What’s in the archives

I got a (very welcome) comment from an alert reader on my post about the mules, suggesting that I  look at the budget records to see if I could use them to figure out how long we kept feeding livestock. This is a clever suggestion and quite a sensible one too. The problem, though, is that we don’t really have that data, at least not in a usable form. (Bits and pieces are floating around in different manuscript collections.) Rice has never had any real records management policy and so what has been preserved is largely a matter of chance. Some of the things you would assume were important enough to keep have simply vanished. Others that seem naturally ephemeral somehow manage to survive. The on-line finding aids for the Watkin University Archives at the Woodson website give a pretty good idea of what kinds of things we have, although there are still collections that don’t have a finding aid up on the web. There are collections for every president and provost, but not for every dean or vice-president, and what’s in these papers varies wildly. We also have a random assortment of things from faculty members, administrators, and departments. I spent months cleaning out the gym before its renovation, and we now have a fantastic collection on the history of athletics. There are, though, gaps in the collection, some large and some small. We have some records from the colleges, but, not surprisingly I suppose, these are erratic. There is a lot of material from the schools of engineering and natural science, far less from humanities and social sciences.

I’d have to say that it has been the Rice staff that has done the most to preserve our history. Department coordinators, secretaries, building tech guys, and FE&P employees have been–and continue to be–the guardians of old records, scientific instruments, and memorabilia. For a long time the Woodson was severely constrained by space limitations and couldn’t take much of this material into the collections. Since the construction of the Library Service Center out on South Main Street, however, we have the space to store the papers and other items that are historically valuable to the university. There is still quite a bit of stuff floating around out there–we just found over 50 boxes of papers on the 5th floor of Lovett Hall–and I am now constantly beating the bushes looking for it. I’ve found things in basements and attics, under bleachers and stairwells, and once even inside a wall. Alums and the children of alums bring things in on a fairly regular basis, including scrapbooks, photographs of campus, and correspondence. I even get phone calls from total strangers–an exterminator once called wanting to know if we’d be interested in some old china from Sammy’s that he’d found in an abandoned building. (Yes.)

So I’ll conclude with an appeal: if you have anything related to the history of Rice (or the history of Houston, which is also a focus of the Woodson’s collection) that you’d be willing to share with us, please let me know. I’m happy to come to you to take a look at it. I can’t design experiments to get more data on the history of Rice, I can only find more stuff. (This is why I get so excited when we stumble across a couple of boxes of financial records from the early 1900s.)

By the way, one thing we definitely don’t need is Campaniles. We have lots of Campaniles. Unless, of course, it’s a Campanile from 1970. Intact 1970 Campaniles are not easy to come by!

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