Posts with the tag: William Howard Taft

The Archivist’s Nook: Possums, Presidents, and Digital Curation?

Digital curation only begins with scanning…

Digital curation is a term that has come to reflect the work of many types of archivists and librarians: from Digital Archivist to Metadata Librarian, digital curation is involved. Curation is a word borrowed from the museum field as a way to underscore the fact that Archivists now interpret and select digital objects from their archival collections for presentation to the public, as opposed to simply housing and processing those objects. 

The role of archivist-as-curator has been spurred on by archivists’ ability to both digitize materials and preserve digitally-born objects. This is because digital objects can be widely distributed by way of digital computing and the Internet. So the question then becomes one of how do archivists best digitally curate their materials? If digital curation is the way we select, contextualize, and manage digital content of our archives, here at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, we curate in many ways and for many different types of users. With 208 online finding aids, 39 online collections, 28 online educational websites, 18 online exhibits, and selected materials in our web archive, we create greater access to our digital materials in the ways we situate them in these various contexts. Online finding aids are tools for researchers to get a sense of the scope and contents of collections, while our digital exhibits situate specific digital objects in selected themes and offer some interpretive material for understanding those objects.

The Difference Curation Makes: Working with Context

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the ways curation, context, and interpretation can work together to generate meaning around digital objects is with some examples.

Curation I: Image from the Terence V. Powderly Photographic Prints Collection. The image of what appears to be an opossum is dated by Powderly 1908, though it contains no other explanatory information, so staff labeled this simply “opossum” with that date we posted it as part of the Powderly Photo Collection.

Curation II: This image of President William Howard Taft is also part of the Terence Powderly Photographic Prints Collection. The photo, also taken by Powderly, is dated June 16, 1908 and labeled as Taft but contains no other information. Though we are uncertain as to the location, the setting suggests Washington, D.C., where Powderly lived and where Taft served as Secretary of War and advisor to President Theodore Roosevelt. We also know that Taft served as President of the United States from 1909-1913 and as Chief Justice of the United States from 1921-1930. Additionally, Powderly served in Washington, D.C. as Chief of the U.S. Immigration Bureau’s Division of Information from 1907-1921, a period within Taft’s term as President, so we can surmise that the two were acquainted.

Curation III: This is an image of the photo of President William Howard Taft with a cut out image of the opossum pasted onto it (early Photoshop!). This image is in a scrapbook of Powderly’s called “Family and General Photos.” Archives staff found this image and recalled seeing the opossum photo as well as the Taft image in the collection while processing it. It turns out that when Taft ran for President of the United States in 1908 he wanted to replicate the success of his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, in using an animal—the Teddy Bear—as a campaign promotional tool. So Taft’s campaign came up with “Billy Possum,” which became the candidate’s mascot. Powderly was probably having fun pasting “Billy Possum” onto a photo of his soon-to-be boss!

In short, the information offered by the collection creator, historical context, and the willingness, curiosity, and persistence of archives staff in piecing these bits of data together is the stuff of digital archival curation.


For a list of Digital Collections: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/docuon.cfm

For a List of Digital Exhibits: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/exhibits.cfm

The Archivist’s Nook: On Presidents and Parades – Inaugurations in the Archives

Ticket to the 1937 Inauguration (John A. Ryan Papers)

Every four years, on an often cold and wet wintry day, thousands gather on the National Mall and along Constitution Avenue to witness the peaceful transfer of power, as one President steps down and another takes the oath of office. Being located in Washington, DC, the CUA Archives has naturally accumulated images and documents related to the preparations and events that occur before and on Inauguration Day. While we have a number of photos and articles taken by witnesses to the inaugural ceremonies of Presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Richard Nixon, the highlight of our inaugural materials are Taft’s inaugural in 1909 and Roosevelt’s second inaugural in 1937.

While every inauguration is an historic occasion, the 1937 ceremonies stands out in our collections for being both the first swearing-in to occur on January 20 and the first to have a public benediction. And the person who delivered this first benediction was Msgr. John A. Ryan, CUA alumnus and professor. During the contentious election of 1936, Ryan had delivered a speech defending Roosevelt against the criticisms of radio host and Michigan priest Fr. Coughlin. Being a steady ally and faithful advisor to the President on matters of Catholic outreach and minimum wage advocacy, Ryan was invited by Roosevelt in early January to provide the inaugural prayer.

1909 Inaugural Parade (Powderly Photographic Print Collection)

Thanks to Ryan’s personal involvement in this inauguration – also providing the benediction at the 1945 ceremonies – the Archives possesses a number of documents from the beginning of the second Roosevelt administration. From the tickets and programs to the “President’s Platform” seating chart and a parking pass to get through security, Ryan kept the materials from the inaugural he helped bless.

As far as it being the first January inauguration, the Constitution originally specified that the President be sworn in on March 4. With travel much easier and concerns over the Lame Duck period in both Congress and the White House, the passage of the Twentieth Amendment occurred in 1933, moving Inauguration Day to its current date. The 1937 Inauguration thus marked the first time the oath-taking occurred on a blustery January day.

Of course, it was not the first frigid inauguration! Weather was clearly not a factor in determining the date of the presidential swearing-in. As witnessed in the Terence Powderly Photographic Prints collection, snow was a frequent backdrop to the March ceremonies. The 1909 Inauguration is a prime example that the later date did not guarantee a sunny day in Washington!

Powderly snapped the top photo of the National Treasury staged for the 1917 Inaugural Parade. I snapped the below photo at the same site for the 2017 Parade.

While Powderly worked on-and-off with Presidents from McKinley to Coolidge, his photographs highlight the spectator side of inaugural set-ups and parades. Present in his collection are images of the parades of both Taft (1909) and Wilson (1913, 1917).  The 1909 Inauguration, then held on March 4, witnessed a blizzard the night before. Dumping 10 inches of snow on the city, the storm threatened to cancel the outdoor events, including the traditional parade. While the weather forced the swearing-in to move indoors to the Senate chamber, thousands of city workers labored frantically to clear the parade route. Due to their hard work, the Inaugural Parade proceeded as normal, albeit with many snow drifts visible along the route. (Incidentally, this was also the last year any official Inaugural Ball was held until 1949. When Wilson took office in 1913, he found the concept of galas unbecoming and too expensive and none were held again until Truman’s inaugural.)

No matter the weather – rain, snow, or shine – or the political or social changes that occur, and with or without an accompanying dance, the route of the Inaugural Parade and process of oath-taking has remained a constant in American politics and Washington life.

You can view find out more about the individuals who provide this glimpse into past inaugurations here: