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Preserving the Past

Special Collections, Archives
Offer Study of Items from
the Ancient to the Uniquely Local

By Regan Houser
November 26, 2014
Appeared in the Fall-Winter 2014 issue of
IUP Magazine.


The first thing you see when you walk into the Special Collections and University Archives area in Stapleton Library is evidence of Indiana County’s coal history and a way of life that fewer and fewer people remember as each year passes: a pick, a map of a local mine, a rendering of a house in a coal company-owned town, an antique miner’s helmet.

Harrison Wick, IUP’s archivist and Special Collections librarian, is quick to point out his operation also has thousands of photos, files containing oral histories from miners and their families, and the records of Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal Company.

That’s just a hint of the treasures he curates.

IUP Magazine readers might recognize Wick’s name, since most editions carry an archival campus photo and a caption that asks for information. Wick records such information and collects all IUP documents, publications, brochures, and photos to preserve the university’s history. He also is responsible for collecting rare documents and books so that IUP students have an up-close opportunity to study museum-quality items.

Wick’s operation, established in 1980, has a daunting amount of rare and historical material to share with anyone who wants or needs to research days gone by or near-forgotten eras. The collection of donated records from external sources alone equals 95,000 linear feet of paper, or a million and a half pages of manuscript; yet, thanks to the painstaking organization of previous archivist Phillip Zorich and now Wick, who joined IUP in 2007, patrons can view any document in moments. Every bit of space afforded to Special Collections and Archives is taken up by shelving and storage, with only about two feet of space between aisles.

“Scholars from around the world come to our library to view our holdings,” Wick said. “Last year, I answered more than 1,700 research requests from students, employees, community members, and visiting scholars.”

Wick said the Special Collections area is geared toward Pennsylvania and American history and American and British literature, but he will not turn down priceless items that come by way of donation—such as a cuneiform tablet from the 21st century BC. Wick treats all acquisitions with equal care, whether they are donated or purchased with precious private gifts and grants.  

The rare book collection, nearing 20,000 items, includes first editions by Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, James Joyce, John Milton, George Orwell, Mark Twain, and H. G. Wells. Many editions are signed by their authors or carry inscriptions of interest. For example—and for unknown reasons—the copy of A Tale of Two Cities carries the inscription, “To Martin Van Buren, the gift of a dear friend.” Presumably owned by President Van Buren, the book was acquired by the William Lanfranchi Endowment, a fund held by the Foundation for IUP.

So, what is the significance?

“Having first and early editions available to our students is incredibly important,” Wick said. “Every edition that follows changes in some way. The text of the original edition of A Tale of Two Cities is different from what you might find in a recent run of a paperback or on the Kindle version. Editors make changes for different reasons. If you are a student of literature or historical literature, you need to be able to study the differences.”

“Future generations of IUP students and the public at large have an excellent resource for a look back in time and to find things they may not be able to find anywhere else.”

In the last year, Wick acquired the pardon of a Confederate soldier signed by Abraham Lincoln. The pardon came to him from the estate of Earl Hunt, who years earlier donated to the university much of his vast collection of Lincoln memorabilia—from an original invitation to the 1865 inaugural ball to collectible coins and statuary that commemorate the nation’s 16th president.

Hunt’s foresight in giving his Lincolnian collection to the university is a happy coincidence. According to Wick, IUP has an impressive collection of federal records and books from the Civil War era, as well as a set of official Civil War records acquired thanks to the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County.

A complete inventory of records and manuscripts is available online. The website also contains digitized versions of IUP publications and several exhibits about life in western Pennsylvania, IUP, and coal mining history.

“I learned a long time ago that just because something is old doesn't mean you throw it away,” Wick said. “The Special Collections and University Archives area is a significant part of IUP’s library system. Thanks to the generosity and forethought of so many people who appreciate the merits of preservation, future generations of IUP students and the public at large have an excellent resource for a look back in time and to find things they may not be able to find anywhere else.”

Ensuring Access for All

With 95,000 linear feet of material from external sources, the Special Collections and University Archives area is in need of space, but in spite of that, archivist Harrison Wick contends that he always will find a place for new, worthy acquisitions, whether they come in the form of a gift or purchase.

Digitization of records, photos, and other documents is another activity that costs. While some items are scanned in house, because of volume, Wick often turns to the Internet Archive to scan and store items. Wick said the service charges $1 per page to scan. IUP yearbooks can be found online, representing more than a $5,000 investment.

