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.

Primary Source Literacy


Recently, we taught primary source literacy skills to students in Sophia Hsu’s FWIS 191. Literature and Public Health. The students looked at newspaper clippings, photographs, fliers, and other pertinent documents to get  a sense of how members of the administration, faculty, and students viewed the event. They also heard the voices of some of the major players including Dr. William H. Masterson on his megaphone, Dr. Clark Read speaking his mind, and Bari Kaplan explaining events from a student perspective.

In the class, the students first considered the differences between primary and secondary sources, identified the subjectivity of the archival items on their tables, and extracted information from the items, like key players and power relationships.


After these exercises, the groups looked at the primary source materials that they will be working on for the semester, which includes a few items from the McGovern Historical Center and the Woodson’s Encyclopédie and the Vince Bell collection.

If you are interested in us doing the same for your course, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Images used: “Rice University students and faculty protesting outdoors during Masterson presidency controversy, wearing “It Can’t Happen Here” signs.” (1969) Rice University: http://hdl.handle.net/1911/75392.

Disaster Recovery


The Woodson Research Center and its collections on an off site suffered no damage from Hurricane Harvey. We sincerely hope that you and yours made it safely through the storm.

If you did suffer any damage, we are sorry. If you are dealing with recovering precious items or know someone who is, we have created a research guide filled with information and tutorials.

We are doing a little bit of disaster recovery of our own. Melissa Kean brought in damp materials from the United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston on Greenwillow St. We took the wet paper out of its binder and spread out the pages to dry.

Book Inventory Madness


As a way to whip ourselves into shape, we’re scanning all of the barcodes on our more than 36,000 books.


We scan the barcode with the wand. If the barcode works, then it is logged in the inventory. If not, we get an error message.

We want to make sure that all of our books:

  • have barcodes
  • the barcodes are linked to their corresponding record
  • find any other problem children

While the work has been a little slow, we’re moving along at a pretty good clip. We’ve also had a lot of help from Access Services.

KTRU Tuesdays: Major Milestones

Two major milestones have been reached.

A) Metadata has been created for all of the KTRU tapes including 2-track reels, cassette tapes, and DATs.

B) The finding aid has been updated with descriptions of each tape. Below is an example for one tape


and another.


Next, each of the files will have this metadata embedded into the WAV and MP3 files. That will happen over the next few weeks. After that, the files will be separated into those that can go online and those that will only be available for listening in the reading room. There are many more small steps to go, but the end result will be a large chunk of KTRU audio online.

We’ll keep you posted on our progress.

Freshmen in the Archives

This semester members of the Woodson have worked closely with professors who teach Freshman Writing Intensive Seminars (FWIS). It has been a great experience and a wonderful way to introduce new students to primary sources.

Amanda Focke helped with Sophia Hsu’s FWIS class, “Literature and Public Health.” Hsu’s students worked on archival research projects that culminated in multi-media group presentations and papers. In particular, the students worked with the human anatomy engravings in one of our most popular Enlightenment era rare books, Diderot’s Encyclopedie (published 1751-1766). This would have been one of the first scientific views of the human body published for a general audience. The students considered the following questions. How accurate is it? What did we know about the human body at that time?

Student looking at "The Psychiatric Bulletin"

Student looking at The Psychiatric Bulletin

Students also explored the journal known as the Psychiatric Bulletin: for the physician in general practice (1950s), full of dramatic illustrations, as well as the role of Rice Institute in the development of the artificial heart (late 1960s) as described in newspaper accounts. The students enjoyed the creative spark which using these fascinating primary sources gave to their writing tasks.

Norie Guthrie worked with two classes this semester: Burke Nixon’s “Medical Humanities: Literature, Medicine and the Practice of Empathy” and Dr. Andrew Klein’s “Popular Music and American Culture” course. Rice News did a wonderful write up about singer-songwriter Vince Bell visiting Nixon’s class.

