Double Majors at Virginia Tech are becoming more common. Partially as a need to stand out among others, partially as a method of seeking more specific educational goals. I am a double major in English (Creative Writing and Professional Technical Writing) and Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE). I am frequently asked how this could possibly be a good combination? Where will I ever apply both?
My answer is traditionally communication between engineers, management, and the public need to be clear and concise. Interning at Special Collections has helped me to broaden that statement by giving me the opportunity to archive Engineering Collections. I started with transcriptions and gradually worked my way up to understanding and organizing collections of multiple boxes. When I was experienced enough in archiving, I was allowed to choose the collections I wanted to archive. From this point on I witnessed firsthand example after example for the ways in which my degrees worked together. Most examples seemed to be reports and instruction manuals.
I continued to learn more about organization and private company improvement over time as I worked through collections. I was also able to work with interesting subject matter like NASA’s Wind Tunnels and the collection I am currently archiving, the Avery-Abex Metallurgical Collection. From each I learn something different. Throughout the Avery-Abex Collection, I have come to better understand manufacturing processes and plant systems by organizing the business’s internal and external papers. From this experience I was also able to develop a deeper understanding of the applications of professional writing as an engineer.
My favorite part about working on the Avery-Abex collection is that I had to develop a method of organization that would restore order to the case files. Most of the collection boxes are sporadically numbered. There will be files from 1946 -1948 in box 114, 152, and 75 for example. I had to find a way to pick and choose which boxes to chip away at and how to label them in such a way that the materials fit the company timeline. The solution was to organize by case number, one of the few details listed on each box. However, many of the files are metallurgical samples, negatives, lantern slides, and even reels of film. So I had to develop number codes for the different types of material to keep track of where materials were going and what materials had been processed. The whole experience really tested my ability to think through the given materials.
As I got further into my ISE major, I began to learn more about facilities, systems, and linear programing problems to organize everything and create a more efficient environment. I began to see this in my work at Special Collections as well. As a scholar, a student, there is a moment when you can see dots connecting. The feeling is incredible because you go from understanding theory to seeing it in application. I started to get a lot more out of the work I was doing because I was able to understand deeper connections between the systems engineering that I was studying and the workplace/warehouse type environment where the theory was applicable. The more I saw ties between my majors and my work, the more interesting each shift became. I wasn’t just dating papers, I was developing a system that will become a resource for students and researchers.
My time with Special Collections has never been dry. I will be returning in the fall to continue my work on the Avery-Abex collection. I look forward to what the future of this collection holds and everything that I will be able to learn from it.
Archives are so very rarely complete. It’s an unusual thing for the archivist to be able to point to a collection and say with full confidence, “That’s all there is.” More often, we have to admit, “That’s all we have.” And so, researchers make due with what’s on hand, knowing that someday, some newly discovered item may appear and bring their well-argued theses crashing down. Though it deals with the past, history is a living thing, open to reinterpretation as long-hidden documents are discovered and shared. We regularly hear of such discoveries being made in attics or at flea markets and the like, but sometimes they’re made within the archives itself.
Last month, your blogger was working with a small collection of papers from Sidney B. Jeffreys (Ms1986-007), who graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering in 1931. Jeffreys maintained a lifelong attachment to his alma mater, becoming an active member of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and a generous supporter of the university. In 1981, he was recognized as a College of Engineering Distinguished Alumnus. (You can read more about Sidney Jeffreys and his papers here.) Given Jeffreys’ attachment to Virginia Tech, it’s not surprising that most of the papers in his collection relate to his time as a student and his activities as an alumnus.
Most of the university-related materials in Jeffreys’ papers consists of VT publications, and most of these are of the type that are seen by our archivists every day. Included among these were several issues of The Virginia Tech (the forerunner of today’s student newspaper, The Collegiate Times), from the years that Jeffreys attended the university. Here in the department, The Virginia Tech is frequently called upon in the course of answering reference questions or providing students with material for research topics. Our holdings of the paper are nearly—but not quite—complete, and we’re well aware that we lack a couple of years’ worth of issues. As it turns out, though, there was at least one missing issue about which we were unaware: there, in Sidney Jeffreys’ papers, was a special, extra edition of The Virginia Tech, published on Saturday, November 10, 1928.
