Author Archives: Kimberly Springer

About Kimberly Springer

Curator of Oral History Center for Oral History Archives Rare Book & Manuscript Library Columbia University

In the alcoves…of your mind with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

The RBML is home to a number of Carnegie Corporation collections, including the records for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) organizational records. The CEIP, established in 1910, was dedicated to advancing cooperation between nations and promoting active international engagement by the United States.

In this post , Steven Witt, an associate professor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, takes a look at The Mind Alcove: “The International Mind Alcoves (1917–1954) aimed to change global perceptions regarding armed conflict and international peace. Central to this goal: the idea that a sustained peace requires cultural understanding engendered by education and exchange.”

handrawn graph of book donations

This handwritten bar chart represents the distribution of approximately 156,000 books under the auspices of the International Mind Alcoves, comprising 1,567 collections spread across the United States and around the world between 1925 and 1951. | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Records, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University

Read the full post on the Carnegie Corporations’ blog.


Marking Juneteenth in the words of formerly enslaved Africans

Mary Freeman, a doctoral student in Columbia’s History Department and a valued student employee here in the RBML, shared a few of her findings related to the Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, holiday.

Mr. D.N. Leathers Sr., Walter Leathers’ Father Celebrating Juneteenth | DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University

Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery on June 19, 1865, presents an opportunity to highlight a rare resource at Columbia’s RBML in the Frederic Bancroft Papers. Bancroft’s notebooks include interviews he conducted with former slaves during trips he took to the South in the early 1900s. Bancroft recorded their answers to questions he asked about their experiences under slavery as well as many of his own observations about life in the Jim Crow South.

During the Great Depression, the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration assembled an extensive collection of narratives told by former slaves. Despite its biases and limitations—the interviews were conducted almost entirely by white researchers, who often used racist dialect to record the words of their subjects—historians have come to rely on the WPA collection as one of the few archival resources that tells the story of emancipation from the viewpoint of former slaves who experienced it. Frederic Bancroft, who received his PhD in history from Columbia, interviewed former slaves during his travels in the South in 1902 and 1907, thirty years before the WPA conducted its interview project. Bancroft used these research notes when compiling his book, Slave Trading in the Old South (1931).

Bancroft’s interviews suffer from some of the same interpretive issues as the WPA sources. Bancroft grew up and was educated in the North, but he, like most white Americans of his time, held racist views. Furthermore, many of his notes are in shorthand, which presents a challenge to modern-day readers. Even so,  they offer a rare glimpse into the experiences and memories of former slaves and their descendants.

Featured oral history | Max Pruss, the captain of the Hindenburg airship

One can’t help but notice the explosion of podcasts available for download from sources both commercial and nonprofit.

The Columbia Center for Oral History Archives fields requests for permission to use excerpts from our oral history collection in radio and podcast productions. In addition to any restrictions or permissions that might apply, as Curator of Oral History, I consider the integrity of the project: will the oral history narrator’s story be served and/or augmented by the production?

A recent example of good use of our oral history collection is this story from the CBC’s podcast, The Hook. Max Pruss, air pilot of the ill-fated Hindenburg. Pruss sat down with, as it was called then, the Oral History Research Office in 1960 as part of our Aviation Project. For The Hook, Pruss’ granddaughter Viola, produced this documentary, Finding Max.

Hindeburg airship crash

Photo | David Erickson | e-strategycom | Flickr


Kent State shootings reverberated on Columbia’s campus

On May 3, the editors of the college newspapers at Brown, Bryn Mawr, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Haverford, Princeton, Rutgers, Sarah Lawrence, and the University of Pennsylvania agreed to publish a joint editorial condemning the American invasion of Cambodia and calling for a nationwide university strike to demand “an immediate withdrawal of all American troops from Southeast Asia.” The editorial said in part:

“We must cease business as usual in order to allow the universities to lead and join in a collective strike to protest America’s escalation of the war. We do not call for a strike by students against the university, but a strike by the entire university— faculty, students, staff, and administrators alike.”


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The Grateful Dead were here at Columbia

In May ’68, responding to a request from student protest organizers, fusion rock band The Grateful Dead played a free concert on Low Plaza. Band member Mickey Hart writes:

Always up for an adventure, we of course, went right along. Since the police and guards were closing off access to the majority of the campus – we were “smuggled” on campus to Low Library Plaza in the back of a bread delivery truck. Equipment and all.

Click through from rare photos and video of the performance.

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Now available | Digitized early issues of The Blue and White

The Blue and White was founded in 1890 as a broadsheet weekly newspaper – looking similar to its competition the then bi-weekly Columbia Spectator.

