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Drexel Libraries Demonstrates the Impact of Giving During the 24 Hours of Impact 

May 7, 2021

On May 5, the Drexel Libraries joined colleges and academic units across the University for the annual 24 Hours of Impact, a day-long event that brings together alumni, faculty, staff, students, friends and other supporters to raise awareness and donations for the University.

The theme of the 2021 giving eventThe Rise of Dragons—was about elevating student success, rising above obstacles, coming together to support students, and the impact the Drexel community makes when it comes together.  

This year, the Drexel Libraries demonstrated the impact donations made with a virtual tour of the Drexel Family Digital Archive, a new online exhibit documenting the legacy of University founder Anthony J. Drexel and his family.

“Donations from Drexel Family Members made it possible to launch the Drexel Family Digital Archive,” Danuta A. Nitecki, Dean of Libraries, said during her opening remarks. “We welcome today’s opportunity to illustrate the benefits such support provides the Libraries to continue to improve your access from wherever you connect to the Internet, to not just reading materials, but to all sorts of artifacts, in a variety of formats.”

University Archivist Matthew Lyons explained that the project, launched in 2019, created an online archive celebrating the legacy of Drexel University’s founder and his family. The Archive enables sharing historical materials online and brings together different kinds of historical materials from different physical locations, Lyons added. 

As part of the Libraries’ evolving integrated information management infrastructure, the Drexel Family Digital Archive is an initial prototype for integrating dispersed archival collections through digital images, and facilitating their discovery and access for students, faculty, staff and researchers. 

Following introductions to the exhibit from Dean Nitecki and Matthew Lyons, Molly Reynolds, Project Archivist, took over the Zoom controls and gave a brief history of the Drexel Family followed by a virtual guided tour of the online exhibit, highlighting examples of how to explore the exhibit for self-directed learning.

While the website is now public, it’s by no means static,” Reynolds noted as she began the tour. “New material and written content is added periodically, as we continue the work of digitizing and researching the records that we have and keep exploring the history and legacy of this family.”

Reynolds illustrated how the exhibit is set up, noting that you can “walk” through the exhibit by following directional arrows located at the bottom of each webpage. She explained that the exhibit site’s thematic arrangement supports visitors who are browsing. The interconnected webpages and items on the site allow visitors to jump between sections and choose their own path based on their individual interests.

Reynolds then took attendees through a few sections of the exhibit, highlighting photos of Drexel homes, furniture, and even letters written by A. J. Drexel himself, which are all part of the exhibit.

“One aspect of this project that we’ve undertaken more recently is discovering and describing some of the relatively unknown individuals who were employed by the Drexels,” Reynolds said. “Especially when discussing the homes that the Drexels occupied, it is easy to imagine that only Drexels living there, when in actuality, a whole team of people lived in these homes in order to serve the family. Although we have no record of any Drexel family members owning enslaved people during the 19th century, obviously their business ventures and the economy they worked within to grow their wealth was largely built on the labor of enslaved and indentured people. In documenting the family’s philanthropy and Drexel & Co. business practices, it is clear that this was a relatively progressive family, but it’s always important to recognize—and this project really lets us explore—the social and historical context of this family, rather than only highlighting the more extraordinary aspects of their history.”

The Drexel Family Digital Archive is now available online to the public. Watch a recording of the virtual guided tour, or view this brief tutorial for more information on navigating the online exhibit.

The Drexel Family Digital Archive is generously funded donations from Drexel Family Members.