Behind the Curtain: Sylva Osbourne, Summer Intern

Role: Summer Intern at the IU Archives

Educational Background: B.A. in Music from the University of Chicago. Current graduate student in the School of Informatics and Computing seeking a Master of Library Science (MLS) with a specialization in Archives and Records Management and interest in preservation/conservation.

How she got here: Before coming to IU, Sylva spent most of her undergraduate years working at the Regenstein Library, the University of Chicago’s main library. As a student assistant in circulation she became very familiar with the complexities of maintaining a large stacks collection. After graduation, she switched gears landing a part-time position in the technical services department of the law library for Sidley Austin LLP in downtown Chicago. It was here she decided to pursue a career in librarianship, leading her to IU and the MLS program.

This internship has been her first experience working in any kind of archival repository. Prior to this, her main work and library experience have been more on the technical services side of things. Her previous experience is what led her to decide that she wanted to do more hands-on work with library materials, sparking her interest in archives and preservation.

Favorite Collection in the IU Archives: Sylva’s favorite collection at IU is the collection of yearbooks housed in the archive reading room. Before the University became too big, the yearbooks contained pictures of all the students at IU each year. They also include pictures of all student organizations, sports teams, and faculty members, just like a traditional yearbook. Following the student population explosion after WWII, the yearbook however had to adapt. Rather than just pages of pictures of students, the yearbooks started to include interesting pieces on and photos of the various events and activities that happened around IU each year. At the end, you will still find portraits of the graduating class and student organizations but the majority of the books offer a fascinating glimpse of IU life as the years go on.

Current Project: Currently, Sylva is processing a recently acquired collection from the Commission on Multicultural Understanding (COMU). Despite the occasional papercut, she is enjoying being able to dive into the folders and get an in-depth look at the work COMU did for IU. She is also researching the story of a student at IU from the late 1910s who was accused of building “infernal devices” with various mechanical parts found in his room. He was an expert watchmaker who was cleared of all charges as all of the parts were found harmless. Using and different parts of the IU Archive collection, Sylva is trying to track documents relating to this man’s life to be used in a future active-learning exercise for instruction sessions at the archives.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Sylva’s favorite thing about being an intern at the archives is the chance to learn from some amazing people. Having had very little experience with archives before, she has gained a lot of practical knowledge.

What she’s learned from working here: Sylva has learned a great deal about some of the key figures in IU’s history from sifting through the papers of the president office, in particular President William Lowe Bryan (1902-1937). It’s nice to be able to connect buildings and things around town to the people for which they were named!

The Saga of the Alma Eikerman papers

Photo of Alma EikermanAlma Eikerman was a successful metalsmith, an innovative jewelry designer, world traveler, and beloved professor at Indiana University from 1947 to 1978. She was in countless exhibitions, won many awards, and her work today is in numerous museums across the country including the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and the Indiana University Art Museum (IUAM) on campus. As in intern at the IU Archives this semester, this was all pretty intimidating but I was thrilled to be given the opportunity arrange and describe Eikerman’s papers as part of my internship. I was already familiar with her work through the IUAM, where I also currently work as an hourly in the Registrar department. 

I was eager to dive in. I knew people loved her and respected her, but most of the items in the file were from other people’s point of view. I wanted to learn more about her.  Of course the best way to do this would be to actually meet her, but unfortunately Eikerman passed away in 1995. The next best thing, would be to go through the documents she collected during her lifetime.

Some collections come to the IU Archives neatly organized and labeled in alphabetized folders – the Eikerman papers were the opposite.  Sadly, it was as if whoever boxed them up, merely pulled out the drawers of her desk, turned them upside down, and dumped the contents into 12 Rubbermaid bins. It is my job to create some sort of order out of this chaos so that a researcher can come and use the papers in a timely fashion. I learned a lot about Eikerman as I went through the first few tubs. For instance, she traveled around the world (shown by her multiple tickets, receipts, guidebooks, maps and passports). She kept in touch with her former students and tried to follow their careers (shown through the newsletters she sent them and copies of publicity from their exhibitions), and designed her own home (seen by the designs she drew and the magazine clippings she marked).

A glimpse of the unprocessed Alma Eikerman Collection
A glimpse of the unprocessed Alma Eikerman Collection

I am now more than 3 weeks deep into this collection, and I feel that I have only scratched the surface. I find a messy collection like this exciting, with a new surprise in every box. I may sound like a commercial for those children’s cereals with a toy inside, but it is so true. I will be sifting through what seems like a thousand years worth of holiday cards and then SURPRISE there is letter she wrote to her grandfather when she was about nine or one of her passports with stamps from all over Asia.      

The whole process is fun, but it is also exhausting. I was starting to get a little overwhelmed and blurry eyed. I have all these piles of items that are similar, and I have taken over the back room storage room of the IU Archives. Then I came across an incredible find, a travel permission form from when she served with the Red Cross in the 1940s. Where does this go?!?! I sat there looking at my piles with this fragile, old paper resting in my hand for probably five minutes.  

My domination of the back room
My domination of the back room

After this blog break, I’m headed back to the collection to hopefully uncover more treasures. I hope to have the collection fairly well organized by the end of this semester; watch for more information here or contact the IU Archives. In the meantime if you’re interested in other artist’s papers, you might like those of printmaker Rudy Pozzatti, textile artist Joan Sterrenburg, or sculptors Karl Martz and Jean-Paul Darriau.

Can a protest be polite?

Pro- and anti-Vietnam war demonstrators await Rusk's visit

In my last post I discussed the controversial Dow Chemical Sit-in, which served as a catalyst for student anger against the administration.  Today I have a short post about an event that, at the time, was seen as far more important than Dow recruiters being on campus.  Public reaction to protesters at the two events was also markedly different, which begs the question; can one protest an event or person without violating societal decorum?

