200 Days in the Life of the College

Wednesday, November 3

Down here is where they keep the good stuff

By Courtney Flint ’11

Tucked in the basement of Burke Library lies the little-known refuge of Hamilton’s historical record: the College Archives. It is here that one can find not only a treasure trove of material, but also Katherine Collett, College archivist since 2001. Collett is responsible for the collection of materials dating back to Samuel Kirkland’s correspondence from 1763. A quintessential history buff, she can regale visitors with fascinating details gleaned from the College’s incredible stockpile of documents and photographs, including Ezra Pound’s earliest work and Elihu Root’s writings. Laughing at the parallel nature of 19th-century concerns to our own, Collett quotes a letter written by Azel Backus to his son during the War of 1812 in which he stated, “Money does not grow on bushes, you know!”

The Archives represent the College’s effort to preserve its history, yet anyone can visit the Archives and gain access to the materials inside. Today both professors and students use the Archives for their research. And, of course, the College’s historical record also has been integral to preparations for the Bicentennial celebration, providing Maurice Isserman, the Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History, with primary source materials for the history of the College he will publish in 2011.

The Archives are constantly expanding to include each new College and faculty publication as well as books by and about Hamilton alumni. Although the physical Archives are underground, many of them can also be accessed online. While digital archival research can detract from the physical experience of sifting through old papers and inhaling the scent of antique books, digitization makes Hamilton’s history accessible to the world.