The Archivist’s Nook: What Do the Semitics Department, the Franco-Prussian War, and this Dashing Cat All Have in Common?

Tommy, loyal friend to Clara Barton and patient model, 1885 (Courtesy: National Park Service)
Tommy, loyal friend to Clara Barton and patient model, 1885 (Courtesy: National Park Service)

Now that I have the undivided attention of the cat-hungry Internet, I will admit that the charming cat pictured is not the subject of this post. Alas! I will instead be introducing you to one of my favorite Brookland figures and the painter of this furry portrait, Antoinette Margot. Margot was an artist, humanitarian, and Brookland fixture in the early twentieth century.

Born in 1843 in Lyons, France, she was raised in a strict Protestant Huguenot household. Her early life was devoted to painting, at which she excelled. (It would continue to be a lifelong hobby, as she created images of family members and saints.) Margot, however, wanted to help people, and with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, she volunteered as a nurse with the then-new International Red Cross. It was in this capacity that she met an American by the name of Clara Barton, the legendary Civil War nurse and future founder of the American Red Cross. Over the course of the next several years, Barton and Margot would forge a close relationship, as they witnessed the horrors of the conflict and became roommates after the war.

Margot, ca. 1880. (Courtesy: Library of Congress)
Margot, ca. 1880. (Courtesy: Library of Congress)

When Barton departed to America in 1873, Margot returned to her parents’ home in Lyons, where she underwent a spiritual conversion. Upon joining the Catholic Church, she entered a convent in 1874. Ill health and familial pressure forced her to leave the religious order in 1877. After this taxing experience, she made her way to the United States in 1885, moving first to New York and later to Washington, DC with Barton.

Proving the old adage that one should never room with one’s friends, religious differences and conflicts of personality quickly emerged between the two. Parting company with her wartime colleague, Margot struggled to adopt to her new country, eventually finding a home in the Brookland neighborhood.

Focusing her energies locally, Margot settled in the neighborhood with Leonid Delarue, purchasing land and constructing a house – named Theodoron. The two woman, along with Delarue’s mother, moved into the house in 1891. With no local parish in Brookland, local residents often attended mass at the nearby Caldwell Chapel on the new Catholic University campus. Shortly after moving into Theodoron, however, Margot offered space in her house as a chapel for Catholic services. Her newfound friend, Semitic Languages professor and fellow Lyons native Fr. Henri Hyvernat, would sometimes offer these services.

“The Chapel – Miss Margot’s House,” ca. 1920. Note this is not inside Theodoron, which Margot donated to Hyvernat to use as the Institute of Christian Oriental Research, but in her second Brookland home, Villa Maria (Antoinette Margot Papers, CUA Archives)
“The Chapel – Miss Margot’s House,” ca. 1920. Note this is not inside Theodoron, which Margot donated to Hyvernat to use as the Institute of Christian Oriental Research, but in her second Brookland home, Villa Maria (Antoinette Margot Papers, CUA Archives)

Together, Hyvernat and Margot helped fundraise and advocate for the creation of a neighborhood church. By providing the impetus for the founding of this new parish, christened St. Anthony’s, Margot left an indelible mark on the neighborhood. At the suggestion of Cardinal Gibbons, when the church was dedicated in 1896, it was even named in honor of Antoinette Margot’s contributions.

Over the remainder of her life, Margot would become a fixture in the Brookland neighborhood, passing away in 1925. Her longtime friend, Hyvernat, would act as the executor of her estate. Like her famous colleague, Miss Barton, Margot experienced traumatic upheavals in her life and suffered from serious bouts of depression, but as evidenced by the large number of photos she kept of friends and her beloved neighborhood, she continuously cared for those around her.

