ROTC TURNS 100: UConn and Military Training, Part Two: The Interwar Years, 1919-1941

At the end of my last post, the Cadet battalion of the Connecticut Agricultural College had made the successful transition to a full-fledged ROTC unit and weathered the trials of the First World War.

The program remained in a state of flux for the first few years following the Armistice. Captain Cranston remained in Storrs less than a year, but between his efforts and those of his successor Captain Benjamin Ferris, the battalion grew to an unprecedented size; a September 1919 edition of the Connecticut Campus stated that enrollment was large enough to form between three and five companies of Cadets. The ROTC band was also reestablished that same November following a brief hiatus during the war.

The training itself also underwent a gradual standardization. By regulation, CAC males completed a mandatory “basic course” in Military Science during their freshman and sophomore years, and then decided whether or not to continue on to the advanced course, which would lead to an officer’s commission following graduation. As members of the advanced course, Cadets were paid a daily stipend during the school year (in 1921, it was 40 cents.) Satisfactory completion of the basic course was a requirement for graduation, regardless of whether or not the student continued his participation past sophomore year. The curriculum amounted to three hours of study and practical exercises per week, and included target practice (both at the lighted indoor range in Hawley Armory and an outdoor range near the New Storrs Cemetery on North Eagleville Road) and instruction on personal hygiene, military organization, and map reading, among other subjects. There was also time allotted in the early morning for drill and ceremony, and overnight campouts and route marches to nearby Coventry and Willimantic were made possible following the issue of individual “pup” tents to the Cadets.

Cadets undergo marksmanship instruction inside Hawley Armory, 1920

Cadets receive marksmanship instruction inside Hawley Armory, 1920.

For all the progress, however, there were issues. Cranston’s sudden departure and the arrival of a new commander at the beginning of the 1919-1920 school year caused some confusion and fostered what one student later called the “disease” of “indifference in the cadet personnel of the battalion.” The turnover rate for Professors of Military Science would remain high; Captain Ferris departed in the fall of 1920, and his successor Captain Boyer spent just two years at Storrs. Moreover, instructions from the War Department necessitated frequent changes to the training schedule, and cadre struggled to maintain a sense of continuity between school years. As a result, few upperclassmen were enticed to move on to the advanced course once their obligation was fulfilled, and morale suffered.

CAC Cadet Battalion, 1924, with Koons Hall and Hawley Armory in the background

CAC Cadet Battalion, 1924, with Koons Hall and Hawley Armory in the background.

It wasn’t until early 1921 that progress began to be made through the establishment of a permanent command structure for the battalion, and the appointing of juniors and seniors as Cadet officers. This organizational change was supported by the arrival of new equipment, including modern Springfield 1903 rifles and one of the new M1918 Browning Automatic Rifles. That fall, a group of returning seniors vowed to continue improvements, stating that “as much college spirit should be shown in the conduct of the battalion as in the conduct of our athletic teams, or any one of our activities.” By 1922, attempts were being made to reestablish traditions like the annual military ball, and the following year it was reported that some twenty juniors would be continuing on to the advanced course.

These changes within ROTC were mirrored by significant transformations to the campus as a whole. The old wooden buildings of the nineteenth-century—many of which had burned down or been demolished by the 1920s—were gradually replaced by the more fireproof red brick structures that are so well known today. A new dining hall, known as the “Beanery” (namesake of the café currently in the Benton Museum), opened in the spring of 1920. Holcomb Hall, a women’s dormitory, was completed in 1922 to replace Grove Cottage, which had been destroyed by fire in 1919, and construction of the William Henry Hall dormitory (the future home of UConn ROTC) was completed in 1927. (Photographs of these and other early campus buildings can be found in our digital collections.)

CAC Student Handbook, 1916 edition

CAC Student Handbook, 1916 edition

Then, as now, Cadet life had its benefits and hardships. A system of demerits for student infractions had been in place on campus for years, as indicated by a 1916 edition of the CAC Handbook. Accumulating too many would result in extra duty on Saturdays. For a time, dormitories were inspected each weekday morning and in the afternoon on Saturday, and failure to keep things in good order resulted in demerits or monetary fines: floor not swept, 10 demerits; paper cans not emptied, fifty cent fine; and so on. There were also regulations which governed everyday activities. Among the more interesting punishments:

Any cadet who plays a musical instrument during class or study hours will be punished by a minimum of 10 demerits. 

Any cadet who practices football or baseball or who throws snowballs, apples, stones, dirt, etc. within 100 feet of a dormitory will be punished by a minimum of 25 demerits.

These rules evidently didn’t stop some Cadets from occasionally letting off steam. Captain Ferris penned a letter to President Beach in 1920 concerning the possession of firearms on campus, complaining that “[the students] are constantly firing from the windows in the dormitories.” Beach subsequently reiterated in a bulletin part of the CAC Student Regulations, which stated that “students are not allowed to keep in their possession firearms of any description other than the service rifle.” The punishment for discharging a firearm on campus? A minimum of 50 demerits.

There was, of course, the requirement to wear a uniform, but by 1923 training was organized in such a way that students were required to do so only one day a week (not including the occasional parade, field exercise, or social function.) The off-campus hikes and campouts were seen not only as training exercises, but as opportunities to escape the tedium of campus life; upon announcing one such excursion in May of 1919, Commandant Cranston noted that he intended “to give the men as good a picnic as is possible without interfering with the instruction which they are to receive,” and extended an invitation to all faculty members wishing to join in on the activities.

Cadets on the machine gun range at Camp Devens, summer 1925

Cadets on the machine gun range at Camp Devens, summer 1925

Even the six-week summer training camp required of advanced course Cadets after their junior year, which might have been seen as arduous by those used to the pace of on-campus training, was far from miserable. Those attending the training in 1924 at Camp Devens, for example, found time for “baseball, swimming, riding, movies and exploring” once work ceased for the day at 3:30pm. The following year, in addition to qualifying on the range with their service rifles, Cadets had the opportunity to conduct familiarization fire with automatic rifles, machine guns, and pistols. A howitzer demonstration had been planned, but was cancelled due to lack of facilities.

For all its ups and downs, military training remained mandatory for male students at CAC, even if it only consisted of a few hours a week for the first two years of their college career. This fact was the cause of considerable debate during the interwar period; many pointed out that under the terms of the Morrill Act, courses in Military Science need only be offered by land-grant colleges, not required. As early as 1926, some CAC students protested the idea of a male student being forced onto the parade field every Friday morning, “prancing around for two hours, laboring under the weight of a baby cannon perched on his shoulder.” In the 1930s, Psychology Professor Florien Heiser claimed that “a large number of students dislike the requirement because it is boring, of little or no educational or physical value, interferes with other work and because of opposition to all war and militarism.”

These sentiments reached a boiling point in 1935. In April of that year, responding to agitation against ROTC at a number of colleges across the nation, the Board of Trustees of the Connecticut State College (the name had again been changed in 1933) passed legislation forbidding public debate over military training on the Storrs campus. Quickly dubbed the “gag rule” by those opposed to it, the act garnered significant criticism from students, faculty, and outside groups. On May 15th, just a few days after a large on-campus protest, Charles McCracken resigned as President of CSC, though he maintained that he had made the decision to leave before the Trustees had issued their ruling. Shortly after, on May 17th, CSC’s Social Problems Club organized an off-campus discussion on the gag rule featuring a guest speaker from Columbia University. This was interrupted by a mob of pro-ROTC supporters, who threatened members of the Social Problems Club and forced another student, who had reportedly spoken against the gag rule, to jump into Swan Lake.

While this marked the end of major protests, tensions remained high throughout the summer of 1935, with the Trustees refusing to rescind the gag rule. It was only after Albert Nels Jorgensen was appointed as CSC President in September that the Board at last felt secure enough in the abilities of the college’s administration to repeal the motion. Jorgensen’s appointment seemed to bring a measure of calm to campus, and his arrival signaled another period of growth for the college. Within the first five years of his administration, no less than four new campus buildings were built using funds from the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA), including Manchester Hall, a women’s dorm, the F.L. Castleman (Engineering) building, and Wood Hall, a men’s dorm completed in 1940 (now home to the History Department and other offices.)  There was also a fifth and final name change: in 1939, Connecticut State College became the University of Connecticut.

