Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

June 22, 2017

Pitt Past Has a Future in Archivist’s Hands

Zach Brodt

Zach Brodt in the University Archive Center, Wilkinsburg, June 6, 2017.

The oldest-known Pitt student notebook from 1800.

An early-model Resusci-Baby mannequin, used to pioneer infant CPR at Pitt.

And enough football game-day programs to settle almost any bar bet.

University Archivist Zach Brodt has them all at his fingertips, or at least in 40,000 linear feet of shelving at the Archives Service Center in Point Breeze, where old Pitt records go – not to die, but to live beyond the classroom, the office and the lab.

This is also the spot where Pittsburgh’s history in coal, steel and glass is visible in the Archives of Industrial Society, from Consol mine maps to records from civic groups.

Brodt and his colleagues make sure all of these items are not only preserved but accessible to the university community, Pittsburgh and the world. He estimates that more people from outside than inside the University make use of the archives every year.

In the archive’s processing room this summer, a dozen students were busy organizing the papers of the late U.S. senator Arlen Specter, photos from Pitt’s jazz seminars and employee records from the A.M. Byers Steel Company. Nearby are the Pitt archives, which includes original architectural plans for the Cathedral of Learning. The papers of Wesley W. Posvar, chancellor of the university from 1967 to 1991, have just become available, since a quarter century must pass before such records go public. “We can now look at 25 years of Pitt history that was maybe under-represented in the archives prior,” Brodt said.

He also points archives users toward historical materials not yet in the archives, such as index cards detailing the World War I activities of School of Medicine students and faculty. They developed overseas medical base camps and learned auto repair – a new skill in that era – from Pitt’s engineering students. “When that kind of stuff comes up you’re never looking for it – it kind of pops out at you,” Brodt said.

Brodt started at the Archives Service Center in 2006 as an undergraduate student worker aiding patrons, then earned his Master of Library Science degree here in 2008. He never left.

If the archives don’t answer a visitor’s question, Brodt can often solve a riddle through contacts elsewhere at Pitt. Was someone a walk-on at an annual Blue-Gold football game? The athletics department still had that listing, he found.

“I don’t have to know everything about the history of the University,” he said. “My job is to know where to look to find the answers when questions come.” During the recent Cathedral of Learning renovation, for instance, Brodt was on hand in some departments to examine office records that staffers didn’t know whether to donate or discard.

“The University is so large that we rely on the people in the departments and offices to realize what is important to them,” he explained. “If they get to the point where they need to dispose of records and they get that funny feeling in their stomachs – that they really shouldn’t throw something away – that’s the time to give me a call.”

Pitt notebook from 1800

The earliest known Pitt artifact: a mathematics notebook from an 1800 class.


Marty Levine,, 412-758-4859

Leave a Reply