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

Senior Capstone Students Present Research on 16th-Century Book of Hours

Link to the Medieval Portland Senior Capstone Collection

Kerver’s distinctive colophon with two unicorns signifying his shop’s location.

Thielman Kerver came to Paris in the late fifteenth century and operated a bookshop and printing press at the “Sign of the Unicorn.” Kerver’s large collection of engravings distinguished his printed works with rich detail in religious iconography, teeming Gothic illustrations, and delicate Renaissance marginalia. In 2018, with the generous support of the Gordon Hunter Fund, PSU Library Special Collections acquired a Book of Hours printed by Kerver in 1507.

Books of Hours were the most common of all books produced in Europe near the turn of the sixteenth century, both before and after the introduction of the printing press. After the press made mass production possible, the Parisian printing industry, which dominated the European market in the early sixteenth century, produced thousands of Books of Hours for distribution across Europe. The book now held in Special Collections was most likely intended for a Spanish reader, as its liturgical calendar includes  feast days of saints celebrated in Catalonia.

As a visual and written religious text, a work of art created between the late medieval and early Renaissance periods, and an artifact from the dawn of popular printing, this Book of Hours offers students a range of perspectives from which to explore it. In Spring 2018, a group of PSU seniors in Professor Anne McClanan’s Medieval Portland Senior Capstone focused on this Book of Hours with close analyses of its religious symbolism, its textual content and significance, its place in the European book trade and regional use of religious works, and its physical condition. The class was co-taught by Professor Maud Pérez-Simon, a medievalist from Université Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, who shared her expertise and guided the students in refining their work.

The students’ essays are now presented online in the PDXScholar digital collection, Kerver Book of Hours, and their research will also be available in the Medieval Portland database, which contains information on artifacts and resources held in collections citywide, including PSU Library Special Collections.

The Kerver Book of Hours is also on display this Fall and Winter terms in the Library’s first floor elevator lobby during the hours that Special Collections is open, Monday through Friday. For more information or to visit Special Collections, please e-mail us:

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!

PSU Library Special Collections Participates in Oregon Archives Crawl

Join PSU Library Special Collections and University Archives and more than 30 other local archives, special collections, and heritage organizations on Saturday, October 20, 2018 for the Oregon Archives Crawl

Start the Crawl at any of these locations: City of Portland Archives & Records Center, the Oregon Historical Society or the Multnomah County Library. At each site you’ll find representatives from archives, special collections, and heritage organizations. “Passports” are available at each site to help guide you and provide a list of organizations. From young, old, and in-between to vintage photo lover to history buff to scholar to student to genealogist to building researcher to those who are just curious to learn something new: everyone is welcome.

This event is free and open to the public. 

More information: Oregon Archives Crawl

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.

Portland State Campus Rap-In

Campus Rap-In

University Archives presents a new audio collection in PDXScholar

Portland State, like many colleges and universities in the United States, grappled with issues of political protest and freedom of expression at the start of the 1970s, and Portland State student media played a major part in creating public forums for campus voices. One outlet was the “Campus Rap-In,” a radio broadcast aired weekly on KGW 620-AM.

On Sunday nights at ten during the 1969-70 academic year, PSU students hosted the Rap-In, the university’s self-described “contribution to better broadcasting and controversial conversation.” Each half-hour program offered a mix of commentary on collegiate, city, and national news combined with interviews, comic sketches, and editorials in a blend of “seriousness and satire.” Originally recorded on reel-to-reel tape, the programs are now digitally transferred and available for online listening.

“Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out!”

The programs are an unusual and entertaining way to get a sense of what was going on at PSU in academics, arts, sports, and popular culture in 1970. The Rap-In’s hosts talk with a founding faculty member of PSU’s newly established Black Studies program, the organizers of the first Earth Day teach-in, and leaders of student political and arts organizations. A comprehensive sports report covered PSU and regional college athletics, and spoken-word pieces and artist interviews spotlighted campus creativity. Listeners also heard student viewpoints on new developments in downtown Portland that are well-known today, such as the transit mall, the Marquam Bridge, and Pioneer Courthouse Square.

The Rap-In also frequently targeted Portland State and Portland with critique and humor. Students mourned the loss of “Old Portland” architecture like the Oriental Theater on Grand Avenue and skewered “Uncle Andy” (pictured above), a statue that towered over a burger joint at Broadway and College Street, with a “Bad Taste Award.” Impromptu interviews and satirical news items on the rituals of registration, parking, and applying for on-campus housing reflect how much has changed—and how much has stayed the same—on Portland’s commuter campus.

On the serious side, the Vietnam War and related issues were recurring topics. Military recruiting, campus demonstrations, and federal shipments of nerve gas through Oregon were the subjects of interviews and editorials on both sides of the issues. As the academic year progressed, anti-war protest gathered momentum, peaking in May 1970 with a campus-wide strike that ended in violence on the Park Blocks. Perhaps coincidentally, the Rap-In, which increasingly declared an anti-war position, did not return to the airwaves after the strike.