“Digitization is an access tool, not a preservation tool, but making documents available online does enable us to preserve them by providing an alternative way of display,” Wick said. “It allows us to put them online and make them available to everyone. Digitization also enables us to create curated exhibitions, such as the ones that can be found on our website now. But, digitizing comes with a cost.”

Wick’s operation is afforded no operating money from IUP’s state allocation and relies solely on private funding.

Photo Gallery

Click on any image to start the slideshow. (Photos by Keith Boyer)

Pardon of Confederate soldier Samuel Oldham Bacon signed by President Lincoln two months before his death, from the estate of Earl Hunt. [Photo: Keith Boyer]

Lincoln Pardon

One-of-a-kind records like these attract the attention of historians everywhere. At left is shown the pardon of Confederate soldier Samuel Oldham Bacon signed by President Lincoln two months before his death. The pardon came from the estate of Earl Hunt.

Deed signed in 1808 by then-president Thomas Jefferson and his secretary of state, James Madison, for a tract of land in Ohio. The deed belonged to the family of Daniel Shively, retired librarian. [Photo: Keith Boyer]

Jefferson Land Transfer

IUP has a deed signed in 1808 by then-president Thomas Jefferson and his secretary of state, James Madison, for a tract of land in Ohio. The deed belonged to the family of Daniel Shively, retired librarian.

This manuscript from Spain (1635 to 1637) is among the prizes of Special Collections. [Photo: Keith Boyer]

Spanish Manuscript

This manuscript from Spain (1635 to 1637) is among the prizes of Special Collections. Featuring illumination likely by a royal court scribe, the manuscript in the last few years has been reviewed by Laura Delbrugge, professor of Spanish, as well as a team of students. They have determined that it is a court ledger of King Philip IV of Spain, who also was King Philip III of Aragon and Portugal. Examination and translation of this piece continues.

The cuneiform tablet dates to the 21st century BC during the Third Dynasty of Ur in Mesopotamia. [Photo: Keith Boyer]

Cuneiform Tablet

Another legacy piece, the cuneiform tablet dates to the 21st century BC during the Third Dynasty of Ur in Mesopotamia. Cuneiform is among the earliest writing forms, wedge-shaped marks on clay. Wick said that, to date, no one has translated the tablet’s message, but he does know that it is a record of a transaction.

Dutch-language version of the New Testament printed in 1569. [Photo: Keith Boyer]

Rare Bible

The Special Collections area has numerous versions of the Bible, in an assortment of languages and sizes and from various years, including this Dutch-language version of the New Testament printed in 1569. Another treasure in IUP’s possession is a rare facsimile of the 1456 Gutenberg Bible. Created in 1961, the facsimile provides an accurate representation of the Bible and is one of only 50 complete copies in the world. Harvard University, New York University, and the Library of Congress are among others that hold a copy. The Gutenberg Bible was the first piece ever to be created with movable type.

Scrapbook kept by Bertha Garree, who studied at Indiana State Normal School in 1918. The scrapbook includes health records for Garree, who was apparently quarantined during the 1918 flu pandemic. [Photo: Keith Boyer]

Normal School Scrapbook

Within the vast collection of IUP archival material are items alumni have donated from their own personal experiences, including a scrapbook kept by Bertha Garree, who studied at Indiana State Normal School in 1918. The scrapbook includes health records for Garree, who was apparently quarantined during the 1918 flu pandemic. According to Wick, scrapbooking was a common way to keep memories and correspondence through letters and postcards during the early 20th century. “Students learn a great deal about campus life” and lifestyles through pieces like this, he said.

More from the Fall-Winter 2014 Issue of IUP Magazine

Armed for the Future

Armed for the Future

The new Military Resource Center is one of several initiatives helping students make a successful transition from military to campus life.

The Road to Canton

The Road to Canton

Ed Bouchette, the Steelers beat reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has earned a spot in Canton, Ohio, among the greats of the game.

Message from the President

Creating a diverse environment at IUP sometimes means providing a bridge to help students cross from their previous environment to our community.

Homecoming 2014 Photo Gallery

Namedroppers | Achievements | Mentors

Photo Gallery | In Brief

Pipe Dream

IUP is housing the Ronald G. Pogorzelski and Lester D. Yankee Pipe Organ, thanks to a lease agreement with the American Guild of Organists.

Coming Back to Build the Future

More than 150 alumni return to campus each year to speak to classes, recruit students for jobs or internships, share professional expertise, and more.

Silver Anniversary

A look back at 25 years of performing and visual arts events presented by the College of Fine Arts.