The reason for this extra edition is readily apparent, as it bears a headline that any Hokies fan will enjoy.
The four-page special edition provides a lengthy, detailed description of the homecoming game, played earlier that day before a near-capacity crowd of 8,000 spectators, and it gives a great deal of credit for the win to the exploits of backs Frank Peake and Phil Spear. Elsewhere in this extra edition, readers found a full account of the game between VPI’s freshman team, “The Gobblets,” and their UVA counterparts, which ended in a 13-all tie.
The newspaper also contains articles about the homecoming festivities—this being only the second such event held at Virginia Tech—and about the upcoming observance of Armistice Day. Another brief article announces that plans are underway for a new, modern, and much-needed hotel to be built near the university. On a more somber note, readers learned of the accidental death VPI alumnus Charles B. D. Collyer, a well-known aviator who, just two weeks earlier, had set a new record for a trans-continental flight across the U. S.
Is there anything in this newspaper that will rewrite Virginia Tech history? Well, no (though anybody who’s been looking for a detailed account of the 1928 VPI-Virginia football game will find it a treasure trove). Still, this one item adds just a little detail to the historical record, providing some insight into the activities and cares of the Virginia Tech community in late 1928.
We can only wonder how many more special editions may be out there (or in here), waiting to be found.
The November 10, 1928 extra edition of The Virginia Tech will be added to our existing holdings of the newspaper. It has also been added to the queue in a current project that is digitizing the university’s student newspapers and will soon be making them available online.
For nine and a half years, I’ve been working at Special Collections and have been doing instruction just about since I started. After being an observer for one class and anticipating my own first class to follow shortly, I asked myself a basic question that I remember quite well. “What do I want to communicate about Special Collections to a group of students, most of whom have never visited an archival repository before or worked with original primary sources?” Yes, yes, the rules are different here. Explain why. That can lead nicely into a general description of the kinds of materials found here. Sure. No appointment or invitation is necessary. We’re a friendly bunch, after all. Talk about primary sources. What’s a finding aid? All of these came to mind, along with various other important details, all to be ordered in a clear, comprehensive, and understandable way. Describe the materials kept here and how to find them. Talk about collecting areas. All good. All necessary, but, taken together, insufficient.
We also want to give students the experience of interacting with primary sources: to see them up close, to hold them (carefully), to get a sense of how they might be useful in research, to judge the challenges they may present, or to be startled by the surprises they may hold.
So, we assemble an exercise in which all members of the class get to choose from a selection of largely unidentified items from various collections and spend a few brief moments with the material they’ve chosen. Most likely, it’ll be from a manuscript collection, that is, it’ll be some kind of unpublished primary source. After those few moments, they’ll be asked to talk a bit about the item(s) they’ve picked. The hope is that with as many students as possible talking briefly about the materials they’ve chosen, everyone in the class will leave the session with a better idea about the kinds of materials held at Special Collections.
That may be the low bar of an adequate objective, but it’s not all we really want to encourage. What we really want is to present an opportunity to create a connection between student and primary sources, broadly considered, through an initial, singular experience.
Sometimes that experience depends on pure happenstance. A student beginning work on rationing on the homefront during World War II drew a folder that contained rationing materials that belonged to a nearby Giles Co. family and included a small box of Office of Price Administration (OPA) Red Point ration tokens. These tokens, used for change when buying meats and fats with ration stamps, were first issued in 1944. She was thrilled to see these for the first time, to have the actual materials in front of her.
Another coincidence involved a member of the Corps of Cadets who happened to choose a folder containing a single sheet of paper marked “Reply by V . . .-Mail” at the bottom and “Lt. J.W. Monteith” written in at the top as the sender. The date on the letter is May 27, 1944. I swear that I did not give this particular folder to this fellow, whose eyes lit up and jaw dropped with the recognition that he was holding a letter written about ten days before Monteith, a cadet at Tech in the late 1930s, took part in the assault on Omaha beach during the Normandy invasion. Lt. Monteith was killed that June 6th day and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. Like many (all?) cadets to this day, the cadet in the class knew Monteith’s entire story. I’m guessing, this was not what he expected from a class session at the library!
