Gone into history: 90 years of the University Archives

From the Archivist: Occasional posts related to University history

On New Year’s Eve 1927, former University President William Watts Folwell wrote to then President Lotus Coffman with a request.

I beg leave to suggest for your consideration the establishment of University archives.

I have lately had occasion to turn over early minutes of the Board of Regents, and have noted mention of reports and other documents “placed on file” but have not discovered any office or place of filing. Some of them may have been utterly lost.

I do not need to impress on you the importance of collecting documents which have gone into history and all publications in all branches of the University… and of cataloguing and arranging them so that they may be found.  

The following week, the Board of Regents considered his request and authorized the “establishment of the archives of the University in the General Library” at their January 6, 1928 meeting.

But, what is a university archives?

The University of Minnesota Archives is not only an institutional repository for the minutes, reports, and other records of enduring value that President Folwell longed to secure. University Archives collects and provides documentary evidence from a variety of sources of the functions of the University.

These functions include delivering instruction, granting degrees, providing facilities for scholarship and for residence, fostering student support services and activities, conducting research, disseminating new knowledge and information, implementing university governance, negotiating labor relations, budgeting finances, and supporting communities beyond its institutional boundaries. The information informs others regarding their own work, be they an undergraduate or graduate student, genealogist, public researcher, University administrator, or international scholar.

Our current exhibit in Elmer L. Andersen Library provides a look back at the past 90 years of the University of Minnesota Archives through its Regent’s mandate to collect, preserve, and provide broad access to the “historically valuable documentation of University units and individuals, including faculty, staff, and administrators.” It does this in two ways. First, the exhibit traces the origins of the University Archives collections and underscores the challenges faced and successes celebrated over the past nine decades.

The exhibit then turns its focus toward the archival materials that detail the functions of the University. In these panels, administrative records, student reporting, University publications, personal correspondence, maps, and photographs document the articulation of academic freedom and the codification of faculty tenure, the University response to a nearly insurmountable influx of students after World War II, and the growing pains of extending academic programs and facilities to a West Bank campus.

The exhibit illustrates that the people and events that are a part of the University of Minnesota may have gone into history, but they are not lost.

President Folwell's letter to current President Coffman requesting the establishment of a university archives, December 31, 1927.
President Folwell’s letter to then President Coffman requesting the establishment of a university archives, December 31, 1927.

 

Letter from Chemistry faculty Lillian Cohen as to why she does not have anything to send to the University Archives upon her retirement in 1946. Cohen notes her papers were recycled as part of the war effort and her collection of photographs lent out and never returned.
Letter from Chemistry faculty Lillian Cohen as to why she does not have anything to send to the University Archives upon her retirement in 1946. Cohen notes her papers were recycled as part of the war effort and her collection of photographs lent out and never returned.

 

James Gray, History department faculty member and author of the 1951 centennial history of the University of Minnesota outside the archives room in Walter Library, 1949.
James Gray, History department faculty member and author of the 1951 centennial history of the University of Minnesota outside the archives room in Walter Library, 1949.

 

Maxine Clapp, university archivist, undated.
Maxine Clapp, university archivist, undated.

 

University archivist Maxine Clapp describing the problem of competitive collecting with other institutions in 1975. Regents Professor Walter Heller served Presidents Kennedy and Johnson as Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. In 1986, he did donate to University Archives a sizable collection of his University teaching, research, and administration materials.
University archivist Maxine Clapp describing the problem of competitive collecting with other institutions in 1975. Regents Professor Walter Heller served Presidents Kennedy and Johnson as Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. In 1986, he did donate to University Archives a sizable collection of his University teaching, research, and administration materials.

 

University Archives, Walter Library, 1968.
University Archives, Walter Library, 1968.

 

University Archives, Walter Library, 1968.
University Archives, Walter Library, 1968.

 

University of Minnesota Archives in the Elmer L. Andersen Library. Photograph courtesy of Andria Waclawski.
University of Minnesota Archives in the Elmer L. Andersen Library. Photograph courtesy of Andria Waclawski.

 

The exhibit is in the Elmer L. Andersen Library Atrium Gallery and runs through April 27, 2018. 

To learn more about the University Archives, please visit lib.umn.edu/uarchives and follow us on Twitter @umnarchives.

 

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