Wake Forest University archives may be tied into local museum’s, online.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — Friday was a busy day at the town’s historical museum, with groups cycling in and out of both the Calvin Jones House and exhibit galleries. But when four women visiting from Winston-Salem saw a wall-sized blow-up of a century-old photo, they had a eureka moment.
“That’s the banner!” one said.
The women, representatives for the Wake Forest University (WFU) special collections/archives department, recognized a wall hanging in the 1908 photo that had been donated to the university archives, without anyone knowing its significance.
According to Ed Morris, director of the Wake Forest Historical Museum, it’s one of two banners representing Wake Forest College’s Euzelian and Philomathesian literary societies. The societies were the center of student activity before the fraternity system took over and the college became a university.
This kind of collaboration between the archivist in town and those at the university needs to be expanded, they said, which was the purpose of the visit.
Present with Morris from WFU were Tanya Zanish-Belcher, director of special collections and university archivist at the Z. Smith Reynolds Library; Vicki Johnson, reference archivist; Rebecca Petersen, access archivist; and Lauren Suffoletto, a Wake Forest Presidential Fellow assigned to the library.
Morris is on salary at Wake Forest University, as is Jennifer Smart, a town resident recently hired to supplement his duties at the museum and increase its online presence.
The museum was built using funds from the university, donations collected by the Wake Forest College Birthplace Society and allotments from the town of Wake Forest.
There’s already a connection between town and the institution, but the archivists want to make it more fluid.
“We have a lot of projects that we can collaborate on,” Zanish-Belcher said.
One goal is to make both collections accessible and searchable online. Much of the WFU history is already digitized, but the archives staff is pushing for more access.
The entire history of the WFU student newspaper Old Gold & Black, is online, dating back to 1916, in the form of scanned PDF images. Archives staff want to clean up the scans so they’re more readable and make it indexible for computer searches.
There’s a discussion about putting The Student, a WFU literary magazine, and the Wake Forest Magazine online, also accessible by index. Copies of The Student date back into the 1800s and often constitute the only news available about Wake Forest before the town incorporated in 1909.
Everything should be accessible by both town and university, they said.
“We’re hoping to do a website dedicated to the history of Wake Forest,” said Zanish-Belcher.
History comes alive
The collaboration could result in more WFU students, staff and alumni visiting the town and its museum. And perhaps it would encourage Wake Foresters to go there.
This fall, for instance, the university’s medical school will host an exhibit featuring objects from the school’s history of medicine.
Zanish-Belcher was reminded of that exhibit when viewing the historical museum’s own medical display.
“We don’t have as many artifacts,” she said, oohing and aahing over the memorabilia at the North Main Street museum.
“It’s funny to come here. It’s our university, but it’s a different university at the same time.”
For Suffoletto, who graduated from WFU last year with a history degree, the visit to the town museum was a delight.
While watching a short film about the story of the town and college, she raised her arms in a salute when legendary golfer and WFU grad Arnold Palmer was featured. And she shouted with glee when Dr. Ed Wilson, provost emeritus, was interviewed.
“This is such a wonderful experience,” she said. “It gives you a newfound sense and appreciation of how the history of the town and college resonates and how deeply connected they are.
“It brings history alive today.”