Reflecting on change

The pandemic has impacted our lives in ways we’re just beginning to understand. Less than three years ago, we worked five days a week onsite, shared food communally, and met in conference rooms. The move to remote research, online classes, and staggered onsite work weeks has dramatically changed our known perception of workspace and workplace.

What hasn’t changed, though, is the excitement of students encountering primary materials in archival spaces. The first onsite class of the pandemic era was held in fall of 2020 with students designing an exhibit from a collection whose organization was celebrating its 80th anniversary. For students, fear of touching materials was equal to the joy of discovery. Gloves and social distancing solved the first issue, then exploration and innovation reigned.

By spring 2021, students were eager to interact with physical materials. An archival exercise for one class focused on objects, and students wholeheartedly investigated the purpose, the manufacturer, the material construction, and other item-specific information while handling them. For some, this marked the first time they handled items outside their own home since March 2020.

William Henry Jackson photocroms

Other classes joined in this primary material delight. Students blissfully explored early photography items – daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, cabinet cards, and photochroms. They loved learning how a stereoscope worked and were awed that something so simple continued to entertain. Other students moved through pages of artist books and zines for clues about popular culture decades ago. This list goes on. The re-engagement with physical materials satisfied a human need for touch.

Stereoscope advertisement detail

The takeaways from primary material interaction are astounding. First, the innate human ability to engage with and learn about new concepts through old items remains strong even in times of uncertainty. Second, during a time when one did not feel comfortable shaking hands with another person, the act of touching an item served as balm for the soul. Lastly, materials connect us to times past, and interaction with them tie us together across decades.

As we enter this next academic year filled with promise, students will continue to interact with primary materials. They will discover the joys of archival engagement. They will explore old concepts and refashion them in new ways. They will delve into this work honed by experience and change adapted and adopted over the past three years, driven by the innate traits of curiosity and discovery.               

Posted in Columbia College | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Notes from the Archivist: What We Learned on Our Summer Vacation


Researchers viewing early photography items and stereocards

Summer in academic archives is just as busy as the regular school year. Researchers visit from near and far. Campus faculty and staff retire, units move; we collect records. We prepare archival material for exhibitions and anniversary celebrations for the upcoming semester. It’s a steady stream of people, projects, and pickups all summer.

Sometimes, though, one must take a moment to reflect on the lessons we are taught from researchers about our own collections. Archivists learn each time there is a research question. Every topic, every question, adds to the research value of what we hold in our collections. It takes one’s breath away how much one learns through these questions and queries.

As example, this summer we learned that the Archives holds one of few copies of a speech addressed to Congress in the 1970s to request the US Government investigate Agent Orange and its effect on Vietnam veterans. We discovered that we hold the only known images from a 1950s gentlemen’s erotic magazine marketed to African American men, commercially available for a single year. We learned that sterling silver luggage tags were produced by an institution whose records we hold, that people collect these beautiful pieces, and wish to know more about the place and the function. We discovered that, despite the availability of online digital objects, researchers want to see and interact with the original. And we learned that the celebration of one particular 1980s television show, with records in our collection, holds universal appeal and has spawned fan clubs in several countries.


1970 student protest posters. Photographer:  Philip Dembinski

We discovered that videos and recordings remained popular research formats: interviews, music, marches, speeches, and performances all held researchers enraptured. Dog walkers who stroll through the College outdoor sculpture garden contacted us for additional information about the statues. We also discovered that a Presidential Library was interested in a loan of a collection item for exhibit. Lastly, the great interest in conferences, protests, and movements of the 1960s, remained popular research queries.

And, those researchers who did not write us or visit us in-person also represent lessons learned. From statistics gathered about use of our publicly-accessible digital material, we found that the theses from one graduate program were downloaded more than 64,000 times. We discovered that a collection of undergraduate capstone projects was downloaded nearly 10,000 times. We are excited that researchers in 195 countries on 6 continents at more than 8,300 institutions have used our online collection material, and they continue to query and question about holdings within the College Archives & Special Collections.

The work continues...

The work continues…

Archivists collect material to be used and preserved. However, it is researchers who make material come alive. It is researchers who draw upon primary records to invent new narratives. It is researchers who imagine uses for collection material beyond traditional, evidence-based practice, who invent new projects from these delightful documents, such as a video game born from building blue prints. Frankly, it is  researchers whose questions validate the work archivists do to make collections accessible and available. To all researchers everywhere, we thank you.

Posted in Columbia College, Notes from the Archivist | Leave a comment

Student Perspective: #ArchitectureApril

Last winter, I spent a month processing our new Harrington College of Design special collection. These books belonged to the Harrington College library until 2015, when the college announced it would close. Columbia College Chicago acquired the books, as well as taking on the remaining Harrington students until they could finish their degrees.

