Connecticut Digital Archive Hits the Century Mark


Branford House (University of Connecticut at Avery Point), University of Connecticut Photograph Collection, Archives & Special Collections

The Connecticut Digital Archive (CTDA) has reached the Century mark with the recent addition of the 100,000 object. The CTDA provides digital preservation services to Connecticut-based non-profit cultural and memory organizations, including libraries, archives, galleries and museums.

The first item placed in the archive in November, 2013 was from the Thomas J. Dodd Papers   from the University of Connecticut’s Archives and Special Collections.

Since then, thousands of other digital resources have been added to the archive from multiple institutions, including Trinity College Library, Connecticut Historical Society, the Connecticut State Library and Archives and the Fairfield Museum and History Center. Others are busy preparing their digital resources for preservation and access. A complete list of participating institutions and more information about the CTDA can be found here.


On Track with an Eminent Railroad Historian, Collector, and Donor J.W. “Jack” Swanberg


Jack Swanberg Metro-North Railroad, Old Greenwich, CT. May, 2001

Jack Swanberg Metro-North Railroad, Old Greenwich, CT. May, 2001

Whether contending in the 1990s with the many issues facing the safe and punctual operation of Connecticut’s heavily used Metro-North commuter rail service in New Haven, writing a definitive history of the New Haven Railroad – a volume coveted by historians and collectors alike – or traveling aboard classic steam trains in exotic locations, J. W. “Jack” Swanberg has done it all.

He recalls a 1994 British charter trip into Pakistan’s Khyber Pass, almost to the Afghan border, as being particularly memorable. “Using British-built steam locomotives, we had a carload of Pakistani Army soldiers with us for security, although even they would not let us stop the train in areas that they deemed unsafe. Not a luxury train at all, but the mountain scenery was fantastic. Our base of operations was Peshawar, a Bin Laden stronghold where you certainly wouldn’t go today.”

Clearly an adventurer, Swanberg’s love of trains took hold when he was a toddler. During his life, he has indulged that early fascination by taking rail trips throughout the world, while simultaneously enjoying a 38-year career in railroad management. He began as a locomotive fireman shortly after his graduation from Hartford’s Trinity College, and ended as Lead Trainmaster for Metro-North in 2000.

Since 2000, the Guilford, Connecticut resident has shared his time, energy, and expertise with Laura Smith, curator of UConn’s Railroad History Archive. He recently bequeathed his rich collection to the Archive, which is being digitally scanned to catalogue and preserve it.

“Jack’s collection is extraordinary and comprehensive, most particularly to the history of the New Haven Railroad and of railroads in New England, but more generally in showing the impact and importance of trains and train travel in the United States,” Smith says. “It is no exaggeration to say that Jack’s collection reminds us of the importance of the railroad in the making of America.”

Railroads aren’t the only thing firmly within Swanberg’s grasp. He is knowledgeable about the defense of our country following four years of active service in U.S. Naval Aviation as an aerial transport navigator. He flew scores of missions worldwide, including many into Vietnam, and served another 25 years in the Reserve, retiring as a Captain.

Author of not only the notable New Haven Power, 1838-1968: Steam, Diesel, Electric, MU’s, Trolleys, Motor Cars, Buses & Boats, a history of the locomotives and motive equipment of the New Haven Railroad, published in 1988, the research for which is included in the donation, Swanberg continues to share his knowledge and insights with readers of Railroad History (a publication of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society), Shoreliner

(a publication of the New Haven Railroad Historical and Technical Association), and other railroad history and enthusiast publications. Many photographs that he has taken and collected over his career with the railroad have been widely published, many by other railroad history authors.

Swanberg explains the rationale for his largesse this way: “Typically when a collector dies, his or her collection of photos, records, etc. goes to a dealer and is scattered by being sold off piecemeal, thus mostly becoming unavailable to future researchers,” he says.

“I’ve been collecting and accumulating photos going back into the 1800s for over 50 years myself, plus taking my own photos for just as long, plus collecting voluminous historical records. All of this is now consolidated, so why should it be scattered once again? I know that UConn will archivally preserve my collection and will make it available to researchers indefinitely.

Current authors, myself included, refer frequently to such collections, and I appreciate having my own collection being available for such research in the future.”

A regular visitor to the Railroad History Archive, Swanberg has applied his knowledge and helped Smith organize and describe materials in the collection, particularly photographs of New Haven Railroad steam and electric locomotive that were placed online in an early digital project.

“The UConn Libraries has benefited tremendously from our relationship with Jack, and we are honored to preserve his legacy as a historian, collector and creator of railroad history,” Smith added.

