History Comes to Life

A diverse collection of artifacts bolsters the academic experience at F&M

It’s like a scene from “Antiques Roadshow” played out on the campus of Franklin & Marshall College. On the first floor of F&M’s Martin Library of the Sciences, rapt students gather to learn from experts about the provenance of an intriguing item—why it’s historic, rare and important. They ask insightful questions, and then the inevitable: “Do you know how much this is worth?”

But instead of beginning their answer with “at auction” or “for insurance purposes”—as appraisers would on the television show—professors and archivists most often say, “priceless.”

Michael Lear, F&M’s archives and special collections assistant, introduces history students Kristina Montville ’14 and Jacob Kelly ’13 to the College’s collection of World War I posters during a class visit to the archives. Photo by Melissa Hess.

This takes place each semester in the College’s Archives and Special Collections, which is home to a diverse collection of artifacts that has bolstered students’ academic experiences and contributed to the production of numerous published works. In addition to preserving the institutional record of the College, the holdings include more than 8,500 rare books, the oldest dating to 1481; papers of prominent Lancaster County families, organizations, and F&M alumni; and collections of maps, prints, posters, newspapers and photographs.

It also is home to numerous sub-collections, such as the German-American Imprint Collection, which contains German-language material published in southeastern Pennsylvania in the 19th century, and the Helen D. and William E. Krantz ’37 Miniature Book Collection, which includes titles such as “The Smallest Dictionary in the World” (measuring just a little over an inch by three-quarters).

Archives and Special Collections Librarian Christopher Raab and Archives and Special Collections Assistant Michael Lear oversee access to the vault containing more than 2,300 linear feet of material—longer than seven football fields—in the depths of the Martin Library. But the archives are much more than a safe, climate-controlled repository. On a regular basis, F&M professors, students, scholars and others with a sense of adventure visit the archives reading room near the library’s main entrance—where hidden gems come to life.

A Resource for Teaching, Learning

Students’ eyes often widen when they view the College’s Herbert H. Rawnsley ’40 Autograph Collection, which includes documents signed by historically prominent figures between the 13th and 20th centuries. The collection is particularly rich in signatures of the British royals, from Henry III (1250) to Elizabeth II (1960). F&M classes from a variety of disciplines visit the archives to view the collection, which Rawnsley donated to his alma mater in 2001.

“We asked students to examine the signatures and put them in order of reign by the kings and queens of England, beginning with the first Tudor, Henry VII, through Elizabeth II,” Lear says of a recent class visit to the archives to explore the Rawnsley Collection. “We thought it might be difficult for them, but they’re very sharp.”

The autographs are a perfect example of how the special collections make learning fun for students, says College Librarian Pamela Snelson.

“Seeing the signed documents in the Rawnsley collection immediately generates interest among students,” she says. “And then students begin to ask questions relating to the documents. Why were people executed during that time period? What was the law? So you start with a small autographed document, and research grows from there. Connections begin to happen.”

Some items find their way into the archives in an unusual way. At the end of World War II, Cecil Johns of the 3110th Signal Service Battalion entered the burned-out wreckage of what he thought to be the Reich Chancellery, or office of the German chancellor, in Berlin. In a 1975 letter to F&M librarian William Pease, Johns—who had a connection to F&M through a friend—wrote that he found a large copy of “Mein Kampf” on a lectern in a concrete bunker in Germany. He donated the book to F&M.

Today the copy of Hitler’s literary volume is part of numerous works F&M Professor of English Tamara Goeglein shows her students in her course, “To Read, Or Not to Read?” The students also explore a German edition of famed American anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a Dutch “Book of Hours” (a Medieval devotional book), and a facsimile of the iconic Johannes Gutenberg Bible, among many others. Goeglein asks students to observe “how the physical details of the books … reflect the cultural status of the text and how they might affect the reader's experience.”

Stacey Roth ’15, a student in Goeglein’s class in the fall of 2012, was interested in the size and condition of some of the works.

“The most fascinating book was definitely ‘Mein Kampf,’” says Roth, a psychology major. “The book is huge. We learned that it was found in a Nazi government office in Berlin. One of the pages was burned, and it was like a picture in time of the bombing of Germany by the Allied forces. The most important thing I learned from the workshop was that books express a story using much more than just words. The size of the books told us a lot about the reader—whether the narrative was meant to be read to an audience, as was this edition, or to be read in private.”

Students also have pored over the College’s collection of 130 World War I posters in the archives. The collection conveys a wide range of messages and images, from beating back “The Hun,” to conserving food resources, and encouraging patriotism. One poster reads: “Little American/Do Your Bit/Eat Oatmeal/Leave Nothing on Your Plate.”

The posters came to life a decade ago when Professor of History and American Studies Louise Stevenson worked with then-student Raj Dasgupta ’05 (now Raj Dutt, Ph.D., and an assistant professor at ITT Mandi in India) to organize an exhibition around the collection. “Until that time, the College had not fully realized their historical significance and monetary value,” Stevenson says.

Stevenson is one of several professors in F&M’s departments of history and American studies who take students to analyze the posters—and other historic memorabilia—on a regular basis.

