Remembering the Victims of Slavery

In 2007 the United Nations General Assembly declared March 25 the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to be observed annually.

MIT began exploring its connections with slavery in the fall of 2017, at the behest of President Rafael Reif. The MIT and Slavery Undergraduate Research Project is shaped by the research work of undergraduate students whose work will be published on the Project website soon.

Information about early findings of the students during the 2017-1918 academic year is available on the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences news site.

– Nora Murphy


IASC Web Archiving Metadata Application Profile v.1 Released

I’ve been developing an application profile to provide guidelines for applying standards-based metadata to the web archives that MIT IASC is collecting primarily using Archive-It. We are hoping that, by following a set of standards, this metadata will be crosswalk-able between systems (such as Archive-It and ArchivesSpace) and lower some of the duplicate efforts in each place. Implementing this profile in the description of the web archives also allows us to open the collections for public access, which of course is always one of the Archives’ main goals!

The profile is available here on GitHub. Feel free to leave a comment on this post or in the issues there if you feel there’s room for improvement!

This profile drew heavily on the University of Virginia Library Web Archiving Metadata Application Profile and the OCLC “Decriptive Metadata for Web Archiving” report. Thanks to Elizabeth England, Eric Hanson, and Amy Wickner for feedback and suggestions.

— Joe Carrano

Make Way For DUKWs

If you’ve been in the Boston area long enough, you are probably familiar with the >Duck Boats. You might have seen them rolling through Back Bay or floating down the Charles River. But, what is now a popular tourist activity was once a military innovation that, according to General Eisenhower, played a decisive role in the Allied victory in World War II — and was developed by MIT alumnus Palmer Cosslett Putnam, class of 1923.

DUKWs (colloquially known as “Ducks”) are six-wheeled amphibious trucks used during WWII and the Korean War to ferry supplies, ammunition, and troops from supply ships just offshore to the fighting units on the beach. In the spring of 1942, while working as an engineer for the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), Putnam developed the idea of converting a standard army truck into an amphibious vehicle that could transition between using wheels when on land and a propeller when in the water. Roderick and Olin J. Stephens, a yachting team who had won the 1937 America’s Cup, helped with designs and General Motors was contracted to produce the DUKWs.

Initially, Army brass were skeptical of the amphibious vehicle. Even after a heroic demonstration of the DUKW’s abilities in which they were used to rescue the crew of a Coast Guard ship off the shore of Provincetown, Massachusetts, top Army officials remained unconvinced. It wasn’t until Lieutenant General George S. “Old Blood-and-Guts” Patton used the DUKWs during the invasion of Sicily that more widespread implementation began. After their successful use in Sicily, DUKWs were utilized in almost every Allied invasion for the rest of the war.

Details of the work of Putnam and his colleagues in the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) remained classified for many years. However, in 1947 Putnam received recognition for his work with the OSRD and was presented with the Medal for Merit for “his wartime work on ordnance devices.” In his position as special assistant to the director of the OSRD, Vannevar Bush, Putnam invented 10 original weapons and directed the development of 22 others.

For more information about the story of the development of the DUKW and its evolution into a tourist attraction, check out this article published in Smithsonian Magazine, 2002: “Odd DUKW: On land and in the water, World War II’s amphibian workhorse showed the skeptics a thing or two now it shows tourists the sights.”

Palmer Cosslett Putnam, MIT class of 1923Palmer Putnam’s work for the OSRD during WWII was only one point in a varied and interesting career. He received the BS and MS degrees, both in Geology and Geological Engineering (course 12), from MIT in 1923 and 1924. After leaving MIT he completed his education at Technische Hochschule in Munich, Germany, and at Yale University. He began his career conducting geological investigations in the ‘African Congo’ for the Belgian government. During this time he also explored volcanoes in Central America1 and was the co-discoverer of a specific reagent for gold. From 1930 to 1933, he served as president of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, Publishers. In the late 1930s, he designed an experimental wind turbine that was constructed on the summit of Grandpa’s Knob in Vermont and described by Putnam as “the greatest windmill ever conceived and erected by man.” The purpose of this project was to test the feasibility of utilizing wind energy in New England and was “the first attempt to generate alternating current by means of the wind with regulation satisfactory for inter-connection with a public utility distribution system.”2 Putnam also worked briefly as an engineer for GE, Co. and in the late 1940s was an Apprentice Carpenter with the Southwest Boat Corporation in Southwest Harbor, Maine.

