History goes Digital

Unique histories, scores, photos and letters now digitally preserved and accessible

Digitizing the past

Many Mississippi State graduates can remember the late night hours they spent browsing antiquated volumes along the dwarfing bookcases in Mitchell Memorial Library.

Today, many university library patrons visit library.msstate.edu to browse library holdings, many of which are fully accessible online.
Digital collections are expanding at a phenomenal rate, thanks to the library’s Digital Preservation and Access Unit. As the Digital Age continues sweeping books, journals and other printed materials into archival vaults, the team develops electronic access capabilities for a variety of unique materials.

Newly available digitized collections include:

Digital projects coordinator Randall McMillen said the rare, unique materials digitized and made available online in 2013 are just another step in “future-proofing the past.”

To learn more about the MSU Libraries’ new online digital collection visit digital.library.msstate.edu.

Listening to history

From radio talks by two influential Magnolia State leaders to recordings of longtime employees who worked in an iconic university building, the digitized audio histories available at Mitchell Memorial Library allow patrons to listen to the past.

Mississippi State has long held original reel-to-reel recordings of the weekly radio addresses made by Stennis, who served in the Senate from 1947 to 1989, and Montgomery, who held office in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1967 to 1997.

“The audio tapes are actually in really good shape because they were meant to go out on the radio, so they were professionally produced, then played one time and stored in a good setting,” McMillen said. “Our player, on the other hand, breaks down periodically; you can’t get parts for it, and we’re learning how to fix it ourselves. If you wanted to buy a new one, it would be cost-prohibitive because they were built in the 1970s, and equipment and parts are hard to find.”

Thus, digitizing the Stennis-Montgomery addresses is critical to preserving their first-hand accounts of issues Mississippians faced during the second half of the 20th century.

“Echoes of Lloyd-Ricks-Watson” chronicles oral histories of individuals who worked in the building from its opening in 1929 through its 2010 renovation, said Ryan P. Semmes, archivist at the library’s Congressional and Political Research Center.

Numerous research projects, collaborative efforts and related topics are featured in the more than 40 personal accounts describing day-to-day work at Lloyd-Ricks-Watson, Semmes said.

“It was a lot of fun conducting these interviews and listening to these folks share their memories of Mississippi State and creating this unique oral history available online,” he explained.

Music in time

More than 12,000 sheet music scores representing a wide range of genres are available online, thanks to Charles H. Templeton Sr., a Starkville businessman who donated his collection of ragtime and related American music in 1987.

Since many pieces are in the public domain—not copyrighted—they may be downloaded in full.

McMillen said the digitization project began at the turn of the 21st century when MSU digitizing efforts had a small scope of maintaining only the rarest pieces of various genres. However, when the U.S. Small Business Administration funded a grant to establish comprehensive digitization, the university’s mission expanded.

“We’ve got 100 years of published music available online, and people seem to like being able to download, print and play it, but this collection also has a lot of value beyond that,” McMillen said.

He explained that many of the pieces are no longer in print and feature unique cover art. Overall, the digital Charles Templeton Sheet Music Collection offers researchers, historians, artists and interested individuals opportunity to explore representations of gender, race and culture through music and illustration.

“Now, we’re working to normalize name headings, and we’re going to make the cover art searchable,” McMillen said. “We’d like to have more of an image gallery where people can compare cover images side by side.”

By making the sheet music collection more searchable, its value for historians, musicians and cultural theorists will increase exponentially, he emphasized.

“Now that we’ve got all the music with every unique title scanned, we can focus more on the metadata to make it more accessible than it’s ever been,” McMillen said.

19th-century life

Through digitization and online access, the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library is fulfilling its mission of publicly communicating information about the Union general’s life and times.

Formally housed at Mississippi State since 2012, the presidential library features online holdings including hundreds of photographs from Grant’s three-year world tour.

“We’re really excited about this because this opens a new window into history,” said John Marszalek, executive director and managing editor of the presidential library. “We have a number of scrapbooks, and this is a goldmine of what it was like all over Europe and Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean leading up to the 20th century.”

Not only are pictures of the world’s leaders in 1880 available, many pictures of children, cabinet members and other officials are in the collection.

Additionally, more than 130 letters—the Ida Honoré Grant Correspondence penned by Ulysses S. Grant’s daughter-in-law—were scanned to expand the online availability of the Grant Family Correspondence Collection, said David Nolen, assistant editor for the Grant Library.

“A digital image for every page of every letter in the collection is already online,” said visiting associate editor Robert Karachuk. “The next step is to transcribe the text of the letters and make the content searchable. Then we’ll put together a timeline tracing the course of events and a biographical dictionary identifying the people mentioned in the letters.”

Marszalek, Nolen and Karachuk agreed these materials’ online accessibility makes people more likely to take an interest in Grant’s presidency, as well as visit the physical building at 395 Hardy Rd. in Starkville.

“The longtime function of the Grant Association is to make this information available to everybody, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Marszalek said.

By Leah Barbour, Photography by Beth Wynn
1: The Ida Honoré Grant Collection, part of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Collection, preserves the hand-written letters of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant’s daughter-in-law in a digital, online format. She wrote 130 letters to her mother and sister between 1889 and 1893, when she lived in Vienna with her husband, Col. Frederick Dent Grant, U.S. minister to Austria-Hungary.
2: Online holdings for the Presidential Collection housed at Mississippi State include a variety of personal portrait photographs of state officials that the 17th president and his wife, Julia, collected during their world tour, from 1877 through 1880. She wrote notes on many of the photos, including names and impressions of the individual and his or her family.
3: Ram Singh, Maharaja of Jaipur, is one of many state officials whose photographs Julia Grant, wife of President Ulysses S. Grant, returned to the United States following her and her husband’s world tour, which ended in 1880.
4: All the scores housed at Mississippi State’s Charles S. Templeton Sr. Music Library are now available online. In total, more than 12,000 unique pieces can be downloaded, printed and played.
5: The online world tour photographs from the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Collection include family portraits, as well as those of state officials.
6: Ida Honoré Grant wrote a variety of letters about international 18th-century life.