New Drexel Family Digital Archive Exhibit Celebrates the Legacy of the University’s Founder and his Family
February 2, 2021
In January, the Drexel University Archives announced the formal launch of the Drexel Family Digital Archive online exhibit, a new digital exhibit documenting the legacy of University founder Anthony J. Drexel and his family.
The online exhibit, made possible by generous donations from Drexel family members, brings together digitized materials from the University’s special collections units, including the University Archives, The Drexel Collection, and the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection, with items from the archives of the Academy of Natural Sciences to be added soon.
Currently, the online exhibit features a curated selection of more than 120 “digital surrogates” (digital reproductions of physical objects) of Drexel family-related material such as photo albums, costumes, paintings, furniture, diaries and other textual documents, with plans to add other material in the future. Interpretive content, such as an interactive map and descriptions that give context to images, plus links to each item in the University’s digital repository, help viewers follow the story of A. J. Drexel and his family.
“This exhibit has been in the works for over a year. We’re very excited to have it up and running,” said University Archivist Matthew Lyons. “The story of the Drexel extended family touches a lot of different topics, from the history of business to the history of international travel, and from military service to clothing and decorative arts. Putting the materials up on one digital platform is a great opportunity to highlight some of those interconnections, and it’s also helped to strengthen collaboration between Drexel’s special collections units.”
The University Archives offered a “sneak peek” of the digital exhibit during a recent gathering of Drexel extended family members, held virtually on January 21, 2021.
“As anyone would, members of the Drexel Family enjoyed seeing their family legacy come alive through this curated online exhibit. There was particular interest in one plan for the exhibit, where images of the Drexel mansion interiors (which are part of the University Archives’ collection) are annotated to include links to other items from the Drexel Collection that appear in the photos. That kind of exploration can really bridge the generations, as well as Drexel’s unique historical collections,” said Molly Reynolds, Project Archivist.
Reynolds was hired in March 2020 to help build the Drexel Family Digital Archive and accompanying online exhibit. The University Archives also appointed a Capstone student from Drexel’s College of Computing & Informatics (CCI) to help with the project.
“The exhibit is a fun, dynamic way to get the family members directly involved in their own history, while also raising awareness of the Drexel family to the public and encouraging them to engage with our digital resources,” Reynolds said.
Drexel University Archives staff selected the web publishing platform Omeka.net to support the Drexel Family Digital Archive, its first online exhibit. The University Archives will use the Omeka platform to create future online exhibits to expand discovery of the University’s archival collections, spark new insights, and provide innovative, digital narratives that inspire students, teachers and researchers around the world.
In fact, University Archives staff are already working to build the next online exhibit, which will feature oral histories from members of the Drexel community that detail the effects of COVID-19. Another Drexel CCI Capstone student is working with the University Archives to build this exhibit as well.
“Launching the online exhibit platform is part of a broader push to upgrade the Libraries’ digital infrastructure and make our archival collection materials easily accessible and discoverable online,” Lyons said. “Anthony Drexel wanted to put change and innovation at the heart of the institution that he founded, so all the more reason to make his family the first centerpiece of this new digital resource.”
The Drexel Family Digital Archive is now available online to the public. Watch this brief tutorial for more information on navigating the online exhibit.
To learn more about Drexel family-related collections in the University Archives, attend the Libraries’ upcoming Wednesdays@Noon webinar, Incorporating Archival Material in Your Curricula: Drexel Family Collections, scheduled for March 3, 2021.
The Drexel Family Digital Archive is generously funded by Drexel family members.