Friday, December 6, 2013

Remembering Nelson Mandela

In honor of the passing of Nelson Mandela, we would like to share images from our collection documenting the apartheid era in South Africa, including this image, depicting a protest against apartheid in Cape Town in 1961, the year before Mandela was imprisoned for his anti-apartheid activism.

 Cape Town, protest sign against apartheid at cathedral, Harrison Forman, 1961

Images from the Cities Around the World digital collection

Friday, July 12, 2013

100,000th Image Added to Digital Collections

The UWM Digital Collections added its 100,000th image this week! The honor goes to an image for the upcoming Milwaukee Polonia digital collection. It’s a 1928 photograph of a young girl (probably the daughter of Dorothy Gromowski, who ordered the photo) on the occasion of her First Communion or Confirmation. That collection continues to grow behind the scenes – look for a public unveiling in the near future.

Milestones are times for reflection, so we in Digitization looked back to see what the first image in our Digital Collections might have been. Krystyna Matusiak, the first Head of the Digitization Unit, confirmed that the inaugural collection was Afghanistan, a collection of images from the Harrison Forman collection. And the very first digital image captured for that collection was a photograph of a family of nomad Kuchis in Afghanistan, taken in 1969 by photojournalist Harrison Forman.

Now, onto 200,000!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Finding Gwen Moore in The March on Milwaukee Civil Rights History Project

The March on Milwaukee Civil Rights History Project (MOM) includes oral histories, film clips, audio files, manuscripts and images documenting the efforts of activists battling segregation and discrimination in Milwaukee during the 1960s. During a recent presentation of a news clip on the 1968 textbook controversy, a viewer suggested to Lucas Wolff, a member of the initial MOM staff team, that the woman speaking in the clip strongly resembled U.S. Representative Gwen Moore.

Archivist Ellen Engseth confirmed this helpful hunch when she contacted Representative Moore’s office to share the clip. Moore was student council president at North Division High School at the time. On the news clip, starting at 1.30, she speaks from the floor to suggest that officials could apply more pressure to adopt new textbooks for Milwaukee high school students.

Moore is joined by an unidentified senior from Riverside High School who expresses the frustration of students at the administration’s slowness in adopting new textbooks, and John Lawrence from Lincoln High School who stresses that textbooks that include the history of African Americans in the United States shouldn’t simply be “supplements.”

Do you know who the unidentified senior is? Please let us know.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Digitizing Milwaukee's Polonia: Stanislaw Kielar's Advertising Structures

The Kwasniewski photographs include some great images of the South Side of Milwaukee when that area was primarily Polish-American. The collection includes photos of churches, businesses, local organizations, sports teams, street scenes, green spaces, and . . . a few curiosities, as well. Consider these photographs taken by Kwasniewski to document Stanislaw Kielar’s advertising display invention.

Stanislaw Kielar demonstrating his invention (kw001105)
Stanislaw Kielar demonstrating his invention (kw001105)
 In 1920, Kielar filed a patent application with the U.S. Patent Office for a “certain new and useful Improvement in Advertising Structures.” His invention was intended specifically for use of displaying cigarette packs “in designs and with effects which will prove pleasing to the eye of the beholder.” Apparently, in the early part of the twentieth century, cigarette displays tended frequently to topple due to the lightness of the packages and the inability to effectively secure them in a structure. To solve this problem, Kielar cut a series of wood blocks to the size of cigarette packs, and connected the blocks with a series of specially designed spring clips inserted in notches cut into the blocks. “When all of the blocks which it is desired to thus unite in an advertising structure have been assembled and secured together,” explained Kielar, “it will be found that the manner of attachment or connection is such that the several blocks in the structure will retain the positions which they are intended to occupy in the completed design.” Problem solved! Kielar boasted that there was “no limit to the range of the designs in which advertising structures outlining [his] invention may be embodied.” A sample of this range is provided by the photographs shown here. Kielar’s application was approved in 1924 (patent number 1,493,679), and may be accessed online at the U.S. Patent Office site.

