Monthly Archives: August 2015

Reflections on Boiler Pride…

Editor’s Note: Writer Mary Sego is an archival assistant and processing specialist within Archives and Special Collections.

As a Purdue alum and thirty-one year Purdue employee, I always reflect upon Purdue as a new semester begins. I remember back as this Hoosier farm girl took her first steps onto a large campus with hopes and dreams waiting to be fulfilled. I followed in the footsteps of 4 older siblings, and 1 younger followed me. This meant 48 move-in trips for my parents and 16 continuous years of having at least one student on campus, sometimes two or three. I am now seeing the hopes and dreams being realized for the next generation, as now two younger relatives have chosen Purdue for their college educations.

Working in the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center has been an incredible opportunity. I have had the honor and pleasure to have processed 123 collections, including the Neil A. Armstrong papers, along with nearly 700 faculty and alumni folders. I have seen alumni, researchers, faculty and staff, along with the general public come into the Archives, and beam with pride and fascination. I have gone through boxes of unprocessed collections packed by donors that love their alma mater, and only want the best for the generations of Boilermakers that follow in their footsteps. Many feel it is their obligation to give back to the University and their fellow Boilermakers, because they feel Purdue gave so much to them.

Mark Brown on STS-28, August 1989

Mark Brown on STS-28, August 1989



Many of the alumni astronauts have given their collections to Purdue, in hopes that those that follow can learn from the many, many treasures found in their collections.  Indeed, several have taken Purdue memorabilia into space with them, and shared their Purdue pride among the stars. They are truly loyal and dedicated alumni!


Orville Redenbacher, 1928 grad in his Purdue Band uniform

Orville Redenbacher, 1928 grad in his Purdue Band uniform


Other faculty, staff and alumni have also given their papers and collections to Purdue. The names Amelia Earhart, George Ade, John T. McCutcheon, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, and Orville Redenbacher are known to the world. Former Purdue presidents, and many other faculty, staff and alums also have their papers in Archives and Special Collections. Their contributions, and therefore their collections, are treated with equal care and respect as any other.



Ralph S. Johnson, circa 1935

Ralph S. Johnson, circa 1935


Some of the alumni and faculty may not be as well known, but are important none the less.  One such person is Ralph S. Johnson who worked his way through Purdue as a Memorial Union food service worker.  He graduated from Purdue in 1930 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering and went on to become the chief pilot for United Airlines in 1935. During the early years of WWII, he was responsible for developing and testing a myriad of programs aimed toward air safety. He was awarded a Purdue honorary Doctorate of Engineering in 2008.

Also found in the Purdue Archives are the papers of Charles A. Ellis, educator, structural engineer, and mathematician who joined the Purdue faculty in 1934. Ellis was an expert in bridge design, co-designing the Montreal Harbor Bridge and almost single-handedly designing the structure of the famed Golden Gate Bridge.

Pamphlet from the Purdue University School of Medicine collection

Pamphlet from the Purdue University School of Medicine collection

Few realize that the founder of Arnett Clinic in Lafayette, Dr. Arett C. Arnett, graduated from the Purdue University Medical School. In May, 1906, one hundred and twenty-two students received their diplomas from Purdue University and successfully passed the examination of the State Board of Medical Registration.

In the spring of 1907, Purdue graduated sixty-eight men and four women. In that class was Arett C. Arnett who helped establish a Lafayette clinic in 1922, later known as Arnett Clinic. One can find memorabilia from this class in the Purdue University School of Medicine collection.