The calm would not last long, however, as events overseas would soon make themselves felt in Storrs. Beginning in October of 1939, the Connecticut Campus ran a column entitled “History in the Headlines,” in which History Professor Andre Schenker offered commentary on the war which had begun that September in Europe. The following May, as students prepared to leave campus for the summer, Germany invaded France and the Low Countries. By the time they returned in September, nearly all of Western Europe had fallen to the Nazis, and England stood alone. To bolster America’s defenses, FDR signed the Selective Service Act into law on September 16th, and as a result those UConn students 21 years of age and older were required to register for the draft (unless they were seniors enrolled in the advanced ROTC course.) As worrisome as these developments were, America remained neutral, and so for the next year or so it was enough to simply note, in the words of the Connecticut Campus’s editor, “that the average college student stands ready to ‘do his part’.”

On the evening of December 7th, 1941, Professor Schenker was attending a performance in Hartford when an usher approached him with an urgent message. After speaking with him, Schenker immediately set off for radio station WTIC, where he served as a world affairs commentator. Later that night, he began his broadcast with the following words:

“It has happened. Japan has decided to commit suicide by attacking the strongest power on earth, the United States…As you all know by now, this morning in the Far East, which means this afternoon our time, a Japanese force suddenly attacked Manila, in the Philippines, and another force attacked the Gibraltar of the Pacific, our base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands.”

(The complete recording of Professor Schenker’s broadcast can be found here.)

War had at last come to the United States, and to Storrs. Next time, we’ll look at the role played by the men and women of UConn—and the Cadets of its ROTC program—in the deadliest conflict in human history.



*Unless otherwise noted, all sources courtesy of Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

The Connecticut Campus, 1919-1940
Nutmeg (University of Connecticut Yearbook), 1919-1935
University Archive Subject file, “ROTC”
University of Connecticut Photograph Collection, Record Group 1, Series VI, Boxes 93-95
Walter Landauer Collection, Series I, Box 1
Office of the President Records [Charles Lewis Beach, 1908-1928], Box 9

ROTC TURNS 100: UConn and Military Training, Part One: The Early Years, 1893-1920

This is the first of a series of blog posts by Nick Hurley, who recently completed his M.A. in History at UConn and now works as Research Services Assistant here at Archives & Special Collections.

How time flies!

Since its founding in 1916, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (better known as ROTC) has become a fixture on many U.S. college campuses, and UConn is no exception. More than two hundred Huskies are currently serving as Cadets in either the Nathan Hale Battalion, the Army’s only ROTC unit in Connecticut, or Air Force ROTC Detachment 115, “Snake Eyes Five”.

I spent four years in the Nathan Hale Battalion, from 2009-2013, reaching the rank of Cadet Captain and eventually commissioning as a Field Artillery officer. Given my personal connection to UConn and the military (not to mention my love of all things history), I thought it would be appropriate, especially because ROTC is turning 100 this year, to examine the long and fascinating story of military training at UConn.

Cadets conducting a "mock battle" on campus, WWI era.

Cadets conducting a “mock battle” on campus, WWI era.

To do so, there was no better starting point than the holdings here at Archives and Special Collections. Series VI of the University of Connecticut Photograph Collection contains three boxes of photographic prints which document all aspects of Cadet life from the early 1900’s to the present, including training exercises, social events, and inspections. There are also numerous portraits of Cadets, Instructors, the Cadet Band, and the Color Guard. A small number of these photographs have been uploaded to our digital repository. Physical artifacts are contained in the UConn Memorabilia Collection, including a dress uniform jacket from the late 1930’s and a unit patch dated 1918, and general administrative files from both Army and Air Force ROTC can be found in the UConn Office of Public Information (OPI) Records.

CAC Cadet Band, circa 1907. Note the blue uniforms and collar insignia marked “C.A.C”. These would be replaced by Army green uniforms and ROTC insignia beginning in 1917.

Though this year marks the centenary of ROTC, UConn’s affiliation with military training in general dates back to 1893, when the Storrs Agricultural School was renamed the Storrs Agricultural College. Along with the name change came the conferral of land-grant status to the university. Under the terms of the Morrill Act of 1862, land-grant colleges received federal land and assistance in return for offering academic programs in agriculture, engineering, and military tactics. The administration at Storrs deemed it appropriate to not only offer military classes, but make them mandatory, and thereafter every male student who enrolled at the school received instruction under the direction of a newly-hired Professor of Military Science. This training was not intended to produce commissioned officers, however, and students incurred no military obligation upon graduating from Storrs Agricultural College, which in 1899 became the Connecticut Agricultural College (CAC).

Members of the CAC Cadet Battalion, 1905. The officer in the second row, fourth from left is Lieutenant E. R. Bennett, Commandant of Cadets

Members of the CAC Cadet Battalion, 1905. The officer in the second row, fourth from left is Lieutenant E. R. Bennett, Commandant of Cadets

The roots of what we now know as ROTC can be traced back to the National Defense Act of 1916. Among its other provisions, it provided federal assistance for the establishment of officer training programs at a number of universities. UConn was one such institution, and on November 1st, 1916, War Department Bulletin No. 48 announced the creation of “an Infantry unit of the Senior Division, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps” at Storrs.

The introduction of ROTC brought both change and continuity. Activities like the Cadet Band and Color Guard remained integral components of ROTC life, and drill continued to be held in Hawley

Rifle range, Hawley Armory basement, circa 1920

Rifle range, Hawley Armory basement, circa 1920

Armory, named for SAC graduate Willis Nichols Hawley following his death during the Spanish-American War. Completed in 1915, the facility also housed facilities for athletics, an auditorium, and even a rifle range in the basement. (Today, the armory continues to serve as a supply room and exercise area for UConn Cadets—but, not surprisingly, the rifle range is no more!)

Still, no one could deny that a significant shift in military training at Storrs had occurred. An article in the April 30, 1917 edition of the Connecticut Campus noted that:

A young man now entering the Connecticut Agricultural College, if a citizen of the United States and physically fit, becomes a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. Without cost he is furnished with rifle, uniform and necessary equipment. For two years he devotes three hours a week to military training under the prescribed course. At the end of the two years, if he so elects, and if he is recommended by the President of the college and the Commandant he may sign an agreement to devote five hours a week to the advanced course in Military Training for the remaining two years of the college course…a graduate of the college who has completed the advance course is eligible for appointment by the President of the United States as Second Lieutenant in the regular army for a period of six months with pay at $100 per month and to a commission in the Officers’ Reserve Corps.

Calisthenics in Hawley Armory, 1920

Calisthenics in Hawley Armory, 1920

There were more visible changes as well; students no longer wore the Cadet blue uniform, exchanging them for Army greens with an olive drab cuff insignia emblazoned with the letters “U.S.” and “R.O.T.C.” In addition, new rifles and other equipment were soon delivered to campus courtesy of the War Department, and Lieutenant Frank R. Sessions arrived in October of 1917 to replace Captain Charles Amory as Commandant. The arrival of Lieutenant Sessions was not a moment too soon. War had been declared that April, and many male students had already left campus for the battlefields of France and Belgium. Of the nearly six hundred CAC students and alumni who would ultimately serve in the Great War, at least seven would not live to see the armistice declared in November of 1918.

Those who remained in Storrs trained with a new sense of purpose and urgency. By the summer of 1918, however, the Cadet contingent at CAC was overshadowed by a new government-initiated program: the Students’ Army Training Corps (SATC). The Corps essentially placed participating universities on a war footing; students and staff alike were inducted into the military, and remained on campus for instruction in trades and skills deemed vital to the war effort. At the completion of such courses, the intent was to assign graduates to officers’ school, regular duty as enlisted men, or further technical training. Some four hundred CAC men had signed up by the time the short-lived program was disbanded in December of 1918. Following a brief lull, ROTC was reinstated the following January with the arrival of Captain Claude E. Cranston as the new Professor of Military Science. By the end of that year, Cadet training had more or less returned to what it had been before the introduction of the SATC.

