Roland Harper’s Southern churches, 1901-1958

Roland Harper (1878-1966) was a lot of things, notably a geologist and botanist. According to a biographical sketch published two years after his death (see end of post for reference), “Roland Harper was intent. He botanized, observed, photographed, walked, editorialized, criticized, lived, intently.” This kind of focus, coupled with his wide range of interests, made him a particularly prolific documentarian of Southern life.

On his travels around Alabama and Georgia, as he examined rock formations and local flora, Harper also picked up artifacts of everyday life (for example, see our collection of his railroad timetables) and took hundreds of photographs of the communities he visited or passed through. One thing that frequently drew his attention was a central part of early 20th century community life: the local church.

Below is a selection of images he took of churches in the South, from the turn of the century through the late 1950s. Harper would have been about 23 when the first picture below was taken and around 80 as he took the last.

Cities and counties are in Alabama if not otherwise noted.

Church in Georgia, 1901

Church in Georgia, 1901

Interior of log church in Dooley County, Georgia, 1903

Interior of log church in Dooley County, Georgia, 1903

Church in Georgia, 1904

Church in Georgia, 1904

Church in Burke County, Georgia, 1904

Church in Burke County, Georgia, 1904

Frame church in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, 1918

Frame church in St. Mary's County, Maryland, 1918

Little Bethel A.M.E. church, south of Selma, 1922

Little Bethel AME church, south of Selma, 1922

Byrdine A.M.E. Zion church (background) in Greene County, 1923

Byrdine AME Zion church (background), Greene County, Alabama, 1923

Methodist Church and parsonage in Lowndesboro, 1924

Methodist Church and parsonage in Lowndesboro, 1924

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lowndesboro, 1924

St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Lowndesboro, 1924

Two churches in Jefferson County, Florida, 1925

Two churches in Jefferson County, Florida, 1925

Church in Calhoun County, Florida, 1925

Church in Calhoun County, Florida, 1925

Two churches in Dallas County, 1927

Two churches in Dallas County, Alabama, 1927

First Congregational church (left) in Montgomery, 1927

First Congregational church (left) in Montgomery, 1927

Methodist Church in Somerville, 1927

Methodist Church in Somerville, 1927

Two churches in Russell County, 1927

Two churches in Russell County, Alabama, 1927

Church in Alabama, 1928

Church in Alabama, 1928

Sands Baptist Church in Hart County, Georgia, 1929

Sands Baptist Church in Hart County, Georgia, 1929

Presbyterian Church in Cuthbert, Georgia, 1930

Presbyterian Church in Cuthbert, Georgia, 1930

Prebyterian church in Eutaw, 1931

Prebyterian church in Eutaw, 1931

Episcopal church and cemetery in Carlowville, 1933

Episcopal Church and cemetery in Carlowville, 1933

Two Catholic churches in Fredericksburg, Texas, 1934

Two Catholic churches in Fredericksburg, Texas, 1934

Church on a dirt road in either Louisiana or Mississippi, 1934

Church on a dirt road in either Louisiana or Mississippi, 1934

Old Pisgah Church in Marshall County, 1937

Old Pisgah Church in Marshall County, Alabama, 1937

Old Five-Mile Church between Akron and Greensboro, 1938

Old Five-Mile Church between Akron and Greensboro, 1938

Church (background) in Virginia, 1940

Church (background) in Virginia, 1940

Church being built north of Littleville, 1941

Church being built north of Littleville, 1941

African-American church in Mobile, 1949

African American church in Mobile, 1949

Church in Dayton, 1952

Church in Dayton, 1952

Church in Eatonville, Florida, 1955

Church in Eatonville, Florida, 1955

Beard’s Chapel A.M.E. Zion church, Alberta City area of Tuscaloosa, 1956

Beard's Chapel AME Zion church, Alberta City area of Tuscaloosa, 1956

Castle Hill Baptist church (foreground) and Bethel Church (background) in Alabama(?), 1956

Castle Hill Baptist church, brick, and Bethel Church, wood, 1956

African-American church in Alberta City area of Tuscaloosa, 1957

African-American church in Alberta City area of Tuscaloosa, 1957

Brick church in Tuscaloosa, 1958

Brick church in Tuscaloosa, 1958

African-American Church in Tuscaloosa, 1958

African-American Church in Tuscaloosa, 1958

Seventeenth Street A.O.H. Church of God in Tuscaloosa, circa 1958

Seventeenth Street AOH Church of God in Tuscaloosa, circa 1958



Ewan, Joseph. “Roland McMillan Harper (1878-1966).” Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 95.4 (1968): 390-393.

