Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spaghetti Westerns

There’s a man in the distance, at least it looks like a man. The heat coming off the desert floor makes it hard to be sure. The air is still, hot and oppressive. The only movement is a lone vulture circling high in a cobalt blue sky. There are three bodies on the ground, gunslingers, outlaws by the look of them. The man in the distance is vanishing as he rides further and further away. A lone trumpet sounds and the credits role...

Spaghetti Westerns are a genre of Western film that emerged in the mid-1960s, so named because most were produced and directed by Italians, usually in co-production with a Spanish partner and in some cases a German partner. They have become iconic symbols of an American Western History that never existed. It is one of the ironies of film production that we define ourselves through the vision and sensibilities of foreign directors, writers and film makers.

Learn more about Spaghetti Westerns through our interactive display at the Al Harris Library.

Monday, February 06, 2012

February is African American History Month

The library is showcasing the contributions of notable men and women in Black history. At our display, you notice a considerable amount of material highlighting the contribution of Martin Luther King Jr. including the video
Citizen King. Besides books, you will find bookmarks celebrating this month--the bookmarks are free to take.

With such a rich history, our library display can't possibly cover all the persons, events and topics related to Black history. Therefore, a link has been attached to the content generated by the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, and the Smithsonian Institute.

The following excerpt from Daryl Michael Scott outlines the history of this month-long recognition:

As a Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, like W. E. B. Du Bois before him, believed that truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice. His hopes to raise awareness of African American's contributions to civilization was realized when he and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925. The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.

By the time of Woodson's death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life and substantial progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration. At mid–century, mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations noting Negro History Week. The Black Awakening of the 1960s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of black history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all color on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.

The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation's bicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” That year, fifty years after the first celebration, the association held the first African American History Month. By this time, the entire nation had come to recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story. Since then each American president has issued African American History Month proclamations. And the association—now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)—continues to promote the study of Black history all year.

(Excerpt from an essay by Daryl Michael Scott, Howard University, for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History)

from the Smithsonian Magazine,

In honor of this year's celebration, travel in Harriet Tubman’s footsteps and discover the daring escape from slavery of William and Ellen Craft. Read about the great musicians who performed at the legendary Apollo theater in Harlem, and learn about Black History Month celebrations at the Smithsonian and the around the country.

The Invisible Line Between Black and White

On the Trail of Harriet Tubman

Martin Luther King Jr. by Mural

The Great Escape from Slavery of Ellen and William Craft

Show Time at the Apollo

A Civil Rights Watershed in Biloxi, Mississippi

Courage at the Greensboro Lunch Counter

The Scurlock Studio: Picture of Prosperity

A Year of Hope for Joplin and Johnson

Memphis Blues, Mississippi Delta Roots

Henrietta Lacks' 'Immortal' Cells

Remembering the Apollo I Tragedy & History of the Apollo Missions

On January 27, 1967, tragedy struck the Apollo program when a flash fire occurred in command module 012 during a launch pad test of the Apollo/Saturn space vehicle being prepared for the first piloted flight, the AS-204 mission. Three astronauts, Lt. Col. Virgil I. Grissom, a veteran of Mercury and Gemini missions; Lt. Col. Edward H. White, the astronaut who had performed the first United States extravehicular activity during the Gemini program; and Roger B. Chaffee, an astronaut preparing for his first space flight, died in this tragic accident.

A seven-member board, under the direction of the NASA Langley Research Center Director, Dr. Floyd L. Thompson, conducted a comprehensive investigation to pinpoint the cause of the fire. The final report, completed in April 1967 was subsequently submitted to the NASA Administrator. The report presented the results of the investigation and made specific recommendations that led to major design and engineering modifications, and revisions to test planning, test discipline, manufacturing processes and procedures, and quality control. With these changes, the overall safety of the command and service module and the lunar module was increased substantially. The AS-204 mission was redesignated Apollo I in honor of the crew.

--Information from the NASA History Program website

The anniversary of this tragedy which created some beneficial changes to the subsequent Apollo missions is something to be remembered now that the United States embarks on new territory of space exploration with the recent retirement of the space shuttle program. Regardless of the passage of time, the Apollo missions still have a profound impact on modern society. Hollywood, in particular, continues to revisit these moments in space aviation history in such films as Apollo 13 (starring Tom Hanks), Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon (where the crew of Apollo 11 seemingly had an alternative agenda to undertake while on the moon), and the recent sci-fi thriller, Apollo 18 (a "what if..?" movie if the Apollo 18 mission had taken place, the Apoll0 18, 19, & 20 missions were scrapped for several possible reasons).

The library display has information on many of the Apollo missions and the forgotten astronauts who made history attempting or reaching the stars. Please visit our library display to enjoy a trip to NASA and pay your respects to the astronauts who gave their lives exploring a vast frontier.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Celebrate Charles Dickens' 200th Birthday on February 7th, 2012

This coming Tuesday, February 7th, 2012 the Royal Family of England will be throwing a huge bash to celebrate the 200th birthday of the writer Charles Dickens. A search on the internet for Charles Dickens' 200th birthday brings up an array of websites describing celebratory events to mark this anniversary by institutions of all types.

The novels of Charles Dickens have been read and loved by millions from his time to the present. His stories are models of popular writing still able to draw readers in and hold their attention. A Tale of Two Cities is arguably the the best popular novel ever written.

His stories are populated with memorable characters in unforgettable circumstances. Some of us would love to be able to forget Miss Havisham, caught aflame after wearing her wedding dress for decades, but the mental image is too stark to be forgotten.

His stories draw upon our sympathy for the poor and moral outrage with the inequalities of society. Dickens showed again and again that any of us can be dropped by fate from any height to the most desperate state of want. It was his ability to cause the reader to imagine the equal opportunity of misfortune that make his stories applicable to all in our imaginations and our hearts.

These are the sentiments expressed by websites dedicated to the celebration of Charles Dickens' 200th birthday. The work of Charles Dickens is important to our culture because of the qualities described. Almost from the very first publication of his earliest works to the present, his stories inspire us to want to enjoy them from the stage, radio and TV broadcasts, and movies.

This month the Al Harris Library has a display of Charles Dickens books and movies at the entry to the building. We encourage you to join in the celebration by reading Dickens or by watching an adaptation of one of his stories.