ROTC Cadets standby for inspection of their encampments and equipment, 1919. Hawley Armory is in the background. Laurel Hall now stands on the site of the parade field

ROTC Cadets standby for inspection of their encampments and equipment, 1919. Hawley Armory and Koons Hall are in the background. Oak Hall now stands on the site of the parade field

Notwithstanding a brief suspension during the First World War, then, ROTC had by 1920 established itself as a fixture on the Storrs campus. The future of the program would be anything but tranquil, however, as the remainder of the twentieth century would prove eventful, both on campus and abroad. In my next post, we’ll look at the debates over compulsory participation in ROTC. Stay tuned!

–Nick Hurley

Human Rights in the Former Yugoslavia

–This is a guest post by UConn Senior Matthew Kosior (Political Science and French/Francophone Studies Major and a Human Rights, Spanish and International Studies Minor), currently interning at the Archives & Special Collections, focusing his work on the Laurie S. Wiseberg and Harry Scoble Human Rights Internet Collection.  

Violence and Terror in Kosovo, SOS-Kosovo Committee, Geneva, Switzerland. Human Rights Internet, box 99.

With ever normalizing relations between the Balkan states, especially with the recent Serbia-Kosovo talks as well as Montenegro’s invitation to join NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), from an outsider’s perspective the progress made in the region seems ordinary. One cannot however ignore the fact that the former Yugoslavia has endured violent waves of wars that would permanently strain relations between the various ethnic groups and nation-states that would emerge from the chain of conflicts. The complicated history of the region and its path towards stabilization can be found through the Laurie S. Wiseberg and Harry Scoble Human Rights Internet Collection (HRIC) found in the Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, which contains a plethora of articles, resolutions, and books relating to the former Yugoslavia. Continue reading

Orienting Oneself Inside Charles Olson’s Thought – A Prospector’s Guide

by Matthew L. Kroll

To say that readers need a roadmap to guide them through the prolific, often perplexing work of American poet Charles Olson (1910–1970) perhaps edges too close to cliché —  the kind of bland and general statement which Charles Olson successfully and adamantly avoided throughout his career.  But it is, I think, true.  As is the fact Charles Olson spent much of his career making ‘maps,’ of one kind or another.  Olson’s interest in cartography and archival maps, and his almost ontological understanding of geography, manifest his acute thinking of and through space and place.  But Olson also created ‘maps’ of thought across his writings and lectures: uncovering and connecting people, places, languages and literatures across various eras of human history, including his own.  The work of the Olson scholar involves tracing these ‘thought-maps,’ if you will, to the benefit of readers and students of Olson.

To add clarity and depth to the scholarly exploration of Olson’s idiosyncratic thinking and writing, a researcher will surely benefit from the vast and varied Olson material available at the Archives and Special Collections in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut.  Thankfully, this carefully curated collection has a detailed finding aid, and the staff has a wealth of knowledge to further help visitors navigate the collection.  But all that guidance could not fence me from the inevitable sense of disorientation I felt after my first day engaging with the Olson archives during my research trip.

Suffice to say, the breadth of Olson’s knowledge can make his readers’ head spin, leaving us grasping for a sense of direction.  The archived material available in Storrs attests to the immense range of thinkers and writers of various fields and genres with which Olson engaged.  The unpublished material there can help us fill in the gaps and make our own pathways through his dense thought.  The Olson scholar must, I think, (paraphrasing his line) “find out for him-/herself” a way to orient oneself to Olson’s mind.[1]  For my own research purposes, this has been to focus on Olson and early Greek thought.

Before arriving in Storrs I was confident I had a good plan of research going in.  Within only a few minutes of arriving at the Charles Olson Research Collection, however, I realized the most important, and unexpected, task of my week: orienting myself to Olson’s often unintelligible handwriting!  The image below demonstrates both the difficulty in reading Olson’s handwriting, and offers us a glimpse of how his mind worked.  Note the multiple directional orientations of his handwriting across these two pages from a notebook dated 11 November – 13 December, 1964 (Box 56, folder 103).

KrollCOB56f103pp45revA dizzying experience, indeed.  This image is particularly relevant here as it shows us Olson working through Whitehead’s concept of the ‘extensive continuum’ (from Process and Reality), essentially, the spatio-temporal extensiveness of the world.  This is vintage Olson: working through a philosophical concept which is fundamental to how human beings orient themselves in the world, doing it with such freedom and instantaneous changes of direction that he actually writes along several different axes across the page.

But for all the frustration readers and researchers may find in Olson— his layered and obscure allusions, his frequently challenging syntax, his penmanship—there are some constants in Olson’s writing, especially in his magnum opus, The Maximus Poems.  Olson’s modern verse epic is populated with many historical and geographical explorations of his adopted hometown of Gloucester, MA.  We see through Maximus’ (Olson’s?) eyes Stage Fort Park, Dogtown, the waters and islands off Cape Ann and its surrounding environs, the settlers and early inhabitants of the area, its fishermen, its modern inhabitants, its poets…we even get a sense for life inside his 28 Fort Square apartment and the very desk he enveloped with his physical and intellectual magnitude.  The early published versions of each of the three volumes of Maximus featured maps on their covers, maps which would later feature as the first pages of the volumes in the collected edition (ed. George F. Butterick, 1983).  This was not merely a decision by Olson and his publishers to add cover art to the Maximus volumes.  These maps serve to orient the reader to the directions which the subsequent poetry will take: from Gloucester out to the sea; from Gloucester back through deep and mythological history; and finally from Gloucester toward the West.

KrollCO710HomermapcovrevAs I came to “find out for myself,” Olson himself mapped out the geography present in his favorite literature.  I couldn’t help but laugh when I came across Olson’s Modern Library Edition (1935) of The Complete Works of Homer (Olson #710).  Upon opening the front cover, I found a rather impressive freehand map of Greece which Olson drew in pencil.

And later in the volume, on the first page of Book IX of The Odyssey, Olson again appears to be orienting himself to his reading, this time drawing a map of the west coast of Italy and the Tyrrhenian Sea.  In his challenging fashion, the map is drawn right through the type!

This kind of interaction with his books is apparent throughout his library—as if Olson were responding to the text in his own hand in live time, creating a sort of interactive textual dialogue with whatever he was reading.


To conclude, Olson’s work is if nothing else rooted in place.  It expresses particular locales with an energy that, for me at least, few poets have been able to transfer “all the way over to the…reader” as successfully as he does.[2]  Fitting that a particular place exists—the University of Connecticut, where Olson taught briefly during what became the last year of his life—where Olson scholars can enact the very “prospecting” which his projective verse calls for, digging through his archived material to, hopefully, uncover some new place on the map of his thought—a new connectivity between his writing, his life, and the places, peoples, histories, and literatures which live in his work.  Thanks to the generous support of a Strochlitz travel grant, I was able to at least begin the digging for my own research project.  The Charles Olson Research Collection reinforced the aspect of his work which I think most gives it a unique vitality: it emanates a multiplicity of intense localities he’s “prospected”: places (physical, literary, and psychological) he inhabited, studied, and mapped.

Matthew Kroll is a PhD candidate in the Department of Philosophy at Purdue University working on his dissertation titled “The Poet and the Polis: Early Greek Thought in Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems.”  Mr. Kroll was awarded a 2015 Strochlitz Travel Grant from Archives and Special Collections at the University of Connecticut to support his ongoing research.


[1] Olson’s line is in “A Later Note on Letter # 15” [Maximus, 249 (II.79)], in reference to Herodotus’ “concept of history”, ‘istorin, which Olson tells us “was a verb, to find out for yourself.”  This understanding of the term is largely informed by J.A.K. Thomson’s The Art of the Logos (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1935).  Olson’s copy is in the Charles Olson Research Collection in Storrs, call no. Olson 450.

[2] “Projective Verse”, in Selected Writings, ed. Robert Creeley (New York: New Directions, 1966), p. 16.


Semiotics in the archives: Reflections on ‘Eviction and the Archive’ by scholar Daniel Nemser

image of front cover of Book written by the architect Lucas Cintora defending his work at the Lonja de Sevilla which will housed the new Archivo General de Sevilla.

Book written by the architect Lucas Cintora defending his work at the Lonja de Sevilla which would later housed the new Archivo General de Sevilla.

“Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.” ― Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose.

