Heritage Hall: A Holistic Effort to Examine ECU’s Past and Present

By Alston Cobourn and Amanda Hartman McLellan

Background and Goals
Following public controversy over former North Carolina governor Charles B. Aycock’s involvement in the White Supremacy movement, East Carolina University’s Board of Trustees voted on February 20, 2015 to rename Charles Aycock Dormitory (Aycock Dormitory was renamed Legacy Hall in early 2016. See http://www.ecu.edu/cs-admin/news/BOTFeb2016.cfm). The Board also voted to establish a new space, dubbed Heritage Hall, “where people of historical significance to the University are acknowledged in an ‘authentic and comprehensive context’” and all could come to learn about that history (see more: http://www.ecu.edu/cs-admin/news/bot22015.cfm). The exact plans shifted from the initial concept, as creating a physical space became less feasible due to budget constraints.

undefined Photograph of the first class of East Carolina Teacher’s Training School, accessible through the website’s Timeline.

In early 2017, Joyner Library was approached to develop a website to serve as a virtual place where students, faculty, staff, community members, and visitors would be able to explore the history of ECU. Members of Joyner Library’s Applications and Digital Services (ADS) collaborated with University Archives and the University Historian on this project.

We were able to repurpose existing content that University Archives staff had created for several projects, such as ECU Icons biographies and Buildings Upon the Past. These projects contained biographical information about people important to the history of ECU and historical information about the campus and its buildings. They were natural fits to be included as they were intended to shed light on the university’s past in meaningful ways and could be united under the Heritage Hall umbrella. Between March 2017 to present, University Historian, John Tucker, and his graduate assistants wrote over 100 new entries for the Timeline, People, Campus, and Athletics sections. They focused first on building the timeline, beginning with the earliest events and moving forward chronologically, as well as creating entries about the school’s founders. Archives staff found appropriate photographs from the collections to accompany the entries, which was not a particular hardship since the work took place over a period of time. On April 19, 2018, a professor from the History Department and the head of ADS presented the site to the Board of Trustees who praised the effort and encouraged the project to continue.  It has been a powerful experience for all involved. The publicity that has occurred has been well received; the head of ADS presented about the project to the library staff and the Friends of Joyner Library. The North Carolina Museum of History recently posted about the project on their blog, and this was shared by ECU social media. The website ranks high in Google search results regarding campus history queries. So far there has been no controversy about the content of the site.

Lessons Learned
From the start, we should have thought about the sustainability of the project, as historical content will continue to be created. We knew the content would grow, but we did not plan well for the realities of this. Initially, the website was built without a content management system (CMS) in place, so a lot of staff labor was needed beyond the obvious of content creation. Since expertise with markup was required, it limited who could post new content. In 2019, the library adapted DNN, an open source CMS built in .NET for use on this project. It is still responsive and designed with accessibility in mind, two of our original goals. With this move, we can easily empower University Archives staff as well as their graduate student assistants to add and edit content without needing to go through the development team. University Archives is considering training a graduate assistant to help with posting content, so that Archives staff can focus their efforts on working with the University Historian to help identify and prioritize the creation of new content.

Future Directions
Our goals for the future include adding citations to existing content where needed, expanding the site to include additional topics, such as student life, and increasing public awareness of the project. Both University Archives staff members have been at ECU less than two years, so they are reviewing existing content with fresh eyes and actively adding citations, taking a more active role in determining priorities for content creation, and creating content. The Board of Trustees originally envisioned this content being used to support a for-credit class. This matches our hope that the site may be used to develop curriculum, providing access to primary documentation and historical narrative. This past summer the University Historian had his students in (Hist 3907) Pirate Nation: An ECU History read the Heritage Hall timeline and compare and contrast the site’s presentation of ECU history with previously written accounts.

undefined Screenshot of the website’s interactive campus map.

Alston Cobourn is the University Archivist at East Carolina University. Previously she was the Processing and Digital Assets Archivist at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and the Digital Scholarship Librarian at Washington and Lee University. She holds a BA and MLS with an Archives and Records Management concentration from UNC-Chapel Hill.  She is also a Certified Archivist.  Her research interests include transliteracy and metaliteracy, digital preservation, copyright, and the function of memory.

