HHH: The Empire State building

The tallest building of its day opened as the Great Depression really began to squeeze the American economy. Was the Empire State Building a gigantic folly perpetrated by men with sky-scraping egos? Folks in the 1930s thought so, calling the monument the “Empty State Building,” because so little of its space had been rented. Yet, when viewed from the vantage of the twenty-first century through the lens of archival documents, the Empire State Building resolves into an economically and culturally successful investment made by people with enormous fortunes motivated both by egotism and broad vision. 

Economist Jason Barr, professor at Rutgers University – Newark, dug into the records of John J. Raskob and Pierre Samuel du Pont records held by the Hagley Library to uncover an insider’s story of the Empire State Building. Conceived by Raskob, and backed by du Pont, the project launched in 1929, weeks before the stock market crash, and opened for business in 1931, after a record-setting rapid construction. While the building did sit mostly empty until the 1940s, it nevertheless generated a return, especially through charging admission to the observation deck. This invitation for the public to experience the building characterized the Empire State Building legacy, which has grown to influence city builders the world over. 

The audio-only version of this program is available on our podcast.   Interview available at  https://www.hagley.org/research/history-hangout-jason-barr.

Recorded on Zoom and available anywhere once they are released, our History Hangouts include interviews with authors of books and other researchers who have use of our collections, and members of Hagley staff with their special knowledge of what we have in our stacks. We began the History Hangouts earlier this summer and now are releasing programs every two weeks on alternate Mondays. Our series is part of the Hagley from Home initiative by the Hagley Museum and Library. The schedule for upcoming episodes, as well as those already released, is available at  https://www.hagley.org/hagley-history-hangout

Oral history project support available

The Oral History Office of the Hagley Library invites applications for oral history project support. The interviews generated by these projects will become part of the collection of the Hagley Library, which guarantees the permanent preservation of and access to oral histories associated with any funded project. Graduate students conducting research for their thesis or dissertation, and more advanced scholars for books or other scholarly projects may apply for this grant. Our objective is to expand our oral history collections on business and its relationship to society by supporting serious research that uses oral history as a principal source, and to encourage use of oral interviews more generally. To achieve that goal Hagley seeks to collaborate with oral history practitioners and build a robust archive for the preservation of current projects and as a foundation for future projects and the larger business history community.

Project grant funds may be used to reimburse costs associated with travel to interviewees, including for mileage, trains, air fare, food, and lodging. Funds may also be for equipment purchases but not stipends. Reimbursement of costs will take place promptly after submission of the interview sound file, metadata, release forms, and receipts. Archiving and indexing oral history interviews is a free service provided by Hagley to grant recipients. 

Interviews must be conducted in English and in accordance with the standards of the Oral History Association (https://www.oralhistory.org/archives-principles-and-best-practices-overv…) and the Hagley Library’s own technical requirements (available upon request). Oral history projects must fit within Hagley’s collecting scope; broadly the interconnected histories of American business, technology, and society. We especially seek oral histories representing the roles of women, African Americans and other ethnic minorities, and the roles that these groups have played in American business and technology. The Library seeks to document accounts of innovation as well as maintenance; change as well as continuity; success as well as failure; and institutional as well as personal experiences.

Grant recipients must use Hagley’s release form and ensure that any restrictions will permit public access to the interviews within a reasonable timeframe, specific terms to be negotiated. In consultation with the interviewer, Hagley will index interviews using the OHMS system and make indexed interviews available to the interviewer and as part of our public archive.

Deadlines: June 1 and December 1

To apply, go to https://www.hagley.org/research/grants-fellowships/oral-history-project-grant-application to upload the following application information:

1.     Project title

2.      Project abstract (maximum length: 150 words)

3.     Curriculum Vitae or resume

4.     Project description indicating the scope of your research and the existing scholarship with which you engage (maximum length: 1000 words).

5.     Potential interviewees, including an explanation why they are relevant to the project

6.     Timetable for project

7.      Budget (specify equipment, if purchasing)

For questions, and to make sure their projects fall within Hagley’s collecting scope, applicants are encouraged to reach out to Hagley Oral History Program Manager Ben Spohn, bspohn@hagley.org before applying.

Hagley History Hangout: What created the ‘sundown towns’ in the Great Migration (US)

New episode of Hagley History Hangout Available: Millions of black Americans left the Deep South fleeing violence and seeking opportunity during the Great Migration, one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in twentieth-century American history. Some communities welcomed these newcomers with open arms, going so far as to actively recruit them as industrial labor, while others attempted to shut their doors, to maintain their homogeneity through the threat of violence against black people. These different reactions could take place in towns adjacent to one another, with locally-specific causes shaping the divergence. 

Social historian Matthew O’Neal, PhD candidate at the University of Georgia, uncovers the story of two eastern-Kentucky towns that reacted differently to the Great Migration: Lynch, a U.S. Steel company town which became a relatively diverse, welcoming community, and Corbin, a railroad hub that became an infamous “sundown town,” or place unsafe for black people to live in or visit. The economic base of wither town, and the resulting social organizations within them, shaped the divergence. O’Neal notes the policies of racial inclusion or exclusion that characterized the unions attached to the steel versus the railroad industry as one source. Rising from parochial concerns, and local bigotry, a system of shadow segregation grew outside of the Deep South, and continues to shape American society in the twenty-first century. 

The audio only version of this program is available on our podcast.

Interview available at https://www.hagley.org/research/history-hangout-matthew-oneal

Recorded on Zoom and available anywhere once they are released, our History Hangouts include interviews with authors of books and other researchers who have use of our collections, and members of Hagley staff with their special knowledge of what we have in our stacks. We began the History Hangouts in the summer of 2020 and now are releasing programs every two weeks on alternate Mondays. Our series is part of the Hagley from Home initiative by the Hagley Museum and Library. The schedule for upcoming episodes, as well as those already released, is available at https://www.hagley.org/hagley-history-hangout

Hagley Seminar on Business, Culture, and Politics

Building on the 30-year legacy of the Hagley Research seminar, the Hagley Seminar on Business, Culture, and Politics features original and creative work in progress essays that make use of business history sources. 

All seminars are held on Zoom between noon and 1:30 p.m. Eastern USA time. Seminars are based on a paper that is circulated in advance. Preregistration is required and space is limited. To find registration links as well as additional information on the seminars, please go to https://www.hagley.org/research/research-seminars. Questions may be sent to Carol Lockman, clockman@Hagley.org

2022 Spring Seminar series

February 23, noon-1:30

Kelly Goodman, West Chester University, “’Let’s Freeze Government Too’: The Business Campaign for Tax Limitation”

Comment: Ben Waterhouse, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 

March 23, noon-1:30

Dylan Gottlieb, Hagley Library NEH Fellow, “Good Taste: Yuppie Gourmet Culture in the Age of Inequality”

Comment: Amy Bentley, New York University

April 20, noon-1:30

Karen Mahar, Sienna College, “Eugenics and the Creation of the Business Executive, 1900-1920”

Comment: Wendy Gamber, Indiana University

May 18, noon-1:30 

Salem Elzway, University of Michigan, “Marxist Manipulators: Robots on the Line at Lordstown”

Comment: Nelson Lichtenstein, University of California, Santa Barbara

AHRC funding for digital business archives research

I am really pleased to announce that, together with a team of investigators including Dr Adam Nix (De Montford University), Prof David Kirsch (University of Maryland and University of Oxford) and our heritage partners, The National Archives (UK) and the Hagley Museum & Library (USA), we have been awarded funding from the AHRC to investigate how historical researchers may be able to research emails as historical sources, and use this resource to historicise the dot.com boom from the perspective of a software development company. See below for a description of our new project!

Historicizing the dot.com bubble and contextualizing email archives

Summary

Future researchers will have to engage with emails if they are to understand the lives of those who lived in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This is particularly true of organizations and their employees, for whom email has become the default form of internal and external communication. As it currently stands, publicly available email archives are rare, and there has been minimal engagement with them as a historical resource. Indeed, one of the most well-known examples, the Enron Email Corpus, only exists because of high-profile legal proceedings that followed the firm’s bankruptcy and has seen minimal historical investigation since its publication. While this is partly due to its comparative recency, the reading of emails as a historical source is a developing practice and requires particular skills and knowledge that are not traditionally associated with historical enquiry. Despite this, archives and other heritage organizations are increasingly collecting and preserving email data and we are fast moving into the period where the events of the 1990s are of historical interest. We believe that our project offers a timely opportunity to address the gap between current efforts to preserve email and the future requirements that will allow them to actually be read and engaged with.

To address this issue, we seek a better understanding of how email archives can be made more accessible for the purposes of historical learning and research. The problem we focus on here is that, while emails offer valuable insight to researchers, a lack of context often presents a challenge to those wishing to understand their content, inter-relationship and wider historical significance. This de-contextualization can represent a barrier to engagement, to both trained historians and general interest users. Furthermore, existing examples of email archives often purposefully remove personal information, further disconnecting emails from their authors, recipients and connection to related material. For these reasons, our project will make an email archive available in such a way that maintains the relational and network properties that emails hold, as these allow individual emails to be understood in terms of their connection to those that precede and follow them. Furthermore, we will bring the historical context back to otherwise de-contextualized data, allowing researchers to interpret isolated items of communication in a way that appreciates the wider historical circumstances in which they were created.

We will address this challenge through a UK-US collaboration between three universities (University of Bristol, De Montfort University, University of Maryland) and two heritage sector partners (The National Archives, UK, and Hagley Museum and Library, US). Through these collaborations, the project will focus on accessioning and re-contextualizing a worked example of an email archive from a failed US software company from the dot.com era, making it available in various forms to suit the diverse requirements of its potential readers. More specifically, the project has three overall work packages that together deliver on the project’s aim and objectives. The first aspect of the project centres around work linking the constituent emails in the archive together to retain the basic network structure of the communications and making relational links to otherwise disconnected emails based on their content. This will be combined with a user interface that allows the whole archive to be searched and read. The second aspect of the project provides a historical case study of the failed US company based on its archive and will require the development of both a narrative explanation of its history and an online platform for public engagement with it. The final package focuses on the project’s legacy and deals with issues of long-term preservation of the archive, description of best practice, and engagement with project stakeholders.