Robert Byrnes and Distance Learning: Then and Now

Over the past (very turbulent) month, I’ve been working on describing digitized media from Collection C388, the Robert Byrnes papers. I started my work on this collection the week before spring break, and for that reason my conception of the collection is overshadowed by the circumstances around my work on it. However, the transition to remote work over the past few weeks has highlighted one part of this collection in particular; a film series Byrnes produced in 1959 on the history of Russia. It stood out to me because of its intended use, which was as a correspondence course. I found myself in the interesting position of transitioning to remote learning while working on an approach which was used 60 years ago.

Robert Byrnes portraitj
Robert Byrnes in 1958, IU Archives P0020758

In some ways the contrast is pretty stark; Byrnes’s approach and our own are on opposite ends of a technological and educational revolution. The ability to speak with my classmates despite sometimes immense physical distance is extraordinarily powerful. In some ways, I imagine that the correspondence course of 1959 faced some of the same challenges as we do today. The lecture and the classroom are institutions with centuries of tradition. Physical, shared learning spaces were as or more important back then as they are now. The same can be said of student-professor interaction. There are few things which are valued more in the pedagogical process.

That said, there are some successes and failures with the Byrnes course which I think we can apply to our own attempts at remote learning.

One thing that Byrnes really succeeds at is his presentation of his material. As a lecturer and presenter, Byrnes is smooth and articulate on camera. He outlines his subject in clear terms and speaks on his subject matter with a formal yet conversational style. I think this sort of clear and direct presentation style is really important for remote learning; without the physical cues of a classroom and the pressure to reduce distraction during class, it is important to simplify and clarify a message for students.

Something else I thought was really important to the success of Byrnes’s lectures is that they don’t rely on graphics. This is something that I think we especially, as students and professors who rely on PowerPoint, could learn from the presentation of the past. We use presentation slides for a reason, but it’s important to consider their role in a classroom setting. Students look at the professor when they’re presenting information, so retaining that cue also helps retain attention. By using graphics sparingly and intentionally, they can serve their intended function; as a teaching aid, instead of as a teaching crutch.

Robert Byrnes on television set, standing at lectern
Robert Byrnes on television set, IU Archives P0048278

One downfall of Byrnes’s lectures is that they lack student interactivity. This is a genuine success of our modern educational tools. The ability for students and professors to talk is one of the most valuable aspects of a classroom environment, so its remote replication should be seen as a huge advantage.

While Byrnes’s lectures demonstrate clear understanding of the topic, the ability to engage his knowledge and ask interesting questions would elevate the experience greatly. Since this is one of the advantages we retain with an online format,  it is something we should turn to often in our lectures. In my few weeks of online instruction, I have yet to see student questions engaged with. I see this as a lack of integration with the system on Zoom; the tools for question asking/answering are there, but professors have to make use of them. Real integration of the tools we have for online teaching would improve the experience greatly. For example, Zoom includes a chat bar in its client; professors could use this feature to get information and field questions from students, while allowing moderation to ensure that there isn’t chaos in the audio channel. It will be interesting to see how teaching styles adapt to the tools available online; to succeed in this environment, a different skillset and teaching style is necessary, and I’m interested to see how learning changes over time as a result of this abrupt change to online courses.

One last downfall of Byrnes’s lectures is their bias. In many ways the lectures are a product of their time. An American series on Russian history, in 1959, is doomed to bias as a result of the political climate of the time.  While we are more aware of this issue today, it is just as important (or more so) to examine our discussions and beliefs for bias in our time.

Byrnes had a lot going on in the course of his life. These video lectures form an early part of his work, but his examination of Russian history, and the events of his time, never stopped. He was still thinking, writing, and speaking on Russia and Eastern Europe through the collapse of the Soviet Union. He lived through some of the most serious international crises of the 20th century, and indeed of modern history. To study an area of the world which was subject to so much bias, so much uncertainty, and so much speculation, must have been uniquely challenging. I hope that we can apply some of Byrnes’s perseverance in the difficult times that we’re living through, and continue to be the best students, researchers, and professors we can, no matter the circumstances.

