Story Preservation Initiative®

We believe in the importance of sharing ideas and the transformative power of story. For info on our K-3 Learning Lab projects, go to:

Archive for ‘January, 2015’

Meet the Harvard Computers

1466268_1428800040666481_1159123551_nWhen I met with Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, one thing that we talked about was the history of the Harvard observatory.  Jonathan explained to me that there was a lot of work involved in mapping the night sky.  I guess!  So, Edward Charles Pickering, the director of the observatory (1877 – 1919) decided to use “computers” for analysis.  Meet the Harvard Computers, pictured above, circa 1913.

To listen to Jonathan talk about the Women Computers, click on the link below.  I’ve also included an edited transcription.

Click here:


To listen to Jonathan’s full recording, go to:


The [Harvard] Observatory was founded in the 1840s. There had been astronomy at Harvard since very early times – maybe the 1700s – but they just had a few small telescopes on the roof. … There was a big comet in the early 1840s that got a lot of the public interested in astronomy. Astronomers in Cincinnati, which at that time was pretty much Wild West, had a big observatory. The upshot was that the New England elite were a little embarrassed that they didn’t have anything to match. And so one of these guys decided that they really needed to have something to be a premiere astronomical institution and he should raise some money. His name was John Quincy Adams. So he was able to raise the money in [something] like two weeks, or something ridiculous. So the great refractor was born on Observatory Hill – or what became Observatory Hill. … It was one of the biggest refractors in the world. … On this great refractor telescope the Harvard astronomers did the first experiments with photography. They took some of the first daguerreotype of the moon and other objects. … An important development was the systematic photography of the sky where [they] took lots of photographic plates of parts of the sky and stored them – and we still have them. And so we have 100 years – or more than 100 years – of archive photographic plates. …

This was a lot of work though and more than the astronomy professor at Harvard could do. So, he did the observations for the most part – but he hired computers to do the analysis. And these were not digital computers, they were human beings and, for the most part, they were women. And the tradition at that time in observatories and other laboratories was that for mathematical calculation and for data reduction kind of work, it was a good opportunity to hire women who didn’t require the same pay scale as men at the time and were thought to be reliable and good at detailed work. So they were just meant to catalogue these stars … but just do rote work, not really think about it too much, not make discoveries. But, of course, that kind of job attracted women who were smart and wanted an intellectual challenge – and they did make discoveries. Instead of taking the discovery credit for himself, the observatory director actually recorded who made the discoveries and gave them credit. And so we know the names of these women. So we know that Annie Cannon is the person who catalogued a quarter-of-a-million stars and made the distinctions we still use today between an O-star, which is a blue star and an M-star, which is a red dwarf star. …

Copyright 2013 Story Preservation Initiative.  All rights reserved.

Another Gift to Story ⎥Photos from birdsbyjohn

Bird photographer John Van de Graaff has made more than 100 photos available to Story Preservation for our Learning Lab project. These images will accompany naturalist’s audio recordings – but they speak volumes all on their own.


Here are four just to give you an idea of his work. (Click to enlarge).

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To see more of John’s photos, go to:

All photographs presented on this site are the property of John Van de Graaff. They are protected under U.S. copyright laws and may not be downloaded or reproduced in any way without the express written consent of John Van de Graaff.

Bringing Poets into Classrooms

wesley-mcnairStory Preservation’s recording of Maine Poet Laureate WESLEY MCNAIR – along and his memoir THE WORDS I CHOSE will serve as the jumping off point for a Learning Lab project at Franklin High School in Franklin, NH. The students will listen to Wes’ oral history, read his poetry and memoir – and will then write both prose and poetry informed by their own life experience.

The Colby College (Waterville, Maine) Special Collections Library, which houses Wes’ extensive collection of papers, has generously allowed Story Preservation to use material archived there for our Learning Lab project.

To listen to Wes’ recording, jump to:

Bringing Story into Classrooms

I spent yesterday afternoon at the Monadnock Regional Middle-High School in Swanzey, New Hampshire meeting with teachers and students who are working on a nature-related Story Preservation Learning Lab project. Talk about fun! They’re creating THE COOLEST nature journals that include daily observations, written reflections, and drawings. Lots of good learning going on.

