Students Engage with Archives to Further Research Projects

Lucy Walton-

Davidson’s archivists are excited to open the Archives to more students for research and general curiosity. Photo by Erin Gross ’18

On the second floor of the E.H. Little Library, college archivists Sharon Bird, Jessica Cottle, and DebbieLee Landi work to preserve the college’s history in the Smith Rare Book Room and Archives. They preserve books and documents gifted to the college, organize resources for students to use, and collect items so that future generations of Davidson students know what life here was like today and in the past.

The current archivists want to make the Archives even more applicable for students. Cottle was hired to become the Justice, Equality, and Community Archivist. Her job is to be part of the group investigating Davidson’s relationship with slavery, as well as to connect with students about other projects concerning justice and equality. The group will also be hiring a Davidson student to maintain a social media presence for the Archives.

When Bird became the Special Collections Outreach Librarian in 2009, she was determined to make the Archives a better-utilized resource. She began figuring out what items the Archives had and personally inviting professors to bring in their classes to check things out.  This strategy worked.

“Students often come when because they’re brought as a class requirement and decide it’s fun. Then they come back, often for their own research!” Bird reflected.

Rosalia Polanco ’18 is one student using the Archives for her research. She is currently searching for information for her Environmental Studies capstone project on the relationship between the Carolina Asbestos Mill and the citizens living near it today. Her capstone advisors Dr. Annie Merrill, Chair of the Environmental Studies department, and Dr. Eriberto “Fuji” Lozada, of the Environmental Studies and Anthropology departments, both knew that valuable information might be found in the Archives and encouraged her to reach out to the archivists for help.

Polanco has loved using the Archives for her project, and enjoys being able to look back into Davidson’s history. She says it’s eye-opening to see what has changed here and what has not changed at all. Polanco called the Archives “extremely vital” to her project, saying that without them, she is not sure she would be able to make her final argument.

The archivists have also been working to turn students like Kate Trathen ’18 into student historians who help work to collect new items for the Archives. Trathen approached the archivists last year, expressing an interest in becoming an archivist herself after her graduation. She talked with Landi about finding a project to merge multiple interests, and now she is working to record information about the Davidson Chorale.

For the past few months Trathen has been working with the archivists as well as professors and community members to accumulate documents about the history of Chorale. She calls the experience a “springboard to helping her achieve her goals after graduation.”

Trathen admits it is difficult to access the Archives if you have no idea what is there. To her fellow students, she recommends using the archivists as helpful resources since they know the material best. “There’s so much stuff it’s easy to have no clue what there is,” Trahen explained.

When the archivists look to the future, they keep in mind their goal of having more students use the Archives. Cottle sees it as her goal to “make more people more comfortable to come in and get help for their research” during her time there.

For the first time the archivists plan on promoting their resources, planning new events to bring people to the second floor of the library, and asking students personally to help with accumulating new documents through social media outreach.

They also have been working to transfer documents onto the Internet, both in online databases and onto their blog “Around the D,” where students write about various findings discovered from the Archives.

All the archivists can agree on one thing: their favorite part of the job is interacting with students and helping them make their discoveries, and they are working hard to make sure more students know about the potential of the Archives.

“A student once came in to research here,” recalled Landi. “He was trying to be complimentary when he said ‘the Archives are the best kept secret of the library,’ but I don’t want it to be the best kept secret; I just want it to be the best part.”

Students who are interested in using the Archives for research or becoming a student historian are encouraged to email archives@davidson.edu.