Object: Coins

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Great Britain
Materials: Bronze


Painting of the Golden Hinde by artist Кожин С.Л. /Simon Leonidovitch Kozhin, 2007.

These are British Half Penny coins. The half penny is often referred to as a ha’penny and has been made from several different metals over the years. These particular half pennies are made of bronze. The coins are each from a different year: 1937, 1960, two are from 1965, and one is from 1967. There is another 1919 half penny currently on display in the English culture area of the Institute of Texan Cultures that also belongs to this donated group. British coins generally have the reigning King or Queen on the front of the coin. On the back of the coin there different designs are used for each denomination. For the half penny the backside either had Britannia or the “Golden Hind” on it. In this set, the coin from 1919 (which is on display on our exhibit floor) has the image of King George V with the image of Britannia on the reverse. The 1937 coin has the image of King George VI with the image of the “Golden Hind” on the reverse. The 1960, the two 1965’s and the 1967 all have Elizabeth II on the front and the “Golden Hind” on the back. These coins are also pre-decimal, meaning they are from before the British government switched their currency from a system based on weight to the decimal system. These pre-decimal coins are no longer considered legal currency in the United Kingdom.


Image from the Decimal Currency Board Guide, via: Newcastle Historian on the Skyscrapercity.com forum

The half penny was introduced during the 13th century and is still in use today, though the value of the half penny changed after the British government switched the currency to decimalization. The pre-decimal currency that was used in Britain was based on the weight of a pound of sterling silver. A British pound was divided into 20 shillings and 240 pennies, which meant that to make a pound using half pennies you needed 480 coins. After Britain switched to a decimal currency system, one pound is made up of 100 pennies and one penny is made up of 2 half pennies.

Many half pennies came into Texas when British colonists brought over a popular pub game, called Shove Ha’penny, from their home country. The game is a smaller version of the aristocratic game shovel board, that was played during the Tudor times. Shovel board was played on on 30 feet long narrow tables. Players shoved metal weights down the tables, trying to get them as close to the other end of the table as possible, without falling off. In the smaller version, Shove Ha’penny, players take turns to push coins across a board with a series of parallel lines marked across it.   The areas between each line are called “beds.” The objective is to push the coin so that it lands inside a bed without touching the lines.  To win, a player needs to get a coin in each “bed” three times, which is no easy task for the “beds” furthest away from the front of the board.   If a player manages to score with three coins in one “bed” in a single turn, he is said to have scored a “sergeant,” and if all five coins score in a single turn, it is a “sergeant major” or a “gold watch.”

The game is still very popular in pubs across Great Britain and in pubs here in the United States. Below is a video showing some of the rules of the game. [Jennifer McPhail, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Further Reading:
British Museum, and Herbert A. Grueber. 1899. Handbook of the coins of Great Britain and Ireland in the British Museum. London: Trustees.

Cannon, John, and Ralph Alan Griffiths. 1988. The Oxford illustrated history of the British monarchy. Oxford [England]: Oxford University Press.

Davies, Glyn. 2002. A history of money from ancient times to the present day. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Roche, T. W. E. 1973. The Golden Hind. New York: Praeger.

Object: Photograph

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Photograph in Frame
San Antonio, TX
November 21, 1963
Materials: Glass, Paper, Ink

When looking at a photograph, many people will remember how they felt the exact moment it was taken. Since the invention of photography, photographs have been capturing select moments and events, such as the aftermath of battles, a President’s inauguration, and even tragedies like September 11. However, photographs have also become an important part of the historical record, allowing people to travel back in time. This object is a framed presentation photograph of President John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy, taken on November 21, 1963. The photograph shows the President being greeted by an unidentified woman and three children at the San Antonio International Airport. In the image Congressman, Henry B. Gonzalez and San Antonio Mayor, Walter W. McAllister Sr. are also present. President Kennedy visited San Antonio as part of five city tour of Texas in 1963. The photograph is important because only a day after it was taken President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX. The assassination of President Kennedy shocked America and many people still remember the effects the President’s death had on them.


