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. http://digitalcommons.colum.edu/casc_fa/18

Columbia College Chicago. “Course Catalog” (1905-1906). Catalogs, College Publications, College Archives & Special Collections, Columbia College Chicago. http://digitalcommons.colum.edu/cadc_coursecatalogs/2

Columbia College Chicago. “Summer Course Catalog” (1893). Catalogs, College Publications, College Archives & Special Collections, Columbia College Chicago. http://digitalcommons.colum.edu/cadc_coursecatalogs/1

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, www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/chicago_culturalcenter-architectureandhistory.html.

“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, explore.chicagocollections.org/image/chicagohistory/71/6h4cx9q/.

“Michigan Avenue.” Explore Chicago Collections, Chicago, 1890, explore.chicagocollections.org/image/artic/85/z89314n/.

“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, explore.chicagocollections.org/image/chicagohistory/71/pk07854/

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

Student Perspective: Importance of Research Skills

I was sent to the Special Collections Book Room with the task of finding items that exemplify the scope of the collection and could make interesting social media posts. In other words, to find cool stuff and take pictures of it. One of the last items Wendy Hall, Special Collections Librarian, showed me on my trip was a limited edition reprinting of the original Mary Marvel comic by Fawcett Publishing. What? As someone who has recently began to delve into the world of comics (see: Gwen Poole, Future Quest, Doom Patrol, Snotgirl, and X-Men), I knew enough to know that I had no idea what was going on: I had heard of Captain Marvel from DC, who was a kid? I think? But there was also Carol Danvers, Ms. Marvel from Marvel, whom Rogue totally put into a coma in the X-Men animated series in the 90’s? BUT, I know that Carol is also now called Captain Marvel? Maybe? And what is Shazam? Why does she say that, I thought Shazam was also a superhero? In short, I was confused.


Fawcett’s Mary Marvel

To be able to comprehensibly describe the item, and for my own satisfaction, I knew I had to do some research. Just by flipping through the comics, I found Mary to be part of the Marvel Family. She is a regular girl, until she utters the word “shazam,” which is how she transforms in “The World’s Mightiest Girl.”  Her sidekicks are Uncle Marvel, whom I later discovered was not her real uncle, and his niece, Freckles. To better understand Mary’s origin, I researched Captain Marvel, who turns out to be Mary’s twin brother (sometimes, but bear with me).

I found that Captain Marvel was an original character by Fawcett Publishing. His civilian name is Billy Batson, and he is ten years old. A wizard named Shazam gifted him with the powers of Solomon (wisdom), Hercules (strength), Atlas (stamina), Zeus (power), Achilles (courage), and Mercury (speed), whose names anagram the word “SHAZAM.” Just as I had seen Mary do, to activate his powers, Billy says, “shazam.” This transforms him into his adult, super-powered alter ego, Captain Marvel. In this continuity (timeline), Mary Baston is Billy’s once-lost twin sister, who is also gifted the powers of Shazam, and soon given her own spin-off series titled “Mary Marvel,” which is what we have in our collection.

My main question was still left unanswered, though: why are there so many Captain Marvels? From fan-made forums to DC and Marvel’s official websites, I searched for a definitive explanation, but no one source had the answers I was looking for. Much like any collection we process, I ended up compiling my research from many sources. What I found was that in the 1950s, DC Comics sued Fawcett for the rights to Captain Marvel and the whole Marvel Family, including Mary, over Captain Marvel’s similarity to Superman. As DC cleared the rights to the Captain Marvel character, however, Marvel Comics secured the title rights to “Captain Marvel” for their own superhero, Captain Marvel. In 1968, Marvel’s Captain Marvel took form in an alien military officer named Mar-Vell. Mar-vell and his successors, who would also wear the mantle of “Captain Marvel,” are completely unrelated to the shazam-ing Fawcett family. DC, however, did not want to throw away their own (acquired) Captain Marvel, so, the titles of all of DC’s Captain Marvel projects were carried out under the Marvel Family catchphrase, “Shazam.”

So, how are Marvel Marvel and Billy Baston incorporated into comics more recently? In 2011, DC cancelled all of their ongoing comics and launched 52 new series, creating a totally new continuity, complete with revamped origin stories. Billy Baston made his New 52 debut in Justice League Issue #7. In this new continuity, Billy is a foster child bounced between homes after the death of his parents. Eventually he ends up in the Velasquez home, where he has five adoptive siblings, one being Mary. In the New 52, DC also completely re-brands Billy as “Shazam,” instead of Captain Marvel, most likely to avoid confusion with Marvel’s popular, ongoing Captain Marvel series. While Mary has been temporarily given powers along with the other adopted siblings, it is not apparent whether or not she will develop powers of her own, or be given an in depth backstory in this series.