Today’s story is not about books talking about books necessarily but of a book talking about archives and their buildings, and the rationale, in this particular story, to evict people from a building to replace them with books and records in the name of history and imperial memory. In a way you can say that this is story of semiotics of archives, signs and meanings found in an article talking about a book talking about an archive to be born…

As I said in a previous post, it is valuable to hear from our researchers and to learn about how they used our archival materials in their work. Professor Daniel Nemser contacted me in April 2014 asking for access to one of our rare books titled, Justa repulsa de ignorantes y de émulos malignos: Carta apologético-crítica en que se vindica la obra que se está haciendo en la Lonja de Sevilla (1) written by the architect Lucas Cintora in 1786. Prof. Nemser needed to consult the piece for a scholarly article he was writing. As far as we know, there are two known copies in the world, one located at the University of Seville’s library and the other at the Archives and Special Collections here at UConn Storrs (2). Prof. Nemser was able to visit us last May 2014 to consult the book and last September 2015 he contacted me to let me know that his article, “Eviction and the archive: materials for an archaeology of the Archivo General de Indias” was published in Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies that month.

I was immediately intrigued and enchanted by the title of the article. It is not common to see literature scholars studying archives and their place in history. But this article delved into the history of the establishment of one of the most important archives ever created – an archive which documents “four centuries of Spanish colonial rule” and is considered the “first modern archives in Spain and one of the first in Europe” (page 131), el Archivo General de las Indias.

The article documented how a particular building known as La Casa Lonja de Mercaderes in Sevilla, designed by architect Juan de Herrera, a magnificent building to house the Consulado de Mercaderes (the city merchant guild), was repurposed to become the Archivo General de las Indias. After the construction “la Lonja”, the guild moved their office to the city of Cádiz and the building was abandoned, but right after people of poor means moved in and occupied the upper levels. The article explored how the founding of the archive, the eviction of its inhabitants and the modifications to the original building were part of an Enlightenment project by the Spanish crown to create a “modern archive” that justified their imperial project. Prof. Nemser explained that “the materiality of the archive itself would tell an epic tale about Spain’s colonial achievements and highlight the value of its ongoing colonial enterprise” (page 136).

The rare text from our collection was key to Prof. Nemser’s argument that the modifications of the original building by architect Lucas Cintora served to reshape the building’s functionality to conform to this enlightenment project. The modifications also represented a break with the past and the embrace of a new future, one that emphasized the importance of the Spanish empire and its validity to rule its colonies in the Americas. Prof. Nemser explained:

Since each type of building has a specific function and as such requires different formal characteristics, it will be necessary to “destroy” – Cintora does not pull his punches here – any elements of the original that are contrary to this new purpose. Of primary importance for an archive, he argued, was an open layout with what he called a “diaphanous” character. This was especially the case for an Enlightenment project such as the AGI [Archivo General de Indias], and as such it is understandable that the metaphor of light runs through much of the writing about the archive. In the structural transformation of the building, however, this metaphor takes on an architectural dimension: the need for light, clarity and transparency was precisely why the separation walls [inside the Lonja] had to be demolished (136).

As an archivist, it was fascinating to discover through the work of this scholar that Archives and Special Collections had a text in its collection that sheds light on the colonialistic root of the AGI. Prof. Nemser’s research left me pondering about the origins of other archival institutions, including our own. As Umberto Eco deftly explained in his novel The Name of the Rose, archives and libraries’ books are full of signs and meanings in constant dialogue with each others through the eyes of its readers.

We are honored and delighted to have facilitated Prof. Nemser’s research and to learn more about the complex history of archives.



1: We recently digitized this book and now it is available at the Connecticut Digital Archive.

2: From the article, “According to Humanes Bustamante, 200 copies of Cintora’s book were printed but later withdrawn and destroyed (339n11). However, at least two copies remain. Zerner has analyzed a copy held at the AGI, while the copy I consulted is located at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut. I am grateful to Marisol Ramos for her assistance.”

Can We Save the Botany Degree? Naturalist & Teale Researcher Richard Telford’s Latest Post, from Connecticut’s Trail Wood

By Richard Telford, The Ecotone Exchange, 23 October 2015 (excerpt)

fungi-trail-wood-rOn October 17, 1959, less than six months after moving to Trail Wood, the beloved private nature sanctuary where he would spend the rest of his life, American naturalist writer Edwin Way Teale wrote the following entry in his private journal:

We are presented with life memberships in the Baldwin Bird Club and  given a fine vasculum for collecting plants. So we round out our long association with this nature group—over a period of more than 20 years.  Now we ‘have other lives to live.’  We watched them go with thankfulness in our hearts that we could stay.

I first read this passage two summers ago while researching Teale’s early days at Trail Wood with the generous support of the University of Connecticut, where Teale’s papers are permanently housed in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. At the time, I was examining the extraordinary transformation that occurred in the lives of Edwin and his wife and collaborator Nellie with their move to Trail Wood, a site Edwin would subsequently declare to be “our Promised Land” (September 8, 1959). Teale chronicled this transformation in The Hampton Journal, 1959-1961, the first of four 500-page unpublished observation journals he kept at Trail Wood over a period of twenty-one years.  Continue reading…

Esphyr Slobodkina – Modernist (Children’s Book) Illustrator/Author

by JoAnn Conrad

Part of my ongoing research into children’s picturebooks of the mid-twentieth century has to do with the ways in which the work of illustrators has insinuated itself into the public memory even as the names of individual artists may be relatively obscure. This is the case with the rare female artist and, particularly, Esphyr Slobodkina, as her influence is inversely proportional to the obscurity of her name.  “Esphyr Slobodkina . . .helped pave the way for the acceptance of abstract art in the United States and translate[d] European modernism into an American idiom.”[1]


A simple and serendipitous anecdote demonstrates this: While researching her papers at UConn’s Archives and Special Collections this summer, I was living across the street from the UConn Bookstore. One day, I noticed a display in the window announcing “Caps for Sale” [Fig. 1], clearly alluding to one of Slobodkina’s most popular books of the same name [Fig. 2]. The power of the sale poster derives from and depends on the reference to the book, which is assumed to be automatic.

There is a fair amount about Slobodkina’s life and work available. The Finding Aid for the Slobodkina Papers at Archives and Special Collections provides a brief biography as does the website of the Esphyr Slobodkina Foundation.  The 2009 Rediscovering Slobodkina: A Pioneer of American Abstraction includes information on her life as well as her contributions to the art world, but the full biography has yet to be written.  Esphyr Slobodkina anticipated that it would be written, however, and drafted a comprehensive, detailed, 5-volume manuscript “Notes for a Biographer” which resides in her papers. The Slobodkina Papers contain much more than is in her books – things that would never be published but which give a researcher like me access to insights into the thoughts and motivations of the artist. One of the pleasures of this kind of archival research is not only this intimate and personal connection one makes across time, but also the unexpected revelations into the personality of the artist that informs her work. My intention here is to provide some of those “off the books” glimpses into the work and person – Esphyr Slobodkina.

Esphyr Slobodkina was born to a wealthy Russian-Jewish family in Russia before the Revolution. After the Revolution and her fig3scrapbookpeddlerfamily’s fig4scrapbookdressdesignchange in fortune and status, they moved east, to Harbin, and then, via Vladivostok, to the United States. The readjustment to their diminished financial situation was the beginning of her fashion design career – helping her mother sew dresses for clients in Harbin. Throughout her life, Esphyr (whose friends called her Phyra) would sew and consult on fashion and home décor to supplement her income, just as she did with children’s books (in amongst her papers in Box 13 are two experimental fabric children’s books; an attempt at combining her two skills).  Slobodkina kept scrapbooks, using large binders of wallpaper samples as her medium. Here, along with dummies for greeting cards, sketches, reviews, letters from children thanking her for her books, fashion design [Fig. 3], the peddler from Caps for Sale interacts with Slobodkina’s “poodies” from her very first children’s book attempt – Mary and the Poodies [Fig. 4]. In these scrapbooks, then, Slobodkina’s various artistic and commercial endeavors combine and interact. Unlike her biographers, perhaps, she did not segregate her work into compartments.

After arriving in the US in 1929, Esphyr became one of the founding members of the American Abstract Artists Association, and worked on various WPA projects during the Depression (including many murals in the New York City area).  But in 1937, as the Artists’ Union was disintegrating and the New Deal was succeeding, those WPA jobs became more scarce. Phyra again turned to the industrial arts – as a fabric print designer at the Arrow Printing Co. in Patterson, NJ, under the name Phyra Nay.