Amanda Hartman McLellan is the Assistant Director of Discovery and Technology Services at East Carolina University’s Joyner Library, and Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Illinois School of Information Sciences. She is currently pursuing her Doctorate of Education with a focus in Higher Education Administration, holds her MLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a BA from DePauw University. Her research interests include library technology, usability and user experience, and library management.

About the Position of Student Historian in Residence

By Rena Yehuda Newman

This piece is a companion to Cat Phan’s previous post describing the creation of the Student Historian in Residence position at the University of Wisconsin Archives.

My name is Rena Yehuda Newman (they/them), the Student Historian in Residence at the University of Wisconsin (UW) Archives for the 2018-2019 school year. The Student Historian position has now completed its pilot year, open and full of possibility. What began as an undergraduate research opportunity expanded into a project that not only reflects on history but turns forward to the future, integrating modern outreach and collection projects into the work of creating student memory.

I’m a history student going into my senior year at UW-Madison. My work at the University Archives began in July 2018, fresh to the world of archives and deep-diving research. For me, this was my first experience with long term research, beyond a short paper or a couple brief sessions with primary source materials in a reading room. Though my research would unfold in unexpected directions, I had set out intending to study student activism during the Vietnam War era, focusing on the anti-racist organizing efforts of the late 1960s, like the Black Student Strike. With eight to ten hours a week in the archives, I had the chance to wander down rabbit holes and find myself in a wonderful, spinning universe of secret doors and unopened boxes. By October I had my land legs and adventurer’s tools; I was totally submerged in the archives, sailing paper seas.

Screen Shot 2019-10-03 at 8.38.08 AM
Table of Contents for the UW-Madison Black Student Strike: Teaching Guide.

During my time in this position, I researched the Black Student Strike of 1969, one of the most major (and arguably most successful) student protest movements of the sixties, where a core group of black student organizers mobilized thousands of UW students to fight for the creation of a Black Studies Department, one of their “13 Demands” for racial justice at UW. This study culminated in a research paper and a teaching kit commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the movement, part of a collaborative celebration event between the University Archives, University Communications, and the Black Cultural Center. Along the way I also stumbled upon several unresearched folders and boxes, including a set of materials about Educational Policy Studies 900, an entirely student-led course run concurrently to the Black Student Strike. In the second semester of its offering, the class had over five hundred students enrolled and had to be capped, lest the class accumulate a thousand. All of these subjects created opportunities for reflection and reckoning, both personal and public.

Inspired by all of these student organizers, I became determined to make my historical work face forward. While the University Archives is a source for learning about past activism, it is also filled with gaps and omissions of voices from the student organizers themselves; without these stories, student organizers of today are at a loss for their context. Looking around at the modern campus climate, I wanted to make sure that today’s change-making students would be able to speak for themselves. Learning to see students from the 1960s as historical subjects taught me that in 2019 we are historical subjects too. So how can the archives collect these stories? Documentation defends against erasure: I don’t want administrators telling our stories when we have the power to write our own.

In the spring, I began an oral history project to collect the stories of my peers — modern student activists addressing food and housing insecurity, racism, accessibility, trans rights, and more on campus from 2016-2019. Being a student paid to do archival work situates me in a special location which obligates me to both document and honor the work of my peers, preserving campus memory through their lived experiences on their own terms while also engaging in peer-education about the meaning and power of archives. Like any other public job, the Student Historian position is a great privilege and a great responsibility. The Student Historian should serve the student body, working with peers to preserve student memory.

University archives can and should fund paid positions for student historians and archivists, especially for undergraduates. Student staff are uniquely positioned to build trust and create lasting bonds between archives and the student community around them, engaging in relevant research, teaching other students to think of themselves as historical subjects, and collecting contemporary stories. Who is filling these positions also matters. Bearing equity in mind during position advertising and recruitment processes means hiring students holding marginalized identities who will bring unique, necessary perspectives to the work.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to have held the position of Student Historian in Residence.  I learned deeply from the staff, from the materials, from my peers. As this position grows from grant funding to a more institutionally supported structure, backed by the UW General Library System, I hope that this position will continue to provide impactful opportunities for future scholars and activists, creating a long line of Student Historians (maybe even a cohort!) at UW-Madison, inspiring similar programs at schools across the country. May this memory-work find its way beyond the walls of the archives and into the minds and memories of students on this campus and beyond. We are historical subjects — let’s act like it and document the meaning along the way.

