The varied research interests of Charles Heiser

Charles B. Heiser, August 1988. (P0030550)
Charles B. Heiser, August 1988. (P0030550)

Charles Heiser was a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Botany Department from 1947-1986. He received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Washington University in St. Louis in 1944, and his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1947. Heiser joined the faculty at Indiana University in 1947 and was honored as a Guggenheim Fellow in 1953 and an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow in 1962.

During his professional career, Heiser served as president of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, vice president of the Society for the Study of Evolution and as a council member for the Society of Economic Botany. Heiser was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, a prestigious distinction given only to the top scholars in the field. Other awards include the New York Botanical Garden’s Henry Allan Gleason Award and the American Society of Plant Taxonomists Asa Gray Award.

How to write a letter of recommendation
How to write a letter of recommendation

As a well-respected authority in the field, Heiser established a network of colleagues. Many of the files in this collection contain 40-50 years of correspondence with these peers. This length of time provides ample opportunity to share personal life stories. While the pieces of communication relate in some way to a research project, several close friends sent research of a different kind. “Fun” articles like the one on National Pun Week or the how-to article on writing a recommendation letter can breathe life into a collection of papers.

Heiser spent many years as a consultant for Tabasco, the pepper sauce company, conducting research on the variety of pepper used to make the sauce. The company was disputing a copyright issue with a Canadian company that marketed a similar sauce with a similar name. Ultimately, the dispute came down to the naming conventions for the varieties of capsicum, since there is a species commonly referred to as Tabasco. Heiser also worked to determine which countries could not grow the variety of pepper, and therefore possibly establish a trademark for the region.

The collection is filled with information on the unexpected uses of the plants Heiser studied. Gourds, for example, were sometimes used as penis sheaths or musical instruments. Boats can be made from totora. Capsicum could be used as a weapon. Other unique items in the collection include a box of seeds–mostly from gourds. One small canister contains numerous seeds from a tobacco plant–originating in 1657!

For further information on Dr. Heiser and his papers, please see the finding aid!

Tablets in 1993?

More than 20 years ago, the Indiana University Center for Excellence in Education was committed to researching and developing an electronic textbook. They envisioned the device as “lightweight, clipboard-sized computers with built-in lessons, review drills, and data banks of reference materials.” In a time when computers were quite large and not mobile, the concept was radical and certainly before its time. The following representation depicts a typical work environment of the early 1990s:

Computer technology in the early 1990s.
Computer technology in the early 1990s.

The monitors and computer towers occupied the space of an entire desk. Did technology advanced enough even exist for the researchers of the Center to develop the tablet-sized computers they envisioned? In actuality, yes. It was surprising to learn that tablets have been around since the early 1990s and conceived as early as the 1960s.

In 1992, the Center for Excellence in Education acknowledged the impact technology would have in the future: “The advantages of computer presentation are so great that we must accept that, in time, textbooks as we presently know them will largely be displaced.” Unfortunately, however, a tablet was not the result of any of its research projects. Instead, they worked to develop virtual textbooks using the technologies that were available at the time. The model, called Papyrus 2, was a hypermedia application that combined course content, instruction and support. The software package was built to allow students flexibility and encourage exploration when working through the course content.

Would you like more information about this and other related projects? Contact the Archives about access to the Indiana University Center for Excellence in Education records, Collection C550!

Russian and East European Institute, leader in area studies

We are pleased to announce that there is now a finding aid available for IU’s renowned Russian and East European Studies Institute! A major research institute on the Bloomington campus, the REEI was proposed in 1957 based on a need to restructure and combine the existing departments of Slavic Studies, the East European Institute and Uralic/Asian Studies. The proposal indicated that the undergraduate programs would be discontinued and the institute would only award graduate certificates.

News clipping from 1994 concerning the visit of politician Gennadi Zyuganov
News clipping from 1994 concerning the visit of politician Gennadi Zyuganov

The Institute was officially established in 1958 and quickly became one of the top ranking international studies centers in the world. The Russian and East European Institute was the first area studies program at Indiana University and the first within the state of Indiana. At its inception, four departments formed the basis of the institute: Government, History, Slavics and Sociology.

In 1974, an undergraduate certificate program was initiated and in the 1980s, a Master of Arts program was approved for Russian and East European Studies. Students enrolled in the master’s program were required to complete courses in four related disciplines and have proficiency in a relevant language.

