Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Christmas Letter to our Patrons

As we gear up for the holiday work parties and look forward to the President’s annual open house, we at the Delaware State University Archives want to take a moment to wish you a Merry Christmas!

2015 has been an exciting year for the archives! For the first part of the year the archives rested vacantly in a corner of the William C. Jason library.  The doors of suite 227 were locked with half-finished projects resting on the desks within.  In April I passed through those doors for the first time and made the leap from a recent graduate to University Archivist and Special Collections Librarian. To say I had only a modicum of trepidation would be lying. I was no longer an archivist in theory, but became the quintessential “lone arranger” (archivist jargon for someone who is the sole steward of an archive).   I had a lot to prove to myself and to the hiring committee who had chosen to take a chance on me.

Having now passed nearly three-quarters of a year in the DSU archives, I may proudly say I have been successful in my adaption.  I astonish myself with the recall I have for historical facts about this university, the number of acquaintances I have made on this campus, and the organization I have already imposed on the collections in my care.  The projects I have undertaken are not small feats.  I have accessioned 345 linear feet into the archive, am currently managing a $145,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and am contributing to the publication of a book in honor of the 125th anniversary of Delaware State University in 2016.  How many can claim projects such as these in their first year of professional employment? I am so fortunate!

Speaking of the IMLS grant, this fall the archives became the workplace for two more fantastic archivists.  Jasmine Smith and Dan DelViscio joined my team and immediately set about helping me to promote the archives.  They continually introduce new ideas for problem solving, work diligently, and are enthusiastic about all projects set before them.  Our patrons can look forward to experiencing a remarkable outdoor exhibit next summer thanks to the creativity and collaboration of Jasmine and Dan.

As 2015 draws to a close I look forward to 2016.  I cannot wait to see what the 125th anniversary year will hold.  I am confident that at times the archives will be called upon heavily and our days will be hectic, but I also know that Jasmine, Dan, and I will use  every opportunity to further instill the archives into the core of Delaware State University.  We will do our best to promote Delaware State University’s vision to be “one of America’s most highly respected Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Stay tuned! More exciting projects coming in 2016! Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Monday, December 14, 2015

Samuel L. Conwell

Written by Dan DelViscio

When an archivist comes to a new archive there’s always growing pains getting familiar with the contents of the archive. Being able to answer questions about the archive, knowing the prominent people, knowing the organizations, and knowing how and why the archive came to be. But the one thing that’s always fun about working in a new archive is finding cool things like this. 

This is an excerpt from a day book of the early Delaware State University. One name that comes up in the book is Samuel L. Conwell. Conwell was the assistant to the first president of DSU, President Wesley. P Webb. He was also a faculty member from 1891-1914. The book details Sunday church services at DSU, which at the time was the State College for Colored Students. Now this may seem mundane but to an archivist like me getting a little window into what peoples’ lives were like back in history is pretty great. The book details Sunday services including the hymns they sung in church, the attendance, sermons notes, even the total offering collected. These little details tell us what life at the college was like at its early beginnings. I can also attest that trying to decipher hand writing from the early 1900s is both a frustrating and rewarding feat.   

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What is a Finding Aid?

Co-written by Jasmine Smith and Joy Scherry

A finding aid is a descriptive document used by archivists to help researchers gain understanding and access to the contents of a collection.  From finding aids, researchers learn basic details about a collection including:
  •          the collection’s title,
  •         the creator or author of the records found within (not the archivist who wrote the finding aid),
  •          the collection’s location in the archives,
  •          dates of the materials found within,
  •          the extent or size of the collection measured in linear or cubic feet,
  •          what languages a researcher might encounter,
  •          how the collection is arranged – chronological, alphabetical, by subject etc.  

Other narrative fields or sections found in a finding aid include the scope and content note which summarizes the most important features a researcher will encounter within the collection.  This typically includes a summary of the most significant dates, people and moments found within the collection and the format the collection’s records will take – journals, scrapbooks, photographs, correspondence, newspapers, etc.  Finding aids additionally include a biographical history section to provide researchers with background information about the collection’s subjects and creator in order to construct a context that allows the researcher to see a bigger picture that might not be immediately clear from the records within a collection.