Jennie Calnan, the lead teacher, whose bio you’ll find below, has coordinated learning opportunities with other teachers and specialists in the school, including those from the biology and art departments. MRMH is also supporting the project by offering library resources and tech support.


Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 6.28.32 AM As part of the project, later this winter the students will be creating their own oral history of Rick Libbey a/k/a MOOSEMAN! (my friend, happy to say), who has volunteered his time for this project.  Rick has spent the past 35 years observing and photographing moose and other northern New England wildlife. Going back to the same places year after year, Rick knows his moose individually – yes, he’s named them – and has watched many grow from baby to adult.




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This moose looks a little scary to me! – hoping it’s a long lens – but it’s all in a day’s work for Rick.









(I can’t help but to post this!)






DSC_0045 copyMeet Jennie Calnan, the teacher responsible for bringing Story to her students:

Jennie Dearani Calnan is a reading specialist and literacy coach at Monadnock Regional Middle High School in Swanzey, NH. She graduated from The College of New Rochelle in New York with a B.A. in Psychology, and received a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Keene State College. Her 31-year career as an educator has included positions as a special educator, Coordinator of Special Educational Services, elementary classroom teacher, reading specialist (K-12), lead teacher, adjunct professor, and District Literacy Plan Coordinator. Mrs. Calnan’s diverse background began in CT and continued in Washington, DC, NM, MA and NH, where she has been teaching for the past 13 years. She has extensive experience providing professional development to educators in Co-Teaching practices, Balanced Literacy, Reading and Writing in the Content Areas, Differentiated Instruction, as well as developing lessons and assessments that meet the rigor of the National Common Core State Standards. In 2014, Mrs. Calnan was a finalist for NH Teacher of the Year. She is currently enrolled in the University of New England where she is pursuing a Doctorate in Transformative Leadership in Education.


Gutzon Borglum  The Sculptor Behind Mt. Rushmore

GB & LB in cable car


As part of Story Preservation’s Preserving a Legacy series, we met with and recorded Gutzon Borglum’s granddaughter, Robin Borglum Kennedy.

Robin’s account of her grandfather’s life differs in ways significant from the PBS write up that follows. Her’s is more a personal history, centering on the man, his family, his life, and his art as a whole.

This recording is made possible through the generosity of Deborah L. Coffin.

To listen click on the links below.


John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum liked to tinker with his own legend, subtracting a few years from his age, changing the story of his parentage. The best archival research has revealed that he was born in 1867 to one of the wives of a Danish Mormon bigamist. When his father decided to conform to societal norms that were pressing westward with the pioneers, he abandoned Gutzon’s mother, and remained married to his first wife, her sister.

In 1884, when Gutzon was sixteen, the family moved to Los Angeles. His father, unhappy in California, soon returned to Nebraska, but Gutzon stayed behind. He studied art and met Elizabeth Jaynes Putnam, a painter and divorcee eighteen years his senior. Lisa Putnam became a teacher and mentor to Gutzon, helping manage his career and advising his education. They were married in 1889. While in California, Gutzon painted a portrait of General John C. Fremont and learned the value of having a wealthy and socially connected patron. Although the general died a few years after sitting for his painting, his widow provided Borglum with contacts to men such as Leland Stanford and Theodore Roosevelt.

The Borglums traveled to Paris to work and study, and there Gutzon met sculptor Auguste Rodin. As much as he admired Rodin, more than one historian has suggested that the reason Gutzon gave up painting was to compete with his brother Solon, who had been making his name as a sculptor. Gutzon’s talent was immediately apparent and he found a few commissions (certainly the fact that Solon had already associated the name Borglum with fine sculpture didn’t hurt). At the same time, Gutzon’s marriage was falling apart. He left Paris alone in 1901 and aboard ship met Mary Montgomery, an American who had just completed her doctorate at the University of Berlin. He and Mary wed as soon as Lisa granted him a divorce. They bought a house and farm in Connecticut and named it “Borgland.”

