Reading, Writing and Paper Making

I would like to give a shout out to James Harrigan, Grace Beck and their English 151 Honors professor Dr. Tamara O’Callaghan. James and Grace gave a presentation to the Board of Regents last Wednesday about research they did in the fall of 2016 which they developed into poster presentations for the just concluded Student Celebration of Creativity. It was my honor as University Archivist to introduce James and Grace because they had used some of our digital archival collections to start their research.

James gave a fascinating presentation about the Spencerian method of penmanship for cursive writing which requires a specific posture, method of holding the pen and shaping letters. The lack of present day instruction in cursive handwriting caused concern for the potential future inability to read cursive handwriting and prospective loss of history without that skill. The process of handwriting words versus texting them with our thumbs helps reinforce information in our long term memory. Writing information out by hand used to be a beneficial study technique at exam time.


Sarah E. Reasoner, daughter, to Cyrus Reasoner – April 28, 1865

Grace’s curiosity about a paper watermark led to research on how paper was made in the 19th century. Initially discarded cloth rags were recycled as an ingredient in paper. The Industrial Revolution led to steam powered machines which sped up the paper production process, increasing the demand for rags. As their supply dwindled, technology searched for alternative sources, eventually settling on wood pulp from trees. The process used to remove lignin from the wood pulp causes the resulting paper to be very acidic. Acidic paper is still a problem today. If you have ever seen a news clipping left in a book long enough to make a stain on the adjacent pages that is the acid leaching from the newsprint into whatever paper is nearby. Archives purchase boxes that are lignin free and acid free to better preserve the materials stored within.

By the way, James and Grace were in their first semester of college when they conducted their research using archival documents. This is rather unusual and due to Dr. O’Callaghan who regularly uses archival materials in her classes. We, the archivists who work here, think the Special Collections and University Archives has cool stuff. We welcome undergraduate students, and all researchers who would like to use our materials to come talk with us about your research ideas.  We also think more faculty should bring their classes to visit because we think you don’t know what we have that would relate to your classes. We’re not just your ordinary history archives.

Posted in Special Collections | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Democracy Square LIVE! in the Archives

Join Special Collections and University Archives on Thursday, March 31 from 12:30-1:30pm in Steely Library Room 102 for Democracy Square LIVE!, co-hosted with The Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement. The discussion will examine difficult historical knowledge brought to light in “When Covington, Kentucky Executed an Innocent Man: the Legal Lynching of John Montjoy,” a new exhibit in the Archives Research Room. Katie Bramell,  Public History graduate student and exhibit curator, will talk about her exhibit research and lead a discussion on the complex topics she unearthed during the process.

The exhibit focuses on the case of John Montjoy, an African American accused of the rape of a white woman in Covington, Kentucky in 1935. In this real life version of To Kill A Mockingbird, John Montjoy was convicted by an all-white jury, forced to confess under physical harm, subjected to racial prejudices during his criminal trial and was executed two years later by way of hanging in the courtyard of Covington’s City Hall. The exhibit, using primary sources from Steely Library’s Eva G. Farris Special Collections along with other archival resources, highlights the racial inequalities and injustices Montjoy was subjected to as well as the impact this unfair execution had on the African American community of Covington. The exhibit seeks to engage visitors in dialogue about the larger social effects this case and others like it have on the way we think about history and how we understand inequalities in the justice system in communities across America.

The exhibit will be on display in the Archives Research Room in Steely Library Room 106, beginning March 30. Open public visiting hours are 1-4pm, Monday-Friday.

Posted in events, Exhibits | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New Twists, Old Artifacts

One of the most rewarding aspects of working in Special Collections and University Archives is seeing how users, near and far, connect with the materials that we carefully preserve. They never cease to amaze us with their creativity and scholarship!

Last spring a production company contacted us after discovering an artifact mentioned in one of our online finding aids. The object, a needle threader from the Committee of 500 Records, ties into George Ratterman’s campaign for sheriff of Campbell County, Kentucky in 1961. The production company wanted to feature it in an episode for Mysteries at the Museum, a show on the Travel Channel.

