May 20, 2019

Espy Project: Missing Executions from 1860-1875 Mississippi

by Miles Lawlor

Looking back, I was most struck by how many executions in the American South had been left uncounted in the original dataset. The first state that I was assigned to create metadata for was Mississippi. While I do not have a background in the history of the death penalty, there was something that just seemed... off about the data. When I initially scanned through the execution IDs that were already in use from M. Watt Espy's dataset, I was surprised to see what I thought were relatively long gaps in the time between executions in the 19th century. Had the state really not put anyone to death between 1859 and 1875? Given the rate of executions in Mississippi during the early 20th century, this didn't seem all that likely. Had the Civil War and Reconstruction perhaps been a period of significantly lower crime rates or lenient sentences?

Newspaper clipping documenting the execution of Merrit, an enslaved man executed in 1863 who was not included in the original Espy File dataset.

Newspaper clipping documenting the execution of Merrit, an enslaved man executed in 1863 who was not included in the original Espy File dataset.

Well, no. In fact, there were at least 88 executions in Mississippi during this time that had been left out of the original data. Once I started going through the alphabetical folders that Espy had maintained for the state, these "new" executions started to appear. Espy had certainly been made aware of these deaths, through both his own research and the work of others as well. For any number of reasons, they simply had not been integrated into the original dataset. They lurked below the surface, available only to those who had the time and resources to go through the files in person.

Newspaper clipping and note made by Watt Espy discussing the case of Henry Hanna, a freedman executed in 1870 who was not included in the original Espy File dataset..

Newspaper clipping and note made by Watt Espy discussing the case of Henry Hanna, a freedman executed in 1870 who was not included in the original Espy File dataset.

That's to say nothing of the many more execution records culled from the Multiple States folders. Many of these records came from the voluminous lists that Espy maintained. All of us responsible for metadata creation came to know Espy's habit of keeping prodigious lists of the executed, often annotated with his updates from further research or snippy editorial comments. Generally speaking, the files in these multi-state folders provided far less information on the executed than the state-specific folders. Oftentimes they included little more than a date and location along with the name of the executed. Sometimes, particularly when the person executed was enslaved, a name was not even available. Yet these lists confirmed many more executions than had been originally listed.

Newspaper clipping documenting the execution of Henry Foote in 1866. Foote was not included in the original Espy File dataset.

Newspaper clipping documenting the execution of Henry Foote in 1866. Foote was not included in the original Espy File dataset.

Poor documentation: A newspaper clipping documenting two nameless enslaved men who were executed in 1823.

Sourced note written by Watt Espy discussing the case of Green Dorrah, a freedman employed as a "body-servant" on a plantation who was likely executed in 1871 and was not included in the original Espy File dataset.

But why had so many executions been under-documented? There are probably a number of factors at play here. First and foremost, the Civil War and Reconstruction certainly shaped local record-keeping procedures in ways that are still being reckoned with. Newspapers in Mississippi were of course still published during that era, but Espy seems to have relied on them less. Whether newspapers from this time stopped providing the kind of execution data that he needed or whether those newspapers weren't preserved is less clear. It seemed as though more of his execution records came from papers outside of the state and from other types of sources entirely. County histories and court documents played a prominent role in providing coverage to this area as well.

Newspaper clipping discussing the case of John McCaffary.

Newspaper clipping discussing the 1845 execution of Jim Hanes, an enslaved man. Hanes was not included in the original Espy File dataset.

It's possible too that executions were not reported on as regularly during this period. Espy often printed copies of newspaper articles on executions, though there seemed to be less of those for the southern states I worked on during the Civil War and immediately after. With war and death a part of everyday life, perhaps newspapers were less inclined to devote precious column space to the workaday state-sponsored killings away from the front lines. In the end too, Espy's lists weren't fully integrated into state files. Many executions simply weren't filed as they could have or should have been.

October 6, 2017

Espy Project Fall Update

It's well past time for an update on the Espy Project. We've done a lot over the past 6 months, working to make the stories of the over 15,000 people executed by the state accessible to the public. There is still plenty to do, but we're off to a great start. Here is what we've completed so far.

We've successfully digitized almost 33,000 sides of index cards and started on the over 115,000 pages of reference material. Working with an outside vendor, we shipped off 21 boxes of index cards and 46 record boxes out for scanning. All of the index cards have been completed and reviewed, as well as 3 of the 46 boxes of reference material. This gives us enough to start moving along, creating metadata, and making everything available to the public.

In the past, once we receive the digital images back from the vendor, we would list and link them in a finding aid, or upload everything into a digital asset management system. In this case, we think these records have the potential to be used in many different ways and we aim to make them available through a modern web application and also expose the raw data through an open API. Expediting this process required some rethinking of how we digitize special collections material.

Some of the index cards documented one individual on only one side, while others used the backside or even multiple cards to show all of the information Espy was able to find. Since digitization required someone to manually handle each card, it made the most sense to distinguish how many card-sides documented each person during the scanning process. Since the scanning was done by an outside vendor, we had to work with them to develop a system where this information could be documented in the filenames for the images. We developed an "a, b, c" numbering system that was simple enough for the vendor, but also sufficiently told us which image files described which people.