Campus Rewind: Foster Auditorium and Coleman Coliseum

It seems like it’s impossible to write a blog post about any building on campus without talking about what came before or after. In this case, a look at Foster Auditorium led down an unexpected path — to Coleman Coliseum. But how?

Foster Auditorium

When Foster was built in 1939, it had no name.

It eventually took its name from UA President Richard Clarke Foster, who unexpectedly died while in office in 1941.

While it’s called an auditorium, we’d more accurately call it a gymnasium, and it saw students through lots of events throughout the year.

First, there was registration — back when you had to signup for classes on paper!

Registration Day

From 1958 Corolla

Registration Day

From 1959 Corolla

There would also be pep rallies of all sorts, as well as basketball games.

It also hosted plenty of non-sports-related events. Here it is packed with chairs for speeches and transformed for a dance.

Of course, we think of Foster, we also think of its defining moment: the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, the day in June 1963 when Governor Wallace attempted to bar Vivian Malone and James Hood from registering for classes at the university.

Plaques on Foster Auditorium entrance

Plaques on Foster Auditorium entrance

This is Foster today.

Foster Auditorium, 2015, view from the north

Foster Auditorium, 2015

In front of the building is Malone-Hood Plaza, celebrating the desegregation of the university.

Plaque on the Malone-Hood Plaza clocktower

Plaque on the Malone-Hood Plaza clocktower

Coleman Coliseum

By the time Foster had its big moment in the news, it was already outgrowing its usefulness. In the late 1960s, a new facility was built, one that would also be multipurpose.

Like Foster, Coleman wasn’t named after anyone at first. It was just known as Memorial Coliseum.

In 1988, it was named in honor of Jefferson Coleman, a prominent alumnus who held many positions at the university, including Business Manager of the football team and Director of Alumni Affairs. (Take a look at his photo collection in Acumen.)

Since its construction, it’s served the university in a number of capacities, including hosting concerts, celebrating graduations, and, of course, being the home court for UA’s basketball program.

This is Coleman Coliseum today, smack dab in the middle of an ever-growing athletic complex.

Coleman Coliseum, 2015

Coleman Coliseum, 2015

Alabama’s Jewish History

Did you know May is Jewish American Heritage Month? You may not: it’s a new commemoration, proclaimed by President Bush in 2006.

Alabama, like much of the South, is not known for having a large Jewish population, yet Jewish Americans have been part of the state’s history from the beginning. According to the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities, Mobile attracted Jewish immigrants in the 1820s, and by the 1840s they flocked to cotton market towns like Montgomery and Selma. Later, in the early 20th century, they settled in industrial communities such as Birmingham and Bessemer.

Like Huntsville and Dothan, Tuscaloosa saw its Jewish population grow after the Civil War, as the town rebuilt itself. In the late 19th and early 20th century, many Jews in Tuscaloosa were merchants, largely from Hungary or Germany. Businessmen Ike Friedman and Adolph Holzstein helped establish the first congregation in Tuscaloosa, Temple Emau-El, in 1903. Prominent Jewish businesses included Bernard Friedman’s Atlanta Store, Max Pizitz’s Mercantile Company, a clothing store run by Sam Wiesel, a furniture store run by Morris Sokol, and a deli run by the Kartzinel family. By the 1960s and 1970s, though, these businesses were declining.

Hillel_Corolla1953According to the Encyclopedia entry on Tuscaloosa, “While the decline of the Jewish merchant class affected many other small Jewish communities, Tuscaloosa has managed to thrive in spite of it due to the presence of the university,” which attracted Jewish faculty and students. UA’s first Hillel House was built in 1934. The Rho chapter of sorority Sigma Delta Tau was established in 1935, and fraternity Zeta Beta Tau has an even longer history: the Psi chapter was founded at UA in 1916.