Another collection, the John Y. D. Tse papers, comprise a compilation of ten poems and memoirs written by Tse as reflections upon forty years as a management professor, founder of the Krannert Graduate School of Business, entrepreneur, and benefactor to Purdue University. Within the volume are also photographs, reprints of letters written to Dr. Tse by colleagues, an address written by Tse for the 25th anniversary of the Krannert School of Management, and reprints of newspaper clippings and articles about and by Dr. Tse

Many wonderful scrapbooks have been donated to the Purdue Archives, all containing numerous personal items and anecdotes.  One example is the Simeon V. B. Miller scrapbook (1900-1906), which contains memorabilia from Simeon Van Buren Miller’s college career at Purdue University. Involved in the train wreck of 1903, Miller compiled numerous newspaper clippings from the wreck. Simeon Miller followed in the footsteps of his father and two brothers as a member of Phi Delta Theta, and therefore his scrapbook contains a concentration of ephemera from the fraternity.  He was president of the Class of 1905 during his sophomore year, and so the scrapbook also contains items from his tenure as class president. Other miscellaneous items, such as fee statements, dance cards, items from the athletic association and athletic events, score cards and fee statements, newspaper clippings on the tank scrap, and numerous other programs are also included. One can certainly learn a great deal about a person and Purdue from a single scrapbook!

This is just a small sampling of the items that can be found in the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archive and Special Collections. We are here to help you and welcome a visit! You can learn more about Purdue and those that have walked the campus. Feel free to just stop by and say hello!

Our wish for you this semester is to reach for the stars, explore and enjoy your time at Purdue! We hope one day you will consider donating your papers to the Purdue Archives, and helping your fellow Boilermakers for generations to come!

Clipping from the Jerry L. Ross papers

Clipping from the Jerry L. Ross papers







Space Age Philosophy: Wonder in the Archives

When we think of philosophy, if we think about it at all, it is very unlikely that we associate philosophy with archival research. Maybe we think of the problems of freedom, or personal identity, abstract metaphysical issues, or ethics. But philosophy and the archives seem an odd couple.

As a graduate student in philosophy and literature, I suffered from the same prejudice when I arrived in the Barron Hilton Archives for Flight and Space Exploration. Although the Flight Archives are unique for their emphasis on science and engineering, and of course for the incredible historical significance of items housed in collections such as the Neil A. Armstrong Papers and the Eugene A. Cernan Papers, I didn’t see the philosophic potential of the archives at first.

Michel Foucault, photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Michel Foucault, photo courtesy of Wikipedia

For much of Anglo-American philosophy, the archives are a foreign place. The most well-known use of the archives in philosophy is probably by Michel Foucault (1926-1984), a French thinker famous for his genealogical arguments based on extensive archival research. His writings on madness and the modern prison system are hallmarks of structuralist and postmodern philosophy.

Foucault himself is often studied as a “Continental” philosopher, a representative of postmodernism in the 20th century, but his particular method of archival research is rarely discussed, and never taught as a methodology available to students of philosophy. Given philosophy’s centuries old love-affair with science, we should all be pleased to learn that the archives are a place rich with materials teeming with philosophic potential.

In this post, I want to focus on one collection in particular that displays the potential for philosophical investigation. The Archives for Flight and Space Exploration houses tremendous philosophical resources when we begin to appreciate archival spaces as a place where philosophy can thrive.


Dramatic photo of Bruce McCandless’ untethered spacewalk courtesy of NASA

Philosopher Shaun Gallagher has recently accomplished a remarkable research program looking at the relationship of astronaut experiences of awe during spaceflight to similar accounts of spiritual or religious experiences. Collections like the Neil A. Armstrong Papers, the Eugene A. Cernan Papers, and the Jerry L. Ross Papers – all house in the Flight Archives – could be used to further research in the direction first indicated by Gallagher and his team. Early accounts and rare personal reports of historic events in the history of space flight open new interpretative doors to philosophers wishing to understand human cognition when it is pushed to its limits – both in the sense of the need to perform demanding technical labors, and in the struggle to makes sense of radically new and unprecedented experiences of space.

armstrong x15 cockpit_0001

Armstrong in the X-15, circa 1960. NASA photo. Part of the Neil A. Armstrong Papers at Purdue Archives and Special Collections

Philosophers of mind and science will find much of value. In one of over 450 individual speeches contained in the Neil A. Armstrong Papers, Armstrong elaborates on the role of the X-15 as a “theoretical aircraft.” That is, the X-15 had, from Armstrong’s perspective, no practical purpose. It was designed and flown with only the idea that it could and would push the boundaries of what was humanly and technologically possible in the realm of high-speed, high-altitude flight. It was a plane built for theory, not practice. Of course, many groundbreaking advances in flight science and technology resulted from the X-15 project, though when the aircraft was conceived these advances were in no way predicted or even predicable! They were the result of chances and great risks taken by the men and women of NASA and the experimental test pilots who flew these challenging new jets.

