Archives Programs and Outreach

Each year the Archives staff present dozens of talks on a variety of topics to clubs, civic groups and other organizations in Birmingham and around the state. These talks generally last 20 to 30 minutes.

The talks are offered free of charge but donations to the Archives are welcome.

Some talks require a laptop, projector, and screen for PowerPoint presentations.

For more information or to schedule a program contact Jim Baggett (, 205-226-3631) or Catherine Champion (, 205-226-3634).

The Speakers

Jim Baggett is Head of the Department of Archives and Manuscripts at the Birmingham Public Library and Archivist for the City of Birmingham. He has served as president of the Society of Alabama Archivists, Chair of the Jefferson County Historical Commission, and as a trustee for several historical associations. Jim has lectured throughout the U.S. and in Europe and has been featured on Alabama Public Television, Alabama Public Radio, National Public Radio, and C-SPAN. He has authored two books on Alabama history, edited three others, and has written more than fifty articles. Jim lives with his wife and daughter in Birmingham and Mentone, Alabama.  

Catherine Champion is Assistant Archivist in the Department of Archives and Manuscripts at the Birmingham Public Library. She founded the student chapter of Society of American Archivists at the University of Alabama. Catherine has lectured throughout the Birmingham area and around the state. When not preserving the history of this great city, Catherine can be seen on stage and behind the scenes of several local community theatres. Catherine lives with her husband and their menagerie of pets in the Crestwood area.



All's Fair...

The end of that idiom is the framework for this presentation. Using love letters sent between a young World War II soldier and his sweetheart at home in Birmingham, we journey through a relationship torn apart by distance and war. (Catherine Champion)

Birmingham and the Picture Postcard

Introduced in the latter half of the 19th century—when many countries had developed reliable postal systems and more people than ever were literate—postcards were a phenomenal success. Postcards allowed people to dash off quick messages and share pictures from home or travel. This talk explores the history of postcards using Birmingham images. (Jim Baggett)

Birmingham Illustrated: Images of the Magic City in the 19th Century Press

From the 1850s to the 1890s, more than 250 engraved images of Alabama were published in national and international papers. Many of these are in the collection of the Birmingham Public Library Archives and are typical of those published for many places. They include portraits, landscapes, cityscapes and events such as storms, parades, sports and work. This lecture will explore in particular the images of Birmingham, reflecting the industry, politics, and major events of this city in throughout the 19th century. (Jim Baggett; PowerPoint presentation)  

Common Bonds: Birmingham Snapshot Photography, 1900-1950

For more than a century the people of Birmingham have documented their lives with snapshots. From mothers chronicling their children’s growth to families playing in snow, this talk explores how snapshots reveal the common interests of all types of Alabamians. (Jim Baggett; PowerPoint presentation)  

Discovering 19th-Century Life in Alabama Letters and Diaries

From matters of love, death and politics to the price of shoes, nineteenth century Alabamaians recorded their experiences in letters and diaries. This talk explores life in the 1800s through personal writings now preserved in the Birmingham Public Library Archives. (Jim Baggett)  

Every House Has a History: Researching Birmingham Area Houses, Buildings and Churches

Jefferson County enjoys a rich architectural heritage. This talk will introduce you to sources available at the Birmingham Public Library Archives to help you locate vintage photos of your house, building or church; determine the age of the structure and learn who has lived or worked there. (Jim Baggett or Catherine Champion; PowerPoint presentation)  

Handle with Care: Preserving Your Family Papers and Photographs

There are many basic and inexpensive things you can do to ensure that your family letters, scrapbooks and photographs are preserved for the future. This talk introduces the fundamentals of home archiving. (Jim Baggett or Catherine Champion)  