Piloting a Student Historian in Residence Program at the University of Wisconsin: Reflections and Lessons Learned

By Cat Phan

The University Archives at the University of Wisconsin-Madison just completed the pilot year of its Student Historian in Residence program this summer. This program is designed to provide the opportunity for one undergraduate student to join the staff of University Archives for an academic year and undertake a significant research project related to university history focusing on under-researched and underrepresented stories and communities on campus. As part of their responsibilities, the Student Historian is also expected to engage in outreach activities, promoting their discoveries and the collections and sharing the outcome of their research in one or more ways.

The program started as a simple idea conceived to take advantage of a funding opportunity. The UW-Madison General Library System was inviting all library units to submit proposals for the new Innovation Fund, a program “to financially support the most promising innovative ideas proposed by library staff across the General Library System.” So, we in the University Archives proposed and were awarded pilot funding for a new student staff position, the Student Historian in Residence. The idea was straightforward: provide a paid opportunity to a student to undertake research in our archives collections on a topic related to campus history, focusing on underrepresented campus stories. We modeled the position after similar programs at other institutions as an intense weeks-long limited term research project, and our goals were simple: bring students into the archives to do research and learn more about previously overlooked aspects of campus history.

We posted for the position, leaving it open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Out of a healthy applicant pool, we hired Rena Yehuda Newman, an undergraduate history major entering their junior year. We structured Rena’s work first by onboarding them to the University Archives and archives in general, selecting readings and pulling targeted collections around their interest area, student activism. We set up one-on-one meetings for Rena to meet and get to know the rest of the University Archives staff and also set up a weekly check-in meeting for Rena and me, as their direct supervisor. As we got to laying out a tentative plan and target milestone deadlines for their project, we quickly realized that the original idea of several intense weeks was not suited for an undergraduate student. Rena had a packed class schedule, among other obligations. We had to readjust the work to be fewer hours per week, over a longer period of time. It was something we would have to do all year long: adjust, pivot, and accelerate in a different direction.

“Student Memory: Then and Now” Poster by Rena Yehuda Newman (They/Them), presented at MAC 2019 in Detroit

Rena’s list of accomplishments during the year is long and impressive. They regularly contributed to our UW-Madison Archives Tumblr feed, notching ten blog entries; they wrote a research paper; presented on their work and their research at least five times across campus, including a guest lecture to their undergraduate peers in a Civil Society and Community Studies class; produced a primary resource teaching guide around the UW-Madison Black Student Strike of 1969 (a version of which will soon be submitted as a resource to Wisconsin OER Commons); presented a poster at the Midwest Archives Conference (and was selected as one of the top three scoring posters!); created a zine “What is an Archive?”; and undertook collecting some oral histories of contemporary student activism on campus. The position and Rena have been, without a doubt, an amazing success.

Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 2.50.22 PM
Screen shot of Tumblr post by inaugural Student Historian in Residence, Rena Yehuda Newman.

As we take the time to reflect now, there are many things that we learned over the past year that will help us structure the program moving forward. First and foremost, we realize this should be defined as an undergraduate position. Although left undefined in the pilot year, having hired an undergraduate student as our inaugural Student Historian, we witnessed the impact of empowering and trusting undergraduate students to play an integral role in researching and telling university stories. Moreover, few opportunities for archival and secondary source research exist for undergraduates. This position will likely be their first opportunity to engage in primary source research and to conceive of and complete a public history project. In this way, we contribute to introducing undergraduates to the archives and helping them understand their place in university history.