Finding common ground: conversations on applied folklore in the Bloomington community

"What have Bloomington and Monroe County been like in the past? What can they be like in the future? Can we, should we, find any Common Ground?"
Excerpt from the 1998 call out letter.

This past summer, the Indiana University Archives hired me to focus on some of the Archive’s time-based media (i.e., tapes and film) that have gone through the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative. The goal has been to work on the description of the pieces — some of which had nothing more than “Side A” or “Side B” — and to work with the head of the Libraries’ Copyright Program to determine what level of access we can provide.

Given my background as a PhD student in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, one of the first projects I was tasked with were the recordings digitized from the Department’s records here in the IU Archives. There are a few different chunks of recordings within the records; this post focuses on recorded conversations from a 1998-99 Visions of Place project sponsored by local businesses and the Indiana Humanities Council.  A subset of the larger project was Common Ground, a public folklore initiative of which the Indiana University Folklore Department was a partner. This project focused on understanding the meaning of community and neighborhood within Bloomington and Monroe County. Descriptions of the “Photo Days” and story collecting sound quite similar to modern-day “History Harvests” which we sometimes see hosted by local historical societies around the country. Included with these recordings are some from 1996; it seems likely that the interviews and conversations between folklore graduate students and professors at that time influenced the development of the Common Ground public folklore initiative.

The recordings in this collection document weekly summer meetings between professors and a team of six graduate students as they developed plans for a public service folklore project in Bloomington. Ultimately, the group decided to work towards building community between local senior citizens and children through joint folklore programming with the then neighboring community centers, Kid City and Older Citizens Center. The recordings, on audio cassette, capture the group’s discussions about team fieldwork methodologies, ethical concerns in public folklore, and the relationship between Indiana University and the Bloomington community, both historically and at the time of the recording. The topics remain prominent in folklore studies today.

The conversations include IU folklore graduate students and professors Henry Glassie and Phil Stafford, with the latter asked to reflect on his community service work in the Evergreen Project. The Evergreen Project invited a nursing home community in Bloomington to reflect on their sense of place. The team delegated tasks and then reported back on their progress in building connections in the field. They reflected on weekly readings, discussing problems in teamwork, volunteering, and race and class relations in fieldwork and public folklore.

Also included is an interview by folklorists John Cash and Inta Carpenter with Keith Enright. Enright worked on a public folklore project to preserve Indiana folklife and heritage with one of IU’s most prominent folklorists, Dr. Warren Roberts. Their work focused on analysis and preservation on the oldest farmstead in Monroe County, the Mayfield Homestead. Enright’s research and preservation work on the pioneer homestead revealed centuries-old architectural evidence that the design was likely inspired by mystical symmetry invoked by the Freemasons. Enright also discussed the history and future of development in Bloomington and his own family heritage in the Midwest.

Headshot of Anya Peterson Royce
Anya Peterson Royce, Chancellors’ Professor of Anthropology

Additional recordings include Chancellors’ Professor and anthropologist Anya Peterson Royce on the topics of public folklore, fieldwork relationships, and service learning. Her interviews discuss her experiences with fieldwork, race, and service in Indianapolis and Martinsville, Indiana.

Finally, the Common Ground initiative closed with a group oral history interview with Russell Shaw, a local photographer and photography shop owner who shared information about his extensive collection of historic Bloomington photography.

Although all of the project participants verbally acknowledge they are being recorded, because they could have never imagined they would be streamed online, at this time researchers must contact the Archives staff for access. Further description of all of the recordings can be found within the collection description for the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology records.

All’s Wells That Ends Well

Back left to right Mrs. Richard Pell, Mrs. Lyle Dieterle, Front left to right S.G. (Chris) Savage, George Krueger, Norris Wentworth
Card-carrying members of the University Club spelling out the title of the musical honoring Herman B Wells on the occasion of his retirement. Published in the Indiana Daily Student on March 16, 1962

Herman B Wells was one of the most prolific presidents in the history of Indiana University. Even before his presidency, he was an alumnus of IU as well as a member of the faculty. His 25 year-long presidency lasted from 1938 until 1962, covering the second World War and its aftermath.  He was also the first Chancellor of Indiana University starting from his retirement in 1962 until 2000, the year of his death. As a life-long citizen of Indiana and an alumnus of the university, he was invested in its development and its impact on the world at large. He was a champion for intellectual and academic freedom during the time of Alfred Kinsey’s research and an advocate for international studies and communication during and after war-time.