While still in Russia during those turbulent days, Phyra was not only tutored in art, but was also exposed to the work of the avant-garde that so dominated the art scene of the 1910s and 1920s in Russia: “I liked the early Russians, the Constructivists. And there were some very good women artists – Nathalia [sic] Goncharova. And there were of course decorative Russian artists. I happen not to sneeze at the decorative artists either.” And from another passage about living in Harbin:

We didn’t hear everything but some things reached us . . . There was a great big exhibit of Cubist art in Ufa . . . the next town from the town where I was born [Chelyabinsk]. That was the Cubists of the Italian type, Futurism, and it was all in those primary colors, broken up colors, purple and green . . . and all the nudes were triangles and squares and all broken up like spectral colors. That was as far as we got and we went and we stared and of course we understood nothing, but everyone laughed and said that was modern art [Interview transcript March 23, 1991, in Box 4, Esphyr Slobodkina Papers].

fig5turnipLater, living in the US in the 1930s she describes other influences: “We were into the German Expressionists, with a dash of [Oskar] Kokoschka and [Chaim] Soutin[e] here and there”(Box 1, Esphyr Slobodkina Papers, MSS pg. 517). [2] The avant-garde was to be a major influence in her artistic career as she deepened her interest in abstract art and that most deconstructive of techniques – collage. Here again, Slobodkina was able to translate the techniques of the avant-garde into the “decorative” or public arts, and in the process normalizing an avant-garde aesthetic in the popular imagination. In her collaboration with the great children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown, first with The Little Fireman (1938), then with The Little Farmer (1948) and The Little Cowboy (1948), Slobodkina introduced collage into children’s picturebooks.  Barbara Bader would later refer to this pioneering picturebook as “perhaps the apogee of modernism in the picture book.”[3] Slobodkina’s published children’s picturebooks featuring collage are readily available, but in the collection in Archives and Special Collections there are four large collages for an unpublished story “The Turnip that Grew” which she refers to as a “Russian Folktale” (the manuscript for the story is in Box 2, the pictures are framed but are also part of the collection) [Fig. 5].

Collage was also the basis for the illustrations of Caps for Sale and the one of the original collages is pasted in the aforementioned scrapbook [Fig. 6]. Preserved under plastic wrap, the image not only makes emphatic the link between handiwork and art, but also is penetrated by the impish Poodies. Slobodkina, in an interview, relates that the inspiration for the book came from a story she heard being told by the teacher of her sister-in-law’s child, and because of this ambiguous authorship, that William Scott had been hesitant to publish it. On the advice of Bertha Mahoney (of The Horn Book), Esphyr gave the peddler a name, and developed the plot more, whereby it was published by Harper Collins (1940) under the editorship of Ursula Nordstrom, and then later by Scott.

I want to close this insider’s look into the Slobodkina papers with the one item that is not fig8poodiesonly my favorite, but which shows how funny, creative, and engaging Phyra was. It again is related to Mary and the Poodies [Fig. 7], an unpublished children’s book that served as Esphyr’s introduction to Margaret Wise Brown and Wm. Scott Publishers. The book was not an ideological fit with the Bank Street “Here-and-Now” pedagogues because it featured the whimsical imaginary creatures – the eponymous Poodies.[4]  But the art work and use of collage attracted their attention and eventuated in the collaborative work between MWB and Slobodkina that began with The Little Fireman. In the Slobodkina Papers, however, was a small “promotional” sheet that she’d worked up for Mary and the Poodies, a kind of contest for kids to name the Poodies. To the first to respond awaits either a  Bachelors or a Masters of Poodology, conferred by Prof. Amoritus Maximus!

JoAnn Conrad is a professor of Anthropology and Folklore at California State University, East Bay (Hayward).  Her current research focuses on the impact of immigrant artists on the American cultural landscape in the post-WWII period, particularly in their role as illustrators of children’s picture books. Conrad feels that these immigrant artists, through their work in such quotidian, mass-produced materials as children’s books, magazines, and even film and animation, were important translators of a modernist aesthetic into the day-to-day lives and sensibilities of millions for whom the art world was a distant and foreign sphere. Conrad has researched such artists as Feodor Rojankovsky, Tibor Gergely, and Gustaf Tenggren.  In Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, she was specifically researching Esphyr Slobodkina and Leonard Weisgard (not an immigrant to the US, but influenced by European modernism). Conrad is the recipient of the 2015 Billie M. Levy Travel and Research Grant.

Sources cited:

All archival material referenced is from the Esphyr Slobodkina Papers.  Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center,  University of Connecticut Libraries.

[1] Slobodkina, Esphyr, and Sandra Kraskin. Rediscovering Slobodkina: A Pioneer of American Abstraction : [ Catalog of an Exhibition Held at the Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, Ny … between Jan. 10, 2009 and Apr. 18, 2010]. Manchester, Vt: Hudson Hills Press, 2009. Print.

[2] In an email correspondence with John Bowlt, dated Aug. 6, 2015, he indicates that David Burliuk, the so-called “Father of Russian Futurism”, held a one-man show in Ufa in 1916.

[3] Barbara Bader, “A Lien on the World.” (New York Times Book Review, November 9, 1980): 66.

[4] For more on the collaborative work of Margaret Wise Brown and Esphyr Slobodkina, see Leonard Marcus, “Modernist At Story Hour: Esphyr Slobodkina and the Art of the Picture Book” (


Reflections on Archival Silences: Wrapping Up A Summer in the Stacks

by Nick Hurley, Graduate Student Intern, Summer 2015

20150615Nickblog01For my final blog post of my summer internship, I want to touch on something that’s been nagging at me ever since I began my work.

In his book Silencing the Past, anthropologist and historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot talks about reading “silences” in the archives. According to Trouillot, honest scholars try to tell their stories as accurately as possible from the records available to them. Many times, however, these records are incomplete, as conscious choices were made by those who collected them regarding what to preserve, what to discard, and what to highlight. Thus, what is not present in an archive may at times be just as important as what is.

A cursory examination of the Bruce Morrison Papers will give any researcher an excellent overview of Morrison’s professional career. There is ample material documenting his time as an immigration lawyer, a U.S. Congressman, and a candidate for governor.  But what isn’t there, or is barely there, is equally significant. Aside from being a lawyer, politician, and activist, Morrison was also a husband and father, who enjoyed playing tennis and had a profound interest in science.  Where is that man?

Morrison, a former Congressman from Connecticut who served from 1983-1991, served as Chairman of the House Immigration subcommittee and authored the Immigration Act of 1990. After an unsuccessful campaign for Governor of Connecticut in 1990, Morrison became heavily involved in the quest for peace in Northern Ireland and was instrumental in paving the way for the eventual IRA ceasefires in 1994 and 1997. During this time he also served as the director of the Federal Housing Finance Board and as a commissioner on the Commission for Immigration Reform (1992-1997).

We have no way of knowing how many “filters” the papers went through before they arrived at the Dodd Research Center. Morrison’s assistants, secretaries, and Morrison himself all could have gone through and arranged files or removed documents deemed too personal or irrelevant. It should be remembered that this collection is designed to provide researchers with information on Morrison’s career as a politician, activist, and lawyer. It is not a bruce morrisondiary, nor does it pretend to be.  Are the Morrison Papers an example of a collection that has been “silenced”? Perhaps—to a certain extent. However, a closer look at the Morrison Papers yields more personal insights than we might expect. Where do we see Morrison the man? The human being?

We can see it in the letters received—and promptly replied to—from ordinary people, many of them underprivileged, immigrants, or both, seeking legal advice or assistance from Morrison. No matter what the issue, how busy he was, or the extent to which he could help them, he always made it a point to send a reply, or to forward the letter to a colleague that could better address the issue.

We can see it in the weekly calendars filled out by Morrison’s assistants during the height of his political career, or in the midst of his run for governor. Weekdays and weekends, morning and night, he was constantly on the move, but somehow managed to find time for the occasional game of tennis, or a short weekend getaway with his wife and son.

We can see it in the heartfelt and handwritten letter sent to Irish PM Bertie Ahern following the death of his mother in 1998.

We can see it in the time stamps on his faxes; so many are after 10pm or later. Clearly, Morrison was not a “9 to 5” type of guy.

