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.

Through the Airwaves: The Indiana School of the Sky

We all enjoy our podcasts, niche radio shows, and morning news during the drive to work or school, but the history of radio has a far reaching past beyond our modern version of it. For much of the twentieth century, radio was the entertainment and news medium of choice — not television, and radio has a particularly interesting history here at IU!

Class listening to School of the Sky, Archives image no. P0050223

The Indiana School of the Sky radio program of the Indiana University Department of Radio and Television began broadcasting educational radio programs in 1947 and continued through the early 1960s. The program reached schools throughout Indiana and nearby states and led to new course offerings at IU. IU students performed in the radio programs originally intended for children ages 4-8 which aired for 15 minutes during each school day.

Eventually the program’s popularity called for further programming for high-school students, and later adults tuned in as well.  Topics in every subject from history and music to current events and news were covered during the various episodes of the program.

The School of the Sky series discussed possible careers for students, music and literature, how to find a job, dating and growing up, and current events.  In many ways the program’s subjects seemed to help students learn both educational topics and how to be a part of society.  Other episodes focused on the news and events of the time that were likely difficult for students to understand.

To explain the Cold War and Communism to audiences in 1962, as part of the “How It Happened” series the School of the sky performed a skit about West Germany. From the view of an airplane and from the ground, the actors describe West Berlin as an “island surrounded by Communism.”  The narrator and the characters in the show provide listeners with the history and problematic results of World War II.  Students learned, through the vivid description of the show’s script, the differences between East and West Berlin, Check Point Charlie, and the Berlin Wall.  The picture the program paints shows the effects of Communism and the grim reality in Berlin on the other side of the Wall.  On the ground in West Berlin, the narrator explains that East Berliners have a very different life than West Berliners and the listeners in the United States:

President Wells speaking for the opening of the School of the Sky, Archives image no. P0048605

“The Communists, in fear of having everybody run away to freedom, have built a wall to stop them.  This wall is the ugliest thing I have ever seen.  It is also a very sad thing to see, because behind it are people who want freedom, want to live like you and me, but the wall holds them in.  If they try to get over the wall, the Communists shoot them.  Many young students have died trying to get over into West Berlin.”

The Indiana School of the Sky, 1961-1962, How It Happened Series, Volume 3 of 3. Program #10, Aprill 11, 1962, George Strimel, Jr. Page 96.

The program effectively brought a faraway place and the conflict of the Berlin Wall and Cold War home to the listeners in Indiana.

The students here at IU were the radio show’s writers, performers, and producers. The Indiana School of the Sky eventually reached thousands of classrooms and children while also providing college students with invaluable radio experience.

Oscar winners in “School of the Sky”, Archives image no. P0052037

The bound volumes containing the scripts of the program and the teaching manuals found in the IU Archives’ Indiana School of the Sky records offer enlightening insight into the stage management, acting, and preparation that was necessary for each episode.

In 2009, the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative (MDPI) at IU found numerous lacquer discs containing recordings of The School of the Sky. These are now digitized and available online through Media Collections Online.