Tracing Princeton’s Connections to Slavery through Intentional Serendipity

The Princeton and Slavery Symposium, a presentation of several years of “scholarly investigation of Princeton University’s historical engagement with the institution of slavery,” is scheduled for November 17-18, 2017. As we lead up to that date, we will be blogging about Mudd’s involvement in this larger project.

Last November, the University of Houston-Downtown Archives wrote about their staff’s annoyance at headlines about items “Found Buried in the Archives!” Articles like these often rub staff in archives the wrong way, because they render their ongoing efforts (necessary for scholars to uncover such material) invisible. Working day-to-day in the archives of a university, we often know a lot more about our institutions than we’re ever able to share in writing, leaving it to the researchers who visit us to record most of the stories that the materials we show them reveal. It is sometimes our jobs to tell the stories of our schools, but not always; even when it is, there will never be enough time for us to write them all down. My multi-page list of blogs-in-progress attests to this.

Even so, there are still discoveries made on a daily basis, “buried” materials or not. Not everything is easily found. My work at Mudd often highlights our collections from new angles and/or reveals forgotten stories about Princeton’s past. In order to do this, I keep records of what I discover in the course of my workday. Themes sometimes emerge and eventually become social media posts, blogs, or exhibit fodder as I transform the messy notes in my legal pads and Word documents and the connections in my head into more coherent pieces for public consumption. I also recruit my student assistants to help in this endeavor. Just as I do, they sometimes intentionally set out to tell a specific story, but we also write the stories that find us rather than vice versa. Our discoveries about Princeton’s connections to slavery reflect this kind of intentional serendipity (not quite the oxymoron it seems). The work of Mudd’s Public Services is both visible and invisible to the patrons who use our library. In today’s blog, I will reveal some of the invisible work that we do to support Princeton’s educational mission.

The first such item I want to highlight is one I uncovered in the course of collecting items for the weekly blog feature, “This Week in Princeton History.” The notice of a slave sale held on the Princeton campus in 1766 was worth including in this weekly roundup of events in mid-August 2015 in part because I had talked with students in the “Princeton and Slavery” course about their research and knew it was of interest to the public we serve. The professor for the course, Martha A. Sandweiss, referred to the slave sale in an article about her class that appeared in The Nation a few months later.

Clip from the Philadelphia Journal, August 14, 1766.

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This Week in Princeton History for June 26-July 2

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Board of Trustees expresses concern about vices on campus, a trek up Denali raises money for AIDS research, and more.

June 26, 1790—Having just returned from an evening at David Hamilton’s Tavern, four students put a calf in the pulpit of Nassau Hall as a prank, then flip the outhouse over.

June 28, 1848—The Board of Trustees, noting that “the vice of intemperance has prevailed among the students to an alarming degree,” directs the faculty to expel any student “who is ascertained to be in the habit of commonly using intoxicating drinks, or of frequenting taverns.”

Sketch by unknown author depicting students drinking at Princeton, “It’s a Way We Have at Old Nassau,” ca. 1863. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), MP159, Image No. 4395.

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Latinx Student Poetry at Princeton

By Courtney Perales ’17 with April C. Armstrong *14 and Mario Garcia ’18

Students have often used the arts and poetry to express themselves and enhance their identities on campus. Two Latinx poems I found in student publications in the archives this spring were particularly striking to me: “Lloro Por Mi Puerto Rico Perdido” in La Mujer Latina, by Maribel Garcia ’84, and “We Hunger” in The Vigil, by Michele Parris ’90. I also ran across a reprint of “Our Tongue was Nauhuatl” by noted Mexican-American poet Ana Castillo in Sol Del Este East Coast Chicanx Student Forum Newsletter. One thing that stood out among these three different Latinx poems were that they delved into topics around identity, sense of belonging, and racial insensitivity and microaggressions students were experiencing. In another Latinx student publication, Amanecer, there were many more poems with similar themes. The poems depicted how these students were part of and yet pushed against the idea of a “Latinx monolith.” Wrestling with topics like borders, immigration, and independence, each piece pulled from deep emotional reserves and evoked the pain, confusion, and frustrations that came with being a student of color at Princeton.

La Mujer Latina, Spring 1982. Historical Subject Files (AC109) Box 297, Folder 8.

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This Week in Princeton History for June 19-25

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a scientific expedition begins, the institution declines to pay for extra policing, and more.

June 21, 1877—A group of twenty sets off on Princeton’s first scientific expedition to the North American west, during which they will collect paleontological and geological information in Colorado.

Princeton’s first scientific expedition camping in Fairplay, Colorado, 1877. Princeton Scientific Expeditions Collection (AC012), Box 3, Folder 2.

