Thursday, April 26, 2018

Preservation Week 2018

By Carol Roberts

Salvaging or starting the process to care for family papers.

“Nobody wants these old papers.” How many times has that been said in a family or community? “I do–I do,” said the historian. So where does the process begin?

First, assess the risk. 

How much longer will the collection last? Will the collection really be thrown away? Does the next generation of family no longer want it? Is it in a barn, storage shed or attic under the leaky roof? Answer those questions, carefully assess the situation and then get permission in the family. Find the best place to work with the documents. Keep like things together or determine why things are stored together. Make as many notes as possible. Follow all the clues. For example, is there a whole packet of World War 1 letters tied in a bundle for a reason?

Second, salvage and preliminary cleaning.

Salvage begins by getting the records into a safe place, gently move them and look for the usual pests; spiders, silverfish and the like. A gentle brush can start the process. Better quality boxes can be used especially if the original storage containers crumble in handling. Books can be dusted with a low-speed variable “HEPA” filtered vacuum. Monitor the collection for moisture or mold. Are the records damp to the touch? If they feel wet or damp, then they can be air dried and monitored for improved humidity before you work with them further.

Third, begin the archival environment process.

The basic archival environment begins with the physical: constant temperature, low humidity and lighting that prevents fading. Find the best new or temporary storage location possible. Be sure that the storage will avoid water leaks and pests that love paper. Then begin the process of the using new folders and boxes.

  • Use acid-free archival quality folders to sort the materials.
  • Unfold and keep flat when possible.
  • Use the folders as support for fragile documents. Make all notes on the folder.
  • Do not use tape or adhesives. Use polyester sleeves to hold torn documents in place.
  • Do not use scrapbooks or scrapbook glue. Again, use archival acid-free folders.
  • Use soft brushes to dust the records.
  • Use only pencil around the collection. Ink pens are just a mistake waiting to happen.

Store like things together. For example, sets of letters and photographs stay together, and scrapbooks have unique boxes for better storage.

For especially damaged items consult a conservator.

Once the collection is in a new safe environment, then the historian can study all the new historical facts and stories that appear.

Read more here:

ALA Preservation week:

National Archives Family Treasures:

American Institute of Conservation:

Northeast Document Conservation Center’s Technical Leaflets:

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett

Monday, April 16, 2018

Meet the Staff... Patsy Mitchell

Meet Patsy Mitchell. She is an archivist with Archival Technical Services.

How long have you worked here?

Since 2014.

What are some of the things you do as an archivist?

I am primarily responsible for processing and preserving our born-digital materials and creating catalog records for all of our collections. I also represent the Tennessee State Library and Archives in the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Centennial Collaborative.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love making our collections easier to find through good metadata, catalog records and simple but clear organization. I just wish I were this organized at home!

Do you have a favorite collection?

I’m most interested in the history of the state parks and outdoor recreation in Tennessee, so I would probably choose the Department of Conservation Photograph Collection, 1937-1976. It offers more than 11,000 photographs and 21,000 negatives, not just of parks, but also folklife and historic sites. It’s also a great collection if you like pictures of cute animals, and who doesn’t? As far as digital collections go, I really love the Women’s Suffrage in Tennessee collection available in the Tennessee Virtual Archive. It includes digitized versions of materials from a lot of different collections but focuses on the theme of women’s suffrage. It’s especially relevant as we begin to approach the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. We are also hoping to add more materials to this collection before the end of the year, so keep an eye out!

What makes libraries and archives relevant to modern society?

As someone who is responsible for our born-digital materials, I think a lot about the roles that libraries and archives will be serving in the future. While technology has aided the creation and distribution of information, it hasn’t necessarily made it easier to preserve. Bit rot and obsolescence could threaten the integrity of our records as we continue to move away from paper and toward electronic media. Think of old files you can no longer open because the software or hardware doesn’t exist anymore. Sometimes the files can become damaged. Even if you can access the files, without good metadata to describe them, searching through hundreds of thousands (and eventually millions and billions) of files will be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Through best practices and continued research, however, archivists are addressing these issues to ensure long-term access to these records for posterity.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

MLK50: Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

Former Rep. Tommie F. Brown (D-Chattanooga) hosted a Black History Month program before the 104th Tennessee General Assembly Feb. 23, 2005, to honor the many contributions made by African-American members.

Christian Suttles recited a portion of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream…” speech by memory. King originally delivered his famous speech Aug. 28, 1963, during the March on Washington.

Dr. King was assassinated on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis April 4, 1968. The motel is now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum, which is honoring the 50th anniversary of his death.

Video Courtesy: Tennessee General Assembly. Audio of this message is also available from the Legislative History Unit of the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Hundreds of Students to Compete in Tennessee History Day Contest

Nearly 300 students from across Tennessee will compete in the annual Tennessee History Day state contest in downtown Nashville Saturday.

