The Briscoe Center continues to ramp up its digital presence, creating new programming, exhibit, and research opportunities that can be experienced online. The latest example is our new podcast, American Rhapsody, in which we interview those who witnessed history firsthand and created archives in the process. We also talk to historians, journalists, and other researchers who use those collections in their own projects.
While there are plenty of great history podcasts out there, what sets American Rhapsody apart is its focus on the center’s collections. The series begins with a seven-minute introduction that walks listeners through the concept behind the podcast. (The name American Rhapsody was chosen to convey the sense of beauty, chaos, and unity that characterizes the nation’s past.) Episode 2 focuses on archives at the center that document the Spanish flu in Texas while Episode 3 discusses the papers of Wayne Barrett, who in 1979 became the first investigative journalist to take Donald Trump seriously. Episode 4 hones in on the life and times of legendary Texas political columnist Molly Ivins. You can tune in Spotify, Stitcher, or iTunes. Future episodes will cover a range of topics and collections including slavery in Texas, women’s suffrage, civil rights photojournalism, and antiwar activism.
In addition to our own programming, we’ve been collaborating with others to continue conversations about American history. I recently spoke at the Texas Book Festival about the center’s upcoming book Struggle for Justice, while I’ve also had the pleasure of discussing Flash of Light, Wall of Fire with the LBJ Foundation’s Mark Updegrove on their With the Bark Off podcast. Considering how much time we all seem to spend on Zoom these days, podcasts are a great way to connect students, researchers, and friends of the center who want to know more about our collections, but whose eyes need a rest from too much time on digital screens.
In addition to these programming initiatives and collaborations, we’ve continued to expand online access to our collections. Working remotely, the center’s public service staff respond to every request for reference assistance and duplication that comes in by email or phone. During the spring and summer, we didn’t have staff on site to process those requests, but since October staff have been allowed to work in the building in line with the university’s Covid-19 protocols. I want to personally thank Erin Harbour and Marisa Jefferson, two of the center’s archivists who retrieve materials requested by researchers or inspired by their questions, as well as staff members Aryn Glazier and Caitlin Brenner, who provide free scans of these documents for researchers. I would be remiss not to thank Margaret Schlankey and Stephanie Malmros, two of the center’s senior staff who oversee these efforts with remarkable determination and enthusiasm. Together, this team, assisted by others at the center, have fulfilled five times as many duplication requests this year compared with last.
As you can imagine, these enhanced services do not suit all researchers. From everybody at the center, please understand that no one wants to see the reading room open to in-person research more than we do. Unfortunately, we don’t anticipate this will happen before spring break 2021 at the very earliest. Despite the continuation and indeed acceleration of the pandemic, vaccine development looks very promising. Indeed, some of the research critical to this work is happening right here at UT. On a personal level, I very much look forward to the center being able to open its doors once again!
Don Carleton, Ph.D.
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History