There’s something particularly special about holding an artifact that shaped you into the person you are today. From your favorite toy as a kid, to your favorite t-shirt now, items (or lack of), play a role in your identity and your story. As I have said in past articles, I have always had a need to record things. It brings me joy to know that the actions I take and the products of my work can live on long after me and help someone understand what I and others experienced in our lifetimes. Working in my college archives has been an amazing experience not just for the opportunity itself, but because without the materials I work with every day, I would not be attending my college as I know it.
West Virginia Wesleyan College, a small institution founded in 1890 in Buckhannon, WV has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church for over 125 years. I work with Chapel Office archives and research ministry efforts and religious organizations on campus. Following the college through yearbooks, newspapers, photos, and other physical (and often digital) items has brought me a better understanding of my campus’ culture. It’s been amazing seeing the transformation of the look of my college and the mindsets of students before and after major historical events like the Prohibition and even WWI.
I have more pride in my college knowing that WV Wesleyan has always allowed women to teach and be taught, promoted religious freedom, and has been resilient in the face of great trials (like when the entire college burned down on a Saturday and they still had classes three days later -typical Wesleyan).
Pictures like these mean a great deal to me because without the influence of my campus chaplain I wouldn’t have been interested in campus religious life, let alone religion. And the people in these pictures did the same for others in the past. These pictures depict worship services in our old and new chapels and I can’t help but appreciate the powerful spiritual history they portray on Wesleyan’s campus. Holding these original photos means to me that people have prayed for decades that the college would continue to educate and inspire young people and they laid the foundation for my arrival. I must do the same for others.
Another cool thing that has come of my project is a reunion inspired by an article on a religious group I wrote. One of the former members contacted others and a reunion was held at the college with some people having not been back at the college for 40 years.
Working in your college archives can not only serve as a way to make money/ earn credit, but a way to explore your college history and discover exciting stories no one remembered. Try stopping by your library and ask to see some of their collections. You may be surprised just how much you learn about yourself in the process.