And so within volumes of seemingly routine correspondence, news clippings, and research papers contained in this collection, we can get a sense of Morrison the professional and Morrison the man. The overall impression I get is of a man incredibly dedicated to his work, but, like so many of us, equally dedicated to maintaining a home-work balance. Despite his hectic schedule, he seemed to always have time for those who needed him, whether it was his family or an underprivileged immigrant with nowhere else to turn.

Scholars, researchers, and anyone else seeking to consult an archive would do well to remember the lesson here. When a collection seems “tapped out”, dig a little deeper, or come at it from a different angle. There is always something new that can be gleaned from its pages.

It’s been a real pleasure to work on the Bruce Morrison Papers and in Archives and Special Collections this summer. I’ve enjoyed my first taste of archival work, and I’m coming away from the experience with a far better understanding of what goes into arranging the collections that we as researchers utilize for our various projects. I hope those who utilize the Morrison Papers from this point forward will find it a bit more user-friendly and informative, thanks to my efforts. It is an excellent resource, and one that we are proud to have here at the University of Connecticut!

A Neglected Nexus: Railroads, Forestry, and the Shakers

By Darryl Thompson

I grew up with one foot in one world and the other foot in another.  My father, Charles “Bud” Thompson, was a close friend of the members of one of the world’s last surviving Shaker communities—in Canterbury, New Hampshire—and eventually came to work for them.  With the crucial aid of Sisters Bertha Lindsay, Lillian Phelps, and Marguerite Frost and the consent of the rest of the members of the community, he founded the museum that gradually grew into the major historical restoration that can be found there today.  As a result, I regularly shuttled back and forth between the Shaker world and that of mainstream American society.

Photograph of Darryl Thompson as a small child, with Eldress Bertha Lindsay of the Canterbury, New Hampshire Shakers

Photograph of Darryl Thompson as a small child, with Eldress Bertha Lindsay of the Canterbury, New Hampshire Shakers

At a very early age I learned to make this transition regularly and easily.  At the age of thirteen I became a museum guide and reveled in the role of interpreting one of these worlds to the other. History was the air that I breathed, and so it was natural that I would take a bachelor’s and master’s degree in American history and devote myself to Shaker studies.  I wanted to explore unusual aspects of Shaker history that had not been adequately explored before.  What fascinated me were the edges in Shaker history—the places in which the two worlds overlapped, the ways in which the Shakers impacted the greater society and those in which the outside world affected them.  And, of course, in the whole sweep of American history nothing better symbolized and facilitated the meeting of edges, the unifying of different worlds, the interplay of local cultures and the dominant society than the railroad.

I came to thinking about Shaker connections with railroads through my research into Shaker contributions to forestry, and in the process I discovered that not only did the Shakers have links to both forestry and railroads, but forestry and railroads were intertwined in American history in ways that have often been overlooked.  This is a neglected nexus that deserves to be delved into by researchers.

Nineteenth-century America’s railroad industry was a beast with an appetite that would not be satiated, one of the nation’s most voracious consumers of wood in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  Sarah H. Gordon in Passage to Union: How the Railroads Transformed American Life, 1829-1929, records that the railroads of the northeastern United States “proceeded to triple their mileage of track in the 1850s, chiefly in the Northeast itself.  Miles of track in the United States jumped from 9,021 in 1850 to 30, 626 ten years later.” By the time that the first shot of the Civil War was fired at Fort Sumter, most of the railroads in the eastern part of the country had moved from wood to coal to fire their locomotives, but they still used a good supply of kindling (for which they preferred to use hardwood).  In other parts of the country, many railways were still using wood for fuel at the time of the war’s outbreak.  The network of railways across the nation had ballooned to 60,000 miles of track by 1870.  This meant that wood was needed for the construction, maintenance, and repair of buildings, bridges, railroad cars, cross ties, switch ties, piling, platforms, fencing, guardrails, tunnels, trusses, trestles, telegraph lines, and a variety of miscellaneous items.[1]

However, if railroads were the cause of the destruction of vast tracts of American forests, they also were in the vanguard of reforestation efforts.  A railroad company would sometimes experiment with planting trees in order to insure its future supply of wood.

Photograph of Omar Pease’s pines after thinning in the 1890’s. Source: A Paper on Forestry by John Dearborn Lyman, New Hampshire Agriculture Report of the Board of Agriculture, 1894 1 November

For instance, Eric Rutkow in American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation states: “The Kansas Pacific Railroad created three tree stations in 1870, and the idea quickly spread to other train lines.”  These experiments in railroad forestry would eventually be abandoned, but they did contribute to the spreading of the idea of growing trees as a crop.[2]

It was the story of Brother (later Elder) Omar Pease, a pioneering, self-taught amateur forester from the Enfield, Connecticut, Shaker village that first led me to investigate Shaker connections to railroads.  A member of Enfield Shaker Village’s North Family (each Shaker village was divided into social/governmental/economic units called “families” since they were spiritual families) in the nineteenth century, he planted several hundred acres of white pine on his village’s property, and his plantings included sandy, worn-out tracts of wasteland that served as a dramatic demonstration of the feasibility of turning such barren terrain into profitable timberlands.  I am researching his life with the intention of writing a book about this forgotten forester.

I discovered old newspaper articles that showed the Enfield Shakers were among the investors who put up money ($10,000 in the case of the Enfield Shakers) to launch a short line ( its length, including sidings, being only 21 miles) called the Connecticut Central Railroad, which should not be confused with a modern line of the same name that ran from 1987-1998.  The Shakers would even open a station on this line that they would operate for years.  In early February of 1873 Omar Pease was among those elected by the company’s corporators to the new board of directors.  Yet in February of 1875 he is not among the directors listed in an article in the Connecticut Courant of Hartford.  However, the May 31, 1875 issue of the Springfield Republican of Springfield, Massachusetts, recorded: “The grading on the Connecticut Central Railroad is now being pushed rapidly through the Shaker Village [at] Enfield, and over a mile from the state line south is entirely completed.  The Shakers are making quite a business of getting out railroad ties.”

On July 6, 1875, the Springfield Republican announced that Enfield Shaker Village’s Elder George Wilcox and his Church Family were furnishing all the ties for a short line railroad that was allied to the Connecticut Central.  Wilcox must have become part of the Central’s board of directors at some point in 1875, because the February 11, 1876 Boston Traveler includes his name on the slate of directors “re-elected” by the stockholders.  Had the Shaker brothers referred to in the May 31st passage been cutting ties under the direction of Pease or Wilcox?  The December 24, 1883  Springfield Republican , published just months after Omar’s death, reported the sale of parcels of Shaker timberland by Richard Van Deusen, Omar’’ successor, and recorded that Omar would buy in wood rather than sell it: “Elder Pease would not sell timber, but bought all he could get at a low price.  But Elder Van Deusen is selling off the out lots pretty rapidly.”[3]

I put together the information in the two articles and pondered it.  Had the men described in the May 31st, 1875 article cut the ties from timber bought in for that purpose by Omar or had they cut down village trees? [4]

I smelled the possibility of some sort of battle or intrigue.  Was Omar pressured to leave the board and replaced with Wilcox because Omar was reluctant to cut?  The railroad would not have ousted him if he refused to sell.  They would just have bought the wood from another source.  But could Omar have been pressured to resign by his superiors or his fellow Shakers because they wanted the greater margin of profit arising from cutting down trees on their own property instead of purchasing timber and cutting it for ties?  This possibility fascinates me because such an incident would represent Omar’s sudden discovery of a conflict of interest between his traditional role as protector of the Enfield Shakers’ timber resources and his new role in the voracious timber-consuming railroad industry. Such a clash would have resonance with each one of us who is both a consumer of resources and a would-be conservationist.

Photograph of Omar Pease's pines after being felled by the Hurrican of 1938.

Photograph of Omar Pease’s pines after being felled by the Hurrican of 1938.

Thinking that such a conflict might have taken place in Omar’s life and hoping that I might find evidence of it in company documents, I turned to the institution where the records of the Connecticut Central Railroad are located—Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center of the University of Connecticut at Storrs.