Portrait Photograph of President John F. Kennedy, taken January 21, 1961. Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

John F. Kennedy nicknamed “Jack” became the 35th president of the United States of America on November 8, 1960. JFK was elected president in one of the closest elections in U.S. history. He was the youngest man ever elected as President, as well as the first Roman Catholic. JFK also took part in the first televised Presidential debates against Richard Nixon. When he ran for President in 1960 many people believed he was inexperienced due to his age. However, after the televised debates the public changed their mind. JFK showed support for Martin Luther King Jr. when he was arrested, although because of this he lost some support in the south, he also gained support from those who supported the Civil Rights Movement. One of John F. Kennedy’s famous quotes, ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” was spoken during his inaugural address on January 20, 1961. John F. Kennedy and his wife Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy would go on and capture not only America but the world with their youth and glamor.

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The motorcade route across San Antonio was published in the San Antonio Express newspaper on November 20, 1963. Image via kennedyatbrooks.blogspot.com.

In the fall of 1963 John F. Kennedy was getting ready to start his reelection campaign and knew that Texas was a key state. On November 21 the President and First Lady started their two day, five city tour, through Texas. The first stop was San Antonio, a city John F. Kennedy had only visited once before in 1960. The photograph above captures one of many moments of President Kennedy’s arrival in San Antonio in 1963. When the President and his motorcade left the airport they headed to downtown San Antonio where they were greeted by thousands of spectators. The President then headed to Brooks Air Force Base, now Brooks City Base, where he gave a dedication speech for the Aerospace Medical Center. He spoke about the importance of space and stated, “This nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it. Whatever the difficulties, they will be overcome; whatever the hazards, they must be guarded against.” After the speech President Kennedy spoke to four airmen who were inside an altitude chamber. The President and his entourage then made their way to Kelly Air Force Base where Air Force One departed to Houston, TX to continue the tour.

Even though President Kennedy only spent a few hours in San Antonio, 50 years later San Antonians still remember his visit to the Alamo City. Many people witnessed President Kennedy pass by in his motorcade, some shook his hand at the airport, and others saw him at Brooks Air Force Base. For some, they felt seeing the President was one of their most memorable life experiences, others were stuck by the beauty of the day and the vitality of the young President.  So when news of JFK’s assassination made its way to San Antonio, his death had a great impact on the people who had seen him just the day before. One of the four airmen who had been visited by President Kennedy in the altitude chamber remembered, “There was nothing but tears. We felt such closeness to him.” Although, President Kennedy’s visit to San Antonio was just a small piece of history, for those in San Antonio the visit will always be a special day. [Joscelynn Garcia, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:
Carty, Thomas. 2004. A Catholic in the White House?: religion, politics, and John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dallek, Robert. 2003. An unfinished life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co.

George, Alice L. 2013. The assassination of John F. Kennedy: political trauma and American memory. New York: Routledge.

 John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Sneak Peek

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We are currently in the midst of installing Modern Masterpieces by Texas Quilters, 1989-2010, and Texas Art Quilts, 1993-2011 in our temporary gallery. With the short holiday week we’ll be working right up to the opening on this one so I wanted to take a minute to share a few quick images of the behind the scenes action. Hope you enjoy, and be sure to stop by to see the quilts in person starting this weekend!


Ready for opening night!


Object: Sheep bells


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Sheep bells
mid-20th century
Materials: copper

Jason and the Dragon

Photo via: Traveling Classroom Foundation

People have been raising and herding sheep in Greece for thousands of years. Sheep and their products are even featured in ancient Greek myths;  Jason and the Argonauts‘  go on a quest to find the Golden Fleece, and Polyphemus, the cyclops of the Odyssey is described as a shepherd.  The rocky landscapes found in much of Greece are not well suited for larger animals, like cows, but is ideal for sure-footed sheep and goats. The mild Mediterranean climate also provides an extended growing season, allowing sheep to be left out on pastures for much of the year making them easier to raise. Sheep are used for a number of different products. Wool and meat are only some of products sheep have been raised for over the years. Sheep’s milk  is turned into a variety of cheeses, like feta and kasseri, and is used for traditional Greek yogurt. The leather from their hides are also used to make chamois cloth, and parchment.