Honestly, situations like this happen quite often. Both of these incidents happened within the last couple of weeks. Ideally, we’d like students to experience these kinds of connections. Sometimes a connection may occur on the basis of an interest; sometimes it may be more emotional, or anywhere on a scale between the two. In that connection is an initial understanding of the potential power of primary sources. This is what we hope to communicate, especially to students who have not previously had the opportunity to work with these kinds of materials, for example, letters, diaries, journals, correspondence of all kinds, family papers, even legal and business records.
Some instances do depend on luck, as is the case with the two examples above. The right person choosing the right document, though even having one classmate describe a document meaningful to another can have the same effect. Who knows which student will be stirred by the first commercial announcement for the new Lime Jell-o (1930, for all of you who care) or by a police blotter from the Bowery district of New York in 1861. I am still absolutely wowed by a 27 July 1969, post-Apollo 11 letter from Charles Lindbergh to astronaut Michael Collins!
Then, there are some documents that, hopefully, have a wider impact.
Take a look at this document. Don’t even read it. Just look at it. (Click on each image to get a closer look.)
What do you see? It’s a letter, yes. Is it just me, or isn’t it beautiful to look at? The handwriting is gorgeous. Even if you’re not used to reading cursive writing, it’s clear and easy to read. The paper is accented with a red rule on the top of the first page and blue one down the side of that page. Maybe you couldn’t help but notice the date, January 28, 1863; the location, Philadelphia; or the formal salutation, “Dear Sir.” Now read that first line:
I have just received through your kindness the painfull intelligence of my son’s death.
The beauty of the letter as an object and the foreign quality of the language in that first sentence anticipate the power of its meaning, which comes that much more powerfully precisely because of those two prior elements. The son of Isaac and Elizabeth Carver (she wrote the letter) has died. He’s not named and the circumstances of his death are not specified, though the date and place provide likely clues to both. Charles Carver, 19 years old in 1860 and, in 1862, a private in G Company, 121st Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry, was wounded at Fredericksburg and died some five weeks later. Like so many documents, this letter raises more questions than it answers and invites the reader to discover its stories while delivering an emotional blow that all can understand.
Written some sixty-six years earlier is another document I often use in the classroom.
Here the writing is more difficult, as is the language. The date may be the first thing to jump out at a reader, in part because it comes before a line break and, thus, stands out a bit more: 27 September 1796. Here, part of the power lies, first, not in the document’s uniqueness, but in its ubiquity, for its day. In 18th-century America and the first half of the 19th, this kind of document was exceedingly common.
Know all men by these presents that I John Edwards of Rockbridge County with my security John Dunlap & William Johnson of Greenbrier County am held and firmly bound unto Joseph Dickson in the just sum of one hundred ten pounds current money of Virginia to be paid to sd [said] Dickson by sd Edwards or security in witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands & seals this 27th day of September 1796.
The language will sound strange to folks not used to it, but it is, likely, recognizable as legal language. John Edwards is paying Joseph Dickson £110 for something. Of course, the something, in this case, someone, becomes clear in the second paragraph, “a Negro boy named Elijah.”
The ubiquity of this kind of document, a bill of sale for a slave, in the Virginia of 1796 is tied fast to the fate of a specific individual, in this case, the young Elijah. Both characteristics of the document are contained in this single sheet that represents the sale of one human being to another. A note on the reverse of the document tells us that Elijah is 12 years old and weighs 77 pounds. I suggest, if you let yourself realize it, there is great power in this document, precisely both in the commonness of its form and in the specificity of its effect.
In these materials are the potential power of primary source documents that we, as archivists, wish to communicate and share. Of course, these documents are each just one out of a larger collection of materials. Also, recognizing the power of primary sources is just the beginning, not an end in itself. But for students who haven’t had the opportunity to work with materials like these, it’s an important element of starting out. It’s the introduction with a bang, the “wow” that we hope to make possible! Any document is just a piece of a story, a part of a thread of a research question or an element that fills out one’s own interest.