The history field is not well-known for being remunerative, and the challenge for me was how I was going to fund this research trip.  I was delighted when a call to Archives & Special Collections revealed the existence of the Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz Travel Grants that help pay for researchers’ expenses when they come to use the great resources of the center.  I applied and when I received news that I had been awarded one of the grants, I was overwhelmed with gratitude to both the administration and staff of Archives & Special Collections and to Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz for leaving such a wonderful legacy to aid scholarly research. I soon found myself ensconced in a modest, comfortable, and reasonably-priced motel room. It is hard to describe the joy, eager anticipation, and sense of adventure that I felt every day as I traveled to UConn.  I could hardly wait to dive into the treasures of the archive!

And what treasures they were.  In addition to the ledgers and papers of the Connecticut Central, there were also materials relating to several other railroad companies that were connected to the Central over the years.  In addition to ledgers, these items included board of directors’ minutes, bills, receipts, financial statements, cash books, vouchers, legal papers, contracts and agreements.   However, as wonderful as these materials are, Archives & Special Collections’ most precious possession is its hugely knowledgeable and incredibly committed staff.  In the days that would follow, I would come to know the great courtesy and help of the staff members who man the desk and the graciousness ofMelissa Watterworth Batt, Archivist for Literary & Natural History Collections.  I would also benefit from the extremely valuable assistance, guidance, and advice of Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad, Labor and Organizational Collections.  All of these individuals go far beyond the call of duty in aiding researchers.

In Archives & Special Collections’ collections I did not find any information that would explain the departure of Omar Pease from the Connecticut Central’s board of directors and his replacement by George Wilcox.  But I found so much more!  The materials helped me to reconstruct the history of the Connecticut Central Railroad and allowed me to consider how the ups and downs of that history would have impacted the Enfield Shakers as they operated what became known as Shaker Station on the line.  Chartered in 1871 and built in 1875, the Central leased itself to the Connecticut Valley Railroad in 1876 but, since the Connecticut Valley soon defaulted on its second mortgage bonds and was quickly placed in receivership, the Connecticut Central Railroad operated as an independent entity until 1880.  In that year of 1880 the Central leased itself to the New York & New England Railroad.  One of the great discoveries I made at Archives & Special Collections was a copy of this lease agreement.  Also greatly helpful were the bound volumes of board of directors’ minutes of the NY & NE.  While I am still trying to understand the exact details of the legalities and financial arrangements, in essence it can be said that the New York and New England held the mortgage on the Connecticut Central.  When the latter could not make payments, the NY & NE began proceedings to foreclose in 1885.  However, the Central mounted a legal resistance that meant the wrangle dragged on until the closing months of 1887.  In the years following its gobbling up of the Connecticut Central Railroad, the New York and New England would itself, in turn, be eventually absorbed by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

It has long been claimed among Shaker scholars that the railroad that ran through Enfield Shaker Village only carried freight and not people.  It primarily did carry freight, and lumber was one of the things it transported. However, the ledgers of the Connecticut Central that I saw at Archives & Special Collections clearly show income from carrying passengers.  A notation that I saw later in an outside source shows that the line did not carry commuters (its schedule perhaps not making it convenient for regular travel to and from individuals’ workplaces) but passengers were definitely riding this train.

Sarah H. Gordon says in Passage To Union: “Organizing nationally was the work of the age, and ticketing records show that railroads made possible the growth of organizations with a national membership of people with middling means.”  Agricultural, forestry, and conservation organizations mushroomed into existence with the development of the railroad.  Archives & Special Collections contains the papers of the Gold family, including those of T.S. Gold, who served for years as the secretary of the Connecticut Board of Agriculture and who belonged to a myriad of such national, regional, and local organizations.  While I have yet to find evidence that Omar Pease had an association with any such group, in the Gold collection I found a very interesting letter from Richard Van Deusen, Omar’s successor, to T.S. Gold.  It reveals Van Deusen’s involvement in one of these agricultural organizations. Another letter is to Gold is written on Connecticut State Board of Agriculture letterhead and printed on that letterhead is a list of all members of the board in 1884, the year following Omar’s death.  This list will enable further research to find out if Pease had contact with any of these men.[5]

Ken Burns, the nation’s foremost maker of historical documentary films, has said that archives, libraries, and museums contain the DNA of our civilization.  Archives & Special Collections at the Dodd Research Center is a treasure house that contains a wealth of material that is a precious resource for scholars.  I will always have wonderful memories of the time that I spent there and gratitude that such a special place exists.  I invite others to discover the historical riches that can be found there.

Darryl Thompson, Shaker historian, spent years at the Canterbury, New Hampshire Shaker village as the sisters there employed his father, Charles “Bud” Thompson. Mr. Thompson has lectured widely about the Shakers, authored articles about them, assisted in the editing of Shaker-related books, taught classes in Shaker history, and has led tours at Canterbury Shaker Village for decades. An American history instructor at the New Hampshire Institute of Art at Manchester, Mr. Thompson has assisted in the research for Ken Burns’ PBS series on World War II and the national parks and was, along with his father, among the consultants used by Ken Burns in his documentary film The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God (Walpole, NH: Florentine Films, 1984).  In 2015, Mr. Thompson was awarded a Strochlitz Travel Grant from Archives and Special Collections at the University of Connecticut to support his ongoing research.     

Sources cited:

[1] Sarah H. Gordon, Passage to Union: How the Railroads Transformed American Life, 1829-1929 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 1997), 106; Sherry H. Olson’s The Depletion Myth: A History of Railroad Use of Timber (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1971), 4. 10, 12 [Table 1: ”Crosstie estimates, 1870-1910”].

[2] Eric Rutkow, American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation (New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, New Delhi: Scribner, 2012), 130.

[3] “East Longmeadow “ column, “Hampden County News” section, Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), December 24, 1883,  6.

[4] “Annual Meetings. Connecticut Central Railroad…,”Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, MA), Thursday, February 6, 1873 (Issue 32), 2, column c; “Railroad Matters. New Lay-Out of the Connecticut Central in Enfield—Recovery of Commissioner Northrop—Election,” Saturday, February 20, 1875, Connecticut Courant (Hartford, CT), Vol. 111, Issue 8, 4; “Connecticut” column, Springfield Republican, Monday, May 31, 1875 pg. 6;“Springfield and Vicinity,” column in “Local Intelligence” section, Tuesday, July 6, 1875, Springfield Republican (Springfield, MA), 6;  “Railroad News,” Friday, February 11, 1876, Boston Traveler (Boston, MA), 1.

[5] Sarah H. Gordon, Passage To Union: How the Railroads Transformed American Life, 1829-1929 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 1997) , Pg. 181.


From the Researcher’s Perspective: Following Charles Olson to Connecticut

by Casie Trotter, MA student in English Literature at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and awardee of Archives and Special Collections’ Strochlitz Travel Grant.

For someone like the poet Charles Olson, visiting an archive is very important. He was all about the “record,” the “document”—two words he often used in and about his own work. It’s not surprising, then, that he preserved much of his life, from personal notebooks to ongoing iterations of new poems and essays. Thousands of letters from people as diverse as his parents, lovers, William Carlos Williams, John Huston, and Carl Jung remain in his files.

trotterblog01I know because thanks to the generosity of Archives and Special Collections and a Strochlitz Travel Grant, I got to spend a week there early this spring, exploring the depths of the Charles Olson Research Collection. Five days was enough to see over eighty unpublished poems, about seventy prose pieces, hundreds of letters, a dozen notebooks and journals, and several books from his personal library. These were only a fraction of the wealth of Olson materials in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, but it was more than enough to strengthen my ongoing research. The archive’s tangible nature enabled me to witness Olson’s creative process on a whole new level. Bottle rings stood out on his leather notebooks; cigarette burns dotted his manuscripts. Sometimes I found letter drafts on the backs of other pieces, whether to the Gas Company or T.S. Eliot.

In the process, I uncovered plenty of links to themes and ideas in Olson’s work I’d already been tracing. My MA project at the University of Tulsa developed over the course of two years—starting as a love affair with The Maximus Poems duringmy first semester as a grad student and culminating in this trip to Connecticut a month before graduation. What began as a critical analysis of Olson’s pre-Maximus life and work, an attempt to construct a theoretical framework that led to his Gloucester epic, turned into a very personal journey as I found his ideas and experiences increasingly relevant to mine too. His conflicted relationship with academia mirrored my own; his open and visceral love for the world and who shaped it found a home in the ways I interact with other people. These connections made the project important not only for my academic career, but also gave it larger dimensions that could translate into other parts of my life.