Northeast Children’s Literature Collection Reception A Success

On a wet but warm Saturday afternoon in early August the UConn Libraries’ co-hosted a reception with Billie Levy for friends of the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection. The history of the collection begins as far back as the 1960’s with the purchase of approximately 600 volumes of 19th and 20th century children’s books from author/illustrator Nonny Hogrogian. During the 1970s the library engaged in the selective addition of the best historical and contemporary children’s books and manuscripts, focusing on prize-winners and works by New England authors and illustrators. In 1983, Billie M. Levy began the process of donating thousands of children’s books illustrated by American artists over the last 200 years. Her generosity and dedication to the collection has been on of the many reasons why this collection has grown into one of the top children’s literature collections in the country.

The reception included a glimpse at some of the new items that have been acquired as well as a special donation of materials from Billie Levy with the signing of her donation of Maurice Sendak materials to the collection.

“Seeing so many “builders” of the collection together, and celebrating-marking- Billie’s contribution was especially heartwarming”

We are pleased to have passionate donors to such a special collection and we look forward to more opportunities to engage with this community and continue to build the archives for future generations.

“Although my papers are in the collection, I had not understood the full scope of the libraries work. It is so nice to know that my artifacts are safe and in such good company.” 



Billie Levy signs her donation of Maurice Sendak materials to the Libraries’ Northeast Children’s Literature Collection


Greg Colati, Director of Archives, Special Collections & Digital Curation speaks with Bill Grey.

Kat Lyons_Nancy Wallace_sm

Guests Kat Lyons and Nancy Elizabeth Wallace


Event planners – Kristen Jones, Office of the Vice Provost; Martha Bedard, Vice Provost for UConn LIbraries, Jean Nelson, Marketing, Communications & Public Programming


Martha Bedard with co-host Billie Levy and guest Elizabeth Payne


Martha Bedard with the stuffed Martha from the illustrated series ‘George and Martha’ by James Marshall

Authors Pegi Deitz Shea and Cynthia Weil look over the illustrations in the collection for their book “Ten Mice for Tet!”


Terri Goldich, Archivist for the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection gives the guests a glimpse of new materials in the collection.


Terri Goldich and Martha Bedard



Archival Film Series

Homer D. Babbidge, 1971

Homer D. Babbidge, 1971

You are invited to join the Libraries this summer for an archival film series showcasing UConn’s rich history. The series, in conjunction with the “What’s in a Name?” exhibition currently on display, is a selection of recently digitized historic film footage illustrating UConn’s past. The first film in the series is this Friday, June 20th with “Agriculture on Display,” a series of short films including 1936 sheep shearing competitions, wood chopping contests, and the Baby Beef Club Auction at The Big E.

Other films in the series include:

July 11    Teaching the Land
July 18    Diary of a Student Revolution
July 25    Yankee Conference Championship game at UConn, 1970
August 1   Technology and the Farm

All films will begin at noon in Conference Room 162 in the Dodd Research Center and are less than an hour long. Feel free to bring your lunch. (Maybe even some popcorn!)

The exhibit “What’s in a Name?” on display in the Dodd Research Center gallery utilizes the UConn memorabilia collection to illustrate the ways in which the University has used logos, seals, names, and colors to create our identity and affinity for the institution since 1881.

More information on both the exhibition and the film series can be found at

Connect. Preserve. Share.

In the culture of the Internet, every organization needs to have a visual identity and a tag line. At the CTDA we are developing that visual identity a little at a time. Our first step was to create the minimalist wordmark that was our acronym. This minimalist approach was purposeful. The CTDA is meant to be a service and a resource that others use to preserve and make available their digital material. We wanted something that said who we were but didn’t require a lot of interpretation and did not compete with the content that the CTDA would deliver through the various presentation layers that would leverage CTDA content.

The CTDA's new tagline
The CTDA’s new tagline

As we began working with partners beyond our small implementation group, we found that of course no one knew what CTDA stood for, and in a world of silos and “complete solutions” people did not immediately understand what services we provided.  We are happy to explain that the CTDA is not a destination, but a service that organizations use to preserve their digital content and to make that content available to many presentation applications. The CTDA doesn’t itself own any content, rather it is a means of connecting organizations to preservation services so that they can share those resources with each other and the world.

As this understanding became clearer in our own minds, we got to thinking about how to better express our new sense of the service in a sound bite. We decided that we would alter the wordmark and add a tagline that succinctly explained us.  Easier said than done. After much debate and discussion we chose the three words you see above: Connect. Preserve. Share. Our mission is to Connect participants to preservation services,. We Preserve digital content and metadata for the long term, and we make it possible to Share that content with each other, and with national aggregators like the DPLA.