All of these records have connections to the Watt Espy papers finding aid, so we used the ArchivesSpace API to extract the unique IDs for the records' parents so we can maintain these links. We wrote preprocessing scripts using open source tools like ImageMagick and Tesseract-OCR to make CSV files for all the data that can be seeded into a database. We then had a CSV for each series of material that lists the filenames for each individual, OCR text, a state abbreviation, and the ArchivesSpace parent ID. Each CSV has now become a database table. These scripts are available in the Espy Project Github repository.

We've partnered with ICPSR to use the Espy File data. The Watt Espy papers were the subject of a University of Alabama study in the 1980s that encoded Espy's records and created a dataset that's now managed by ICPSR. Since there was already detailed metadata, and ICPSR was gracious enough to give us permission to use it, we will be able to provide much more extensive information than we wrote in the original CLIR grant. After consulting with the National Death Penalty Archive Advisory Board, we think there is some possibility of improving the accuracy of the original dataset. We are also hoping the addition of the reference material will provide more meaningful context than lines in a spreadsheet. We are including the ICPSR identifiers in our metadata as well, so it should be easy for researchers to make connections. After the project is complete we will also offer our data back to ICPSR, which will hopefully broaden its use even more.

We've gained institutional skills to support open source web applications. We have some awesome tools here at UAlbany, namely a virtualized data center that can spin up servers for us. However, it's often challenging to get the time and expertise necessary to implement complex tools. These skills can be very costly for academic libraries. We are also a Windows campus which means our authentication and security network uses Windows tools and our Library Systems staff is primarily Windows-trained.

All this poses some large barriers to managing open source projects, which require both skills and labor time. Still, we feel that we get tremendous value from open source communities. They share a lot of the same priorities and values we have as libraries and archives. The transparency of open source helps us maintain provenance, and contributing to a community aligns well with our research and service obligations. The flexibility of open source tools is also important, since the information architecture of archives can be quite complex and there's no single service that can do everything for us. Most importantly, we feel that the capability to fully understand and actively engage with our tools empowers us, and gives us the agency to make technology work for our human needs, rather than passively adjusting our work to more generic systems. We feel that increased capacity to implement and maintain open source tools here at the University Libraries is one of the key benefits to this project.

We've developed a web application for rapidly creating detailed metadata records. We quickly discovered that it was going to be a big challenge to connect up to six different information sources into complete and useful metadata records in a way that didn't rely on large amounts of human labor doing repetitive tasks. To meet our transparency goals, we also needed to document where all the information in our final records came from. The record for William Kemmler, for example, will have front and back images for a small (3x5) index card, a larger (4x6) index card, a large stack of reference material, data from the Espy File, and relationships with both Series 1 and Series 2 in the Watt Espy papers finding aid.

Normally we wouldn't create a custom web application for every digitization project, but creating the Espy Metadata Tool allowed us to ramp up our skills with Ruby on Rails and web applications in general. Now we almost understand how Samvera and Hyrax works, and we have the skills necessary to implement a Hyrax-based repository for our special collections storage, and adapt it to our local needs and workflows. The Espy Metadata Tool has some features that saves a lot of time, most notably a Redis-based autocomplete that lets us quickly link a random newspaper article with a record by the individual's name or date of execution.

It was also really easy to make things like keyboard shortcuts. Here we really got to see the value of using common open source tools. For essentially everything we wanted there was already an existing library or a great example with some awesome documentation. Although these features were really cool and fun to work on, the real benefit is that it save us a lot of repetitive tasks. Now the computer does all of the tedious work, saving our labor for the still really challenging and intellectual processes that are requires to make metadata records.

We learned a lot about linked data and data modeling in general. Since the Samvera system we plan to implement alongside this project uses native linked data triples, we looked at how we could expose all the data created over the course of the project using linked data standards. The benefit here is that the data itself would be self-describing so that computers could understand the data's context and relationships.

In practice, this posed some difficult challenges. Our first attempt to use the Portland Common Data Model (PCDM) to model all of this data resulted in a model that was much more complex than useful. Once we started working on the metadata application and putting the model into practice it became very obvious how much of it was unnecessary and how a much simpler model was easier to work with in general. The model we're currently using with the metadata application might not also be our final version. While it contains all of the information and makes sense for linking all that information together, it is very unintuitive as a final record. We have to export the data to use to manipulate the master image files at the end for things like image rotations, so we decided to rework the model a bit later in the process once we have more experience working with the data. Since we're envisioning that researchers will work with the data directly, making the model clean and intuitive is a usability concern.

We spent lots of time talking about metadata fields, what is useful to document and how we would present them. There are many cases when the data in the Espy File implicitly demonstrated the priorities, values, and mental framing of the original researchers. Some of the decisions we made are both complex and imperfect, and we will make another update soon that talks about the metadata we're capturing and not capturing and our process of making these decisions.

We've decided not to use linked data vocabularies to encode descriptive metadata. When we started to look at linked data vocabularies for our descriptive metadata, it quickly became clear how problematic they are to describe this type of detailed metadata that requires really precise meaning. Overall, most of the vocabularies outside of those most commonly-used are poorly documented in general, and vocabularies are often fudged or used imperfectly. This failed to provide the nuance we require for this project. A practical example is that crime was encoded as "Crime Committed" in the Espy File, yet we feel that it's much more appropriate to call that field "Crime Convicted of." Yet, there does not appear to be any existing vocabulary that effectively describes the legal terms associated with capital punishment. We concluded that to effectively encode this the descriptive metadata as linked data would require us to create, document, promote, and maintain our own custom vocabulary.