Additional information about Putnam’s wind turbine project in Vermont is in the 1941 MIT Report of the President (page 101). There was also an article in the December 1940 issue of Technology Review, vol. 43, “The Trend of Affairs: On Grandpa’s Knob” (page 60).

You can also find information about Putnam and his work in several collections in the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections, including the MIT Office of the President, records of Karl Taylor Compton and James Rhyne Killian (AC-0004), the Vannevar Bush papers (MC-0078), and the Joseph S. Newell papers (MC-0053). Both Putnam’s graduate and undergraduate theses are available in the MIT Libraries: “A reconnaissance among some volcanoes” and “Determinative tables for minerals: a scheme for the determination of minerals by a recognition of distinguishing chemical elements.”

– Katherine Crowe

  1. Palmer Cosslett Putnam, “The Existence of a Once Homogeneous Magma-Mass Underlying Central America,” Journal of Geology 34, no. 8 (1926): 807–23.
  2. A Great History of the Great Class of 1923, T171.M4258 1923, page 284.


Your Archival Horoscope: Pisces

Today we are celebrating Pisces (February 19 – March 20) whose zodiac symbol is the fish! Pisces is usually represented by two fish that are tied together and swim in opposite directions, but in this blog post it’s represented by the majestic perch fish. In the book Ichthyology vol. 1 The Perch Family, there are many examples of beautifully colored illustrations of perch. 

  • Multiples images of the cover, spine, insides, and on a shelf of The naturalist’s library. Ichthyology vol. 1 The perch family by Sir William Jardine. MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections - Noncirculating Collection 1 | QL615.J37 1835

Horoscope: Be inspired by the perch fish, don’t be afraid to let your true colors shine!

Other posts in this series include:

Your Archival Horoscope: Aquarius

Your Archival Horoscope: Introduction

Greta Kuriger Suiter

Catching up with Collections (January – February 2019)

I am processing a new accession of material from George W. Clark. Clark is a professor emeritus at MIT whose research focuses on x-ray astronomy. Clark worked closely with Bruno Rossi and was one of his doctoral students. The collection contains lab notebooks and research created by Clark, and much information about Rossi and his work. The IASC also holds Rossi’s personal archives (MC-0166).

The Clark personal archives also contain correspondence, and many papers, photographs, and reports relating to MIT’s involvement with Small Astronomy Satellite (SAS) and Orbiting Solar Observatories (OSO).

— Greta Kuriger Suiter

My work on the Hal Abelson personal archives (MC-0743) has wrapped up, and I’ve moved on to processing material from Abelson’s colleague and frequent collaborator, Gerald Sussman. Sussman is the Panasonic Professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT, where he has been involved in artificial intelligence research. His personal archives contain course notes, information on the Scheme programming language, and materials related to the creation of Sussman’s Digital Orrery.

— Chris Tanguay

We finished digitizing all the video in the oral history collection on the recombinant DNA controversy (MC-0100). Not only will this material be more accessible but also decreases risk of loss from degrading magnetic recording media like reel-to-reel tapes and Betamax. Another portion of this collection we digitized were photographs of the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA from 1975. This whole collection will be of interest to many researchers as it focuses on debates over genetic engineering experiments, a topic that has been in the news of late. These materials are not available online but are accessible in the Archives reading room during open hours. I also accessioned 13 sets of digital material, the most interesting being data about the U.S. presidential elections from the Ithiel de Sola Pool papers (MC-0440), converted from paper computer punch cards from the late 1950s/early 1960s.

Joe Carrano

For more information about the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections and to access any of the material described above, visit the IASC website or complete an Ask the Archives request.

New Digitized Collections in DOME

In the past few months, three sets of content from IASC were added to DOME, the access platform for much of the MIT Libraries’ digitized materials! This included the Rules and Regulations of the Faculty, MIT Handbooks, and additional MIT Course Catalogues which bring the dates available up to 2005-2006 where the Course Catalog official website back issues leaves off.

Rules and Regulations of the Faculty

The Rules and Regulations of the Faculty spans the Institute Archives and Special Collections copies of the publication from 1879-2007. They establish the roles and responsibilities of the Standing Committees of the MIT Faculty, governs its legislative processes, and states its regulations pertaining to the academic calendar, admissions, registration, grades, degrees, and more. The Rules and Regulations of the Faculty also describe the processes via which they can be changed by vote of the Faculty. Parts also address important topics related to syllabi, midterms, scheduling assignments at the end of the semester, and final exams.