For Dr. Klein’s class, singer-songwriter Richard Dobson spoke to the students about how he became a songwriter, his participation in Houston’s folk music scene, the craft of songwriting, and the current state of popular country music. The class also explored some of our collections from the Houston Folk Music Archive in an effort to understand how primary sources informed their ideas of this music scene.

As a final project, Dr. Klein’s students created websites about a specific scene and/or subculture. Two of the students made websites about the Houston folk scene and used a variety of primary and secondary sources in our collection. We can’t wait to see the results of their work.

Phrenology – bumps on your head defining your aptitudes?


Phrenology model and Human Skull

Phrenology model and Human Skull

The Woodson Research Center is collaborating with Rice’s Humanities Research Center and the Houston Academy of Medicine – Texas Medical Center Archives to host local high school students on field trips to Rice exploring the medical humanities.

Lecture portion of the field trip
Rachel Conrad Bracken, a Civic Humanist Fellow at the Humanities Research Center, has developed a lecture entitled “Diagnosing Deviance: How Social Norms Influence our Definitions of Health and Disease,” with the 19th century science of phrenology as a case study to “explore how cultural understandings of race and gender biased medical diagnoses and popular perceptions of “ideal” facial features. ”

Archives portion of the field trip
After Rachel’s lecture and discussion, the students gather in one of Fondren’s collaborative spaces, and have a hands-on experience with archival materials which relate to phrenology and other outmoded models of medicine.

Phrenological chart

Osterhout Phrenological chart

From the Woodson Research Center, the John P. Osterhout Phrenological Chart (https://scholarship.rice.edu/handle/1911/27054) shows a 19th century doctor’s evaluation of Mr. Osterhout, measuring his relative powers on a scale of 1-7, and suggesting appropriate careers for him. Strangely, even though he was rated as having a low level of perception and memory of sizes, it was suggested he might be a good mechanic.

Another example from Woodson includes the Mirabeau B. Lamar travel journal of 1835, in which Lamar (who went on to become the second president of the Republic of Texas) describes a speaker in a local church on the topic of phrenology, and whether one can tell from the shape of a man’s head whether he will commit murder (Lamar journal, pg 12).

Students examining phrenological materials

Phil Montgomery and students examining phrenological materials

The Houston Academy of Medicine – Texas Medical Center Archives, represented by Phil Montgomery, brought a phrenological model, a human skull from their research collection, and handed out blank charts for the students to use in trying their own analysis.

Phil also brought a variety of older medical tools such as an early surgery kit, a lancet for bleeding patients, and an early electric shock therapy tool.

The students really enjoyed seeing the tools of the trade for these outmoded medical models and were inspired to include archives in their future research. Seeing the original tools in person helped the students see how seriously these concepts were in their day, even as we see them now as quack medicine. To quote Rachel’s lecture, “by learning to recognize the flaws in outdated models of medicine and anatomy, students can begin to see how contemporary medicine, too, is shaped by the diagnostic technologies and scientific knowledge available to us—knowledge always mediated by our culture and subject to change.”

New Exhibits: Houston in 1912, Jesse Jones, and Historic Postcards

Woodson Research Center has several new exhibits now on display in Fondren. One of our fantastic student workers, Camille created two exhibits this fall. In the Lovett Lounge on the 3rd Floor, Camille created an exhibit focusing on Houston in 1912.


View of downtown Houston in 1912

Camille also created the exhibit in the cases outside the Woodson Research Center about the Sallyport. The Sallyport was once a central spot for socializing in Rice’s early days, but now Rice undergrads avoid walking through the Sallyport except for Matriculation and Commencement or else risk not graduating within 4 years.

view through Sallyport

View through Sallyport on opening day of Rice Institute, October 6, 1912

“From Tennessee kid to Texas businessman: the Story of Jesse H. Jones” selections from the Jesse H. Jones Family and Personal Papers are displayed in the cases near the east entrance of the library. Through images and memorabilia, this exhibit chronicles the life and times of Jesse H. Jones from childhood to his political career during both world wars in Washington DC among the powerful and elite. Images of the many buildings he constructed, owned and operated in Houston are highlighted.