After 14 issues it changed format and became a monthly humorous and literary magazine. Content included lecture announcements, student poetry, critical essays, illustrations and drawings, and reports of what was happening around the campus, from athletics to campus gossip. Of note is the “Told Between Puffs” column written under the pseudonym of Verily Veritas.

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New in Collections | Comics@Columbia in circulation

Here’s what’s new in the comics and graphic novel collection here in the RBML.

CUNY professor Bert Hansen contributed over six dozen educational comics, from Popeye giving career advice to Mexican biographies.

Materials from Jerry Robinson’s library continue to grow, such as this 1947 guide to the comics business written by a young Stan Lee and illustrated by Golden Age artist Ken Bald.

A colleague contributed funds to help acquire a 1940 New Yorker cartoon by one of my favorites, Richard Taylor.

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Columbia Lions | Frank Diehl Fackenthal

The RBML’s University Archivists feature a different graduate as part of their Columbia Lion series. Learn more information about Lions in the University Archives Collections and on exhibit in the RBML reading room cases. 

“I made the university my hobby and stuck around.
My idea was that somebody had to watch the oven.”
“Oven Watcher,” The New Yorker, 30 November 1946

black and white photo of Frank D. Fackenthal, Historical Photograph Collection, Columbia University Archives

Frank D. Fackenthal, Historical Photograph Collection, Columbia University Archives

Frank Diehl Fackenthal arrived at Columbia in the fall of 1902. It was only the fifth year of the Morningside Heights campus and Nicholas Murray Butler was starting his first year as President. While still a student, Fackenthal started working as a secretary for student employment in October 1905 and would continue to serve the University for the next 43 years. As he used to say, he “came up on the office boy route.” He served as Chief Clerk (1906-1910), University Secretary (1910-1937), Provost (1937-1945), Acting President (1945-1948), and Trustee (1948-1967).

The position of Provost had been vacant for 10 years, but President Butler reestablished the office for Fackenthal to serve as his official second-in-command. After Butler’s retirement, Fackenthal was appointed by the Trustees as Acting President and served in that role during the three-year-long search for a new president. Typical of his work ethic, during his years in the president’s office, it was said that Fackenthal signed each of the diplomas individually, taking a batch of them to Brooklyn with him every night in his briefcase. The 1947 Columbian was dedicated to this loyal alumnus and consummate administrator: “We feel that you have done more than is expected from a man in your office to promote full understanding between the administration, faculty, and the student body.”

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Was your grandfather a Columbia engineer?

At the University Archives we receive a number of requests every year about Columbia alumni: a grandfather, great aunt, parent, cousin, etc. For this purpose, we put together a research guide to help genealogists find information about former Columbia students. The guide offers the most popular or most frequently consulted sources, both online and available to researchers in person in our reading room.

survey with handwriting from 1926

1926 Columbia engineering student survey

We recently processed a collection of materials ideal for researchers interested in former engineering students, either an undergraduate or graduate student, who attended Columbia (whether or not they received a degree), and who were in attendance between the 1860s and 1927: the School of Engineering biographical records, 1926-1927.

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Newly available collections at RBML – April 2018

Head Archivist Kevin Schlottmann shares collections newly opened by RBML archivists.

Sarah Addington papers, 1921-1937
“Correspondence, manuscripts and printed stories by Addington. Sarah
Addington was born in 1891. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree
from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana in 1912. She then studied at
Columbia University. She married Howard Carl Reid in 1917. She was an
author of children’s books and a newspaper journalist.”

Cecile Rose Lehman (Seligman) Papers
“This collection consists of letters, manuscripts, documents,
clipings, photographs, and printed items. The most significant part of
this collection is the letters to Cecile Rose Lehman (Seligman) from
her mother, as well as the letters from Harold Lehman to his
grandfather. There are interesting items regarding Cecile’s education
and a variety of items having to do with the extended family. There is
an album, compiled by Cecile of celebrated actors and musicals, and a
odd volume titled “Thru the Rye with the Harold Lehmans” chronicling
the before and after effects of alcohol (humorous).”

Ben Duncan Papers
“Ben Duncan (1927-2016) was an American-born English writer and
advertising executive. His partner, Dick Chapman (1930-2012), was an
English advertising executive. The collection includes correspondence
Duncan and Chapman exchanged between 1956 and 1957, when Chapman
worked in New York City, away from the couple’s home in England. It
also includes Duncan’s literary manuscripts and published materials.”

Read this extended post about this collection by Celeste Brewer, RBML archivist.

Two additional Thurgood Marshall oral history interviews were
cataloged and opened for researcher access, one from 1980 and another from 1989.