Exhibits Around the Library

Small statue of Doc C - Dr. Gilbert Cuthbertson

August has begun and it will soon be time to welcome everyone (faculty and students) back to campus. They will be now be greeted with new exhibits. Here’s a look at some of them.

Crowdsourcing transcription of historical documents – Location: 1st floor main hallway

This exhibit reveals a new software that we have been using to help small groups and/or the general public transcribe/translate historical documents. If you’ve got time on your hands and want to transcribe William Marsh Rice’s ledgers, we’d love to have your assistance. Click through the gallery to see how you can participate.

Remembering “Doc C” through his collection – Location: 1st floor exhibit case near front entrance

This exhibit, assembled by Doc C Copy Cataloguer, Lauren DuBois, shares highlights that she has discovered while working through his book collection.

Image of exhibit case of Doc C items.

Stewart Alexander Collection: Books and original recordings of trance and physical mediumship – Location: 1st floor exhibit cases outside of Woodson

These two exhibit cases showcase items from the newly acquired Stewart Alexander collection, which makes up part of the Archives of the Impossible.

Beauty from Above: Book Covers from the Anderson Collection on the History of Aeronautics – Location: 1st floor inside Woodson

In case anyone needs a dose of pretty, this exhibit simply puts a spotlight on some of the beautiful books in the Anderson collection.

Image of Anderson book covers in an exhibit case

Fondren Transcription Project continues


U.S. Civil War journal, Nov. 1861 – Feb. 1862, page 7

Staff at Fondren are continuing their work to help the Woodson improve access to the hundreds of manuscripts in the Rice Digital Scholarship Archive (scholarship.rice.edu). The manuscript above is from one of four notebooks, written in the hand of Albert Sherrad Campbell at St. Louis, Missouri, covering the early months of the U.S. Civil War. Included are descriptions of battles and other political and military events.

As of the end of the year, 332 transcriptions (59% of the project total) are now online in the IR. Another 151 transcriptions (26% of the project total) are in the final review process. Many thanks to the staff in Technical Services, Access Services, Reference and Library Administration who volunteered for the project and made this possible.

As a reminder, most of the materials transcribed were chosen to provide resources useful for the Rice University Task Force on Slavery, Segregation, & Racial Injustice. Many of these documents date from the U.S. Civil War and touch on the authors’ opinions at the time on slavery and political issues. It should also be noted that these specific Civil War collections include voices of white authors, and there is a gap in our Civil War collections of African American voices.

Online Exhibit Refresh

Capture of the H. M. Sloop El Vincego, digitally altered with color
Image from our British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars exhibit

Head on over to the page on our blog labeled “Online Exhibits and Story Maps” to find a host of refreshed online exhibits and some new ones, too.

Many of our online exhibits previously lived at the same URL exhibits.library.rice.edu. We have wanted to move each of the exhibits to a unique URL, but were unable to find the time for it in addition to our other duties. In our remote working environment, nit-picky work like creating unique banners, checking URLs, and updating out of date information became much easier to do.

You’ll find information on Dick Dowling, the Abbie Hoffman Incident, and U.S. Civil War Narratives, along with other exhibits that focus on Rice history, local history, and rare books.

Any new online exhibits and story maps will be added to that page. Have fun!

Fondren Transcription Project reaches first milestone

As part of our work from home, staff at Fondren are working to help the Woodson improve access to the hundreds of manuscripts in the Rice Digital Scholarship Archive (scholarship.rice.edu).

Volunteers for the project include staff in Technical Services, Access Services, Reference and Library Administration. With hard work and enthusiasm the team has fully transcribed over 50 historical manuscripts so far. The transcriptions improve access for all our patrons, and enable scholars to more easily use the materials for research purposes such as text mining and geospatial mapping.

Many of the first materials transcribed were chosen to provide resources useful for the Rice University Task Force on Slavery, Segregation, & Racial Injustice. Many of these letters date from the U.S. Civil War and touch on the authors’ opinions at the time on slavery and political issues. It should also be noted that these specific Civil War collections include voices of white authors, and there is a gap in our Civil War collections of African American voices.

