Behind the Scenes at the Archives and Special Collections

This week is a Behind the Scenes edition. Today, we look at the Archives and Special Collections at Valparaiso University Library. Any student from any department can elect to enroll in the unique and priceless experience. Lets take a look at an average day in the life of a History department intern.


Instructions: scan and itemize items in Excel

After a week of lectures, assignments and routine projects it is exciting to open a mystery box. You never know exactly what you’ll find inside or what needs to be done.

Today’s assignment is an unassuming grey box filled with an assortment of old documents. Inside I find letters, photographs and an identification card, an eerily similar card to my common and often taken for granted school ID card. The difference is this ID is from a Shanghai Jew who fled the Holocaust.

This little gray box holds the effects of a survivor who narrowly escaped the Holocaust. He fled to Shanghai to escape the Nazis in Europe. In contrast to all the short stories, novels and films I’ve watched this box doesn’t have a finite viewpoint or voice. These documents are anything but Hollywood. They don’t have a narrator and they speak for themselves. Together they make up a life, a complicated life of domestic, career and religious exploration. This box is one among hundreds lining the shelves awaiting digitalization from students.

The letters, photos and documents resemble my own family files. There are tax receipts, job records, letters of inquiry, letters asking favors, photographs of family and friends growing up and big events, and even scraps of unlabeled out of context fabric. This life was an entire life, not just a surviver of a single war, but a person who lived decades before and after a war. The war which was a great change in his life, was only a single chapter. He did amazing things. He survived and helped build our space program.

Who is he?

This is just one person among thousands who escaped to Shanghai. Stop by the Archives and Special Collections on the second floor of Valparaiso University’s Library. There is a display on the Shanghai Jews. Perhaps you could fit in a class through the History department or catch a public talk put on by the University. If not, why not spend two minutes to look at the display on the second floor near the the second floor Archives department?

These items are more then a story. They are crumbling, rough paper, smeared ink on telegrams and sepia colored photographs that blur into a room full of rare books. It is a tactile experience that is slowly decaying in your hands. The Archives and it’s interns attempt to digitize these items so when they are gone something echos beyond. I am honored to hold them in my hands, scanning the musty creased papers as I carefully slip digitized items into their special grey boxes to be buried again.

4:00 pm

Time to go home. I can’t help but think, this is not your average day of classes…

Check out the digitized items on the Archives and Special Collections website:

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 5.48.11 PM.png IMG_5207 2.jpg

Time for class…photographs graciously provided by the Archives and Special Collections.

Thank you from the VV Team!

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