The second half of a finding aid is composed of the collection inventory.  Below is a chart describing the traditional, organizational hierarchy of collections and the terminology a researcher is likely to find. Click the image to enlarge it. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Winterthur Trip

Written by Daniel DelViscio

Update from our last post:

This past week on November 4th we at the Delaware State University Archives took a wonderful tour of the conservation facilities at the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library. We were given a look behind the scenes at the book and library department, science analytics lab, and the paper conservation department.  

Do you remember this photograph to the right? If not, see our last post. I asked a conservator on the tour how they might go about reconditioning a photograph with rust damage. First, consideration is given to the historical value of the item. As archivists we have to consider if it is worth the time and money to restore something in your collection. Conservators have similar thought processes. They take into account how much conservation is necessary because sometimes the methods they use are detrimental to the object. With this photograph of David Warner the first step is to identify the photograph’s chemical composition. The conservator would have to decide, based on that information, what type of bleach is suitable to remove the rust stain.  The process of bleaching a photograph is like using chemotherapy to destroy cancer. A conservator can only use this method to a point before he/she has done more harm than good.

Each department at Winterthur specializes in a certain object group. We were shown labs for furniture, painting, textile conservation, and more.  Learning about the processes and techniques conservators use was fascinating, and if I wasn’t so awful at chemistry I’d love to learn how to do it myself. If you are thinking of taking a tour of Winterthur I highly recommend it. I’m told the Yuletide tours around Christmas are especially cool with nighttime events like the Yuletide Jazz and Wine and live musical performances. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Preservation vs Conservation

Written by Daniel DelViscio

People often use the terms “preservation and “conservation” interchangeably to convey the same meaning.  If you look up these terms in a dictionary you will probably see that one is provided as a synonym of the other. They both fundamentally mean the act of preventing decay.  In the museum and archives community, however, preservation and conservation are two very different processes.

The Smithsonian Institute defines preservation as, “the systematic application of principles that prolong the life of all collections materials—analog and digital”.2 Monitoring the conditions in which records are kept in is one of the ways in which archivists can preserve records before they need to be repaired by professional conservators. Conservation, on the other hand, primarily focuses on fixing individual materials that have been damaged over time, by natural disaster, or by accident. And while conservation often focuses on a single item, preservation takes into account the conditions of the entire archive by controlling things like temperature, humidity, and way in which the records are housed. Finally, conservation is typically much more expensive. 

In preservation, first and foremost is the proper handling of archival materials - such as wearing gloves when handling photographs. The second most important practice for archival preservation is the control of the climate within the archives. According to the National Archives to preserve documents and photographic materials conditions need to be maintained at around 650 between 35% and 45% relative humidity.1 This slows the aging process and keeps mold from forming. No one likes mold.

However, sometimes archivists are confronted by items that warrant restoration. Some institutions like larger universities and museums have internal conservation departments, but most archivists have to outsource to institutions that have the proper laboratories, tools, and trained conservators.

On March 19, 2015 a preservation assessment was conducted by Jessica Keister from the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia, PA. In the assessment, she highlighted this photograph of David Warner. Looking at the photograph we can see why it’s been flagged, and Keister explains that the photograph has been damaged by prolonged red iron staining from a tintype which was housed with the portrait. A photograph like this is an example of an item in need of conservation and not preservation.

But where do you go to get your materials put back together? For institutions in the north-eastern United States, the answer is the conservation department at the Winterthur Museum here in Delaware. Winterthur was established by Henry Algernon du Pont in the early 20th century to be both a home and a museum and today it houses one of the most prestigious institutions for conservation learning in the country.3 And on November 4th we at the Delaware State University Archives will take a special tour of Winterthur. But you’ll have to read about that in the next blog post.

            1. A. Ernest, Conrad. "Realistic  Environment." National Archives and Records Administration. March 1, 1999. Accessed October 15, 2015. https://www.archives.gov/preservation/environmental-control/realistic-preservation-environment.html.
2. "Preservation." Smithsonian Institution Archives. Accessed October 14, 2015. http://siarchives.si.edu/services/preservation#1.
3. "Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library." Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. Accessed October 14, 2015. http://www.winterthur.org/?p=515&src=headerfooter.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Helmets Through History

Written by Daniel DelViscio

Do you wonder what football was like back in the day? Well here at the Delaware State University Archives we have a handful of sepia colored photographs displaying what the football team looked like. 

