Writing History: Editing Departmental Descriptions and Histories in the Digital Repository

When I began working under Harrison last semester, one of my first projects was to edit and create department profiles for the Digital Repository’s “Colleges and Departments” section. My work involved researching the departments’ histories—mergers and divisions, name changes, function, etcetera. My primary resources for this project were the University Catalogs (available for public viewing in the Special Collections lobby).

Department of Physics and Astronomy - Digital Repository

Screenshot of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, showing Description, History, Dates of Existence, Historical Names, and Related Units.

In Iowa State University’s 155 years of service to the state’s academic environment, numerous departments have been created, discontinued, merged together and divided. By and large, the departments we have today all possess intricate histories. Some departments, such as the Department of Mechanical Engineering, are nearly as old as the university, and have changed very little in name or function in the span of their history. Other departments have moved from one College to another, such as the Department of Physics and Astronomy, which at its conception in the 1890s was found in the Division of Engineering and was associated with Electrical Engineering. And still other departments which exist today are the result of a merger between two or more departments, such as the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HD FS), which was formed in 1991 with the merger of the departments of Child Development and Family Environment.

When a department has been formerly known by another name, it can be a challenge for researchers to find documents from a particular department. For repositors adding to the Library’s collection, it can be similarly difficult to know where to deposit a digitized document when its current related department was known by another name in the past. Given the complex pasts of some departments, mapping out the life-history of a department and any metamorphoses it has undergone can become important, making the task of research or of depositing documents easier. This fact brings to light the importance of the small task I performed when I started my work last semester.

In addition to clarifying the histories of our departments and putting this information in an easily accessible place, this project has taken on a more personal interest as well. For the length of this project (a few months), I discovered the histories and functions of many departments I would have never taken an interest in otherwise. As an undergraduate student, possessing this information can give me a better understanding of the people I meet from other departments and their significance.

None of this would have been possible without the help of my supervisor Harrison Inefuku; I would also like to kindly thank the staff in special collections for their help and guidance in my research for this project, particularly Michele Christian, Brad Kuennen, Becky Jordan, and Laura Sullivan.

Benjamin Spick

Benjamin Spick is a freshman in Anthropology and Religious Studies. He began working with the Digital Repository in November of 2012.

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One thought on “Writing History: Editing Departmental Descriptions and Histories in the Digital Repository

  1. Pingback: IR Curb Appeal: Three Easy Ways to Improve User Experience | DC Telegraph: Institutional Repository and Open Access Success Stories

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