Archives & Special Collections presents 25 for 25: Celebrating Twenty-Five Years of Collecting, the first online video exhibition curated by all archivists of UConn’s Archives & Special Collections. The year 2020 marked the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, the original name of the facility that houses Archives & Special Collections (in Fall 2021 the name of the building changed to the Dodd Center for Human Rights), as well as the bringing together of the collections and practices of the University’s Historical Manuscripts & Archives and Special Collections departments for the first time. In recognition of this occasion, archivists selected objects from their respective collecting areas. These objects span time periods and formats, with each object’s intended purpose uniquely differing from the other. The unifying theme of these historical objects draws from the Archives’ mission statement:
The work of Archives & Special Collections is guided by the ideas that archives reveal by enabling people to examine and better understand the past, that archives inspire by being useful for many purposes, and that archives should be open to provide the widest possible access to information.
This exhibition draws on the key points of revealing, inspiring, and accessibility, and converges on the notion that an object may be used to begin the action of investigation and exploration and can lead to unexpected lines of inquiry within the collections. After more than twenty-five years of collecting, the Archives’ acquisitional practices and curatorial intentions increasingly allow for these intellectual leaps and connections from one object to another. The online accessibility of this exhibition further underscores the mission of Archives & Special Collections.
25 for 25 includes objects such as the first telephone directory from the Southern New England Telephone Company Records, the film Blues from the Samuel and Ann Charters Archives of Blues and Vernacular African American Musical Culture, poetry broadsides from the Detroit-based Broadside Press, late 18th and early 19th century abolition pamphlets, and an engraving stone to print Storrs Agricultural College diplomas.
Each object in the exhibition captures a historical nexus and encourages the viewer to dive visually, textually, and contextually into the object. Poetry broadsides from the Broadside Press, which began in 1965 by Dudley Randall to distribute the work of African American poets, bring into focus the role of individual writers and artists in building a space and community for Black creativity, craft, and resistance to thrive. These objects take on new meaning as the Black Aesthetics Movement of the 1960s and 1970s continues to inspire artists today.
The first telephone directory produced by the SNET Company, formerly known as the District Telephone Company of New Haven established in 1878 by Civil War veteran George Coy, is a physical benchmark for an invention that has since become a household item. A printing stone from the University Memorabilia Collection provides a gateway into comprehending the variety of diplomas offered by the university through time and sheds light on the institution’s practices in pursuit of providing higher education.
25 for 25 purposefully invites engagement with and reflection upon the meaning of historical objects and the activity of collecting over time. In highlighting twenty-five years of collecting, Archives & Special Collections celebrates the act of historical preservation and the recognition that collections constantly evolve, grow, and expand so that future educators, students, researchers, and learners may be inspired and informed by the objects within.
Acknowledgments: Our grateful thanks to Emily Ko and Steve Bustamante for their time, knowledge, and support in helping make this exhibit possible.