Now there is a case to be made that this is exactly what we should have done. We have a strong institutional commitment to the National Death Penalty Archive here at UAlbany, and some great access to experts on our advisory board and in the School of Criminal Justice. If there is a real need for a linked data vocabulary to describe the legal terms associated with capital punishment, we are strongly situated to create one.

We actually found that developing a linked data vocabulary posed some interesting conflicts with our mission as archivists. Rather than just digitizing, describing, and providing access to information, we would be attempting to create an empirical set of information from our more limited archives. Not only would this be a much higher standard to meet, it would be without precedent for us. We would be going beyond our mission as an archives and on to something new. In itself, this wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but it was a commitment we really were not prepared to make.

When we stepped back to look at the big picture, it was clear that for all this effort, encoding the descriptive metadata as linked data really didn't add that much practical value. While we anticipate computational use for this collection, that need can be filled just by exposing the data and describing it well. Researchers typically want to understand the provenance themselves, and are unlikely to merely trust and rely upon linked data vocabularies for this context. Another practical concern is that researchers are likely to interact with this data using methods that they are already comfortable with. When we consider the common ways researchers work with data right now, we see that almost all of these methods lack the ability to leverage the added value of linked data.

This isn't to say that linked data has no value, just that we found that there is a significant cost if you're doing anything more than just using Dublin Core or MODS. The more complex and precise the data is, the higher that cost is. In our case the value added seems to be more theoretical, task-specific, or far off in the future. Many of the use cases for linked data can be also be met with a little effort just by open and well documented data over an API.

We complained about Fedora. Relenting on using vocabularies for descriptive metadata provides some added technical challenges. In asking around we've heard some opinions on Fedora 4's move to native linked data and the relationship between Fedora and Samvera. Many repositories are struggling with the move, and a few have even reluctantly stuck with Fedora 3. Others seems to think that part of the problem is how Samerva uses Fedora. While replacing the database of a web application with Fedora makes integrating it very easy, Fedora isn't necessarily designed to function in this way. Another issue is that swapping a database with Fedora in itself isn't a preservation plan. Fedora still has some awesome preservation features built-in, but it also doesn't quite merge well with how our university currently manages permanent data, for better or worse.

None of these challenges are insurmountable. Generally, it's always a much better idea to stick with what everyone else is doing rather than branching off alone, particularly with our limited resources and expertise. There is also real value to the Samvera/Fedora stack, even if there are some imperfections. Outside of our descriptive metadata example, it makes managing other metadata in linked data really easy. For example, we can merely deposit content and Fedora manages linked data PREMIS events automatically. We plan on storing our descriptive metadata in Fedora as content, as well as in a regular database using ActiveRecord.

We are now linking together all of complexity of the information we have into detailed, transparent, and effective metadata records. Meanwhile we will continue to test and experiment with Hyrax and work with Library Systems to configure our production servers. We have learned a lot in the past 6 months, and we hope we're on the right track with our thinking. We always welcome feedback, so if you have any useful thoughts, please let us know.

December 23, 2014

First "Hidden Collections" from the National Death Penalty Archives Made Available

The first two collections processed as part of the Building New Access Tools for the National Death Penalty Archive project are now open and available to researchers. Guides to the Leigh B. Bienen Papers and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Records can now be found on the M.E. Grenander Special Collections and Archives webpage. Visitors may now request to see any part of these collections in the Marcia Brown Reading Room on the third floor of the Science Library.

The ongoing project to process and make available 10 collections from the National Death Penalty Archives is funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources as part of its Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program.

The Leigh B. Bienen Papers contain the records of legal scholar Leigh B. Bienen and her efforts to show how the application of capital punishment in New Jersey and Illinois was inconsistent and discriminatory. Bienen was a member of the New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate in the 1980s where she directed the Public Defender Homicide Study cited in the New Jersey Supreme Court Decision State v. Marshall. In this case, Robert O. Marshall became the state's first death row inmate to have his death sentence confirmed by New Jersey's highest court since capital punishment was reinstated there in 1982. The study led the court to call for the New Jersey Proportionality Review Project where Bienen, along with other legal scholars, argued that the state's administration of the death penalty had significant bias based on the race of the defendant. The death penalty in New Jersey was abolished in 2007.
Bienen later lectured at Princeton University and Northwestern University and published extensively on the monetary costs of capital punishment and the outsized role of local prosecutors in sentencing defendants to death. In 2006, she was named to the Illinois Capital Punishment Reform Study Committee which influenced the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois in 2011.

For over 35 years the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has been working to educate the public about the arbitrary, discriminatory, and inconsistent use of capital punishment in the United States. The group was founded after the Supreme Court again permitted use of the death penalty in the Gregg v. Georgia decision of 1976. Since then, the NCADP has emerged as the largest national organization exclusively devoted to abolishing the death penalty. The group lobbies against capital punishment through a variety of methods that include organizing protests and increasing public awareness. The NCADP uses a number of non-violent methods to draw attention to, and advance, their campaign at local, state and national levels.

