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10 little-known facts about Marquette University’s historical archives

Did you know that beer was once accepted as a form of tuition payment at Marquette University?

You would if you spent some time browsing the Milwaukee university’s archive collections, which span the personal journals from the founders to presidential emails.

You’ll find these artifacts on the Raynor Memorial Library’s third floor, past the exhibit of peace activist Dorothy Day’s personal letters, around the corner by a quiet reading room.

There you’ll discover a place that remembers history even if time forgets. Welcome to the Special Collections and University Archives.

In addition to the University Archives, the Special Collections collects manuscript materials on a variety of topics including Catholic Social Action and Native American Missions. Michelle Sweetser, University Archivist, focuses on collecting and providing access to documents that record the history of Marquette University.

Thanks to her insight, here are 10 little-known things you can do on a visit to the archives.

  1. Read the personal journals of Marquette’s founders

Page through the datebooks and journals of Marquette’s Jesuit founders, stored under special climate-controlled conditions. The brief entries — some written in Latin — contain interesting nuggets of life in the early days of our campus.

Another gem is a logbook of student fees. Not only was tuition much cheaper then in general, but at one time beer was actually accepted as a form of tuition payment!

2. Get your favorite ________ archived (anyone can do it)

While some departments regularly send files to the archives, many times archivists must reach out to receive new materials.

“Not all faculty realize the contributions they’ve made to the campus and to the profession, Sweetser said. “We have to let them know the value of their work.”

For example, for more than 40 years, Paul Salsini, Jour ‘58, Grad ‘85, amassed an impressive personal collection about Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, the composer and lyricist behind such musicals as Gypsy, West Side Story and Sweeney Todd. Salsini, who co-founded The Sondheim Review, donated his vast collection — which includes books, magazines, scripts, scores, articles, reviews, programs, CDs, records, tapes, posters and memorabilia. You can read about his collection in Marquette Magazine.

Sweetser also mentioned that she would prefer people to approach the archives more often with potential documents, especially if they pertain to Marquette history or the other collecting areas

The process of determining archival value is called “appraisal.” If there are duplicates of a document, things will not be kept. Documents are then categorized in file folders and boxes. For ease in searching, a finding aid with a short description is prepared as well.

3. Relive the early days of the internet

As campus trends have gone from being covered by personal letters and newspapers to digital forms, such as Facebook or Twitter, the archives have begun compiling internet data as well.

In November, Katie Blank was hired as the electronic records manager because the department and libraries recognized a need for someone to focus specifically on the collection and preservation of born-digital records

Specific programs, such as the Wayback Machine, are used to capture internet pages from the past. The Wayback Machine is available to the public to view a website’s history. For instance, the Marquette homepage.

You can view the digital archives account of the program Archive-It as well.

4. Experience the holding size of 1,000 bathtubs

Spread across three locations — Raynor Library, Memorial Library and Schroeder Complex — the storage area for the Special Collections and University Archives is over 6,000 cubic feet.

That’s approximately the volume of 1,000 bathtubs.

The trouble faced by archives is that they’re always expanding. Unlike libraries, the archives cannot get rid of old pieces.

“Because what we collect is unique, and often times the only copy, we can’t get rid of it,” Sweetser said.

5. Witness a very expensive telegram

Years ago, sending a petition to leaders took a bit more commitment than adding your name to a link from Twitter.

In 1965, Marquette students, friends and faculty sent a telegram to Vietnam to show support for troops.

The telegram was sent to General Westmoreland, commander of US forces in Vietnam. Over 2,000 students and faculty included their names on the telegram as signatures. Students were charged 35 cents to sign the telegram.

Adjusted for inflation, a signature would cost $2.92. Today, just the names alone would have cost $5,840 to send!

6. Watch classic Marquette games

The archives house a wide variety of basketball and football films from as far back as the 1930s.

Films are converted from analog reels to digital formats so that they can be viewed for years to come.

The video archives also have a section dedicated to Al McGuire’s broadcast career. It’s even possible to find his first interview after being named Marquette’s head basketball coach on April 11, 1964.

The collection makes it possible for Marquette to compile promotional videos, such as the highlights shown before basketball games at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.


7. Come back in 2036 and see Father Wild’s e-mail

In the digital age, documents such as e-mail are important university correspondence. The archives have kept up with the trend, keeping record of all presidential e-mails.

However, due to university policy, presidential documents are not available to the public for 25 years after the end of the president’s term. So, if you’re interested, stop by the archives in 2036 and read Father Wild’s e-mails from his time as president of Marquette.

8. Read a book from 500 years ago

The rare book collection gets its own separate and secure area. Featuring publications from the first 50 years of the printing press, the rare book collection features many early editions on Catholic theology and practice. For instance, there is a copy of St. Augustine’s De Civitate Dei (The City of God) from 1473.

Also housed here are autographed editions of books by Carl Sandburg, T.E. Lawrence and Robert Frost, to name a few.

9. Follow the FBI’s investigation of Albert Einstein

The FBI’s thorough investigation of Albert Einstein is over 1800 pages long. Einstein was believed to be a German spy and the FBI searched for evidence necessary to deport him.

Seen as a risk, the FBI did not grant Einstein the security clearance to participate in the Manhattan Project to create the first atomic bomb. It’s possible to read the investigation documents and see the evidence against Einstein.

10. Be a freshman in the 1920s and read the student handbook

The archives have collected a variety of student publications, registration documents and handbooks.

Here are a few campus rules from 1922:

#94. Students are expected to conduct themselves in a gentlemanly manner…
#102. Every organization giving a dance shall make arrangements as will enable all guests to be home by 12:30 a.m.

To view pieces from the university archives, stop by Raynor’s third floor — but phone ahead so that archivists can have documents prepared in case they need to be retrieved from storage. You can also search their digital collection. Have a burning historical question? Ask an archivist through their online form.

Happy hunting!

Research and reporting by Wyatt Massey, a junior studying writing-intensive English and advertising. Connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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