circle. Through the years the graduate commencement ceremonies have been held at both the Stafford and the Fredericksburg Campuses. 

James Monroe Center Graduation, 2003

James Monroe Center Graduation, 2003

Introduction of the Eagle Pipe Band

Eagle Pipe Band, Commencement, 2006

Eagle Pipe Band, Commencement, 2006

The Eagle Pipe Band, suggested by piper and Chemistry professor, Dr. Ray Scott, was an immediate success, becoming a regular part of Commencement since its initial 1993 performance.

UMW Graduate waving, Class of 2016

UMW Graduate, Class of 2016

The history of graduation at Mary Washington is much more expansive and rich than can be captured in this short post. So stop in this summer and see “the rest of the story” along with many of  the original diplomas, documents, and photographs in Special Collections & University Archives.

“Congratulations, Class of 2019!”

Resources Consulted: 
Alvey, Edward, Jr. History of Mary Washington College: 1908-1972. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974.
Crawley, William B., Jr. University of Mary Washington, A Centennial History: 1908-2008. Fredericksburg: University of Mary Washington, 2008.

Currently all UMW Commencement Programs are digitized and available online at:

Special thanks to Caitlin DeMarco, Stafford Library Assistant, and Ilana Bleich, Special Collections Student Assistant for their research assistance on Commencement: Mary Washington Style, 1911-2019.

May 10, 2019

Preservation Week 2019

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Each year at the end of April, cultural heritage institutions around the world celebrate Preservation Week, a time when places such as libraries and museums work to bring awareness to preservation issues affecting collections everywhere, even personal collections held by individuals. Without long-term care and preservation planning, many of the items we feel are important and should be saved for personal or community memories will find themselves in precarious situations, from uncontrollable environmental disasters to fast-paced innovation leaving obsolete technology in its wake. While the care and maintenance of our materials can sometimes feel overwhelming, even the smallest steps can make a big difference!

Official logo for Preservation Week. The main text is "Preservation Week" with smaller text just above it that says "Pass it on" followed by a trail of dots that fall into an hour glass. The URL to the ALA's preservation week webpage is at the bottom.

April 21-27 is Preservation Week this year. You can find out more information by visiting the American Library Association’s Preservation Week resource page.

A good place to start for the long-term preservation of important physical and digital materials is simply awareness, which is what Preservation Week is all about! Did you know that storing photographic prints in acid-free enclosures is better for long-term security and stability? Did you know that you can create archival captures of your website, even if you don’t plan on continuing to host or update it? If so, please share with your friends and family! A lot of individuals who aren’t regularly involved in cultural heritage fields may not even know about the possibilities for preserving their treasures, so just talking about preservation and doing some brief research can have a positive impact on the outlook for many of these items.

Once long-term preservation is on your mind, it’s time to create a plan. It’s okay to start small, and the plan might even be to move a few digital files off of your desktop to external hard drives and cloud storage. (Just remember the principle behind LOCKSS, or Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe)! You might also consider prioritizing your items, whether that means the time that you can spend ensuring their preservation or the funding it might take to have more complex items digitized for you. It’s also important to take a proactive approach to preservation. For example, you might be going back and preserving items that you created or acquired years ago, but what about that website you will be starting on tomorrow? Building preservation into your project plan from the start could reduce accidental losses later, or scrambling to find preservation tools at the last minute.

Screenshot of the library's digital collections page, featuring thumbnails of six different UMW Blog sites that have been archived.

If websites are created with preservation in mind, it can be easier to archive them later. Check out some of the websites Special Collections staff have been able to archive at

Finally, proceed bravely! It can be intimidating to try and figure out the best way to preserve and care for your materials, particularly if it involves complex, new technologies, but there are lots of resources out there and professionals in the field willing to help. You might even try making it a goal to attempt one new tool or technique a month to preserve your materials. (We’ve recently been testing out for preserving individual websites!) A great place to start is the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services “Saving Your Stuff” or our own Digitization Tips post. And, don’t forget, you can always stop by your local library or museum for additional help with finding resources!

