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October 26, 2017

Senate Matters

Faculty Work Lives on Through University Archives

The University Archives are an institutional archives, responsible for documenting the administration of the University and its various offices, schools and academic departments. But as we all know, a university is much more than policies and reports. It’s the people at the University — the students, staff and faculty — that develop its character and accomplishments, and so it is the job of the University Archives to collect records of those people in order to tell a more complete story of Pitt.

Many of our faculty spend decades at the University, serving on committees, leading departments, teaching courses and conducting research. All of that work results in a wealth of records that document a faculty member’s contributions to their discipline, as well as to the University. When it comes time to leave Pitt for a new position or retirement the question becomes, “What do I do with all of this stuff?”

The answer to that question is, “Ask an archivist.”

In addition to institutional records, University Archives, part of the University Library System (ULS), collects the papers of faculty who have made significant contributions to Pitt at the departmental, school or University-wide level, or have advanced their field of study in an extraordinary or notable way. The University facilitates the identification of these eligible faculty members by designating three types of distinguished professorships and placing faculty in endowed positions. These faculty members have proven themselves to be at the top of their fields, and so documenting their relationship to the University is of great importance. Other faculty members are able to provide tangible evidence of their impact in a discipline, such as bibliometric or alternative metric data, while the impact of others is less tangible but no less significant.

Often, there is some disconnect between the Archives and faculty, mainly that each is unaware or marginally aware of the other’s existence. While occasionally an archivist will identify and contact a faculty member about donating their papers, it is difficult to know exactly which of the University’s nearly 5,000 faculty are eligible and ready to donate their records. Thus, collecting is frequently initiated by faculty members themselves or their department’s staff.

Luckily, some faculty are aware of the University Archives and spread the word to their colleagues. Recently, Patrick Manning, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of World History, Emeritus, reached out to the archives about his papers. As a historian, Manning was generally aware of Archives, but at Pitt he said, “I learned of archives in two ways: from my colleagues Seymour Drescher and Dick Oestreicher, both of whom have contributed materials to the archives over the years, and from a friendship with [former] ULS director Rush Miller.”

The types of records donated to the University Archives in a collection of faculty papers will vary from person to person. Some of the most common record types include professional correspondence; lectures, speeches and other presentations; published and unpublished manuscripts; research files and lab notebooks; photographs; syllabi and other course materials; and records documenting other University activities, such as service as a department chair or committee member. These records can come to University Archives in a variety of formats, and so increasingly the donation of faculty papers has become more than simply emptying out a few filing cabinets.

The donation process is really a conversation between an archivist and the faculty member. As Manning noted, the “initial visit to my office enabled us to review the nearly full extent of my paper archives.” This led to a second visit in which he and the archivist “moved my paper files from the file drawers to cardboard archive boxes, and the resulting 40 boxes were subsequently moved to the archives.” Manning was also aware of the changing nature of archival collections and was eager to donate his electronic records as well, which he stated “will include CDs, tapes of data, and back-up drives from research projects, plus copies of the majority of my email files since coming to Pitt.”

Our faculty paper collections have been used in a variety of ways to research a number of topics both related and unrelated to the history of the University of Pittsburgh. Our researchers have explored the history and impact of medical innovations (Thomas Starzl and Thomas Parran papers), sought to repatriate artwork stolen by Nazi soldiers (Donald Gordon papers) and learned about Pittsburgh’s immigrant population (Ruth Crawford Mitchell papers).

As departing faculty begin to pack their offices, we encourage them to think about their role at the University and in their field. If there are records that might be useful to others conducting research in that discipline or about Pitt, faculty should contact the University Archives and start the conversation about the potential value of donating their papers.


Zach Brodt is a university archivist in the University Library System and a member of Faculty Assembly. He can be reached via email at Read more about Zach and his role as an archivist in the University Times.


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