Kielar's adversting structure for cigarettes (kw001106)
Kielar's adversting structure for cigarettes (kw001106)

Another possible arrangement using Kielar's advertising structure (kw001108)
Another possible arrangement using Kielar's advertising structure (kw001108)

-Michael Doylen

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Digitizing Milwaukee's Polonia: The Modjeska Theater

Recently, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries hosted the event “Hollywood in the Heartland” in conjunction with the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research (WCFTR).  This celebration of the history of film and theater featured numerous one-of-a-kind film and theater artifacts and archival materials from the WCFTR.  The UWM Archives contributed to the event by displaying historic images of Milwaukee theaters and movie palaces from the 1910s and 1920s, many of which come from the Roman Kwasniewski photograph collection.  One such theater captured through the photography of Roman Kwasniewski is the Modjeska Theatre.

The Modjeska Theatre was once a major attraction for the local Polish-American community. Serial #25127
 The Modjeska Theater first opened in 1910 as a small, 840-seat theater at 7th and Mitchell Street in Milwaukee.  Named after the Polish actress Madame Helena Modjeska, the Modjeska Theatre was most likely a posthumous tribute by the predominantly Polish-American community to the Polish icon.

In 1924, the local Saxe Theatres chain bought the Modjeska and replaced it with a larger, 2,000-seat movie palace at the same address.  Though lacking in ornamentation, the new Modjeska featured a full orchestra pit, a Barton pipe organ, and a stage floor laden with trap doors for vaudeville acts.

The 1950s initiated a long and slow decline of the Modjeska’s former self.  During the 1980s and 1990s, the Modjeska changed ownership numerous times as operators struggled to keep the venue afloat.  In the early 1990s, the Modjeska served as a 1,700-seat local acts venue, and success was limited and the venue eventually closed in March of 2010.  Recent restoration efforts of the Modjeska Theatre have also folded due to lack of financial support, placing the building’s future in peril.  Thanks to the photography of Roman Kwasniewski, however, the spirit of the Modjeska will live on, even if the theater itself does not.

Source and more information: Rankin, James (Jim) H.  “Modjeska Theatre.” Accessed 23 April 2013.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Play Ball!

Thousands of fans will flock to Miller Park today for the Milwaukee Brewers opening day game. One hundred years ago, Milwaukee fans flooded smaller ballparks and sandlots to see lesser-known teams for the same occasion. Of these teams, the Kosciuszko Reds were a south side Milwaukee favorite. In its decade of existence from 1909 to 1919, the Reds won several local circuit pennants as well as a devoted following in Milwaukee’s Polish Community.

The Kosciuszko Reds were founded in 1909 in part by Louis Fons, a prominent Polish-American businessman, joining the ranks of dozens of other semiprofessional and sandlot teams outside of the world of organized baseball. The Reds worked their way up from the local semiprofessional City League to the more exclusive Lake Shore League where they claimed the pennant over their rivals in other southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois towns in 1912, 1914, and 1915.

Although many of the Reds players were not, in fact, Polish, its founder’s Polish roots, the team’s red and white uniforms echoing Poland’s flag, and the community support of Milwaukee’s Polonia helped make the Reds a decidedly Polish team.

In 1912, a new ballpark for the Reds was erected at Harrison St. and Grove St. (now W. Harrison St. and S. 5th St). It opened in May, unfinished, with an exhibition game against the Peters Union Giants, an African American semiprofessional team from Chicago. Roman Kwasniewski hauled his equipment to the ballpark that day to photograph the action.

Kosciuszko Reds George Disch swings and misses
Kosciuszko Reds George Disch swings and misses
A player for the Union Giants slides into first base
A player for the Union Giants slides into first base
 More images from the Giants vs. Reds game can be found in the Milwaukee Neighborhoods collection.

Kwasniewski captured other photographs of the team as well, including these:

This information in this post comes largely from UWM History Professor Neal Pease’s two excellent articles on Milwaukee’s Kosciuszko Reds:

A Kosciuszko Reds player warming up
A Kosciuszko Reds player warming up
A Kosciuszko Reds player poses with his bat
A Kosciuszko Reds player poses with his bat
 Pease, N. (2004). The Kosciuszko Reds, 1909-1919: Kings of the Milwaukee sandlots. Polish American Studies, 61(1), 11-26.

