Category: Uncategorized

Stormy Weather

In light of the weather as of late, a sketch by Norbert Wiener depicting the weather he was experiencing in Cambridge, England. This illustration was included in a letter he wrote to his mother on December 15, 1914.

Figure with umbrella in the rain. Written caption states "A picture of Cambridge weather"
“A picture of Cambridge weather” sketch by Norbert Wiener in a letter to his mother, December 15, 1914. (MC-0022, box 1)

This sketch, as well as a range of correspondence dating from 1898 to August 1948, was digitized as part of the The Cybernetics Thought Collective: A History of Science and Technology Portal Project. Digitized materials from the Norbert Wiener papers (MC-0022), can be found online as part of the Cybernetics Thought Collection (Digital Surrogates).

Chris Tanguay


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.


MLK’s legacy at MIT

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, we look back to April 5, 1968 when MIT mourned Dr. King and called the campus to act for racial justice.

The April 9, 1968 issue of the MIT student newspaper The Tech reported on a special memorial service for the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. at 12:10 PM on April 5th the day after King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. King was a prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was known for his use of nonviolent civil disobedience. King’s tragic death, at the age of 39, shocked, saddened, and enraged people around the world. How did the MIT campus respond?

Tech reporter Steve Carhart (Class of 1970, SM 1972) stated that the event was “hastily organized” by “an ad hoc group of faculty, students and members of the administration” and seven speakers spoke to the nearly filled Kresge Auditorium. Carhart wrote that “MIT President Howard W. Johnson opened the meeting, then the other six read excerpts from Dr. King’s speeches.” The article quotes brief remarks made by the last speaker, MIT Professor Harold Isaacs, who had been a friend of Dr. King. The impromptu memorial was not recorded, as far as we know, but some documents were found in the IASC.

In the Office of the President and Office of the Chairman of the Corporation records of Howard W. Johnson, there are prepared remarks by Johnson and Isaacs and excerpts, without citations, of King’s speeches assigned to five of the speakers (AC-0118, box 198, folder 6 “King, Martin Luther, 1968-1976”).

According to the list in AC-0118 and the story in The Tech, the speakers were as follows:

1. President Howard W. Johnson
2. Mr. Robert Tinker (PhD 1970)
3. Mr. Gustave M. Solomons, Class of 1928
4. Mr. Stephen E. Straus, Class of 1968
5. Miss Maria L. Kivisild, Class of 1969, (no assigned reading found in AC-0118)
6. Prof. Willard R. Johnson
7. Prof. Harold R. Isaacs

Only Willard Johnson and Maria Kivisild (now Ogrydziak) are still living. Johnson is Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the Institute. Ogrydziak, the first woman president of the MIT Undergraduate Association, is an architect in California.

In his prepared remarks, President Johnson said King’s life and example called “for a self-searching response from all of us, as individuals, as institutions and as a nation.” Isaacs said: “The bullet that felled Martin Luther King came out of … the madness of racism … that we all share in some way or other” and he closed with: “The question is what we do about it, each one of us beginning with himself.”

An editorial in the same issue of The Tech also called for action. The editorial “Apathy, the students and Dr. King”, appears to paraphrase a quote from a King speech read by Gus Solomons at Kresge. The source for both is very likely King’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail“. The Tech editorial likens “‘white moderates, who would rather have peace and security than justice'” to MIT students who “would much rather have ‘peace and security’ inside the confines of this institution than work for justice outside the boundaries of the campus.” The editorial suggests that a recent ruling ending graduate student draft deferments from the Vietnam War would end complacency and force classmates “to fight (in one sense or another) for what he believes in.”

The Tech archives and other MIT publications, Institute records and faculty papers in the IASC document how the MIT community reacted first to Martin Luther King’s death, and then responded in the months and years after April 4, 1968 to Dr. King’s challenge to build the beloved community of equity, diversity, inclusion and justice.

-Myles Crowley

Teaching Collaborations, Fall 2018

Emilie Hardman, Nora Murphy, and Myles Crowley worked with over 150 students and 15 members of the faculty in 14 courses during the Fall 2018 semester. We were pleased to collaborate with Nick Albaugh, Michelle Baildon, Tina Chan, Jen Greenleaf, Sofia Leung, Mark Szarko, and Ece Turnator on several of these classes.

These are the courses and the faculty:

  • 3.087/EC.S13, Materials, Societal Impact and Social Innovation (MSS), Ellan Spero
  • 11.S939, Cities of Contested Memory, Delia Wendel
  • 11.THT/4.THT, Thesis Research Design Seminar, Cherie Abbanat
  • 21H.103, The Ancient World: Greece, Eliza Gettel
  • 21H.281, MIT & Slavery, Craig Wilder
  • 21H.343, Making Books in the Renaissance and Today, Jeff Ravel
  • 21H.390, Theories and Methods in the Study of History, Ann McCants
  • 21L.014/21H.007, Introduction to Ancient and Medieval Studies, Stephanie Frampton and Eric Goldberg
  • 21W.021, Writing and Experience: MIT Inside, Live, JoAnn Graziano
  • 21W.825, Advanced Science Writing Seminar, Marcia Bartusiak
  • CMS 361.861, Networked Social Movements: Media and Mobilization, Sasha Costanza-Chock
  • STS.004, Intersections: Science, Technology, and the World, Deborah Fitzgerald
  • STS.088, Africa for Engineers, Clapperton Mavhunga
  • Digital Humanities programs at MIT, MIT Computation Center Project, Michael Cuthbert

We look forward to sharing our experiences in future blogs.

Nora Murphy

A few haikus / For all the adieus

April is National Poetry Month. It has also seen a number of archives staff members departing ways. Here are our odes…

Liz, archives guru,
purveyor of gummy bears
enjoy greener isles 🍀
Dana, your journey
has just begun, bye for now,
see you in Waltham
Katherine, MITemp life
happily comes to an end
… but sadly for us 😞
Jonathan, working
with you has been wonderful.
We wish you the best! 🌠🕺🏿
the April showers
bring May flowers and also
archives departures