Story is, I think, part of what drove Trudy Harrington Becker’s First-Year Experience History class (HIST1004) in it’s effort to transcribe the letters of Joseph F. Ware this past fall. With nearly 50 students tasked to work with 100-year-old letters written in a cursive script that was often not easy to read, I was first amazed and then very impressed by the determination, excitement, and downright fervor they brought to the assignment. My first thought was to have folks work in small groups, each with a single letter. No, no, every student would get a letter to work on! There are, after all, more than 100 letters in the collection. As two colleagues and I hustled around from table to table, helping folks who were stuck on this word or that phrase, it was clear that everyone was ENGAGED! Folks who finished their first letters were asking for more! A second session with the class turned into a third.
At first, the desire to simply read and make sense of an initial letter seemed to provide more than enough motivation. The students knew only a few general facts about Ware. He had been Commandant to the VPI Corp of Cadets from 1911 to 1914 before resuming his Regular Army commission prior to American involvement in World War I. They began with his wartime letters from France written to his wife, Susie, in Blacksburg. Then, there were the letters home from training sites and other posts prior to his departure for France, along with a few post-war letters. Fifty students in a room all transcribing letters that each tell part of a story led to what became an irresistible incentive to know the full story, to know what happened. There were long separations between husband and wife, wartime wounds, and a young son, among other facts to consider. Students were no longer talking as much to their classmates about this or that word, but asking, “What happened in Paris?” or “Did Ware return to Blacksburg?” The outlines of the story needed to be filled in.
If Ware’s letters provided the impetus to learn of his larger story, they also supplied the gateway to a range of inquiries into broader historical themes taken up by the class. At the end of their semester, these students presented the results of their work in a series of digital posters in an exhibit open to the public. Drawn from Ware’s own texts, they highlight, for example, not only Ware’s personal story and the toll the war took on him and his family, but also, for example, the American conduct of the war and the nation’s attitudes toward the war and its leaders.
Here, then, is an example of the power of primary sources to fire the imagination and propel further inquiry. At its heart, this is what we want to instill in students. This is the experience we want to provide. The project of any archival repository is not to just preserve history, but to preserve its materiality in order to provide it to following generations for further use. Though obvious to any archivist or historian, this simple point is not necessarily clear to a student—or anyone—who has not yet experienced the archives or had any reason to consider the question.
Of course, students aren’t the only folks who get to recognize the excitement of discovering the possibilities embedded in an archival collection. To bring this long post to a close, I’ll mention one last story, mostly because it shows how the activities of the “Special Collections classroom” and exposure to the power and value of primary sources can truly be preparation for future scholarly endeavor.
Back in May 2014, we received an email from a scholar who wanted to do work at Special Collections with a focus on “Confederate prisoners of war and their intellectual engagement while in prison.” He said it was “part of a larger project on intellectual life in the Confederacy and post-Reconstruction South.” (I didn’t know it at the time, but he was already about to publish a book titled, Intellectual Manhood: University, Self, and Society in the Antebellum South (published by UNC Press, 2015.) On a list of 14 collections he wanted to see, the Nelson Family Papers were dead last.
A few days ago, we received a copy of Prison Pens
Gender, Memory, and Imprisonment in the Writings of Mollie Scollay and Wash Nelson, 1863–1866, edited by Timothy J. Williams and Evan A. Kutzler. Tim Williams came here in 2014 with a broad research agenda and found a collection that spurred his interest, I dare say his passion. A correspondence of fifty-five letters, untranscribed, written between “Wash” Nelson and Mollie Scollay from 1863 to 1865 were a part of the Nelson Family collection. Once the collection had been identified, Tim and his co-editor did, essentially, what the students in HIST1004 did, though at the level of professional scholarship. They transcribed the letters. They sought the story of the correspondents and presented research into the themes in which, as context, they wished to place both the writers and the letters themselves. Then . . . with the help of the University of Georgia Press . . . they did take an extra step. They published the book.
The “Wash” Nelson and Mollie Scollay correspondence can be read in the new book by Williams and Kutzler. Digital copies of the letters and the rest of the Nelson Family Papers can be viewed on Special Collections Online. These materials are now broadly available to inform, encourage, and stimulate new research.
The originals remain housed in Special Collections with all the other primary source materials—preserved, available, and powerful.