See those sweet leather hats? That was back when they didn’t have the newfangled polycarbonate helmets that protect you from concussions and probably sing you a nice lullaby when you go to bed at night. Helmets weren’t designated as mandatory protection until 1943 and it wasn’t unusual to see a mishmash of players on the field wearing different kinds of helmets or no helmets at all. The man who receives the most credit for inventing these first helmets is George Barclay in 1896.1 Back then it was known as the “head harness” and had three leather straps making it a tight fit.

Around 1915 helmets started looking more like they do today with the addition of more padding and flaps that covered the ears with holes for hearing. These were often referred to as Zuppke helmets after Robert Zuppke, the head football coach at the University of Illinois.2 In addition, straps of fabric were introduced in 1917 to better support the head and lessen the impact of a 250lb lineman folding you up like a taco.
Pictured to the right is a player on the 1955 football team shaking hands with the president Dr. Jerome H. Holland, but his helmet wouldn’t be developed until 1939, when the first plastic helmet prototype was created by John T. Riddell and they had some very big advantages over the old models.3 For one, they didn’t rot away like their leather predecessors and they were lighter as well as stronger. Unfortunately the helmets also had some big problems first and foremost being that they were too brittle and couldn’t handle direct blows often shattering on impact.3 So the helmet was made rounder so that collisions were more likely to be deflected. They looked something like the helmets in this 1951 Delaware State College vs. Bluefield State game.

The next big advance was the introduction of the BT-5 face mask in 1955, which at first was a rubber-coated steel tube formed into a single bar over the front of the helmet and over time has become a cage to protect the face of the players, and help referees add a new type of penalty flag to fling.4 Further improvements to the helmet came in the 1970s when some tinkering was done with various shock absorbing systems for inside the helmet like anti-freeze solvent and vinyl cushions. Over the years small alterations have been added for the safety of players and we hope the egg-head engineers keep coming up with new ways to keep our players safe, because we love football.

There you go, a little history to go with the homecoming celebration coming up. As a parting gift here is a picture of the homecoming football game played in 1954, go hornets!



1. Nelson, David M. The Anatomy of a Game: Football, the Rules, and the Men Who   Made the Game. 1st ed. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press ;, 1994.

2. Forthofer, Jason. "A History of Leather Football Helmets." Goarticles.com. 27 Apr. 2009. Web. 22 Oct. 2015. http://goarticles.com/article/A-History-of-Leather-Football-Helmets/1569349/

3. Stamp, Jimmy. "Leatherhead to Radio-head: The Evolution of the Football Helmet." Smithsonian.com. October 1, 2012. Accessed October 22, 2015. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/leatherhead-to-radio-head-the-evolution-of-the-football-helmet-56585562/.

4. Gambini, Bert. "The Otto Graham Myth and the Evolution of the Face Mask ." ClevelandBrowns.com. May 20, 2014. Accessed October 22, 2015. http://www.clevelandbrowns.com/news/article-1/The-Otto-Graham-Myth-and-the-Evolution-of-the-Face-Mask/572726b4-eca8-4e21-aa17-b99b28e735f4.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Professor Joseph R. Fugett

It is always thrilling when a patron walks through the front door of the archives with a question on the tip of their tongue.  They are typically on a mission and hoping that I can point them directly to the answers they seek.  Unfortunately, due to the youth of the DSU archives and the amount of backlogged collections, answers are often elusive.

Yesterday, the story unfolded differently when Ms. Yvonne came to see us.  She was seeking evidence of Joseph R. Fugett’s presence at the State College for Colored Students.

In the early 20th century Mr. Fugett was a 20-something African American man who was paving the way for black youths in the world of education.  He had been educated at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York where he attained a bachelor’s degree in agriculture.  From there he ventured to Tuskegee Institute in Alabama where he worked as an animal husbandry instructor.  After that he made his way to Dover, Delaware where he was an agriculture professor under the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 which provided vocational education to future farmers.

 Ms. Yvonne knew all of this before she even arrived at Delaware State University.  However, knowing the information is one thing, and seeking to determine the impact Mr. Fugett had at the State College for Colored Students is something entirely different.  Ms. Yvonne wanted to be sure that the special man she had loved as a child was somehow still present at Delaware State University and appreciated by others.