Photograph of the Digital Archiving Lab, showing a room with computers, flatbed scanners, a large book scanner, and a large wall-mounted monitor.

Staff in the Digital Archiving Lab are happy to help with your digital preservation questions. Make an appointment by emailing

April 25, 2019

The Puzzle in the Archives

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Written by Caitlin DeMarco, Stafford Library Assistant

I have recently been processing the papers of Professor Dennis G. DaLuiso of the UMW Theatre & Dance Department. He taught classes and directed plays from 1971 to 1977, and gave to UMW Special Collections and University Archives papers pertaining specifically to the plays he directed, including Li’l Abner, Guys and Dolls, and The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, among others. We have scripts, sometimes with directorial notations, programs, and photographs from many productions.

Four cast members sitting at a table with three casr members looking on from the right.

Some of the collection’s photographs are unidentified.

One of the interesting things, though, about archival collections is that often times there are items in the collections that have no or very little information about them. For example, there is an entire folder in the DaLuiso Papers that contains only a series of photographs. They are brilliant black and white shots taken during some of the DaLuiso-directed plays, but there is little identifying information to go with them. Some have the names of the actors scribbled on the backs of the photographs, but mostly I have no idea what plays these photographs portray.

Three actors stand in front with the sign "Available Jones" overhead. The woman in the center has a veil on and the man on the far right appears to be marrying the couple.

Sometimes the clues are spelled out for you.

One of the first puzzle pieces I was able to slot into place, was a photograph of a set which had a sign for ‘Available Jones’. A quick Google search told me that Available Jones was a character from the play Li’l Abner. Another photograph, showing actors standing around outdoors, can probably be identified as being a scene from The Great American Cliché, since the program from that play (put on for the Bicentennial Celebration in 1976) said that it took place at the UMW Amphitheater.

The Great American Cliché performed outside.

The Great American Cliché performed outside.

The next step in putting the pieces together is asking for help from people ‘in the know’. First, our Digital Archiving Lab student aides digitized the photographs and jotted down all known information in a spreadsheet. Then we sent out emails to both a current Department of Theatre & Dance professor and the original photographer. The former could not identify anything himself; however, he did offer to ask Professor DaLuiso on our behalf. The photographer also told me he is looking into the identifications, so I am eager to hear back from him once he has finished his study.

Like other puzzles, identifying the people and plays portrayed in these photographs can be done more easily with many people involved in the process. Once we post the digitized photographs online in our digital repository, researchers, as well as other interested individuals, will be able to view them. With all these people working together, hopefully we will be able to solve this mystery.

April 11, 2019

Digital Archiving Lab Intern, Spring 2019

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Written by Digital Archiving Lab Intern, Shaheen Fazel ’19.

In January of 2019, I began interning with the Digital Archiving Lab at Simpson Library. My background includes working and volunteering at public libraries and museums; however, I had absolutely no prior experience working with digital archives and collections. Simply being involved in this type of environment was incredibly educational.

My major is in Sociology, and I am minoring in Museum Studies. I pursued this internship in hopes that it would give me the experience of working in an archival setting. I was hoping to have an understanding of how a digital archive works. This internship has helped me decide that I am definitely planning on pursuing a Master’s in Library and Information Science, as I would like to become a librarian in the future. Working in the Digital Archiving Lab, I was able to experience different types of work that a digital archives and library deals with every day.

Some of my duties for this internship included digitizing and processing materials, specifically photographs from the UMW University Relations & Communications photo collection. I also had the responsibility of creating and writing descriptive metadata to go along with each of the photos. This eventually will be uploaded in the UMW Libraries’ Digital Collections for everyone to see. Scanning these photos was a great experience, as I had previously never dealt with handling items that have been significant to UMW’s history.