Do you qualify for the 1879 entrance requirements to MIT? I, for one, would fail the section on “the first two books of Voltaire’s ‘Charles XII’.” See the entire Rules and Regulations for 1879 here.

Image of MIT entrance requirements in 1879

Image of MIT entrance requirements in 1879

From page 7-8 of the MIT Rules of the Faculty, 1879. Call number: T171.M4199

MIT Handbooks

The MIT Handbooks consist of books with general information about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, local culture and social activities, and academics. The publications have various names and creators, The Handbook of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Social Beaver, This is MIT, MIT Today, How to Get Around MIT (HowToGAMIT) but generally provide similar information on how to navigate life in and around MIT.

Here is some advice in the 1913 handbook for what to do in case of accidents. If struck by lightning, this guide recommends dashing cold water over the person struck. I wouldn’t recommend following that advice today! Take a look at the whole 1913 handbook here.

Image of "Help in Case of Accidents" instructions given to MIT Students

From page 95 of the Handbook of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1913. Call number: T171.M42.S678

MIT Course Catalogues

The MIT Course Catalogue, also referred to as the MIT Bulletin and the MIT Course Catalog, is a rich source of information on the courses and programs that have made the Massachusetts Institute of Technology the major institution it is today.

Do you think you would be interested in taking “Communicating in Cyberspace” back in 1996? Read the full 1996 catalogue here.

Image of course desciption for 21W.785 Communicating in Cyberspace

From page 521 of the 1996-1997 MIT Course Catalogue. Call number: T171.M42

Your Archival Horoscope: Aquarius

Image of Aquarius in Zodiac no. 1 1906-1907, Thomas F. Peterson Jr. collection, TK5101.A1 Z63, MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections.
“The Zodiac” was the in-house journal for employees of the Eastern and Associated Telegraph Companies, and subsequently a liaison between the telecommunication staffs of Cable and Wireless Limited and its subsidiaries. The series is featured in the Your Archival Horoscope: Introduction post. “Aquarius” in Zodiac no. 1 1906-1907, Thomas F. Peterson Jr. collection, TK5101.A1 Z63, MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections.

To start off this Zodiac series with the sign Aquarius, I searched for “Aquarius” in ArchivesSpace (a magical system that holds descriptive data about collections in the Institute Archives and Special Collections). One of the two results was a review of The Age of Aquarius: Technology and the Cultural Revolution by William Braden from 1970. (The above image is from the series The Zodiac featured in the Your Archival Horoscope: Introduction post). The review is titled, “The dawning revolt against the controllers of our technology,” and is by Noam Chomsky. It was published in the Chicago Sun-Times on May 3, 1970, the same newspaper that Braden worked for as a reporter.

"Reviews: The Age of Aquarius," 1970. Noam Chomsky Papers, MC 600, box 137. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Institute Archives and Special Collections, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Reviews: The Age of Aquarius,” 1970. Noam Chomsky Papers, MC 600, box 137. MIT, Institute Archives and Special Collections, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Chomsky writes that Braden has mostly missed the mark by focusing on technology as a negative influence on society and that he has taken on too large a task. “His subject is ‘the contemporary American crisis,’ many-faceted and severe. We are threatened, he suggests, by a ‘technetronic dictatorship,’ but also by a humanistic revolt against technology.”

Chomsky suggests that the real threat “to democratic values is concentration of power in the economic and political systems.” And that, “The technical intelligentsia serves this system by disguising the reality of power with a myth of scientific objectivity.”

Today we still struggle with the myth of scientific objectivity. It is easy to believe that technology exists and is created in a vacuum, but there is much current scholarship (for example research around Algorithmic bias) exposing this false assumption.


Not all is as it seems, and it is often much more complex than you know. Have courage this month to ask questions and listen more.

Further research:

  • For another perspective on Braden’s book, see the New York Times review
  • The Age of Aquarius is available through the MIT Libraries and is found in the catalog here.
  • At this time, parts of Noam Chomsky’s archives (MC-0600) are open for on-site use in the reading room of the Institute Archives and Special Collections. Specifically, his Lectures and Notes on Talks are available for access and use.

Other posts in this series include:

Your Archival Horoscope: Introduction