Traditionally while the sheep are out grazing they are guided and protected by a human shepherd. In Greece, shepherds use bells to help keep track of their animals. Different sizes of bells are used to create different sounds, and the individual bells can be “tuned” using a hammer to alter their shape. The bells help the shepherd know where his flock is, even when he can’t see them, and can help him avoid accidentally leaving an animal behind when moving the sheep to different pastures. Bells are also used on other types of livestock, particularly cattle, around the world.

In Greece this type of bell is also used during Apokries, or Greek Carnival. There are a number of festivals held throughout Greece during the weeks leading up to the start of Lent, that make up the Apokries.  Many of these festivals feature Koudounatoi, “bell wearers” or “bell ringers;” sometimes the festivities even include people dressed up as sheep themselves. The following video shows an Apokries festival on the island of Crete.


Photo via: Drum Barracks Garrison & Society

Greeks began immigrating to Texas in the late 1800’s. Most left Greece due to economic difficulties, or the ongoing military conflicts in the region, often involving the Ottoman Empire. Many of these immigrants had been farmers and shepherds in their homeland but, often settled in urban areas of Texas where they could find jobs and eventually establish their own restaurants and businesses. However, one early Greek immigrant to Texas, George Caralampa (or Xarlampa), was able to famously continue herding after his arrival in Texas. Mr. Caralampa, also known as “Greek George” was recruited to come to Texas by the US Army in order to herd and care for camels. The government was interested in using camels instead of horses for its mounted troops in deserts and swampy terrain, and Caralampa was selected to help wrangle the camels for the experiment.  Needless to say, this project was short lived, it was put on hold at the start of the Civil War. Some of the camels were seized by the Confederates, others escaped into the wild. At the end of the war the few remaining camels were sold, ending the US army’s camel experiment for good. [Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Collins, Donna Misner. Ethnic Identification: The Greek Americans of Houston, Texas. New York: AMS Press, 1991.

Faulk, Odie B. The U.S. Camel Corps: An Army Experiment. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1955.

Kardulias, P. Nick, and Mark T. Shutes. Aegean Strategies: Studies of Culture and Environment on the European Fringe. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997.

University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio. The Greek Texans. [San Antonio]: University of Texas at San Antonio, Institute of Texan Cultures, 1974.

Object: Kilt

Women’s Kilt
Scottish Texan
ca. 1985
Cloth, Leather, Metal, Velcro, Thread

This object is a women’s kilted skirt that is made in the Texas Bluebonnet Tartan. The Texas Bluebonnet Tartan is the official tartan of Texas and was designed by June Prescott McRoberts from 1982 to 1985. McRoberts designed this pattern based on inspiration from the Texas state flower, the Bluebonnet. She worked under the guidance of the Scottish Tartan Society in Scotland and registered this pattern with them on January 15th 1985. The Scottish Tartan Society was the official register for all Scottish tartans; it became defunct around 2000. The museum that the STS built in Franklin, North Carolina is still functioning. Now the tartan is registered with The Scottish Register of Tartans. The Texas Sesquicentennial Committee (150th Anniversary Committee) adopted the Bluebonnet Tartan as the Sesquicentennial Tartan in 1986.  On May 25, 1989, the Texas Bluebonnet Tartan became the official State Tartan for the state of Texas by In-House Concurrence Resolution #242.


Image from Tartan Authority.

A tartan is a woven cloth that has interlocking stripes, running horizontally and vertically throughout the cloth forming a checkered pattern. The pattern became known as a tartan and is mistakenly called plaid by many. A plaid is actually a tartan blanket or long piece of tartan fabric. Tartans have been in use for several thousand years, but today tartans are almost exclusively associated with Scotland and Scottish Clans. Originally, tartan designs had no names and no symbolic meaning. Because the the cloth was locally made it is likely that some colors and designs were more common in some areas than others, but no regulated or defined “clan tartan” system ever existed. Even without the concept of a “clan tartan,” this type of material was   extremely popular in the Scottish Highlands.


