Friday, January 18, 2013

“Looking Back” is coming to TSLA!

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Tennessee State Library and Archives has spent the last two years sending teams of professional archivists and conservators to communities across Tennessee in an effort to digitally preserve Civil War era manuscripts, artifacts, and photographs held in private hands.

Our next stop on this journey is right in our own backyard.

On Saturday, January 26th, TSLA will open its own doors to area residents who would like for us to document their Civil War era photographs, documents and other artifacts. Items will be scanned or photographed and returned to the owner within an hour. Participants will receive basic conservation supplies for their items, digital copies of the images, and the opportunity to have their Civil War memorabilia preserved, digitized, and shared online for future generations. Digital copies of these items, representing the rich Civil War heritage of Tennessee families, will become part of a virtual exhibit, “Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee” which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the war in Tennessee.

As part of the event, TSLA is also hosting a free workshop on Civil War photography by The Vacant Chair Studio from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. At this workshop, Vacant Chair will demonstrate how traveling studios used by itinerant photographers of the era looked. Vacant Chair will also discuss the history and role of photography during the Civil War time period, as well as offering a step-by-step explanation of how wet plate/collodian photographic images were produced.

Those wishing to participate in the “Looking Back” event and the workshop must contact TSLA to make reservations, as seating and parking is limited. To reserve a time for the “Looking Back” event, phone 615-253-3470 or email Patrons can register for the workshop by telephone by calling 615-741-2764 or by email at

Among the most unique items that we encountered during our travels is the following tintype of Henry Jenks and an unidentified individual. Jenks and a friend escaped from Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia, and made it safely back to Union territory to rejoin their regiments. Accompanying the tintype is this pass signed by President Abraham Lincoln ordering the Secretary of War to permit Henry Jenks and his friend to rejoin their regiments. It is a fascinating story told through an image and a document that would have never been told without the foresight of one person who thought it should be shared with others through TSLA’s “Looking Back” project.

Tintype of Henry Jenks and an unidentified individual.
Digital image, Tennessee State Library & Archives.

Pass signed by Abraham Lincoln.
Digital image, Tennessee State Library & Archives.

If you have an interesting Civil War item that you would like to share, please consider a visit to the Tennessee State Library and Archives on Saturday, January 26th. Who knows, maybe your family can make Civil War history once again!

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A proper introduction…

Today we launch the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) new blog, “Library & Archives News.” We’re very excited to begin this social media outreach initiative -- so excited, in fact, that we're also launching a new Facebook and Flickr account to spread the news!

In our very first blog post, we thought a proper introduction was in order, so we begin by presenting to you our “calling card.” Several of our manuscript collections here at TSLA include calling cards which were used in many aspects of 19th and early 20th century society. Calling cards have a very interesting social history worth exploring. Over the years, the calling card has served as a tool to facilitate social interaction, cultivate business, and provided a reminder to the person receiving the card of a meeting. Much like social media today, the calling card was a personal invitation to connect and share information, and continue a formal or informal relationship, depending on the social setting.

Among the many calling cards held in various manuscript collections here at TSLA is this unique item from the papers of Adam Gillespie Adams. Buried deep within a scrapbook, compiled by Mrs. Mary J. Strickler Adams, is this calling card from Sarah Childress Polk, the wife and First Lady to President James Knox Polk. The calling card is rather simplistic, with only “Mrs. Polk” and “Polk Place” embossed on the card. What makes this card unique, aside from the fact that it belonged to a former First Lady, is the hand-written inscription…

Sarah Polk's calling card, Sept. 13th, 1884. Adam Gillespie Adams Papers Addition.
Digital image, Tennessee State Library & Archives.

“Much Love and many thanks my dear Mrs. Adams for the kind remembrance,” the handwritten note says. Sarah Childress Polk was born on Sept. 4, 1803 -- so it is very likely that she used this calling card as a “thank you” note to Mrs. Adams for remembering her with a gift or card for her 81st birthday.

Mrs. Polk and Mrs. Adams were connected by more than the exchange of cards. They belonged to prominent families and were friends for many years. On September 1, 1877, a historic conversation took place between Mrs. Polk and Mrs. Adams husband, Adam G. Adams, as part of a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. As the Nashville newspaper The Daily American reported the following day on September 2, 1877, “A number of ladies and gentlemen were profitably entertained, yesterday noon, at the residences of Mrs. James K. Polk and Mr. A.G. Adams by some exceedingly interesting and instructive experiments with the telephone.” This was, according to the paper, the first telephone conversation to take place in Nashville, ushering in a new era of communication in the Old South.

Today, communication has advanced well beyond the calling card and the telephone. We now communicate through a variety of means, including social media. Now that we have been properly introduced, we hope that you will come back often to our blog and other social media outlets, where we will take you on a virtual journey through the stacks to explore the treasures of Tennessee history and keep you informed about events and services offered by our professional and courteous staff.

We plan to publish blog posts twice a month, and will post updates on our Facebook page with more frequency as time permits. We also plan to share images from our collection through our forthcoming Flickr site, where you can explore our collections and interact with our content.

For those of you on Twitter, we have an outlet for you as well. We hope you will follow Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who will share updates from time to time with his followers. Through social media, we hope to engage our audience beyond the physical confines of our building, and encourage you to visit us and make a connection with your own past.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.