As mentioned above, we modified the structure of the position on the fly, changing it from a weeks-long project position to an academic year position, with Rena working many fewer hours per week than we had originally envisioned. This works best for undergraduates during the academic year, who often have limited hours per week to balance with a busy class schedule. In addition, we found it best to give the student more time to orient themselves and learn about the University Archives and archives in general. The longer time period also allows the student to get to know both full-time and student staff at the archives, an integral aspect of the experience. Moving forward, the general framework for the year will be 1) onboarding and orientation, 2) research, likely over the first semester, and 3) a writing/presenting and outreach focus during semester two.

We now know how important it is to devote a significant amount of time to properly onboard. While Rena had some familiarity with the archives, having had a class assignment that brought them into a reading room, they still needed time to learn more deeply about archives, what they are, and what they can mean to students in order to understand the goals of the position. It would also be worth spending time integrating the student into the other work of the archives, meeting the other student staff. Moreover, Rena unexpectedly launched into many outreach activities over the course of the year and effectively became a University Archives student ambassador to their peers. In thinking back, how would we want to prepare the student to be an archives ambassador? What should they know about archives, specifically about the University Archives collections, about what and how we accept and collect materials-(Rena brought donation ideas many times!)? Could we make our collection development and donation procedures easier for undergraduate students to understand? Moreover, Rena’s outreach work made us re-think what this position could and should be. We witnessed the impact of peer-to-peer outreach and education. In their final reflection piece, Rena wrote that they believed the position should be thought of more as a “public office” rather than strictly a research position. The position’s platform and power, they felt, gave them a responsibility to serve the student body by engaging in community outreach and educational activities.

There are also many challenges that we will continue to think through as we develop the program. For example, how do we provide a consistent framework, structure, and expectations for a position that will necessarily be defined by the individual who occupies it, with their own interests, experiences, and abilities? Also, we had many, many conversations with Rena on how their own identity impacted the work and research they were doing and can’t emphasize enough how important it is to hire students with perspectives from underrepresented communities on campus. We have not previously reached out to the black, indigenous, and students of color of campus. How do we reach out to these communities responsibly and respectfully to ensure they are a part of defining the program? There’s a lot to think about as we move forward.

Finally, I’m happy to report that we applied for and were awarded a Kemper Knapp Bequest grant, a UW-Madison campus grant supporting projects that “have an impact on the educational and cultural life of the university community, particularly projects that benefit undergraduate students” to continue the program for another year. Moreover, we are working with the budget powers that be to develop what the funding would look like to support the program permanently through the General Library System budget.

We are excited to continue growing the Student Historian program and recognize that it is still in its early years. We’re grateful for the opportunity to share our experience and invite others to share their thoughts or experiences with similar programs.

Stay tuned as our next post will feature Rena’s perspective on their experience as the inaugural Student Historian in Residence.

Cat Phan has been the Digital and Media Archivist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison University Archives since December 2016, caring for and managing the image and audiovisual collections of the Archives and leading the development of the born-digital archiving program.

Section Meeting at the 2019 Annual Meeting, Austin TX

By Ellen Engseth, C&U Archives Section Chair, 2019-2020

Please join us at the meeting of the College & University Archives Section, Saturday August 3, 2019 (10:00am – 11:15am at the JW Marriott Austin)! 

After a short business meeting, we’ll discuss our working theme of this year, social justice and campus histories. Many of us are or will be involved with campus-based contested or evolving histories, and this meeting will provide us an opportunity to discuss. Hear short presentations by colleagues Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, Brigette Kamsler, David McCartney, and Sandra Varry. 

Bring your questions and thoughts to the meeting; there will be time for Q&A and discussion. And feel free to invite others, as you don’t need to be a section member to attend our section meeting.

A group of Academic Archivist blog posts related to this theme are available online. Thanks to all who have contributed to this group of resources on the topic!

Thank you and see you in Austin.

Your chair,

Documenting Confederate Monument Protests at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

By Nicholas Graham and Jessica Venlet

On August 20, 2018, following a rally on campus, protestors pulled down the statue on top of the Confederate monument that had stood on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 1913. Activists in Chapel Hill had been working for years to contextualize or remove the monument, known informally as “Silent Sam,” and were galvanized by monument removals in other locations, especially the toppling of a Confederate monument in nearby Durham, North Carolina.

