I am so grateful for my experience at the WLA over the last few months. As a recent undergraduate, this summer has been both a thorough introduction to the day-to-day practices of archival work and an engrossing delve into the history of Mundelein College.
As a metadata and digitization assistant for the IHDI grant project, I spent a lot of time this summer with the Mundelein College Photograph Collection, writing metadata for photographs I scanned. For context, metadata is often referred to as ‘information about information’; for example, the metadata for a single photograph in a WLA collection includes the date it was taken, its dimensions and format, a description and transcription of what’s happening in the photograph (which often requires outside research), and organizational tags for both the archive’s internal system and external researchers – as well as several other categories.
Compiling metadata is a slow and repetitive process which requires careful attention to method and detail. It’s a very different way of processing information than academic research or personal interest. Learning to contextualize the details of these individuals’ college lives was honestly more fun than anything, but it came to feel primarily like an act of care – care for the memory of the students who were grateful to have opportunities which they understood as rare and remarkable, and care for the institution they were heartbroken to see disappear.
Outside of photo scanning, there was also the review of Mundelein student publications, which was often “difficult” work, if only because of the constant impulse to stop counting pages or checking for scanning errors and instead read a super weird poem (I say this with so much affection) or reflect on a piece of literary criticism for a novel which I and a student in 1950 apparently had a very similar experience with.
As a student, I’ve come to understand the importance of caring for the history of those who came before you. Archival work – really, any kind of historic preservation – always felt very much to me like an act of civic responsibility, acknowledging the labors and mistakes of those who built up the society we live in today. From a theoretical standpoint, this is all well and good and true, but I’ve learned that the hands-on experience of it can also be intensely personal.
In the WLA this summer, I was frequently moved while working with photos of Mundelein students laughing by the lake or in lectures in Galvin Hall, or reading articles about them protesting on the steps of Piper Hall – places I’d also posed for pictures with fellow Gannon Scholars, sat in classes, or attended protests with friends dozens of times. Examining these resources, researching their subjects, and writing down what I found felt like an opportunity to say thank you to the people whose commitment to women’s education put me, quite literally, where I am today.
I am hugely indebted to the graduate IHDI assistants and the WLA staff for everything they’ve helped me with or advised me on over the last few months! I’m also grateful for the work itself; spending time in the Mundelein College collections has been an invaluable opportunity to connect with the memory of those who preceded me on the campus I’ve been lucky enough to call mine the last few years. In conclusion:
Anna is a Summer 2022 IHDI Assistant in the WLA. She recently graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a BA in political science and, after a year of service with AmeriCorps & the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, plans on pursuing graduate education in public history. She enjoys contemporary fiction, embroidery, and swimming in Lake Michigan.
Figure 1. “Mundelein College students protest Loyola-Mundelein affiliation in stairway”, c. 1990. Box 16, Folder 9, Mundelein College Photograph Collection, Women and Leadership Archives, Chicago, IL.
Figure 2. McKelvey, Karen. “Sylvia Plath”, The Mundelein Review, Spring 1983, pp. 16. Mundelein College Paper Records Collection, Women and Leadership Archives, Chicago, IL.
Figure 3. “Vietnam War Student Strike 1970”, May 5, 1970. Box 49, Folder 4, Mundelein College Photograph Collection, Women and Leadership Archives, Chicago, IL.
Figure 4. “Editorial: Mundelein College – Woodstock Revisited?”, The Skypaper, Vol. 1, No. 10, May 28, 1970, pp. 3. Mundelein College Paper Records Collection, Women and Leadership Archives, Chicago, IL.
Figure 5. Mounsey, Barbara. “Collegegirls’s Color Book”, The Mundelein Review, Vol. XXXIII, No. 1, December 1962, pp. 24. Mundelein College Paper Records Collection, Women and Leadership Archives, Chicago, IL.
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