Originally called the Frances Harrington Institution of Interior Decoration, Harrington College was founded in 1931 by Frances Harrington, a New York interior designer. At the time, Chicago was gearing up for the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition, which put the city in an international spotlight and drew in designers. Harrington had lectured in Chicago before, and the college’s curriculum was based on her design lecture series. The books that make up the special collection I processed cover topics that were a part of the school since its early days, mostly architecture, interior design, and fine arts.


Alder & Sullivan’s Auditorium building, from “Auditorium” by Edward R. Garczynski

Of all the artistic mediums, architecture particularly interests me as an art form that reflects the personality of the artist as well as the state of the society. It’s a medium that the architect Louis H. Sullivan once called, “a beautiful, a sane, a logical, a human, living art.” You could consider architecture a time capsule of different time periods, which might make it seem stuffy or obsolete, since the problems and needs addressed in the designing of a building rarely stick around as the decades stretch on. But if there’s one way to make the past feel exciting, it’s spending hours pouring over books about the whys and wherefores of architectural design.

One of the books in the Harrington collection, Chicago: The World’s Youngest Great City, contains an essay by architect Benjamin H. Marshall that begins, “Chicago has become not only the most interesting city in the United States, but that it is fast becoming one of the most beautiful cities in the world.” This book was published in 1929, when America was on the precipice of the Great Depression but hadn’t yet fallen over the cliff. Chicago was gearing up for the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair, which was to be a celebration of the city’s centennial, and the essays in The World’s Youngest Great City feel breathlessly excited to show off what Marshall refers to as a “mushroom growth” of artistic and architectural achievement that blossomed in Chicago in the early 20th century.

That blossoming of innovation was due in large part to the work of three architects who defined a new era of American architecture by rebelling against the past and meeting the demands of the present: H.H. Richardson, Louis H. Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

In a book called Three American Architects: Richardson, Sullivan, and Wright, 1865-1915, (not a part of the Harrington collection, but available online) James F. O’Gorman points to the Auditorium building, which Sullivan built with Dankmar Adler in 1889, as the building that marked the height of Chicago’s rebirth after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. At the time, Chicago was in the middle of what Marshall called the “Reign of Terror,” the American adaptation of Victorian style. Hugh Morrison, an architecture professor and biographer of Louis Sullivan, called it “the besetting architectural sin of the nineteenth century,” referring to the fact that the contemporary style was rooted in imitating and blending historical styles such as European Gothic and classical Greek. The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, for which Columbia College Chicago is named, codified this style.


Alder & Sullivan’s Auditorium and what is now Grant Park, from “Auditorium” by Edward R. Garczynski

Louis Sullivan’s rejection of that old-school style of architecture can be seen in the building Adler & Sullivan designed for the Columbian Exposition, the Transportation Building. In a fairground nicknamed the “White City,” the Transportation Building was brightly colored and featured a giant golden archway as an entrance. In his 1935 biography of Sullivan, Hugh Morrison wrote, “if the White City was a dream of beauty, it was a dangerous and spurious kind of beauty, spurious because it appropriated the forms of a culture not its own, dangerous because it seemed to do this so successfully. It represented the acme of all that Sullivan had fought against during his whole life.”

Much of Sullivan’s personal style was inspired by H.H. Richardson, an architect who, according to O’Gorman, helped define the two separate social spheres that emerged in American culture after the Civil War: “the urban commercial block and the suburban single-family house.” Sullivan, particularly inspired by the ornamentation of Richardson’s Marshall Field Wholesale Store, would go on to gain recognition for his commercial buildings, while his protege, Frank Lloyd Wright, is most often recognized for his private homes. Philip Johnson, another architect, damned Sullivan with faint praise in an essay by calling him “the second-best Richardsonian architect in the city in the great period of Chicago architecture.”


Interior of the Auditorium building, from “Auditorium” by Edward R. Garczynski

It was the mixed-use Auditorium building that first won the firm of Adler & Sullivan widespread recognition, and the influence of H.H. Richardson can clearly be seen in its design. In a commemorative book about the Auditorium first published in 1890, Edward R. Garczynski called the building, “Chicago to the smallest detail.” The design was rooted in Chicago tradition, and special attention was paid to choosing materials that would be fire-proof, as the city was still wary of the possibility of another Great Fire.