Have you ever heard the term “vertical file”? Typically, when researchers come in to learn more about a topic, the first place to look is in our vertical files. These are generally folders of newspaper clippings, brochures, press releases, and other items that are arranged by subject. The term itself derives from the vertical filing cabinets that archives may use to hold these collections [for your information, Special Collections uses boxes rather than filing cabinets].
Special Collections has several sets of vertical files:
But I’d like to tell you specifically about the Record Group Vertical Files. This collection is specifically about departments, offices, and colleges at Virginia Tech, including materials advertising the university and articles about it. For example, below is a postcard advertising the Virginia Tech College of Science, the Advisor’s Manual for the VT College of Arts & Sciences, an application for the VT Graduate School, and an issue of the Carilion Clinic Report about the VT Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute.
Postcard for the VT College of Science
Advisor’s Manual for the VT College of Arts & Sciences
VT Graduate School Application
Report about the newly opened VT School of Medicine
Blank form for the VT College of Arts & Sciences’ Academic Dean’s List
In addition to the educational colleges and departments of the university, we have materials from the operational offices and student groups. Below are examples, including brochures for the Perspective Gallery and HokiePRIDE, an official VT flyer in Arabic, a program for the Alpha Kappa Delta National Sociology Honor Society, and an article about the Muslim Student Association.
Brochure for the Perspective Gallery
Arabic flyer about Virginia Tech for international students
Whenever you are looking up the history of the university and you don’t know where to start, this collection is a great place to start. The same holds true for looking up any subjects in all the vertical files we have!
If you are curious what Special Collections looks like behind the scenes, Kira Dietz showed a glimpse of onsite storage previously in this blog. Well, we also have offsite storage in the Library Storage Building, managed by the University Libraries. In addition to Special Collections, Newman Library and the Records Management Department house material at the storage building. Unlike storage onsite, the shelving is so tall and aisles so long, special equipment is used to access materials up to the top and down the rows.
Special Collections houses our large manuscript collections, most of which are accessed less frequently than onsite storage. Space is available where we can work, but we have to schedule with the other departments who use the same office space. Recently, several students and I have been working on collections housed offsite, including the William C. Wampler Congressional Papers with 250 boxes of files from Hon. Wampler’s nearly two decades in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Pocahontas Mine Collection, which is approximately 900 cu. ft. with over 7,000 maps of mines in southwestern Virginia and Appalachia operated by CONSOL Energy and its predecessors (look out for more info on this collection when processing is done).
The University Libraries are currently working on another offsite storage building, this time with movable shelves. Movable shelves greatly increase the storage capacity in locations, but need strong floors to keep them stable! We also have a small, secure space in the basement of Newman Library that is shared with the rest of the library for temporary storage for our larger or more unwieldy collections, such as part of the Avery-Abex Metallurgical Collection with over 200 containers, many in unusually types and sizes.
Examples of unique shelving that came with one of our collections
Avery-Abex in basement
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this look behind the scenes!
Things have been busy in the University Archives of Special Collections this month, with two exhibits going up this and next week. The first is the memorial exhibit honoring the memory of the victims and survivors of the tragic day of April 16, 2007. Every year we commemorate that day with an exhibit of items from the April 16th Condolence Archives. Please read the press release below to find out more about this year’s event.
The second is an update to the Virginia Tech Alumni Association’s (VTAA) Alumni Museum, with whom Special Collections has worked for over a decade to provide university memorabilia for display. Several archivists and students have been selecting items to update the current display, which will be installed next week. There is no end date for the display of these items, as we plan to continue to working with the VTAA for years to come. Also, if you are attending next weekend’s Black Alumni Reunion, you will get to see several additional photographs from the university archives of many pioneering black female students and alumnae at Virginia Tech, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first six black women to attend the university in 1966: Linda (Adams) Hoyle, Jackie (Butler) Blackwell, Linda (Edmonds) Turner, Freddie Hairston, Marguerite Laurette (Harper) Scott, and Chiquita Hudson. You can learn more about them at The Black Women at Virginia Tech History Project.
Day of Remembrance display in Newman Library shares words of comfort and hope
FollowingApril 16, 2007, schools, fellow universities, children, community and religious groups, businesses, and other individuals from around the world sent words of comfort and hope to Virginia Tech. These cards, letters, signs, and other handwritten items expressed the world’s condolences and gave Virginia Tech a global community of support.