The removal of the monument drew national media attention to Chapel Hill and has dominated campus discussions in the months that have followed. Protests and counter-protests are regularly held on campus, each with a surrounding storm of statements, photos, media coverage, and social media posts.

In the UNC University Archives, we have used a variety of tools and strategies to document the ongoing actions and discussions around the monument. Our work has been bounded by an attempt to balance rapid response collecting with more traditional donor outreach. While our archival instincts have us eager to capture as much as possible as soon as possible, we have often held back due to practical and ethical concerns. Throughout this process, we have paid close attention to the work of other archives and organizations, especially Documenting the Now. Their white paper on ethical considerations for archiving social media, released in April 2018, has been a valuable resource for us.

One of the most challenging aspects of documenting these recent events at UNC – especially the August 20 rally that led to the removal of the statue – is that they are being treated as crimes. Some of the activists have been charged in connection with the toppling of the statue and several of these cases have yet to be resolved. We have tried to consider the impact our collecting activities could have on activists and their allies. We have used a few different strategies to document the protests while events have unfolded.

Initial collecting work has focused on three primary areas:

  1. Statements and News Articles
    The recent period of frequent protests related to the Confederate monument began in August 2017. Since that time university departments, graduate and undergraduate students, alumni, North Carolina politicians, and others have released statements and calls for action regarding the place of the Confederate monument on campus. We track and archive these statements actively. The statements come in a variety of digital forms such as departmental webpages, blog posts, tweets, PDF documents, and Google documents. The majority of these statements are collected with Archive-It though some are added as PDF documents to our digital repository. Part of the collection of statements, which also includes news articles and editorials from local and national news outlets, is available to the public (August 2017 to July 2018). Another portion of the collection, following the toppling of the statue in August 2018, is still in process and not publicly available yet. 
  2. Social Media
    We collected Twitter content primarily focused on a few key hashtags that evolved over the past couple years (#silentsam, #silencesam, #strikedownsam). Initially we were uncertain about collecting Tweets without permission, but we ultimately decided that Twitter has facilitated new approaches for sparking action on campus that are unique to this moment and this generation of student activists. We felt it would be an important addition to other records in the archives that document student activism around the Confederate monument. We only perform searches for hashtags – not keywords – because we view hashtags as a type of public participation that is different from individual Tweets intended only for a user’s direct followers. If we collect a specific Twitter user account, we would only do so with permission. We also set limits on how often we collect hashtags because we felt snapshots of the conversation were more appropriate than a comprehensive approach due to our inability to gain permission from every user.We collect Twitter content by API and use twarc, so that we can provide access to Tweet identifiers only and to offer more possibilities for digital scholarship research methods. (We don’t want to launch into the details of why Tweet IDs are used because this isn’t a post on Twitter archiving, but see more from Social Feed Manager blog which discusses how terms of service impact access.)

    We have also collected Facebook events for protests and counter-protests held on the UNC campus in our Archive-It collection.

  3. Ephemera
    Flyers, buttons, zines, and more have been collected from around campus and during demonstrations. Some are gathered by staff, others have been contributed by student activists.

Recent acquisitions related to Confederate monument protests and opposition at UNC-Chapel Hill. UNC-Chapel Hill University Archives.

The future of the UNC-Chapel Hill Confederate monument is still unresolved. The monument is being held at an undisclosed location while the campus awaits word from the UNC System Board of Governors, who will decide on its final disposition. As we wait for a decision and the discussion and protest that is likely to follow, we feel that it is not too soon to reflect on our work and share a few principles that continue to guide our collecting.

  1. We will collect thoughtfully and respectfully from the beginning. Although it is tempting to just grab as much as possible and figure out what to do with it later, we recognize that doing so could compromise the safety of student activists and would only postpone important decisions that we would have to make.
  2. Traditional archival practices are still essential when collecting online materials. Whenever possible, we make an effort to connect with the people who are creating this material and ask for permission before collecting and sharing it in the archives.
  3. It is essential that we continue to communicate with, share, and learn from our colleagues in the profession. We are not the only archive working through these issues. Our practices have been shaped by discussions with colleagues at other institutions and we are eager to continue these in the future. This blog post is in that spirit – we look forward to hearing from others who have questions or thoughts about our recent work around or who have their own experiences to share.