One of the draftsmen who worked on the Auditorium project, Frank Lloyd Wright, found a comfortable niche at the Adler & Sullivan firm working on all the commissions for private residences that Louis Sullivan didn’t have an interest in. The enmeshing of nature and construction that became a staple of the “Prairie School” architectural style founded by Wright nevertheless owes a lot to Sullivan, who found a lot of inspiration in books such as Gray’s Manual of Botany and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Wright was trained as an engineer and in aesthetic theory, so everything he knew about the actual practice of architecture came from his time at Adler & Sullivan.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s style would eventually help define a period of architecture known as International architecture, which, like its name implies, expanded the influence of Chicago architecture to the rest of the world. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a German architect, was inspired by Wright’s style during the process of designing a house for Dr. Edith Farnsworth in Plano, Illinois. If Wright’s Prairie houses intended to blend the natural with the man-made, Mies went a step farther by building the Farnsworth house as a single large room with glass walls. The Farnsworth House by Franz Schulze quotes an unnamed guest who stayed at the house: “You are in nature and not in it, engulfed by it but separate from it. It is altogether unforgettable.”


Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, from “The Farnsworth House” by Franz Schulze

Though Mies was not the first architect to build a house of glass, Philip Johnson, who completed his three years earlier in 1949, acknowledged that his Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, was inspired by Mies’ early designs for the Farnsworth House. Johnson was influenced by Mies in much the same way that Frank Lloyd Wright was influenced by Louis Sullivan, and architecture historian Vincent Scully said that one of Johnson’s accomplishments was that he “revived the great literate tradition of Sullivan and Wright” after their philosophy of romantic individualism fell out of style at the end of the 19th century.


Philip Johnson by Andy Warhol, from “Writings” by Philip Johnson

Johnson is famous for his postmodern buildings, like his skyscraper at 550 Madison Avenue, which brings us back to the place we started. Postmodernist architecture often borrows elements from other, older styles. Though the two are ideologically disparate, the postmodern architecture of the 20th century is just as eclectic as the mishmash of styles used in the 1893 Columbian Exposition and in architecture at large in the 19th century. Frustrated at other architects’ habit of copying historical styles without considering the purpose of the building, Louis Sullivan once wrote, “I urge you to cast away as worthless the shop-worn and empirical notion that an architect is an artist–and accept my assurance that he is and imperatively shall be an interpreter of the national life of his time. If you realize this, you will realize at once and forever that you…are called upon, not to betray, but to express the life of your own day and generation,” a sentiment that is as valuable to architecture as it is to every discipline.


Below, you’ll see a map of all the buildings I mentioned (plus a few bonus buildings), and below that, the list of books I used for research, almost all of which came from the Harrington collection. By no definition is this an exhaustive history of Chicago architecture and architects. I didn’t even touch on the Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill firm, who built the Sears Tower and helped save the Adler & Sullivan Stock Exchange trading floor from demolition, or on John Root, who Philip Johnson said was the best Richardsonian architect in Chicago, ahead of Louis Sullivan. To get a sense of the vast scope of Chicago architects and their relationships over the last couple of centuries, check out the Chicago Architects Project by the Society of Architectural Historians or the Chicago Architecture Foundation.


Barr, Alfred H., Jr. Modern Architects. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1932.

Butler, Rush C. Chicago: The World’s Youngest Great City. Miehle Printing Press & MFG Co., 1929.

Chapman, Linda L., David C. Huntley, and Joyce Jackson. Louis H. Sullivan Architectural Ornaments. Office of Cultural Arts and University Museums, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, 1981.

Garczynski, Edward R. Auditorium. The Prairie Avenue Bookshop, 2007.

Johnson, Philip. Writings. Oxford University Press, 1979.

Lefkowitz, Helen. “The First Forty Years.” Chicago History: The Magazine of the Chicago Historical Society. Spring 1979.

Morrison, Hugh. Louis Sullivan: Prophet of Modern Architecture. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1935.

Schulze, Franz. The Farnsworth House. Lohan Associates, 1997.

Vinci, John. The Art Institute of Chicago: The Stock Exchange Trading Room. The Art Institute of Chicago, 1977.

Posted in Columbia College, student perspective | Leave a comment

Student Perspective: Amateur Photograph Album



This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As I’ve begun to process our Early Photography Collection, one item immediately piqued my interest. The collection is comprised mostly of commercial photography projects: a lot of daguerreotype, ambrotype, carte de visite, and a few tintype portraits which were taken by photographers for hire in studios across the United States, as well as a large group of stereographic postcards from Underwood & Underwood from the Middle East, Korea, and Japan which were reproduced and sold for parlor entertainment. So when I saw an album embossed, “Amateur Photographs,” I was excited to see the personal images, taken for fun rather than for profit.