Herman B Wells walking with a cane in his right hand.
A photo taken by Mr. Rick Wood as Wells was walking to work on May 28, 1977. For more information see the Archives Photograph Collection Item P0023858.

At the end of his presidency, Eleanor and Newell Long, professors of English and Music respectively, wrote a musical titled “All’s Wells That Ends Well” as a tribute to Wells on the occasion of his retirement. This was not the first time the Longs had created a musical for Wells. They also wrote and composed “The Inauguration of the Boy President” for the beginning of Wells’ Presidency back in 1939.

“All’s Wells That Ends Well” was performed by over 100 members of the faculty’s University Club on March 16, 1962 in Alumni Hall. It included songs such as Wells Bells, The Chimes of Indiana by Hoagy Carmichael, Our Herman B Wells, and Just B Yourself! (What Does the B Mean?). A recording of some of these songs from the musical can be found in the Archives’ collection. The Bloomington Daily Herald-Telephone described the musical as “…a lively production, full of laughs, in which faculty members set aside their dignity for the evening.” (March 17, 1962, Sec. 1, Page 3)

Left to Right: Newell Long, Eleanor Long, Mary Lou Waters, L.L. Water, Mrs. Clum Bucher (Center)
A photograph published in the Indiana Daily Student about the musical. Features Newell and Eleanor Long on the left.

The story follows two “freshmen” trying to find out what the B in Herman B Wells stands for. They journey through the sacred halls of the Lilly Library, guarded by the monkish librarian, Ballantine Hall, the Jacobs School of Music, and even the University Archives (how very meta!). The answer, as it always does, lies with Wells’ Secretary. The freshmen discover that it actually means “Be yourself”! In reality, the B doesn’t stand for anything, but it makes for a good laugh.

This musical tells us a lot about what people thought about Wells. The song “Our Herman B Wells” in particular lists several of his virtues:

“…Loyal and true to all good Hoosiers.

Faithful to Old IU,

Works hard and steady on this big job.

He fights hard for both the old and new.

His plans have bought us fame and more good will,

won us international hue.

Hard-working, tireless, patient, and willing.

As prexy he’s alright.

Brought IU to the light.

For him we all would fight, our Herman B Wells…

Herman B Wells dressed in academic regalia
Herman B Wells, dressed in academic regalia, preparing to enter the IU Auditorium November 19, 1962. For more information see the Archives Photograph Collection Item P0035419

“Honest and able like Abe Lincoln,

brilliant as any brain,

humble and easy as an old shoe,

he runs college business without strain.

He could at poker win with just a pair,

this man’s skill you don’t disdain.

Foresighted, steady, upright, and ready.

Watch him administrate

the best school in the state.

Boy he can navigate that’s Herman B Wells” (All’s Wells That Ends Well, Side 2, Track 1, 00:54-2:31)

Left to right: Philip Wikelund, Shelby Gerking, Bruce McQuigg, Frank T. Gucker, and George Johnson
Members of the IU Faculty in their costumes for the performance of “All’s Wells That Ends Well.” Published in the Indianapolis Times, March 16,1962.

 

This musical also reveals that he has a sense of humor. From the exaggerated librarians and faculty to the various depictions of students, it is clear that the faculty believed Herman to be more than capable of having a good laugh.

In the end though, perhaps the greatest thing we learn about Wells is that he was always, honestly himself. As a role model, it’s not a bad legacy to leave behind.

 “…Be yourself, just be yourself

Be yourself from day to day

Be yourself, just be yourself

That’s the Herman B Wells way

He avoids all ostentation

No pretense or affectation;

He’s a pleasant, humble, normal, friendly one

He assumes no pose to please,

He has natural poise and ease.

