Athanasius Kircher and Other Curiosities from Special Collections

Welcome to Special Collections’ Spring 2019 exhibit: especially for bibliophiles!

“Master of a Hundred Arts”

Portrait of Athanasius Kircher

Athanasius Kircher in 1655

Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) was regarded as a great intellectual during his lifetime. With insatiable curiosity, access to the expansive knowledge networks of the Jesuit order, and the power to disperse his ideas in print, Kircher produced over forty “seat-cushion-sized” tomes on diverse subjects including hieroglyphics, musicology, geology, magnetism, comparative religion, and medicine.

He curated and maintained a museum, the Kircherianum, in the Jesuit college in Rome, which contained artifacts and curiosities from his own travels as well as machines and instruments of his own design. The latter included contraptions such as the sunflower clock, which he believed demonstrated plants’ magnetic attraction to the sun and could also be used, under very carefully controlled conditions, to tell time. “A clock of this sort,” he noted, “can barely last one month, even though cared for with the greatest effort; thus, nothing is perfect in every aspect.”

Kircher also approached and presented his research with apparent glee. According to science writer Michon Scott,“Even if he lacked the rigorous approach of modern science, he delighted in his intellectual pursuits. Visitors to the Kircherianum sipped tasty liquids provided by mechanical barfing crustacians and heard his disembodied voice, fed to them through a hidden metal tube he spoke through from his bedroom. […] He once tricked the minister of his abbey into desperately searching for an organ that didn’t exist; what the minister really heard was Kircher’s Aeolian harp played by the wind. He launched dragon-shaped hot-air balloons with ‘Flee the Wrath of God’ painted on their underbellies. He dressed up cats in cherub wings, to the mild amusement of onlookers and the great annoyance of the cats.” 

His copious works were widely read by his contemporaries throughout Europe and were even funded by popes and Holy Roman Emperors. Toward the end of his life, however, his reputation declined. His many bizarre hypotheses and bafflingly erroneous conclusions ultimately led to the dismissal of his work as ridiculous at worst and half-right at best. Kircher’s contemporary, Rene Descartes, scoffed that Kircher was “possessed of an aberrant imagination… more charlatan than savant.” Members of his own order pranked him in his later years by inventing a coded language for him to decipher.

Illustration from Magnes sive arte magnetica

Illustration from “Magnes sive arte magnetica”

Kircher is now considered to have made few to no original contributions to the bodies of knowledge which he studied. His books are valued more for their fantastic scope and fascinating illustrations than their scholarly content, although some of his ideas did seed modern fields of study and led to durable scientific discoveries. He is considered a founder of Egyptology, for example, although his attempts to translate hieroglyphs almost a century before the discovery of the Rosetta Stone were elaborately wrong.

Recent writing on Kircher positions him as an ingenious, prolific, and grandiose public scholar at the turn of the “scientific revolution.” He was a Catholic philosopher who sought fervently to make sense of nature’s mysteries and the wondrous workings of all things in an age when modern ways of thinking about the world were increasingly deviating from traditional concepts based on faith. “When Kircher was born,” wrote his biographer John Glassie, “almost everyone assumed that the Earth was at the center of the universe; at the time of his death almost every educated man willing to be honest with himself understood that it wasn’t. […] At the very least, as cultural critic Lawrence Weschler once put it, ‘Europe’s mind was blown.’” Another historian, Paula Findlen, summarized: “Kircher is a fascinating reflection of why and how science mattered in the mid-seventeenth century.”

Frontispiece to Physiologia Kircheriana experimentalis

Frontispiece to “Physiologia Kircheriana experimentalis,” 1680

Works by (and about) Kircher at Portland State

Portland State University Library Special Collections holds two of Kircher’s works: Magnes sive arte magnetica (3rd ed., printed in 1654), and Physiologia Kircheriana experimentalis (1680). Magnes is Kircher’s second and largest work on electricity and magnetism, in which he describes the properties of various types of magnetism in the natural world, from the influences acting on heavenly bodies to the compelling attractions of music and love, and elucidates these with a series of practical experiments that include the sunflower clock. Physiologia is a compendium of Kircher’s researches in physics, light, acoustics, hydraulics, and a myriad of other topics, published by his student Johann Kestler in the year of Kircher’s death.

Curious readers can check out these books on Kircher from the PSU Library: The Last Man Who Knew Everything by Paula Findlen (CT1098 .K46 A738 2004); The Ecstatic Journey by Ingrid Rowland (Q127 .I8 R68 2000); A Renaissance Man and a Quest for Lost Knowledge by Joscelyn Goodwin (CT1098 .K46 G62 1979b).

Alongside Fr. Kircher’s books, we present two species of books as objects of information, design, and art:

Tiny Books! Smaller Selections from Special Collections

Tiny “Tales About the Sun

The octavo binding (often abbreviated 8vo) gets its name and its small size from the number of pages formed when full sheets of paper are folded and cut to make a bound book.

Small books allowed scribes and printers to fit more text per volume and to make books portable, first as objects of personal devotion and later as “pocket books” to be inexpensively purchased, easily carried, and read at one’s leisure.

These tiny octavo and duodecimo books reflect publishing designs for small children, a Victorian fascination with miniatures, and the absorbing occupation of reading on the go from a handheld device.

The Art of Marbling

The origins of paper marbling are uncertain, but most scholars agree that a style like marbling, called suminagashi (“floating ink”) began in 10th-century Japan. This is where we find some of the oldest and exquisite examples of this art form. Japanese nobility used marbled papers as a background for their calligraphy.

Marbling is the earliest type of decoration used for the end-papers of books. Persians were the first to use marbled papers in books during the 16th century.

In her book, Decorated Book Papers: Being an Account of Their Designs and Fashions, Rosamond B. Loring explains the reason for using marbled end-papers. “In making a study of end-papers one finds that respect for the written or printed words early led men to protect their manuscripts from the wear a scroll or book was likely to get from handling… This gave the readers something to hold and prevented dirt and finger marks from soiling the manuscript.”

Picture of marbled paper

An example of a marbled endsheet

The technique of marbling paper is relatively simple. Oil colors are added to a bath of thickened water and the patterns that form on top are lifted by laying a sheet of paper upon it. The differing patterns are created by using styluses and combs of various kinds. Variations in the water, hand movements, and even dust particles make every piece unique.

Rosamond Loring’s book on decorated papers is also available at the PSU Library: Z271 .L85 2007.

Visit the Exhibit during Spring 2019

See the display of these extraordinary volumes in the first floor lobby (across from the elevators) in Branford Millar Library this spring term! Special Collections is open to the public by appointment on weekdays. Please contact us at with your inquiries or requests!

–PSU Library Special Collections Staff

Autumn Exhibits: Special Collections and University Archives

What do a rare devotional text, published writing by Portland State students, and arguments aimed at convincing Oregonian voters have in common? The simple answer is that these are all examples of unique artifacts and collections held by Portland State University Library Special Collections and University Archives! The Library’s exhibit this autumn reflects the beginnings and endings of the season in its selections highlighting student writing, publishing, and research.

Spotlight on Student Media

Cover of Pathos, volume 10 number 3

Pathos Literary Magazine, Spring 2016 (v.10 no.3).

Beginning with the Vanguard newspaper, founded in 1946 under the masthead Vet’s Extended, and the Viking  yearbook, which ran for nearly forty years with only two pauses, Portland State students have published their writing in a rich array of genres and formats. Included in University Archives’ exhibit are poetry and prose journals, weekly newspapers, and books published by the Ooligan Press. Browse the exhibit for lively historical examples, check out PDXScholar for digital back issues of student media, and pick up a recently published student paper or magazine for some current reading!


Election Season with Special Collections

Vote Yes on 4: Oregon Public UtilitiesThe State of Oregon has the earliest established initiative and referendum system in the United States, and continues to be one of the most active users of that system to bring issues to the ballot. Josh Binus, a public historian and PSU history instructor, began the Ballot Measure Archive Project in 2004 to document and preserve evidence of Oregon’s dynamic history of direct democracy. Binus and over 120 researchers, primarily PSU undergraduates, worked more than five years gathering materials relating to Oregon’s ballot initiative process: letters, articles and editorials, petitions, speeches, advertisements, signs, mailers, bumper stickers, buttons, and more from both sides of campaign issues. Check the exhibit for highlights of ardent support and vehement dissent on statewide issues, and learn how Oregonians voted!


Memento Mori: ‘Remember Death’

Engraving from Book of Hours

Engraving from the Fifteen Signs Before Doomsday: “12. The stars and the planets will fall enflamed.”