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Records contains the group's internal case files, administrative material, and publications. Here researchers can examine efforts like the international Stop Killing Kids Campaign as well as photographs, audio, and video of the NCADP's annual conference and on-the-ground advocacy campaigns.
The Building New Access Tools for the National Death Penalty Archive project is well under way. In addition to these two collections, the Victor L. Streib Papers and the records of the death penalty abolition group Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation are also nearing completion and will be made available during the Spring 2015 semester. Work has also started on the arrangement and description of the Bill Pelke Papers and the David C. Baldus Papers which document abolition advocacy campaigns and the statistical analysis of capital charging, sentencing, and jury-decision making in six states and in the US military. Overall the project will result in the processing and opening of over 700 cubic feet of unique manuscript materials.

September 27, 2012

A National Death Penalty Archive Event

A National Death Penalty Archive Event
Friday, October 12, 2012
Standish Room, Science Library, University at Albany
Lecture and Reception at 4:00 pm

strieb copy.jpg

The University at Albany's School of Criminal Justice and the University Libraries are proud to host former Dean and Professor Emeritus Victor Streib, of the Ohio Northern University College of Law, who will offer remarks in connection with the announcement of the addition of his papers to the National Death Penalty Archive (NDPA). Dean Streib is recognized as the country's foremost authority on the capital punishment of juveniles and women. His work has been cited extensively by the United States Supreme Court in its cases addressing the constitutionality of the death penalty for juvenile offenders. His remarks will address "Death to the Women and Children," and will analyze national and international trends regarding the capital punishment of these different populations. Discussion, an opportunity for questions, and a reception will follow. Portions of the materials that Dean Streib has donated to the NDPA will be on display. The program is free and open to the public. For a copy of the latest edition of Dean Streib's research report, Death Penalty for Female Offenders, visit:

March 5, 2012

Camp Woodland Reunion July 14, 2012

What: Camp Woodland Reunion and Square and Folk dancing
When: Saturday July 14, 2012, 9:30 AM - 6:30 PM
Where: University at Albany, SUNY, Campus Center


Activities include:

• Panel Discussion on the Norman Studer Vision of a Living Democracy (Lead by Joan Studer, Bill Horn, Sue Rosenberg and others).
• Panel discussion of historical period that Camp Woodland existed, the oral history/folklore of the Catskill area and the role of the SUNY archive in preserving the Camp Woodland Archive.
• Sessions to sing the songs collected in the Catskills and other songs sung at camp Woodland: an informal sing with non-performing campers joining with performers and the singing of the Cantatas sung at Catskill Folk Festivals. Lonesome Train, We've Come from the City, Boney Quillen, Sojourner Truth. Conducted by former Music Counselors.
• Square and Folk dancing to songs from Camp Woodland.
• Oral history interviews of Camp Woodland alumni by Ellen McHale, New York Folklore Society, and Dr. Gerald Zahavi, University at Albany Professor of History, who will be recording alumni memories of camp.
• The Norman Studer Papers Archive will be available for review including Camp Woodland archive, materials such as correspondence, diaries, student writings, audio recordings, 16mm films, and photographs. The papers contain an extraordinary collection of reel-to-reel audiotapes capturing local Catskill informant interviews, a wide array of regional and national folk singers performing at Camp Woodland folk festivals.

Here's a link to the official event website:

September 9, 2011

CSEA Publications Document Aftermath of 9/11 and Impact upon State Workers

This September the University at Albany Libraries’ M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives is spotlighting the recently digitized publications of the Civil Service Employees Association, Inc., or CSEA, from the fall of 2001 which focused upon the aftermath of the events of September 11. The department holds the records of the CSEA, Local 1000, AFSCME, AFL-CIO. CSEA is the largest public employees' union in New York State with over 260,000 members.

This substantial collection documents the organization’s 100 year-old history with administrative files, subject files, photographs, audio/video materials, scrapbooks, and publications. The official CSEA magazine The Work Force, published from 1978 through today, is just one highlight of the collection.

The commemorative November 2001 issue of The Work Force mourns the 42 state workers, 39 from the Department of Taxation and Finance and three from the Department of Transportation, lost in the tragedy at the World Trade Center. There were five CSEA members among them. The issue discusses the many memorials held to honor the victims, details the pivotal role played by CSEA on September 11 and afterwards, and offers words of encouragement to readers from union representatives. CSEA members submitted poems to The Work Force to share their thoughts and feelings. The issue also tackled safety and health risks posed to workers engaged in recovery and then clean-up efforts at the World Trade Center site.

Following is the link to the complete CSEA finding aid which provides a history of the organization, greater detail about the collection and access to the October and December 2001 issues of The Work Force:

Also, CSEA's Always Remember commemorates the 10th anniversary 9/11.


November 25, 2009

Frank C. Moore Papers

The Department of Special Collections announces the completion of the online finding aid for the Frank Moore Papers.

moore image.jpg New York State Governor Thomas E. Dewey signs the 1950 Thruway Authority Act creating the New York State Thruway Authority (NYSTA), an independent public corporation, which would build and manage the turnpike. (Moore is second from the right).

Frank Moore, a New York State politician and civil servant, held a wide range of elected and appointed positions during his fifty-year career. The collection consists primarily of the records of Moore's service in various elected and appointed positions. Materials include correspondence, memoranda, draft and final reports, research material, periodicals, photographs, meeting minutes and news clippings. Many series contain extensive files of internal research and reports that document the statistical information which guided the decision-making of Moore and his colleagues during Moore’s long career as a public servant.