The campus Jewish population is smaller now — according to the Bama Hillel website, “There are over 700 Jewish students at Alabama, and we are growing every year!” — but it is still active. The Tuscaloosa congregation continues to depend on its ties with the university community, as it meets in a new facility on the UA campus, adjacent to the new Bloom Hillel Student Center.


Acumen has finding aids for archival collections related to Jews in Alabama:

It also has finding aids for collections related to Judaism or Jewish Americans:

  • Sheldon Rosenzsweig collection of publications about Israel — Published materials commemorating the twentieth, twenty-fifth, and thirtieth anniversaries of the founding of the Jewish state of Israel.
  • Berman Family papers — digitized and online! — Material created and kept by the Berman family of St. Louis, Missouri. These are primarily letters written, often in Hebrew, by Dr. William (Bill) Berman and his wife Marian from Ft. Riley, Kansas, where Bill served as an Army doctor during World War Two.


Eyewitness to Croxton’s Raid on Tuscaloosa, April 1865

Last year, we shared an in-depth post on the burning of the UA campus in the last days of the Civil War. This year, we take a look at the words of an eyewitness to the events.

Basil Manly, Sr., was living in Tuscaloosa during the Union raid of April 4, 1865 — sometimes referred to as Croxton’s Raid — and gave this account.

Excerpt from dairy of Basil Manly, Sr., April 4, 1865


Capture of the city. Tues. morn. April 4 In the course of the last night a portion of the Federal Cavalry, estimated at between 1500 & 2000, under Gen’l Croxton entered our city, surprising the guard at the bridge, and obtained possession of our city, without a struggle. They soon burned the buildings used for public purposes at the university, & took all the horses & mules they could find. They camped in our [streets?], that night, and next morning they proceeded to burn the foundry & factory, the niter sheds, and the bridge across the river. This last they did when retiring from the city in the direction of North port. The houses of two of the professors, inhabited by Mr. Deloffre & Mr. [D/H]ickson, took fire from the burning of other houses, and were consumed. Mr. & Mrs. Deloffre saved few things out of their dwelling, while it was burning.

Capt. Toomer, it is said, of the Tax in Kind, set fire to the row of building, known as [Drish’s?] row, as soon as the captors entered the city, and all the buildings connected with his office, were consumed; His books & papers, also, were consumed. The doors were all locked; the fire within about the latter part of the burning, the ware-house at the River was burnt, with its contents. A well-stocked [tan?]-yard, with all its stock & [?], was burned, also, the property of C. M. Foster. They passed over into North Port, burned the ware-house there; & perhaps other property. I learn that they did not burn Cumming’s [tan?]-yard, in North-Port.

A good deal of robbery & pillage was done in private houses, in situations remote from the general’s head quarters; but, generally, they were restrained from much of that in the more frequented parts of the city; except as to the storehouses & shops. [These?] were ransacked & stripped of every thing, and a general invitation to the poor, & the negros to possess themselves of what they desired.

A few days later, General Lee surrendered and the war ended, but Manly and the rest of the community didn’t hear the news until early the next month. Sometime between May 7 and May 14, he reports the following.

Excerpt from dairy of Basil Manly, Sr., early May, 1865


Gen’l Lee Surrenders. we hear, also, that Gen’l R. E. Lee, and the Remnant of his army was hemmed in near Appomattox C. H. Va. by superior numbers; and that he surrendered all the troops with him, about the 9th of April. Gen’l Jos[eph] E. Johnston surrendered his army, in N.C. a few days after to Gen’l Sherman. All over-run

New and Notable in Acumen, Fall ’14 – Spring ’15

A lot has come through the digitization pipeline in the last six months or so. Here are some highlights.


Martha Jane Coleman Banks commonplace book

Contains diary entries, diary page with newspaper clippingsmiscellaneous writings (some appear to be school related), newspaper clippings, recipes, and poems. There is also a typed transcription of the book, which was perhaps provided by the donor.