Genuine, sincere, and honest, loving fun.

All these things endear the man.

Emulate him if you can.

Be yourself, just be yourself;

That’s the Herman B Wells way.” (Side 2, Track 2, 02:31-05:42)

Herman B Wells and the cast of All's Wells That Ends Well
Herman B Wells (center) onstage with the cast after the performance of “All’s Wells That Ends Well.” Published in the Daily Herald-Telephone March 17, 1962.

Wells commented on the musical, that “They invested enormous energy and effort in this show. It was delightful, light, happy, and yet, quite moving. I shall never forget it” (Being Lucky: All’s Wells that Ends Well, Track 1, 6:40-7:06).

Those remarks are just a part of the many dictations Wells made in preparation for his autobiography, Being Lucky, which was first published in 1980. As part of the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative, IU has digitized these tapes, all of which are available now on Media Collections Online. A newer, more complete edition of Wells’ autobiography is expected to be released next year, in time for the bicentennial IU Day. Read the whole story here

To learn more, visit the Indiana University Archives or check out the following links:

Herman B Wells Papers on Media Collections Online

The IU Archives’ Herman B Wells Papers 

The IU Archives’ Newell and Eleanor Long Show files, including scripts and music for “All’s Wells That Ends Well”

Behind the Curtain: Casey Burgess

This is a color photograph of a student in a graduation cap and gown. She is seated in the front of the archway of the IU Sample Gates and is surrounded by red and white tulips. Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. 

Title and Role: Casey is a processor who focuses on ingesting, organizing, and describing the digitized media delivered by MDPI (the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative). Casey will leave us soon for a position with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Archives! Congratulations to both Casey and the LA Phil – she will be a terrific asset to their program!

Educational background: Casey got her undergraduate degree in Music focusing in vocal performance and music history from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI and just recently graduated from IU with her Master’s in Library Science.

Previous archival experience: Before coming to IU, Casey did a summer internship at the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin, Ireland. In her MLS program here, she did several classes in the Archives and Records Management track, did some archival work with MDPI, and put on an exhibit in collaboration with the Archive of Traditional Music.

What attracted her to work in the IU Archives:  Casey has always been interested in working in an archive since her experience in Ireland. She also realized she knew very little about IU’s history, even though she had been here for two years. Working in the IU Archives was the perfect opportunity to get practical experience doing archival work in an academic institution while also learning more about IU along the way.

This is a black and white photograph of a group of 5 individuals who are each holding their Oscar award. Three men wearing suits stand to the right, while 2 women one standing and the other seated on a stool are to the left.
Oscar winners in “School of the Sky”, May 15, 1948. IU Archives image no. P0052037

Favorite item or collection in the IU Archives: She worked on the Indiana School of the Sky Collection as part of her role with MDPI. Casey really loved listening to these recordings of radio shows from the 1940’s which were intended to teach young students in Indiana about all sorts of things related to science, art, history, literature, and more. She thought it was fascinating to hear what they taught then and  how similar or dissimilar education is today.

Project she’s currently working on: Casey is working on ingesting recordings done by Herman B Wells in the 1970s related to his autobiography “Being Lucky”. At this point she has completed 69 recordings, but still has a few more to go. Watch for an upcoming blog post for more details on this project!

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Her favorite experience in the Archives has been working on the MDPI recordings. She’s seen almost every part of the process for MDPI, but thinks that access is still the most exciting part. Being able to organize these recordings, which often contain golden nuggets of information, and know that this will help someone down the road is really exciting for her. Plus, she gets to listen to them!

Black and white photograph of a seated football player.
Preston Eagleson, 1895. IU Archives image no. P0022468

Something she’s  learned about IU by working in the Archives:  She’s learned so much by working in the Archives that it’s really hard to choose just one thing. While working on a post for Instagram back in February, Casey learned about Preston Emmanuel Eagleson, who was the first Black person on an athletics team at IU in 1892. More importantly, he was the second Black person to receive an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and then the first to receive a graduate degree from IU. Several generations of his family returned to IU as well. To her, these stories about individuals are the most fascinating and shed a lot of light about the communities at IU.