In 1888, George Eastman first introduced the Kodak Camera, which allowed anyone who could afford the camera to simply snap photographs, return the entire camera to the factory, and then receive their developed prints in the mail. This revelation meant that people didn’t need extra equipment and they didn’t need to deal with the tedious process of developing. Eastman rolled out the Brownie Camera in 1900, which was the same concept marketed towards children and sold for $1 (adjusted for inflation, that would be around $25 to $30 today). Our collection’s amateur album has photos dated between 1903 and 1908, so it’s likely that they were captured by some version of those early Kodak cameras.

On the first page of the album, along with dates and locations recorded in neat cursive, one caption identifies the photographer: “Taken by Harold.” The handwriting is consistent throughout, and no other credit is given, so it is safe to assume Harold took most, if not all, of the pictures in the album. The pages feature Harold’s family, farm animals, special places, a boat outing, and plenty of baby pictures! View the slideshow above to see highlights.

As I cataloged each photo, a few of the captions started to seem a little off. One line identifies a healthy man, no older than 60 years as “Grandpa,” which I figured Harold could call is own father for the sake of the next generation. One simply says, “Papa & Mamma on the pond at Royalston,” which, again, I figured could be Harold using the family names used by his children rather than documenting his own relationship to the subjects. I was really confused, though, when another image showing a young girl and a woman read, “My girl and my teacher, fifth grade.” So, why would someone call their daughter’s teacher “my teacher”?


A self-portrait by Harold, “Me and my guinea pig.”

The answer, as it turns out, is because she was his teacher, and the girl pictured was not his daughter, but his girlfriend. On the last couple pages of the album, Harold features a couple pictures of “Ellicer,” who appears to be the same girl as with his teacher, holding her pet rabbit and then a guinea pig. Then, a photograph of a young boy in the same handwriting is titled, “Me and my guinea pig.” OH! The other captions make sense now! It seems our amateur photographer, Harold, was about 7 to 12 years old.




Works Cited

“CPI Inflation Calculator.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Fineman, Mia. “Kodak and the Rise of Amateur Photography.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oct. 2004,

Kodak Brownie Camera. The Franklin Institute,


Posted in Columbia College | Leave a comment

Intern Perspective: Impartial Memories

By: Matt Carlton, Cultural Studies Student

In a semester of immediate information overload and systemic ties to academic neatness, an internship at the archives disguised an opportunity to start thinking about a process (archiving) so refined and polished at the edges that I wish I could hang it in my living room. The process of archiving information is eerily similar to human memory; this may make one uneasy if they are especially predisposed to being sentimental or nostalgic, but yes, even your memories, while being considered by someone else, can become filed material packed away, organized, in condensed in chemically balanced friendly boxes, protected from any atmospheric harm. This may sound kind of scary and I guess a part of it should be, but it is not supposed to be scary. Just as much yes, in archival organization or research one is dealing with literally personal items, documents, or even attire, but the goal is not directly journalistic here where the intention is to tell a story about an individual, but rather in archives it is much more about the access and process of storing information. So it goes above the point of story-telling to value what the story is at its essence, information. This brings up another point though and what I said about going “above” a story is true.

My project included organizing the personal materials of musician and composer, Doug Lofstrom. Pictured are audio cassettes of Lofstrom’s music recordings and a WBEZ interview from the 1980s

The compelling aspect about archival work is that the material does not become reduced to cold information, but rather there is a humanist or an instinctual attachment to information and its potential. I hope this does not sound elementary or naive, but in recognizing an adoration for information it is also easy to draw the line to representation and accessibility of information that manifest into historical truth. I feel that either “truth” or “assumption” can be used here because it is no secret that historical knowledge is far from transparent in terms of appropriate or accurate information. The same goes for memory; it is the bad ones we find ourselves alone with most of the time however the good memories seem to be there just as much, I know I do not need to explain the importance of balance or moderation, but what if the materials you are finding in your collection paint a slightly more grotesque picture of your subject, the question becomes should it be remembered?

Handwritten score by Doug Lofstrom

There is a lot to be said about someone who can take their bad memories and grow into something positive, usually those are the ones who end up okay. I am not trying to say that the archival process is a cathartic release for the archivist, but rather I am trying to emphasize the real significance of keeping the good with the bad. The urgency for a complete transparent equilibrium in archival work requires a dedication to process, love and passion for the historically mundane (which we both know is just as important as the exciting, nerdy I know) and an understanding of information and the people that put it there. Archival work seems to be a direct impulse to keeping the good with the bad or even first, finding the good, finding the bad and putting it together, coming undone and making it whole.

A favorite album cover in Doug Lofstrom’s materials


Posted in Columbia College | Leave a comment

“A Canterbury Christmas”

Found in our unprocessed Center for Book & Paper Arts Collection, A Canterbury Christmas or A True Relation of the Insurrection in CANTERBURY on Christmas day last, with great hurt befell divers persons thereby is not your average Christmas tale.

