University Archives Acquires Papers of Donna J. Cox, Innovator in Scientific Visualization

By Kathleen Corcella and Bethany Anderson

Thousands of dots swirled across a computer screen. These scientific data points would soon be transformed into a mesmerizing film for the large screen. This is but one example of the many scientific visualizations created by Donna J. Cox, Michael Aiken Chair Emerita, Professor Emerita of Art and Design, and former Director of the Advanced Visualization Laboratory (AVL) at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). Projects like this are documented in Cox’s recently donated papers, which are now available for research use.

Donna Cox and colleagues working on the Venus series visualizations, ca. 1987, Press Releases (Public Affairs Office), Record Series 39/1/10, University of Illinois Archives.

Cox is renowned for bridging both art and science in her work and for innovating the creation of scientific visualizations and collaborative interdisciplinary teams. Cox and the AVL have created visualizations that have garnered numerous accolades, including an Academy Award nomination. Hailing from Enid, Oklahoma, Cox cites her upbringing by her mother and grandmother, “two strong, determined women,” as instrumental and inspirational to her pursuit of science and art. [1] Following the death of her father during World War II, her mother and grandmother raised Cox and brother, working day and night shifts respectively: “Their perseverance inspired me to take risks and make the most out of life, regardless of the odds, exhibiting the power of women and collaboration.” [1] In 1967, Cox became the first individual in her family to graduate from high school. Following graduation, she moved to Denver, Colorado, and eventually to Seattle, Washington, where she worked in the corporate sector.

Donna Cox, 1989, Press Releases (Public Affairs Office), Record Series 39/1/10, University of Illinois Archives.

Cox left her job and enrolled full-time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she earned a bachelor of arts (1982) and a master of fine arts (1985). [1] While at U-W Madison, Cox met several people who would influence the trajectory of her career, including fellow student Pat Hanrahan. Hanrahan introduced Cox to computer graphics and gave her code he developed for color displays on campus. Cox was inspired by the possibilities of technology and learned how to create computer graphics and programs and created 2-D imaging software. [2] Cox also met Professor Dan Sandin from the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois Chicago, who was visiting U-W Madison to give a guest lecture. During his visit, Sandin toured the computer lab where Cox created the Interactive Computer Assisted RGB Editor (ICARE), a digital tool for color images and mapping. [2] Sandin was impressed with Cox’s work and introduced her to the Electronic Visualization Lab (EVL) in Chicago.

In 1985, Cox accepted a position at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as a visiting assistant professor of art and design. Prior to coming to Illinois, Cox developed the idea of a “Renaissance Team” to describe a group of individuals from a variety of disciplines who work together to achieve a common goal. [2] During her time at NCSA and tenure as Director of the AVL, Cox employed this concept to the formation of collaborative projects.

At the urging of her grad advisor, Cox reached out to NCSA founding director, Larry Smarr, after learning about the new supercoming center. [1] Smarr invited Cox to one of the opening events for the new NCSA, where she showcased her computer collages (called “compulages”) and advocated for collaborations between artists and scientists to visualize data. [4] Smarr appointed Cox as a faculty affiliate at the NCSA. It was during this time that Cox launched a scientific visualization program, drawing on collaborations formed with the EVL in Chicago and other Renaissance Teams that she created for various projects.

Story board for NSFNet visualization, Donna J. Cox Papers, Record Series 7/5/20, University of Illinois Archives.

Cox worked on many computer graphic arts and visualization projects while at the NCSA and through her involvement in the Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM)  Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH). These projects include NSFNet, a visualization of the early internet, and Venus, a series of abstract conceptualizations of the Paleolithic female figure Venus of Willendorf rendered two-dimensional for display on a computer screen, which Cox created as a tribute to her grandmother, Sadie Elmo. [3] Cox also illustrated the capabilities of NCSA’s supercomputers and visualizations through a remote-control demonstration at the SIGGRAPH 1989 Boston conference. In addition, the work of Cox and the AVL has appeared in several films and documentaries, including Cosmic Voyage (1997), Hubble 3D (2010), and The Tree of Life (2011). Notably, these projects use real scientific data and cinematic computational science as a method for creating visualizations. Cox has won numerous awards for her work, and in 2006 was selected as one of forty modern-day Leonardo da Vincis by the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Visualization from the Venus series, ca. 1987, Press Releases (Public Affairs Office), Record Series 39/1/10, University of Illinois Archives.

Donna J. Cox’s innovative work illustrates the ways in which art and science can be powerfully fused. Cox’s papers in the University Archives are an important source for engaging with and studying her work and contributions. These materials include original storyboards and notes documenting Cox’s creative process, correspondence with colleagues relating to digital arts and various projects, copies of media features and interviews with Cox, photographs and slides of works, awards, and more. Beyond her papers, researchers can learn more about her career and experiences through her talk in 2023 for the Archives’ Women in Science Lecture Series (recording is available here). For questions or more information about Donna J. Cox’s papers, please contact Bethany Anderson,

[1] Bui, S. A. (2021, July 30). The Donna Cox Legacy: Inspiring and Visualizing the Future. NCSA.