There are always surprises when searching through an archive – unexpected collections, strange letters, or beautiful artwork. For me, discovering Margot’s papers was an exciting moment. One of my first archival experiences was volunteering at the American Red Cross archives in DC. In the process, I learned a lot about the life of the Clara Barton and her many exploits. I also happened across the name of Antoinette Margot, a shy and devout French woman Barton had befriended. Therefore, getting both sides of their complicated relationship was illuminating! In addition finding paintings of cats, these are the types of connections that make archival work amusing.

Digital Scholarship @ CUA: Digital Humanities in the Library

dhlibraryLast March, the Catholic University of America embarked on a voyage of digital humanities discovery. We had our first DH cross campus inaugural meeting, involving faculty, students, librarians, archivists, curators, and administrators. We outlined our individual and institutional challenges and focused on our needs going forward. Consequently, in the fall 2015 semester, we will begin having workshops on collaborating on our projects, exploring new software, and in general, getting to know each other. Stay tuned!

Our roles as librarians has changed rapidly over the past few years. Once just keepers of print warehouses and guides for library tours, we have now become harbingers of change agents across the entire scholarly communication paradigm. Subject (or liaison) librarians that have experience and knowledge in subject expertise, information literacy and research skills, collection management skills, and collection development, have a foundation on which to make contributions to digital humanities scholarship. The big question is, ‘Where to begin?’

Digital Humanities in the Library: Challenges and Opportunities for Subject Specialists is a long overdue addition to the burgeoning interest in digital humanities by librarians. Edited by Arianne Hartsell-Gundy, Laura Braunstein, and Liorah Golomb–all humanities librarians in their own right–the work is designed specifically for subject/liaison humanities librarians who are seeking ways to collaborate with scholars and students on a wide variety of projects, and it provides an overview of the challenges and opportunities that abound at any institution, whether at a two-year college or at a research institution. The book is divided into four parts: 1) the first part discusses why librarians should acquire DH skills, 2) ways one can get involved, 3) the issues of collaboration, spaces, and instruction, and last, 4) conceiving, implementing, and maintaining a DH project.  The fourteen chapters have been written by a variety of specialists: DH librarians, social science librarians, archivists, editors, faculty, graduate students, and others. The chapters range from practical advice (e.g. a checklist for DH scholarship), to case studies (e.g. librarians teaching DH in the classroom) to theoretical/philosophical discussions (e.g. literary critical theory as it pertains to DH).

Librarians should acquire DH skills for a number of reasons, as outlined in the opening chapter ‘Traversing the Gap: Subject Specialists connecting Humanities Researchers and Digital Scholarship Centers.’ Katie Gibson, Marcus Ladd (a CUA alumnus), and Jenny Presnell argue that there are many DH roles that a librarian can adopt depending on the type of model (i.e. service, lab or network) existing at one’s institution.  They advise being proactive in your endeavors, seeking out opportunities and collaborators rather than having scholars and students come to you. Being involved early in the project planning process, educating scholars about the services that the library can provide, adding subject expertise when necessary, and networking across campus to make resources available for scholarly support, are only a few of the roles librarians can adopt in implementing digital scholarship standards at their institutions.

The projects that stem from the mission of the university often have the greatest chance of success.  If the college or university has limited resources and is strapped for funding, the right incremental changes put in place by librarians can have significant outcomes on the creation and maintenance of DH projects. Judy Walker provides a case study of this approach at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte in ‘Digital Humanities for the Rest of Us.’   The local history project, New South Voices, was a collaboration that included librarians, faculty, students from various departments as well as community organizations. In order to do this with no new money, the Digital Scholarship Lab (DSL) was created by reorganizing the existing staff expertise and by having the staff match the needs of faculty and students with the liaisons and IT staff who possessed the best suited particular skills and knowledge sets.  Walker discusses the type of collaboration one can be involved in, from hosting a THATCamp to workshops on tools to creating an open access journal, Urban Education Research and Policy Annuals.  It is interesting to note that the creation of DH projects emboldened others to reach out to the librarians. For example, the aforementioned journal led to the creation of an undergraduate psychology journal and two education journals.  The DSL staff set up the publications and trained the staff. As Walker notes, ‘Librarians are great at finding and organizing information and resources. What we haven’t done in the past, though, is share our tools and expertise.’ Implementing DH projects is not without its challenges. Faculty and administration who are skeptical of the digital humanities (whatever ‘that’ is), its relevance, and in large part, the role of librarians in research endeavors, serve to undermine scholarly endeavors. Copyright, open access, scholarly publishing, working with datasets (i.e. finding, using, storing and curating datasets), are just some of the challenges facing librarians.  Working with the university IT staff on issues of security and access is another issue. In addition, librarians and library staff  are often unwilling or unable to adopt or keep up with the changing needs of their constituents. Hence, the need for this book!