So there you go. I just took 300 words to say what we hope our tagline says in just three.

Written by Greg Colati
Reprinted from

‘Blues America’ Documentary comes to the UConn Libraries

One misconception we wanted to clear up is to show the history of the blues is much more than the story of lonesome men playing guitars. — Mick Gold, Director and Producer

A new BBC two-part history of the blues, Blues America, produced and directed by Mick Gold, takes you from W.C. Handy’s encounter with street performers of the blues in the early 1900s, through decades of sounds that defined the genre, to President Obama celebrating the blues in the White House in 2012.

Gold interviewed UConn Libraries donor Samuel Charters for the production, who in 1959 was one of a number of “blues hunters” who went on “a quest to unearth the real blues” during the blues revival that swept the early 1960s.  The research resulted in the pivotal work The Country Blues, book and LP, and an accompanying film “The Blues,” in which Charters chronicled his meeting with musicians in the south. In his interview for Blues America, Charters noted that “it was an incredible adventure. This was one of the most exciting periods of my life.”

“What I wanted to get was the sense of wonder I had that I could knock on a door and the door could open and there would be a man…he’d say come on in, I’ll play for you…and my feeling was, get every voice I can, get every verse I can, get every word I can.”

That interest in documenting and preserving not only blues musicians but also other African American musical genres has led to the Samuel and Ann Charters Archives of Blues and Vernacular African American Musical Culture, donated to Archives & Special Collections at the UConn Libraries in 2000. The collection is known for its blues sources but covers jazz, ragtime, gospel, Caribbean, Cajun and Zydeco and rap and hip hop, from African-American spirituals to Tupac Shakur. The Archives holds thousands of hours of recorded music on LP, 45 rpm and 78 rpm records, compact discs, audio cassettes, and reel-to-reel tapes.

In addition to his own collection, Charters has gathered recordings from the catalogs of record companies started by other music collectors, the complete catalog of Chris Strachwitz’s Arhoolie records, recordings from Bill Belmont’s Fantasy Records and, most recently, the catalog of Gary Atkinson’s Document Records.

“The BBC documentary reminds us that the history of the blues is more complex than we may have been led to believe.  Future hunters who quest for authenticity, or the forgotten, or seek to redefine owe a debt to the collectors of the past.  The availability of sources through the commitment of institutions to insure their preservation over time is in some ways more important than their interpretation.  Future generations of researchers will redefine and reinterpret the blues and, as discoveries have occurred before, they will happen again and again.” — Kristin Eshelman, Curator

Blues America is currently available on YouTube. Blues America, Part 1 “Woke up this Morning”; Blues America, Part 2 “Bright Lights, Big City”

More information about the Charters Archives can be found at:

Nuremberg Trial Papers of Senator Thomas J. Dodd Now Available Online

On November 20, 1945, twenty-four high-ranking Nazis went on trial in Nuremberg, Germany, for atrocities committed during World War II.  The international military tribunals, now commonly referred to as the Nuremberg Trials, represented a critical moment in history, as the first time that the legal system would be used to recognize crimes against humanity.

Courtroom scene, [between 1945 and 1946].

The Nuremberg Trials were conducted by representatives from the United States, the Soviet Union, France, and Great Britain. The defendants, who included Nazi Party officials and high-ranking military officers along with German industrialists, lawyers and doctors, were indicted on such charges as crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.  After 13 trials lasting 10 months, 12 architects of Nazi policy were sentenced to death, seven were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 years to life, and three were acquitted. Of the original 24 defendants, one committed suicide while in prison, and another was deemed mentally and physically incompetent to stand trial. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler committed suicide and was never brought to trial.

Thomas J. Dodd, who had previously held positions in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Justice Department as a Special Assistant to the Attorney General, was requested by the head of the American legal team, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, to join the jurists assembling at Nuremberg.  Much of his interest was due to Thomas Dodd’s success during World War II to uncover espionage and sabotage against the United States’ war effort.

Dodd proved himself invaluable to Justice Jackson, and soon served as Vice-Chairman of the Review Board and Executive Trial Counsel. The latter position made Dodd the second ranking U.S. lawyer and supervisor of the day-to-day management of the U.S. prosecution team. He shaped many of the strategies and policies through which this unprecedented trial took place. Dodd presented portions of virtually every aspect of the prosecution’s case and his papers, which include his hand-annotated notes, were donated to the Archives & Special Collections by the Dodd family in 1994.

uconn_asc_1994-0065_box282_folder7209; Report on the State of WoThe papers contain documentation that can be found nowhere else.  While the official proceedings have been published, Dodd’s papers include, among many other things, hand-annotated drafts of trial briefs, annotated translations of German documents used by the prosecution team to develop the briefs, testimony from pre-trial questioning, and administrative documents pertaining to the conduct of the trial that illustrate how the prosecution carried out its case.