The New 52 Marvel Family collectively kicking butt.

Recently, DC announced plans for a full live-action Shazam movie. Other than a loose date of 2019 and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being announced as Shazam’s main villain, Black Adam, we know nothing. Who will play young or adult Billy Baston? Which origin story will transform Billy into Shazam? Or will a completely new story be created? Will Mary make an appearance? If so, will she have powers?? Will the dynamic duo make a return to twinhood???

Questions aside, I found this small project to be really fun. It’s a perfect example of the importance research skills, inside and outside of an academic setting. Knowing where to find, how to interpret, and how to compile information are talents that allow us to process our collections, let researchers meaningfully make use of our material, and, now, help me quickly untangle a mess of Marvels.

If you want to check out the Mary Marvel comics in our special collections, just make an appointment!

Works Cited

Bricken, Rob. “The Captain Marvel/Ms. Marvel/Shazam Clusterf*ck Explained.” Io9. N.p., 04 Sept. 2013. Web. 12 Oct. 2016. <http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-captain-marvel-ms-marvel-shazam-clusterf-ck-explai-1251423862>.

Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) – Marvel Universe Wiki: The Definitive Online Source for Marvel Super Hero Bios.” Marvel Universe Wiki RSS. Marvel, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2016. <http://marvel.com/universe/Captain_Marvel_(Mar-Vell)>.

Holmes, By Adam. “Shazam: What We Know So Far.” CINEMABLEND. N.p., 20 Sept. 2016. Web. 12 Oct. 2016. <http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Shazam-What-We-Know-So-Far-71717.html>.

“Mary Batson (New Earth).” DC Database. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2016. <http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Mary_Batson_(New_Earth)>.

“Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) – Marvel Universe Wiki: The Definitive Online Source for Marvel Super Hero Bios.” Marvel Universe Wiki RSS. Marvel, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2016. <http://marvel.com/universe/Ms._Marvel_(Carol_Danvers)>.

“SHAZAM!” DC. DC, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2016. <http://www.dccomics.com/characters/shazam>.

Wilson, Matt D. “The Messed-Up History Of Marvel’s ‘Captain Marvel’ And Why It Doesn’t Matter.” Comics Alliance. Comics Alliance, 30 July 2012. Web. 12 Oct. 2016. <http://comicsalliance.com/captain-marvel-history-carol-danvers-mar-vell-shazam/>.

Posted in Special Collections books, student perspective | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Loops and Swirls: Musings on Script

Flowing shapes. Loops and swirls. Unbroken lines of ink linking letters together to form words. Even if you don’t read cursive, you can still appreciate its swirling aesthetics, the art of the form.

Acquiring the skill to write in cursive was the bane of elementary school existence; trying to imitate the flowing letters without adding too many shaky strokes onto the crazy, oversize lined paper was harder than it looked.


The objective, of course, was to learn to read, write, and create in script. Before the computer type replaced the handwritten form, people wrote like this:


From our Phi Sigma Collection


Author George Bernard Shaw best describes it: “the beauty and nobility, the august mission and destiny, of human handwriting.”

Much material held in archives and special collections contain documents written in cursive. In a society where the typed form is the norm, handwritten script is seen as archaic, almost anachronistic, and certainly old-fashioned.

In fact writing in script has been so maligned that the teaching of it ceased in earnest in the early 21st century, dropped from the educational core in elementary schools across the country.

Media decried this practice, including the Columbia Chronicle; in 2011 its assistant metro editor, Vanessa Morton, wrote ““Cursive writing shouldn’t be replaced; instead, it should continue to be taught as a basic everyday skill.”

Now, a generation of American students hasn’t consistently been taught to read and write script; they don’t know the joys of forming words from a continuous line of ink nor the sorrows of trying to read another person’s perplexing, highly individual, and captivating handwritten style.

Where does this leave the material in archival collections, though, if future generations cannot interpret the loops and flows of handwriting? There are efforts being made to solve this problem. In our own archives, for instance, current Phi Sigma members transcribe their own materials. Nationally, the US National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) has addressed this issue through the Citizen Archivist Dashboard where anyone who can read cursive today can transcribe the millions of documents held in its archives to familiar computer type so that future generations can decipher the swirls, the hieroglyphics, and mysteries of script.