From the Aaron Martin U.S. Civil War letters (MS 031)

Aaron Martin letter to Mother, 1862, wrc07777

From the Charles Roberts U.S. Civil War letters (MS 377)

Letter from Charles Roberts to Mother, 1863, wrc07686

From the Capt. Edwin Fosha U.S. Civil War letters (MS 664)

Letter from Edwin Fosha to daughter, 1863, wrc07860

As you can see from the examples, having a transcription included with the pdf of the original letter will make research significantly easier; the letters and their transcriptions can be found using the titles beneath each letter as the search term in the Digital Scholarship Archive.

Davis to Blair to Lincoln

There are many interesting documents in the Kuntz Louisiana Civil War Collection, which was purchased by Fondren Library from Civil War collector, Felix H. Kuntz, in 1967. One of the coolest items in the collection is a letter written to Francis Preston Blair Sr. in 1865.

F.P Blair, ca. 1865. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

F.P. Blair was deeply involved in national politics in the early to mid-19th century. Though a slave holder and member of the Democratic Party early on, he opposed the expansion of slavery and left the Democratic Party to help establish the Republican Party in 1854. 

Blair was a close advisor to President Lincoln during the Civil War but, as a native of Virginia, he was also close to many Confederate leaders, which made him ideal to be a go-between for both sides.

1st page of Jefferson Davis's letter.
From Jefferson Davis to Blair
Parts of two letters on same paper: one by Jefferson Davis and the other by Abraham Lincoln
The end of Davis’s letter and Lincoln’s response.

A letter written to Blair from Jefferson Davis on January 12, 1865, asked Blair to find out if Lincoln would be open to receiving a Confederate representative to discuss “a view to secure peace to the two countries.”

Letter written by Abraham Lincoln, January 18, 1865.
A closer view of Lincoln’s response.

Lincoln responded to Blair six days later, on the same paper, that he had always been open to receiving any representative “with the view of securing peace to the people of our common country.” 

It seems Davis was quite angry that Lincoln used the “our common country” thing.

After more negotiations, agents were selected to represent both sides and the Hampton Roads Conference occurred on February 3, 1865, in Virginia. Unfortunately, no peace deal came out of the conference. The war officially drug on – beyond General Lee’s surrender to General Grant at Appomattox April 9, 1865 – until August 1866 when President Johnson formally declared the war to be over.

Interactive Houston Folk Music Venue Story Map


The Woodson now has a new addition to our Story Maps. We’ve used Esri’s ArcGIS software in conjunction with their Story Map application to create a map that follows the growth and decline of Houston’s folk music scene. Included are photographs of venues, posters, video clips of people describing the places, and some live audio.

If you haven’t checked out our Story Maps on U.S. Civil War Narratives and Journals and Diaries, you are in for a visual treat.

Upcoming Projects


2017 was an incredibly busy year for the Woodson. It included completing an inventory of all of our rare books, creating new online and physical exhibits, growing our fine arts and Jewish history collections, exhibiting the history of Camp Logan, placing the KTRU Rice Radio archive online, co-hosting the Houston Folk Music Archive Celebration with the Friends of Fondren Library, participating in the Oh Project collection, and helping our Fondren Fellow discover and map the hidden bits of information in our Civil War diaries.

Here’s some of what’s coming up in 2018:

  • We’re continuing our participation in the OSSArcFlow project to improve our digital preservation workflows and discoverability.
  • We’re going to be the home base for the Harvey Memories Project. This multi-institutional group will working to document the stories, images, audio, and video related to Hurricane Harvey. We will be taking the lead in digitally preserving any donated items.
  • We will be making new collections available for research from Audrey Jones Beck, Brochstein, Inc., and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston [CAMH].
  • We’ve continued to work with the Chao Center and are expecting new additions and improvements to the Houston Asian American Archive website.
  • Starting last year, we began working on our legacy media backlog. Over the past few months, the old floppies and zip disks have been preserved. Soon, our finding aids will contain descriptions of the files contained on that media.

As we complete some of the projects above and add new ones, we’ll update you on the results. Here’s to a great 2018.

Mapping Civil War Narratives

We are happy to announce that our new mapping project, Mapping Civil War Narratives, is now available online!


This series of maps uses ArcGIS to highlight some of the WRC’s numerous Civil War collections (1861-1865). Researchers can now explore the multiple geographies of over 300 Civil War-era letters. From military operations to disease to courtship, these maps convey the potential of our archives’ diverse stories. You can, for example, follow the particular route of a soldier in the Army of the Potomac through his letters or explore the communication in and out of a single city. Use filters to see where men and women were discussing slavery, politics, battles, or military medicine.

