A very different type of Fall semester has begun at The University of Texas at Austin and the Briscoe Center has adjusted accordingly. Although the university is holding some classes on campus, many classes and other operations are being conducted remotely, including the majority of public services provided by the center and other special collections on campus. In response, we’re upping our game on the digital front, providing services and programming in new and exciting ways.
Accordingly, I’m pleased to announce the center will soon launch a new podcast series focused on our collections. We’ll be interviewing photojournalists, reporters, social reform activists, politicians, business leaders, authors, documentary producers and directors, historians, students, and others who have donated collections to the center—or who have utilized them in their research. Our goal is to create a unique type of history podcast that will inform our audience about the wide array of topics documented in the center’s collection. We’ll also discuss the history of specific collections and how researchers have used them. Over the course of the semester we’ll release 7-10 episodes. The first few will include a look at the historic paper trail of presidential candidates, how we teach and research slavery in Texas, the Spanish Flu of 1918, and the career of Molly Ivins. We’ll share these podcasts through the center’s social media channels and in future e-newsletters. For future reference, these podcasts will be preserved online through our website.
We’ll also be launching our new website later this fall. Staff at the center have rebuilt the site from the ground up and in addition to boasting much greater visual appeal, it will include a greater emphasis on connectivity, interaction and accessibility. I’m pleased to say, the new site will enhance our ability to showcase the center’s collections and provide a range of services to researchers. Finally, on the digital front, the center’s reference staff now have greater access to collections on site, meaning we can answer a much wider range of questions than earlier in the year. In addition, we are piloting an initiative where on a limited basis we can digitize specific items for researchers in lieu of an in-person visit. For more information contact reference services, who are actively responding to research requests and can provide guidance for those working in the center’s digital media repository, which includes over 150,000 digitized items from the center’s collections. Other new online services will be announced in the near future.
As you may have gathered, a limited number of center staff have returned to our Research and Collections space in Sid Richardson Hall on the UT campus. Adhering closely to university protocols related to social distancing, center staff are actively processing new acquisitions or working on digitization projects. The Jack Brooks project is one example and in future e-newsletters this Fall we’ll be announcing new collections. We’ll also provide project updates and announcements related to the center’s latest books. The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly disrupted our work, but it has by no means suspended it—and our mission to foster exploration of the American past remains unchanged. If anything, with our new digital initiatives, it has expanded.
We all hope that things can return to normal (or at least a new normal) sooner rather the later. The Briscoe Center has always prided itself on providing in-person experiences of the evidence of the past—through exhibits, programs, classes and research. To the degree that university policy will allow, we look forward to the resumption of these programs and services as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen during the Fall semester. While this is obviously disappointing for all of us, the safety of staff and visitors comes first. Nevertheless, I look toward 2021 with both enthusiasm and optimism!
Don Carleton, Ph.D.
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History
PS Soon after writing this column, I was deeply saddened by the news that my longtime professional colleague, Dr. David B. Gracy II had died. An In Memoriam that details David’s many achievements has been posted on the center’s website. I hope you will read it. But I want to add something personal here.
For nearly 45 years, David and I were colleagues working for the cause of history. We began our association in 1977 when he was appointed director of the Texas State Archives and I was director of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center. We had frequent opportunities to work together after the University appointed me to my current position in 1979. That association deepened after David’s appointment in the early 1980s to the faculty of the University’s library school (now the UT School of Information).
During the more than 20 years that I taught my graduate seminar, Historical Research Methods and Sources, for the University’s Department of History, David encouraged many of his talented students to enroll in the course. In addition, he generously accepted my numerous invitations to speak to the class. A few of those students later took important positions at the Briscoe Center, including former director of research and collections, Brenda Gunn (now head of special collections at the University of Virginia), and Stephanie Malmros, who serves ably in that same post.
Perhaps the most memorable job David and I worked on together was a professional expedition made to Romania during the summer of 1998 with Dr. Robert Martin, former Texas State Archivist. We traveled through the country by train, and I quickly discovered David’s fervent interest in railroading and its history.
I have other good memories of David—more than I have room to list here—but before I close, I want to say that David was not only a first-class professional archivist, teacher, and historian; he was a good, kind, and generous man who was deeply dedicated to his profession. Rest in peace, David.