Pease, N. (2005). Big game on the South Side: A Milwaukee baseball mystery decoded. Wisconsin Magazine of History, 88(3), 28-39.

-Anne Gaynor

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Digitizing Milwaukee's Polonia: Theaters and War Bonds

Digitization of the Roman Kwasniewski glass negatives continues at an astonishing pace (1,150 last week alone!). In the midst of all of this digitization, image processing, and metadata mapping, it’s important to stop and admire the images themselves, and take stock of why we’re working so feverishly to make this collection accessible. As we work toward that goal, we’ll highlight some of the most interesting, curious, or even typical images that we’ve captured in the past few months. This week, a movie theater and community life during wartime:

The Lincoln Theater, built in 1910, was one of the oldest movie theaters in Milwaukee. It had seats for almost 500 people and served South Milwaukee for 45 years before closing in 1955. The building is still standing, at 1104 W. Lincoln Avenue, but no longer used as a theater.

 During World War II, the federal government promoted the purchase of war bonds to help finance the war, and many people purchased bonds through payroll savings plans. These women are pointing out that as of October 15, 1943, City of Milwaukee employees had purchased $670,131.70 worth of war bonds.

View the Collection

-Ann Hanlon & Elizabeth Kaune

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

All Mod(-ded) Cons: "Modding" the Digitization Unit

While digitization produces a virtual product, the work itself is very much rooted in physical objects – fragile glass plate negatives, oversize and brittle newspaper, art books with multiple perspectives for viewing and reading, old nitrate negatives that don’t lie completely flat…the list goes on. Making a digital object from the physical object is sometimes straightforward – a photographic print is laid on a flatbed scanner and voilá, a high-resolution, archival TIFF is born. But it is often problematic – a negative might have subtle warping that manifests as shadows and distortion in a scanned image, or a multi-media art book simply can’t be properly represented in a series of flat images. And that’s when things get interesting in the digitization unit – traditional digitization tools like flat bed scanners and tripods start to take on modifications using less traditional tools, like painter’s tape, pulleys, and loose change, in order to accommodate those troublesome physical objects.

NEH-funded imaging specialist and modification-maker-extraordinaire, Trevor Berman, has recently “modded” flatbed scanners with hinged anti-Newton-ring glass to achieve the best possible scans of nitrate and safety negatives, and sped up the workflow in the process.

Flatbed with closed anti-newton-ring glass and blue-tape hinge
Flatbed with Closed Anti-Newton-Ring Glass and Blue Tape Hinge
 Trevor initially used cereal box tops to create “holders” to uniformly orient and flatten negatives on the flat bed scanners. Then he modified the holders to create a blue-tape hinge for anti-Newton-ring glass to better flatten the negatives without creating Newton rings (tiny but detectable imperfections caused by chemicals on the negative pooling against the glass surface).

Hinge held open - note the additional blue tape "cushion" on the right.
Hinge Held Open - note the additional blue tape "cushion" on the right
 Trevor’s work greatly improved workflows for the NEH-funded American Geographical Society Library project to preserve and share their nitrate negative collections.

Digitization librarian, Ling Meng, was inspired by pulley-based laundry lines in Taiwan to create a pulley system to photograph a collection of Chinese scrolls. The scrolls are too large to capture on a flat bed scanner, or to capture a high-resolution image in a single digital camera shot. But to accurately capture the scroll in two or three shots, and then “stitch” the images together in image editing software, the digital images must be lined up almost perfectly. The pulley system enabled Ling to hang the scrolls for photographing, and move the scroll safely and accurately within the camera frame to capture the entire scroll in two to three shots. The fruits of his labor can be seen in the Chinese scrolls online collection.

The pulley system with a bag where the scroll would have hung
The Pulley System with a bag where the scroll would have hung

A close-up of the pulley system
A Close-Up of the Pulley System
A close-up of the top of the pulley system, where Ling rigged a board atop two tripods
A close-up of the top of the pulley system, where Ling rigged a board atop two tripods
 We’ll post more modifications to the blog, soon!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Saving and Sharing the American Geographical Society Library's Historic Images

Work began this past summer on a second NEH grant to preserve and share photographs in the collections of the American Geographical Society Library, here at UW-Milwaukee. The collections we have been working with date between 1890 and 1950 and come from a range of geographers/photographers. Some of the collections we have worked with embody a life’s work, and as a result, are quite sizable. One of our biggest collections comes from esteemed photographer, Harrison Forman, who was not a geographer but travelled the globe with his many cameras. The AGSL is fortunate to be the repository for his remarkable collection – his photographs are the source of the images documenting the Henan Famine that were posted to this blog last week. Other sizeable collections include the photographs of Robert Swanton Platt, who pioneered a unique field study of Latin America, and Robert Larimore Pendleton’s career photography of Thailand.

Photograph of Bermuda, unfinished church in St. George, by Robert Platt
Photograph of Bermuda, Unfinished Church in St. George, by Robert Platt
Check this blog to read more stories about these collections and some of our smaller collections as well, as we progress in our work. Here’s one to get started:


After looking at over 10,000 images and their corresponding photographic notes, you start to get to know the photographer, their style, interests, thought processes, and sense of humor. This was certainly the case with Robert “Papa” Pendleton. We learned early on that Robert Larimore Pendleton and his wife Anne spent most of their married life in Thailand, never had children, and were respected and loved by the Thai people they interacted with for more than 30 years. The locals bestowed upon Pendleton the Thai term of endearment, “Papa.” We also learned that he had a good sense of humor. His photographic notes are filled with wit and inside jokes. Naturally, it can take a while to figure out the inside jokes! For example, around image 12,000, we find Pendleton in the market place of Bangkok. He took lots of pictures of streets filled with vendors, including Bangkok’s Chinatown. An entire roll of film from this period includes images of the markets “from the Boo-eek.” Yes, you read that right, from the Boo-eek, spelled just like that. Could it be a phonetic spelling for a bridge, a building, a particular part of Bangkok’s Chinatown?

Thailand, Yaowarat Road in Bangkok's Chinatown, from the Boo-eek
Thailand, Yaowarat Road in Bangkok's Chinatown, from the Boo-eek
Thailand, automobile traveling on road (the Buick)
Thailand, Automobile Traveling on Road (the Buick)
 We attempted all kinds of searches and translations, but could not figure out what “Boo-eek” was. This is a huge, time based grant project, and our team eventually had to abandon interpretation. The images were added to the online collection without explanation. Months later, we came across an image of a car on a country road. The photographic note read: “Looking east NE. Boo-eek.” Eureka! The picture was of a car on a country road. There is no market. Just a road, trees, clouds, and the car. We zoomed in on the car, a c.1940’s Buick sedan. A “Bu-ick”. He addressed his car phonetically! Pendleton’s joke was on us, 64 years after the fact!

-Tamara Johnston, Project Manager

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Digitizing Milwaukee's Polonia: The Digital Assembly Line

The Milwaukee Polonia digitization project is an ambitious endeavor – we’re in the midst of digitizing over 25,000 glass plate negatives. This may seem like a daunting task (it is!), but with a well-designed workflow and a few dedicated student employees, nearly 20,000 glass plate negatives – with topics ranging from weddings to taxidermy – have already been digitized in under six months. Our progress is thanks in large part to a well-designed workflow based on a unique “rail system” designed by UWM Libraries’ own Ling Meng and Jim Lowrey.

"Rail System" for the Milwaukee Polonia Digitization Project
 Using a Nikon D800 camera to capture high quality images, a three person scanning team mans an assembly-line style operation. One person unwraps the archival sleeves that protect the glass slides; the second person snaps the image via a stationary camera mounted over a lightbox, and monitors image quality and organization of the slides; the third person re-wraps the slides, places them back in a box in the correct order, and processes and checks previous scans. This process means that the glass negatives are never off the shelves for more than a few hours, and a single day’s scanning operation can produce upwards of 500 digital images. The uniform dimensions and very good physical condition of the negative make this mass digitization approach possible. We estimate that 95% of the glass negatives are standard 5×7 and less than 1% are cracked or broken.