Visit the website to take a tour of these maps. Or, if you are familiar with ArcGIS, scroll to the website’s last page to go directly to our two feature maps.


View the connections between where letters from each collection were sent and received.


Or look at individual locations to see where letters were written, where they were received, and what locations the authors mentioned within their letters during four years of war.


You can explore the collections by mutual themes, as well. See where authors discussed battles, politics, or particular officers.


Part of an ongoing effort under the new Fondren Fellows program, we expect to continue to grow and evolve this project as more and more of the WRC’s collections are added.

We want to thank Christina Regelski, our Fondren Fellow, for all of her hard work over the fall semester. She did more with our letters than we could have imagined.

Happy researching!

Col. Cyrus Smith and the Organ

Colonel Cyrus Burnet Smith

Colonel Cyrus Burnet Smith

A few months ago, our Assistant Head of Special Collections, Amanda Focke, started corresponding with an individual interested in our collection, Colonel Cyrus Burnet Smith U.S. Civil War papers.

Scot Huntington did not start doing research on Dr. Smith’s war career or his groundbreaking medical writings because he studied Civil War history or was a descendant. Instead Huntington found his name (“Cyrus Burnett Smith pumped this organ” 1850-1854) inscribed on the biggest pipe of an organ that Huntington and others had taken apart to restore.

Because of that bit of graffiti from young Smith, Huntington tracked down the man’s origins. Smith originally from North Hadley, Massachusetts attended Berkshire Medical School and graduated in 1859. His graduation thesis became an important text in the 19th century. He outlined the proper way to administer chloroform without asphyxiating the patient.*

Dr. Smith joined the 34th Massachusetts Volunteers in 1862 as Assistant Surgeon. On March 15, 1865, he accepted a commission as Surgeon in the 11th Massachusetts Volunteers, spending most of the Civil War in hospitals in Virginia and the Maryland/D. C. area. He was discharged in Washington D. C. July 31, 1865. After accomplishing so much, poor Dr. Smith died in a fire after his house was struck by lightning at the age of 40.

Scot Huntington used the sources that he acquired from us and others to write, “Wm. A. Johnson Opus 16, 1850: Its History and Restoration” a chapter within the book Johnson Organs 1844-1898 Wm. A Johnson Johnson Organ Co. Johnson & Son: A Documentary Issued in Honor of the Two Hundredth Anniversary of His Birth 1816-2016.

We’re so happy that our small collection helped tell the story of Dr. Smith and an organ.

*Source used: “Wm. A. Johnson Opus 16, 1850: Its History and Restoration” by Scot Huntington

Online exhibit features Autry collection

Autry family on Mirror Lake, Yosemite Valley, California

The Woodson’s latest online exhibit highlights the lives and times of the James Lockhart Autry family.  “Autry Family from the Alamo to Rice University” describes the journey of 4 generations of the Autry family. Included are digitized letters written by Micajah Autry who travelled west from Tennessee to seek out new opportunities in Texas and joined the Texas Revolution. The letters written by Autry to his wife describe the fighting with Mexico. Micajah Autry would fight and die at the Alamo. For his service, Anson Jones, President of the Republic of Texas presented his widow 1,920 acres in Navarro County, Texas. His grandson, James Lockhart Autry II would come to Texas as a young man to study the law and maintain the land.

James Lockhart Autry II would become an influential lawyer and align himself with the burgeoning oil industry in Texas. He was secretary, director, and general attorney for The Texas Company (now Texaco). His family would become prominent Houstonians and lifelong supporters of Rice University. The exhibit includes photographs of Autry House, the first “student center” at Rice, a community house gifted by the family as a place for all students and faculty to gather.

Autry House, Rice Institute

This digitized material forms part of a larger physical collection accessible at Fondren Library, which includes business papers, correspondence, photographs and memorabilia related to the James Lockhart Autry family of Texas (1875-present) and of North Carolina (1832), Tennessee (1824-1840) and Mississippi (1840-1875). These materials show the life style of a family who moved into Texas and played an important role in developing both the social and economic framework of Houston. Finding aid to the collection is available at: http://library.rice.edu/collections/WRC/finding-aids/manuscripts/0003