[2] Cox, D.J., Sandor, E., Fron, J. (Eds.). (2018). New media futures: The rise of women in the digital arts (pp. 71-84). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

[3] Cox, Donna J., Press Releases (Public Affairs Office), Record Series 39/1/10, University of Illinois Archives.

[4] This idea is described in Donna Cox’s article, “Using the Supercomputer to Visualize Higher Dimensions: An Artist’s Contribution to Scientific Visualization,” Leonardo 21, no. 3 (1988): 390-400,; see also in box 10, Donna J. Cox Papers, Record Series 7/5/20, University of Illinois Archives.

Q&A with University Archivist Joanne Kaczmarek

Meet the new University Archivist!

Longtime University Archivist Bill Maher retired in December of 2022, and Joanne Kaczmarek, Archivist for Electronic Records and Director of Records and Information Management Services, stepped into the role in an interim capacity.  She was confirmed as the permanent University Archivist in November 2023.

Joanne was kind enough to answer a few questions about herself for the blog and Out of the Vault, the Archives’ newsletter.  Read on to learn about her background, what lead her to the Archives, and her visions for the future!

Joanne Kaczmarek, University Archivist.

What was the path that led you to become an archivist? What was your background before becoming an archivist?

My path to becoming an archivist was a bit circuitous, I’d say. After my undergraduate studies, I was not financially positioned to pursue graduate studies and I needed a job that I knew would probably not “go out of style”. I had enjoyed cutting hair during college (both my own and that of my friends) so I decided to get a cosmetology license and cut hair professionally  – at least for a while. Doing that, led me to an opportunity to open a salon called “Armadillo, the salon” right on Neil St. where Circles is today. This was just before the Internet became ubiquitous and I was very curious about the technology. I decided to set up a network of NeXt computers in the waiting area of the salon where clients could surf the Web for free rather than going to what was then known as an “internet café”.

I had a number of clients at the time from the iSchool (then called the Graduate School of Information Science or GSLIS) who were involved in the launch of Prairienet, a service run by GSLIS bringing the Internet to the community at no cost. They encouraged me to get involved and suggested I consider enrolling in their MLIS program. Because they allowed me to enroll as a part time student, I was able to make it work. While I was not at all focused on archives during my time at GSLIS, my work in the salon built my appreciation for and skills in what might be considered an informal approach to oral histories. I gathered from my clients personal stories about the town and the University community as they sat in my chair. In exchange,  I taught them simple styling techniques and how to cut their own bangs. Once I graduated, I had the good fortune to work on a research project in the Library which led me to begin to explore various facets of electronic records and ultimately opened the door for my first position in the University Archives.

What was your prior role in the Archives and what were your responsibilities?

My prior role has been as Archivist for Electronic Records and Director of Records and Information Management Services. At the time I was hired, the challenges of born digital content were just beginning to make themselves known more broadly. There had been a great deal written about the pending “lost of history” by archivists in the 1990s. In the early 2000s the deployment of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems was becoming widespread across higher education and the expectation was that archivists needed to get ahead of the curve and engage with the IT folks rolling out these systems to ensure the historic record of universities would not be lost. I have to admit, I was not particularly successful in wrangling the University’s ERP system to ensure all important records were preserved. But I developed a strategy to build out an enterprise-wide records and information management program in hopes of developing long-lasting relationships with various administrative units. This has been a slow but steady process of bringing more awareness to units about their records, helping people sort out that which they have that may have archival value and that which can be disposed of eventually. This work has expanded my appreciation for the University as a whole and all that we do to support our students, faculty, and the broader community both at home and abroad.

What excites you most about your new role as University Archivist? What are some plans/ideas you have in mind for the Archives?

I am excited to have the opportunity, and perhaps even the mandate, to learn as much as I can about the vast holdings of materials we have in the Archives. I believe our various programs have been run by professionals over the years that are second to none.  I look forward to finding ways to make a broader audience aware of and benefit from what we have to offer.

When it comes to plans/ideas I have in mind for the Archives, the immediate focus is in creating more opportunities for communication among members of our staff. Because we operate out of three distinctly separate locations, it can sometimes be difficult to stay up on everything everyone is doing. I’m also looking for opportunities to help us increase collaboration between the Archives and other Library units as well as units and community organizations outside the Library.

What is the funniest/strangest/most memorable or satisfying experience at the Archives?  

  • Funniest/strangest: Finding one shoe with two socks stuffed in it in the old stacks of the Archives when moving some materials. (Never did find the other shoe)
  • Most memorable/satisfying: On many occasions, watching the staff take particular care to help bring to life an old college memory for a visiting alumnus by sharing with them a select slice of our materials.

What would you like people to know about the Archives (or University history) that may surprise them?

Perhaps one of the surprising facts that some may know is that there are several individuals (human and animal) buried on campus, and not in the cemetery. We just found out about another one, the old University Fire Station dog, Susie. The others are John Milton Gregory the first University Regent, Illini Nellie the cow, and Al the Transgenic the Pig.

Q&A With Linda Stepp, Archives Program Officer

Black and white image, shows Green Street with 1920s cars and storefronts.
Green Street looking east c. 1922. This is Linda’s favorite Archives image!

Q&A With Linda Stepp, Archives Program Officer

How did you end up in the Archives, and did you think you’d be an archivist? 

While in library school (GSLIS /the i-school) I thought I wanted to be a children’s librarian, but then in a practicum I discovered that I did not like working with kids who misbehaved without parents present.  At the same time I had a Graduate Assistantship with the Student Life and Culture Archives and liked processing but also enjoyed doing research for reference questions.  Ironically, I believe I was hired for the GA position because I had been in a sorority, which turned out to be my least favorite part of being an undergraduate at Elmhurst College.

What are your responsibilities?  How has your work changed over the past almost 20 years?

I have much more responsibility than I’ve ever had.  In the 20 years I’ve been here, the Archives has expanded exponentially in the amount of records and staff at our locations.  More materials and staff means more work in all aspects of Archives.  I lead the reference and administrative operations for the Main Library Archives location within the University Archives.  We help visiting and remote researchers from all over the world every day.  Topics I’ve personally helped with include historical enrollment statistics, identifying an Arabic manuscript, Illinois farming lesson tours across the country by train, and the experiences of Japanese American students during and after WWII.  The Japanese American experience resulted in an exhibit currently running at the Spurlock Museum on campus.

What has been your funniest/strangest/most memorable or satisfying experience at the Archives? 

Finding a jar of soil, with the former University Archivist, in an Archives box related to Agriculture records.

What would you like people to know about the Archives (or University history) that may surprise them? 

I suspect many believe all we have is University history and they would be right, but we have so much more!  We have records that involve groundbreaking research and new inventions.  We are rich in records from science, engineering, and agriculture.  With the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, we also have an abundance of University Band and music materials from around the world.  I would love for us to acquire more records from the College of Fine and Applied Arts involving material art, drama, theater, and architecture.


John Philip Sousa’s Newly Uncovered Letters

John Philip Sousa’s Newly Uncovered Letters

By Scott Schwartz

Recently the Sousa Archives acquired the Frances Carter and Marjorie Moore Sousa Research Files documenting John Philip Sousa’s relationship with his family while America’s March King.  The collection includes Sousa’s letters to his wife; early photographs of Sousa’s bands; original scripts and schedules for 20th Century Fox’s 1952 movie, Stars and Stripes Forever; memorabilia; and magazine articles.

Photograph showing Helen and Jane Priscilla Sousa, two young girls in white dresses.
Helen and Jane Priscilla Sousa, c. 1898.

The documents were compiled by Sousa’s daughters, Helen and Jane Priscilla, and Marjorie Moore, the Marine Band’s first historiographer, to fact-check the script for Fox’s biographical movie about Sousa’s life and music.

Sousa’s influence on late 19th– and early 20th-century music is well known, but very little is known about his relationship with his family.  As a traveling bandleader Sousa gave thousands of concerts between 1892 and 1932 and spent months away from his family.

Sousa’s wife Jane and children accompanied him for some portions of tours, but he usually travelled without them.  These absences occasionally created tensions with his family, and his letters home document their very private lives.

In WWI in 1917 Sousa offered his services to the U.S. Marines and then the U.S. Army, but he was turned down because of his age and became frustrated by their responses.  However, the commandant of the Great Lakes Naval Center offered Sousa a commission as a lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve to organize and train Navy bands for the war.

Sousa’s short letter to Jane on September 21, 1917, announcing his Navy commissioning probably caught her by surprise because he had temporarily disbanded his civil band.  He wrote, “Dearest Jane…No dear, I am not in the Navy as a regular but as a Reserve Officer ordered to active duty which gives me as long as I am under orders as an active Lieutenant with the pay and allowance of a Lieutenant (Senior Grade) of the Navy.”

Photograph showing John Philip Sousa, with a white beard and smoking a cigar, reading the "Great Lakes Naval Recruit" magazine.
John Philip Sousa as an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1917.

While on tour with the Great Lakes Naval Battalion band on May 17, 1918, Sousa wrote, “Dearest Jane, I am here with the band until Tuesday night, then to Cleveland [and] N.Y. for the war bond concert and some work in connection with the Atlantic Fleet…Hope to see you on the 28th.  With much love and kisses, devotedly, Philip.”  However, by early September Sousa’s civilian band was reconstituted to complete their Willow Grove Park performances and he left for Chicago rather than returning home.  This annoyed Mrs. Sousa.  He wrote on September 13, “Dear Jane, I am enclosing your allowance for September.  It must be a delicious and satisfying feeling to receive an allowance of $1,000 per month, and also possess the right to give your husband hell when it so moves you…Am tired.  Affectionately, Philip.”

Sousa’s tenure with the Naval Battalion Band ended in 1920, but his commission with the Navy for a dollar a year allowed him to lead his civilian band throughout 1919 when not needed by the Navy.  His 1919 civilian band tour across America and Canada left Sousa little time for family and the growing tensions on the home front.

His July 6, 1919, letter to Jane began, “Dearest wife.  The same forces that silently and relentlessly led the world into a war…started an individual and family antipathy that has no parallel in history…Our family is not the only one…Philip’s contempt for Priscilla and Helen, Helen’s contempt for the rest, Priscilla’s indifference to me and you…make each other as unhappy as possible…The average person’s judgement about other’s affairs is usually of no value…Devotedly. Philip”

It is unclear what caused this animosity, but Sousa’s continuous touring with his civilian band most likely inflamed these tensions.  However, by 1925 the tone of Sousa’s letters home had softened.

After his 71st birthday he wrote on November 11th, “My dearest little lady.  In my courting days and after I used to write you at all hours of the night and day, but it has been some time since I wrote you at 5:15am…Many thanks for your birthday greeting…the Rotary Club and others entertained me in Peoria.  I got more flowers than a blushing prima donna…I am in good condition, but a little shy on sleep…With much love, Philip.”

Photograph showing Jane Sousa, wearing a frilly white lace dress.
Jane Sousa, wife of John Philip Sousa, as she looked in the 1880s.

By 1929 his band’s touring schedule was limited to three months.  When not on tour Sousa spent his time at home in Port Washington, New York.  He wrote to Jane who was visiting her son and grandchildren in California, “Dearly Beloved, your telegram… came announcing your safe arrival…Priscilla and I were glad you…arrived safely. I do hope you’ll have a pleasant visit…Priscilla felt that I should be watched carefully and…not take more than an ounce of whiskey, all of which I obey as any dutiful and loving father should.  But please tell her not to be so hard on a poor old father.”

The following March 21, 1930, Sousa wrote from Chicago’s Auditorium Hotel about his short trip to the University of Illinois to conduct his new “University of Illinois March” with Harding’s concert band.  “My darling wife, I have had a rather hectic time since I left N.Y…Yesterday I drove out to the University 175 miles.  They had a concert by the student band.  They played splendidly.  The students gave me a medal, the bandmaster gave me a baton, a medal, and their blessing…Ever your loving Philip.”

These brief samples from the Carter and Moore collection provide realistic insight of Sousa’s relationship with his family and help dispel the storybook portrayals of him as America’s March King.  This newly acquired collection will be arranged and described this fall, and it will become available to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of Sousa’s life and career.  For further information about the collection contact or call 217-333-4577.

Raiders of the Lost Archives – Archival Context and a Map to an Undiscovered Tomb

Finding information in the archives can sometimes feel like an expedition through time – a scavenger hunt in countless records to find the holy grail document that you’re looking for, sifting through ancient ruins and dusty boxes for the one scrap of information that will definitively answer your research question. On occasion, this digging will turn up the exact information you were looking for. Other times, you must answer your questions to the best of the ability of the extant sources, and results are not always as conclusive as we would like them to be.

Sometimes, you come across an item that raises far more questions than it answers. For me, this serendipitous moment occurred while browsing the Neil L. Block Papers (RS 35/3/418). This item, found within a folder inconspicuously labelled “Ancient Egypt – Notes On,” is a 12-page document, handwritten in a purple cursive script on lined, 3-hole punched paper.[1] The first page contains a brief abstract about the Pharaoh Tutankhamen: his life, his reign, the discovery of his tomb, and the grave goods found within. The following 11 pages appear to record a question-and-answer session in which the responder describes exactly where and how to find a (presumably still lost) Egyptian tomb. The 67 questions in the document are addressed to “Ouija,” and the entity responding makes references to the use of a board. Mention of a medium implies that, much like the séances conducted as part of Edwin Peebles’ research (RS 35/2/50), this conversation could have been facilitated through the use of a medium as well. The questions in the document sought to clarify the location of a tomb and how to find it, but the answers are cryptic and sometimes contradictory.

Continue reading “Raiders of the Lost Archives – Archival Context and a Map to an Undiscovered Tomb”