Every stage of the X-15’s development is covered in the archives. From early documentation of its design, to the simulator training that prepared pilots for the X-15’s demanding environment at extreme altitudes, to the reports that document the pilot’s experience of sub-orbital flight in a flying machine that had no precedent in human history.

Armstrong strapped into a flight simulator during the X-15 program, circa 1960

Armstrong strapped into a flight simulator during the X-15 program, circa 1960

The photo to the left, part of the Neil A. Armstrong Papers at Purdue’s Archives and Special Collections, gives a sense of the experimental nature of the X-15 flights. Here we see Armstrong in a simulator, hoping to be as prepared as possible to face relatively unknown flight conditions, and to test the predictive capabilities of science and engineering. Philosophers have pondered over the predictive powers of science since at least the 1600s, and here in the Flight Archives, we see how strong those powers are. Using available mathematical models, together with mountains of data gathered via weather balloons and other high-altitude aircraft, experimental pilots like Armstrong dared to fly under dangerous conditions with only the confidence that the numbers were correct – to a point – and that these pre-flight results were sound enough to risk life and limb to confirm in experience. Subsequent first hand analysis of in-flight experiences reveal the intricate feed-back loops of hypothesis formation, experimental confirmation or refutation, and hypothetical conjecture that lead to ground-breaking advancements in space age technologies that we now take for granted as commonplace.

Thus, not only are philosophers offered a previously unknown level of behind-the-scenes access to the historic US space program, they are also now able to observe the process by which scientists and engineers worked together across many disciplines in order to accomplish some of humanity’s greatest feats of technical know-how: like landing the first people on the moon and returning them safely to Earth.

Armstrong prepares experimental equipment on the lunar surface during his historic moonwalk in 1969, photo courtesy of the Flight Archives

Armstrong prepares experimental equipment on the lunar surface during his historic moonwalk in 1969. NASA photo. Neil A. Armstrong Papers at Purdue Archives and Special Collections


The confrontation between human beings, their environment, and the technologies that enable us to explore this environment and adapt to its most extreme conditions raise deep philosophical questions about the exploratory nature of humanity and our quest for knowledge. This quest has led us far from home, and continues to prod us toward unknown worlds.

These invaluable resources provide a glimpse at science in action at a time when new discoveries in physics and engineering were routinely put to the test in do-or-die circumstances. The huge volume of professional communications and scientific reports contained in the Neil A. Armstrong Papers would themselves keep philosophers occupied for years to come.

Since my time in the archives, and particularly my work processing the Neil A. Armstrong Papers, I have grown accustomed to the idea of the archives as a place for philosophy. Only a brief review of some of the collections housed at Purdue’s Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections would be enough to convince many skeptics that, indeed, philosophers could benefit from exposure to just a fraction of these materials.

I know I will be incorporating archival resources into my own philosophical projects in the future – hopefully expanding work I’ve already conducted on the philosophy of mind. I invite my fellow philosophers to join me as we all search out new and exciting opportunities for the simple awe and wonder with which all true philosophy begins.

More information on the work of Shaun Gallagher can be found here:

More information on the Neil A. Armstrong papers can be found here:

Editor’s note: Essayist Donovan Irven is a doctoral candidate in the interdisciplinary program for Philosophy and Literature at Purdue University.  He is also the graduate assistant for the Barron Hilton Flight And Space Exploration Archives within Purdue University Archives and Special Collections.