May 17th, 2019
Every story has untold pieces. Purdue University Archives and Special Collections contains millions of stories in the many papers, books, objects, items, and other memorabilia carefully preserved and stored there. Yet, it does not hold them all—particularly those that may have not been “judged to be…important,” as noted in the introduction of the new online exhibit, “Voices, Identities & Silences: Investigating 150 Years of Diversity in Purdue Archives.”
The exhibit is the result of a graduate course led by Purdue University Archivist and Professor Sammie Morris this past spring semester.
The exhibit’s introduction notes that Purdue’s past, present, and future are comprised of much more than stories about feats associated with its engineering programs, its tales about athletic teams, or its strides in agricultural research and practice. It also explains why the student curators took on this effort:
[N]ot all of this history is (or will be) preserved in the University’s archive. Inevitably, some people and events are judged to be more important and thus more worthy of preservation. Our exhibit, then, aims to focus attention on elements of Purdue’s history that have been otherwise overlooked, not in order to ‘correct’ that history but rather to expand it and (if our aim is true) change our understanding of what ‘counts’ as that history in the first place. — Voices, Identities & Silences: Investigating 150 Years of Diversity in Purdue Archives
According to Morris, the idea for the course coincided with Purdue University’s faculty and staff members’ preparation for Purdue’s Sesquicentennial.
“As Purdue’s 150th anniversary approached, I often found myself reflecting on how the history of Purdue is preserved in the Archives, but not completely. There are many hidden gaps or silences representing people in Purdue history whose stories have not been widely known,” Morris said. “I began thinking about ways to fill in gaps in Purdue history, while engaging students in learning archival research skills.”
The course, too, coincided with Purdue Libraries’ expansion of its teaching mission through the creation of the new “Purdue University Libraries and School of Information Studies.”
“With digital humanities being one area the new school focuses on, the course offered the right opportunity to teach digital scholarship methods while providing students the opportunity to delve into Purdue’s lesser-known history,” Morris explained. “The overarching goal for students was to learn how to conduct archival research, but the broader goal was to benefit from the results of their research projects by highlighting diversity in Purdue’s past. Students in the course were encouraged to consider the identity of Purdue and how their experiences as students today are preserved. Students learned how the records of their experiences (that are preserved in the Archives) become sources of study for scholars in the future.”
Students in Morris’ class each focused on an individual era and/or topic in Purdue’s history, and the contents covered in the online exhibit are the result of each student’s work. For instance, Lee Hibbard, a third-year Ph.D. student in the Purdue Department of English studying rhetoric and composition, focused on queer life in the 2000s at Purdue.
“The work on the exhibit was entirely collaborative, with every person taking on distinct roles both on the front and back end of the exhibit’s appearance and contents,” Hibbard explained. “To come up with the title, we took a portion of class time and brainstormed some ideas together. The title came about as we played with the theme of the course and our process of research, as well as what we wanted viewers to take away from the exhibit. The wording was especially important to us as Purdue students wanting to tell a coherent narrative that depicted our goals for the exhibit, as well as the things we took away from the course as a whole,” he added.
“The three core pieces of archival work we focused on—voices, identities, and silences—became the first part of the title. The second half emphasized our process, which was very much a journey of going through the archives with an eye towards investigating diversity, rather than discovering,” Hibbard continued. “Discovery has an end point while Investigation is a process, and even though we all uncovered many interesting and fascinating examples of diversity, all of us felt by the end of the course that we had just scratched the surface of our areas, and could easily return to them to try and learn more.”
Hibbard, who is also interested in archival practices, noted that he found this course essential to unpacking the complex ideas he had for his dissertation.
“At the beginning of the semester, I knew I wanted to look at some archival things, but didn’t have the tools to do so. After a spring of reading complex theory, getting hands-on archival experience, and learning the importance of selection and curation in an exhibit setting, I feel more comfortable with the prospect of working with archives for my dissertation and my future scholarship as a whole,” he said.
Like his fellow students in the course, Hibbard chose to home in on a specific area of Purdue’s history because of his personal stake and interest in the selected topic and era.
“As a queer person, specifically a transgender man, I am very interested in the way support and networks for queer students developed at Purdue during the time that I was an undergraduate (2006-2010) at a similar large Midwestern university (University of Nebraska in Lincoln),” he explained.
Shortly before the end of the Spring 2019 semester, students in Morris’ course shared their personal stories about their work on the exhibit at a small, private reception held in the Archives and Special Collections. Below are more photos from that reception.
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