Borglum’s major work back in America included a bust of Abraham Lincoln, which he was able to exhibit in Theodore Roosevelt’s White House. The Lincoln portrait and other much admired works gave Borglum a national reputation, and he was invited by Helen Plane of the United Daughters of the Confederacy to carve a bust of Robert E. Lee on Stone Mountain in Georgia. Borglum’s conception was bigger than Plane’s and Stone Mountain became his first mountain carving project, and where Borglum developed some of the techniques that would later be used on Rushmore.

While at Stone Mountain, Borglum became associated with the newly reborn Ku Klux Klan. Whether this accorded with a racist world view, or if it was simply one way to bond with some of his patrons on the Stone Mountain project, is unclear. Frankly, Borglum had little time for anyone, white or black, who was not a Congressman or millionaire, or happened to be in his way. There is no indication, for example, that he treated his long-suffering black chauffeur Charlie Johnson any differently than any white employee — he owed him back pay just like everyone else. Stone Mountain was not finished by Borglum, but it inspired his next job: Mount Rushmore.

When South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson read about Stone Mountain, he invited Borglum out to the Black Hills of South Dakota to create a monument there. Borglum, perhaps realizing that Stone Mountain had only regional support, immediately suggested a national subject for Rushmore: Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson were added to the program soon afterward.




Borglum had met and campaigned for Roosevelt, and by invoking that president’s acquisition of the Panama Canal and Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, the Rushmore monument became a story of the expansion of the United States, the embodiment of Manifest Destiny.

Work on the mountain was not constantly supervised by Borglum. When he was at Rushmore, Borglum would be climbing all over the mountain and all over the hills, to determine the best angle for each feature, and advising the carvers on how to create the nuanced details that might not even be visible from below. But after creating the models, siting the sculpture, and developing methods for transferring the image to the mountain and carving the rock, there were long periods during which Borglum’s presence was not required. He would often leave his assistants, including his son Lincoln, to supervise the work and then travel. He would go to Washington, D.C. to lobby for more money, and he also traveled around the world, finding and completing other commissions, sculpting a Thomas Paine for Paris and a Woodrow Wilson for Poland, and meeting politicians and celebrities such as Helen Keller. (Helping her feel pieces by his old friend Rodin, he recalled her comment: “Meeting you is like a visit from the gods.” He sometimes felt the same way about himself, writing in his journal: “I must see, think, feel and draw in Thor’s dimension.”) When he returned to the Dakotas, a rock might have been roughly blasted into an egg shape and he would be back to looking over every detail.

Borglum’s stubborn insistence on having things done his way led to numerous confrontations with John Boland, who chaired the executive committee of the Mount Rushmore Commission. His temper and perfectionism caused him to fire his best workmen (who then had to be hired back by Borglum’s son Lincoln). Borglum’s ambition and hubris motivated him to recreate a landscape in his image (a tableau of prominent white men) rather than for the Native Americans who held the Black Hills sacred. Borglum was stubborn, insistent, temperamental, perfectionist, high-reaching, and proud — but these were also the characteristics that were required to carve a mountain. Big, brash, almost larger than life, only a man like Gutzon Borglum could have conceived of and created the monument on Mount Rushmore.

On March 6, 1941, Borglum died, following complications after surgery. His son finished another season at Rushmore, but left the monument largely in the state of completion it had reached under his father’s direction.

Photos are courtesy of Robin Borglum Kennedy.


There’s Magic Out There


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Listen to the Song of a Winter Wren

You Won’t Believe Your Ears



Don Kroodsma has made recordings of birdsong available to Story Preservation’s Learning Lab to use in conjunction with his oral history.  Can’t help but share these two recordings of a winter wren.

The first is at regular speed.

The second is slowed down. When the song is slowed down, you can very clearly hear the wren’s two voice boxes at work.



Here is the sonagram that visually records the song.  By using sonagrams ornithologists can identify individual birds. The same way our speech is unique to each of us, so it is with birds.

Recording and sonagram by Don Kroodsma.  Used with permission.  Sonagram of Winter Wren.

Recording and sonagram by Don Kroodsma. Used with permission. Sonagram of Winter Wren.