Before the semester ends, I will also have the opportunity to create my own exhibit! I will be able to freely pick the subject of my exhibition. Creating an online exhibit will allow me to understand what it is like to construct and display a public collection. However, the most interesting part of this internship so far is looking at every single photograph and the context behind it. Some of the pictures that stood out to me the most were group photos of students and/or alumni taken at special events, such as Homecoming and Reunion Weekend.  It’s amazing to see different generations of Mary Washington alumnae and students over the years. The photographs across the decades show how much the University has changed!

A photograph of about 23 alumni standing in front of a brick building for a group photo.

The class of 1942 gathers for a photo at the 1987 Mary Washington College Homecoming. UMW University Relations & Communications collection, Special Collections & University Archives.

Photograph of a large group of alumni sitting and standing close together for a group photo. They are in front of a tent on a large, grassy hill.

The class of 1977 gathers for a photo at the 1987 Mary Washington College Homecoming. UMW University Relations & Communications collection, Special Collections & University Archives.

Overall, I’ve learned so much about the programs and technology used for this internship. I’ve become more comfortable with Adobe Photoshop, as well as using Microsoft Excel. I was able to learn the archival practices in regard to digital preservation and organization! Due to my experiences interning for the Digital Archiving Lab, I feel as if I have developed skills and knowledge. This internship position has also further shaped my goals in terms of my future career as a librarian.

April 1, 2019

All In

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Tomorrow is Mary Washington’s third annual Giving Day. The day when UMW Libraries asks for your support in assisting us to collect, preserve, and make accessible the rare and unique items in our Special Collections and University Archives. Last year you responded to our call with such generosity. UMW Libraries was able to raise over $6,000. We used a portion of these funds for digitization projects and camera equipment in our Digital Archiving Lab, as you can see here: 

This year alum and library supporter, Anne Robinson Hallerman, ’77, is graciously funding a library challenge gift. If UMW Libraries receives more than 50 donations of any amount, Hallerman will donate $1000!  These additional funds could go towards purchasing enclosures for many of the items in Special Collections. A single upright legal-size document box costs approximately $7.00, basic acid-free file folders range from $3-4.00, and depending on size, a custom archival storage box can start around $75.00 – even basic supply costs add up quickly.

Special Collections’ staff also has larger project goals they would love to see enabled by your gifts. In this coming year, the Department would like to be able to reformat and make accessible online, the many interviews from Dr. William Crawley’s book, University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History, 1908-2008.  Student assistants and interns have worked over the years to transcribe the book’s many research interviews, but in order for the content to be placed online, the cassette tapes need to be converted to a digital format. To complete the project in its entirety would cost over $5,000, but any amount can help us get the process started.

Your dollars are daily very much at work supporting Special Collections and University Archives. So join us and be “All in” for UMW Libraries by making your Giving Day donation here . Thank you!


Student aide, Ilana Bleich, researching in our Student Handbooks collection.

Student Aide, Ilana Bleich, researching in our Student Handbooks collection.

Digital Archiving Lab Student Aide, Mary Novitsky, showcasing some of the images she recently processed. (Photo by Suzanne Rossi)

Digital Archiving Lab Student Aide, Mary Novitsky, showcasing some of the images she recently processed. (Photo by Suzanne Rossi)

Carolyn Parsons, Head of Special Collections & University Archives, sharing the Library’s 1610 copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs with UMW’s cast and crew of The Amish Project.

Carolyn Parsons, Head of Special Collections & University Archives, sharing the Library’s 1610 copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs with the cast and crew of The Amish Project.

March 18, 2019

Digital Archiving Lab Student Aide, 2018-2019

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Written by Digital Archiving Lab Student Aide, Mary Novitsky ’19

I officially started as a student aide in the Digital Archiving Lab (DAL) at the beginning of the Fall 2018 semester. I became interested in working in the Lab during my ARTH 317 class in Spring 2018 semester. My class focused on planning an exhibition of 1926 alumni Margaret Sutton’s artwork in the Convergence Gallery entitled Margaret Sutton: Face to Face that required working alongside UMW Galleries and the DAL. When it came time to digitize the artwork for publication, I was more than happy to volunteer for the Lab to scan and photograph all of the artwork.