This week, on April 15-16, many of these items will be on display in the Multipurpose Room on the first floor of Newman Library at 560 Drillfield Drive in Blacksburg. The exhibit, “Words of Comfort: An exhibit of letters from around the world in the April 16th Condolence Archives,” is free and open to the public, and will be on display from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.
These items represent over 40 countries and every continent, showing the outpouring of support from around the globe. Selected items on display include:
The materials are part of the Virginia Tech April 16, 2007 Condolence Archives of the University Libraries.
Campus visitors also left symbols of comfort and signs of support at memorials around Virginia Tech, which were displayed on campus for several months before being gathered and inventoried under the direction of University Archivist Tamara Kennelly. Together, the collection consists of more than 89,000 materials available through Special Collections in Newman Library.
In the summer of 2007, many items were digitally photographed for preservation and to share with the world. A large portion of the Condolence Archives of the University Libraries is nowpublicly available online.
The upcoming exhibit is organized and curated by Laurel Rozema, processing and special projects archivist for the University Libraries’ Special Collections, and Robin Boucher, arts program director for Student Engagement and Campus Life.
Free parking is available on weekends at the Squires Student Center and Architecture Annex lots along Otey Street. Before 5 p.m. on weekdays, a valid Virginia Tech parking pass is required to park in these lots.Find more parking information online, or call 540-231-3200.
If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Laurel Rozema at 540-231-9215 during regular business hours prior to the event.
For more information and other expressions of remembrance, please visit theWe Remember site.
I started working with Special Collections in September. I wasn’t sure what to really expect. I had previously done artifact analyses at my high school, but the work I have done here has been a bit different. The majority of collections I have worked on with Special Collections are either Civil War related or Engineering related. Both types had their own quirks. The Civil War soldiers and writers thought it was necessary to store hair in their letters and the engineers took few good pictures, though both were surprisingly good at sketching.
As I read through each collection, these people’s lives, I consistently learned something new. I organized and processed a collection by a Chemical Engineer from Alaska who produced rocket fuel and science fiction. His name was John D. Clark. In addition, I organized the files of an Aerospace Engineer named Blake W. Corson, Jr. I found these two men particularly inspiring because they both believed it was their responsibility to serve the people around them with the skills they had. In engineering classes we are taught many things, part of the curriculum are ethics. Part of ethics are to use the skills you have to better the world. Both Clark and Corson embodied these ethics and consistently strove to make the communities surrounding them better. Corson, for example, created multiple documents detailing a better waste management system for Newport News, Virginia, that he eventually mailed to President Jimmy Carter. As I uncovered more documentation on these men I learned a great deal about their lives and I grew to admire them.
I was also reminded of my on mortality, many of the people who I now hold in high esteem are dead. Every collection I have processed was for someone who died. Many were eloquent in the way they worded their thoughts others went from talking about an execution to the minced pies they were eating. In my opinion some of the soldiers were heroes and some of them weren’t and some of them just wanted to see their families one more time. The engineers are heroes in their own way as well. Both were key cogs in the space agency machine working towards the goal of getting rockets off of the ground and making better aircraft for the military. All are dead. Sometimes I do not notice that these people are buried somewhere near their families or in an undiscovered grave waiting for the next Civil War historian to discover them. When I remember these things I remember why I sit at a desk for a minimum of two hours at a time writing a person’s name once or even a hundred times. The idea is that this person will be remembered and their distant relatives might find their names. They will be found as a relic from the past that a family can reminisce over or claim as their heritage. I am glad that I have been a part of that process, even if only for a little while.
Since I have talked a lot about the things that I have processed I want to give you an idea of work I do. The steps seem repetitive, but I actually find the work relaxing and remedial. As a processing intern, my responsibilities have been relatively straight forward and simple. I wanted to end on these steps because they are the dictionary definition of what I do as opposed to my personal definition of what I do.
Step 1: Look at files. Read the files if they do not span longer than a cubic foot of box.
Step 2: Organize and catalog each document in the collection. Personally I color code with plastic clips.
Step 3: Review organization and file order, reorder.
Step 4: Label each folder with a box number and folder number.