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Last evening Drexel faculty, students and staff gathered at Hagerty Library to mark the opening of the University Archives' newest exhibition, Access Everywhere: Computing at Drexel, 1984 – present. The exhibition, which runs until December 10, begins with Drexel's Microcomputing Project and the distribution of Macintosh computers to Drexel students and faculty in March 1984. Two professors at last night's conversation were there for the distribution: Tom Hewett and Ray Brebach shared their memories of that dramatic era in Drexel's history. Professor Jeremy Johnson added the perspective of a computer scientist as we discussed the impact of several key information technologies on Drexel over the last few decades. The speakers agreed that while the introduction of the Macintosh was the most dramatic change, the technology with most pervasive impact, that has changed education at Drexel the most, was wireless computing. Tom Hewett remembered the moment when a colleague first demonstrated how the Apple base station could connect everyone in a room to the internet, without cables. The conversation ranged from Drexel's role as an innovator in computing to the complex relationship between books and hypertext to and the future of input devices beyond the mouse and keyboard. Missed this discussion? You'll have another chance to discuss these and more topics with Drexel faculty, students and alumni at 6 p.m. on November 10 at the Library Learning Terrace, when we screen Going National, followed by another panel discussion. We hope to see you then.

Faculty and students examine the new exhibition, "Access Everywhere," before the conversation

Lovers of computers, lovers of history, please join us tonight from 5 – 7 PM on the first floor of W. W. Hagerty Library for a special event. Kicking off the opening of Access Everywhere: Computing at Drexel, 1984 – present, we'll have a conversation about the changing role of computers at Drexel. With faculty, students, staff and maybe even some alumns! Topics to be discussed will include email, internet, wireless access, and other computer advances that have brought Drexel to where it is today. This event is free and open to the public. Coffee and light refreshments will be provided.

The University Archives will be closed for Columbus Day on October 10.  Please come see us during our normal hours (weekdays 1-5 p.m.) the rest of the week!

Today Drexel's Business Librarian, Emily Missner, and I were present at the opening of the recently discovered Matheson Hall time capsule, making sure that the contents of the capsule were appropriately preserved.  Fortunately, contents were in excellent condition, preserved inside a sealed lead box.


In case you're wondering what was inside the time capsule, here's an inventory:

  • Brochure: Answers to your questions about Drexel and the Drexel Plan of Cooperative Education
  • Drexel Institute of Technology Bulletin: Undergraduate Curricula 1965-66
  • Drexel Institute of Technology Blue Book (blank examination book)
  • The Drexel Triangle, April 23, 1965
  • The Ledger: The Quarterly Journal of the Undergraduate College of Business Administration, 1963-54 (three issues)
  • Bus Ad Day card (Business Administration Day), circa 1965
  • Mitchell, Robert B. and Stanley B. Tunick. Prentice Hall 1964 Federal Tax Course, Students Edition
  • Two cigarette butts with the following names written in ink: W. Martin, E. Martin, Macauley, S. Smith, Carlo, Barry, Lucke, Halpin, McNamara, Mueller


1965 time capsule discovered during the demolition of Matheson Hall1965 time capsule discovered during the demolition of Matheson Hall

To lend some historical perspective to National Hazing Prevention Week, photographs and documents from the Drexel University Archives are on display at the Creese Student Center until Friday, September 30.  The items demonstrate changing socialization rituals at Drexel and are drawn from our fall 2010 exhibition, "Greetings on Thee Little Guys: A History of Freshman at Drexel."

Thanks for your patience over the past two weeks as we've been closed for post-flood repairs.  We still aren't back to normal, but we're close enough that we'll be open our regular hours this week and for the rest of the term.  Come visit us any weekday afternoon (that is, Monday-Friday between 1-5 p.m.)  The records of 120 years of Drexel history are waiting for you to discover them.

The University Archives will be closed for the start of the fall term as we clean up from last week's flood on the Lower Level of Hagerty Library.  Drexel Facilities is hard at work restoring the Lower Level, but it will be a few days before the Archives is back in business.  Until then, the best way to reach us is by email:

Faculty, students and staff, we hope you enjoy the start of a new academic year!

During Drexel's break between summer and fall terms, September 6-16, the University Archives will be open by appointment only.  If you want to do research on Drexel history, please contact us to schedule an appointment.  We are closed for Labor Day on Monday September 5.

On the first day of fall classes, September 19, we will return to our regular session schedule: weekday afternoons from 1-5 and mornings by appointment.

Enjoy the break, students and teachers!  We'll see you when you get back.

Our latest exhibition, "Researching Diversity at Drexel," opened August 10. This week we'll be hosting an opening reception with coffee and conversation about researching and documenting diversity. The reception will take place in the atrium of the W.W. Hagerty Library (33rd and Market Streets) on Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 5 p.m. We hope to see you there!

Drexel opened its doors in 1891 as a technical school dedicated to educating men and women students of all races, religions, and backgrounds. However, the history of diversity at Drexel, as at any institution, is complex. This exhibition contains documents from the University Archives and essays written by students in Dr. Sharon Brubaker’s English 103 classes that explore issues of race, gender and cultural diversity at Drexel.

A guide for international students, Drexel UniversityA guide for international students, Drexel University

1872 telegram to George A Custer1872 telegram to George A Custer

iSchool student and archives intern Phoebe Kowalewski writes about the joy of discovering something special in the archives.

A safe but sometimes chilly way of recalling
the past is to force open a crammed drawer.
If you are searching for anything in particular
you don't find it, but something falls out at the
back that is often more interesting.

-- J.M. Barrie, "Dedication," Peter Pan, 1904

I've always liked this quotation, and my appreciation of it has only grown since I began interning at Drexel's archives. I feel that the essence of archives can be found in Barrie's words. However, it would be unfair to say that one never finds what one is looking for when digging through the contents of acid free boxes. Frequently I am proud to relate to a researcher that her great aunt was a champion fudge maker in 1918, or that I have found proof that the Anthropologie store on Walnut St. was once a Drexel family home. However, it is often what I am not searching for that turns out to be what is most intriguing. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the 1872 telegram I uncovered the other day while scanning documents for a researcher. Appearing in a folder containing similar yellowed and fading documents, it almost evaded my notice. However, giving it a second glance I was able to discern the addressee's name. In baroque Victorian font it read "General G.A. Custar." Custar? They had to have meant General George Armstrong Custer, who four years after receiving the telegram would fall at the Battle of Little Bighorn. I never knew we had a document of Custer's here at Drexel. Neither did anyone else.

This may be surprising since the collection I discovered it in, the Frank Thomson papers, has been in Drexel's possession for at least a century. However, anyone familiar with archives can attest that it really isn't surprising at all. Unlike the library's books and journals, archival materials are not cataloged on an item level. In other words, each photograph or document held by the archives does not have its own record as a book would. Although there are exceptions, this is generally the rule. However, I do not mean to suggest that archivists are lazier than their librarian colleagues. For one thing, there are often millions of documents stored at an archives, and cataloging each one separately would take decades. Furthermore, archival materials are unique and don't come with a neat little title page to guide a cataloguer. This may make searching the archives a bit more difficult, but it is also half the fun.

The Frank Thomson papers is an interesting collection. Thomson (1841-1899) was a senior administrator of the Pennsylvania Railroad and served as its president from 1897-1899. A large portion of the papers documents Thomson's role as manager of transportation overseeing the Russian Grand Duke Alexis's official visit to America from 1871 to 1872. This visit was one of the biggest news stories of the day, as it heralded the first time a member of Russian royalty visited the United States. Included in Frank Thomson's papers are invitations to events held in the duke's honor and gilt-edged railroad timetables illustrating his journey across the country. There is also evidence of the great preparations involved in the visit, in particular the correspondence between Thomson and various railroad and hotel officials. It was among these letters and telegrams that I discovered the telegram addressed to General Custer. Its appearance among these documents is not entirely mysterious. After touring America's cities and dining with the American elite, the Grand Duke Alexis traveled to Nebraska in order to hunt buffalo with William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody and the ill-fated General George Armstrong Custer. The hunt was a success, and for each buffalo felled, another bottle of costly champagne was opened in celebration.  Furthermore, the bonds formed during this expedition would result in a friendship between the Grand Duke and Custer that would last until the latter's death in 1876.

The telegram only gives us the slightest glimpse of a moment of history, one that tantalizingly combines the rugged adventure of the Wild West with the wealth and splendor of 19th century Russian royalty. Nevertheless there is something exciting in this small and increasingly brittle slip of paper, perhaps more so than the impersonal black and white text of a history book. Quite simply it is the fact that a piece of past can be held in one's hand. For me this is what archives is all about. It contains a past that has fallen out from the back of a desk drawer, waiting to be discovered.


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