Alumni Council Committees on Class Affairs and Princetoniana
Conference Call on Class Historians
April 16, 2008, 1:30 p.m. EDST - 2:30 p.m. EDST
Jean Telljohann ’81, Chair of the Alumni Council Committee on Class Affairs, welcomed everyone to the call. We began by having each person on the call introduce him/herself. In attendance were the following people (listed in alphabetical order): Sharon Aucoin ’84 (Class Secretary), Dick Bott ’69 (Class President), Corey Cole ’92 (Class Historian), Courtney Everson ’03 (Class President), Bethany Gasparini ’01 (Class Secretary), John Graham ’61 (Class President), Bruce Hickey ’95 (Class Historian), Jack Hittson ’71 (Class Historian and Reunion Chair), John Hockenberry ’69 (Class Board Member), Adam Inselbuch ’85 (Class President), Arvind ("Koke") Kokatnur ’47 (Class Treasurer), Al Kracht ’49 (Class Secretary and Class Historian), Gregg Lange ’70 (Princetoniana Committee), Regina Lee ’85 (Class President), Cliff Maloney ’60 (Class Agent), Tim Newens ’64 (Class President), Sev Onyshkevych ’83 (Class Historian, Princetoniana Committee), Murray Peyton ’57 (Class President), Vijay Ramachandran ’00 (Class President), Marta Richards ’73 (Class Historian and Princetoniana Committee), Massie Ritch ’98 (Class Secretary), Robert Rodgers ’56, (Chair, Princetoniana Committee), Adrienne Rubin ’88 h81 S81 (Alumni Association staff), Jean Telljohann ’81 S81 P11, (Chair, Class Affairs Committee), Paul Sittenfeld ’69 (Class Secretary), and Dottie Werner h-many! (Alumni Association staff).
Context for the Class Historian Role.
Bob Rodgers ’56 introduced the Alumni Council Princetoniana Committee and Gregg Lange ’70 gave some context for the Class Historian Role. There are two main reasons why a class should have a Class Historian separate from the Class Secretary. First, the University Archives at Mudd Library has developed a number of different approaches and understandings of the dynamics of the history of Princeton. Classes play a critical role in this from Day One. Many individuals identify primarily with their class. Over the years, a number of different projects and occasions have arisen in which the Archives try to get information on classes as they go through life cycles.
A second driving issue is the changing nature of classes at Princeton and in the context of our greater society. The classes are larger, much less homogeneous and the members of the classes now come from many more places. While they are at Princeton, they start in separate residential colleges, so unified class activities are less common than they were many years ago. And once classes graduate, their members spread to the four corners of the earth. While Princeton alumni get together in greater numbers and with more frequency than those of other universities, these contacts are still quite ephemeral and are getting more so with our increasing electronic orientation, which has resulted in less physical presence and printed media.
The question was raised as to what the role of the class secretary is, if not to gather class history. Being a secretary has immediate needs and activities that take priority in class affairs, whereas an historian takes more of a long-term view, which hopefully would start very early in the class’ lifetime. As a large portion of what we are seeking to document is what happened while the class was on campus, we hope to have the role of class historian begin while the class is here. Thus, the Committee on Princetoniana is doing a parallel push with the undergraduate classes to start efforts to collect and preserve their history while they are on campus and the information is easier to gather and organize.
Bob Rodgers reminded the callers of the article, "You’re History!," which appeared in the most recent ClassExchange newsletter. We will send out a copy of the article with the call notes when we distribute them.
Question & Answer Session
The call participants had many questions about the role of the Class Historian. The questions and their answers are below, separated into different general categories..
The Class Historian Role
Q: Should the historian be a long-term role or should the person serve in 5-year terms, like other officers?
Like so many things, this depends on the class. The historian is usually self-selected and many alumni would be interested in doing the job for longer than five years. Because this is a smaller, more defined role, it is great for people who want to be involved and to contribute to the class, but who don’t have a lot of time. The role also lends itself to working with a small committee within the class, such as convening a group of classmates with various expertise, interest in collecting, connections with others in the class, etc. This is not a “Maytag Repairman” kind of job.
Q: What should we do when we are long out of Princeton and don’t remember our undergraduate days as well?
Remember that history is ongoing and continues to be created. The historian role is not just looking back, but also forward.
How Class Historians Should Archive the Class History
Q: What are the most important historical documents and information to save and why?
In general, the Archives has all the Bric-a-Bracs, Nassau Heralds, Freshman Heralds, Yearbooks, Daily Princetonians and PAWs. However, it is a good idea to double-check to make sure they have all alumni yearbooks for your class.
We need photos and videos when classes were on campus. The photos and videos should be annotated to indicate the occasion and to identify the classmates who appear in the pictures. There is also a need for notes and recollections of personal undergraduate experiences, such as letters written home from campus, course and lecture notes, printed material relating to clubs and activities and participation, etc. In this part of the historian role, the historian is working to capture things that already exist and submit them to the Archives, where they are weaving the pieces into a tapestry that will capture the essence of undergraduate life at that time.
It was noted that to accomplish this, class historians should coordinate with the class historians on either side of them. This way, they can coordinate ideas and approaches with people who were on campus at the same time. This already often happens in developing retrospectives for major reunions. To make this happen, we really do need historians for all the classes so we can connect them.
Going forward, classes should save all class correspondence, as well as records of events and activities. It is also useful to keep all background information used to assemble events and materials.
Q: What’s the standard for keeping something in a class's archive? Must it be relevant to the entire class? A group of classmates? If a classmate offers something of sentimental value to them, but of little value to the class's history, must we accept it?
That’s up to the judgment of the historian and the class. Items and correspondence should be kept if they mean something to a significant portion of the class. It is recommended that such things be forwarded to the Archives sooner rather than later.
Q: What should be kept by the class historian and what should be forwarded to the Archives?
All operating records of the class should be kept by the class historian. Other items can be forwarded to the Archives periodically or when they are given to the historian. It helps tremendously to do a little pre-sorting and organizing: a listing of what is in each file/box is necessary.
Q: Is there a method we should use in cataloguing items we are sending to the Archives?
The University Library has just created a new position: the Library Records Manager. This will be a person whose job will be to organize everything the University has in its library in a common layout. Eventually, even class materials that are not part of the archives could be organized the same way. Once the new system is in place and ready, this will be sent out to class historians so they can file & organize according to the University standard method.
Q: Given limited storage space, what should we ~not~ keep?
We do not need to keep in the class history files anything that is a duplicate of something that is physically held at Mudd. For example, the class historians do not need to keep copies of the Nassau Herald, PAW, Prince, etc. All class mailings sent through the Office of the Alumni Association are captured at Mudd. If sending out mailing privately, please make sure that a copy is sent to the Alumni Association. Note that we only have about 15 years worth of mailings, though, so copies of mailings sent prior to 1993, should be saved or forwarded to Mudd.
Q: Should we maintain the original documents or digitize them?
The short answer: Don’t throw anything away! Standards of digitizing change frequently because of the ephemeral nature of the digital world. Every method developed so far has had flaws in it and we expect that to continue. That said, you should digitize material, but don’t throw the original away. Instead, put it in a file. If your files become too full, start a class file at Mudd and keep the papers there. As class regimes roll over, the 5-year cycle might be an opportune time to review material, pick through and store it and move the really valuable communications to the Archives.
Q: How can we document current history for classes that stay in touch mostly by e-mail and through websites? Since we accumulate so much less that you can touch, but may generate more words and other correspondence than older classes, how do we decide what is worth saving?
However we save them, it’s a calculated bet. CDs as recent as 10 years old have degraded. Saving documents on both a CD/ROM and a thumb drive is your best bet. The main guideline is to make a good solid stable electronic copy, with notations of what platform it was on. A printout of the page that fits on a legal or smaller page is not a bad idea.
As far as what to keep, keep documents that relate to the class and what it is doing. It can be very helpful for volunteers to save their email correspondence for reunion or event planning to a thumb drive (noting the operating system being used at the time). Then, at a later date, purge non-relevant emails and forward the remaining ones to the class historian or the University Archives. This can help future volunteers know what to do, in addition to helping preserve class history.
Q: How should the class store different versions of its web sites? What is relevant to keep and what is not?
It depends on what is on them. When new pages are put up, they should be saved. The Class Historian might want to copy class blogs at regular intervals and keep them in electronic files. It is important to copy the class web site content before it gets deleted. If the class is changing vendors or rebuilding its site, the class historian should be involved in making judgments as to what to keep/copy and what to discard.