By David Morier; painted in 1746 for the Duke of Cumberland. Via: Wikipedia

In 1745, The Battle of Culloden took place between the British, led by the Duke of Cumberland, and Prince Charles of Scotland. The British forces won the battle and ended the Jacobite military rebellion. Following their victory, the British sought out Scots who were loyal to Prince Charles, massacring many and causing others to flee abroad. As part of their efforts to eliminate Scottish rebels The Act of Proscription was enacted in 1747, outlawing tartan, and all other symbols of Scottish Highland culture. Tartan could not be worn or made, and because of this it is possible that several patterns were lost, but it also helped preserve them as well. Scots still would wear their tartans as a symbol of Scottish pride and also resistance to the English. In 1782 King George III repealed The Act of Proscription which led the way for tartan becoming the Scottish symbol it is today.

After the repeal, textile producers started creating new tartans as well as reproducing older patterns. These merchants started naming the designs based on either the region that the design came from, the names of clan chiefs shown wearing that design in old paintings, and so forth. The names were used just to make it easier to identify the patterns, they were not meant to be representative in any way. Though with the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822, tartans became even more popular because the Heads of the Scottish Clans were told to wear their “clan tartans.” Most did not know their tartans because there had never been a “clan tartan” before, so they reached out to the producers of tartan cloth trying to find out what their proper tartan was. The most famous, and inventive, source used to identify “clan tartans” at the time was the Vestiarium Scoticum. Now accepted as a forgery, the Vestiarium Scoticum, was widely popular in the mid-1800s and was the basis for many of the “clan tartans” still in use by modern Scottish Clan Societies today.

Today for a tartan to be recognized as legitimate it must be registered with The Scottish Register of Tartans. People all over the world wear tartan either as representative of their Scottish ancestry, or as a fashion choice. Individuals can even create and register their own patterns, just like The Texas Bluebonnet Tartan was created for Texas Scots. [Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:
Brown, Ian. 2012. From tartan to tartanry: Scottish culture, history and myth. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Fulton, Alexander, David Gibbon, and Neil Sutherland. 1999. Clans and families of Scotland: the history of the Scottish tartan. Edison, NJ: Chartwell Books.

Herndon, Rosanna T. 2008. The line from here to there: a storyteller’s Scottish West Texas. Lubbock, Tex: Texas Tech University Press.

Sutherland, Anne. 2006. The Robertsons, the Sutherlands, and the making of Texas. College Station: Texas A & M University Press.

Photo Quiz

The answer to last month’s quiz is…

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A comb!

Can you guess what this one is?


We’ll post the answer on September 17th. Good luck!

Object: Torah

Mid-19th Century
Materials: Parchment, Ink, Cloth, Thread, Metal, Silk, Plastic, Wood

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Mantle of the Law

This object is a Torah (Sefer Torah), which is a sacred text for Judaism. The Torah is a scroll that is made of parchment and the pieces of parchment are sewn together with thread. The spindles of the scroll are wood and when stored the scroll is held together by a piece of cloth, traditionally silk, that goes around it and latches to itself. The Torah has a cloth bag (Mantle of the Law) that it is “dressed” in, which is decorated. Typically the cloth used to make these types of covers high quality and is decorated with elaborate embroidered images and other decorations. The bag as two holes at the top for the wooden spindles of the scroll to go through, so that the parchment is completely covered by the bag. This particular Torah was used by the Congregation B’nai Abraham of Brenham, TX and the Jewish congregation of Navasota, TX.

