Five Questions with Michelle Krowl, Civil War and Reconstruction Specialist, Manuscript Division

 

The following is a guest post from Michelle Krowl of the Library of Congress.

Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials you work with.

Michelle Krowl

Michelle Krowl

As the Civil War and Reconstruction specialist in the Manuscript Division, my primary responsibilities are helping to expand our collections and make them accessible to the public. On a day-to-day basis that can involve recommending acquisitions and working with donors of collection material, helping patrons discover material relevant to their research, participating in the Library’s effort to digitize Civil War collections in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, co-curating exhibits and small displays of Civil War materials, and doing public outreach to promote awareness of what the Manuscript Division and the Library of Congress have to offer. The materials I work with are typically collections of personal papers, which usually contain correspondence and diaries, but can also include photographs, scrapbooks, unpublished manuscripts, an assortment of printed material, and sometimes even three-dimensional objects. My collections also range from those of average Americans to presidents of the United States, which offer a variety of experiences and perspectives on events from the mid-to-late 19th century.

Do you have a favorite item from the Library’s online collections?

Abraham Lincoln, text of “Blind Memorandum,” August 23, 1864, Abraham Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

With so much from which to choose, that is a tough question! A perennial favorite is what we refer to as the “Blind Memorandum,” written by Abraham Lincoln on August 23, 1864. With the war going badly that summer and facing a presidential election in November, Lincoln and many of his allies feared he would not be reelected. He wrote a memo pledging to work with the president-elect to save the Union between the election in November and the inauguration in March (inaugurations were on March 4 in those days) because any Democrat would have been elected on some form of peace platform. Lincoln folded the memo, glued it shut, took it to a cabinet meeting and asked his cabinet members to sign the outside. They signed it without knowing what they had signed. Things began going Lincoln’s way soon after, and he was reelected in November. Only then did he share the contents of the letter with his cabinet. I’m fond of this document not only for the novelty of all those important signatures on one document, but also because it serves as an excellent reminder that Lincoln was not always popular in his own time and his reelection in 1864 was not assured. The memo also demonstrates Lincoln’s extraordinary dedication to saving the Union and the promise of emancipation, and his willingness to put the cause ahead of his own ego. The “Blind Memorandum” is in the Abraham Lincoln Papers. For those interested in learning more I wrote a blog post on the document.

Share a time when an item from the collections sparked your curiosity.

A different collection item sparks my curiosity practically every day! But while searching for items that would represent different voices for our “Civil War in America” exhibition, I came across a reference to diaries written by a young man in Macon, Georgia, during the war. The diaries were never “lost,” but perhaps overlooked, and they turned out to be an extraordinary record of what a teenaged invalid on the Confederate home front experienced during the Civil War. LeRoy Gresham recorded the news he heard, what he read, the prices of consumer goods, as well as the precarious state of his health and the medical remedies he was given. He was also very literate and observant in his diary entries. LeRoy’s diaries sparked my curiosity about his life and the origin of his physical injuries, which encouraged me to do further research on him. His story also attracted interest from the public, which prompted the Manuscript Division to digitize the Gresham family section of the Lewis H. Machen Family Papers. As LeRoy was about the same age as middle school and early high school students during the time he kept his diaries, I hope that teachers may also find his diaries and letters useful for their Civil War curriculum.

Tell us about a memorable interaction with a K-12 teacher or student.

Often we do not know how our materials are ultimately used or implemented into lesson plans. During one Summer Teacher Institute, however, I helped a school librarian find a primary source related to Theodore Roosevelt’s 1903 trip to Yosemite with John Muir. She later reported that the lesson plans she created during her time at the Library of Congress were a hit at her school, and she ultimately included them in conference presentations and a published article. I was thrilled for her success, and glad to know that Library of Congress resources had played a contributing role.

What’s one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the materials that you work with or the collections in general?

I would remind teachers that as accessible and wonderful as the materials currently online are, they represent only the tip of the iceberg as to what is available at the Library of Congress. In the Manuscript Division alone we hold approximately 63 million items in over 11,000 collections, making it is impossible to put everything online. Teachers who have the chance to visit the Library of Congress should make time to explore the collections available only on-site; they are sure to find materials suited to their lesson plans and to share with their colleagues. Doing hands-on research will be a valuable experience for teachers! They will find remarkable materials, and can share with their students the lesson that not everything is online and available at the click of a button or swipe on the screen. Hands-on exploration of manuscript collections can be fun and rewarding, whether it is done at a national institution like the Library of Congress, or a local history room in a hometown library.

 

Miranda v. Arizona: Exploring Primary Sources Behind the Supreme Court Case

“You have the right to remain silent….” These words, and the rest of the legal warning that follows, are so well-known that they’ve almost become a synonym for “You’re under arrest.” They occupy such a familiar place in popular culture that it might seem as though they’d been part of U.S. law for centuries. However, […]

Primary Sources in Science Classrooms: Size, Scale, and Scientific Communication

From atoms to cells, organisms to ecosystems, and Earth’s systems to galaxies, scientists study and make sense of objects and phenomena of all shapes and sizes. Primary sources can serve as starting points for students to explore the ways in which scientists study and communicate about things and events, large and small.

New Ebooks from the Library of Congress: Scientific Data, Weather Forecasting, and the New Deal

Pore over the first periodic table of elements. Highlight interesting entries in Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten record of temperatures of Monticello. Hear the stories of people struggling to survive the Great Depression.

The Library of Congress is once again providing students everywhere with a chance to touch, draw on, and explore treasures from its vast collections with the release of its three newest free interactive ebooks for tablets.

Discovering Elements of Urban Culture in America at the Turn of the Twentieth Century from a Children’s Book

This post is by Lee Ann Potter, Director of Educational Outreach at the Library of Congress. In the May/June 2016 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, our “Sources and Strategies” article featured The Rocket Book, a children’s book published in 1912. The details contained in both the […]

Primary Sources in Science Classrooms: Severe Weather and Community Resilience

Throughout human history, communities have contended with the consequences and costs of severe weather. Recent discourse about climate, sea levels, and weather events include both national and local-level conversations about building community resilience in response to severe weather. Primary sources can initiate deep learning about severe weather and community preparedness and responses.

Primary Sources in Science Classrooms: Coal River and Human Impacts on Earth’s Systems

Individually and collectively humans exert both positive and negative influences on Earth’s systems. Teachers and students studying the interactions among Earth’s atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and biosphere and related human activity can explore images, manuscripts, and recorded oral history interviews from the Coal River community in West Virginia.