Learn More

Guide to Resources on the History of the UNC-Chapel Hill Confederate Monument. UNC-Chapel Hill University Archives research guide.

“Silent Sam: A Timeline.” WCHL News. Timeline of Confederate monument protest and counter-protest at UNC-Chapel Hill, 2015-2019.

Collecting a Snapshot of #SilenceSam. UNC-Chapel Hill University Archives blog post.

Documenting the Now white paper and website.

Project STAND

Nicholas Graham has worked in Wilson Special Collections Library at UNC-Chapel Hill since 2003. He has been the University Archivist since 2015. Prior to UNC, he worked at MIT and the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Jessica Venlet works as the Assistant University Archivist for Digital Records and Records Management for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries. In this role, she is responsible for a variety of things related to both records management and digital preservation. In particular, she leads the processing and management of born-digital materials.

Hip, Square, and in Between: A 1960s College Town Comes to (Digital) Life

By David McCartney

“If you remember the ’60s, you really weren’t there,” goes the familiar saying, particularly among baby boomers. Over the decades the quote has been attributed to many, including Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane, a rock band that exemplified those far-out, psychedelic times. Ms. Slick, or whoever said it first, was certainly on to something. Or maybe on something.

Poster promoting Vietnam War Moratorium, October 1969. Collection no. RG 02.0004.001 Student-Produced Flyers and Handouts Collection

But while the ’60s encompassed an emerging counter-culture – perhaps its most popular image today – the decade also embodied a wide range of experiences among students on U.S. college and university campuses. Political movements, social activities, ROTC classes, fraternity and sorority life, challenges to academic traditions, the sexual revolution, relaxing of student conduct codes, and more: these are the parts that make up the whole, a complex and remarkable historical period. And music. Don’t forget the music.

For Iowa City, home of the State University of Iowa, as it was known until 1964, highlights of this period are documented in a digital exhibit curated and produced as a collaboration among several units of the University Libraries: the University Archives, the Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio, and Preservation and Conservation Services. According to the site, the exhibit is “an immersive content discovery tool made possible by collaborators within and beyond the University of Iowa Libraries.”

1972 SDS Newsletter documenting the Herrnstein incident. Collection no. RG 02.0009.030 Emil Rinderspacher Papers

Recognizing that the 50-year anniversaries of numerous events, both local and national in scope, were approaching, beginning in 2014 I had informal discussions with a cross-section of faculty from several departments to determine what they would like to experience in such an exhibit for research and instruction purposes. Political science, history, journalism, English, military science, and other academic and service areas were contacted. I also reached out to about a dozen alumni to seek out their ideas.

Curation followed, based in part on these conversations but also based on previous reference experience. Popular topics that evolved for the site include civil rights, student life, politics and protest, the arts, the second-wave feminist movement, gay rights (the term LGBTQ did not come into popular usage until recently), and popular culture. Technical information about creation of the site is included in a colophon linked from the exhibit’s home page. The resulting exhibit, “Uptight and Laid-back: Iowa City in the Sixties,” was released in 2016, featuring content selected from over 40 collections across the University Archives. Occasionally, new content is added as additional resources are identified.

Screen shot of the landing page for the “Uptight & Laid-Back” exhibit.

While the title declares “the Sixties,” I determined the site’s timeline bookends as November 1959, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited the campus, and January 1973, following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords and what was billed at the time as “the last anti-war demonstration on campus.”

Interactive features of the site include a set of layered campus maps spanning 1958 to 1975, and a link for alumni and others to submit their own stories or images for inclusion on the site. Dynamic content includes a 1960 University of Iowa newsreel, a half-hour documentary recounting the 1967 Dow riot at the student union, the inauguration of Howard Bowen as university president in 1964, and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren speaking at the dedication of the new law school commons in 1962.