The Torah is written in the Hebrew language and contains the Five Books of Moses (Chumash or Pentateuch) which are: Genesis (Bereishis), Exodus (Shemos), Leviticus (Vayikra), Numbers (Bamidbar) and Deuteronomy (Devarim). The five books that make up the Torah are also the first five books of the Christian Bible. The Torah and the Old Testament contain the same books, but they are presented in a different order. The Torah is one of three parts of the Jewish Bible (Tanakh), the other sections are the Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings) The Torah is referred to as the Written Law while the Talmud and Mishna make up the Oral Law. The Oral Law books help to explain the laws of the Torah and how they should be carried out in Jewish daily life. They deals with many topics, including: agriculture, sacred times, women and personal status, damages, holy things, and purity laws.

Due to the religious importance of the Torah, scrolls used for religious services are made from only kosher materials. The animal hide that is used to make the parchment must come from a kosher animal, generally calf hide is used. However, the animal can not be killed specifically for its hide but must either die of natural causes or be slaughtered for food. The sinew of the animal is typically used to sew the parchment pieces together to form the scroll. The needle used to sew the pieces together must be either a silver or gold-plated kosher needle, though gold-plated is the preferred choice. No other metal may be used in the production of a kosher Torah since metal is also used for the production of weapons for war and violence. The feather for the quill that is used to write the text comes from either a turkey or a goose. The ink must be black and again there is a special formula that is used to make the ink kosher.

Torah Scribe

Torah scribe Rabbi Reuven Yaacobov writes a paragraph of a Torah as part of the exhibition ‘The Creation of the World’ on July 10, 2014 at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Photo by: JOHN MACDOUGALL,JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

The materials used to create a Torah are only one part of creating a kosher Torah. The scribe who writes the Torah must be a specially trained individual who is devout and knowledgeable in the laws governing the proper writing and assembling of a Torah scroll. This person is referred to as a sofer or soferet (title of a female scribe), which translates from Hebrew as “to count.” For a Torah to be used in a religious context it must be written by a sofer. Part of the scribe’s job while writing a Torah is to count the letters and lines while writing to ensure that nothing has been added or omitted. This counting ensures the accuracy of the Torah text. The sofer/soferet must copy directly from a completed kosher Torah. The scribe may not write one letter from memory, they must have a text in front of them at all times when they are writing. There are several other guidelines that must be followed when writing a Torah to ensure that it is kosher. It takes one year to complete a kosher Torah, following this method. Traditionally women were not allowed to become sofers, but in modern times women have become rabbis, which has led to a push for women to become scribes. This is still not a common practice and the most traditional Jewish communities still do not allow women to become rabbis or scribes.

Once the scribe has finished writing, they review and double check their work to ensure the text has no mistakes. A person who is trained in Hebrew may also assist in proofreading the text, this helps to ensure the accuracy of the Torah but also fulfills a Jewish person’s obligation to write a Torah in their life, which is the final commandment of the 613 Mitzvot. Due to the lengthy process and difficulty in writing a Torah, there are other ways for people to fulfill this obligation. A person can proofread a Torah, or fill in a single letter, or help to pay for the writing of a new Torah. These are not universal practices, each Jewish congregation decides what is the best way for a person to fulfill this commandment. Even though women traditionally are not able to write a kosher Torah, they could still copy a Torah for personal use, but there are some who believe that women are exempt from this commandment.

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Inscription at the end of the Torah.

If there is a mistake found when proofreading a Torah, then it must be corrected before the Torah may be used. There are complicated rules that govern corrections to certain words, the name of God being the most critical. To correct a mistake, the scribe painstakingly scrapes dried ink off the parchment, and then removes the rest of the ink residue with an architectural eraser. Finally, the scribe applies chalk to the spot to restore the color and then makes the correction. The Sefer Torah donated to the Institute of Texan Cultures has an inscription added at the end which states that the Torah was corrected in 1897. A translation of the inscription, provided by the donor, reads, “I corrected this Sefer [Torah] for the Navasoto congregation in the month of Menachem Av, 5657 [1897]. Chaim Schwartz, watchman of the House of Israel in Texas.” We do not know what the correction was, but it is interesting to see this inscription in the scroll. [Jennifer McPhail]

Click here to view a short presentation from Rabbi Yehuda Clapman on writing a Sefer Torah.

Additional Resources:
Gribetz, Judah, Edward L. Greenstein, and Regina Stein. 1993. The timetables of Jewish history: a chronology of the most important people and events in Jewish history. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Hertzberg, Arthur. 1961. Judaism. New York: G. Braziller.

Kessler, Rainer. 2008. The social history of ancient Israel: an introduction. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Winston, Pinchas, and Mordecai Plaut. 1986. The unbroken chain of Jewish tradition: a visual overview of the history of the Jewish people. Jerusalem: Aish ha-Torah.

Object: Magazine

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LIFE Magazine
May 23, 1949

first cover

First cover of “Life” magazine. Image via NPR’s “The Picture Show.”

Life magazine started out in the 1800’s but not as the magazine people are familiar with today. The magazine started out as a humor magazine, but did poorly during the Great Depression. The magazine was then bought by Time publisher Henry Luce, “Unlike Time whose mission was to tell the news, Life’s mission was to show the news.” The magazine focused on using photographs instead of long written pieces to tell a story. Luce stated, “The magazine was meant to see life; to see the world; to eye witness great events…to see things 1,000 miles away.” The magazine would do just that and the first issue was published on November 23, 1936 featuring Fort Peck Dam. When published, the magazine had about 8 million copies in circulation and remained popular for about 4 decades.


V-J Day Kiss in Times Square. Image from Life.time.com.

Life magazine became one of America’s most influential magazines, bringing its audience photographs of places near and far. However the WWII era was when the magazine really captured audiences. The magazine had a tremendous impact on the American public by showing actual images of the soldiers during WWII. The photographs did something that text and radio could not. It was in Life magazine where the first photograph of dead soldiers from WWII were published. Although, the magazine showed gruesome photographs, it also showed photographs of happier times as well. Some of these photographs are still popular. One of the most recognized photographs in today’s pop culture is the image of a sailor kissing a nurse during VJ Day. The magazine also captured different kinds of celebrations at the end of WWII. The iconic photograph was taken by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt.

After WWII, the magazine switched focus as the public became fixated with celebrities. Even though important world issues were still covered, the public wanted to see images of the rich and famous. The magazine photographed actors, actresses, athletes and musicians. People like Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles, and Babe Ruth were photographed and featured in the magazine. In this issue, actress Sarah Churchill is on the cover. She was the daughter of UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill who served as Prime Minister during WWII. Sarah Churchill was also an officer in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force where she did photo reconnaissance, before becoming an actress. She was best known for the movies Daniele Cortis (1947), Royal Wedding (1951), and Serious Charge (1959). In this issue, the magazine article is about the actress crossing over to American stardom with her new movie titled All Over the Town (1949). The movie is about two reporters who are trying to save a newspaper in England. The movie was received well in London the magazine states. Inside the magazine a large photo of Sarah curling her eyelashes is shown.

With millions of Americans reading Life magazine, companies were eager to use it to advertise their products. Some of the products advertised in this issue are products no longer sold, while others are still household names today. Some of the brands that advertised in the pages of Life were Chevy, Ford, Palmolive and Kraft. The advertisements caught the reader’s attention since they were in bright colors in contrast to the stories that were in black and white. However, as television became more popular, the success of the magazine went down. People could watch events on television and products were advertised during commercials. So in 1972 the last issue of the weekly magazine was published. However, today many vintage Life magazines can be found at bookstores and the amazing photographs that captured a nation can be found on their website. [Joscelynn Garcia, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:
Centanni, Rebecca. 2011. “Advertising in Life Magazine and the Encouragement of Suburban Ideals”. Advertising & Society Review. 12 (3).

Doss, Erika Lee. 2001. Looking at Life magazine. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. 

Life Magazine. 2011. America in pictures: the story of Life magazine. [S.l.]: BBC 4. 

Halsall, Christine. 2012. Women of intelligence: winning the Second World War with air photos. Stroud, England: Spellmount.

Hoy, Frank P. 1986. Photojournalism: the visual approach. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. 

Thompson, Edward K. 1995. A love affair with Life & Smithsonian. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

Object: Uniform

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United States
Cloth, Thread, Metal

This uniform is from World War II and contains: hat, jacket (pictured), tie, pants, and belt. The uniform belonged to native Texan, Dr. Harold W. Diserens, M.D. who served in the United States Army from 1943 to January 1946. During this time, he was deployed to Europe from late 1944 till late 1945. Dr. Diserens served in the U.S. Army 78th Division Infantry “Lightning” Band.

Military uniforms, like this one, can provide a great deal of information about their owners. For instance, this jacket has a number of patches and ribbons on it that identify the soldier’s rank and tells of some of his experiences. The patch on both arms that has the three stripes over the “T” symbolize Dr. Disernes’s rank of Technician 4th Grade. The European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Ribbon with it’s three bronze stars over the left breast pocket indicates that he served in 3 campaigns, which we know from his service record were served in the European theater. The three gold bars on the bottom left sleeve represent three 6-month tours. The diamond shaped patch over the right breast pocket with a golden eagle with a circle around it is known as the “Ruptured Duck” and was only issued to those who were honorably discharged. The patch on the left shoulder that is a red semi-circle with a white lighting image is the unit insignia patch for the 78th Division Infantry.


78th postcard WWI – front. Image from 78thdivision.org.

The 78th Division Infantry was first activated on August 23, 1917 and  consisted of four infantry units and three artillery units. During World War I the 78th served in France and was involved in two of the major campaigns of WWI: St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne. The St Mihiel campaign was fought southeast of Verdun, France and took place from September 12 to September 16, 1918. The Meuse-Argonne campaign was fought immediately north and northwest of the town of Verdun on September 26 to November 11, 1918. At the end of WWI the 78th was demobilized in June of 1919. It was during WWI that the 78th became known as the “Lightning” Division. The French likened the battles of the 78th Division to a bolt of lightning, leaving the field blood red. Thus the insignia for the 78th became a single streak of lightning across a red field.

78th stars and stripes

Stars and Stripes, Vol 1- No. 57. 78th Infantry Division makes the front page of the March 17, 1945 edition. Image from 78thdivision.org.

When the United States entered World War II, the 78th was reactivated on August 15, 1942 and was used as a training unit for two years before entering into combat in the European Theater. The 78th took part in the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater which was treated as a separate war from the Asiatic-Pacific Theater. There were three campaigns that the 78th took part in during the war and they were Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and Central Europe. The Rhineland campaign took place from September 15, 1944 to March 21, 1945 and was along Germany’s defensive line from Holland to Switzerland. The Allies were able to break the defensive line due to the success of the Ardennes-Alsace campaign which is better known as the Battle of the Bulge. This campaign started on December 16, 1944  and concluded on January 25, 1945. The Ardennes forest is located primarily in Belgium and Luxembourg, but it also extends into France and Germany. The Central European campaign took place following The Battle of the Bulge, from March 22, 1945 to May 11, 1945. When Germany officially surrendered on May 7, 1945, the 78th became part of the occupational forces that stayed in Germany. The 78th was then deactivated again on May 22, 1946. In November of 1946 the 78th was reactivated and in May of 1959 it was reorganized as a training division. [Jennifer McPhail]


Additional Resources:
78th Division Veteran’s Association. 1967. Fiftieth anniversary, 1917-1967, 78th Division. Ft. Dix, N.J.: The Association.

Cole, Hugh M. 1994. The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army.

Dzwonchyk, Wayne M., and John Ray Skates. 1992. A brief history of the U.S. Army in World War II. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, U.S. Army.

United States. 2000. Lightning: the history of the 78th Infantry Division. Nashville: Battery Press.

Wijers, Hans J. 2009. The Battle of the Bulge. Mechanicsburg, Pa: Stackpole Books.