There are approximately 50,000 pages of documents in the approximately 45 linear feet of the Thomas Dodd’s Nuremberg papers.  It will take approximately two years to prepare and digitize this group of the records that comprise only a small portion of Dodd’s entire collection.  The papers were chosen for digitization due to not only the importance of the documents, but also the volume of requests the archives receives from around the country.

“The Dodd Center’s collection is exceptional because it brings together a comprehensive range of trial documentation at one location. The Dodd Papers are a valuable set of historical documents that hold relevance in a range of academic fields, not least human rights and history.” Sarah Coates, Higher Degree by Research Student, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Deakin University (Australia)”

The documents have served as resources for researchers studying topics such as the history of international law, human rights atrocities, and post war justice.  To access the papers, please see

Documenting the Blues | UConn Today

Original story written by Ken Best, published in UConn Today, 8/28/13.
AlbertaHunterAsking musicians about the recordings that influenced their lives often results in the recounting of a story that begins with the discovery of an old record in a bin of LPs in a music store. Listening to the newly discovered sound, which may be an old recording of a long-forgotten performer, sets the discoverer on a musical journey that can lead to a new direction. When such random discoveries are linked over time, it can seem there’s a guiding hand at work.

The chance meeting last year in Scotland of pioneering music historian Samuel Charters and Gary Atkinson, owner of the American roots music label Document Records, completed a decades-long common circle of another kind of musical journey apparently guided by destiny. It has resulted in a major addition to the Samuel and Ann Charters Archives of Blues and Vernacular African-American Musical Culture in Archives and Special Collections at UConn’s Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.

Document Records has donated its catalog of nearly 25,000 recordings to the Charters Archives, including previously unreleased music and other audio media produced by the Edison Co. between 1914 and 1929. The label, based in England, specializes in early American blues, bluegrass, gospel, spirituals jazz, and other rural American genres, and recently began re-issuing vinyl recordings. The Charters Archives holds thousands of hours of recorded music on LP, 45 rpm and 78 rpm records, compact discs, audio cassettes, and reel-to-reel tapes, spanning the entire 20th century. The recordings begin with African-American spirituals, and include the ragtime of Scott Joplin, the blues of B.B. King and Robert Johnson, and rappers such as Snoop Dogg. The addition of the Document catalog helps complete the Charters Archive holdings of traditional blues recordings.


“As I’ve often said, the history of the blues is in the recordings, those 78s that were sold in crossroads general stores or sent through the mail to post office addresses everywhere in the South,” says Charters, who traveled throughout the United States in the 1950s recording and producing blues musicians for Folkways Records, among other labels, and later wrote The Country Blues (Rinehart, 1959) and The Poetry of the Blues (Oak Publications, 1963).

“Some artists still are only a name on the record label,” he adds. “What Document [Records] is doing by continuing to make available all of the blues and gospel recordings made by African-American artists from the first days of recordings in the 1890s to the 1940s and beyond, is to give us that history. I know there is much historical blues material online, but there is nothing to equal what is on our Document shelves. It’s all [in the Archive], every artist you might have heard of, to hundreds you certainly never heard of, from every part of the South and the northern ghettos.”

As a teenager growing up in England, Atkinson began to collect blues records. Some of the earliest records in Atkinson’s collection were the Folkways recordings produced by Charters, who knew of the Document label and had bought its recordings while it was under the original ownership of Johnny Parth, who started the label in Austria in 1985.

“Amongst the first albums I bought were documentary albums compiled by Sam,” says Atkinson of his early passion for collecting blues recordings. “They are the cornerstones of my collection. There is a twinge of excitement when you play them.”

After taking over Document Records from Parth in 2000, Atkinson had some brief correspondence with Charters about the acquisition of the original Folkways recordings by the Document label. At the time, each was busy with several projects and said they intended to get back in touch with the other. The years passed.

Then last year Charters headed to Scotland, to meet his son, also named Sam, and daughter-in-law Heidi, who had been researching the Charters family history and learned of a churchyard in their ancestral homeland with a burial plot for the family. There are two Samuel Charters in his family background. One is a farmer’s son who immigrated to the United States in the early 1800s, from whom the music historian is a direct descendant; and the other is a writer who lived near the farm, who published a literary book in 1794. Charters had been seeking a first edition copy of the book by his namesake for 40 years; he located it in southwest Scotland, not far from the ancestral Charters farm in a storage warehouse for used books, one of a cluster of rundown buildings on a narrow road.