Engaging in a mass digitization project has allowed the “Kwas” digitization team to experiment with different workflow configurations, quality control checkpoints, and automation techniques. Although this project can be “tech-heavy,” the most interesting aspect of the collection is the engagement with the physical resources, and seeing Milwaukee’s Polonia through the lens of Roman Kwasniewski.

St. Joseph Orphanage negative example
In this image taken of the Saint Joseph Orphanage "Orkestra" Sierociniec Polski performing for Roman Kwasniewski, you can see the difference between the glass plate negative compared to the processed image. Serial #23099

View the Collection

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Henan Famine Images from the Harrison Forman Collection

Seventy years ago, in 1942, the Henan province in China experienced a disastrous famine that left at least three million people dead. The catastrophe was documented by journalist Theodore White and photojournalist Harrison Forman. Forman’s photographs and notes have been preserved and digitized by the UWM Libraries Digital Collections and the American Geographical Society Library, making these unique and important documents of a terrible and forgotten tragedy available to the world to discover, learn from, and re-use.

Henan province (China), mother and children in famine-struck region
Henan Province (China), Mother and Children in Famine-Struck Region
Forman’s photographs, in particular, have recently begun to receive wide attention due to the anniversary, and to the recent release of a movie dramatizing the famine, Back to 1942, directed by Xiaogang Feng, and starring Adrien Brody (who plays Theodore White), Tim Robbins (who plays a missionary), and Fan Xu (who plays a wealthy land owner).

Building upon the buzz from the movie, a recent article was published in the Chinese language magazine, The Bund, featuring 29 images from the UWM collection. The author of The Bund article interviewed UWM Metadata Specialist, Susan Dykes. Susan has spent the past two years researching Forman and his collection for an NEH grant to preserve and digitize nitrate negatives from the collections of the American Geographical Society Library. Thanks to the NEH, and with Susan’s research and burgeoning expertise, many of Forman’s images and his diaries have been digitized, described, and made available online.

The Harrison Forman Collection contains over four hundred photographs documenting the suffering by the Chinese people, as well as a diary Forman wrote as he witnessed first-hand the most famine-stricken areas. In the diary, Forman talks about witnessing starving people and the desperate acts they undertook to ensure survival for themselves and their loved ones. He notes conversations with government officials and missionaries who offered their perspective on the causes of the famine, including inadequate crop yields due to drought and the impact of war during the Japanese occupation of China.

Following their trip, Forman and White met with Chiang Kai Shek, Chairman of the Nationalist Government of China, to show him evidence of the humanitarian crisis and the overwhelming need for disaster relief to save the starving Chinese people in the Henan Province.

You can view Harrison Forman’s images of the Henan famine in our digital collections, as well as the diary he kept during his visit.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Digitizing Milwaukee's Polonia

In its heyday, Milwaukee’s Polish-American community was among the largest in the United States. The first Polish inhabitant of Milwaukee arrived in 1842, and by the turn of the century Polish-Americans were the second largest ethnic group in the city. Most settled in a six-square mile area on the South Side known as Polonia.

Studio photographer Roman Kwasniewski created a rich visual record of his community during the first half of the twentieth century. He took pictures of family milestones, including First Communions, Confirmations, graduations, weddings, and anniversaries. He also took his camera into the community, creating a lovingly detailed portrait of the neighborhood and people around him. The Kwasniewski photograph collection consists of 6,000 prints and 29,000 negatives. It is the most extensive photograph collection of a Polish community in the U.S. and widely used by teachers, students, and individuals researching their family history.

Portrait of Roman Kwasniewski
Portrait of Roman Kwasniewski
The UWM Libraries have embarked on a large-scale project to digitize and provide online access to the entire collection. We will be tracking the progress of this project and highlighting interesting images in the Digital Collections blog. Follow us by clicking on the “Follow” box on the right, and leave your comments!

And since winter is upon us here in Milwaukee, we thought we would feature a few cozy, snowy shots to kick things off: one of the Basilica of St. Josaphat framed by bare winter trees and a fresh carpet of snow (ca. 1916), and another featuring some south side denizens decked out in their finest cold weather gear. Check back for more selections from the Kwasniewski digitization efforts!