What I found refreshing about this work is the honesty of the librarians discussing their trials and tribulations in bringing forth a project and candidly writing about what worked and often more importantly, what did not work. Liorah Golomb’s ‘Dipping a Toe into the DH Waters: a Librarian’s Experience,’ serves as a model for curiosity and fearlessness. Golomb writes of her experiences at the University of Oklahoma, moving from an attendee of DH conferences and workshops to actively working on text mining the dialogue from the TV series Supernatural. Preparing a feasible research question, collecting the raw data, preparing the data for analysis, and selecting the right tools throughout the process, are essential steps in the research process that can have potential pitfalls. Golomb offers some tips:  define your goals, understand how to work with your data and if you are unsure, find someone who does understand, determine how to gather your data (discover whether is exists elsewhere can be a real time saver), and last, keep in mind that failure is always an option and not necessarily something to be shunned.

I teach a course in digital humanities in the Department of Library and Information Science at Catholic University. I tell my students to try new things and to not be afraid of failing at something. To quote Jake the Dog:

Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.” — Jake the Dog

Reading Digital Humanities in the Library for practical advice and real-world examples is that first step towards ‘being sorta good at something.’

News & Events: June 29, 2015

Fireworks over the Lincoln Memorial and Washington MonumentHoliday Closings – Please note that Mullen Library and all campus libraries will be closed on Friday and Saturday, July 3 and 4, in observance of Independence Day. Mullen Library will be open 1 – 5 pm on Sunday, July 5.

Ongoing Stacks Shifting – Please remember that we are in the process of shifting large portions of the main stacks in Mullen Library to help make them easier to navigate and browse. If the title you are after is not where you expect to be, look for directional signage that should help you find it. You may also stop by the Information Desk so a member of our staff can help you track it down.

Ask a Librarian – Have a quick question about the library’s resources or services? Try Ask a Librarian to chat with one of our librarians.

The Archivist’s Nook: Digital Footprints of CUA Blue and Gray

The Catholic University of America (CUA) did not yet exist during the time of the Civil War (1861-1865). However, the land that would eventually house CUA and the surrounding Brookland community experienced some of the war’s bitterness, though thankfully little in the way of bloodshed.

Fort Slemmer in Color, 3D
A colorized and stereoscopic image of Fort Slemmer. For 3D effect, cross your eyes until the images overlap in the center and refocus on center image.

On the northern end of the present CUA campus behind Marist Hall, on a knoll covered with trees lies the remains of the Civil War era Fort Slemmer, featured as a key part of CUA’s Historic Walking Tour.

The fort was part of the northern flank of a complex system of fortifications to defend the nation’s capital from Confederate attack (for more information see National Park Service site). Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Digital Footprints of CUA Blue and Gray”

Digital Scholarship @ CUA: Newly Published

DateSign_May15_June16Newly Published will periodically highlight research produced at The Catholic University of America. These entries are indexed from the Web of Science (Arts & Humanities Index; Social Science Index; and Science Citation Index.) The entries below were indexed from May 14 – June 16, 2015.

Continue reading “Digital Scholarship @ CUA: Newly Published”

The Archivist’s Nook: Trashing the Trailers – A Short Genealogy of a Space

trailer being removed
Trailing into the sunset. Perhaps not as (un)dramatic as it looks, however: The trailers were gutted and many of the furnishings were donated to Community Forklift for discount resale and to other charitable organizations serving homeless veterans.