After his admission to the bar in 1924, Moore established a practice in Kenmore and became counsel to the town, village and school district of that name, beginning his lifelong engagement with the problems of municipal organization in New York State. From 1927 to 1932 he served as counsel to the New York State Joint Legislative Committee on the Revision of the Town Law and was one of the principal authors of the final revision enacted in 1932. In 1933, Moore helped establish the New York State Association of Towns and became its executive secretary. And in 1938 he served as a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention.

In 1942, Moore was elected New York State Comptroller and in 1950 he ran for Lieutenant Governor as part of incumbent Governor Thomas Dewey's slate of Republican candidates. He was elected to the position and served until 1953. In 1953 he resigned from the position to take up the chairmanship of the Government Affairs Foundation, a foundation established by Nelson Rockefeller. He would hold this position for the next fifteen years until the dissolution of the Foundation in 1968. Concurrently with his service at the Foundation, Moore served as Chairman, SUNY Board of Trustees and chaired or served on a wide range of commissions, conferences and committees in New York State and in the United States. Moore holds the distinction of being one of two people to serve as a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Conventions of both 1938 and 1967. Moore gradually retired from public service in the late 1960s for reasons of health. Moore died in 1978 in Crystal River, Florida.

May 22, 2008

New Finding Aids Available Online

The M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives has added the following online finding aids to its Web site. Additional information about each collection is available through the appropriate links.

Congressman James J. Delaney Papers
Elected as a Democrat to the Seventy-ninth United States Congress in November 1944, Delaney was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1946. Delaney’s hiatus from politics was short-lived as he was elected again in November 1948 and remained in Congress until his retirement in December 1978. The James Joseph Delaney Papers cover the years 1950-1978, and document Delaney’s extensive tenure in Congress. Delaney served as Congressman from Queens, New York and his three decades in Washington are distinguished by consecutive elections to chairman of the House Rules Committee and the addition of the Delaney Clause to the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The Papers contain 12 cubic feet of legislative files, correspondence, reports, speeches, statements, press releases, and news clippings.

New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NYCAP), Records
In 1989, Tracy Frisch, an etymologist who had suffered from pesticide poisoning, formed a non-profit citizens' organization committed to reducing hazardous chemical pesticides use through education and advocacy called the New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NYCAP). This collection documents the activities of the New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NYCAP) from its creation in 1989 through 2002. The organization was formed as a not-for-profit group devoted to educating the public about pesticide and other environmental dangers. The organization was able to spread their message through conferences, workshops, mail order catalogs, information requests, school programs, and policy-making. This collection also documents the professional career of Tracy Frisch in the decade before her founding of NYCAP. Material from her career as a New York State Legislature lobbyist and staff member is included in this collection as well as materials from her research on environmental pests and pollution from the early 1980s.

For more information, please see our Manuscript and Collections Pages or contact Brian Keough, Head of Special Collections and Archives, (518) 437-3931 or

January 3, 2007

New Collections

Below are a few collections recently acquired by the Grenander Department. Complete lists of the Department's collections are available here.

Bridge Line Historical Society (MSS-129) - The Bridge Line Historical Society (BLHS) was founded in 1990 to document the history of the Delaware & Hudson Railway. The collection includes the BLHS's newsletter, The Bulletin, as well as maps, drawings, publications, and related material. The Grenander Department has only just begun to receive records from the BLHS and expects to steadily receive additional material from the organization in the months and years to come.

Business and Professional Women's Club of Schenectady (APAP-218) - The records of the Business and Professional Women's Club of Schenectady joins the records of the Albany and New York State organizations already held by the Grenander Department. The collection includes meeting minutes, news clippings, publications, programs, scrapbooks detailing the club's activities and accomplishments, and photographs from its organization in 1927 through 2006.

David Coplon (APAP-288) - The collection includes material from the Schenectady chapter of Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE); local anti-Vietnam war organizations; Church and Laity United, Schenectady; and groups advocating for Middle East peace. Much of the material dates from the 1970s.

Robert Gross (APAP-291) - The records were created during Gross' work with the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP), Journey of Hope, Lighting the Torch of Conscience, and other activities in opposition to the death penalty. The NCADP leads and coordinates the movement to end state killing in the United States. Its 120 member organizations include civil and human rights groups, legal advocacy and public interest groups, and virtually every major church or religious denomination in the country. Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing is an organization that is led by murder victims' family members. It conducts public education speaking tours and addresses alternatives to the death penalty. The collection includes: NCADP state files, programs, and organizations; Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing administrative files, videotapes, photographs, and press packets related to speaking tours; and material from the Lighting the Torch of Conscience march in 1990.

Geof Huth (MSS-137) - The collection includes artworks produced by Geof Huth (including poetry, fiction, essays, aphorisms, visual poems, dramatic works, and comics), biographical records, extensive correspondence, records of his various micropresses, weblogs, audiovisual recordings of sound poems and presentations given at professional conferences, and a large collection of small and micropress publications focused on visual and experimental poetry. Huth's reflections on donating his papers, including the finding aid he wrote for his collection, are here. After a bit of editing, the Grenander Department will make the finding aid available from here.