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Meet Mudd’s Valencia Johnson

Name: Valencia Johnson

Position: John Foster and Janet Avery Dulles Archival Fellow

Educational Background: I recently graduated from Baylor University with a master’s in Museum Studies. My focus was archives and special collections. I earned my bachelor’s degree in History and American Studies from the University of Kansas.

Previous experience: In my two years at Baylor, I processed several collections that included Baylor’s presidential papers. In addition to processing, I worked at the reference desks for the University’s archives and the special collection library, Armstrong Browning. I also curated exhibits for Baylor’s main library and for the Mayborn Museum Complex.

Why I like archives: I think it is amazing that archives enable people, notable and ordinary, to have an impact on others and the collective human knowledge long after they’re gone. You’re able to understand the private working of an institution or the intimate thoughts of an individual. I love that the field is able to help researchers through digital access.

Other interests: It may come as no surprise that I love museums. I enjoy exploring places, so NYC and Philadelphia are on my list to visit this summer. All recommendations for places to see are welcomed. I also like coffee, comics (books and movies), and cooking.

Projects this summer: I am pleased to work on enhancing the description of the Communications Records photograph series, being a part of the exhibit team, and working with my fellow fellows on the born-digital research project. I’m excited to learn EAD and about the challenges of handling digital-born materials.

This Week in Princeton History for June 12-18

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Liberty Bell is in town, the first woman earns a Princeton degree, and more.

June 13, 1878—A member of the Class of 1878 writes that he is disappointed by the College of New Jersey (Princeton)’s invitation to U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes to speak at Commencement, saying his appearance would dishonor the graduates and Commencement would be “made subservient to outsiders.” It is ultimately a moot point; Hayes declines the invitation.

College of New Jersey (Princeton) Commencement Program, 1878. Princeton University Commencement Records (AC115), Box 2, Folder 18.

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This Week in Princeton History for June 5-11

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Commencement is held without predicted problems, a senior praises William Howard Taft, and more.

June 5, 1978—Princeton University’s Board of Trustees votes to include coverage for abortion under the student health insurance plan.

This article by an anonymous female Princeton University student details her experiences with health care prior to the decision to cover abortion under the student health plan (Princeton Forerunner, November 30, 1976).

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Meet Mudd’s Will Clements

Name: Will Clements

Position: John Foster and Janet Avery Dulles Archival Fellow

Educational Background: I earned my bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin. I studied English literature, with a minor in Russian language and history. I’m currently working on my master’s degree in Information Studies at the UT Austin School of Information. My focus is on archives, both traditional and digital, and I’ll graduate in December of this year.

Previous experience: Since 2003, I’ve worked in the Reading Room at the LBJ Presidential Library. My work there includes administrative duties, public service, and reference. When I return to the LBJ Library in August, I will be transitioning from public service to technical service projects under the supervision of our digital archivist. I’m pleased to be gaining more experience in both these areas during my time at Mudd.

Why I like archives: I believe that archives are important centers of cultural memory (to borrow a phrase from Jeannette Bastian). It’s really gratifying to be a part of preserving and providing access to that memory. Interacting with the scholarly community is another perk for me, and I also enjoy working with younger researchers encountering archives for the first time.

Other interests: I love hiking and walking in the woods. My house in Princeton is about a mile from Community Park and the Witherspoon Woods, and I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the trails since I arrived. I’m looking forward to checking out some of the other parks and nature preserves in the area this summer. While indoors I enjoy cooking, movies, reading, and collecting rare books (mostly genre fiction).

Projects this summer: I’m thrilled to be getting a good deal of description and arrangement experience already, and I’m looking forward to researching and answering reference questions starting in June. I’m also keen to learn about processing and providing access to born-digital collections.

This Week in Princeton History for May 29-June 4

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the University Chapel is dedicated, a professor spirits a Chinese dissident to safety, and more.

May 30, 1928—The University Chapel, which replaces the destroyed Marquand Chapel, is dedicated in a Sunday morning service. It is the largest such chapel in the United States.

Princeton University Chapel, May 29, 1928. Associated Press photo. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP30, Image No. 744.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 22-28

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, protesters are arrested at Nassau Hall, a professor urges Princetonians to buy Liberty Loan bonds, and more.

May 22, 1949—Nassau Hall’s flag flies at half mast as a tribute to James V. Forrestal, a member of the Class of 1915 and the nation’s first Secretary of Defense, who died after jumping out a window on the sixteenth floor of Bethesda Naval Hospital on this date.

James Forrestal, ca. 1940s. Official U.S. Navy Photo. James V. Forrestal Papers (MC051), Box 188.

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