The competition allows students to showcase their creativity and research skills by developing projects with historical themes. The students with the best-judged projects in the statewide competition will advance to the National History Day finals in College Park, Maryland, June 10 through June 14 with top finishers earning prestigious awards and scholarships.

Middle and high school students created projects based on this year’s theme, “Conflict and Compromise in History.” Students compete in five categories: papers, exhibits, documentaries, websites and performances. Tennessee History Day helps participating students learn the importance of history and critical thinking through the use of primary source documents, in-depth research and analysis.

“Students who make it to the state competition represent the best our state has to offer. I hope these bright young men and women are learning valuable lessons on civility,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett. “I wish all of this year's participants the best of luck in what I'm sure will be an exciting competition on the state and national levels.”

The Tennessee Historical Society has sponsored the competition since 2009 with grant support from the Secretary of State’s office and Humanities Tennessee.

“These stellar students have advanced from more than 7,500 sixth through 12th-graders who participated in History Day this year,” said Ann Toplovich, executive director of the Tennessee Historical Society. “Their projects display a solid grounding from research in primary sources, critical thinking skills and presentation of their ideas, and they show how understanding history connects to the responsibilities of citizenship. It will be a tough job for the judges choosing the next round of winners at the state contest.”

Each fall, students and teachers nationwide begin work on the yearlong curriculum, which starts with competitions held in individual schools. The winners there advance to district, state and eventually the national competition. Nationwide, the History Day program includes more than a half million students annually from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, American Samoa and Department of Defense Schools.

For more information about Tennessee History Day, please visit

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

New Language Learning Resource Now Available to Tennessee Residents Free Through TEL

Tennessee residents can now access a new language learning resource for free through the Tennessee Electronic Library.

Transparent Language Online (TLO) is an innovative language learning system for learners of all levels looking to build their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. TLO is packed full of pronunciation, speech, grammar, writing and vocabulary building lessons. With over 100 languages to choose from, including English for non-native speakers in over 26 languages, there is something for every learner, including children! Kidspeak is a fun, easy to use language learning program for ages six and up, available in Chinese, English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. Learners can access TLO anywhere - at home, in the library or on the go at any time. Sign up for a free account and start learning!

Which languages are included in Transparent Language?

Learn a new alphabet: Full-length alphabet courses are available for 18+ languages to familiarize you with new writing systems, including Mandarin Chinese, Hindi and Arabic.

Essentials Courses: These courses guide you through 30+ lessons of language fundamentals, including meeting and greeting, expressing wants and needs, planning for a trip, dealing with money, asking for help and beyond.

Supplemental Vocabulary: Hundreds of vocabulary lists will teach you thousands of new words and phrases through a completely redesigned suite of fun, interactive activities.

Start learning a new language using Transparent Language today by visiting your local library website or TEL at

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

Monday, April 2, 2018

From the Tennessee Supreme Court Case Files... The Theory of Superposition of History

By Caleb Knies

Too often the thought is to first “make” the history without understanding or appreciating the theories that guide well-crafted, balanced and fulfilling definitions of history. Bits of historical evidence, like Supreme Court records, photographs, even things as unexpected as landscapes, soundscapes and most other quanta of historical data are used as evidence to support a particular historian and the narrative he or she is weaving; However, those same items of historical quanta can also be used to evidence new theoretical constructs. Searching for evidence to support a new historical theory can be taxing, however, on occasion, a bit of evidence fits the model so adeptly it is impossible to stifle. A letter drafted by Lytle “Boss” Bingham, connected to four Supreme Court records, is that piece of evidence.

On the dark and snowy night of Jan. 14, 1931, Lytle “Boss” Bingham, cashier at the Hardin Co. Bank, phoned his assistant and brother, James “Jiggs” Bingham, telling him to withdraw all cash-on-hand at the bank and bring it to Boss’s home. The state bank examiner was coming the 15th or 16th, and Boss needed to make sure the cash was deposited with the Federal Bank in Jackson. Boss left home in Saltillo around 9 p.m. heading toward Jackson on TN 5/US 45. In the early morning hours, a car was heard speeding down the highway. A short time later, a warm glow emanating from the horizon sparked little interest in a farmer, but soon his son would find the cause – a burning car with a body in it. The body, believed to Boss’s, initiated a chain of events that led to the discovery of the letter from Boss on the desk of the bank president and the four state Supreme Court cases for Boss’s insurance payouts.