Women's Building, Inc. (APAP-292) - The Women's Building, Inc. is the women's community center of the Capital Region located at 79 Central Avenue in Albany, New York and operated by the Holding Our Own foundation. The Women's Building's mission is to create an environment where differences are respected, leadership is shared, all women's strengths are recognized, all women's growth is supported, and a diversity of age, race, education, income, physical and mental ability, sexual orientation, religion, and social background is seen as enriching. The organization's goals are to: provide a resource center and clearinghouse for information of interest to women; a multi-purpose space for cultural, informational, and recreational events of interest to women and children including meeting rooms, office rental for women's organizations, services, commercial, and professional enterprises, and a performance area; and to enhance a sense of community among women throughout the Capital Region. The collection includes records such as meeting minutes, grant applications, material related to the Women's Building's capital campaign, publications, program material, and other administrative material.

December 19, 2006

UAlbany Libraries Announce Acquisition of Congressman Sherwood Boehlert’s Papers

M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives Adds to Significant Collection

ALBANY, NY (December 19, 2006)--The University at Albany’s Libraries have acquired the papers of U.S. Congressman Sherwood Boehlert (R-24th District). Mr. Boehlert recently retired, after serving in the U.S. Congress since first elected in 1982.

Congressman Boehlert’s papers will add significantly to UAlbany’s New York State Modern Political Archive. His papers include approximately 500 boxes, and stand as record of a long and productive career serving the people of New York. Among Mr. Boehlert’s many achievements was his chairmanship of the House Science Committee; he also served on committees on Transportation and Infrastructure. By appointment of the Speaker of the House, Congressman Boehlert served for eight years as a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, where he was on the front line of important intelligence decisions faced by Congress. Early in 2003, the Speaker appointed Boehlert to serve on the newly created Select Committee on Homeland Security.

In addition to being a leader on science issues, Boehlert’s legislative experience and seniority made him one of the most influential Members of Congress. National Journal featured him as one of a dozen "key players" in the House. Time Magazine highlighted Congressman Boehlert as a power center on Capitol Hill. Congressional Quarterly regularly named Boehlert one of the 50 most effective lawmakers in Washington.

Continue reading "UAlbany Libraries Announce Acquisition of Congressman Sherwood Boehlert’s Papers" »

December 13, 2006

UAlbany Libraries Announce Acquisition of Papers from Congressional and Legislative Leaders

From the press release available in PDF format here.

The University at Albany's Libraries have added another, varied collection of political papers to its important archive, New York State Modern Political Archive.

The collection, received from Syracuse University Libraries, includes the papers from 22 former new York Congressional members and 41 legislators who served in the New York State Legislature. This acquisition was completed to strengthen scholarly research and to support the long-term preservation and access to New York's political history by placing the materials at the University at Albany Libraries' premier political archive, which includes more than 300 collections from advocacy groups, poliitcal activists, and legislators integral to New York State's public policy.

According to Brian Keough, head of the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, "The continued development of the New York State Modern Political Archive will better serve scholars and students of modern political history by making accessible a comprehensive archive available in one centralized location."

A celebration of the collection as well as to honor donors will be held in April 2007. Contact Brian Keough for detailed information: 518-437-3931 or

December 12, 2006

New Finding Aids

Finding aids recently added to the Department of Special Collections and Archives' Website are briefly described below. Be sure to visit the finding aid for additional information about the collection.

Duncan Blanchard
The papers of Atmospheric Sciences Research Center scientist and professor Duncan Blanchard include manuscripts and correspondence.

William Kennedy
The inventory for the papers of William Kennedy continues to be updated with the most recent additions including the series for Kennedy's O Albany! and Charlie Malarkey books.

National Organization for Women--Albany (N.Y.) Chapter
The collection includes correspondence, minutes, by-laws, financial reports, subject files on women's issues, and printed materials pertaining to NOW with particular strength in documenting the Albany and New York State chapters. The records of this women's organization pertain to sexual discrimination in education and employment, reproductive rights, gay and lesbian rights, the Equal Rights Amendment, and other gender-related issues.

Alexander Semmler
The inventory for the papers of composer Alexander Semmler is also now available online. Semmler was active in radio and film, serving as staff conductor and pianist fo rthe CBS Orchestra and as composer and conductor for films released by RKO Pathe. Semmler's compositions include opus numbers as well as numerous songs and other short works. These include works for orchestra, string and chamber orchestra, chamber groups of all sorts, piano, organ, and voice.

November 2, 2006

Acquisition of the Papers of Ronald B. Stafford

The M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives is pleased to announce the acquisition of the papers of Ronald B. Stafford. Stafford represented the North Country for a 37-year State Senate career which included membership on several committees. He ended his career as chairman of the powerful Finance Committee. Stafford, a Republican, was the first chairman of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee. During his Senate career, he chaired the Senate Finance Committee, Higher Education Committee, Codes Committee, and the Judiciary Committee. In 1974, as Chairman of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee he helped shape and create the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), a landmark program that opened access to college for New Yorkers who would otherwise have been unable to afford opportunities in higher education. He was a protector of the environment through his involvement in Adirondack Park affairs. Stafford was instrumental in bringing the 1980 Olympic Winter Games to Lake Placid, and in 1974 was appointed chairman of the New York State 1980 Olympic Winter Games Commission. He remained a leading figure in the Senate and in New York State politics throughout his career and until his death in 2005.