The site also highlights digitally-reformatted audio recordings of selected poetry readings and literary ‘happenings,’ thanks to the presence of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Featured individuals include Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Margaret Walker Alexander, Jorge Luis Borges, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Some take-aways:

  • Collaboration takes time. The DSPS staff were particularly enthusiastic and supportive, as this is in keeping with the Studio’s mission to provide faculty the opportunity to access digital content pertinent to their research and instruction needs. The project also enabled University Archives to work closely with Preservation and Conservation in selecting audiovisual content that was at risk of loss. An important consideration to keep in mind from the outset is allowing the collaborating units adequate lead time and to set realistic schedules for completion, on account of workflow demands of other projects.
  • If you build it, they may not come. The feature allowing alumni to contribute content is the most disappointing outcome of the project to date. Despite a column about it in the our alumni magazine (I write a quarterly column, “Old Gold,” for the print edition as well as electronic editions 10 times/year via the university’s newsfeed and social media) and news releases via the university’s strategic communication office, there have been only three submissions to date. The alumni relations office and the library have received many positive comments about the site but, alas, few submissions. With editor approval I would like to write a reminder piece soon, as 50-year anniversary event dates continue in the time ahead and to confer with the alumni relations office about reaching out to specific affinity groups to inform them of this option.
  • Collecting efforts are still necessary. Our holdings are generally strong in this area, and my predecessor Earl Rogers collected much ephemera from this period soon after he began work here in 1970. However, the archives still has inadequate documentation of the experiences of African-American, LGBTQ, and other groups of students of this time. Again, I need to make the time to work with alumni relations for specific and targeted outreach.

To learn more about the site and my experiences, please plan to attend the College and University Archives Section Meeting in Austin on Saturday, August 3 from 10-11:15 a.m., or watch for the shared notes from that meeting.

I didn’t enter college until fall 1974, so I have no memory of the ‘60s in the way that Grace Slick (or whoever) meant. Nevertheless, I hope that “Uptight and Laid-back…” continues to serve as a useful and entertaining resource. You dig?

David McCartney, C.A., is the University of Iowa archivist, a position he has held since 2001. He has master’s degrees in history and library science, both from the University of Maryland at College Park, and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is immediate past president of the Midwest Archives Conference.

Classes and Collaboration in the University Archives

By Brigette C. Kamsler

Across campuses nationwide, universities are taking an even closer look at the history of their organizations. Those who work with archives know this is nothing new, but we seem to see it more often in our daily news. Buildings and streets being renamed; monuments and statues being removed; yearbooks being scoured; all of these can pop up in our newsfeeds.

The George Washington University (GW) in Washington, D.C. is experiencing this as well. The University’s history can be traced back to 1819 when a group of Baptist ministers worked together to purchase land, petition Congress for a charter (awarded February 9, 1821), and organize a college, named Columbian College. Needless to say, much has happened in the intervening centuries.

Although I have only been at GW since August 2018, I have heard many stories of activism and awareness on campus.  Almost immediately, I was able to view and experience firsthand how the work of past Special Collections professionals influenced our holdings and how faculty and students use the archives in a variety of ways. I will provide some examples of how the archives have been used for special projects and in classes, and how archives and library professionals can create specific outputs to support this work.

GW’s Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) partnered with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion beginning in 2013-2014 for a Diversity Research Fellowship. The Fellowship, funded through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s Innovation in Diversity and Inclusion grants, was open to any current GW student; applicants supplied a research statement that described their own areas of research interest, their GW faculty advisor’s contact information, their resume, and an optional list of collections they wanted to view. The fellows used University Archives to research topics such as non-academic staff, women, veterans, and international students at GW. The program continued in 2014-2015 and a second cohort of fellows researched religion on campus, LGBTQ movements on campus, and the 1960s Chicano movement and its impact on GW’s curriculum. Their work was shared in a variety of ways including presentations, social media and blog entries, with the majority of information incorporated into GW Past, a staff-generated set of articles, which began first as an Encyclopedia. The program specific to the Special Collections was discontinued after the second year, however the Innovation in Diversity and Inclusion grants continue more broadly (and research projects using archives are still funded).

GW students analyze this 1836 anti-slavery poster.

