Nothing can quite replicate the feeling you get when sifting through documents and photos from the past. Aged black and white pictures capture an exciting and glamorous era, and handwritten letters reveal the unique voice of an individual that is lost in today’s digital world.
Imagine reading in a “scientific” book that the curve of your mouth will indicate your level of deceitfulness, or that the shape of your nose determines your morality. These were ideas suggested in Vaught’s Practical Character Reader (1902), a phrenology book based on millions of observations that suggested physical appearance could reveal human nature.
Or transport yourself to Millersville University’s campus in the 1950s, a time when students hung out in a lounge called the “Rat Race,” a place where you could buy a Coke, grab a seat, or listen to the steady stream of crooners voices play over the radio. Although phrenology may sound bizarre and you may have never heard of the Rat Race before, this kind of information is available in our library.
Located on the eighth floor of the McNairy Library is Millersville University’s Reading Room a place that is home to both the University Archives and Special Collections. Millersville’s archives boast a vast collection of historical documents, photos, artifacts and rare books dating back to the 16th century, although the bulk of materials in the archives is from the 19th century.
“Millersville is one of the most unique state system schools because we have such strong collections,” says Dr. Marilyn Parrish, Millersville’s University Archivist and Special Collections Librarian. With the completion of the new library, the archives and collections finally have a permanent home where students can find many fascinating documents and photos that serve to aid in their research or to provide pure amusement.
“These open up whole worlds that are so different from our own. They offer a good window at looking at the values of our time and can help students learn critically,” Parrish says.
Sophomore Vivian Tran is currently using the archives to gather research for her history of medicine class with Dr. Erin Shelor.
“I like that the archive collections provide a multitude of sources and accounts from various time periods. The archive collections have helped me gain a new perspective on research and how to do research,” Tran says.
The University Archives has all of the Millersville yearbooks, photos and artifacts as well as issues of The Snapper; Special Collections has many donated original documents and rare books. Perhaps one of the most treasured items, recently found by a student worker, is a handwritten note from famous psychologist B.F Skinner (1904-1975) that reads, “B.F. Skinner says thank you to Psychology 316, Millersville State College.”
According to Janet Dotterer’s article, “Treasures from the Archives” the letter is postmarked for 24 March 1975 and was sent after Skinner had visited a psychology class that was studying the concepts of learning and motivation. It is documents like these that make Millersville’s collections truly unique.
Special Collections has many interesting documents, such as their pulp magazine collection from the 1930s to the late ‘60s. Pulp magazines feature science-based adventure stories; they got their name from the fact that they were printed on inexpensive wood pulp. According to Robyn Scheick’s article “Astounding Stories: Science Fiction at Millersville,” it is in this collection that we can begin to trace the start of science fiction writers and look to which social values of the era inspired them. In fact, the popular sci-fi movie I, Robot is based upon one of these old stories.
Millersville founders also left behind treasures. A name that all students know is Wickersham. Although we are familiar with the building located in the front of the pond that bears this name, Dr. James P. Wickersham is known for being the cofounder of Millersville and establishing it as the First State Normal School in Pa. Wickersham’s heirs have dedicated a large collection of textbooks that he once owned from the 1800s which range in subjects and currently make up the Wickersham Pedagogical Collection.
The archives at Millersville are filled with many fascinating primary resources that can be utilized for research when investigating the social values of another time. Other rare collections that you should consider looking into include the Pennsylvania Imprint Collection, the Woodbridge Collection, and the Rousseau Collection.
Although the rare books are in the process of being digitized and only available in the library, accessing the other collections is simple. Both the Millersville University Archives and some manuscripts and letters from Special Collections are available online.
If you are interested in MU’s history, consider viewing the exhibit that MU Librarian Technician Janet Dotterer created on the history of libraries on display in the hallway of the eighth floor of the McNairy library. Dotterer currently supervises 10 student assistants at the library and was responsible for organizing the Archives’ and Special Collections’ move from Franklin house to the new library.
Any student who is interested in conducting research should consider making an appointment ahead of time with Dr. Parrish through the Archives and Special Collections webpage. This way, Dr. Parrish can locate relevant research materials prior to meeting with a student, which will allow her to give a student individual attention. The University Archives and Special Collections are open Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday from 5 – 8 p.m. Next time you are at the McNairy Library, don’t forget to stop by the Archives and Special Collections, where a treasure of local history awaits.