University of Wisconsin Scrapbooks and More

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In this edition of Better Know an Archivist (thanks Stephen Colbert), we talk to Vicki Tobias at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.

Historypin: What do you do, exactly?

Vicki Tobias: Since 2010 I’ve served as the Images and Media Archivist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.

I’ve always loved history. I’m a fanatical genealogist and love nothing more that tackling a good history mystery, whether my own or someone else’s. I feel quite lucky/blessed to have landed a career that perfectly marries my love of history and enthusiasm for sharing it!

How and when did you come across Historypin and what made you decide it was worth pursuing for UW and your work?

A friend and colleague who works for the Wisconsin Historical Society initially introduced me to Historypin – maybe two years ago? I was immediately impressed with the organization’s mission statement which talked about bringing together generations through shared history. This idea is at the core of our work in the UW Archives. Historypin is a great tool for showing change over time and is the type of tool/project that inspires a user to further explore their own place in history. Any tool that prompts a user to ask “I wonder what was here 100 years ago?” or “I wonder what’s there now?” is a success in my book.

In the UW Archives, we host a bevy of volunteer, intern, practicum and paid student staff. They all want to work on projects that include a “technology element.” Building a collection in Historypin from start to finish (e.g. scanning, researching metadata, uploading, outreach, etc.) provides our students an opportunity to apply technology skills in an archives environment and results in a great end-product they can then link to on a resume or application. We’ve had great success with students creating Collections in Historypin.

You’ve got a great variety of photos across campus, and we’ve noticed these amazing scrapbook collections you’ve been sharing lately. What can you tell us about the scrapbooks, and do you have a strategy in sharing these?

Why, thank you! We’ve had great fun selecting content to add to our Historypin collection. I wanted our campus history collection (on Historypin) to include more than a bunch of photos of historic buildings. I thought it would be interesting to try to tell a student’s story using Historypin and items from historic student scrapbooks. The UW Archives has a great (and growing) collection of scrapbooks dating from the late 1880s through the 1960s. They include all sorts of memorabilia, photos, clippings and other “bits and pieces” that wonderfully illuminate the college student experience. Selecting and pinning location-based items provides a different and more nuanced interpretation of each scrapbook – allowing a user to better understand the places and spaces inhabited by a student during a particular period in our campus and town history. For example, an invitation to a dance held at the Stock Pavilion on campus (still in existence), a monthly bill for items purchased from a “sweet shop” on Capitol Square (no longer there), a photo taken during summer vacation “up north” in Wisconsin. When viewed on a Historypin map, these items prompt a user to ponder questions of mobility and transportation (How did one traverse the distance from campus to the aforementioned sweet shop – walking? trolley car? Were there sidewalks? Horses?), use of space on campus (Dances held in the Stock Pavillion? Really?) and other questions that might not be apparent when simply flipping through a scrapbook. Seeing items on a map presents an entirely different view of the story being told by the scrapbook creator.

What excites you most about Historypin, and how do you envision it being utilized at UW and other college campuses?

I love the idea of user-generated content. It would be fabulous if other campus units with an interest in building community around shared campus history could collaboratively build collections in Historypin. Likewise, I think Historypin might be an interesting tool for uniting alumni to build collections that illuminate their shared experiences.

What is your favourite piece of content that you have pinned?

Last year, we built a new collection – Lawrence Monthey: 1959 Tour of the Soviet Union which documents this UW faculty person’s trip to that region. The slides are beautiful (and in color!) and include images of many iconic locations in the former Soviet Union. I love the following photo of St. Basil’s Cathedral (Sept. 1959) and the juxtaposition of the historic and current street views.

It’s one of my favorite UW Archives collections and a perfect fit for Historypin.