Working with History in the College Archives

It feels like this semester just began, but we’re already at the last week of classes. I cannot believe that the first semester of my final year at Holy Cross is near its end, especially because it’s been the absolute busiest I’ve been during my entire time on the Hill. While I deliberately chose to make myself extremely busy, taking on new leadership roles and signing up for new opportunities, I did so for a multitude of reasons. There’s the fact that this is my senior year, and I want to use the time I have left as a Crusader to the fullest. I also have a sense of “catching-up” because my first two years at Holy Cross were so heavily defined and dictated by the pandemic. Additionally, coming off of spending the spring semester abroad, I knew I could either wallow in nostalgia or throw myself into my current environment. I chose to do the latter.

One of the ways I chose to become more involved this semester was signing up to be a student worker at the College Archives, located at the top floor of the Dinand Library. I explored the Archives a bit during sophomore year, when I worked with the archivists on a project for my American Architecture course (specifically researching the fire which burnt down Fenwick in 1852). I enjoyed my time in there, and it inspired me to read a few books available in the library, but that had been the extent of my engagement with the archives. As someone who’s interested in history, I thought that was a real shame, and when I saw the job opening on the website, I knew it would be a great opportunity to become more familiar with the archive’s offerings and its staff.

For three hours each Tuesday and Friday, I’ve worked with the archive’s collection of Alumni Magazines to aid the ongoing process of digitizing them on CrossWorks, the college’s online repository for student publications and historical materials. First I went through the entire collection and logged every issue onto a Google Sheet, which took me a good number of weeks. That may not sound like much, but the collection starts from 1927 and ends in the late 90s. While it certainly took me a while, it was fascinating to flip through the old books and see the history within their pages.

Shelf with some of the alumni magazines

I’ve discovered so much about Holy Cross that I never knew, from when certain buildings were constructed to some of the impressive alumni the college boasts, from politicians to astronauts. I laugh at the ads assuring me of the safety of cigars and nuclear reactors, and I marvel at how weird it is to see references to both my high school and institution I attended abroad in such a historical context: completely different from how I know them. Through the old magazines, I learned that several famous figures visited Holy Cross, from Theodore Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson to Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Junior. But there’s not just famous history bleeding onto campus: the magazines also show how the Holy Cross community reacted to famous events such as the Stock Market Crash and the attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s sobering to read about people fighting on battlefields who occupied the same classrooms and dormitories that I have, but nonetheless had such entirely different experiences.

This is my final post before the break; I’m absolutely crammed with final papers and projects before the semester ends. Good luck to everyone with finals, have a great and relaxing break, and merry Christmas!