The Claude W. Johnson, Jr. Committee of 500 Records contain organizational records and campaign ephemera from the Committee of 500, a citizen-led group that operated in Campbell County, Kentucky during the 1960s. The group’s goal was to rid the county of organized crime, illegal gambling, and prostitution. The Committee of 500 believed that electing new officials was one of the most effective ways to beat corruption and crime. They supported and helped finance the campaign of George Ratterman, a former NFL quarterback and Fort Thomas, Kentucky resident, for Campbell County Sheriff in 1961. On May 9, 1961, after dinner and drinks with Tito Carinci, a Newport club manager rumored to have mob connections, Ratterman was found in Newport’s Glenn Hotel with a stripper who went by the stage name of April Flowers and arrested by police. After his arrest, Ratterman claimed he was drugged and framed by Carinci. A court found Ratterman not guilty and then conspiracy charges were brought against Carinci and his associates. While those charges were eventually dismissed, the incident had already galvanized support behind Ratterman. He went on to win the sheriff’s office in the November election.

E-Z threader_watermark_72

Ephemera from the Claude W. Johnson, Jr. Committee of 500 Records, Eva G. Farris Special Collections, W. Frank Steely Library

The Ratterman campaign distributed the needle threader as a campaign give-away. It’s attached to a card with the slogan “Let’s Give Vice the Needle/ Vote for George W. Ratterman for Sheriff.” The production company tied the needle threader into their narrative about Ratterman being drugged by contrasting the delicacy of the threader with the evil of vice. In June 2015, the archives hosted the production company for a day to film the object and interviews with staff. The segment, “Dolley Madison, Christmas Truce, Exploding Whale” aired in December. It was a great experience for us to learn how a production company operates and to see how they use artifacts to support, or challenge, a narrative.

Posted in Special Collections | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Portrait of Colonel James Smith

The Fort Pitt Museum, located in Pittsburgh, PA, is currently borrowing the portrait of Colonel James Smith from the Warren J. Shonert Americana Collection in Special Collections for their outstanding exhibit, Captured by Indians: Warfare & Assimilation on the 18th Century Frontier. In a recent blog post, exhibit specialist Mike Burke analyzed the clothing worn by Smith in the portrait and connected elements like the fringe on the hunting shirt to clothing trends among backwoodsmen in the 1760s and 1770s. Read Burke’s blog post at We’re thrilled that Fort Pitt Museum shared their research with us on this unique piece in Special Collections.

The portrait is on loan to the museum through May 2016 for the exhibit.


Posted in Exhibits, Special Collections | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Northern Kentucky University: A Panoramic History

Along with the NKU community, University Archives is celebrating the launch of Northern Kentucky University: A Panoramic History, a new book featuring
panoramic photographs by professional photographer Tom Schiff
along with historical photos of the University. Tonight’s event will take place on the 3rd floor of W. Frank Steely Library from 6-8pm.

Working collaboratively with Marketing + Communications, archivists carefully selected historical images from University Archives’ RG University Photographs to include in the book. We hope you enjoy the selection!

The book, published by the University Press of Kentucky, will be available for purchase at the event and in the bookstore.

Book Cover

Cover of Northern Kentucky University: A Panoramic History

Posted in events, University Archives | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Kentucky Oral History Day Success

We’ve been on a long blog break, but we’re excited to get started sharing our Special Collections and University Archives news again.

On October 21, Special Collections participated in the first Kentucky Oral History Day. Sponsored by the Kentucky Oral History Commission and the Kentucky Council on Archives, the purpose of the day was to improve access to oral history collections and to promote awareness of oral history collection needs and strategies for collection management.

Repositories across the Commonwealth have actively collected people’s stories to document the history of Kentucky and to provide a broader picture of the past than what is in written documents alone. Twelve institutions dedicated staff time on October 21 to specifically work on their oral history collections, including Northern Kentucky University, Berea College, University of Kentucky, Georgetown College, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, and others. The institutions held a lively Twitter conversation using the hashtag #OralHistoryDay to share their experiences and stories.

In Special Collections, we focused our efforts on adding information about our interviews to an online discovery tool called Pass the Word. The tool allows users to search for and find oral histories at over 600 different Kentucky repositories. You can find our interview information by going to, entering “Eva G. Farris Special Collections and Schlachter University Archives” in the search box at the top right of the screen, and selecting search. The tool displays the names of our collections and interviews. Each interview has a title, interviewee name, interviewer name, date of interview if available, and a description of the topics addressed in the interview. In order to listen to an interview or read a transcript, we ask that you visit the Archives Research Room during our public hours.

We Love Oral History sign

We love oral history so we added interview information to Pass the Word.

As a result of the Kentucky Oral History Day, we were able to learn about what other archives professionals are doing to care for their collections, share information about our collections, and promote the value of oral histories for understanding human experiences of the past.

Posted in events, Special Collections | Tagged | Leave a comment