Access to 115 digitized primary source collections from ProQuest

For the next three years, the Library will provide full access to all of ProQuest’s primary source collections and titles, including some really major collections such as Early European Books Online, newspapers to which we haven’t previously had access (eg, the Jerusalem Post), more installments of British Periodicals, several Civil War-related collections, and ALL of Proquest’s primary source materials digitized from microfilm in their “History Vault,” including labor history collections, Confidential State Department files, INS records, Margaret Sanger’s papers, and much, much more. Please see the complete list at  –there are collections of interest to most fields of history, as well as the arts and humanities more broadly, the social sciences, and some scientific disciplines. In addition to manuscript and printed materials of all sorts, there are streaming videos and recorded sound collections.

Continue reading “Access to 115 digitized primary source collections from ProQuest”

The Watseka Wonder

“The case of Lurancy Vennum, a bright young girl of fourteen years, has been the subject of much discussion in Watseka during the past year, and there is a good deal in it beyond human comprehension.” – “Mesmeric Mysteries,” Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, OH), Jun. 22, 1878 [1]

            Ever since Regan MacNeil crawled backwards down the stairs in The Exorcist, possession has been a cornerstone of American horror movies. The very idea of losing control of ourselves to something otherworldly fills us with fear. The fear of possession, of course, has been around since long before the 1970s. Cases of possession have featured on the pages of newspapers across the country since the Salem witch trials in the 1690s. We don’t have to look far to find one such case.

Watseka, Illinois is a small town that lies around 63 miles north of Champaign. With a population of around 5,000, it isn’t necessarily a household name. However, that was not always the case. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Watseka became the subject of national attention, with newspapers across the country debating a series of strange occurrences. It all began with one young woman, Mary Lurancy Vennum.

Not a lot has been written about Lurancy’s birth and early childhood. She first appears in the historical record in July of 1887 when she was 13 years old. Lurancy, the story goes, suddenly began to feel ill and behave strangely, complaining to her mother that she was unable to sleep. Each night she was awakened by the sound of someone desperately calling her name, only to find that no one was there. Further complicating matters were severe stomach pains which were soon accompanied by trances in which she would claim to see spirits floating around her.[2]

It wasn’t long before the community caught wind of her symptoms, with everyone forming their own opinions on the matter. Many in town pushed for her to be sent to an asylum to undergo treatment. Others, however, pushed for the intervention of a different type of “expert,” someone who could address the spirits that allegedly haunted Lurancy. Desperate to help their daughter, and possibly put off by the horrific reputations of asylums, the Vennums put their faith in the spiritual. It was with this in mind that they brought in renowned spiritualist E. W. Stevens to examine the situation. (Stevens, you may notice from this post’s reference section, later wrote a book about his experience. This book serves as the most detailed account of these events.)[3]

As time wore on Lurancy’s symptoms became increasingly peculiar. One newspaper noted that

“She could also place her hand on a book and without seeing it would point to any letter that was named. These spells would last sometimes an hour or two, then she became quite rational and appeared as well as ever…This continued until sometime in January last, when, after one of those trances, she declared that she was an old German woman named Katrina, but this illusion soon vanished and she became Mary Roff, a young lady who died twelve years ago.”[4]

Mary was not as quick to relinquish control of Lurancy, stating that she would retain control of the body while Lurancy’s soul was healed. Mary, in the meantime, wished to visit with her family and friends. News of this occurrence eventually reached Mary’s parents who visited the Vennum home to see if the stories were true. Upon seeing the Roffs, Lurancy (or Mary) became frantic, demanding that she be allowed to stay with them. The Roffs, seeing the distress that the event was casing the Vennum family, agreed to watch her until Lurancy returned to normal. According to both Stevens and the Cincinnati Enquirer, Lurancy was capable of remembering numerous events and people from Mary’s life. Furthermore, she seemed to have lost all memory of much of the Vennum family and friends.[5]

For several months Lurancy lived as Mary, staying with Roffs and visiting with Mary’s friends and family. That is, until May 7th when she promptly announced that Lurancy’s soul was returning to her body on May 22nd at eleven o’clock. As promised, Lurancy soon returned to her body. By all accounts she returned to life as normal, happy and healthy.[6] There does not appear to have been any resurgence of strange behavior on Lurancy’s part.[7]

Stevens’ account of the “possession” is at turns fascinating and dubious. His writings show no indication that he had any real interest in finding non-supernatural causes for Lurancy’s behavior. Furthermore, he fills the account with grand stories over Mary’s ability to take and relinquish control of Lurancy’s body at will. Supposedly, she was even able to take over the bodies of others, possessing a Dr. Steel and making a show of her control over his body.[8]

Given the questionable nature of Steven’s account, we are left to wonder what caused the events in Watseka.  Was Lurancy the victim of a temporary psychological condition that, without our modern understanding of psychology, was left largely untreated? Were there supernatural elements at play?

The memory of the Watseka Wonder is very much alive today. If the story resonated with you, why not visit the Vennum House? It offers tours and ghost hunts. The story was also mentioned on the extremely popular historical horror podcast Lore. In 2009 the story also inspired a “documentary” called The Possessed.  Full disclosure: I haven’t seen it, so view at your own risk.

Suggested Readings:

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey.
Possessed: Women, Witches, and Demons in Imperial Russia by Christine Worobec
Possessions: the History and Uses of Haunting in the Hudson Valley by Judith Richardson
Demon Possession in Elizabethan England by Kathleen Sands


[1] “Mesmeric Mysteries,” Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, OH), Jun. 22, 1878.
[2] E. W. Stevens, The Watseka Wonder: A Startling and Instructive Chapter in the History of Spiritualism, (Chicago: Religio-Philospocial Publishing, 1878), 1-2.
[3] E. W. Stevens, The Watseka Wonder, 2-4.
[4] “Mesmeric Mysteries,” Cincinnati Enquirer.
[5] “Mesmeric Mysteries,” Cincinnati Enquirer; E. W. Stevents, The Watseka Wonder, 4-6.
[6] E. W. Stevens, The Watseka Wonder, 10, 13-16
[7] “The real thing,” Daily Illini (Champaign, IL) Mar. 30, 1974.
[8] E. W. Stevens, The Watseka Wonder, 12.

Other Sources Used:

Watseka, IL.Google Maps. Accessed October 26, 2018.
Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2017.United States Census Bureau. Accessed October 15, 2018.
Vennum House,” Accessed Oct. 15, 2018.
Mahnke, Aaron. “Mary, Mary,” Lore. Podcast audio. Dec. 23, 2016.
The Possessed (2009).IMDb. Accessed Oct. 15, 2018.

What can a Czech-American newspaper teach us about the American union?

In August 2016 HPNL and Preservation Services received a fourth round of grant funding for the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), a project supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Library of Congress. The grant supports the funding for the digitization of 100,000 pages of newspapers. For this cycle UIUC focused on immigrant Chicagoland-based newspapers from the late 19th century and early 20th century. As part of this project, I was tasked with producing short essays summarizing the history of two related Czech-American newspapers: Denní hlasatel (Daily Herald) and its weekly counterpart, Týdenní hlasatel (Weekly Herald). The essays were to appear in the Library of Congress powered site, Chronicling America, as well as UIUC’s newspaper portal, the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections (IDNC).

It all started in 1891 when the Czech Typographic Union of Chicago went on strike. The typesetter’s union, which was founded on December 7th, 1890, demanded shorter working hours and increased wages. Their demands were rejected, resulting in a strike and no staff to print newspapers for two days. Responding to this lack, the union started their own daily newspaper– Denní hlasatel – which quickly gained popularity after its May 4th, 1891 release date. In fact, its subscribers grew to a greater number than those of well-established newspapers such as Chicažských Listů (The Chicagoan Newspaper). At the end of its publication in 1994, it was the oldest Czechoslovak daily in the world and one of the most significant compatriot newspapers of the pre-war period.

Source: Chronicling America

The nature of its inception played a large role in the paper’s mission throughout its lifetime. Both the daily and the weekly were were directed by union members and their content was dedicated to the interests of Czech-American workers. In 1901, the paper writes, “Our paper is union. All work on it is done by union labor.” The papers kept their readers up-to-date on local and national labor news, and regularly printed editorials in solidarity with other Chicago unions. In 1902, the paper published an editorial in support of striking coal miners in California. The editorial reads, “Bohemians, without exception, sympathize with the locked-out coal miners and, with all their heart, wish for them a victory over the pot-bellied capitalists. In order to help the coal-miners to gain their victory Bohemians will contribute their dollars.” The paper also participated in the debates of significant strikes, such as the Chicago Garment Workers’ Strike of 1910, detailing the involvement and contribution of Bohemian workers.

As I researched the union-born publications, memories of the not-so-distant Graduate Employee Organization strike were palpable. On February 26th, 2018, the Graduate Employees of UIUC went on strike after many months with no contract. You might remember the main quad filled with yellow-beanie-clad Teaching Assistants, Graduate Assistants, and their allies (professors, non-tenured faculty, undergraduates, community members) banging on drums and chanting in solidarity, as they demanded a protections for tuition waivers, fair wages, accessible health care, protections for international graduate employees, and benefits for student parents. A total of 12 days, it was the longest strike in UIUC history.

Source: Smile Politely

Furthermore, in the national spotlight is the Supreme Court’s June 2018 Janus v. AFSCME ruling, which bars public sector unions from charging “agency fees.” As a result, unions will have to lobby public employees to pay union dues, although all employees (paying or nonpaying) will receive all the same benefits of the union. It is a ruling that many feel will weaken American unions, negatively affecting those in unionized professions. It is a fact that unionized employees earn better wages and benefits, such as health insurance and retirement benefits. For people of color and women, the impact of a union is even greater.

What can a Czech-American newspaper teach us about these contemporary events? Although these events are over a century apart, they speak to each other, they tell a story of our history, as Illinois residents and as Americans. Local and national responses to employees, their labor, and their unionizing efforts can highlight systemic challenges in a capitalist apparatus. Comparative study of unions and labor movements across centuries can illustrate how these issues are collectively solved and the trajectory of their resolutions. By making publications such as Denní hlasatel accessible with digitation, translation of a lesser-known language (Czech), and analysis, we open the door to learning not only of events past, but to understanding their impact and discovering what they can teach us about today.



Habenicht, Jan. Dejiny Chechuv amerických (St. Louis, Mo.: Tiskem a nákladem casopisu “Hlas,” 1904)

Jaklová, Alena. Čechoamerická periodika 19. a 20. století (Prague: Academia, 2010)


Nadia Hoppe is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Student Life and Culture Archives

Housed at the southern end of campus, right next to Orchard Downs, is the university’s Student Life and Culture Archive. Dedicated to preserving the history of student life on campus, this archive holds a wide variety of artifacts. From old newspapers to interviews to clothing, they have something that is bound to be of interest to everyone. There is no assignment required to visit, just a curiosity for what you’ll find there.

The question then is what exactly will I find there? The short answer is, a lot. For example, are you in a sorority or fraternity? Then you’re in luck because the archive has complete histories of 16 different chapters as well as a good deal of documentation on others. You can find everything from membership requirements to event information dating back to the founding of many of these chapters.

Perhaps you want to look into academics from the school’s early years. Want notes from a Constitutional History and Logic class from the late 1800’s? The archives have you covered with notes written by Alfred Gregory. Or if engineering is more of interest to you then you can access class notes from a senior level Civil Engineering course, about local bridges, from 1930. (Please note it is probable that the courses have changed in content over the years so maybe don’t try to copy these notes instead of attending class. Or do, I am not here to tell you how to live your life.)

If you are interested more in the social side of student life then you may be drawn to documents from numerous student organizations on campus including copies of the African-American Cultural Program publications from the 1960’s through the 2000’s. There are also copies of student comedy newspapers including the Illini Mothers’ Tyme (1969) and Booze News (2004-2006).

If you have an interest in politics you may want to look in the archives University of Illinois in the Cold War Era LibGuide which provides links to numerous resources within the archives. Included is a link to the photography subject file which houses pictures from the famous March Riots that shook campus during the 1970’s. There is also the collection of unrest documents which include flyers in favor of protesting the Vietnam War. Or perhaps you can read the Walrus, a student run alternative newspaper from the 1960’s.

If sports are more up your ally, these archives house a large number of documents pertaining to African American student athletes. These documents range from interviews with players such as Claude “Buddy” Young as well as a thesis written on African American athletes at Illinois in 1972.

If my best attempt at channeling a used car commercial has successfully sparked your interest then by all means head out there to visit. Simply head over to the Horticulture Field Laboratory by Orchard downs. (If you want to take the bus I’d suggest taking the Bronze 8 or the Teal 12 to the Orchard Downs North Shelter stop which is directly across the street from the lab.) Once you walk into the building take a right and on the right side you’ll see the reading room filled with wooden tables and chairs (it is almost impossible to miss.) Then present your icard to the archivist and tell them what you are looking for. Before you know it you’ll be handling notes from the time of your grandparents, no long process involved and no assignment required. If you aren’t sure where to begin, you can always look through the archive’s lib guide at or simply ask one of the archivists for advice. While you’re there consider asking them what their favorite item in the archive is: who knows what they’ll have to show.

Happy Birthday, #Beyoncé!

Beyoncé’s historic Coachella performance earlier this year alone merits a celebration. As the festival’s first Black female headliner, Beyoncé, er, schooled the audiences with a set inspired by Homecoming celebrations at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) featuring step, the Black National Anthem, Greek-letter organizations, and an on-point marching band. And then donated $100,000 to HBCUs.

In 2018, Beyoncé is arguably the world’s greatest pop icon. For, not only did she deliver a truly stunning set at Coachella in April, but also she started a world tour with her husband Jay-Z in June, and with him released a long-rumoured joint album Everything Is Love in the middle of that month with no prior promotion–this was in tandem with a video for the lead single shot in the Louvre. And late last month, the Carters donated over $1,000,000 for college scholarships through their respective charitable organizations.

2016 was a watershed year for Beyoncé’s audiences. Early in the year the pop icon gave a Black Power-inspired Superbowl halftime performance and released “Formation,” the first single from her album Lemonade, a text that was the testimony of her difficult relationship with her husband; in April, the album itself was released. Its accompanying videos refer to, among other things, Julie Dash’s film Daughters of the Dust, the Deep South, New Orleans, and African spiritual traditions; the videos also featured Black American female figures including tennis legend Serena Williams and the mothers of young Black men who had been murdered by police and included the words of Kenyan-born Somali-British poet Warsan Shire. (On her previous album Beyoncé, the words of feminist Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are sampled.) This even more open embrace of Black identity at the height of her fame and power engendered a sense of gratitude, pride, and identification in African-descended people worldwide, especially women.

Beyoncé continues to break new ground as a performer and role model, aweing audiences around the world with her legendary work ethic and commitment to excellence.

Happy birthday, Beyoncé, and many happy returns!

New Online Resource: American Antiquarian Society Historical Periodicals Collection, 1684-1912

Library patrons now have access to EBSCO’s digital collection American Antiquarian Society Historical Periodicals Collection, 1684-1912. Originally released in five series, this collection has long been on our “wish-list”, and we have finally acquired the entire collection, which complements several existing digital collections (American Periodical Series Online, America’s Historical Newspapers, 19th Century American Newspapers, and Early American Imprints), and makes pre-1900 American print culture among the best covered source bases for online historical research here at the University of Illinois Library. Continue reading “New Online Resource: American Antiquarian Society Historical Periodicals Collection, 1684-1912

Treasuring Tea: the World’s oldest Wonder

January is National Tea Month, but there is a tea for every season. Too hot? Iced tea. Feeling chilly? Warm up with a chai! What comes to mind when you hear the word tea? A warm, calming brew sipped at the end of a long day? A strongly steeped morning pick-me-up? A well-traveled, world-renowned part of your pantry? England? China? India? Nepal?


Afternoon Tea, (oil on panel) by Ronner-Knip, Henriette (1821-1909). Photo © Christie’s Images; Dutch, out of copyright

The Oxford English Dictionary contains over eight definitions for the word tea, ranging from its description as a plant to its use as a noun describing a British afternoon hour. Its current English pronunciation is traced back to approximately 1655, yet it may be historically traced in China as far back as the third century BCE. Centuries of existence and integration into cultures ascribes the fact that in some places it is known as tea whereas in other places it’s known as cha. This informative article by Quartz traces the fascinating etymology of the word. You may further investigate maps located within the UIUC Library, either as an individual item or within monographs, to further trace its place within different cultures. Within the United States, tea dates back to the pre-Revolutionary era, and makes a central appearance in the historical flash point of the Boston Tea Party and the subsequent boycott of the item by the Patriots. From then to now, however, tea has remained a staple of many American households. According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A., citizens consumed over 3.8 billion gallons of tea in 2016! 

PSA detailing how to reserve sugar and not waste it during daily tea consumption during the WW I era. Farm Home, November 1, 1918, pg 4. 

Due to the longevity of its existence and role within different histories and cultures, tea proves itself an interdisciplinary subject that may find a place in any field of study. There are few categories of tea, which comes from the shrub from the Camellia sinensis plant, which is native to China, northern India, and southeastern Asia. Categories such as black tea, green tea, or oolong, are differentiated by the manufacturing process of the plant. Although there are few categories, there are thousands of varieties of the beverage, which is what arises from blending the plant with various herbs or spices. Celestial Seasonings™ provides a detailed explanation on the characteristics of different categories of tea. From these different categories, there are thousands of varieties available, which has allowed tea to maintain its marketable status. Simply put, there is a tea for just about anyone and for any occasion. 

If this post has inspired you to dust off the tea set and heat up the kettle, or if you would just like to read one or more of the many histories of tea, please consult the further resources below.

Further resources:

A person could dedicate an entire scholarly career researching tea, and indeed, some have. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign contains multiple articles, books, and electronic media pertaining to the subject. Conduct a subject search using terms such as “tea–history” or “tea — cultivation.” Use easy search to locate scholarly articles pertaining to scientific properties of tea, or other articles of interest. Below are a few links to items in the local collection you may find enjoyable.

Cited in this post:


New Digitized Newspaper: The Rand Daily Mail, 1902-1985

The Rand Daily Mail was a South African, English language newspaper that became famous in the 1960s for its editorial opposition to apartheid.

It began publication in 1902 as a conservative sheet serving English-speaking whites in “the Rand”—local parlance for the Witwatersrand goldfields near Johannesburg (“rand” is a geological term for an escarpment, so its metonymic use here is similar to the way southern Californians often refer to the San Fernando Valley as simply “the Valley”). South Africa was a country sliced to shreds by conflict: racial, class, and white ethnic conflict. Over five different languages were spoken throughout the nation. Within the Rand, the paper was reliably establishment, though it did occasionally break ranks to support white miners. Continue reading “New Digitized Newspaper: The Rand Daily Mail, 1902-1985″