|Davidson Invites Public to Explore Its Historical Records
October 18, 2007
Contact: Bill Giduz
Davidson College’s history will be on display during North Carolina Archives Week. From Monday through Wednesday, October 22-24, interested members of the college family and general public are invited to take a guided tour of the E.H. Little Library’s college archives.
College Archivist Jan Blodgett displays a ledger in which 19th century students pledged their adherence to the Honor Code.
Archivist Jan Blodgett and Archives Fellow Tammy Ivins will lead groups through the stacks every half hour from 9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. daily. No reservations are necessary. For more information, call 704-894-2362.
Blodgett will open the thick, metal, fireproof vault door that protects ledgers of original trustee and faculty meeting minutes, as well as the ledger that President Woodrow Wilson and his Davidson classmates signed in 1874 as students to signify their allegiance to the college’s Honor Code. Other items on display will include a 1916 wool Davidson baseball uniform, Commencement Marshal sashes from the Philanthropic and Eumenean Literary Societies, and a late 1850s photo of campus that may be the first outdoor daguerreotype made in the state.
Blodgett, chair of the publications committee of the Society of North Carolina Archivists, has directed preservation and cataloguing efforts at Davidson since 1994. The nearly 800 linear feet of material she maintains for Davidson includes President’s papers, college publications, fraternity records, and more than 6,500 photographs. There’s a wax cylinder recording of Physics Professor Henry Louis Smith talking in 1938 about one of the United State’s earliest X-ray experiments, which was conducted in his lab in 1896.
Material ranges from the mundane to the macabre. One box contains skull fragments from Peter Stuart Ney, a renowned French general who drew the college seal after allegedly escaping from a Napoleonic firing squad and fleeing to America. There’s also a postcard photo of a student at the North Carolina Medical College, which was located for a brief time in town, posing with a cadaver. He had mailed the card to his mother. “That was a popular thing to do at the time,” said Blodgett. “He was proud of his medical training!”
The collection grows each year through acquisition of college records that by law must be archived, collection of memorabilia such as event posters, and donations of material like a recently acquired scrapbook that a 1997 graduate compiled during her student career.
Not all material directly concerns the college. An alumnus who founded and directed for many years a world-renowned band in Lenoir, N.C., gave Davidson several dozen scrapbooks of material he gathered during its world-wide performance tours.
Blodgett is excited about another new acquisition that’s not directly college related. She is currently working to digitize and catalog four boxes of records of the longest standing book club in town, “The Book Lovers Club.” It was founded in 1899 by Jennie Martin, whose husband, W.J. Martin, taught chemistry and later became president of the college. The club kept meticulous meeting minutes and copies of its printed programs, all of which provide a fascinating look at small town college life in bygone days. “Not only did they read and discuss books, but they wrote letters to authors and got responses,” said Blodgett. “In addition, each woman had to research and talk about a current event at every meeting, so there are references to historical events in places like Russia and England. It was their version of CNN!”
|Sports memorabilia in the archives -- the 1964-65 men's basketball team poses in front of the old Charlotte Coliseum.|
Blodgett said it’s an exciting and challenging time in the field. Digital technology is allowing clients to search records much more thoroughly and quickly, and do so from their own living rooms. A great deal of material from Davidson’s archives is now on line and searchable, and the current North Carolina ECHO (Exploring Cultural Heritage Online) initiative will create a portal for browsing material in multiple archives, museums and libraries across the state.
But the imperative to fully employ the capabilities of modern technology also makes it much more challenging for archivists to properly process material.
Blodgett explained, “A single hand-written document now needs to become five or six iterations. First we transcribe it into an electronic Word document, and print out a copy of that for a permanent file. We also scan it into a large, high-resolution TIF image file for permanent preservation, and from that create JPG or PDF files to make available on the Web site. In addition, all those need to be stored on a hard drive and backed up somewhere. Finally, they all need to be entered into our cataloguing system so clients can find them.”
Rapidly evolving software and hardware also pose problems. “I’ve had people bring me records on diskettes that I can’t read anymore created with word processing software that no one uses anymore,” Blodgett said. “As crazy as it sounds, a paper record might last 500 years in the vault, while an electronic record might not be accessible 10 years from now because no one has the software to read it.”
|Blodgett carefully catalogues Davidson history in an ever-growing collection of boxes and filing cabinets that reach from floor to ceiling of the Archives Office.|
Blodgett and her staff handled 822 requests for information last year from members of the college family and outsiders. They included administrators looking for material for speeches, students writing research papers, and members of the public seeking information about ancestors who were Davidson alumni.
Nothing would make Blodgett happier than a continual increase in those requests. “I want the archives to be seen as a resource about the past that informs the future, a living resource rather than a dusty collection of records,” she said.
She relishes her role as the college’s “story collector,” and loves sharing tales. “That’s what got me interested in the field and what keeps me here,” she said. “The college’s past is comprised of innumerable personal and institutional stories. Some are fascinating, some are funny, and a few are sad. But together they are our history, and we honor them all by making them available. It’s a privilege to have that job.”
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country.
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Posted By: Bill Giduz