St. Olaf Archives attempt to tell a comprehensive story of life on the hill
Christel Benson, Principal Archivist and Marie Barbosa-Jerez, Head of Library Collections and Archives Strategy
Many people associate the archives with stale basements and old ghost stories. However, if you go to St. Olaf’s archives at the Shaw-Olson Center for College History, you won’t find a single mention of ghosts. While the College Archives are actually located on the lower level of the Rollwag Memorial Library, they serve a very different and broader purpose.
The documents that document the history of St. Olaf are in filing cabinets – and increasingly even in digital files. There are yearbooks and newspaper clippings, maps and minutes of meetings, photographs and records, all documenting some of the people, places and events that shaped the college.
“The contents of the college archives are our record of college history,” says Mary Barbosa-Jerez, director of library collections and archives strategy. “The documents and artifacts in our custody reflect the people and events that were important to the immigrants who formed this community. What they have stored helps us to understand how they saw themselves, how they expected to be remembered, and what they think we should know about them and their actions in the future. ,
As St. Olaf reaches an important historical milestone – its 150th anniversary in 2024 – the archive’s collection will continue to be in the spotlight. For Archives staff, it reflects the Archives’ new and ongoing efforts to share college history, dispel myths about what can (and cannot) be found in archives, and document more fully and comprehensively. Story of Life on the Hill.
The archive’s mission and vision has evolved since the 1960s, when the college began collecting material ahead of the centenary of St. ), history professor Gary de Cray ’71, and author and storyteller Jeff Sauve, it was time to share material from And The Focus Was On The Storytelling. Stories from the early years of college.
In 2018, Christel Benson, now the College’s Principal Archivist, was appointed as the College’s first full-time professional archivist. She brings a new approach to archival practice, including identifying gaps in the college’s historical records and developing policy changes to increase the diversity of approaches recorded in archives.
Benson and Barbosa-Jerez both acknowledge that the archives are incomplete, particularly when considering the stories of people from underrepresented groups on campus. Barbosa-Jerez articulates this shortcoming clearly: Sometimes she says “what do you expect to get”. [in the archives] must not exist.” Although the early history of St. Olaf included peoples who were neither Norwegian nor immigrant, the record of their time here is very limited, if saved at all.
Over the years, the college archives, along with Benson’s professional archival background, have made conscious policy changes to ensure that the remaining records from this era of St. Olaf’s history are more complete. Archives staff work with students, staff and faculty on projects such as oral history with the college’s first black faculty member, La Francis Rodgers-Rose, assistant professor of sociology. Barbosa-Jerez hopes more Oles will feel connected to the community through more diverse voices and want to add something to the archives.
Benson shares that hope.
“Each of us has an opportunity to do what our predecessors did: reflect on what is important to our community today and what our community is like, what we believe in, and add for archival records a record of what we do. I want everyone at St. Olaf to know that they make history every day and we want them to donate to the archives or submit a record of their lives. do it.”
She invites all members of the community to browse the archives and submit their work and experiences. Anyone can make an appointment to visit the archive for research purposes.
When it comes to the future, Barbosa-Jerez is bold. She envisions a community where each member views their work as an important part of the institutional history and contributes to the archive as often as each year. By connecting the culture of everyone in the community and learning from the archives, the archives will achieve its goal of compiling the history of all of St.