Audio streams of the Rap-In programs are publicly accessible on PDXScholar. Check them out for a unique listen to Portland State voices at the turn of the decade!

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!

Congressional Internship with Senator Merkley in Summer 2017

Are you an undergraduate at Portland State who is seeking opportunities to get involved with making public policy? Are you inspired to work for social and economic justice? Senator Jeff Merkley wants you to join him and his staff in Washington, D.C., this summer!

From Sen. Merkley’s press release:

“Senator Merkley is offering a $5,000 stipend for a summer internship position based in his Washington, DC office. The Otto and Verdell Rutherford Summer Congressional Internship provides an opportunity to an undergraduate student from Oregon who seeks to experience public policy-making up close and to further the causes of economic and social justice.

“The ideal candidate is inquisitive, adaptable, rooted in community service, and possesses a keen interest in advancing social and economic justice issues.”

Otto and Verdell Rutherford photographed at their home by Richard Brown in 1982

Otto and Verdell Rutherford photographed at their home by Richard Brown in 1982

This internship honors Otto and Verdell Rutherford, prominent Portland civil rights leaders whose efforts were key to the success of the passage of Oregon’s Public Accommodations Act in 1953. The Rutherfords held leadership positions in the Portland NAACP and worked with numerous community organizations throughout their lives. Portland State University Library Special Collections is proud to make the Rutherford Family Collection, a rich resource documenting the personal, political, and community life of the Rutherfords and African Americans in Portland during the twentieth century, available to the public.

The Senator’s office is now accepting applications! The deadline for summer applicants is March 15, 2017. For more information and how to apply: The Otto and Verdell Rutherford Summer Congressional Internship [PDF]

Conversations with Oregon’s First Woman Governor: Video from the Barbara Roberts Collection

Roberts for Governor

Campaigning in 1990 with her husband, Oregon Senator Frank Roberts.

Two and a half decades before Hillary Clinton won the most-watched Presidential debate in United States history, Barbara Roberts led 1990’s televised debates for Oregon Governor with her ethic of “hard work and no double talk.” Today you can get to know Oregon’s first woman governor, the causes she fought for, and the political and personal challenges she faced through some of her many dynamic public appearances in the Barbara Roberts Video Gallery.

Press Conference Still Image

Roberts speaking to the press in Salem in 1991.

Centered on her term as governor in the early 1990s, the gallery contains streaming video of original recordings from 1989-2007. It includes debates from Roberts’ candidacy, official state speeches such as her inaugural address and the State of the State, press conferences, keynote speeches to civic and political organizations, and, most extraordinarily, live television appearances in which she spoke directly with constituents and listened to their ideas and concerns. In her informative, engaging dialogues and speeches, Roberts stands out among politicians as a leader with a strong sense of personal responsibility and trust in the citizens she served.

Roberts got involved in politics in the early 1970s as an activist parent, lobbying for her autistic son’s right to public education. The success of her effort to change state law convinced her that good leadership relies on citizen participation and that every person has the power to make a difference. Prior to her candidacy for governor, she served as a county commissioner, Oregon State Representative, and was elected to two terms as Oregon Secretary of State.

As governor, she advocated for human rights and civil rights, environmental management, and redeveloping Oregon’s economy as the state’s population grew and its major industry, lumber, was in transition. She also stood for equal marriage and family rights for gays and lesbians and for women’s access to birth control and abortion. During and after her term as governor, she fought restrictive legislation on these issues and worked with community advocates to secure and protect these rights. She spoke openly with all Oregonians about her commitment to these and other contested issues. “You may not agree with her stand,” a presentation on her political career summarized, “but you will have no doubt what that stand is.”

Roberts hosting "Conversation with Oregon"

Roberts presenting on the state budget in “A Conversation with Oregon” in November 1991.

Roberts on "Ask the Governor" program

Roberts invited state employees to “Ask the Governor” on live television in March 1991.

Throughout an often painful process of restructuring and straitening the state budget, Roberts sought to communicate her plans and goals to all Oregonians and to include citizens’ contributions to the discussion. In an extraordinary effort to inform the public about the ways in which their tax dollars were spent and to hear which government services were most valued by Oregonians, she appeared on a live television call-in program, “A Conversation with Oregon,” to have direct, unscripted dialogue with voters. She also hosted similar teleconferences with state employees whose jobs were affected by profound budget cuts demanded by revenue shortfalls.

Roberts chose not to run for a second term in 1994, and spoke honestly in televised interviews about balancing her personal and political responsibilities. She continues to be an active public speaker, recognizing the importance of mutual communication, respect, and support between community members, political organizations, and government.

The videos in this collection are part of the Barbara Roberts Papers held by PSU Library Special Collections. While Roberts’ official papers reside with the State of Oregon Archives, her collection at Portland State illuminates her personal approach to the landmark issues and events of her political life, and this selection of her public speeches provides a visual introduction to the character and accomplishments of Oregon’s 34th governor.