I thought for sure she would be disappointed, but after exhausting nearly all of the materials pertaining to the State College for Colored Students, her exclamation of “I found it!! I found it,” rang out from the corner of the archives she was occupying.  

She held a news article clipped from The State Sentinel in 1919.  The article was an annual report of the college written by President William C. Jason, and it included a description of her grandfather’s work. It read, “We are under obligation also to the Commissioner of Education for the introduction of the course in vocational agriculture.  A competent and progressive young man, Mr. J.R. Fugett, a graduate of Cornell University, with added experience in teaching and practices, was placed in charge of this new department.”

Ms. Yvonne was beaming.  Here was evidence that her grandfather was appreciated during his term, and proof that he could continue to be remembered.

Ms. Yvonne’s experience was a pleasant reminder to me, Jasmine, and Dan that the archives business is not about remembering great men, but men who did great things large and small.  We thank Ms. Yvonne for passing an afternoon with us. 

Written by Joy Scherry

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Meet Daniel DelViscio


My name is Daniel DelViscio and I will be working as an Archival Fellow in the Delaware State University Archives and Special Collections. I am from Philadelphia and have lived there all my life.

For my undergraduate degree I went to Penn State where I earned a very useless English degree. As a result of my inability to find a job along with my lack of desire to teach ankle biting kids I decided to further my education and crippling financial debt by completing a master’s degree. I quickly selected library science as my choice and completed my master’s degree in library science at Clarion University, which is located in northwestern Pennsylvania. Originally, I wanted to earn my degree to become a librarian, but as a result of one of my class assignments I quickly changed that idea. The assignment was to visit two archives - a small repository and a large archive. After a visit to the University of Penn Museum Archives I was inspired and decided that archival work was something I wanted to do.

The largest factor in changing my focus from library to archival studies was the opportunity to work with original, historic materials. Unlike in a library, just about all the records and collections within archives are original and can only be found in that archive. For example, at the University of Penn Museum Archives much of the collections pertained to the artifacts of the museum, various archeological dig sites the museum has been involved in, and the people historically associated with the museum. In essence, the University of Penn Museum Archives is the institutional memory of the museum and without it there wouldn’t be vital information about the people and artifacts that have passed through the museum over the years.  I’m guessing the same is true of the archives at Delaware State University. 

I really look forward to working in the archives for DSU. From what I’ve already learned it has a rich history and I can’t wait to delve into more. I look forward to the exhibits we at the archives will be bringing to you in the near future.

Written by Daniel DelViscio

Monday, September 28, 2015

Meet Jasmine Smith


My name is Jasmine Smith and I am very excited to be working as an intern for the Delaware State University Archives and Special Collection. In December of 2013, I graduated from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina with a bachelor’s of arts in history. I am currently working on my masters in library and information science with a concentration in museum studies through an online program at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.

As an undergrad, I realized I did not want to follow the traditional route and teach history, but instead work at a museum. What exactly I want to do in the museum field I do not know. What I do know is that I want to be in a profession where I am able to provide the public with a better understanding of not only United States history but world history as well. I want to be able to teach the public about what went wrong in the past so that history will not repeat itself for future generations. I want to be able to help others learn more about where they came from through text and visuals.

I live in Magnolia, DE where there are not many large history museums within traveling distance. So I had to think outside the box to come up with a way to get my foot inside the door of a historical research environment. I initially decided to volunteer at the Delaware Public Archives which, since then, has opened up other doors.  I am now employed at the Delaware Public Archives, and I’m happy to be the newest intern at the DSU archives. I have realized that an archive can be very similar to a history museum.

If you are like me, and did not know what an archive is, you should definitely come check us out! We house a lot of interesting documents about the history of Delaware State University. Who knows, you might learning something new.  

Written by Jasmine Smith

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Push-em back, push-em back, Way back!

Welcome back to campus Students!  Hopefully you are settled into your routines and are geared up for another fantastic semester.  Do you like your classes? How is the homework load?  Are you trying anything new this semester?

Now that you have a handle on the academics it’s time to get pumped for our sports teams! Do you know all the yells and songs? Homecoming is right around the corner and we need to be prepared to back-up our footballers when they face off against South Carolina State on October 24.  Why not go old school at the next game? Take a look at these cheers from 1964.