With pressure from Puritans, English Parliment had banned the celebration of holidays, which they felt was immoral. Some citizens in the town of Canterbury, however, refused their orders to carry out work as usual on Christmas day, and the letter printed here recounts the events as they unfolded. The story was originally related from a Canterbury citizen to his friend in London, where it was then printed in 1647. The edition pictured here was set and printed for a Christmas workshop by Eugenia Fawcett in 1958.

Read the full story below!


Posted in Columbia College | Leave a comment

Holiday Gift Ideas from the Center for Book and Paper Arts Collection

tommasiniThe days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder, and that means we’re getting closer and closer to the biggest gift-giving holidays of the year. I’ve never been great at giving gifts. If I stumble on something that one of my friends or family members will love, I feel secure in my gift-giving abilities, but often I’m at a loss for ideas, since I always want my presents to be perfect and unique. If you’re really dedicated to upping your gift-giving game, though, you could try making gifts yourself.

Inspiration for handmade gifts can come from strange places. A few months ago, I helped process the Columbia Archives and Special Collections’ Artists’ Books from our Center for Book and Paper Arts collection. The Center for Book and Paper Arts was founded at Columbia College Chicago in 1994 by paper artists Marilyn Sward and Barbara Lazarus Metz. The collection itself contains student work, faculty work, and work by internationally-recognized paper artists, including Amadeo R. Tommasini.


“Ten Racy Recipes” by A.R. Tommasini, 1973

Unless you’re deeply into the paper arts and design community, you probably won’t recognize that name. Tommasini, who sometimes shortened his name to just “Tommy,” worked as a composing room foreman at the University of California Press in 1945 when the press was chosen to print the United Nations Charter. His then-co-worker, Joe Baxley, credits Tommasini’s reputation as a master typographer as one of the reasons the UC Press won the privilege of printing the charter, and Tommasini was also the one to deliver the finished charter to the assembled delegates at the War Memorial Veterans Building in San Francisco when it was finished.

That’s just one dazzling item on Tommasini’s resume. He also worked on much smaller projects, like the series of miniature keepsake books he printed for his friends at Christmastime between 1947 and 1979. Since his death, these have become prized collector’s items, and most of them are available in the Center for Book and Paper Arts collection. Some of them contain personal reflections from Tommy himself, but others contain poetry or excerpts from larger books.


“What Now? What Next” by A.R. Tommasini, 1958

If you’re hurting for gift ideas, don’t have a small fortune to drop on presents, and don’t want to give your mom any more macaroni art, maybe Tommy’s Keepsakes are the inspiration you need. You don’t even need to be a renowned printer who can list the United Nations as a reference to make your own books.

My mom has been a craftswoman her whole life and has taught papermaking and bookmaking workshops for kids and adults (including for me, several times), so I asked her to walk me through the process once more. You’ll need cardboard, fabric, glue, paper of any kind, and a large needle and thread or embroidery floss.


Photo by Debby Lovell

First, cut two equally-sized rectangles of cardboard for the covers and lay them down on your fabric side-by-side with a ¼ inch space between them for the spine. Cut the fabric around the cardboard, leaving about an inch of space around each edge, cutting a notch at each corner so the fabric won’t be as bulky when you glue it down. Smear the cardboard with glue and set it back down on the fabric, sticky side down. Spread a thin layer of glue around the edges of the cardboard and fold the fabric over it. Press, smooth, and set aside.


Diagram by Debby Lovell

For the pages, take a stack of 4-8 sheets of paper, cut to fit inside your book. Fold them in half, and press down the fold so that it’s nice and crisp. Poke three holes in the crease with the needle: One in the center and two more on either side of that. Now, thread the needle, but don’t knot it. If you don’t have embroidery floss, double up your sewing thread so that it’s more sturdy. Squeeze the needle down through that center hole, leaving a tail of about 3 inches, and bring it up through either of the other holes. Then, put the needle down through the center hole again and bring it back through the other side hole. Cut the needle off the thread and tie off the ends. You can trim the dangling pieces of the thread, or tie it into a decorative bow.


Diagram by Debby Lovell

Smear the outermost pages of the booklet with another thin layer of white glue and place the spine of the booklet into the space between the cardboard covers. Carefully smooth the glued pages against the cardboard, and leave open to dry.

That’s my mom’s standard book recipe. For ideas on how to make a keepsake book unique, I looked to another artist whose work is available in the Center for Book and Paper Arts collection: Suze Weinberg. Weinberg taught paper crafting classes and workshops for many years and created her own line of crafting supplies. She’s now retired, but in the 1990s she helped collect and publish tips and tricks for paper crafting, book making, and hand lettering in a series called “Paper Crafting Secrets.”

