Hands-On History, cont.

By Judith Green

“One of his greatest contributions,” John says of Dan Gilbert, “was to gather materials and save them from the dumpster. Now they need to be fully arranged and described.”

The influx of materials has overwhelmed the archives’ limited storage space, spilling onto tables, the tops of filing cabinets, and the floor.

The archive offices are two small rooms tucked into the basement of Reeves Library, next to the Groenfeldt Moravian Collection. John and the library staff have received a gift from the Friends of Reeves Library for the installation of mobile shelving (that’s the kind you can open and close with a crank to get more into a confined space) this fall. This will enable him to impose some order on the jumble of storage boxes and loose materials that have swamped his workspace, as well as provide room for future growth.

“My focus,” he says, “is to try to establish physical and intellectual control over the material that we do have. The spatial reorganization will have innumerable benefits, allowing us to come to grips with the collection and better serve the research community. There’s a lot of material out there that can be brought to the archives, and there are gaps in what we have that I hope to complete.”

Time is now John’s most pressing need, but he is hopeful that resources can be found to expand the hours of the archives, particularly as more and more people become aware of its extensive holdings and potential contributions to the college and scholarly communities.

Some of the more unusual items in “Buried Treasure”:

  • A certificate of discharge from the Continental Army signed by George Washington. The discharged soldier was not an alumnus, but the letter itself comes from a collection of Presidential autographs donated by a Moravian layman, Gustav Kraemer.
  • The armchair, with a 1924 photograph that shows it in place in Main Hall.
  • The check issued to Alice Kent Stoddard in 1936 for the portrait of President Hamilton that now hangs in Comenius Hall.
  • A blueprint for Harvey Memorial Library, which was added to Comenius Hall in 1907.
  • A Spanish-American War [1898] broadside calling for a rally.

The exhibit is divided into 12 sections spotlighting teaching, the campus, student life, administration, and athletics, among other areas. The spine of the exhibit is a Moravian College timeline illustrated with documents.

“It’s exciting to delve into the past and create as complete a road map as we can of what has come before,” John says. “That’s what I love about archives. They contain the raw material of history. They prepare the ground that allows historians and scholars to do their work in reconstructing a world that no longer exists, thereby helping us to understand our own.”

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John Weeren unrolls the blueprint Harvey Memorial Library, featured in the Payne Gallery exhibit "Buried Treasures."

Photo: John Kish IV