Tom Owen wins Top Award from Kentucky Historical Society

University of Louisville Libraries Archivist and Historian Tom Owen was awarded the Distinguished Service Award, the top honor of the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS), at its annual awards ceremony on November 10.

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UofL Archivist Tom Owen with Constance Alexander, president of the Kentucky Historical Society Governing Board.

A former Louisville Metro Councilman and caretaker of Louisville lore and history, Owen was cited for his “service to history, to UofL and to Louisville; his work as an archivist, making UofL’s records and archival collections available to researchers; and his walking tours—both the physical tours and their recordings. He made the city his classroom.” He was also praised as a “scholar who popularized history and . . . elevated history’s importance for many people.”

Owen is known for his walking tours, which capture the color and history of a particular corner of the city as part of a series on local public television, titled Tom Owen’s Louisville. Recently, he also offered weekly tours of UofL’s Belknap campus, detailing the background and stories of various buildings and areas.  His research in this area led to the recent publication of a book in collaboration with Archives colleague Sherri Pawson, University of Louisville Belknap Campus.

Owen is also well-known as a politician locally, having served as a Louisville Metro Council member from 2003 until his retirement in 2016, and prior to that, on the old Board of Alderman from 1990 to 1998.  He has been an archivist with UofL for 42 years.

The Distinguished Service Award is the highest honor the Kentucky Historical Society presents. DSA winners have provided great services to Kentucky and the field of history in their professional or personal lives.  The ceremony was held at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, 100 W. Broadway, in Frankfort, Ky.

Additional recipients included:

Service/Special Awards

  • Tom Owen, Louisville, Distinguished Service Award
  • Filson Historical Society, Louisville, Thomas D. Clark Award of Excellence Award
  • Donna Russell, Oldham County, Award of Distinction Award
  • Ken Reis, Campbell County, Frank R. Levstik Award for Professional Service Award
  • Kurt Holman, Boyle County, Lifetime Dedication to Kentucky History Award
  • Scott Clark and Brian Mabeltini, Boyle County, Brig. Gen. William R. Buster Award
  • Kentucky Humanities Council, Community Impact Award
  • Hannah O’Daniel, Louisville, Kentucky Public History Intern Award

Publication Awards

  • David J. Bettez, “Kentucky and the Great War: World War I on the Home Front”
  • Shawn D. Chapman, “Removing Recalcitrant County Clerks in Kentucky”
  • Ronald Wolford Blair, “Wild Wolf: The Great Civil War Rivalry”
  • John David Miles, “Historic Architecture of Shelby County, Ky, 1792–1915”
  • Journal of the Jackson Purchase Historical Society
  • 43rd Annual Hopkins County Yearbook

Education Awards

  • Charles W. Logsdon Historic Downtown Walking Tour, Elizabethtown
  • Jeff Crooper/Logan County Genealogical Society, “The Future of Indexing”
  • James Graham Brown Foundation and John Kleber, Brown Fellows Program, Kentucky Connections Handbook

KHS also honored Jennifer Faith, an Eastside Middle School (Shepherdsville) teacher who was Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Teacher of the Year for Kentucky, and Collins Award recipient Andrea Smalley, associate professor, Northern Illinois University. The Collins Award goes to the author of an article from The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society judged to have made the most outstanding contribution to Kentucky history. Smalley’s article, “‘They Steal Our Deer and Land’: Contested Hunting Grounds in the Trans-Appalachian West,” was in the summer/autumn 2016 issue of The Register.


Then and Now in the Library: UofL Libraries Promo Video from 1986 Highlights Big Changes

Perhaps nothing terrifies a college student like the research paper: finding a topic, creating an original thesis, searching and vetting sources, reading thoroughly, writing meaningfully – all difficult, time consuming tasks requiring focus and perseverance.

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“Cleopatra” showing her Libraries card.

However, today’s technologically transformed library offers students tools that vastly simplify the research process. Sources emerge with a finger swipe, and incorporating them into a paper is simpler with an online library catalog. Compared with 30, even 20 years ago, searching and finding sources today has never been more streamlined, and academic research has benefited.

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Accompanied by Yaz, the snake (at left), from the Louisville Zoo.

Students curious about library research methods pre-Internet – or promotional videos from the mid-‘80s – should see this quirky, parodical video, made in 1986 to feature Ekstrom Library, which had been built five years earlier. Unearthed recently by Anna Marie Johnson, UofL Libraries Head of Research Assistance and Instruction, the video is interspersed with tongue-in-cheek “ads” promoting various library resources (one features Cleopatra requesting information on asps, a large python curling nearby). It presents a pseudo-athletic event, held in Ekstrom library, in which two students compete to find information the fastest on an obscure subject (“squirrel cage motors” and “dancing mice”) using the various tools in the library.

In the video, students confront the difficult “athletic” challenge of conducting research, something intended as parody. However, compared with today’s research methods, the students’ tasks do indeed look athletic.

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The two “competitors” were UofL basketball (then) rising star Pervis Ellison, and (then) SGA President Angela McCormick (now a Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge).

“Conducting research was very different from today’s methods,” says Johnson. “In fact, back then the process of finding a scholarly journal article involved several time-consuming steps in three separate locations.”

“First, you had to find the right subject index. So, if you were looking for articles in psychology, you needed to know that there was such a thing as Psychological Abstracts and that those were located in the reference section of the library. In addition, if you wanted all the articles on your topic for the last five years, it would likely involve paging through multiple volumes of the Abstracts.”

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University Libraries Archivist Tom Owen (l) introduced the competition for viewers.

“Once you settled on some articles – which may have required you to also look up a journal abbreviation since the journal names were often abbreviated to save space – and wrote down the citations , you had to look at a printed list, which was often on a different table or shelf, of all the journals the library subscribed to in order to determine if the articles you wanted were in the library.”

“Remember, there were no cell phones handy to take pictures of your citations,” she added.

“Finally, you would take your list of citations upstairs to the journal stacks and choose the correct bound volume of the journal that you needed.”

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An erudite gorilla peruses a rare book in Archives and Special Collections’ research room.

“Contrast that with today,” Johnson goes on. “You probably are not even walking into the library, but you are accessing a database on the web that Ekstrom Library subscribes to, searching 50 years of those printed volumes, and with often one or two subsequent clicks, finding a PDF of the article you’re seeking, all without leaving your couch.”

So while we sympathize with students confronting their first college research paper, we can say this: researching a topic today is wildly more convenient than in years past, and as a result, the act of writing, research, and even thinking, can be deeper, better synthesized, and stronger.

You can see the video for yourself here.