If you want to try decorating your covers with a collage, rather than fabric, Paper Crafting Secrets In House! contains a list of ideas for collage materials, put together by


“Paper Crafting Secrets Unplugged!” edited by Suze Weinberg, 1996

artist Janet Hofacker. These include photographs, dress patterns, wrapping paper and tissue paper, maps, graphs, candy wrappers, magazine pages, greeting cards and postcards, food labels, book pages, and paper napkins. You could even try using foreign currency, if you have old bills on hand that didn’t get spent on vacation. In Paper Crafting Secrets Unlocked!, Hofacker provides instructions for making brown bag wrapping paper that you could also use in place of fabric. In short: crumple a brown paper bag to give it texture, then lay flat. Paint the paper; Hofacker suggests diluting acrylic paint with a small amount of water to make a color wash and applying a few layers onto the bag. Let dry for 24 hours, iron on top of a stack of newspapers, and spray with a fixative.


You could also try decorating with stamps, stickers, your own drawings, colored duct tape and washi tape, or anything else you like. You can leave the pages blank and make the book a notebook or a sketchbook, or you can print a special message inside. The possibilities are as various and as unique as the people you’ll give them to.


“Printers’ Marks, Curious and Challenging” by A.R. Tommasini, 1967


Quintero, Fernando. “Baxley of UC Printing Recalls Marathon That Led to Birth of the United Nations.” Berkeleyan, 17 May 1995

“Suze Weinberg.”

Weinberg, Suze. Paper Crafting Secrets In House!. PAPER CRAFTERS, 1997

Weinberg, Suze. Paper Crafting Secrets Unplugged!. PAPER CRAFTERS, 1996

Posted in Columbia College | Leave a comment

What was Columbia like in the 1890s?

Inspired by a research question, Head Archivist Heidi Marshall and I sat down to discuss what Columbia was like around the turn of the 20th century. How were the administration, the curriculum, and the location of the school, then titled The Columbia School of Oratory, different than Columbia College Chicago’s today?

By 1895 the college comprised of about 85 students and seven teachers, including co-founders Mary Blood and Ida Riley themselves. The institution offered lecture series, faculty recitals, and guest reading performances in addition to courses. Between 1895 and 1900, the school offered a four-year professional degree, which thirteen students achieved. After 1900, programs offered included a two-year undergraduate degree, a one-year graduate degree, and courses for summers and evenings. At that point, enrollment was around 100 students between the degree programs and around 50 students in each the summer and evening courses.


The curriculum included physical training, such as these examples of “positions to be avoided” from “Effective Public Speaking: Matters of Personal Appearance.”


Columbia was originally founded with the purpose of training students in elocution and expression. Blood and Riley modeled the curriculum on the teachings of Charles Wesley Emerson, whom Blood studied under at her alma mater, Emerson College. They believed that students must train in four stages in order to master speech: intellect, emotion, will, and physique. Coursework in the mid-1890s included Physical Training, Bodily Expression, Voice, Literature, English, Drama, Bible, Psychology, and, of course, Public Speaking.

Students of the 1890s also experienced a completely different city life than students today. Columbia’s home from 1895-1916, 64 E. Van Buren Street, did not have dormitories for women, so many students lived in apartments and rented rooms in The Loop and on Michigan Avenue. At the time, there were still single-family homes and two, three-story apartment buildings in the area, like these homes on Michigan Ave. in the 1890s.

2900 block s mich

2900 S. Michigan, c. 1890s. Courtesy Art Institute Chicago.


A trip to the library may have looked something like this photo, showing the Chicago Cultural Center, which was Chicago’s first central public library, in 1907.

cultural center in 1907

Chicago Cultural Center, 1907. Courtesy of Chicago History Museum.


And near our current building at 916 S. Wabash, stood the Old Saint Mary’s Church, pictured here in 1908.

900 s wabash in 1908

Old St. Mary’s Church, 1908. Courtesy of Chicago History Museum.


As a current student, I may not take classes with the school’s president or study Blood and Riley’s four principles of speech, but to see the Columbia students knew more than 120 years ago makes me even more excited to participate in the rich history of Columbia College Chicago.


Works Cited

“Psychological Development of Expression,” 2017. Finding aid at the College Archives & Special Collections of Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, IL.

Columbia College Chicago. “Course Catalog” (1905-1906). Catalogs, College Publications, College Archives & Special Collections, Columbia College Chicago.

Columbia College Chicago. “Summer Course Catalog” (1893). Catalogs, College Publications, College Archives & Special Collections, Columbia College Chicago.