Q: Where do objects fit in, such as Reunion jackets?
Unfortunately, the University Archives cannot store objects and costumes. However, the Committee on Princetoniana has recently established a repository for reunion and senior/beer jackets. They are looking for help from each class to fill in the collection. We now have some wonderful (although limited) storage space for this. The committee hopes to receive and take care of pre-25th costumes, too, although we do not yet have storage space for them. Until that time, we hope the class historians will collect and protect a stash of such costumes. In addition, the Office of the Alumni Association is collecting photos of reunion costumes. Last year, we took a number of such photos at Reunions and will send details to class officers and reunion chairs again this year.
How Class Historians Should Gather Information
Q: What are the most effective ways of gathering the history and memorabilia?
Different classes have different emphases on communication. Broadcast emails are certainly a good way to reach people about this, but it is important not to overuse this method. It can help to have a page on the class web site dedicated to class history. An addendum to class president’s letter could help the historian make a push to gather information—particularly in major reunion years.
Q: How can we best convince classmates to send the items along, particularly when it involves: giving up things to which they are attached. .Are copies valuable?
For historical purposes, the information itself is the most important, whether in physical or electronic format, so yes, copies are valuable. Ironically, though, in this digital age, the original paper copies are the most long-lasting, and so they are most needed. Letting people know the value of this for the history of the University.
Q: What about oral histories?
The Princetoniana Committee is beginning to collect critical oral histories around campus. The Class of 1983 plans to conduct some oral histories on campus at Reunions this year. One limitation is that if you want a transcript, it costs money to have that done. The Princetoniana Committee has a couple of different standard sets of questions and can do a specific set for classes that request this. It was suggested that a list of helpful prompts would be useful, too, in order to make sure that stories come out.
The idea is not to have everybody being all soft and cuddly and warm and fuzzy. This is a history project. There are people with strong ideas of elements of history. We want lots of different versions of the truth—as seen by the people who lived it. The class historians don’t need to make sure it looks good. For oral histories, it is important to ask each interviewee to sign a simple statement that indicates that he/she understands that the recording and transcript that might result are offered to the University and the Archives for historical and research purposes. Electronic release issues are unclear. The law as it applies to posted material on the web is very much evolving. For example, once someone makes a posting to a blog, he/she effectively surrenders privacy rights to that posting. For specific questions, classes should check with the Office of the Alumni Association, which in turn will obtain an opinion from the Counsel’s office.
Concerns about Resources that Affect Class Historians
Call participants expressed some concerns, as well. We appreciate these thoughts and suggestions and will discuss them with the appropriate people at the University and the Committee on Princetoniana, as appropriate.
1. For class historians to be able to research their undergraduate years, it would be helpful – and might be necessary—for the Daily Princetonian archives to be accessible online. Because the Prince is a separate corporation and has copyright restrictions, there are currently large costs involved in duplicating old issues. There are microfiche copies of old issues available at Mudd, but generally people have to go there in person to do research.
2. Class Historians would like to be able to send broadcast e-mails to their classmates. They can already do so with the assistance of the Class President or Secretary. This ensures coordination of class communication.
3. Past historians and yearbook editors were concerned that the University Archives tried to sell them photos for their books, instead of making them available for free. Bob and Gregg noted that the duplication costs depend on the material involved. In general, the staff members at Mudd Library will do work for classes (and other internal constituencies) at cost. Anything at Mudd is available for access in person for free. But high-quality copies can be expensive to duplicate and some things are not even permitted to be duplicated. Dan Linke, the University Archivist, can be reached at 609-258-4333 or at email@example.com
. General inquiries of the Archives should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Appointing a Class Historian
The Committee on Princetoniana strongly encourages each class to find and put forward a class historian. Once a class has identified a class historian, the class president should send the Office of the Alumni Association a letter formally appointing that person as the new class historian. Once we have a quorum, the Committee on Princetoniana will create a forum through which the class historians can connect with one another. As questions come up individually, they will then have a link between the committee members and all class historians. It is great that people intuitively grasp the importance of this, but the mundane step of identifying that point person is sometimes difficult. We hope that classes will rise to the challenge and appoint people soon.
Jean thanked everyone for participating. The notes from this call will be sent to all participants, as well as all class presidents, secretaries and historians in our database.