At a push from the faculty and following the example of many other schools, in 2016 GW’s then-president, Steven Knapp, funded a one-year student research project to identify resources related to slavery, segregation, and racial justice in the University Archives. Some of this information, such as the history of slavery at the University, had been documented on GW Past.

Continuing the momentum from President Knapp’s one-year project, a new class in the department of history was created to explore GW’s history with slavery and segregation. The class, HIST2305W, was first offered in Spring 2018, and I participated in it during its second year in Spring 2019. The students were able to choose whatever topic they wanted – the main caveat being the majority of their research had to utilize archives from GW. Leah Richardson, Research and Instruction Librarian for Special Collections, created a research guide and worked with other SCRC staff to create a list of topics and potential collections; however, it was expanded upon to include the students’ interests. I had a wonderful and thought-provoking experience working with these students and it was a crash course in GW history. Topics students researched included segregation and desegregation of Greek life; segregation in Foggy Bottom (the DC neighborhood where the university is located); Lisner Auditorium and segregation; University President Cloyd Heck Marvin; and race in the Second World War.

Students using archives this past academic year.

Tom Guglielmo’s Fall 2018 class, AMST4500W: Interrogating GW, is another great example of archives being used to reflect on the school’s past. The students spent a few classes physically located in the Special Collections, working with staff and using archival collections. Each student spent the semester writing a substantial research paper on some aspect of the university, such as student activism; race, class, or gender politics; real estate holdings; cultural representation; labor struggles; and the school’s relationship to DC or Foggy Bottom. The students presented their work at a conference at the end of the semester (also look for the hashtag #interrogateGW on Twitter). While this class was on the history of GW generally, many of the same topics were explored. There has certainly been an impact on the archives staff with the influx of new classes and people researching, often on the same topics or using the same material. For more on my experiences with these challenges, please plan to attend our Section Meeting in Austin on Saturday, August 3 from 10-11:15 a.m., or watch for the shared notes from that meeting.

Student leaders at GW have also been working to move forward on renaming buildings on campus. The Student Association convened an informal task force of about ten students to conduct background research on prominent names on university buildings in 2017. Students, however, graduate and move on from the university, thus the task force had a bit of trouble keeping momentum. More recently, students want to form a committee comprised of faculty, students and officials who will research building names.[i]

Ultimately, throughout all of these topics and explorations, the archives can open up new pathways to discovery. These activities are bringing people, perhaps for the first time, into contact with these original materials. The GW Special Collections are open to the public, and we welcome everyone to conduct this research themselves.

Staff working collaboratively in the Special Collections Research Center to identity materials for the course “Freedom Struggles in Black and Brown.” Assignments for the course will require students to draw heavily on the archives for their research.

What can archives professionals do to aid in this type of work? Leah’s Research Guide is an excellent example of being able to look in one place to identify relevant collections. We also do not have to reinvent the wheel each time – we keep track of what has been done in the past, and keep building. At GW, perhaps we could explore more topics with GW Past, and point to the specific collections that contain the information. We could also put together information for people at various levels of the organization – from students to faculty to the administration. When I come across information on the naming of a building, I make a note or take a photograph to remind myself of it just in case there is a question in the future.

The George Washington University is nearly 200 years old. The Special Collections are here to continue to document the history and events of the past and present, to lead us into the future and assist those who are working towards campus change by making that information available. The rest is up to them.

Brigette C. Kamsler is the University Archivist at The George Washington University. Originally from Gettysburg, PA, she was United States Corporate Archivist for the bank HSBC; Project Archivist at the Burke Library at Columbia University in the City of New York; and Archivist and Research Center Coordinator at the Historical Society of Frederick County, Maryland.


[i] Explore more on this topic in these articles: Sept. 12, 2017: https://www.gwhatchet.com/2017/09/11/student-committee-to-examine-problematic-history-behind-gw-building-names/; April 23, 2018: https://www.gwhatchet.com/2018/04/23/task-force-examining-problematic-building-names-stalls-eight-months-after-launch/; Oct. 29, 2019: https://www.gwhatchet.com/2018/10/29/sa-leaders-revive-charge-to-examine-controversial-building-names/.