St. Josaphat Basilica
 St. Josaphat Basilica

A portrait of siblings, 1917 (possibly commissioned by Mrs. Leon Gurda)
A Portrait of Siblings, 1917 (Possibly commissioned by Mrs. Gurda)

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Tse-Tsung Chow Collection of Chinese Scrolls and Fan Paintings at UWM

Wisconsin might not seem like the most obvious place to look for traditional Chinese paintings produced during the last imperial dynasty of China, the late Qing dynasty. And yet, UWM holds an important collection of Chinese scrolls and fan paintings, which are now openly accessible in a new bilingual online collection. The Tse-Tsung Chow Collection of Chinese Scrolls and Fan Paintings provide a glimpse into the context, variety, and technique of Chinese scroll and fan painting in the 18th through 20th centuries.

So how did this collection end up in Milwaukee? Tse-Tsung Chow was a historian, poet and professor in the Department of East Asian Language and Literature at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Professor Chow’s book, The May Fourth Movement: Intellectual Revolution in Modern China, is regarded as being one of the first significant works on modern China. He and his wife, Nancy Wu Chow, donated the collection to the UW-Milwaukee Libraries’ Special Collections department in 2005. The collection consists of 129 items ranging from the 18th through the 20th century. To provide access to digital copies of scrolls and fan paintings, 98 items were selected for our online collection.

Digitization Librarian Ling Meng and intern Chia Shih built each record in the collection with both Chinese and English fields, so that both Chinese-speaking and non-Chinese-speaking audiences are able to read and understand the content of the scrolls. For example, a hanging scroll with a rubbing of Xu Zhang’s cursive calligraphy – 張旭草書拓本 – 張旭草書拓本”, features the artist Zhang’s cursive script (a style of Chinese calligraphy which is written quickly and can be quite difficult to read), and demonstrates how this style of calligraphy corresponds to the scroll’s text describing Zhang’s sudden and unbearable stomach ache.

In another work, Yue Ji’s fan painting of Sending-off Poverty – 季粵送窮圖, a description of the ritual of “sending-off poverty” accompanies the painting, allowing the audience to better understand and interpret the painting.

The collection also reflects the political ideology and patriotism of scholar-officials in the late Qing dynasty. Over half of the identified authors are recognized as renowned politicians as well as scholars, writers and/or artists. Through the medium of traditional painting, they embedded their reactions to the political climate by making demands for greater political participation, or signaling their political disappointment and withdrawal from that world. One of artists featured in the collection is Qichao Liang (1873-1929), who was a renowned philosopher and political scholar in the late Qing dynasty. Tse-Tsung Chow noted that Liang’s work, Rengong Liang’s (Qichao Liang) calligraphic couplet – 梁任公書集聯, was an expression of his frustration and pain after he lost his political mentor, Youwe Kang (1858-1927) (Kang and Liang were major leaders in the Hundred Days’ Reform, a national reform movement that failed in 104 days in 1898) and his friend Guowei Wang (1877-1927, a supporter of restoring the last emperor of Qing dynasty).

Other well-known political scholars in this collection include Xiaoxu, Zheng (1860-1938), Youwe Kang (1858-1927), Taiyan Zhang (1868-1936) and Zhenyu Luo (1866-1940). Researchers who are interested in modern China are bound to find interesting materials and connections between Chinese art and politics in this collection.

View the Collection

– Chia Shih

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Introducing the UWM Libraries Digital Collections Blog

Welcome to the UWM Libraries Digital Collections blog. We’ve been growing our digital collections for over ten years, making the unique collections of the Libraries more easily accessible to the world. Our online collections include news footage and oral histories of Milwaukee’s civil rights history, detailed images of handmade artists’ books, early twentieth-century images of Tibetan monasteries, and much, much more. Follow this blog for updates on new additions to our collections, news about existing collections, and features that help put many of our materials in deeper context. You are invited and encouraged to send us questions, comments, kudos, and corrections. And in the meantime, visit our digital collections