A scanned image of a work of art by Margaret Sutton in the 1950's. It shows seventeen costumed figures and the medium is ink on board.

Margaret Sutton, Untitled (Seventeen costumed figures), ink on board, 1950s. Accession Number 1993.11.0181, Courtesy UMW Galleries.

While working in the DAL, I learned the multidimensionality of archival work through working with different databases and methods of digitizing various different types of materials. One of the first projects I worked on involved editing the scanned pages of the 1668 Bible from the local Masonic Lodge (Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4). Details became apparent in the scans that were almost invisible to the naked eye and lead to many interesting finds within the book. I especially enjoyed learning about the Bible’s history from the Masons, and seeing their satisfaction in the finalized project.

A photograph of Digital Archiving Lab Student Aide, Mary Novitsky, sitting in front of a computer monitor with multiple scan images on the screen. A Masonic Lodge member is standing and looking at the monitor.

Digital Archiving Lab Student Aide, Mary Novitsky, discusses some of the images she processed. (Photo by Suzanne Rossi)

Another major project I worked on was digitizing all of the commencement programs from the university on the Cobra high resolution scanner. Seeing the progression of the university   through the layout of the program and its multiple name changes amazed me. Even though many of the programs prior to 1935 are missing, the archives still had the first commencement program of the school dating back to 1912. I found out so much about the university’s history through working on this project, and loved seeing the progression of the small changes UMW made to the program along the way. I got to work on the entirety of the project: scanning, editing, entering the metadata, and finally uploading all of the programs.

Collage of commencement program covers from 1912, 1961, and 2011.

The first, fiftieth, and one-hundredth Commencement programs for the University of Mary Washington

Being able to see a project from start to finish was incredible, because most of my other responsibilities were continuations from past semesters, such as working with the World War I posters, or projects intended to be multiple semesters long. Looking back on my experience, I am amazed by how much I learned in such a short period of time; from handling different materials, problem solving the best way to digitize, and especially working with databases to preserve the materials.

March 1, 2019

Recovering from Water Damage: A Year Later

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January’s polar vortex with its brutally cold temperatures chilling the east coast kept me close to the heater but also brought back memories of last winter’s leak in University Archives. Yes “leak” that dreaded word that I was hoping to only read about in case studies but not experience first-hand.

Last year my disaster preparedness training became all too real when an overhead pipe became disconnected from a valve and began leaking in Special Collections. The event unfortunately occurred over a weekend when Special Collections was closed, and by Monday morning the leak had saturated part of the ceiling and was creating a growing pool of water.

Area of damage before and after collection removal.

Area of damage before and after collection removal.

Rapid response is crucial with any disaster, and UMW’s Facilities Services team was great, arriving quickly, locating the faulty connection and stopping the leak. Library staff all pitched in, and we triaged wet documents to get them quickly moved out of soggy boxes to our classroom for air drying.

Classroom with collections spread out for air drying.

The staff set up an assembly-line and documented each box’s label, so we could return documents later to their correct record series. Materials were taken out of wet boxes and placed on absorbent paper towels.  Dry materials were moved to a safer area of the library, and large fans were brought in to circulate the air and prevent mold. Spreading the documents out for air drying took a lot of space, and we quickly filled the tables in our classroom and the Think Lab.


Luckily as the collections were boxed, most interior documents fared well. Some records will permanently bear tideline marks from the water, but most, thankfully, were protected by their enclosures.

Boxes showing water damage.

I was surprised at how much water the box lids absorbed before moisture touched the papers inside. After this experience, I am a strong proponent of boxing all items for added protection. The old adage of “some enclosure is better than no enclosure” certainly proved to be true.

Since the water damage, UMW Libraries has conserved the most impacted of our collections – an early student ledger and a 1916 photograph of the State Normal School student body (both shown below).

Catalog of Students, 1915 Water-damaged leather corners repaired and binding cleaned (bottom image) by Jill Deiss, Bookbinder at Cat Tail Run Hand Bookbinding

Catalog of Students, 1915, Water-damaged leather corners repaired and binding cleaned (bottom image) by Jill Deiss, Bookbinder at Cat Tail Run Hand Bookbinding

Faculty and Students photograph, 1916, digitally restored by the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts

Faculty and Students photograph, 1916, digitally restored by the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts

The incident has made me keenly aware that our collections are continuously vulnerable. The best we can do is to be prepared, knowledgeable, and act quickly if disaster strikes. The National Heritage Responders and the Northeast Document Conservation Center both have tipsheets to help archives respond and recover from emergencies. They can be located at: Cultural Heritage Tipsheets and Emergency Salvage of Wet Books and Records. 

So as Wednesday’s forecasted winter blast approaches, check your pipes and box your collections, and let’s hope groundhog Punxsutawney Phil is right and we’ll soon have an early spring.





February 18, 2019

Archives in the News

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Happy new year, everyone! After a snowy start to the semester, classes began here at UMW on Tuesday and we’re all excited to dive into our 2019 projects. We’ve got a few interesting things coming up that we’re looking forward to sharing with our community, and it’s already shaping up to be a busy year. While we work away on our endeavors and hammer out the details of future blog post topics, we wanted to share with you some neat ways archives and special collections have popped up in the news lately.

Copyright law enthusiasts and lovers of archival materials celebrated this January 1, known in some circles as Public Domain Day. January 1, 2019, marked the first time in over twenty years that published works entered the public domain. This means that works from 1923, previously covered by copyright restrictions, are now freely available for anyone to use! Duke University Law’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain has a very informative site explaining why 2019 is such an important year in copyright law.

The list of newly open materials includes films by Charlie Chaplain, literature by Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf, and a song called Yes! We Have No Bananas. But this is just a small sampling of the thousands of works that now reside in the public domain. Duke’s site lists many more, and an article from Motherboard provides some helpful tips about how to download all the new free stuff.

Title page of a book that reads: The World Crisis v. 1, 1911-1914, by the Right Honorable Winston S. Churchill. First Lord of the Admiralty 1911-1915. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1924

The World Crisis, by Sir Winston Churchill, is now one of the books freely available in the public domain.

Going much further back in the archives than 1923, NPR recently reported on a discovery that could change the way scholars understand the production of medieval illuminated manuscripts. Scientists discovered lapis lazuli in a dental sample of an 850-year-old female skeleton. Considering the extreme expense and relative unavailability of lapis lazuli at the time, the discovery suggests that the woman may have been a scribe, countering the somewhat prevailing idea that it was only male monks responsible for the artistry seen in medieval texts. The theory, noted in the article, posits that the artist would moisten the tip of a paintbrush in her mouth to bring the bristles to a point. The pigment would leave behind a residue that built up over time.

An example of a medieval illuminated manuscript, depicting ornate text and four scenes in the life of David, enclosed in a large decorative letter "D".

An example of illuminated manuscript. Saul and David, in “The Bohun Psalter and Hours” (England, 14th century): London, British Museum, MS Egerton 3277, f.29v

The last interesting little item we’d like to bring to your attention is one that hits close to home for those of us who work in archives and otherwise help preserve cultural history. Earlier this month, the New Yorker published an article describing a “lost story by Sylvia Plath.” A researcher “stumbled over it” while studying Plath’s archives, housed at Indiana University in the Lilly Library. The New Yorker’s treatment of Plath’s early work, “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom,” is a good and worthwhile read, but even better is the response from the library’s twitter account.

That’s right, everyone–items in archives are definitely not lost! We’re always exploring ways to increase the discoverability of our collections for our many users. In the spirit of discovering that which might be “lost,” we invite you to explore our digital collections and our finding aids, and to come visit us in person here in Special Collections!

January 17, 2019