Rusk speaks while IU President Stahr looks on


On October 31, 1967, just a day after the disastrous sit-in at the IU business school, United States Secretary of State Dean Rusk arrived on campus to give a scheduled speech.  As a major shaper of President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam policy, Secretary Rusk was a natural target for anti-war protests on many campuses he visited.  In the lead-up to his visit, leaders from a number of different left-leaning student organizations on campus worked fervently to plan an organized protest. Flyers and signs were created and handed out prior to Rusk’s speech.  Outside the auditorium, demonstrators (both students and some professors) carried anti-war signs.  These were met by even greater numbers of administration supporters carrying signs of their own.  Inside the packed venue, around 200 protesters wore “peace” armbands and heckled Rusk with cries of “Liar!” and “Murderer!” at key points in his speech.

Anti-war protesters hold up "Peace" armbands during Rusk's speech

Unlike the chaotic Dow Chemical sit-in of the day before, the protest went off without a hitch, with no physical confrontations or arrests.  Public reaction to the demonstrators was decidedly negative, however, as students, professors and townspeople alike felt that the heckling during the speech had crossed a serious line of decorum.  Midwestern values notwithstanding, members of the New Left would continue to use confrontational tactics in the years to come to protest against American involvement in Vietnam.


A Change in Tone: The 1967 Dow Chemical Sit-in

For the next in my series of posts relating to student protests at IU I’d like to discuss one of the seminal moments in the fight over student rights and power on campus.

Students force their way past university officials.

On October 30, 1967 recruiters from the Dow Chemical Company came to Bloomington to conduct interviews with IU students. Dow was frequently a target of protests due to its production of napalm for use by the US military in Vietnam. Less than two weeks prior a similar recruiting visit to the University of Wisconsin had led to violent clashes between protesting students and police, and IU security officials were on edge.

On the day of the visit about 35 students showed up at the IU Business School where interviews were being conducted and asked to speak with Dow representatives.  When this was refused the students forced their way into the lobby area outside of the interview rooms and staged a sit-in. Bloomington police were called, and when they arrived all the students were arrested, some being beaten severely when they refused to leave.

A student publication reflects prevailing sentiments about the incident.

Reaction to the incident varied: the Board of Trustees and Faculty Council applauded the swift action taken by the administration, but the Student Senate, numerous individual faculty members and the student body at large widely condemned it.  The main issues of contention were the fact that the students faced punishment from both the university and civil authorities and the use of town police on campus.  IU President Elvis Stahr and Dean of Students Robert Shaffer placed students involved with the incident on disciplinary probation, with the threat of expulsion for any further disturbances.  Additionally, notice was given that any students violating university rules on demonstrations in the future would face immediate suspension.  Student groups were outraged at the summary judgment, as the punishments had been meted out without due process.  Twelve protesters were found guilty of disorderly conduct in local court, while one protester was convicted of assault and battery against a police officer.   The incident would prove emblematic of Stahr’s tumultuous time in office, and served as a catalyst for much debate over students’ rights in the years following.

A Student Senate resolution condemning Dean Shaffer's actions against protesting students.

Sadly, I have been unable to find any original negatives of the incident at the archives (much of the local media was focused on Secretary of State Dean Rusk’s visit the following day- more on that later).  Newspaper clippings in the reference collection remain one of the best resources for photographs of the event.  The records of the IU Student Senate, as well as those of the student-run Eggshell press, help provide a good idea of what students were thinking at the time.

Next up, we will examine the nearly concurrent visit by Secretary Rusk and the events that surrounded it. 

Digging deeper into the events of the past

Work on the student protest exhibit continues, although at a slower pace than I had originally anticipated. What I had initially envisioned as a fairly cut-and-dry project focusing on clearly defined events threatens to expand exponentially. This is of course only natural when examining complex historical events, with different perspectives, involved groups, etc. Too often we suffer from the collective delusion that historical events can be easily boiled down into a concise narrative, when the reality is always more complex. This is the beauty and the challenge of archival records. While they allow us unprecedented access into the background of the past it is all too easy to get lost in the minutia.

This project has me working in many ways in the dual role of an archivist and a historian. My goal is to present a balanced and diverse exhibit for the public, but my own choices will weigh heavily on the tone of the final product. Much like a historian who publishes their research after filtering events through their own lens, I have the ability to shape perception of events. Ideally, such an exhibit should stimulate interest and inspire people to do research of their own, but for many people this may be the only time they ever examine the events I am presenting. With this in mind I continue to pull in materials from many sources, to paint as complete a picture as I can.

I have already pulled a variety of newspaper clippings, both textual and photographic, as well as student government records. While original photos will always be preferable, in many cases the originals do not survive, or exist only in the hands of the original photographer. I have pulled a number of photographic negatives from the archives’ collections for use, but there were less related to some events than I would have hoped. Some events, such as the 1968 Little 500 sit-in, have virtually no photographic evidence surviving, be it newspaper or pictures. Whether this is the result of concerted squelching of coverage at the time (not unheard of), or simply the peccadillos of time is impossible to say. In any case, we are left with a sole photograph in the 1969 Arbutus yearbook to illustrate the story. This is an extreme example, but it can be a frustrating challenge for someone trying to bring visual interest to an exhibit.

Mary Ann Wynkoop’s 2002 book Dissent in the Heartland: The Sixties at Indiana University has been invaluable to me, as it has allowed me to stitch events together in my head far more efficiently than if I were left to my own devices. I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in 1960’s student protest movements in the Midwest.

By next week I hope to have some items scanned to spice up these posts of mine a bit more.
Until then.