University archivists save university stuff.  Our mission entails preserving university-related historical materials that enable us to make observations about our school across time.  This includes the physical space of CUA.  The Archives holds files and blueprints detailing the history of most every building of the University, and even some that no longer exist.

Which brings me to the recent trashing of the trailers.  Back in the 1990s, twenty-six trailers were placed on Curley Court to house an overflow of students—this was before the grand Opus Hall was built to accommodate the incoming numbers.  This past March, however, it was time to remove those trailers, and especially for those of us here on the upper campus who pass by the units daily, it was something of an event. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Trashing the Trailers – A Short Genealogy of a Space”

Digital Scholarship @ CUA: Link Rot

Libraries care about “discovery” and usage statistics to justify the high costs of scholarly resources.  Libraries also deeply care that these scholarly resources can be discovered and used for generations to come. The Internet has made the art of curation much more complex. CUA Archivists have elegantly written about their new dark arts of digital curation:

Last week the topic here was persistent identifiers and all the players in the scholarly ecosystem. This week we reiterate why this is important, as we look at scholarly products. Continue reading “Digital Scholarship @ CUA: Link Rot”

News & Events: June 15, 2015

Dissertation Boot Camp – The Writing Center, in conjunction with the Graduate Student Association, is hosting their Annual Summer Dissertation Boot Camp June 15-19 in Mullen Library’s FYE Reading Room on the second floor. This is a unique opportunity for Ph.D. candidates to make progress on their work, to build community with fellow dissertators, and to reflect on productivity and long-term project goals. For more information, please visit

WRLC Newsletter – The June edition of the Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC) Newsletter is available, featuring a story about the opening of the consortium’s new third shared collection facility. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this page.

Upcoming Network Outage – Network maintenance will be performed from 8 p.m. Saturday, June 20, to 4 a.m. Sunday, June 21, resulting in an outage campuswide for both wired and wireless connections. You will still be able to connect to Internet sites through your cellular service or connect to local servers that reside on campus. During this brief outage, the following resources should remain available:

SearchBox for articles, books and more:
WRLC Classic Catalog:
Database lists:
Research guides:
My Library Account:

The Archivist’s Nook: Monsignor Furfey’s “Reindeer” Games

1927-28 CUA basketball team
1927-28 CUA basketball team

When I was hired as audiovisual technician at ACUA in February (after serving as a graduate assistant for two years), I was greeted by John Shepherd (his eyes twinkling with a devilish glee) with my first assignment: processing the athletics department collection. Do you remember being asked by your parents to clean your room as a kid, and you had no idea where to begin? Well, this request was akin to that, only with box scores and rosters instead of GI Joes. However, it has given me the chance to discover some hidden treasures among the papers. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Monsignor Furfey’s “Reindeer” Games”

Appy Hour: Coursera

App: Coursera  Coursera icon
By: Coursera
Price: Free
Device: Reviewed on an iPad

Coursera is another comprehensive app that allows users to access free and in-app purchase content from universities and experts from around the world.

This app is very intuitive and sleek. There are only three functions on this app, which makes using it easy. There is the search function, a home function, and the options function.

When I open the app, I am brought to the search function. Coursera allows you to browse by discipline or search keywords. While browsing courses, I noticed a lot of overlap. For example, I’m not sure why “Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills” is under the Medicine discipline. Coursera seems to make it look as though they have more content than they actually offer.

However, the courses they do offer are broad and in depth. After you register for courses, you can view your courses from the home function. Here, your courses are listed down the right navigation. After you click on a course, the content picks up where you last left the course. In addition to the video lectures, many of the courses from academic institutions include activities and exams.

All of the course are up to date and you can preview upcoming course that have not yet been released.

Overall, Coursera offers a good bit of supplemental courses for your education and is easy to use.