Gillian Rowe and Gary Atkinson, partners in Document Records. (Photo courtesy of Gary Atkinson)

Gillian Rowe and Gary Atkinson, partners in
Document Records. (Photo courtesy of Gary Atkinson)


After securing the book, Charters and his son found Heidi chatting with a woman outside a nearby building with a small, nondescript sign reading: Document Records. The Charters had walked past the building, thinking it was a storage center for government records. After being introduced to Heidi’s husband and father-in-law and learning that the older man wrote books, the woman asked his name.

“When I said Sam Charters, she slapped her hands to her face, swayed, and for a moment looked like she’d lose her balance,” Charters says. “She managed to gasp out that the first book she bought as a young teenager was my ‘The Poetry of the Blues’ from 1963.”

The woman was Gillian Rowe-Atkinson, and they were standing outside of the Document Records storage facility. She immediately took them inside to meet her husband, Gary Atkinson, who upon hearing the name of his unexpected visitor quickly scrambled out of his chair to shake the hand of the man who had produced the first record he had bought as a teenager, a 1957 recording of Blind Willie Johnson.

“It was crazy,” Atkinson says of the chance meeting with Charters. “We’ve kept in touch and since then we’ve begun to work on a few projects. Sam and I are still shaking our heads about it to this day.”

When Charters requested the entire Document catalog for inclusion in the Charters Archive, Atkinson did not hesitate. The catalog includes items such as a 1948 recording of Lead Belly performing at a private party in Minneapolis, a recording of the Tuskegee Institute Singers from 1914, and Norfolk Jazz & Jubilee Quartet’s recordings from 1921 to 1940, as well as recordings by Blind Willie McTell, Sippie Wallace, Ma Rainey, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Skip James, and other notable blues performers whose music influenced the development of contemporary music. The catalog also includes five volumes of the 12-volume set of more than 1,000 transcribed lyrics from the Document recordings compiled by music historian RR “Bob” McLeod. A search is underway for the missing volumes.

“When you are trying to acquire material for longtime preservation, you can’t do any better than getting a collection than from a lifetime collector,” says Kristin Eshelman, curator of multimedia collections at the Dodd Center, including the Charters Archive. “There’s no way you can replicate that on your own, even with the resources of an institution. It means a lot when a man like Sam Charters has these connections in his own field. People know who he is. He can make his own connections for us. That’s why we have the Document, Arhoolie, and Fantasy Records catalogs in our collection.”

The Arhoolie Records label produces blues, Cajun, and other forms of roots music from the U.S. and other nations. Fantasy Records was an important label in the modern jazz era, moving into the rock era with Creedence Clearwater Revival, and then reissuing recordings of major performers such as Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, and Gerry Mulligan. Both labels continue to produce recordings, including contemporary artists.

Charters and Atkinson are working on several endeavors, including the re-release of Charters’ 1962 film simply titled, “The Blues,” a significant but rarely seen film that is highly sought by blues scholars and fans. There are also field recordings from Charters’ 1950s travels through the southern United States that have not been released in their complete form, as well as field recordings made in West Africa during the 1970s that Atkinson will produce to make available for the first time on the Document label.

As Atkinson continues to produce new recordings of early blues musicians that will add to the Charters Archive, another new partnership for Document Records is just beginning, one that will help pass the legacy of blues to future generations.

Document is partnering with Nashville-based Third Man Records, the independent label of guitarist Jack White, to release a new series of vinyl reissues of the complete recordings of the seminal blues musicians Charley Patton (Delta blues), Blind Willie McTell (Piedmont blues), and The Mississippi Sheiks (Country blues). Atkinson says that in his discussions with the musician and producer best known for his work with The White Stripes, White related the familiar story of discovering the blues.

“He told me enthusiastically the first albums he bought as a teenager was a bunch of Document albums. He didn’t know who was on them but what he found on them was a life-changing experience. Until then he had only been listening to rock music,” Atkinson says. “He decided if he was ever in the position to do it, he would produce vinyl.”

Charters says he’s gratified by the interest in the music he was among the first to document, noting that there is an increasing awareness of its importance in American culture.

“I’m pleased that so many people continue to discover this unique and powerful musical style,” he says. “Many of them now understand that this music is also a vital creative expression of people who were denied any other real way to make themselves heard. That is what my work has always been about, and it’s exciting to find other people picking it up and continuing to deepen and enlarge our understanding of what the blues means to the story of America.”

Listen to Ma Rainey sing “Honey Where You Been So Long?

Listen to Leadbelly sing “Old Black Cow.”