Stafford's papers are part of the Department's New York State Modern Political Archive. The complete press release is available at the University Libraries' News and Events blog.

November 1, 2006

Intern Blog: CSEA Intern Devin Lander

The M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives is fortunate to have undergraduate and graduate students working on a variety of projects including arranging and describing collections, conducting research related to our collections, and many other initiatives. Here University at Albany graduate student Devin Lander writes about his ongoing project.

My name is Devin Lander and I am a graduate student in the Public History Program at the University at Albany, SUNY. I have been fortunate enough to have been accepted to work with the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) collection at the University at Albany's M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives. Thus far I have been working on uploading CSEA photographs to the University at Albany Libraries' Digital Collections database, assigning them numbers, and adding all of the pertinent information to allow access to the collection via the web. Some of the interesting photographs that I have worked on so far include a series taken in the wake of the past summer's floods throughout New York State. The CSEA has taken an active role in helping both its members and non-members who were directly affected by the flooding. There are many compelling images of work being done to repair the massive amount of damage that was brought about by the floods. Another interesting series of photos that I have worked on is a collection of 1950s and 60s era photographs from the New York State Office of Mental Hygiene's Annual Reports. This series has several striking images of mental health practices from a time period when the modern idea of psychiatric therapy was in its initial stages. Some of the period captions are especially interesting when compared to the modern terminology that is used to describe the mentally ill. I will also be digitizing much of the CSEA's microfilm collection as well as working with their paper collection. Although I have only just begun to scratch the surface of the work to be done with this collection, I am very excited to be a part of this project.

October 11, 2006

New Index for Joseph Persico Finding Aid

Speaking of Joseph Persico, the finding aid for the papers of Mr. Persico has recently been updated to include a chronological index of speeches, press releases, and transcripts written by Persico primarily for Governor and Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller.

October 9, 2006

October is GLBT History Month

In addition to American Archives Month, October is also designated as GLBT History Month, which provides an ideal opportunity to highlight collections in the Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives.

The Department's subject guide for Human Sexuality and Gender Identity collections has expanded a great deal in recent months as new inventories and finding aids have been added for a number of collections including the Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Council, Steven F. Dansky, Campus Action, and others.

Another collection researchers should be aware of is the papers of Joseph Norton. In addition to material related to Joseph Norton's career as a professor in the School of Education at the University at Albany, the papers also include two cubic feet of correspondence, minutes of meetings, and printed materials relating to Norton's involvement in the gay liberation movement. Norton was an advisor to the Gay Liberation Front in New York State (1971–1972); a member of the Board of Directors of the National Gay Task Force (1976–1978); a founder and director of the National Caucus of Gay and Lesbian Counselors of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists; and a founder and director of the Caucus of Gay Counselors of the American Personnel and Guidance Association (1977–1978).

The Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives continues its efforts to add to the historical record of LGBT history in New York State with a particular emphasis on the Capital Region. If you or someone you know has material that should be transferred to an archival repository to ensure that the records are made available and accessible to all interested researchers and preserved for generations, contact me.

Continue reading "October is GLBT History Month" »

October 3, 2006

New Finding Aids for National Death Penalty Archive Collections

In anticipation of the symposium The Next Generation of Death Penalty Research: Priorities, Strategies, and an Agenda presented by the Capital Punishment Research Initiative and the School of Criminal Justice on October 6-7, 2006, the new finding aids highlighted in this posting are from the National Death Penalty Archive.

Steven Hawkins
Steven Hawkins was the executive director of the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty (now known as the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty) based in Washington, D.C. Hawkins has worked as an advocate for civil and human rights representing persons under a death sentence. The papers contain meeting subject files that include extensive minutes of board meetings, speeches, fundraising and reception notes, and pamphlets and other papers relating to his attendance at board and committee meetings with related organizations, such as the Death Penalty Information Center and Amnesty International. The papers also contain copies of police reports, witness and investigator statements, and defendant testimony regarding the cases of certain high-profile death row inmates.

Death Penalty in New York Testimony Collection
The Death Penalty in New York Testimony Collection includes testimony given to the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Codes, Assembly Standing Committee on Judiciary, and Assembly Standing Committee on Correction in 2004-2005. The collection includes testimony from 137 witnesses, including officials from grass roots organizations, lawyers, law professors, concerned citizens, religious leaders, former inmates, and families of victims. The collection also includes a copy of the 1965 Committee for the Revision of the Penal and Criminal Legal Code Special Report on Capital Punishment and a booklet from the Capital Punishment Committee of Michigan about the New York hearings, entitled A Guide to the New York Death Penalty Hearings, 2004-2005. This booklet, which lists witness names, was written by Eugene G. Wanger, who also testified.

The National Death Penalty Archive is a partnership between the University at Albany Libraries and the Capital Punishment Research Initiative (CPRI) at the University's School of Criminal Justice. In 1999, researchers at the School of Criminal Justice formally established the CPRI. Its overarching goals were research and education -- initiate capital punishment research activities, facilitate collaboration among researchers, and make findings and information available to legal and criminal justice policymakers, practitioners, and the public. One of the original goals of the CPRI was to establish and maintain a collection of archival materials documenting the important history of capital punishment, and to provide resources for historical scholarship. This growing collection of archival materials is housed in the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives.