"It Came Like a Cyclone": Alabama and the 1918 Influenza 

As World War One came to a close, tens of millions of people around the world contracted influenza in the worst pandemic in human history. Alabama was not spared the misery, and almost 150,000 Alabamians became ill in every part of the state. Thousands, including whole families, died. Stores, theaters, fairs, schools, and even churches were closed to try and stop the spread of the disease. With not enough doctors or hospital beds to tend the sick, neighbors pulled together to care for one another. This talk explores the story of the great influenza in Alabama and around the world. (Jim Baggett; PowerPoint presentation or can be presented without PowerPoint)  

"John Wilkes Booth is Not Dead!": Birmingham’s Louise Wooster and the Strange Afterlife of Lincoln’s Assassin

Birmingham's famous 19th-century madam Louise Wooster claimed John Wilkes Booth as the great love of her life. She also insisted that Booth had not been killed in the days following Lincoln’s assassination. This talk explores the likelihood of a relationship between Wooster and Booth and the enduring myth of a government conspiracy to fake his death. (Jim Baggett; PowerPoint presentation)  

Miss Fancy, Queen of the Avondale Zoo

In early 20th century Birmingham, children and adults spent many happy Sunday afternoons feeding and riding Miss Fancy, the gentle elephant who lived at the old Birmingham Zoo in Avondale Park. Remembered for her habit of sneaking away from the zoo and wandering the surrounding neighborhoods, and her taste for alcohol, Miss Fancy is now the mascot for a Birmingham brewery and a beloved local character. This talk explores the life and legend of Birmingham’s most famous elephant. (Jim Baggett or Catherine Champion; PowerPoint presentation) 

A 19th-Century Murder Mystery: The Hawes Murders and Riot

In December 1888, a mob of several hundred men attacked the Jefferson County jail in an attempt to lynch Robert Hawes, suspected of murdering his wife and two daughters. Sheriff’s deputies fired on the mob, killing several men. This talk explores the events surrounding one of Birmingham’s most infamous murder mysteries. (Jim Baggett or Catherine Champion; PowerPoint presentation or can be presented without PowerPoint)

Old School Scrapbooking

From Victorian era school girls to a county coroner with an interest in grisly murders, Birminghamians often saved mementos in scrapbooks. Many of these late 19th- and early 20th-century scrapbooks are preserved in the Library’s Archives. This talk explores scrapbook keeping and keepsakes--visiting cards, photographs, letters, poems, theater programs, paper dolls, newspaper clippings--that people treasured and saved. (Jim Baggett; PowerPoint presentation)

Organizing and Preserving Your Church or Temple Archives

Every church or temple has a unique history that should be preserved. Learn the basics of organizing and preserving the historic documents of your congregation. Topics covered include what to collect, simple and inexpensive methods for preserving your archives and sources for archival supplies. (Jim Baggett)

The Monumental, the Mundane and the Macabre: Discovering 19th-Century Life in Alabama Letters and Diaries

From matters of love, death and politics to the price of shoes, nineteenth century Alabamaians recorded their experiences in letters and diaries. This talk explores life in the 1800s through personal writings now preserved in the Birmingham Public Library Archives. (Jim Baggett)

Southern Belles in the Big Apple

Using travel diaries preserved in the Birmingham Public Library Archives, this presentation recounts the experiences of three Birmingham women who visited New York City in the 1890s, the 1930s, and the 2000s. (Catherine Champion; PowerPoint presentation)  

When the Blast Occurred: Remembering the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing

The 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church killed four young girls, injured dozens of others and shocked the world. Using interviews conducted by the FBI, this talk recalls the experiences of people who were inside the church at the time of the blast. (Jim Baggett)

A Woman of the Town: Louise Wooster, Birmingham’s Magdalene

One of the enduring legends of 19th-century Birmingham is the tragic madam, Louise Wooster. She became wealthy operating a brothel, claimed to have John Wilkes Booth as a lover and refused to abandon Birmingham during a cholera epidemic. Become familiar with the life of this fascinating woman, and explore why generations of people in Birmingham have embraced her in ways that she never could have imagined. (Jim Baggett; PowerPoint presentation or can be presented without PowerPoint)



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