The Russian and East European Institute is a Title VI National Resource/FLAS Center and as a result the U.S. Department of Education is a major source of funding. In the 1980s, the Institute faced severe budget cuts from federal funding and was thus forced to pursue other sources of funding. The Ford, Mellon and Rockefeller foundations all provided substantial support for projects initiated through the institute.

An active institute on the Bloomington campus, the REEI has hosted many conferences, lectures and workshops. The institute still remains a leading Russian and East European area studies center in the United States. Over the decades the institute has grown and as of 2014, eighteen departments were affiliated with the institute.

Life as a Student at Indiana University in 1857

In the 1940s Indiana University was gifted a diary that belonged to one of the university’s early students, John C. Wilson.

John entered Indiana University as a freshman in 1857 in pursuit of a Bachelor of Science. As a student in the Scientific Course, John was required to attend three recitations per day, and pass a public examination at the end of each semester. As the typical mode of instruction, a recitation is where the student is asked to publicly perform the material from memory with the intent to foster the “development of the intellectual and moral faculties, the formation of correct habits of thought and study, and the communication of useful knowledge” (Indiana University).

Admission to IU in 1857 was not too different from today. Students wishing to attend were required to procure “letters of honorable admission” from previous institutions and pass an examination or provide proof that sufficient studies have been completed prior to admittance. Before attending a recitation, a student was required to show evidence that all bills were paid.

Many students were involved in one of the two literary societies on campus: the Philomathean Society or the Athenian Society. These societies gave members practice in public speaking through debates and regular orations. John was a member of the Philomathean, which had meetings on Friday nights–some sessions lasting until the early morning hours.

In the 1850s, Indiana was becoming more populated, reaching 1,350,000 people by the 1860 census (U.S. Census Bureau). Several efforts at modernization can be seen during this time, and in his diary John mentions traveling by train at the end of the first session to his family in Sullivan, Indiana.

Excerpt from the diary that mentions the Philomathean Society.
Excerpt from the diary that mentions the Philomathean Society.

Very little biographical information is known about John. The information we do have comes from his diary (which has been fully digitized and transcribed!), but curiosity and a desire to know more about John and his family prompted us to explore several resources to find out more. Our detective work proved fruitless, but here are a few of the resources we consulted:

  • and other genealogy sites in attempt to trace known information of John’s great niece, Norbeth Koonce, who donated the diary to Indiana University in 1947, back to John with the hope of determining John’s date of birth. There is mention of a Josiah Wilson in the diary, who may have been a family member attending Indiana University as a preparatory student, but this is unconfirmed.
  • Papers and diaries of Professor Wylie and President Daily from the 1850s, located in the Archives.
  • Newspaper archives from Indiana, such as Access Newspaper Archive, 19th Century U.S. Newspapers, and America’s Historical Newspapers.
  • Looked through the minutes of various administrative bodies on campus.

As always, please contact Archives staff if you have any questions!



Indiana University. (1858). Annual Report of the Indiana University Including the

Catalogue for the Academic Year, MDCCCLVII-VIII. Indianapolis, IN.

U.S. Census Bureau. Resident Populations and Apportionment of the U.S. House of

            Representatives. Retrieved from:

Teaching Film Custodians

Throughout a good portion of the 20th century, educational films were loaned to schools, colleges and universities through a company called Teaching Film Custodians (TFC). Agreements with several motion picture companies, including Warner Bros., Universal Pictures and Twentieth Century-Fox, existed for the purpose of providing excerpts of feature films for classroom use.

Relations with these motion picture companies were not always easy. A copy of the Members’ Minutes from 1955 indicate that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) placed an embargo on prints for the TFC, which led to the withdrawal of MGM from TFC. A corresponding sharp decrease of income (potentially as much as a 30% decrease) appears to have led to a panic among TFC employees, as they believed they were “facing potential death.”

Although the future of the company was grim, Member Arthur Adams firmly believed that the “program should be continued for both educational and moral reasons to its fullest extent,” as stated in the March 1956 Members’ Meeting. And so it did, although the financial worries never ceased until the company’s merger with Indiana University in 1973.

The University Archives holds a small collection of TFC records, consisting primarily of minutes from the Members’ meetings as well as the Board of Trustees and the Executive Committee meetings. The finding aid is now online, contact Archives staff for further information!

Bonus! Several hundred titles from the TFC exist in the Indiana University Film Archive, contact their staff for further information!