Posted in Columbia College, Notes from the Archivist | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Notes from the Archivist: Welcome Back!

Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Fellowship of the Ring. National Treasure. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What do these all these works have in common (aside from being awesome)? The answer is ARCHIVES.

In films and television, archives are typically portrayed as dimly lit, cavernous spaces filled with towers of papers and artifacts. Characters then spend tons of time digging through boxes and blowing dust off things before they finally find what they’re searching for.


The reality is, of course, a bit different. Yes, archives have documents, books, and items that illustrate history; however, you don’t have to go through daring feats or fight bad guys to access the historical, cool, and unique items in archives. The most you would have to do is read through a finding aid and pick out something that sounds interesting… and you might have to wear some fancy blue gloves to handle material.


The material in Columbia’s archival collection is primary source material, which means it shows the contemporary views of historical events or reflects the culture of the time. The collection documents the culture and history of the College and illustrates the life work of people whose collections are available to research.

Subjects in the collection include journalism, fashion, photography, design, editorial cartoons, activism, music, artist books, radio, and other courses taught at Columbia. Collections soon ready for research relate to World War II and social justice movements.

So welcome back to campus and as you start a new year at Columbia College Chicago, know there is a treasure trove of material available to you, some right at your fingertips and some you’ll have to dig for.


Posted in Columbia College | Leave a comment

Intern Perspective: The Worth of a Small Collection

By: Maddie McDermott

Finding internships in archives can be a daunting task. Pretty much every archive has a backlog of collections that need to be processed: worked through, repaired, rehoused, cataloged, organized, and prepared for researchers. Because one of an archives’ main goals is to assist people who come in to learn, these tasks are very important. However, they’re also time-consuming and sometimes tedious. If you have the option of processing a cool collection over a boring one, it’s usually not a hard choice. When I had the opportunity to process a collection of radio scripts here at the College Archives & Special Collections at Columbia, I jumped at the chance. In my mind, I envisioned piles of old radio shows, with scripts for detective mysteries or talent shows, folk tales and story times. What I found didn’t fit into any of the categories I imagined, but surpassed my expectations in other ways.

On the first day of my internship, I sat down with the collection of radio scripts. It was smaller than I imagined – rather than piles of scripts, it was more like a couple small stacks. And as I began the first step of my processing, an initial look-through to get a feel for dates and contents, I realized that they weren’t the hardboiled detective stories or dramatic soap operas I expected, either. No, the first folder I looked through was full of … commercials for a local department store? It was a little disappointing. Here I was, thinking that I’d get to be entertained by radio shows for weeks, and I was wrong. Gone were my plans – outreach possibilities to theatre classes! Opportunities to bring in radio students! Potentially recreating shows for audiences! I was only through the first folder, though, and my radio script luck was about to change.


The scripts in this collection date from 1941 to 1945, the entirety of America’s involvement in World War II. I could see the war reflected in some of the commercials I first ran into, mostly in regards to rationed materials and suggested alternatives (leg makeup instead of nylons, ladies?). Suddenly, though, I was running into war-focused programming. Thanks to a US Treasury-sponsored show that ran weekly during the war, I was now reading interviews where soldiers detailed their experiences in combat and businesses touted their involvement in war bond sales. These interviews were totally unexpected for me, and incredibly interesting. They also meant that this collection could be of interest to a whole new group of researchers. Instead of people interested in vintage radio culture, people looking for soldiers’ experiences in the Pacific Theatre or information on the war bond program could use these scripts. They offer insights into life on the homefront, particularly as to what information about the war was released to everyday people. They even include a few interviews with veterinarians and animal care in the 1940s!


I also did a little research into the woman we believe amassed this group of radio scripts, Helen Mary Knox. I found out that she grew up in northwest Illinois, went to college in Iowa, and then became one of the first women radio broadcasters in that state. She then moved back to Chicago, and worked as a writer, broadcaster, and manager for two different stations in the city. Having a woman radio broadcaster was unusual for the time, and having a woman in positions of power at the radio was even more unusual. Knox continued to defy stereotypes even after moving away from Chicago. While teaching in an inner-city grade school, she noticed that many students needed leadership experience, and also had no contact with nature. She helped found Outward Bound Adventures, an outdoor leadership academy (unaffiliated with Outward Bound). It’s still a community fixture in Pasadena, California, offering outdoor skills and leadership education to underprivileged youths and young adults.

In the end, the scripts I worked with were not the scripts I anticipated. I didn’t spend my days leafing through romantic tales or scary mysteries, and I don’t think that any radio or acting class is going to want to recreate these scripts for practice. But the scripts that I did find are full of information that a whole different group of researchers will want to explore, and I’m proud of my finished product.


I’m happy to announce that the collection is officially available for research. You can view the finding aid online and be sure to make an appointment with us if you’d like to use the collection!

Posted in Columbia College | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Student Perspective: Digital Interactivity in Archives

One of the first things I remember about working in the Columbia College Archives & Special Collections as an assistant since the start of my college career was being told that I was the first Interactive Arts and Media (IAM) student to work here. Whenever I told people who I was meeting in the Archives for the first time what my major was, I was met with a bit of subtle surprise that left me wondering if it really was such an out of place thing for there to be an IAM student working here. I had to stop and think… What made it so odd to be an IAM student working in an archival setting? After all, archival work and IAM studies aren’t mutually exclusive.

Throughout my relatively brief time at the Archives so far, I’ve done jobs from editing digitizations, photocopying materials for researchers, sorting through boxes upon boxes of material, to digitizing a large amount of mail order violin lessons from 1937 – 1946. Most of my time was spent in Adobe Bridge and Photoshop for hours upon hours, the simplest functions becoming second nature as keyboard shortcuts became ingrained into my being and satisfaction rising with every document marked complete on a spreadsheet. Every action at the College Archives is accurately organized, physical copies and digital backups essential.


View the complete set of digitized Sherwood Music School’s violin lessons from 1937-1946.

Isn’t this what also makes an IAM student? We spend hours in Maya, Unity, Illustrator, Photoshop and/or Visual Studio, store backups on servers, hard drives, clouds, and flash drives so we don’t lose that work, and make sure we name things well and organize them carefully so we can find them again when needed. These are all things an IAM student can relate to, and they are reminiscent of the same care and practice of the Archives. IAM students still start with pencil and paper, and still require a good deal of research. (Could you imagine how out of touch games would be without time spent researching their subject?) It’s certainly not a department as out of touch with the physical (and archival) world as people might first assume.

I don’t think that archives and people working in the interactive arts and media field realize how similar they are to each other. They both have a penchant for organization and making their work available for others for their respective reasons. Columbia’s own archival collection and many like it across the world spend a lot of time digitizing material for researchers and public viewing, and while extremely helpful, a simple PDF can become lackluster. Isn’t there something IAM could do to help make it even more appealing while keeping its integrity?

Could you imagine a fully interactive way to read an old document you can’t go visit yourself? Digitizing a book in a fully rendered 3D way that a user could interact with in a way closest as physically possible to the real thing? Having the archive using it making it happen with the simple upload of a PDF and a bit of light data entry?

It would be amazing for archives to be able to have their digital and physical copies be even closer in comparison in a way like this, and some archives are already making steps to make their digital collections interactive, though not quite to this degree yet. With a bit of increased intermingling and cooperation between the Interactive Arts and Media and archival fields, I’m sure it could happen. I would love to see something like this bloom into the next big thing in digitizing archives across the globe!


Evangeline Piña is an Interactive Arts and Media freshman at Columbia College Chicago. She has worked in the College Archives and Special Collections as an Archives Student Assistant since September 2015.
Posted in Columbia College, student perspective | Leave a comment

Student Perspective: Exploring the Archives

Since I began working at the Columbia College Archives and Special Collections early last semester, my friends and family have asked me what I do here. When I say, “Sort, digitize, and maintain collections,” usually the response I get is an uninterested, “Oh, okay, how much do you get paid?” Without explaining what exactly that entails, it seems like people lose interest pretty quickly. So I figured it might be easier to put everything into perspective and explain what I’ve been doing at the Archives by talking about some of my recent projects.

Material Sorting: In the process of collecting items and records for an archival collection, the first step after accessioning the items is to sort everything into its correct record group. Although most of the material we sorted was fairly recent or uninteresting (meeting minutes, budget plans, emails, and memos), there were a few standouts. Like an admission ticket to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, an obscene amount of printed screenshots of Columbia’s web pages from the 90s, and a course description for an astrology class offered at Columbia in the 70s (and why each of the twelve houses affect you!)

astrology course

“Each of us has all twelve signs of the zodiac within us.” A course description from Introductory Astrology classes at Columbia in the 1970s.

