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Selected Topics

Student protests at KU,
National Vietnam Moratorium Day,
October 15, 1969.

Call Number: RG 71/18.

The 2020 National History Day theme is “Breaking Barriers in History.” Below are some topics that are related to this theme and can be researched using materials at Spencer Research Library.

This list isn't comprehensive. There are many, many other topics and collections you can investigate at Spencer! You can get other ideas for topics by exploring other sections of Spencer's website – including collection overviews and online exhibitions – and KU Libraries' digital collections.

If one of the below topics interests you, Spencer librarians can help with locating and interpreting specific primary sources.

Gutenberg and the Invention of the Printing Press

Johannes Gutenberg introduced Europe to printing through his invention of the printing press and movable type in the mid-fifteenth century. The advent of printed books and documents allowed for information and ideas to circulate quickly and made the written word more accessible to the general population. This pivotal moment of innovation also played an important role in the development of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution.

Spencer's holdings include a leaf from an original Gutenberg Bible (the first book Gutenberg printed), as well as a twentieth-century facsimile of a full Gutenberg Bible. The library also holds a variety of resources related to the history and development of printing that can help provide additional information and context for Gutenberg’s contribution to human history.

The Protestant Reformation and the European Wars of Religion

In the sixteenth century, many people began to raise questions and concerns about the teachings and actions of the Roman Catholic Church – most notably Martin Luther with the publication of his Ninety-five Theses in 1517. Several factions of these Christians broke away from Catholicism and the authority of the Papacy, establishing Protestantism throughout Europe and setting off a series of events and conflicts known as the Protestant Reformation and European Wars of Religion.

Spencer's collections include a sizable number of materials related to the people and conflicts associated with the Protestant Reformation. While many of the library's items are not printed in English, the value of these holdings is in their connection to this chaotic time in history and how the Reformation shaped the future of Europe and Christianity. Items include published writings by Martin Luther as well as writings and sermons in defense of both Protestantism and Catholicism. Students interested in this topic may need to choose a specific event or person within this broad time period.

Scientific Discoveries

The holdings at Spencer include materials documenting the history of science. For example, the library holds a first-edition copy of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia, a second-edition copy of his Opticks, other works by Newton, and publications by other scientists about Newton's work and contributions to science and mathematics. A prominent figure in the Scientific Revolution, Newton contributed extensively to our knowledge of the mathematical sciences. His discoveries included the laws of motion and universal gravitation and developments in the study of light and optics. Additionally, Spencer holds a first-edition copy of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In this work, Darwin drew on observations he made during his studies as a naturalist to propose the scientific theory of evolution – one of the most significant and defining moments in the history of science. Spencer also houses editions of Darwin's other publications and resources related to his work that provide additional context for his life and discoveries.

European Exploration, Settlement, and Colonization of the Americas

This topic is well-documented in the collections at Spencer Research Library through a number of historical maps and published texts from the 1500s, 1600s, and 1700s. Many of these sources document Europeans' interactions with - and often violent conquest of - indigenous peoples. Some published texts include striking woodcut illustrations of the places and peoples being described. Many of these materials require knowledge of languages other than English or necessitate finding an English-language translation. Students interested in this topic may need to choose a specific event or person within this broad time period. For example, the library has numerous materials related to Hernán Cortés’ conquest of Mexico in the sixteenth century. These items include eye-witness accounts and modern facsimiles of codices created by native Mesoamericans. See the online exhibit "In the Shadow of Cortés: From Veracruz to Mexico City" for more information.

Suffrage: Commemorating Milestone Anniversaries of the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibits the federal government and each state from denying citizens the right to vote on the basis of sex. This victory for women’s rights came after decades of protests, demonstrations, and legislative attempts of varying degrees of success. Spencer's holdings include perspectives and campaign materials from both the national pro- and anti-suffrage movements. The library's collections also document the history of women's suffrage in Kansas, the first state to hold a referendum (when citizens directly vote on an issue) on women’s suffrage in 1867. Although the referendum was defeated, it inspired other western states to hold similar referendums. Kansas recognized a woman’s right to vote in local elections in 1887. In 1912, eight years before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, Kansas voters approved the Equal Suffrage Amendment to the state constitution. Kansas thus became the eighth state to grant full suffrage to women. Researchers using Spencer's collections will also find materials related to women’s suffrage on an international level.

The year 2020 also marks the 150th anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment (1870), which prohibits the federal government and each state from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Primary sources in Spencer's holdings document individuals' opinions about the proposed amendment in the late 1860s, barriers like poll taxes and white primaries that prevented many African Americans from voting for decades after the amendment was ratified, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Ireland's Easter Rising, 1916

Materials on this topic at Spencer Research Library document the events of the weeklong rebellion and its immediate aftermath as well as the political and cultural contexts in which the Rising occurred – specifically its place in the history of Irish independence. The library's holdings on this topic include literary works, political ephemera, manuscripts, periodicals, and photographs. See the online exhibit “Easter 1916: Rebellion and Memory in Ireland” for more information.

Spencer Research Library is home to one of the most significant and sizable collections of materials about Irish history, literature, culture, and politics held outside of Ireland. A range of materials within the collection documents various tragedies and triumphs throughout Irish history. The bulk of the collection dates from approximately 1700 to 1950; as a result, the period of the Troubles in Northern Ireland (late twentieth century) is not well represented. Learn more about these holdings via the collection description and Library Guide.

Breaking Barriers at the University of Kansas

Among the holdings of University Archives are many materials that illustrate the breaking of barriers – by individuals and by larger groups – at KU. For example, consider an individual such as Cora Mitchell Downs, who in 1882 became the first woman to serve as a member of the Board of Regents, which governs all Kansas state colleges and universities. Additionally, her granddaughter, bacteriologist and Professor Cornelia (Cora) M. Downs, was the first woman to be awarded a PhD at KU, which she received in 1924. In addition to engaging in top-secret biological research for the U.S. Army during World War II, Downs developed ground-breaking techniques to identify viruses and furthered knowledge of various diseases. Consider also larger groups at the University that have sought to break barriers. For example, the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front was formed in 1969 and engaged in a long-fought battle for recognition by the University.

Also well-documented by primary sources in KU's University Archives is the wave of student activism that took place on campus during the 1960s and 1970s. Specifically, through sit-ins, protests, and other actions, African American students fought for civil rights at the university, protesting against racial discrimination on campus and in Lawrence. Materials include publications like the Graduate Magazine, Jayhawker yearbook, and University Daily Kansan student newspaper; photographs; and records of chancellors and student organizations. Learn more about these holdings via Spencer's "African American Rights Activities and Movements: University Archives" Library Guide.

Breaking Barriers of Racial Exclusion and Discrimination in Kansas and Beyond

Spencer's African American Experience Collections document the activism of African American communities, leaders, and interracial organizations in Kansas. They played an important role in breaking down barriers that limited the educational, economic, and socio-political opportunities of African Americans. Specifically, Spencer's holdings include materials related to the 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision; Kansans were the lead plaintiffs in that case. Additional materials at Spencer document the broader contexts of Brown v. Board, specifically the history of education in Lawrence and Kansas, schools established by African American communities in the state (especially Sumner High School in Kansas City, Kansas). Also well-documented is the Modern Civil Rights Movement, specifically the contributions of Kansas leaders. Additionally, Spencer Research Library is the home of the largest collection in the state that documents the work and accomplishments of African American legislators in Kansas. See the online exhibits "Education: The Mightiest Weapon" and "No Dreams Deferred: African American Leadership in the Kansas Region" and the  Library Guide “African American Rights Activities and Movements: Kansas Collection” for more information.


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