In Spring 2018, students in the Medieval Portland Senior Capstone focused their research on a Book of Hours printed in 1507 by Thielman Kerver in Paris. The book’s comprehensive inclusion of Christian texts often left out of Books of Hours and its highly detailed illustrations made it a compelling subject for interdisciplinary study. In the spirit of the season, as trees shed dead leaves and nights lengthen, we have selected studies on sections of the Book of Hours that contemplate mortality, endings, and inward reflection. The Book of Hours itself will be on display Monday through Friday while Special Collections is open.

Visit the PSU Library first floor elevator lobby to view the exhibit, and follow us on Instagram for more selections from your Library’s unique collections!

Origins of Modern Middle East Studies: Scholarly and Travel Writing Before 1900

ruins at Tadmor

Illustration from a sketch of the ruins at Tadmor (Palmyra, Syria) by author Emily Beaufort Smythe (1861).

Middle East Studies in the West is informed by centuries of intellectual exchange which includes seminal works by Middle Eastern historians, language and cultural studies developed by European scholars, and popular travel writing, including works by women who toured Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Turkey in the 19th century. The Library’s exhibit, richly annotated by PSU alumnus and Middle East historian Gary Leiser, presents examples of works that contributed to the development of Middle East Studies in Europe, England, and the United States.

“Orientalism” in Academia and Printing

Map from Moeurs et usages des Turcs (1747).

French scholars coined the term “Orientalism” in the 18th century to describe the European scholarly study of the geographical region in which Arabic, Turkish, and Persian were spoken. For Europeans, this region began at the Eastern Mediterranean and, by extension, where the Christian and Islamic worlds met.

Detail from the Psalms printed in Arabic and Latin by Francois Savary de Breves (1614).

Initially, Orientalism focused on translation, acquisition of scientific knowledge, and support of Christian missionary activities, but new approaches to texts and history broadened the field after the Renaissance. The first books were printed in Arabic in the 16th century, and many Western scholars sought to consult (and publish) important Arabic works in the original.  European universities promoted Middle Eastern studies by establishing chairs of Arabic.

As European commercial and diplomatic relations with the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East in general expanded during the 18th and 19th centuries, study of the region developed as well and became increasingly secular, incorporating natural and cultural studies drawn from field research in addition to works on languages and religion. The exhibit features a printing of the first book set in Arabic type at Oxford (by the university’s first chair of Arabic), an edition of the Psalms in Arabic and Latin printed in France in 1614, and several examples of important works in printed Arabic written by Middle Eastern historians from the medieval era to the 18th century.

Egyptology and Travel Literature

Letter to James Cooley from George Gliddon (1842).

In the 19th century, travel literature from the East gained popularity with the Western public. The new field of Egyptology also inspired tourism and spurred book sales. Popular Egyptologists in the exhibit include women like Amelia Edwards, whose journey up the Nile in 1873-4 inspired her life’s work of professional study and preservation of Egyptian antiquities, and Americans James Cooley and George R. Gliddon, who came to blows in New York City over Gliddon’s scathing refutation of Cooley’s poor scholarship and mockery of the American consulate in Egypt in 1842.

The materials selected for this exhibit are part of Special Collections’ Middle East Studies Collection, which originated with the founding of PSU’s Middle East Studies Center in 1959. The dynamism of the MESC made Portland State almost synonymous with Middle East Studies in the 1960s and 70s, especially with instruction in Arabic. As one of the ten federal depositories receiving materials from Egypt after 1961, the PSU Library built one of the best Arabic collections in the western U.S.

This essay is drawn in part from a sketch of the history of Middle East studies by historians Gary Leiser and John Mandaville. Portland State University Library Special Collections thanks the Tarbell Family Foundation for supporting the ongoing development of the Middle East Studies collection.

“Conservatism in a Revolutionary Era”

The latest Library exhibit, opening May 31, 2017, presents a less-examined side of political debates and demonstrations during the Vietnam War era.

As United States military involvement in Vietnam escalated during the late 1960s, students at colleges and universities around the world mobilized against the war. From the Sorbonne in Paris to Kent State University in Ohio, campus life erupted in protest. Here at Portland State in 1970, students and faculty blockaded the South Park Blocks, demonstrating in opposition to the war, the military’s physical transport of nerve gas across Oregon, the Kent State killings, and the imprisonment of Black Panther leader Bobby Seale.

Young Americans for Freedom MailerWhile the themes and images of those protests have become emblematic of that turbulent period, what is often overlooked is that new conservative movements rose up on campuses at the same time. In 1960, William F. Buckley Jr. and some of his contemporaries founded the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). The group’s purpose was to promote conservative values in young people during a time of heavy political mobilization by the Left in the U.S. and abroad.

Letter from Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan, governor of California from 1967-75, fundraising for YAF

“Conservatism in a Revolutionary Era” takes its titleYAF Brochure from a manifesto of the YAF. The exhibit, curated by Honors student Mariah Denman, examines the reactions, rhetoric, and recruitment of this counter-counter-cultural student organization through its mission, publicity, and fundraising.

The Americanism Collection

The publications of the YAF are part of PSU Special Collections’ Charles M. White Americanism Collection, which contains materials related to or disseminated by American far Right conservative organizations from the 1950s through the early 1980s.

Dr. White, a long-time faculty member of Portland State’s Department of History, had focused his doctoral work on far Left movements in the United States.  As a counterbalance, he shifted his scholarly focus to the other end of the political spectrum. For over three decades, Dr. White and his students gathered, organized, and preserved materials from dozens of right-wing groups.

The resulting collection records a historical spectrum of the political Right in the United States, from policy-focused economic and social conservatism to more virulent perspectives that openly draw upon legacies of exclusion and discrimination.

“Conservatism in a Revolutionary Era” is on display in the Library first floor elevator lobby starting May 31, 2017. For more information, please contact Portland State University Library Special Collections.

Never Built: The Past Future of Portland State

An astronomical observatory on the roof of the Ondine?

An elementary school on campus?

A student-run television studio?

Science 1 under construction in 1965.

Science 1 under construction in 1965.

These are just a few of the Portland State projects that campus planners and architects envisioned, designed, and drew… but never built.

The “never-built environment” is a term for architectural design and urban planning projects that were either never constructed or were built in alternate or compromised states. Since its move to downtown Portland in 1952, the Portland State University campus has grown from a five-block area between Broadway and Park Avenue to over forty city blocks. The expanding university produced numerous plans and designs for new structures and landscapes–not all of which were realized. What might the campus have looked like, and what resources might it have offered, if these plans had come to be? In a new Library exhibit, PSU Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Archives present records of some of the university’s most surprising never-built projects.

The Ondine Observatory

Drawing of Astronomical and Seismic Observatory

Astronomical and Seismic Observatory concept drawing by James D. Harris, Architect (1960s).

Portland State’s plan to build an astronomical and seismic observatory in the 1960s was part of the college’s early effort to establish its reputation as a research institution. The college shelved the initial project, but did build both Science Building 1 and the Science Research and Teaching Center between 1965 and 1975.

PSU revived the dream of an on-campus observatory when faculty from the Chemistry and Physics departments, hoping to improve on-campus course offerings and research opportunities, proposed a domed telescope on the roof of the Ondine Residence Hall.

Elevations of the proposed rooftop telescope dome by PSU Architect Tom Arnich (2000).

Elevations of the proposed rooftop telescope dome by PSU Architect Tom Arnich (2000).

The cost of the equipment and its upkeep was daunting, however, and after delays from the dome’s manufacturer, expired building permits, and confusion about funding sources, the university closed the project in favor of two smaller and less expensive mobile telescopes mounted on the roof of Science 1.


Portland State Elementary School

Elementary school and housing building rendered by BOORA Architects (1996).

Elementary school and housing building rendered by BOORA Architects (1996).

The Student Housing and Elementary School (SHES) project began in the early 1990s in response to increasing need for on-campus child care and student housing. The multi-use SHES complex, located between SW Tenth and Twelfth Avenues, combined student apartments, retail, and an elementary school, with additional classrooms for use by Portland Public Schools and the PSU Graduate School of Education. The partner institutions suspended the project, however, after difficulties securing funding and determining which institution would pay for which features.

See More of PSU’s Past Future…

Design for a sports and recreation center

Design for a multi-modal sports and recreation center. 1979.

Other never-built Portland State projects include a television studio behind the Parkmill building, a pub in the Academic and Student Recreation Center, skybridges across the Park Blocks, a sports arena, and many, many parking garages.

Visit the “Never-Built Portland State” exhibit in the first floor lobby of the Library to see more of what was once planned for the Portland State campus!

Viking Yearbooks Digital Collection and Library Exhibit

Portland State University, founded as Vanport College in 1946, celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2016. This fall, University Archives presents the ultimate Portland State flashback: the complete collection of Viking yearbooks, from 1946 until 1995, can now be read online, searched, and downloaded from the PSU Library! Leaf through the digital yearbooks online, and visit PSU Archives’ Viking collection exhibit in the first floor elevator lobby of the Library!

Portland State students produced the Viking each year as an annual record of campus life, commemorating the highlights of each year in photographs, essays, articles, drawings, and poetry. Today the yearbooks are an invaluable and fun record of daily life at PSU, including academics, sports, politics, recreation, fashion, food, living on campus, and popular culture.

Cover of the first Viking, 1946-47. Cover of the Viking, 1952-53. Cover of 1955 Viking. Cover of 1965 Viking. Cover of the 1969 Viking.Cover of the 1990 Viking.

The publication began as a traditional school yearbook, with photographs of student groups, college-sponsored events, and portraits of the graduating class. In the 1950s and early 60s, Portland State students appeared in the Viking attending semi-formal dances and honoring their Homecoming royalty.

Dance photos from the 1958 Viking. Football rally in 1963 Viking.

The yearbook’s format broke from collegiate tradition in the 1960s as PSU’s campus and culture diversified and expanded. The Viking‘s images and features show the campus as a busy and growing place during the late 1960s and early 1970s, a site of dialogue, performance, protest, and contemplation. The yearbook was a forum for student writing, occasionally with critical views, and always reflected the college’s deepening connection to the city.

Image from 1968 Viking.Image from 1969 VikingImage from 1970 Viking


Viking 1973 CoverCover of the Viking 1974Viking 1975 Cover

In the mid-seventies, student photographers and writers represented “a year in the life” at Portland State through evocative photo essays and creative narration. The Portland State Soap Opera, for example, does not commemorate which student groups were active during 1975, but it does give a sense of what classes and social life at PSU were like for some students.

Image from the 1973 Viking.


Current students may find by looking at PSU history in the Viking that while some things have changed a great deal on the Portland State campus, some things–building construction, late nights in the Library, full classes, bicycling, cafeteria coffee from the Smith Memorial Student Union–remain the same!

Image from Viking 1992


The Viking suspended publication between 1978 and 1989, but resumed during the 1989-90 academic year and continued until 1995, concluding with Portland State’s 50th anniversary. During the 90s, PSU welcomed a new president and a new focus on undergraduate education that included the founding of our University Studies program. Like the earlier annuals from the 1960s, the 1990s annuals feature student groups, academic programs, campus resources, and events, with flashbacks to 1990s popular culture to set the scene.

Visit the Viking exhibit in the PSU Library first-floor elevator lobby this fall, read and download the yearbooks online, and see more about the digital yearbook collection in the PSU Magazine!

Spring 2016 Exhibit: The Personal Is Political

Kafoury Exhibit Poster

Photograph of Gretchen Kafoury by Israel Bayer, Street Roots

PSU Library Special Collections’ spring exhibit features Portland politician and activist Gretchen Kafoury (1942-2015). Through a wide range of materials curated from Kafoury’s papers, the exhibit connects the passion she brought to the causes she fought for to each role she played in Oregon politics, whether organizing local actions or holding elected office.

Committee to Defend the Right to Protest letter 1975Political Pin CollectionHighlights include Kafoury’s activism in the women’s rights movement in Portland and in state government; her efforts locally as County and City Commissioner to establish and support social programs for those in need, particularly women and the homeless; and the part she played in legislating equal rights in Oregon. The exhibit offers an inside look into the workings of both official and unofficial politics through Kafoury’s unflagging dedication, principles, and humor.

Outtake of Multnomah County Board of CommissionersCorinne Rupp, a PSU Honors College student, curated the exhibit as part of her Honors thesis project, which also includes processing part of the Gretchen Kafoury Papers collection to make it available to researchers. PSU Library Special Collections is proud to present Corinne’s work in honor of Gretchen Kafoury’s life and achievements, and as a collaboration of local leadership, student research, and the Library’s unique collections.

The exhibit will be on view in the Library first floor elevator lobby throughout Spring 2016. For more information about the exhibit and the Gretchen Kafoury Papers at PSU Library Special Collections, please contact

Winter 2016 Exhibit Highlights 40th Anniversary of Women’s Studies at PSU

Image from 1976 Women's Studies Course Catalog

Image from cover of PSU Women’s Studies Course Catalog, 1976

PSU Library Special Collections and University Archives is honored to present its Winter 2016 exhibit, Ever Forward: Forty Years of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Portland State University. The history of WGSS at PSU is a story of the energy and passion of generations of students and faculty dedicated to the foundation, survival, and growth of feminist and queer scholarship at Portland State. The exhibit celebrates that history through selections from University Archives’ Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Collection.

Women’s Studies at Portland State originated with the work of students, faculty, and community volunteers. The first feminist-oriented group at PSU, “University Women,” organized in late 1969 to work toward women-centered goals such as free childcare on campus, and by the following year, University Women had formed the Women’s Union (today’s Women’s Resource Center) and were addressing wider issues concerning the status of women. As the Women’s Union evolved to become a community-wide advocacy and resource center, women working with the center and students and faculty that had formed an ad hoc committee known as the Women’s Studies Institute collaborated to create the Women’s Studies Union (WSU) to examine, envision, and enact equitable and inclusive instruction and hiring and to bring feminist academics to Portland State. The WSU founded the office that became the Women’s Studies Department.

Students meeting in the Women's Union in Smith Center, 1972.During the 1971-72 academic year, over four hundred students enrolled in courses offered through the WSU, which were taught by faculty across academic departments. In April 1973, the Women’s Union hosted a public Hearing on Sexism to call attention to inequity and discrimination in hiring and in the curriculum, and to build a case for an academic program in Women’s Studies. As examples of testimony demonstrate, women from all areas of the campus community put their personal experiences on the record, while academics and students worked together on a program proposal that showed how a university education and administration which perpetuated gender inequality failed to meet the needs of both the institution and society. Women’s Studies at PSU was approved by the Oregon State Board of Higher Education as a certificate program in 1976.

Book sale group shotThe program and its allies stood up to the slow process of accreditation and to profound funding challenges during its first two decades. In the early 1980s, when the certificate program was threatened by proposed budget cuts, Women’s Studies students mobilized demonstrations and a letter-writing campaign that enlisted support from legislators and community organizations around the state. Their efforts provoked budget revisions that protected the program, but significantly reduced its allotment. To counter these losses, throughout the 1980s students, faculty and community partners held bake sales and fundraising drives to sustain the department until it was slowly refunded by the University as the program continued to expand into the 1990s. Women’s Studies was finally approved as an undergraduate minor in 1987 and a major in 1998, nearly thirty years after the formation of the PSU Women’s Union.

8th annual poster croppedAs the program has grown, its students have worked with faculty to ensure that course offerings and curriculum reflect their priorities and are adaptable to evolving academic and political discourses of power and identity. In 2008, after several years of research, curriculum development, proposal drafting, and fundraising conducted by volunteer students and faculty, PSU Women’s Studies offered a minor in Sexuality, Gender and Queer Studies, the first program of its kind in Oregon.

In the spirit of the history of the program, Women’s Studies hosted a series of public conversations with students, faculty, staff, and community members to consider a change in nomenclature which would better reflect the purview and philosophy of the program. In 2010, Women’s Studies at PSU became Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and was also approved to become an academic department. Current and upcoming developments in WGSS demonstrate the vibrancy and future of feminist and queer activism and scholarship at PSU.

Grads 2015
Ever Forward
was curated by Rhiannon Cates, PSU Library Special Collections staff and WGSS alumna. The exhibit will be on display through Winter 2016 in the first floor elevator lobby of the PSU Library.

Fall Term Exhibits: The PSU Strike of 1970 from both sides of the barricades

The Fall term is underway! Have you had a chance to visit the PSU and City of Portland Archives’ exhibits for a closer look at an important moment in the history of the city and the university?

“The Portland State Strike of 1970” exhibits tell the history of Vietnam War protests that took place in the PSU Park Blocks from the perspectives of student activists, Portland citizens, university faculty, city officials, and the police, using original photos, letters, newspapers, police reports, and other documents from the Portland State University Archives and the City of Portland Archives.

Two unique displays are open on the PSU campus in two locations: the fifth floor of the Campus Rec building at the Portland Archives and Records Center (PARC), and on the first floor of the Library in the elevator lobby.

Walking Tour Map

The scene of the strike, the PSU Park Blocks, lies between the two exhibit locations. As you travel between the two, take a self-guided walking tour to the sites where the action happened on campus in May 1970. Click the map to download a PDF of the tour.Viking

Day to Mourn


On May 6, 1970, Portland State students, with the support of many faculty members, walked out of classes in solidarity with demonstrators nationwide after the killings at Kent State University on May 4. The anti-war movement, protests against military recruiting on campus, actions against the transport and storage of nerve gas in Oregon, and the Free Speech Movement all added momentum to the strike, which lasted several days.

PSU President Gregory Wolfe authorized the closure of campus against the urging of counter-protesters who organized to keep classes open, stating, “Business as usual is no longer tenable.” Protesters barricaded the campus Park Blocks, which were then open to vehicle traffic, to hold speeches and demonstrations.

The strike ended violently on May 11 when a Portland Police riot control squad pushed through lines of seated protesters, beating them with batons. The following day, thousands of Portlanders reacted against the use of force by marching from PSU to City Hall, a presence that belied the degree of community support for the city’s action to clear the barricades.

These events are remembered by many in Portland and at PSU as powerful moments in the history of the university and the city.

The exhibits were researched and conceived by PSU Honors College students in a Spring 2015 junior seminar, “Activism in the Archives,” led by PSU faculty and PARC artist-in-residence Kaia Sand. The seminar students investigated original archival sources with the goal of telling the story of the Portland State strike from multiple perspectives, inspired by their own scholarly and creative interests. Their research examined the context and significance of political and local issues in 1970 and the various organizations and institutions involved in the strike. In addition to having access to original documents from the 1970s, the seminar students also had opportunities to hear from former Portland State students who had participated in the demonstrations.

Kuba Grzeda and Omeka PresentationCorinne Rupp Taya Welter Cody Layton Tour PamphletWebsiteAnna Murphy Kaylee Brink TimelineTheir projects opened up the archives and proposed new views on historic events through physical exhibits, video and visual art presentations, a digital exhibit and an interpretive website, public events, and the walking tour through the Park Blocks. Images from the class presentations include: Kuba Grzeda demonstrating a digital exhibit using the Library’s Omeka platform; a prototype tour brochure designed by Cody Layton, Corinne Rupp, and Taya Welter; a website created by Christopher Anderson; and a timeline of national and international events leading up to the Vietnam War and anti-war protest actions on college campuses in 1970, compiled by Kaylee Brink and Anna Murphy.

Wallposter and strike pamphlet

Viking Photos and McCall TelegramYou Are Not GoingHonors student intern Corinne Rupp worked with the PARC and PSU Archives’ collections this summer to continue her colleagues’ research and curate the current documentary exhibits, which describe the buildup to and aftermath of the heated and finally violent conflict between protesters and police in the Park Blocks from both sides of the barricades.

“The PSU Strike of 1970” exhibit will be on view at PARC (fifth floor, ASRC) and in the PSU Library first floor elevator lobby through December 2015.

Between the Park Blocks and City Hall: The Portland State Strike of 1970

The Library’s fall term exhibit is part of two unique exhibits on display at Portland State University Library and the City of Portland Archives and Records Center. The exhibits are a collaboration between PSU Library University Archives and Special Collections, the City of Portland Archives, and students in the Spring 2015 Honors College seminar, “Activism in the Archives.”poster about exhibit

Honors students researched the collections in the City of Portland Archives and PSU Archives to interpret the events of the student strike of May 1970, which began in response to the killings at Kent State University on May 4, and ended in violence as Portland police attempted to remove demonstrators from the Park Blocks. Corinne Rupp, an Honors College student intern, used the seminar’s findings and her own original research in the city and university archives this summer to create the two exhibits on display this Fall term.

The City’s exhibit opens Saturday, October 3. On Saturday, October 3rd, get a guided tour of that exhibit with one of the students. The tours are being offered as part of the Oregon Archives Month Celebration and will start at at 12:30, 1:30 and 2:30. Meet your guide at the display on the fifth floor of ASRC.

You can see the exhibits at these two locations:

The City of Portland Archives & Records Center
1800 SW 6th Ave, Suite 550 (on the PSU campus in the Academic and Student Recreation Center Building)

The Portland State University Archives
Library, First Floor Elevator Lobby