This website aims to provide you with a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the research processes, successes, and challenges of the members of an introductory writing and researching class at Purdue. As a class, we are collaborating to research student life at Purdue at the turn of the twentieth century. This research, conducted primarily within Purdue Archives and Special Collections, includes choosing, investigating, and analyzing the material objects those students left behind. We begin with an initial report on our objects—what they are and how we chose them, what research questions they prompt, and what we hope to discover.
Subsequent postings will detail our findings and our frustrations. We invite you to read and especially to comment on these brief reports. As we conclude the class we’ll describe our next steps and how the project may continue after our term ends.
This course is the second iteration of an approach to undergraduate research and writing that relies on original research in Purdue University’s Archives and Special Collections. The course is meant to introduce students to research methods (especially original, archival research), to archival theory, and to writing for academic and other audiences.
The first time that Purdue’s Archives and Special Collections hosted this class, student research resulted in a published collection, Little Else Than a Memory: Purdue Students Search for the Class of 1904. You can access the e-book for free via Purdue e-Pubs here.
In the introduction of Little Else Than a Memory, Professor Kristina Bross wrote that the book was the result of research in a “temporary laboratory of life writing tucked away on the fourth floor of the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Education (HSSE) Library in Purdue University’s Stewart Center.” Researchers are once again hard at work in that laboratory. In that previous course we constructed “critical biographies” from the traces of individual lives of students from 1904. This time around, we are using objects that have survived the ravages of time to connect us to our forebears, from the accidental stowaways from the past—ticket stubs, hair pins—to bits of memory that were obviously cherished and intentionally preserved—clippings of Purdue tragedy, photographs of freshmen roommates, scrapbooks of athletic achievement, even hydraulics textbooks (and if this last example wasn’t deeply loved, it was at least valued and preserved).
When we invited students to register for the class, we described it as a course designed for anyone who wanted to read 100-year-old letters; to find a face in a crowd in a century-old snapshot and find out her story; to imagine what is was like to love and lose someone in an age before social media. We described it as a class for all those who want to immerse themselves in the past and think hard about how the past continues to reach out to us today. And indeed, we’ve been reading such letters, poring over such photos and tracing names in the dance cards from long-ago fraternity formals. We’re speculating about the history of gender, of human-animal relations, of the ways that we mourn and memorialize loss, about violence and education, about the circulation of information from classroom to industry and back. While we’re not yet sure where our research and speculation will take us, it’s going to be an interesting trip.
We invite you to come on the adventure with us.
About the bloggers
All the researchers are members of the Honors College course “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Writing,” taught by Professor Kristina Bross and Digital Archivist Neal Harmeyer. In addition to writing research updates, students will be polishing critical analyses of their objects which we hope to publish online or in print next fall working with the Purdue University Press.
To read more about the student researchers, click here.
About the editor
In the spirit of the playful Debris autobiographical entries, here’s a little bit about our editor:
Sabrina Myoda, “Brina”, B.S. in Sustainable Food & Farming Systems
Hailing all the way from Wilmington, Delaware, Sabrina wound up here at Purdue by following her interest in small-scale farming and international development. Currently a sophomore, she plans to study abroad in Romania this May, in Wales next spring, and then to graduate in December of 2017. Sabrina has gotten herself mixed up with the Purdue Honors College, the Purdue Student Farm Organization, Reformed University Fellowship, the Honors College Mentor Council, and Community Standards Boards. Besides editing the blog (which she thinks is super neat-o), she works as a Resident Assistant in Windsor Halls.