Somewhat like Boss’s letter, these photos are re-creations of the accident scene where Boss’s burned car was found in the early morning hours of Jan. 15, 1932, with a body inside. The original accident scene “lives” in the superposition history - it both exists and does not exist. It clearly happened, but being in that moment again is impossible. Therefore, crime scene photographs and illustrations seek to re-claim any essence of originality left, but will always fall short of being able to capture the ‘reality’ of the scene. Photograph from Mary L. Bingham v. Modern Woodmen of America, Tennessee Supreme Court Records, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Boss’s accident occurred on a dark and snowy night, these photographs show no signs of snow. The testimonies from the cases all detail the damage to the car, yet the car in this image is undamaged. A person’s sport coat replaces the lap blanket found intact over the hood of Boss’s car. But, these pictures help us (and the courts) collapse the wave function of Boss’s accident into observable bits of historical quanta/evidence/data/etc. It is the observer then, who creates the particle or wave narrative for the quanta. Photograph from Mary L. Bingham v. Modern Woodmen of America, Tennessee Supreme Court Records, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Before going much further, it is pertinent to introduce the theory. Quantum history is the growing historical field that uses the theories and principles of quantum mechanics to guide the theories and principles of the historical method. One of the key points of quantum physics and quantum history is the appreciation for the state of superposition. For physicists, this is the state of unmeasured particles - both everywhere and nowhere at once, operating as both individual particles and particle waves (also at once). Measured particles only act as particle or wave depending on the observer, any measurement ends the superposition state which is known as “collapsing the wave function.” For quantum historians, history exists in superposition. It is both alive and dead, past and present, yours and mine, ours and theirs - all at once, all in superposition; However, measuring history, like measuring photons, collapses the wave function and bends history to the want of the observer/historian. Unless, as is thought to be the case with the letter, observation/measurement is impossible.

Boss’s letter lives only in historical superposition. The physical letter is missing from the historical record, but the text is held within witness testimony of three state Supreme Court cases (mentioned in the testimony of the fourth, but the actual text of the letter was not entered as evidence). The letter “exists” in the fact that it was a verified piece of evidence in a state court case, and the text of it was entered as testimony in the case; however, the letter itself as mentioned, does not exist. Boss’s letter both exists and does not exist, depending on how “existing” is appreciated and understood by the observer. Interpreting Boss’s letter as either existing or not collapses its wave-function and eliminates its state of superposition.

This is the text of the note written by Lytle “Boss” Bingham to his boss at the Hardin County Bank. The note was found the morning a body, many thought to be Boss’s, was found burning in a car outside of Saltillo. The note itself is missing, but the text was entered into Supreme Court records through the testimony of Dr. L. A. Parker, president of the Hardin County Bank, and finder of the note in question. Image from Mary L. Bingham v. Modern Woodmen of America, but the text also appears in Mary Bingham v. Business Men’s Assurance Co. of America and Verna Bingham, guard. v. Business Men’s Assurance Co, Tennessee Supreme Court Records, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

This ephemeral state of superposition adequately describes the aforementioned letter, and the whole of historical data. It shows that the observer is in control of the outcome of the evidence, to control the outcome of the historical narrative. The historical observer “measuring” historical quanta collapses his or her wave function(s) into existing as either “particle” or “wave.” Erwin Schrödinger was one of the foremost quantum physicists, actively creating, researching and developing the field long before many others even accepted its findings. Well-known, but misremembered, his cat/box paradox was a thought experiment to show the absurdity of quantum physics. Despite memetic errors, it still functions as an appropriate model for understanding how Boss’s letter, and all of history, “lives” in superposition until measured/observed by us, those seeking to interpret its information.

On one hand, the letter may be understood to not exist; the historical implications for that allow for a distinct narrative in which word-of-mouth, oral histories, and the like might fill the gap of the nonexistent letter and create a history where the meaning comes from some of the gaps in the narrative. On the other hand, the letter could be understood as existing; which creates a different narrative than a nonexistent letter, because the evidence is interpreted differently by the observer. The implications for this interpretation may be a disregard for the context surrounding the note and taking it at face value, a reliance on “factual” history and creation of historical narratives where evidence is assumed unquestionable. While interpreting the letter as either existent or not is a minor part of the larger whole of Boss’s story, the way historians interpret historical evidence deeply matters to the histories we use, create and assemble. Not unlike scientific quantum physics, Quantum History analysis can adopt and adapt the thought experiment to analyze itself and historical information.

One of the deeply intriguing collections at the Tennessee State Library and Archives is the Tennessee Supreme Court Records, home to all of the cases heard by the state Supreme Court. Scores of records (due to volume only 19th and early 20th century cases) are cleaned, folded, and ready for the public - with more added daily. The Tennessee Supreme Court Records includes cases concerning debt owed on livestock purchases, land and title debates, murders and even insurance suits. Four cases out of the many thousands held at the Library and Archives revolve around the mysterious disappearance and supposed death of Lytle “Boss” Bingham. While the full details of the Bingham cases warrant their own forthcoming blog post, a key piece of evidence in the trial is also the key piece of evidence for understanding a new historical theory.

If you are interested in researching Tennessee Supreme Court cases, check out our online index:

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett