Anonymous Copybook

Our new intern, Alondra Morillon, wrote a blog post. Please enjoy!

As a new intern, I wanted to do some poking around in the special collections to acquaint myself with the Fondren Library. In my search, I stumbled across a “copybook,”  which are books intended for others to copy the handwriting that was inside. This little book happened to be full of sermons, letters and fables that were all handwritten in cursive.

Open book displaying cursive writing

The book’s contents were listed at the very beginning, which were also listed in the Fondren Library finding aid page. The sections titled, “Useful and Wholesome Reflections” and “Useful and Amusing Conversations” were what caught my eye initially, but after reading through, the section on “Reflections on Voltaire’s Semiramis” was the most entertaining.

Table of contents in cursive

This little book broke in half when I handled it— the pages were also brittle and falling apart, but the handwriting was still clear and legible. Though, how anyone is expected to copy down this type of cursive is a feat in itself! I wonder if this book was intended for children or for adults. Depending on the subject matter, I’m inclined to believe it was intended for adults or teenagers. 

Showing brittle pages

VHS Digitization

When we have smaller VHS digitization jobs (a collection with 10 or fewer tapes), we can digitize them in-house. We use our laptop, VHS/CD combo player, RCA cable, and a program called Power Director. The output is a mpg video file that we convert to an mp4 using Handbrake.

Laptop in the process of recording sitting atop a DVD/VHS combo

Right now, I’m digitizing a live performance of The Mighty Orq playing at the Artery on January 4, 2008. The video is from the Houston Blues Society records, which are almost fully processed and ready for research.

Huxley and Evolution

As archivists, one of our tasks is reference, not just in-person in the reading room but via email. Over the last several years, we’ve been working with Alison Bashford. She did archival research in the various Huxley collections pre-Covid. While she was finalizing her manuscript, An Intimate History of Evolution: The Story of the Huxley Family, we, more specifically our former processing archivist Gabby Parker, assisted with scanning and reference checking. Amanda Focke assisted in permissions for images for the Huxley papers.

Although this work sometimes flies under the radar, Alison Bashford was kind enough to thank Amanda and Gabby in the acknowledgements. In addition, the gift book Bashford sent will be added to the Huxley rare book collection.

We’re happy that our work could in a small way contribute to greater scholarship.

Blues Society Newsletters

Within the boxes of the Houston Blues Society records is a snapshot of the world of regional U.S. blues and music-related newsletters.

15 Blues newsletters on a table

This grouping of newsletters mainly hails from the mid-to-late 1990s. They offer a glimpse into how the medium fulfilled a need to spread information about performances and engage with small audiences in the years before its generation of readers fully embraced email, message boards, and/or websites. It’s also interesting how many different types of blues societies exist/ed and how many of them loved the name “Blues News.”

The Houston Blues Society records will be fully processed in the couple of weeks.

Emancipation in Mexico

A document in Spanish decreeing emancipation for all slaves in Mexico
Broadside – 1837 Abolición de la esclavitud (Emancipation Proclamation of the General Congress of Mexico)

Celebrating freedom this July makes us think of our neighbor Mexico, who began the process of abolition in 1818 while still part of the Spanish empire. The printed broadside pictured is the declaration of April 5, 1837, in which the Mexican Congress “abolished without exception all slavery in all the Republic.” (They also provided compensation for enslavers’ losses on a case-by-case basis: with the exception of settlers in Texas, who had seceded and later joined the United States as an enslaving state.)

A Night for Guy

Verlon Thompson playing guitar
Verlon Thompson, longtime friend and accompanist to Guy Clark

Last Wednesday, we co-hosted an event with Shawn Parks and Matt Harlan that celebrates the life and musical legacy of Guy Clark. Enjoy these great shots from campus photographer Jeff Fitlow. You can read more about the event from a wonderful write-up by the Houston Press’s Gladys Fuentes.

Matt Harlan playing guitar and singing
Matt Harlan, co-planner and performer
George Ensle on stage
George Ensle – The Woodson has his archival collection.
Libby Koch playing guitar
Libby Koch
Verlon Thompson, surprise guest Shawn Camp, Noel McKay performing, playing guitars
Verlon Thompson, surprise guest Shawn Camp, Noel McKay

To see more images of the event, check out the Rice News post.

The Woodson staff will be participating in a regional conference this week and will be taking a reading room break next while working on collection management. Our reading room and reference services will resume on May 31st.

J. P. Miller and Steven Stayner

Missing sign for Steven Stayner

A few years back the family of James Pinckney Miller donated his materials to us. A 1941 Rice graduate, Miller wrote the teleplay and the screenplay for Days of Wine and Roses and the teleplay for Helter Skelter.

Draft of
Draft of I Know My Name is Steven

In the 1980s, he tackled another true crime topic, the story of the kidnapping and reappearance of Steven Stayner. Our J. P. Miller collection contains drafts of the mini-series, I Know My Name is Steven, which aired in May 1989. It also contains the preliminary research that Miller did with the Stayner family and others related to the case.

Interview questions

Recently digitized tapes from Miller’s collection form part of the research and the larger story for the new Hulu docu-series, Captive Audience: A Real American Horror Story. During the series, actors from the original mini-series lend their voices to transcripts created from the tapes in Miller’s archival collection.

While Woodson materials are used by researchers in different ways, the docu-series was an interesting way for Miller’s research to be re-purposed.

Envelope containing cassette tapes with dates listed. 2 cassette tapes outside of envelope.

Returning back to the original mini-series, it was successful. It received four Emmy nominations and had high viewership. Reflecting on his work, Miller wrote the letter below.

Letter from JP Miller to Ruth Slawson.

Big Walter’s Bullets

A couple of weeks ago Sandy Hickey and Jomonica Phoenix invited me out to a container unit that had the archives of the Houston Blues Museum. One collection in the unit belonged to Big Walter “The Thunderbird” Price. Years ago, it was retrieved by Sandy and Jomonica from a storage unit. It contained all of Price’s possession before he passed.

Leather holster with bullets

Including a holster containing handcuffs and bullets from a .38 special. In addition to being a barrel house piano player and recording artist, Price had a variety of other professions/jobs, such as: record label owner, stage and film actor, crime scene photographer, restaurant owner, and security guard.

Instead of keeping the bullets, I took them to RUPD for proper disposal. Thanks to David Anderson for assistance.

David Anderson inspecting bullets.
Forgive the crazy reflections from the protective glass.

One last note on Big Walter Price, we already had possession of part of his collection from an earlier donation by Hickey and Phoenix. Last fall, I made selections from it to be digitized as part of the grant funded Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) project “Digitizing hidden selections of Houston’s African American and Jewish heritage.” This post won’t be the last on this larger than life man.

The Royal Math Book

Vellum cover with decorative detail
Beautiful vellum cover, which is in good condition

Princes of Orange need to learn math, too, and maybe he/they did using this early-mid 1600s math book. While I would definitely admit that math is not my strong suit, I have to say that none of this makes much sense to me.

There is a little explanatory material about the book in French.

Last used page of book featuring a paragraph written in calligraphy that ends with "fin."

Maybe there’s a bit more information on the last page.

Forgive the dreaded cell phone shadow.

If you want to get into the specifics about the Orange lineage, technically whatever prince or very important child used this, they weren’t technically from the original line. It had ended around 100 years earlier with René of Chalon. If you don’t want to a deep dive into the Oranges, then enjoy some painted doodles.

Impossible Exhibits

We recently updated our exhibits around the library. One which is located in the metal hallway, in the front cases near the main entrance, and the 3rd floor next to the Kyle Morrow Room is in conjunction with Archives of the Impossible conference. If you want to read more about the archives, Wired published an article about Jacques Vallée and his papers.

Inside the Woodson is an example of Covid-related art that has been donated.

Outside Woodson and across from the central elevator are exhibits of James Fraher’s photography for the books Zydeco in Texas and Down in Houston: Bayou City Blues written by Roger Wood. The focus is on the Black women highlighted in the books.

As always, please forgive the exhibit case photos. With all of the glass and without great equipment, they are hard to make pretty.