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The Archives: Oglethorpe's Hidden Gem of History

There are certain signature Oglethorpe features that are heard of but not widely known. The archives fall into this category.

“I just know they’re on the bottom floor of the library and you need permission to get to them,” said Satiel Garcia, a student at Oglethorpe. Garcia knows “nothing really” about the archives besides their existence.

He is not an anomaly. Just about every student, faculty and staff member knows that the archives exist but not exactly what they hold.

The archives, approximately 100,000 items, are not limited to only Oglethorpe history like the presidential papers from Thornwell Jacobs. They also hold non-Oglethorpe related items such as 20,000 items of political memorably from national presidential campaigns.

“The neatest thing I think we have is a copy of Franklin Roosevelt’s commencement address,” said Eli Arnold, director of the Philip Weltner library, “He used the term ‘the New Deal’ for the first time at his commencement address here at Oglethorpe.”

Aside from speeches or writings by prominent people, anything -- especially something Oglethorpe connections -- can make into the archives. The core essay you wrote, the flyer for your organization’s event, and The Stormy Petrel Newspaper article you found so interesting all have merit to be stored in the archives, said Arnold.

The archives don’t only record Oglethorpe’s history significant or common, but to students the archives “connects to them to this rich history that we have of Oglethorpe,” said Arnold.

For those students who have seen the archives, they give an “authentic experience of culture,” said Manuel Hernandez, a history major at Oglethorpe. “It’s a cool thing,” said Hernandez, “not every school can say they are keeping track of stuff.”

However, Oglethorpe has not kept track of its history in the form of archives for very long despite its age since first established in 1835. The former director of the Philip Weltner library, Anne Salter, started keeping archives in 2003. She became so knowledgeable on Oglethorpe history that she published the book “Oglethorpe University” in 2007.

Today, the archives are placed in special folders and boxes designed to keep them in good condition. “Everything we use to protect, and store is archival quality” said Arnold.

As the archives grow in numbers, they are breaking the physical boundaries and entering into the digital age. Anyone can now simply search online the Oglethorpe archives and find collections such as Campus Life in the 1950’s. The transition of the archives to an online platform is gradual due to how time consuming it is, yet it is widely popular, said Arnold.

“You can’t really replace the books,” said Hernandez. Although he likes the digital approach, he values the physical essence of the archives.

All the archives, physical and digital, are acquired solely by donations. The keeping of Oglethorpe’s history is dependent on students and their contributions to the archives. “The archives are only as good as what the Oglethorpe students and community give to us,” said Arnold.

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