Martha Jane Coleman Banks was born in Eutaw, Alabama, on April 23, 1833, to John Coleman and Rhoda Cobb. She graduated from the Mesopotamia Female Seminary in 1848. She married James Oliver Banks in 1852. James Banks was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on September 6, 1829, to Willis Banks and Mary Gray. After their wedding, John and Martha Jane lived on a plantation in Columbus, Mississippi, and according to the commonplace book, they had at least seventy-eight slaves. Martha Jane and James had four children together: Mary Gray; Willis Alston; John Coleman; and James Oliver.

John and Mary Wellborn Cochran Diaries, Letterbook, and Photographs

diary page, handwrittenConsists of three bound volumes of this Alabama attorney and politician and his wife: John Cochran’s diary; Mary Wellborn Cochran’s journal; and a miscellany of copies of some of John Cochran’s outgoing correspondence, journal entries of his, and copies of some freedman contracts to which he was party. Also includes two unidentified photographs that appear to be from the early twentieth century.

Cochran moved from Tennessee to Jacksonville, Alabama, in 1835 and began a law practice. He served as state representative from Calhoun County, 1839-42. He then moved to Barbour County in 1843 and served as state representative from Barbour County, 1853-57. He was also a representative to the state Secession Convention, 1861, and was circuit court judge, 1861-1865. He married three times: Caroline; Mary Wellborn of Eufaula, Alabama, October 8, 1845; and Miss Toney of Eufaula.

Antebellum South / Civil War

William and Crawford L. Brown family papers

receipt, handwrittenConsists of over one hundred documents relating to the Mississippi and Alabama plantations of brothers William and Crawford L. Brown. The documents include bills of sale for slaves; receipts for clothing, dry goods, and tool repair; tax receipts listing the number of slaves; bills of lading for cotton bales; and business letters.

William and Crawford L. Brown were brothers and wealthy plantation owners in Mississippi and Alabama in the early part of the nineteenth century. William, the wealthier of the two, settled in Hinds County, Mississippi, while Crawford settled in Columbia, Alabama, where he served as postmaster. Both brothers died in the late 1840s.

Holliman and Stewart families letters

letter page, handwrittenContains Civil War letters and miscellaneous documents of James Franklin Holliman and William Stewart, to and from their families between 1862-1911, and relating to Fayette County, Alabama, history. The majority of the letters are from the Civil War era.

James Franklin Holliman, oldest son of Uriah H. and Mary Lucas Holliman, was born on 28 January 1839, in Alabama. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Holliman was a First Lieutenant in Company “B” 58th Alabama Infantry Regiment. He was captured, with a large part of his Company, by Federal forces on 25 November 1863, at the Battle of Missionary Ridge. At the end of the war, he was released from prison on Johnson’s Island, Ohio, and returned home. William M. Stewart was the son of John Stewart and the brother of Rebecca Utley Stewart Holliman.

George Doherty Johnston papers

hand drawn mapContains the personal letters and war-related correspondence of Brigadier General George Doherty Johnston of the Twenty-fifth Alabama Infantry, C.S.A. The majority of the letters are from his first wife, Euphradia, and his mother.

George Doherty Johnston was born on May 30, 1832, in Hillsborough, North Carolina, to George Mulholland and Eliza Mary Bond Johnston. When George was two, his father moved the family to Greensboro, Alabama. When his father died less than a year later, his mother moved the family to Marion, Alabama. Johnston studied law at Cumberland School of Law at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee. When he graduated he returned home and began his practice. In 1856, Johnston was elected mayor of Marion, and then to the state legislature in 1857. After the war, Johnston served as the commandant of cadets at the University of Alabama. He moved to South Carolina to serve as superintendent of the South Carolina Military Academy, and later was appointed by President Grover Cleveland to be the United States Civil Service Commissioner. He returned to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he was elected a state senator.


Victor Hugo Friedman papers

photoContains Friedman’s personal and official correspondence, photographs of a camp in the Alps, his lieutenant’s commission, his Croce al Merito di Guerra and other military pins and ribbons, and various items issued to him by the military. Incoming correspondence is arranged alphabetically by author’s surname, and outgoing correspondence is arranged chronologically.

Victor Hugo Friedman was a prominent Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native and former University of Alabama football player. The founder of the Red Cross chapter in Tuscaloosa, he also served as an ambulance driver in the military for six months in Italy during World War I. He was stationed at the highest base in the Alps in August 1918. For his service to Italian soldiers in the mountains, the Italian government awarded him the Croce al Merito di Guerra (War Merit Cross).