“Visiting the archives is like the difference between seeing an animal on an electronic screen and being in the wild with it. Archives plays to all your senses, including touch, smell, vision,” Stevenson says. “When students see the World War I posters, they say, ‘It’s so cool the College has these things.”

From Collection to Publication

Every five years, Raab and Lear mount their favorite exhibition relating to materials in the archives: “From Collection to Publication.” The display showcases published works that resulted from research in the archives, including research by professors, students, alumni and scholars around the world. The last exhibition took place in 2010, with the next one planned for 2015.

“The exhibition gives us concrete evidence of the breadth and usefulness of our holdings,” Raab says.

Two items in the exhibition resulted from collaborations between F&M students and professors who made extensive use of the archives. In 2004, Arcadia Publishing released a photographic history of the College produced by David Schuyler, F&M’s Arthur and Katherine Shadek Professor of Humanities and American Studies, and Jane Bee ’06. The professor and student uncovered evidence of the College’s colorful past, including a photo of Franklin College’s modest first building in 1787, the Brew House on Lancaster’s Mifflin Street. They also discovered a College roster from 1788 listing several female students, including Richea Gratz, who may have been the first female Jewish college student in the U.S.

Five years later, Johanna Schein ’11 and Alysse Vaccaro ’11 worked with Dennis Deslippe, associate professor of American studies and women’s and gender studies, to produce an oral history that coincided with the 40th anniversary of coeducation at F&M.

“The archives and special collections give students experience with primary materials, making research like this possible,” Snelson says. “It’s much different from reading about something in a book. Our archives and special collections make our library and other academic libraries unique. Students get a hands-on taste of what it is to do true historical research.”

And as Raab points out, scholars don’t have to be in Lancaster to take advantage of the F&M archives. “We receive inquiries from every continent. For some reason there are lots of ‘Planet of the Apes’ fans in New Zealand.”

The movie’s prolific director, Franklin J. Schaffner ’42, donated 117 boxes and 11 drawers of materials to F&M that serve as a treasure trove for researchers. Screenplays, publicity materials, “notes to self,” photographs and memorabilia from films such as “Patton,” “Papillon,” “The Boys From Brazil” and his many television productions are featured in the collection.

In Germany, scholars contact Raab and Lear to request copies of pertinent documents from the voluminous German American Imprint Collection. Inquiries from Sydney, Australia, and Brazil send Raab and Lear to the Reynolds Family Papers—the correspondence of brothers William and John Fulton Reynolds of Lancaster. William Reynolds served as a naval officer on the U.S. Exploring Expedition from 1838 to 1842, and was one of the first North Americans to view Antarctica. John Fulton Reynolds had a distinguished military career, serving in both the Mexican War and the American Civil War.

The Reynolds Papers helped Pulitzer Prize-winner Nathaniel Philbrick complete “Sea of Glory,” an account of an epic expedition in the Pacific that won the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize and the Albion-Monroe Award from the National Maritime Historical Society.

Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Archives

Occasionally joining F&M students in the archives are graduate students—distance learners—earning master’s degrees in library science from institutions such as the University of Wisconsin and University of Pittsburgh. Anastasia Karel ’00, who graduated from F&M with a major in American studies, returned to her alma mater to gain experience through an internship in the archives during the summer of 2001 while completing her master in library science degree at Drexel University.

“I hadn’t realized I wanted to be an archivist until then, but that was certainly the first step,” Karel says. She worked on the Rawnsley Autograph Collection, cataloging the signatures of luminaries such as Abraham Lincoln, humanitarian Clara Barton, agricultural pioneer Luther Burbank, and philosopher and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Albert Schweitzer. Taking a leap through time in terms of subject matter, Karel now works as an archivist at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

But current students and faculty members remain the core users of F&M’s archives and special collections. The College’s growing collection of “artists’ books,” such as pop-up books and zines—handmade magazines with limited distribution—is increasingly enhancing the academic experiences of students in a variety of classes.

“The College began to deliberately collect artists’ books in 2006,” says Visual Resources Librarian Louise Kulp, who curates the library’s collection of such books. “In nearly every sense the collection is a teaching one.”

Stephanie Lifshutz ’13 says she appreciates “the sculptural aspect, narratives and choice of visual representation” of the artists’ books.

“The book could be made entirely of photographs, or a collection of prints with no text at all. All of these aesthetic choices challenged my idea of a book and opened up so many possibilities to me as a young art student, especially all the zines,” Lifshutz says. “Ms. Kulp made us feel comfortable with the books, no matter how expensive or rare they were. She encouraged us to have the full experience on our own. I’m currently working on my first book, a collection of portraits of the art department faculty and staff using various printing processes.”

What would Lifshutz tell her fellow students about the Archives and Special Collections?

“Use them! I didn’t know how great F&M’s collection was, or that it’s so accessible to students. Take advantage of it while you can.”

Editor’s note: The author’s father, Richard D. Altick ’36, was a prominent scholar in 19th-century English literature who donated his collection of manuscripts, research materials, notes and essays to F&M. The Richard D. Altick Papers include material from Altick’s time as a professor at F&M and Ohio State University that supported several of his books.

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