Little, Henry Gilman. Hollis, Seventy Years Ago: Personal Recollections. 1894. Reprint. Charleston: BiblioLife, 2009. 170-174. Print.

Wallace, Karl Richards. History of Speech Education in America. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1954. 305–306, 315. Print.

“Chicago Cultural Center – Architecture and History.” City of Chicago: The City of Chicago’s Official Site,

“Michigan Avenue, Looking North, Showing the Main Chicago Public Library on One Side of the Street and a Horse Drawn Van Driving along Michigan Avenue.” Explore Chicago Collections, Chicago, 1907,

“Michigan Avenue.” Explore Chicago Collections, Chicago, 1890,

“St. Mary’s Catholic Church with Horse-Drawn Carriages Driving along the Street and Men Standing on the Sidewalk in Front of the Church.” Explore Chicago Collections, Chicago, 10 Feb. 1908,

Posted in Columbia College | Leave a comment

Student Perspective: The Heart of Curated Collections

Being approached with the opportunity to process a collection was exciting. It was a task completely shiny and new, far from the procedural digitization and organization from before. Only one other student worker at the time had been working on one, and another was about to start with me. The collection given to me, however, was something entirely new: a curated collection. Not only was this permanent addition to the Archives on me to understand and make available and documented for the entirety of our archive’s life, it was something we had not yet dealt with, and something relatively rare in the world of traditional archives. But Columbia, with all of its eccentricities, continues to keep us on our toes. Before I could even consider how to go about processing, I had to figure out what this newly dubbed collection type was all about.

Curated collections are different from standard collections in that the focus and origin of the collection is not from the person that had created the material organically themselves, rather a collection of sources that ended up together for a specific purpose. In the case of this collection, it was donated to the College Archives and Special Collections by Marlene Lipinski, a long time former professor in Foundation and Graphic Design, at the time of her retirement. Thusly, the collection was dubbed the Marlene Lipinski Collection.


J Plate Print, Frederic W. Goudy, 1922 (c) 1918

Consisting of books, leaf prints, and a DVD, the collection was a part of her personal library as well as resources that she used to teach her classes. The topic matter was the same, graphic design, but each book was individual in what aspect of the topic it dealt with or was an example of. Now I had to ask myself how to put these all in an order that made sense to any archivist or researcher that would access the collection in the future, which meant delving into what collections are.

Processing a collection is where the true artistry of an archivist shines through. It is taking a collection of items and finding out what the best grouping and order is in the way the archivist chooses would most benefit learning from the collection. Processing is being the storyteller, the expert on the collection, carefully dictating how it will be perceived throughout its history in its institution.

Did the original order have purpose? Does it keep insight? Would it make sense to group by subject matter? Date? Which one is truest to the collection as it was held by Marlene Lipinski? To come up with the answer, I had to get to know the collection, personally going through each item and taking notes on their content, as well as doing research on their history. Over time, doing this gives everything its own individual breath of life. Each item becomes more than just the information at face value, it becomes something with its own story, its own history.

Nestled in a book from 1981, one of the most interesting pieces of the collection was hiding. I knew that there was a leaf print in the book from reading correspondences from the process of receiving the collection, but it was something more than I had anticipated. A print dating all the way back to 1499, overtaking the previous oldest piece in our collection by entire centuries, was folded away as a special gift to the first numbered copies of Julius Firmicus Maternus and the Aldine Edition of the Scriptores Astonomici Veteres. Ours is number 107. Aldo Manuzio (a.k.a. Aldus Manutius) was one of the most renowned printers of the Venetian High Renaissance. He helped develop italic type and libelli portatiles, the predecessor to the paperback book, and one of his original prints from the time period was in this collection, in my hands. It was almost unbelievable, but the book verified its authenticity. I felt as if I’d discovered some hidden gem.


Excerpt from Aldo Manuzio’s Scriptores Astronomici Veteres, 1499

The more I dug, the more personality shined through. From books with signatures to date and time the book, to a photograph of some unknown person tucked away in the front page, to the hilarious and informative lecture of a modern day graphic designer. Each item had its own story to tell and information to share with the reader that was lucky enough to pick it up. Names of people, places, companies, and books were like guides to continue further, look for more.

Upon searching through other resources to get more background on the time, I quickly learned that a lot of the people were a part of the Arts and Crafts Movement or were inspired by it some time later. The more I learned about them and read their material, names like Frederic W. Goudy, Oz Cooper, William Caslon, Elbert Hubbard, and Ben Shahn became real people to me, rather than mere letters conveniently ordered on a page. Almost all of them were connected in some way or another, either explicitly or indirectly. Each and every one adding to the history and tale of their fields.