Object: Book

Signal Book
Paper and Ink

This object is a United States Signal Book from the year 1916. The book contains information and instructions on how to communicate using different systems. This booklet has the Army Signal Corps symbol stamped in the front with the words “Signal Book, United States Army, 1916.” Some of the communication methods included in the book are, American and International Morse Code, and the Semaphore method. This signal book was published by the Military Publishing Company in New York City. This signal book shows a message from the War Department Chief of Staff H.L. Scott.

In today’s modern world there are many different types of communication. All of these forms of communication make in incredibly easy for people around the globe to get in contact with each other. Cell phones have made it possible for people to have a face to face conversation with someone 3,000 miles away, this can be achieved with the push of a button. However, 100 years ago communication was much more difficult. In a time when messages had to be written and could only travel at the speed of a horse, getting a message to someone could take days. This signal book gives an example of the many forms communication could take in 1916. At this time World War I was in its 2nd year and although the U.S. did not enter until April 1917 the military still needed to know these forms of communication.


US Army Signal Corps telephone operators or “Hello Girls,” Tours, France, WWI. Elizabeth Anne Browne Collection, Gift of L.C. Jones. Women’s Memorial Foundation Collection.

Signal books like the one here were used by members of the Signal Corps established in 1860 and responsible for all forms of communications and information systems. The father of the Signal Corps was Albert J. Myer a doctor stationed in Texas, he developed a military signaling system based on his dissertation. The Signal Corps played an important role during the Civil War when Myer’s invention named the “Wig Wag was used. The “Wig Wag” used one flag instead of the two that had previously been used. However, this form of communication was not reliable due to weather causing visibility problems at times. During WWI the Signal Corps were made up of carrier pigeons and the hello girls. The “hello girls” were part of the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit 25. Because these women had to operate switch boards in both France and England, bilingual women were usually recruited. The Signal Corps is still an important part of the United States Army.

One form of communication featured in the signal book is “Morse Code which is a result of the telegraph. Although forms of telegraphy were used in Europe they were mostly made up of visual telegraphy. Samuel F.B. Morse and Alfred Vail invented the first long distance electric telegraph. This invention would go on and transform long distance communication. The telegraph worked by transmitting electrical signals over a wire laid between stations. The code worked by assigning letters in the alphabet and numbers a set of dots (short marks) and dashes (long marks) based on the frequency of use; letters used often (such as “E”) got a simple code, while those used infrequently (such as “Q”) got a longer and more complex code. In 1844 Morse made a sucessful demonstration from Washington D.C. to Baltimore with the words What hath God wrought.  This demonstration helped to promote the use of the telegraph and by 1866 many American cities had telegraph posts.

DSC_0021Another form of communication technique featured in the signal book is the semaphore. The two arm semaphore can be used with stationary semaphore or two hand held flags. The first semaphore was invented by Claude Chapp and his brothers. The semaphore could be either a post or two signal flags. The signal flags are usually made up of two colors and are in a diagonal pattern. The flags are held in different positions and each represent a letter or number. Although using semaphore flags was not a primary form of communication during WWI it could still be used when troops were nearby and had visibility of each other. Knowing different forms of communication was important because troops had to be ready under any circumstance.

Although, the communication methods showed in the signal book have long been replaced with modern technologies such as phones and the internet. Inventions such as the telegraph and Morse Code have helped shape the way in which communication is conducted in the 21st century. [Joscelynn Garcia, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Reading:
Bates, David Homer. 1995. Lincoln in the telegraph office: recollections of the United States Military Telegraph Corps during the Civil War. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Lincoln.

Hochfelder, David. 2012. The telegraph in America, 1832-1920. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Raines, Rebecca Robbins. 2005. Getting the message through: a branch history of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific.

Bingham, Jane. 2011. Women at War the Progressive Era, WWI and Women’s Suffrage, 1900-1920. New York: Infobase Pub. http://public.eblib.com/EBLPublic/PublicView.do?ptiID=741617.

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