September 25, 2006

Recent Acquisitions for the National Death Penalty Archive

The National Death Penalty Archive in the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives continues to expand. Last month, over 80 cubic feet of records from Abe Bonowitz, Bill Pelke, Bill Babbitt, and Michael Mello were transferred to the Department of Special Collections and Archives. Bonowitz of Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Pelke of Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing, and Charlie Lanier of the Capital Punishment Research Initiative even braved one of the hottest days of the summer in August to bring more records to UAlbany! You can read Abe's account of the trip and his encouragement to others to consider transferring their records to the National Death Penalty Archive here.

September 13, 2006

Archives of Public Affairs and Policy Finding Aids

The Department is continuously arranging and describing manuscript and archival collections and adding the finding aids and inventories that are created to the Department’s Website. Some of the finding aids from the Archives of Public Affairs and Policy added in the last month include:

Continue reading "Archives of Public Affairs and Policy Finding Aids" »

August 14, 2006

Department Awarded Grant

The M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives is one of nine institutions in New York State to receive a grant from the New York State Archives' Documentary Heritage Program for 2006-2007. The award of over $12,000 will be used to arrange and describe records related to environmental affairs including the collections of New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides and Lou Ismay.

Louis Ismay was a member of the Department of Fine Arts at the State University of New York at Albany (as the University at Albany, SUNY was then known). However, this collection documents his work with the Environmental Studies Program in general and the Environmental Forum class in particular. The collection also documents organizations such as the Protect Your Environment Club. New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NYCAP) was formed as a non-profit citizens' organization committed to reducing hazardous chemical pesticide use through education and advocacy. The issues that NYCAP championed included: safe pest control for schools, hospitals, and public places; reducing work exposure to chemicals; farm worker protection; prevention of groundwater pollution; environmentally sound farming; and strict regulation of pesticides. NYCAP also sought to provide leadership on these issues to other organizations such as parent teacher associations, labor unions, and general environmental groups.

The Department of Special Collections and Archives has been building its collections in the area of conservation and environmental affairs since 2001 and now holds the records of over 50 organiations and individuals. A complete list of collections held by the Department in this subject area is available at The records of the New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides and Lous Ismay will be available to the public in Spring 2007.

August 10, 2006

New Labor History Resources Available Online

Over 1,000 publications and 4,000 photographs from the records of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), United University Professions, and IUE-CWA (International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers) Local 301 were recently made available online.

The digitization of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) newsletters was begun with the support of CSEA with issues of The Civil Service Leader from the years 1946-1947 and 1950-1953 currently available in PDF format through the finding aid for the collection, which is available at The digitization of the CSEA’s newsletters is an ongoing project and eventually issues from 1944-1989 of The Civil Service Leader and its successor The Public Sector will be available online. Also, over 700 images documenting labor from the early 20th century to the present from the records of CSEA are also available online. A link to the CSEA images in the University at Albany Libraries’ Digital Collections database is also available at The Civil Service Employees Association, Inc., or CSEA, is the largest public employees' union in New York State with over 260,000 members. CSEA began in Albany, New York, in 1910 as a collective effort by a handful of state employees to earn better wages and working conditions.

Over 4,000 images from the records of United University Professions (UUP) are also available online thanks to the support of UUP. A link to the UUP images in the University at Albany Libraries’ Digital Collections database is available at UUP was created in 1973 and is the union representing more than 32,000 academic and professional faculty on 29 State University of New York campuses, plus System Administration, Empire State College, and the New York State Theatre Institute. UUP’s records in the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives total over 160 cubic feet.

IUE-CWA Local 301's publications for 1939-1962 are now available in PDF format through the finding aid for the collection available at Local 301 has been representing workers at General Electric’s Schenectady facility since 1936. The newspaper is the only consistent source for information prior to the 1960s and provides background for any history of Local 301. Local 301’s publications from 1962-1990 as well as 7 reels of microfilm, 32 audio and video recordings, and over 10 cubic feet of records are available in the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives

A complete list of collections related to Labor is available at while the subject guide for Business and Industry is available at

August 9, 2006

Capital Punishment Clemency Petitions Digitized

The Capital Punishment Clemency Petitions Collection has been digitized and links to PDF files of the petitions are available from the finding aid for the collection at

Unlike judicial proceedings, claims raised in clemency petitions are free of procedural defaults that can mask error, unfairness, or irrationality in a given death sentence. Petitions thus can reveal what the sentencing authority may not have known because of attorney error, prosecutorial misconduct, newly discovered evidence, or other reasons. As part of his work with The Constitution Project, William J. Bowers established the Capital Punishment Clemency Petitions Collection Collection at the National Death Penalty Archive in the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives. This collection comprises approximately 150 clemency petitions in death penalty cases, from almost two dozens jurisdictions. It is the initial installment in a collection that attempts to gather all death penalty clemency petitions filed in the United States during the modern era of capital punishment.

The University Libraries’ M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives is collaborating with the Capital Punishment Research Initiative of the School of Criminal Justice to maintain and grow the National Death Penalty Archive (NDPA). Additional information about the NDPA and a complete list of collections is available at