Did You Know?: Archival Theory and Practice seminar
Beverly Shaw (left), West Lafayette marketing and grants administrator, helps Purdue students Fernando Sanchez (center) and Nick Krebs examine old city records. The students are helping archive city historical documents as part of an American studies seminar called Archival Theory and Practice. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
Purdue graduate students are helping preserve Greater Lafayette history as part of an American studies seminar called Archival Theory and Practice.
Cross-listed in several departments within the College of Liberal Arts, the seminar involves taking on projects to preserve and catalog historical documents housed throughout the community. It is co-taught by Susan Curtis, professor of history and director of American studies, and Kristina Bross, associate professor of English and American studies.
This semester, students are taking on projects in West Lafayette City Hall, where they're cataloguing photographs taken 20 years ago as part of a citywide study on homelessness. They're also digitizing decades-old plat books, which still are in use but are falling apart, and they are archiving the papers of Sonya Margerum, who was the city's mayor from 1980 to 2004.
At the end of the semester, the results of the students' work will be available on the West Lafayette Public Library's website at www.wlaf.lib.in.us.
Open to graduate students from all departments across campus, the course aims to help students understand the importance of archiving to scholarly research.
"Sooner or later, every researcher will make use of archives to one degree or another," Bross says. "We think researchers become better at their jobs if they have a more informed understanding of how archives are created and how various constituents use them."
The course has been in existence since 2003, when Curtis and Bross received a $25,000 startup grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Since then, seminar students have conducted projects in conjunction with the Tippecanoe County Historical Association and the West Lafayette Public Library.
The seminar has served as a springboard for several larger archival projects, the professors say. Among them is the West Lafayette Memories Project Blog, which offers historical information about the city. The project was created by West Lafayette Public Library staff members and Abby Stephens, a doctoral student in American studies who developed the idea after taking part in the seminar. The project can be found at www.westlafayettememories.blogspot.com.
Also available at the website is a link to an online archive of the history of the West Lafayette Fire Department. Former seminar student Jessica Jacobs created that project, available at www.wlfdarchive.wordpress.com.
Curtis, Bross and their students will detail current project information this month during the West Lafayette History Block Party. Open to the community, the event is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 28 at the Morton Community Center, 222 North Chauncey Ave.