In the 1st floor hallway, “Postcard Charm at Rice” features historic postcards of Rice’s campus.

Residential Hall for Men postcard

Residential Hall for Men, Rice Institute, 1912

Taking Care of Digital Collections

Last week we covered how we take care of physical collections. This week we’re moving onto digital items and collections.

There are three different scenarios for dealing with digital collections: donors donate analog media that we digitize; donors send us digital files via the internet; donors send us digital files on older media. Let’s explore how we handle each of these scenarios.

Scenario 1: Donors donate analog media that we decide to digitize.


As noted in last week’s post, we take note of the different types of media in a collection. If we find analog items (VHS, reel-to-reel audio, reel-to-reel film, BETA, etc,), then we decide if they are candidates for digitization. If they are, depending on the media type, we either digitize them in-house or send the items to a company like The Media Preserve or Scene Savers.

After the media has been digitized, we follow some standard in-house digital preservation steps.*

  1. We keep high quality master files (.wav, .avi) and lower quality access copies (.mp3, .mp4) that patrons might use.
  2. If possible, we embed metadata in the files. Basically, when you write information on the back of a photograph, you are adding metadata to it. We do something similar, but the metadata is inside the digital file.
  3. We run a variety of reports on these files to extract information from them, like a video’s running time, type of file, creation date, etc.
  4. We bundle up that information in a grouping of folders/files called an AIP (archival information packet). We create two aips: one for the masters and another for the access copies.
  5. We save them on a secure server.

*Note: This is a bird’s eye view of what we do. These steps are much more involved than what you read here.

Scenario 2: Donors send us digital files via the internet.


We receive digital files via email, Dropbox, and Google Drive.

  1. For items donated in this way, we generally save the donation as it was submitted.
  2. We make a copy of the files and start to process them.
    1. For some files, we might need to convert them to a stable format. For example, Microsoft updates Word and sometimes older files can no longer be read. We would convert a Word file to a .pdf, which won’t have readability issues in a few years.
    2. We will look at all of the files and look for duplicates and files that are not relevant to the collection. We will delete these files.
    3. If needed, we organize digital files into folders.
    4. We might also give them new names. A folder filled with .jpgs with the name DSC####, we might give it the name “Paris” + a sequential number. If the photographs are of a trip to Paris, then the file name is a bit more descriptive and the sequential number helps keep them more organized.
    5. After everything is organized we move on to following our steps in scenario 1.

Scenario 3: Donors send us digital files on older media.


When we receive collections, there might be digital files on CDs, thumb drives, hard drives, DVDs, floppy disks, Zip disks, etc. All of these media are fragile and the files on them can become corrupted over time. With these items, we follow another workflow. If there’s a kink in this one, which happens from time to time, then we follow our workflows above.

  1. We use our BitCurator machine to look at the files on the piece of media. This means plugging our floppy disk reader into the computer and placing a floppy disk from the collection in the reader.
  2. If the floppy disk still works, then we create a disk image of the files. Basically, it creates a copy of the files and puts them in a wrapper to protect them for the long term.
  3.  We run reports on the files via BitCurator. These reports are similar to ones run in Scenario 1, but they provide a bit more information.
  4. After that, we make another copy of the files**, and then process them the same way as in Scenario 1 and 2.

**It should be noted that if a floppy disk contains a few Word files that could easily be printed out and added to the physical collection, then we will do that. In that case, from a time perspective, it doesn’t make sense for us to follow digital preservation steps.

We hope all of that makes sense and gives you a better sense of what we do behind the scenes. As with anything digital, over time our workflow will be tweaked and new digital preservation software might come on the scene to make this easier. Digital preservation steps vary institution to institution based on what kinds of software they have and what workflows they have established.