When not in the reading room, then, I also visited Worcester (Olson’s hometown) in nearby Massachusetts and Middletown (where Olson attended Wesleyan). UCONN’s proximity to these locations made it easy to expand the trip into an even more immersive experience. The side tours were particularly valuable ways to encounter the spirit of Olson’s world(s) on some level. Driving through Worcester, sea gulls flew overhead; a Catholic church loomed over the street where newer three-story flats have replaced the one where he grew up. Around Wesleyan, neighborhoods and small businesses evoked a sense of place unique to their environment. This part of the research process was not only how I think Olson would want his work and life to be studied—a poet rooted deeply in the local, the concrete—but helped further tie me to the primary aspects of what it was like to be Charles Olson, almost as meaningfully as the direct experience of the archive itself. I’d been absorbed in his work for so long that feeling my way through his stomping grounds came naturally and powerfully. The commute between campus and my hotel through rural areas provided further reflective avenues for understanding the writer’s world and the backdrop to many of his words that have been the ongoing soundtrack to my grad school years.

The catalyst for my project was discovering Olson’s complicated paternal relationship with Ezra Pound in the aftermath of WWII and EP’s treason trial. Within weeks after Pound was committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital, the younger poet started visiting the elder and providing a source of encouragement. For two and a half years, Pound was another “Papa” in his life. Olson carried drafts of the Pisan Cantos between Pound and his publisher, James Laughlin. Between visits, they corresponded back and forth. The Collection at the Dodd Research Center includes about two dozen postcards from Pound to Olson, among other fragments and pieces the young poet wrote while trying to make sense of a fascist genius. He struggled to understand how someone who could write such beautiful, innovative poetry could also perpetuate such hate-filled ideas.

Although Catherine Seelye edited and published materials from Olson’s “Pound File” at Storrs several decades ago (another great use of their Collection), reading this compilation in paperback form could not compare to observing the pieces firsthand. Seelye’s book made me want to know everything about Olson, to piece together all the people and moments that built him into the giant he was (literally and figuratively). Pound was so crucial to his developing conception of what it means to be a poet that he was the ideal place to start. By the time I got to Connecticut, I’d read all of the Cantos, the Maximus Poems, and spent six months actively compiling and consuming everything else Olson had written before his epic (the Storrs Collection’s unpublished materials also gave me a lot more to work with). While I didn’t get to read everything with equal attention, I’d built enough of a foundation to understand what Olson was capable of and to better appreciate how significant his connections to earlier figures were. And I’d become attached enough to him that he had carried me through some very difficult personal experiences as I was trying to figure out how to “love the world and stay inside it” as he later said in Maximus.

trotterblog02So when I opened the folder with Pound’s postcards, it took a conscious effort not to let my misty eyes drip onto his penciled signature. Since most other scholars (including Seelye) have prioritized Olson’s own words about Pound over what Pound actually wrote to him, these cards were almost like experiencing another world in their relationship. Having studied Olson’s reflections on their frustrated interactions, I was able to reenact his process through each note and gain a better sense of how his feelings were being influenced at the time. Digging through the correspondence files, I unearthed the initial telegram from Olson’s early publisher, Dorothy Norman, asking him to cover Pound’s trial in Washington, and the letter from Laughlin encouraging the young writer to visit his client in the first place. Laughlin also later sent and inscribed a hardcover of the Pisan Cantos to Olson, which remains in his personal library at Storrs.  In his WWII-era notebooks, I found his early (unpublished) writings about Pound as the controversy unfolded. But the most heartbreaking postcard was written a few months after Olson stopped visiting Pound in 1948, too weary of the old poet’s racism and closed-mindedness. Wanting to know where he’d gone, EP wrote, “Yes my deah [sic] Charles I just [wonder] wot [sic] are you up to O[?]”. Olson wouldn’t see Pound again for about fifteen years, so this postcard didn’t soften him too much—but I can imagine the effect it still must have had on him after how much energy and affection he’d invested in Pound during some of Olson’s most formative years as a writer.

Charles Olson to Frances Boldereff, January 10, 1950, Box 183. Archives and Special Collections  at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

In this respect, spending time at the Dodd Research Center was extremely fruitful, both in terms of research and my ever-more intimate connection to a writer who must be studied through primary documents and an empathetic point of view. To do a person like Charles Olson justice requires closer attention than someone without the primal experience of an archive can give. At this point, I may still be working through how my own work will speak for him in the future, but I know that it needed a pilgrimage like this trip to give it firm roots to cling to.


Hot off the presses!

Archives & Special Collections occasionally shares posts by scholars who have consulted materials found in the collections and the staff has always found it interesting to learn what gems researchers have found.  Recently, A&SC has received copies of publications by these same scholars, the results of research conducted in Storrs (and elsewhere) and we thought we’d share this as well.  Our congratulations to the authors and an invitation to any of our readers to come in and ask to look through any of these that might interest you:

The Hartford Courant at 250 : telling Connecticut’s stories : the moments that make up our state’s richly textured history, Pediment Publishing, 2015 (University Photograph Collection, Southern New England Telephone Company Records, C. H. Dexter Company Records, Leroy Roberts Railroad Collection)

Allison, Raphael. Bodies on the Line: Performance and the Sixties Poetry Reading, University of Iowa Press, 2014 (Charles Olson Papers, Larry Eigner Papers)

Charters, Samuel. Songs of Sorrow: Lucy McKim Garrison and “Slave Songs of the United States, University Press of Mississippi, 2015 (Charters Archive of Blues and Vernacular African American Musical Culture)

Dessner, Bryce (composer). Bang On A Can All Stars (DVD), Field Recordings, 2015 (Charles Olson Papers)

Ed Dorn; Justin Katko and Kyle Waugh, editors. Derelict Air: From Collected Out, Enitharmon Press, 2015 (Ed Dorn Papers)

Lister-Kaye, John.  Gods of Morning: A Bird’s Eye View of a Changing World, Pegasus, 2015 (Edwin Way Teale Papers)

Savage, Sean.  The Senator from New England: The Rise of JFK, Excelsior editions, 2015 (Thomas J. Dodd Papers)

Zack, Ian. Say No to the Devil: the Life and Musical Genius of the Rev. Gary Davis, University of Chicago Press, 2015 (Charters Archive of Blues and Vernacular African American Musical Culture)


Emily Arnold McCully gets a new finding aid

      A new finding aid is now available for the Emily Arnold McCully Papers.  The collection consists of sketches, dummies, research materials and artwork for eight of her books: The Taxing Case of the Cows,  the Divide,  Old Home Day,  Ballot Box Battle,  Ballerina Swan,  My Heart Glow,  Secret Seder, and  The Helpful Puppy.  Emily Arnold McCully, an American writer and illustrator, won the Caldecott Medal for U.S. picture book illustration in 1993, for Mirette on the High Wire which she also wrote.

Secret Cave: Discovering Lascaux (New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010)

Secret Cave: Discovering Lascaux (New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010)


She was born in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1939, and grew up in Garden City, New York. She attended Pembroke College, now a part of Brown University, and earned an M.A. in Art History from Columbia University. At Brown she acted in the inaugural evening of Production Workshop and other plays, co-wrote the annual musical, Brownbrokers, and earned a Phi Beta Kappa key.


In 1976, she published a short story in The Massachusetts Review. It was selected for the O’Henry Collection: Best Short Stories of the Year. Two novels followed:  A Craving in 1982, and  Life Drawing in 1986. In 2012, Ms. McCully published  Ballerina Swan with Holiday House Books for Young People, written by legendary prima ballerina Allegra Kent. It has received rave reviews from The New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, and School Library Journal and was praised in the “Talk of the Town” column in The New Yorker. 

Ballot Box Battle (New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1996)

Ballot Box Battle (New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1996)


As an actor, she performed in Equity productions of Elizabeth Diggs’ Saint Florence at Capital Rep in Albany and The Vineyard Theater in New York City.  In addition to the Caldecott Award, Ms. McCully has received a Christopher Award for Picnic, the Jane Addams Award, the Giverney Award and an honorary doctorate from Brown University.