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Anne Clair Goodman and Roland Baumann confer over some archives work.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY LINDA GRASHOFF

 

 

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Oberlin College Archives Attract Students and Other Researchers

By Kate Julian

 

FEBRUARY 22, 2000--While many students aren't quite sure what the Oberlin College archives hold--or where they are--some 225 students use them for research every year. Students account for 600 of the more than 1600 visits Oberlin's archives sustains annually.

The holdings--on the fourth floor of Mudd, next to Special Collections--span 175 years and include

  • the original records of Oberlin College;
  • papers of persons and organizations affiliated with the College and town;
  • local government records; and
  • 200,000 photographs.

Put another way, the archives contain 6400 linear feet of material. And that's not counting items tough to measure in linear feet: the circa-1907 graduation robe; student scrapbooks, beanies, and pins; and two boxes of 19th-century daguerreotype and ambrotype pictures.

Delicate items aren't usually on display. Like most everything in the archives, they're stored in "the vault," an area lined floor to ceiling with shelves that is adjacent to the brightly-lit office where the archive's preservation work takes place.

Archival holdings related to abolitionism, black education, coeducation, and temperance are particularly strong. Not only Oberlin students but also researchers from across the country draw on Oberlin's collection for their books, dissertations, essays, and films. One of the most recent and well known uses of Oberlin's archives was in Ken Burns' s Not for Ourselves Alone, The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, which aired on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in November.

College Archives and Students
Impressive numbers and national attention aside, a lot of what goes on in the College-archives office is about students. Pick any day, and Baumann may be

  • giving one of Professor Carol Lasser's history classes an orientation of the archives,
  • meeting with a student about a Winter-Term or summer-research project,
  • talking with a recent graduate over the phone about masters programs in archival studies,
  • providing guidance on an honors project, or
  • consulting with one of the archives' student employees.

Becky Johnson, a junior from Cincinnati, might well be that student employee. As a McGregor-Oresman student scholar, Johnson is helping Baumann compile an anthology of documents recounting the history of African-American education at Oberlin since 1834.

"Working on the anthology has taught me more about Oberlin history, and how it relates to American history as a whole, than any class I can imagine taking," she says.

If Baumann could hear her talking, he would say of Johnson what he has said of students in the past--that she has "the archive bug."

Anne Clair Goodman, a senior from Silver Springs, Maryland, also has the bug. Goodman interned last summer at the Otis Historical Archive at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. She plans to study archival science after graduation, but for now she's volunteering at Oberlin's archives.

Archives Uncovers New Stories
Baumann and his staff don't just delve through Oberlin's past. They continue to uncover new stories and preserve them for future generations of researchers. Baumann has already devoted considerable effort to acquiring the papers of notable Oberlin alumni, among them columnist Carl T. Rowan '47 and the late Ambassador to the General Assembly of the United Nations Jewel Lafontant-Mankarious '43. He is also acquiring records of current student life.

"What I most hope will be remembered as something I cared about is documenting and preserving artifacts of student life while the students were still here," Baumann says.

He is particularly concerned about preserving the history of Oberlin's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, which he says has been underdocumented. He notes that such materials could ultimately support a curriculum in queer studies at Oberlin. "We're very much a part of the instructional front," he says.

Baumann has also acquired some early records of the Women's Resource Center, and is documenting student involvement in the annual School of the Americas protest in Georgia. After returning from the protest this November, Johnson gave Baumann her photos from the trip. And who knows: A few decades down the line, a student scholar compiling an anthology of past student activism might come across Johnson's own photos.

Editor's Note: The archives retains copies of Oberlin-student papers written from research in the archives.

     
Jonathan Thurn, a sophomore from Bismarck, North Dakota, is the webmaster for the Oberlin College Archives.

 

 

 

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