Organizing Collections: While the sweatiest, this was also probably my favorite project. The Archives and Special Collections recently moved to our current office and storage space at 619 S Wabash Ave, and we’re still settling in. Now, I’m talking about moving an entire archival collection, so it’s been quite a long process to get everything organized, even after the initial move itself. A whole bunch of boxes and collections were out of order and we’ve have been putting them back in the right place. I mean boxes weighing anywhere between 2 and 50 pounds. It was tiring, but I really enjoyed it; getting to handle and explore our collections is a cool way to discover interesting material. Especially Book & Paper Arts, where the duck people painting lives.

duck people

An art piece from the Book & Paper Arts collection.

Sherwood Music School Digitization: This is the project I worked on the longest. I worked with my fellow student Evangeline on digitizing the definitive set of Sherwood correspondence violin lessons from 1937-1946. We scanned them, processed them, and turned them into readable PDFs, which were then uploaded to the Digital Commons and made available to the public. Not going to lie, besides an illustration of a man with five arms, it was a pretty uneventful project, but seeing the PDFs online and accessible to anyone was super rewarding. Being able to provide these rare documents to anyone in the world really puts the work we do into perspective.

violin man

“The Correct Positions of the Right Arm in Bowing” a.k.a. The Man with Five Arms, from the Sherwood Music School Violin Lesson Books.

As far as college jobs go, as an Art History major, I think I could’ve done a lot worse. So, yes, when my roommates ask me what I do at the College Archives, scanning old documents and sorting boxes does sound pretty mundane. But really, it’s not so much about what I do; it’s about the cool stuff I can find while I do it. It’s about sharing what I find with the world. To explore our collections and see what we’ve digitized and made available to the public, visit Digital Commons.


Posted in Columbia College, student perspective | Leave a comment

Why are we named Columbia?

The World's Columbian Exposition

As we welcome our new students to campus this week, many might be wondering why we are named Columbia. It must be that we are somehow related to the New York flagship, Columbia University, right?

Wrong. Typical to Columbia College Chicago fashion, we remain unique even within the context of our name.

The beginning of this academic year marks the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Columbia School of Oratory in Chicago by Mary A. Blood and Ida Morey Riley. Both educators of oratory and elocution, Blood and Riley met while teaching alongside each other in Ames, Iowa in 1887. When both had finished their Master’s degrees in Oration at Emerson College (then Monroe College of Oratory) in Boston, they decided to move to Chicago and open their own school.

At that time, studies in public speaking, elocution and oratory were highly valued. As stated in the 1905 Columbia College catalog, “Nowhere can the precept ‘know thyself’ be so fully realized as in a school of true expression.” As part of the larger Lyceum Movement in the United States, many associations, institutes and organizations were formed to help improve the social, intellectual and moral fabric of society through circuits of lectures.

Think of it this way: Today, we have access to immeasurable amounts of information at our fingertips through our mobile devices. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, access to new information was extremely limited. Therefore, attending these lectures or the World’s Fairs were among the most efficient ways to absorb and access information.

But why did Blood and Riley choose Chicago? And why did they name it Columbia?

When Columbia College’s founders were opening their school, learning the art of public speaking and expression had become a highly-demanded skill. Knowing that the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago would draw thousands people to the city, Blood and Riley cleverly situated their school at this location. They opened their school in August 1890, three years before the Chicago World’s Fair, which was to be called the Columbia Exposition. Blood and Riley named their school in honor of this enormous exposition, as did many other businesses at the time. But unlike Columbia College Chicago, many of these businesses only changed their names temporarily or have since gone out of business.

Columbia University in New York, however, was founded in 1754 and originally dubbed King’s College. After the Revolutionary War, the University renamed itself Columbia to embody the “patriotic fervor that had inspired the nation’s quest for independence.”  [http://www.columbia.edu/content/history.html]

Although Columbia University and Columbia College Chicago share “Columbia” within our titles, we have very different reasons for our choices. “Columbia” to us means expression, creativity, innovation and connections. From its very beginning and through its namesake, Columbia College has woven itself into the fabric of Chicago. Additionally, the original educational purposes and theories of Blood and Riley’s school have continuously informed the evolution of our pedagogies, curricula and student experiences. The art of self-expression is still embedded in nearly all coursework and concentrations at Columbia.

To find out more about the College’s name, view the video, The Many Names of Columbia.

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