Hans Höchersteiger papers

Tcover of newsletter with typed text and hand drawn sketcheshe collection contains letters and postcards of Hans Höchersteiger, a technical sergeant of the Luftwaffe during World War II. Höchersteiger was captured in May 1941 and was held first in England and then in Ottawa, Canada. All the letters and postcards from Höchersteiger are to his family in Stuttgart, Germany, and are written in German. There is no translation for them at this time.

There are also letters from the German Red Cross to Höchersteiger’s family (probably his father) concerning his whereabouts after being captured. These letters are also in German and only a cursory translation was made to determine their subject matter. One letter to Höchersteiger from his father, toward the end of the war, discusses some vocational training and night school. There is a diary, also in German (no translation available), covering the period from 1 April to 20 July 1938.

Guardians of Mobile Bay

Sheet music, Sounds from Mobile Bay

First page of music, Sounds from Mobile Bay, 1860

During the Civil War, Mobile Bay was protected by not one but two fortifications:

  • to the west — Fort Gaines, on Dauphin Island
  • to the east — Fort Morgan, down the beach from Gulf Shores

From these strategic points, Confederate soldiers could prevent enemy ships from coming into the bay by firing upon them. At the very least, they could keep an eye on traffic coming into the harbor.

Though the forts are no longer being used, they are still standing. I’ve been to Fort Gaines before, and on a recent trip to the gulf coast, I visited Fort Morgan, its slightly more impressive brother. Below, I’ll share some images from that trip (and others from the present day) as well as photographs and documents from our archive that give you a sense of each fort and why it was important to the cause.

Map of Mobile Bay


Fort Gaines

Aerial view of Fort Gaines, 2002, by Edibobb

Aerial view of Fort Gaines, 2002, by Edibobb

Fort Gaines was built in the wake of the war of 1812 and went through Confederate hands before returning to possession by the U.S. military. (Learn more about its history here, where you can find a video and an interactive map.)

Fort Gaines is now a museum, although the fortifications are not as well preserved as Fort Morgan’s. The island, however, is a thriving little beach community. Here are a couple of images from the island in 1940:

Here’s a view from the island in the present day:

View from Dauphin Island, looking east toward Fort Morgan, 2010, by Jeffrey Reed

View from Dauphin Island, looking east toward Fort Morgan, 2010, by Jeffrey Reed

Fort Morgan

Aerial view of Fort Morgan, 2002, by Edibobb

Aerial view of Fort Morgan, 2002, by Edibobb

Like its brother across the bay, Fort Morgan was constructed after the war of 1812, taken over by the Confederate Army in at the outset of the Civil War, and retaken by the Yankees near the end. After the war, it was used for various purposes by the U.S. Army and Navy. (You can read more about its history here).

Fort Morgan guards the east side of Mobile Bay. Here are some images from our collections showing this area in the early 20th century.

Today, Fort Morgan is a state park. You can visit the museum to learn more about how the fort operated, as well as explore the ruins and take in the nature around them, including a beach on the bay and a fishing pier.




In 1861, early in the Civil War, Mobile author Augusta Evans Wilson wrote to her friend, Rachel, about the Confederate possession of the fort and what it meant to her family and community:

You have doubtless heard from the papers of our taking our Forts & Arsenal. By far the most important of these is Fort Morgan, situated 30 (thirty) miles below Mobile, and commanding the entrance to our harbor. The fortifications are very strong, and with the addition of a few Columbiads which are daily expected, will be almost impregnable. … It is an anxious, terrible time – ! My Father and both my Brothers belong to the garrison of Fort Morgan and you can readily imagine, how restless their constant exposure to attack renders me.

Augusta and her friends helped out the fort in a very real way:

Immediately after its occupation by Alabama troops, the commander informed us that a number of Sand Bags, for the ramparts were needed; and also flannel charges for the cannon. We, ladies went to work at once, and have finished over 9000 Bags. this has kept me so busily engaged, that I have had no time for anything else; not even to write to you my dear friend.

Cannon at Fort Morgan, 2015

Cannon at Fort Morgan, 2015

At some point in the fort’s life, soldiers used this small oven to heat cannon balls, which when fired into passing ships would set them ablaze!

Oven for heating cannon balls, Fort Morgan, 2015

Oven for heating cannon balls, Fort Morgan, 2015

Early on in the war, things were probably going smoothly for the troops stationed on Mobile bay. Isaac Shelby, a commissary officer for the Military Department of the Gulf, wrote this about the state of supplies at both forts in the first half of 1862:

Excerpt from letter by Confederate commissary officer, 1862

Despite a promising start, the forts, as part of the Confederate holdings, fared just as poorly as the rest of the Confederacy as the war went on. Both were retaken in the Battle of Mobile Bay, in August 1864. Our sister blog, Cool@Hoole, has an excellent series of posts on this battle, featuring items one can only find in the physical collections at Hoole Library.

Among digitized items about the battle, we have this letter of August 14, 1864. Valentine Bruner, a Union soldier from Maryland, tells his parents of the recent surrender of Gaines and impending surrender of Morgan:

First we have been dismounted and are acting as infantry we started from New orleans for Mobile the 1st of Aug. our land forces entirely surrounding the Forts and on the fifth Fort Powell was evacuated and on the 7th Fort Gaines surrendered with 700 hundred prisoners. oh you cannot imagine how proud you feel to see 700 men march out in front of you and stack their arms to you. … the same plan we tried at Forts Powell and gaines we are now trying on Fort Morgan the [?] are now as I write belching out their 15teen inch shell all over them It mus fall but I cannot say how long it will take…

In 1865, some months after both forts had fallen, Mobile finally surrendered. George S. Smith, part of a Union regiment from Ohio, marked the occasion (and the end of the war) in his diary:

George S. Smith Civil War diary, page 13

Entries for April 11-16, 1865

Thankfully, Mobile survived its 19th century hardships, including the tumult of war, a terrible explosion (May 1865), Reconstruction (through 1874), and economic depression. Now, it’s the third largest city in the state, and its bay still invites ships and beachgoers alike.

Campus Pinups?

Rammer JammerUA’s campus magazine from the 1920s to the 1950s, often featured cover art that was surprisingly risqué for the time. Or was it?

I think we tend to see 1920s-1940s through the lens of the 1950s, with its heavily censored films (see “The Hays Code” at TV Tropes) and horribly wholesome television shows like Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best. We forget how much the early days of movies and television could be a bit like the wild west.

For example, a lot of people could tell you that, during the 1951-1957 run of I Love Lucy, Ricky and Lucy couldn’t sleep in the same bed or use the word “pregnant.” The fact that she was actually shown to be “expecting” was pretty daring. But I bet you didn’t know that the first show to depict a pregnancy, not to mention a couple that shared a bed, was before that — on Mary Kay and Johnny, in the late 1940s, a show now lost to history.

The 1940s are a confusing period to talk about. Sure, Hollywood movies weren’t allowed to show too much skin or bad guys getting away with their crimes, but it was also the period of bombshells like Mae West, Jean Harlow, and Veronica Lake. Perhaps it had to do with the uncertainty of WWII (1939-1945) or the end of the Great Depression. Or perhaps there was nothing odd about it at all; it just looks that way in hindsight, after the 1950s. Of course, it’s also possible we’re stereotyping the 1950s, too.

What’s certain: Rammer Jammer cover art usually echoes the trends of the era, especially in the depiction of the female form.


Before WWI, there was the Gibson Girl, created by Charles Dana Gibson.

Gibson Girls

She was a species of the New Woman, and she was a bit controversial (see “The Gibson Girls: The Kardashians of the Early 1900s” at mental_floss), but pop culture hadn’t seen anything yet.

The 1920s flapper was a new breed. Jazz Age illustrators like Russell Patterson and John Held Jr. immortalized these more daring women of the Roaring Twenties, often in an Art Deco kind of style. Their kin can be found on the 1920s covers of Rammer Jammer, beginning at its inception in 1925. Click on any image below to see a larger version.


If you’ve ever seen calendars that feature stylized illustrations of scantily clad pinups girls, like those of Alberto Vargas or Gil Elvgren, you maybe won’t be too shocked by the Rammer Jammer covers of the 1930s. Early in the decade, they seem to ride the line between being provocative and being realistic, depicting students in anything from modest long skirts to clinging gowns and underclothes. Later, they point to the movement toward head shots.


The 1940s see a transition to using photographs of real women rather than illustrations. Though the Vargas Girls and Elvgren Girls still held some sway, the Rammer Jammer staff still seems a bit torn between the modest co-ed (1940-1046) and the more provocative “Sweater Girl” (1947-1949).


Rammer Jammer ended its run in 1956. Before it did, it put out lots of pinup-style photos. On the October 1951 cover (below), the photograph is actually being tacked up onto the wall by an illustrated male student. There were girls as sweet as Betty Grable or as saucy as Bettie Page, whether in photos or drawings. Certainly changes my opinion of the supposedly bland, conservative 1950s!

African-American Soldier Portraits

Right now, in the Pearce Foyer of Gorgas Library (2nd floor, Quad side), you’ll find a pretty cool exhibit:

Highlighting the collections of Rev. Wylheme Ragland of Decatur, Alabama,  A North Alabama Clergyman’s Passion for History: Preserving Black History through Words and Images features cookbooks, scrapbooks, diaries, funeral worship bulletins, letters, and photographs from the Schaudies, Banks, and Ragland families. Their generous gift illustrates the everyday lives of African Americans living and working in the post-Civil War South through a wide variety of materials that will provide unique research opportunities for students and faculty. (source)

Recently, we were able to digitize some amazing portraits from this collection — most of them featuring African-American soldiers from the WWI and WWII eras —  frames and all. They were a bit of a challenge, but it was well worth it!


If you go see the pictures on exhibit at Gorgas, you’ll find that many of them have curved glass. Our usual capture process involves lights that shine down on an item, but for these portraits, that would’ve meant a lot of light reflection.

To compensate, Jeremiah, camera guru, reconfigured the capture station to allow us to hang the portraits on the wall and shoot them straight on, so that the lighting could hit them in a different way.

See, no reflection in the glass! (Click on this image or any in this post to see it up close in Acumen.)



Of course, there’s just one problem: the frame is also reflective. We decided shine-free portraits were more important than shine-free frames, but we tried to minimize all reflection as much as possible.


However, some of the bulkier frames gave us the added challenge of casting shadows across the portrait surface, as you’ve already seen. Jeremiah was able to counteract this through tweaking the lighting setup, but sometimes it was impossible to completely get rid of the shadows.



Challenges aside, there were so many advantages to shooting these portraits — curved glass, difficult frames, and all. First of all, many of the frames added real character to the portraits they held:



The collection also provides an interesting window into photographic techniques of the day. Some of them don’t even look like photos — by design. According to Jeremiah, artists would often take a black and white photo and color it in by hand, so that it looked more like a painting.



Last but not least, these photos are a reminder that many African Americans served their country in the two World Wars, as evidenced by images like these:



To see more, visit the Schaudies-Banks-Ragland collection page online. There, you’ll find more images like this, as well as images of white servicemen and other African Americans.

And don’t forget to check out the exhibit at Gorgas Library!

Come transcribe our items!

Recently, we talked about adding your own metadata to photos through our new Acumen tagging pane. Today, the focus is on something a bit more involved but maybe even more important: transcribing handwritten documents.

Why transcribe?

  • Did you know that many young people nowadays aren’t even taught to read and write in cursive? Handwritten archival materials are more and more in danger of being unintelligible to the average person, but often they represent the most unique materials out there: personal diaries, letters, and notes from the famous, the infamous, and the unknown, detailing everything from a typical day to a major event.
  • Did you know that handwritten items in a digital repository are usually not keyword searchable? Computers need data in a form they can understand. Optical character recognition (OCR) technology can attempt to read typewritten material and translate it to a computer-readable text file, but this technology doesn’t work on handwritten materials.

The solution to both these problems is simple: we need a human to read and transcribe handwritten documents, both for others to read and for the computer to use in searching. Acumen makes this easy by providing a place for transcription when viewing any image or listening to any audio file.

How does transcription work?

Acumen's transcription pane

  1. Click the transcription icon (looks like a sheet of paper), found to the right of the main viewer window
  2. Type a transcription of the displayed image into the entry box
  3. Click on the blue ‘Add Transcript’ button

You really want me to transcribe things?

John Poor letter, circa 1863Yes, you! We know transcribing documents can be a bit intimidating. Here’s some things to consider:

  • You don’t have to be an expert
    • Don’t know what a particular word is? Transcribe it letter by letter anyway; it might be a word or abbreviation we no longer use
    • Can’t make sense of a particular word at all? Use a question mark inside brackets to represent it [?]
  • You don’t always have to start from scratch
    • Some handwritten items have already been transcribed and just need someone to check the transcript over and help with harder to read words
    • Some typed items have computer-generated transcripts that you can correct; these will include a little orange box that says ‘OCR’
  • You don’t have to do an entire item at once
    • Transcription is done on the page level, so you can do as little as a page at a time
    • In fact, if you can only do part of a page, that’s better than having no transcription at all; others can add to your work later

Does it really add anything?

Absolutely! Consider the image above, a letter from a Confederate soldier to his niece. Right now, the metadata carries a pretty good general description: John H. Poor writes his little niece, Fanny, about sleeping and eating arrangements in the army. He drew a few sketches to illustrate.

A lot of the interest is in those sketches. However, there’s also text, so having a transcript gives the drawings a context:

John H. Poor letter transcription

How about a more weighty example. This diary written by a Confederate soldier at the siege of Port Hudson is 157 pages, but without a transcript, we only have a general description of the whole: This diary discusses Civil War battles fought in 1862 and 1863, especially the Siege of Port Hudson, a Confederate fortification on the Mississippi River in southern Louisiana.

Below is a transcription of page 9:

James A. Goble diary transcription, page 9

With a transcription, we can learn so much here about what it was actually like at this siege: James Goble is tired of the war and prays for peace; they were using mounted weapons to attack Union boats; they made African Americans do their hard labor; they used “cars,” probably railroad cars, for shipping things; they could still get sugar and molasses; and Port Hudson was a bit of a ghost town by this point in the war. And all this from just one page!

Next time you’re looking at a handwritten document in Acumen, consider providing a transcription, especially if you’re already trying to make sense of that item for your own research. The integrated transcription pane allows you to share your work with others using the resources, and to make those resources more findable during a search.

Looking for a fun place to start? Check out Ashley Bond’s post on a series of love letters, just in time for Valentines Day, at the Special Collections blog Cool at Hoole.

Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETDs) 2013-2014

Did you know the Acumen is the home for all dissertations and theses produced at the University of Alabama since 2009?

Here’s a survey of some of the interesting questions UA students asked with their research in 2013 and 2014, representing 18 different degree programs!



  • Are there similarities in the teaching styles of African Americans at church and in a regular classroom setting? (Dissertation, Curriculum and Instruction)
  • What kind of authority does the NCAA have over student athletes? (Dissertation, Educational Leadership, Policy, and Technology Studies)
  • Are teachers getting enough training in LGBT issues? (Disseration, Education)


  • What role has the heroic tenor voice part played in popular opera theater? (Dissertation, Music)
  • How has Shakespeare been appropriated by modern romance novels? (Dissertation, English)
  • In what ways did landscape painter John Everett Millais influence the Pre-Raphaelite movement? (Thesis, Art History)


  • Does positive attention from fathers influence risky teen behavior? (Thesis, Human Development and Family Studies)
  • How has racial stratification arisen in the U.S. Latino community? (Dissertation, Political Science)
  • Can reading familiar texts help students learn a foreign language more easily? (Dissertation, in Spanish, Modern Languages)

Science and Medicine

  • How is tourist activity affecting the mangrove forests of Belize’s Ambergris Caye? (Thesis, Geography)
  • Is chromium really the essential element? (Dissertation, Chemistry)
  • Does gender make any difference in child health in Tanzania? (Thesis, Anthropology)

Engineering and Technology

  • How do you make liquid rockets work better? (Thesis, Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics)
  • What will future power grids look like? (Dissertation, Electrical and Computer Engineering)
  • How can a construction company better estimate the cost of materials? (Thesis, Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering)

Want to find more student projects like this? Go to Acumen and, before you type in your search query, use the dropdown menu on the search bar to select Research.