Going through this collection was learning the life and heart of typography and graphic designs from its start. I always found myself digging for more and more as each figure ended up distinct in its history. This is something only a curated collection can bring: a scope of history to delve into and branch out further, carefully chosen by the person that brought them all together. I look forward to the opportunity to process more collections like this in the future.

Posted in Columbia College, Curated Collections, Special Collections books, student perspective | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Student Perspective: Unveiling Mysteries through Processing

By: Amara Andrew

My palms were sweating, my heartbeat was racing and I felt like I was about to pass out. I was a nervous wreck when I was first approached about processing a collection for the archives. All that passed through my mind were questions like: what exactly is processing?, what if I mess up the entire organization of the archives while completing this project?, how was I able to fool them into believing that I was responsible enough to handle this? Even though I retained some very basic knowledge about the interior operations of an archive, thanks to a past internship, I still felt very much unprepared for the task at hand. After talking over the logistics of processing with one of my supervisors, however, I felt more engaged (and dare I say, excited?) for the new project that lay ahead of me.


Feeling like David taking on Goliath right about now.

You know how when you’re either reading a book, watching a movie or are engrossed in a TV show and you become more attached to the characters than you thought you could be? Well, that’s exactly how I felt once I finished processing the Center for Book and Paper Arts Artists’ Books Collection. I felt as though I personally knew Marilyn Sward and Barbara Metz (the founders of the Center for Book and Paper Arts) and even some of the artists through the notes and documents that we have here at the archives. It felt as though we were all drinking buddies.

The portion of the collection that I finished processing was for our very own Center for Book and Paper Arts. It was a series of Artists’ Books that were created by our extraordinarily talented CBPA students and faculty as well as works that were created by world renowned book and paper artists. It’s funny because before I was asked to process this collection, I had already been looking through these boxes out of curiosity when I was lurking around the archives. It was as though I was constantly being pulled back to them. Spooky. These books are absolutely beautiful, though, since each one has such an individual personality and unique look. Even though, as an Art History major, my field deals with the practice of looking at and discussing art, rather than making it, I was truly inspired when looking at the different interpretations people had as to the concept of a book.

One of the first things that occurs when processing a collection (after washing your hands, of course!) is to become as familiar as possible with these items because they’re going to become your best friends for the next few weeks (Sorry, Jackie!). In total, my processing project took about 2-3 months with me completing my finding aid a week before finishing up my undergrad (talk about stress). The funny thing, though, was that I was a lot less stressed than I thought I would be. Now, how in the world did that happen?! Well, foldering (putting the items into archivally safe folders) and then organizing these items actually helped reduce my stress levels. It is a very rhythmic, repetitive process that is surprisingly similar to meditation in that it still requires your attention, but in a less aggressive, urgent way than other everyday activities. Worrying about your finals? Process a collection! Boy/girlfriend trouble? Process a collection! Just quit smoking and want to punch something? Process a collection! But I digress…

By now, you are probably wondering what the hell a collection even is. It is basically just a group of materials with a common theme that are combined together. Seems simple enough, non? No. Collections can range in size from a few folders to a sea of boxes. Thankfully mine was only 12 boxes or I certainly would have needed a lifeguard to pluck me out of that ocean of information. It can get somewhat confusing after digging through the mountain of objects at your feet and, unless you have a memory that would make an elephant blush, MAKE SURE YOU TAKE HIGHLY DETAILED NOTES! You know how I said earlier that the objects in the collection would be your new best friends? Scratch that. Your notes are now your best friends. These will be your salvation as you begin to construct your finding aid in the future.


Everyone’s a critic… especially Spot.

Another friendly piece of advice is respect des fonds (Ayyyy). No, I’m not talking about The Fonz, I’m talking about des fonds. Respect des fonds basically just means respect the natural order in which a collection came to you. Of course, you can shift things around if you need to, but at the end of the day you have to think about what is going to make the most sense in terms of the collection’s ultimate purpose. The archivist is, more or less, a storyteller. Their job is to notice the main theme or pertinent historical nuggets that can connect items together. They are supposed to tell that collection’s story as historically accurate as possible. While this is what we strive for, we are still human so mistakes can and do happen. Such is life.

As I now get ready to head to graduate school at UIC, I am caught reflecting on all the times and valuable information that I have obtained here at the College Archives. I am truly happy to not only have gotten the chance to process a collection, but to have also had the chance to work at the Columbia College Archives & Special Collections.

If you’d like to view the Artists’ Books in this collection, read through the finding aid, make an appointment, and let us know which pieces you would like to study!

Posted in Columbia College, student perspective | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment