Uncovering the Unknown: Artifacts Excavated from Beneath the Sparrow’s Nest During July 2017

Small brick building with a covered doorway, one window and a chimney.

The Sparrow’s Nest, unknown year.

This past July, although activity had slowed down around campus for the summer, a renovation crew discovered that there was much of interest below ground. Specifically, beneath the Sparrow’s Nest. At first glance, the Sparrow’s Nest does not look like much. It is a small, brick cottage nestled between Belk Hall and Vail Commons, across from the Lula Bell Houston Laundry. During the school year, any glimpse of activity in or around the building. To the untrained eye, the Sparrow’s Nest appears to be unused, perhaps simply a storage room. However, the history of the Sparrow’s Nest reveals there is much to be learned about its history with reference to Davidson College and the town of Davidson itself.

During renovations in July, Barbara Benson, Director of Building Services, and David Holthouser, Director of Facilities and Engineering, informed the College Archives & Special Collections that the crew found more than the expected decay of an old building. Whilst removing the termite-damaged floor system, the renovation crew from Physical Plant discovered a myriad of artifacts from former inhabitants of the Sparrow’s Nest. Currently, the building is used as a Physical Plant facility. Prior, the Sparrow’s Nest served as a Campus Security Office from 1974 to 1990. It was acquired by the College in 1908 and continued to serve as a boarding house for some time after its acquisition.


A bearded gentleman in a suit sits with his left arm folded on the armrest.

Reverend Patrick Jones Sparrow.

A green plastic bag with broken animal bones and glass pieces. A clear plastic bag with old, worn pairs of shoes.

The shoes. bones, and personal belongings found beneath the floor of the Sparrow’s Nest in July.

The house originally served as slave/servants’ quarters for Thomas Williams Sparrow (1814-1890.) Thomas was brother to College co-founder Patrick Jones Sparrow, who taught Ancient Languages at the College from 1837 to 1840. Thomas W. Sparrow married Martha Lucinda Stewart (1820-1905) and together the two ran a boarding house for the college students in a house on North Main Street. In the May 1912 edition of D.C. Magazine entitled “Memories of the Fifties,” J.J. Stringfellow from the Class of 1850 recalls that the Sparrows were nicknamed “Uncle Tom” and “Aunt Tom” by students. Stringfellow describes them as “always kind in treatment and generous at table” and continues to compliment their hospitality saying, “No boy of that olden time can ever forget their famous molasses pies.” Thomas Sparrow is buried in the Davidson College cemetery.

As for the children of Thomas and Martha Sparrow, their daughter Helen married J. Wilson McKay, D.D. from the Class of 1870. He went on to be the president of the Board of Trustees for some time. Their son, John Sparrow (1845- October 30, 1883) was a bit of a troublemaker and was eventually expelled from Davidson College. In 1866, John Sparrow eloped with Helen Kirkpatrick (1847-1900), the daughter of the College President of the time, John Lycan Kirkpatrick. John and Nellie had seven children. Their four daughters were named Anna, Marry, Mattie, and Nellie; the latter married Wilson McKay, the son of Dr. McKay who had been President of the Board of Trustees. John and Nellie also had three sons: Robert Gordon, Thomas Hill, and John Kirkpatrick Sparrow. Although Thomas Hill Sparrow did not attend college at all, his two brothers did. John Kirkpatrick Sparrow was a member of the Davidson Class of 1901 but did not graduate. Notably, Robert Gordon Sparrow was the Valedictorian of the Class of 1888 and long-held the record for the highest grades ever received at Davidson College.

Three rows of young men in suits stand in front of windows.

The Class of 1888. Robert Sparrow is pictured second from the left, seated in the first row.

There is great evidence of the Sparrows’ slaveholding practice. In an essay entitled “My Unreconstructed Grandmother” by Mary Sparrow Harrison, she describes the attitudes and experiences of her grandmother, Martha Lucinda Stewart Sparrow. Mary remembers Martha as a distant, unaffectionate grandmother who was proud, yet hardened by her Southern heritage. According to Mary, Lincoln’s name was never mentioned in their household but that former slaves continued to visit her grandparents annually for years after the Southern “surrender.” Following the death of John Kirkpatrick Sparrow, Mary’s father, a former slave traveled from South Carolina to grieve with “Miss Martha.” According to Mary, he had been a wedding gift from College President John Lycan Kirkpatrick to Martha. Mary writes that the older gentleman had accompanied her father during childhood, young-adulthood and even during when he joined the army in 1862. Of the relationship between this man and her family, Mary writes, ” I do not know how long he stayed with the family after the end of the war or where he went or how he knew that “Miss Martha” need him that day, but I do know that the meeting between those two—the proud reserved women and the ex-slave and friend who had learned of her sorrow and had come to comfort her left an indelible impression on my child-mind.” Perhaps the artifacts discovered beneath the Sparrow’s Nest holds answers as to that gentleman’s identity and his experiences being enslaved and freed by the Kirkpatrick-Sparrow family. In order to continue following the story of the Sparrow’s Nest’s purpose throughout the centuries, follow the blog-tag: “Sparrow” or the hashtag: “DavidsonHistoryMystery” on Instagram and Twitter.

Justice, Equality, and Community Archivist Is In The Library!

Hello, my name is Jessica Cottle and I am the recently hired Justice, Equality, and Community (JEC) Project Archivist.

A group of dedicated faculty and staff developed this new position to further the goals of the “Justice, Equality, Community: Reimagining Humanities Curricula for an Interconnected, Rapidly Changing World” initiative, funded by a generous Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant. Over the course of 3.5 years, the initiative aims to “reimagine humanities curricula through the lens of three ideas that…cut across cultures, time, and disciplines: justice, equality, and community…to demonstrate the critical role of humanistic inquiry in public discourse, global problem-solving, engaged citizenship, and democratic leadership.”

The grant includes funding for innovative partnership between faculty and students, a humanities practitioner-in-residence program, community-minded experiential learning projects, and archives-supported assignments centered on questions about race and religion in the greater-Davidson area.

As the JEC Project Archivist for this endeavor, I will be developing, promoting, and digitizing archival resources related to the research and teaching of social justice issues (particularly race and religion), and facilitating collaboration between community partners, faculty, and students. I was raised in Charlotte—I graduated from Harding University High School in 2011—so I plan on tapping into personal connections to homegrown groups to ensure the initiative’s positive impact on both the campus community and local residents.

I graduated from Appalachian State University with my B.A. in May 2015. I majored in Global Studies with a concentration in East Asia, and double minored in Women’s Studies and Chinese. I returned to Boone that fall to complete my M.A. in Public History, graduating in May 2017. I believe unearthing connected historical and current marginalized narratives and subsequently serving as a conduit through which people can address their communities for themselves is my foremost responsibility as a public historian and archivist. When applying for jobs this summer, I immediately connected with the project goals described in this position’s advertisement as I saw my understanding of history and archives reflected in them. I am excited to familiarize myself with the archive’s resources and getting to know everyone as the JEC initiative moves forward!

Jessica Cottle
Email: jecottle@davidson.edu
Phone: 704.894.2669
Office: E.H. Little Library, Room 203

Research, Teaching, and Collection department's contributions to welcome Jessica Cottle.

Research, Teaching, and Collection department’s contributions to welcome Jessica Cottle.

Jessica Cottle's Welcome Cake

Jessica Cottle’s Welcome Cake
August 28, 2017

Guest Blogger: Emily Lauher, 2017 volunteer and future archivist, Changing Landscapes and Changing Attributes

Hi everyone my name is Emily Lauher. I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in History from the University of North Carolina at Asheville. I am a 2017 volunteer at Davidson College organizing the personal papers of Anne Stewart Higham, an adventurous world traveler.

Davidson College received this collection from one of Anne Higham’s granddaughters, Dr. Carol Higham. Dr. Higham is a professor of Native American History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She has also worked as an adjunct professor at Davidson College. She first approached Jan Blodgett, College Archivist, regarding the personal papers belonging to Anne Higham.

Anne Stewart Higham

Anne Higham traveled extensively between 1940 and 1969 to Europe, North America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.

1945 Christmas Greeting when Anne Higham traveled throughout the Middle East.

During that time, she surrendered her American citizenship and became a British citizen (later requesting a return to American citizenship). Somehow, during those transactions, her birth year was also altered, making her five years younger on a return trip.

Working as an Army lecturer for the British Army, she first toured Royal Air Force stations in the Middle East and in 1946, began a tour of India and Africa. The correspondence in the collection discusses her lecture topics such as the history of Britain, conditions in Africa, and the Middle East. She also gave lectures on British women and the British war effort during World War II.

Anne Higham, United Nations lecturer

Dr. Carol Higham will be sharing an accretion to this collection, and I am hoping for copies of Anne Higham’s lectures and research notes to add to the photographs, negatives, correspondence and other materials in the collection. I am also hoping to learn more about Anne Higham’s life in these international locations and her relationship with her brother and son who served in the military during World Wars I and II.

Happy Retirement, Jan Blodgett!

A few weeks ago longtime College Archivist and Records Management Coordinator Jan Blodgett retired after 23 years of service to Davidson (for information on our new College Archivist, DebbieLee Landi, see our earlier blog post introducing her). Jan has made an impact all across the Davidson College campus and the town of Davidson, including on this very blog – Jan started Around the D on January 21, 2009! This week we’ll celebrate her time as College Archivist by delving into our photo archives for images of Jan:

Jan sits at a table in the archives in 1994, with Loyce Davis and Barbara Butler.

Jan leads a discussion on Davidson history in the Davidsoniana Room during Freshman Orientation in 1996. Jan’s introduction to the past and present of Davidson College has been a part of orientation for over 20 years.

Jan stands by one of the columns of the Chambers Building in 1997, while then Library Director Leland Park chats with Josh Gaffga.

Members of Common Ground, including Jan, a local grassroots organization designed promote communication and understanding and improve relations among people of all races in Davidson, gather for a Christmas Day memorial service in 1998.

Library staff, including Jan (in the pink skirt and shirt), gather in the lobby of E.H. Little Library, circa 1998.

Library staff gather in front of Beaver Dam in 1999. Jan is towards the back of the group.

Jan chats with then Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, in the Rare Book Room during his visit to campus in 2001. Billington is looking at the Arabic language Bible of Omar Ibn Sayyid, one of the highlights of our rare book collection.

Jan works with a student on researching campus architecture, in the Rare Book Room in 2014.

Jan led a paddleboard tour of the history of Lake Norman in July 2015, in partnership with Davidson Parks and Recreation.

A full Archives & Special Collections staff #shelfie in 2015! From right to left: Caitlin Christian-Lamb (me!), Sharon Byrd, and Jan Blodgett.

Jan (with her back to the camera) works with ENV 340 students in the Rare Book Room, in 2016.

Hilton Kelly is photographed while photographing Jan (meta!) working with Charlotte Mecklenburg public school teachers on a workshop in summer 2016, aimed at integrating archival materials across secondary education. The teachers’ projects can be found here.

Jan enjoys archival glogg in December 2016 with Roman Utkin and Caroline Fache.

Jan addresses the crowd at her final campus history tour in April 2017 (you can view the livestream of the tour here).

Jan Blodgett was the first professionally trained archivist to work at Davidson College, and her work building and organizing collections, as well as fostering community and curricular connections is fundamental to the Archives & Special Collections current and future work. We will always be grateful to Jan for her tireless, generous, and energetic work – please join us in wishing Jan a fond farewell and a happy retirement!

Welcome DebbieLee!

As we say goodbye to longtime Davidson fixture Jan Blodgett, who retires this month, we say hello to a new archivist – join us in welcoming DebbieLee Landi, the new College Archivist & Records Management Coordinator! DebbieLee began work two weeks ago, and I conducted a short interview with her to introduce Around the D readers to the newest member of our team:

You just began working at Davidson a few weeks ago – can you talk about your background in archival work and where you’ve worked before?

I was fortunate to attend the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada and gained a solid foundation in archival theory and practice while living (and playing) in one of the most beautiful and captivating cities in the world.  I have worked at two other private liberal arts colleges, Furman University and the University of the South, affectionately known as Sewanee.

What appealed to you most about the College Archivist & Records Management Coordinator position?

The quality of the established program that includes both the archival records for the College and Records Management.  I was already familiar with the work of the current archivist, Jan Blodgett, and when I visited campus, I was impressed with the expertise and talents of the other members of the department as well as the staff of the Little Library.  There were several students involved in my interview process and they, too, were exceptional, demonstrating a keen interest in the work of the department and asking insightful questions.

Beginning a new job can be a bit of a whirlwind, but do you have any favorite moments so far?

There are so many.  Each day I learn something new and receive warm and welcoming greetings from people all around campus.  In the E.H. Little Library, one of the greetings was a musical serenade performed by members of the staff (including an original song!).  Another very unexpected welcome was an anonymous donation in my honor to support the #allinforDavidson campaign.

The #AllinforDavidson campaign donation card that DebbieLee received.

What has surprised you about the college or the area?

The number of smiling, friendly faces and the beauty of the campus.

Are there any new initiatives or ideas that you’re hoping to implement here?

Augmenting the impressive work of the department with the integration of Archives & Special Collections resources in the curricula and expanding those initiatives to include programs such as Study Abroad and Service Odyssey.  Involving students as field agents and inviting guest curators to increase the involvement of the college community in building the archival record. Exploring the possibilities of a digital badging initiative and archival records as Open Education Resources … to share just a few ideas.

What are your hobbies when you’re not in the archives?

Trying new recipes and new restaurants and incorporating chocolate whenever possible!  Keeping up with Moxy, my canine companion, and the latest travels of Dr. Who.  Hiking and visiting state, national and provincial parks in search of waterfalls and secluded beaches.

Behind the scenes of the Presidential Portraits Tour

This week’s post was written by Caroline Turner ’17, a volunteer in the Davidson College Archives & Special Collections and a future archivist!

When I first heard the presidential portraits were getting moved out of the library, I was initially stunned and more than a little unnerved. How would I be able to work on the first floor without the presidents smiling down encouragingly (or glaring down ominously)? To me, the portraits represented Davidson’s leadership and tradition as well as the college’s arc through time. As a history and art history double major, I felt like the portraits held a special place all together on the library wall, watching all the students working (or socializing). But as I found out more about the project, I knew I wanted to get involved.

Former Presidential library corner

Former Presidential library corner

Portrait of Walter Lingle - holding students to higher standards.

Portrait of Walter Lingle – holding students to higher standards.

I work with Jan Blodgett in the Archives on the second floor of the library, and with Lia Newman in the College Art Galleries over in the VAC. By working in both environments, I had learned the tools of both trades, which would come in handy as I navigated between the art and the history. I was tasked with researching each president and his experience at Davidson and then writing the accompanying label for the portrait, including information about the president’s life and presidency, as well as tidbits about the artist and portrait itself. Each president would be given a new place of honor based on his personal legacy, and I would connect the place to the president in the label.

I worked from most recent president (Thomas Warren Ross), backwards. I began by pulling out each president’s clipping file from the archives and reading through. I expected to quickly find, somewhere near the back of the file, a summary of each president’s contributions to Davidson, perhaps with an announcement of his retirement. But as I opened each file, I found masses of information and I quickly forgot my plan to skip to the back. Often there were cautious announcements of the new president, clipped from The Davidsonian and The Charlotte Observer. Who was he? What will he do? What has his experience been? Then I found invitations to inaugurations, wrapped in tissue paper. Then came the pictures of each president at athletic events, the Cake Races, and speaking at Commencements. These middle pieces were filled with gems.

Tom Ross penned this Davidsonian article to introduce himself.

Tom Ross penned this Davidsonian article to introduce himself.

One of my personal favorite finds was a debacle resulting from President Bobby Vagt hosting a party for graduating seniors. The Charlotte Observer wrote an article titled “Beer, pizza at college bash? Yes, and president’s buying,” in which the author tsked tsked for a president caring more about being popular among, and having fun with, students than about being respected and attending to important college business. Comments streamed in supporting President Vagt, and admiring his dance moves. One local said parents should be grateful their children were attending parties with the “best qualified chaperone.” It was clear from the other notes and Davidsonian articles that I found in President Vagt’s file that the students held him in high regard.


Charlotte Observer headline

Charlotte Observer headline

President Vagt in a more serious pose

President Vagt in a more serious pose


Another fun moment for me was finding out that one of the portraitists never existed. When I got to Dr. Grier Martin’s portrait, I searched for information on the artist, Charles J. Fox. I found some scanty information on how he was a New York businessman and artist, but not a whole lot more. But then I found that Charles J. Fox was actually a pseudonym for Leo Fox, who was actually a New York businessman. He had photographs sent to him for portraits but then sent them right on to Irving Resnikoff, a Russian immigrant. Resnikoff was trained as an artist in St. Petersburg and left Russia in 1917 to go to New York City. He never met any of the people he depicted in portraits, which included many leading figures in government, including John F. Kennedy as well as our President Martin.


D. Grier Martin portrait.

D. Grier Martin portrait.

I also enjoyed delving deeper into the history of Davidson and realizing how different the College was in its earlier days. I had to blink when I read one quote from a student who said that Reverend John Rood Cunningham “possessed a magnetic presence when riding his horse” and I suppressed a chuckle when I read that President Morrison (who reigned over Davidson from 1836-1840) was in charge of corporal punishment of the 60 boys that attended. He accompanied his physical punishment with a long prayer for the penitence of the sinning boy. One source noted that many boys simply requested two beatings if they could skip the prayer.

Davidson's first president as painted by his daughter.

Davidson’s first president as painted by his daughter.

I found that poring over the presidencies gave each president a more individual life. No longer were they a row of former presidents scolding me for going on Facebook when I should be writing my history essay. Now I think of Reverend Cunningham when I pass by Belk, which was built during his presidency. I think of  the raving reviews of students and faculty alike of President Vagt’s “Donut Wednesdays” when I pass through Chambers lobby. I think of Dr. Kuykendall when a friend discusses their Dean Rusk grant, since the Dean Rusk Program was established under his leadership.

To me, the presidents have become individual leaders and representations of Davidson’s evolution. I hope that their placement and labels encourage students to learn more about the College’s history and connect more with each president. Hopefully the presidential portraits will no longer be just faces of presidents past, but instead will become individuals with stories and experiences that connect with current students, faculty, staff, and visitors.

Happy Retirement, Bill Giduz!

This week marks the retirement of Bill Giduz (Class of 1974), the roving campus Director of Photography & News Writer. Bill on his bike, trekking around campus in search of the best photos, has been a familiar sight to many Davidsonians throughout the years. Bill’s author biography for the Davidson Journal, written in 2014, describes him this way:

Bill Giduz’s association with Davidson began in 1970 when he enrolled as a freshman. Nine years later he attended his fifth reunion, learned of an opening in the communications department, and has now worked gratefully in that office for 34 years. He commutes on two wheels, juggles on Sunday afternoons and regularly plays basketball with much quicker young men.

He is also a joggler, as chronicled in the Huffington Post in 2015. While Bill is most familiar as the person behind the camera, this week’s blog reflects on his years at Davidson through another lens – pictures of Bill Giduz, rather than by Bill Giduz! Fortunately we have several images of Bill throughout his Davidson career in the archives:

The first image of Bill Giduz comes from the 1970 Wildcat Handbook, the freshman handbook at Davidson.

Just two years later, this is Bill as a sophmore in 1972 – one of the advantages (or disadvantages) of retiring from your alma mater is that there many pictures in the archives to draw upon.

Bill’s senior photo, in the 1974 Quips and Cranks.

Ten year alumni reunion for the Class of 1974, April 1984. Bill is on the far right.

Two images of Bill Giduz from the college’s personnel directory, 1983 – 1990.

Bill with Eugenia Deaton, then Vice President of First Union National Bank in Davidson, on the occasion of her birthday and retirement in 1985.

Rusk Scholars in 1986, pictured with their host families, including Bill and Ellen Giduz. Ellen is currently the manager of the Davidson and Cornelius branches of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, and previously worked at Davidson College as a librarian, visiting lecturer, and adjunct professor.

Davidson employees gather around a cake with icing spelling out “Congratulations Davidson, 2,007,481, 41.7%” at a Development retreat in 1986. Bill is seated far right, next to the cake.

The faculty/staff intramural basketball team in 1987. Bill is on the far left.

Undated (circa early 1980s) image of College Communications staff. Bill Giduz is in the front, and Melanie Bookout, John Slater, and Pat Burgess are in the back.

Personnel directory photographs of Bill, 1990 – 1996. A handwritten note on the back of these photos reads “Zoro!” [sic], likely a reference to the 1950s TV series.

College Communications staff in front of the Copeland House in 1990. From left to right: Jerry Stockdale, Bill Giduz, Pat Burgess, Barbara Mayer, Amy Burkesmith, Michele Miller, and Mike Van Hecke.

The most recent personnel directory photograph of Bill Giduz that we have in the archives is this one from 1996 – 1999.

Bill Giduz and Meg Kimmel stand with a student at the Belk Scholarship Awards Ceremony in 2000.

Bill Giduz has been a valued member of the staff of Davidson College for 37 years, and will continue to be a important part of the Davidson community – happy retirement, Bill!


There’s an irony in the heading Extracurricular.  The Davidson Encyclopedia has 4 new entries on student extracurricular activities –in that they were written as curricular requirement. Students in a first year writing class on Leisure and Play spent weeks last fall learning about Davidson history through the lens of out of class experiences.

They worked in teams around 4 topics: honorary fraternities, independent student organizations,  oversight or coordinating boards, and political engagement.  Each group focused on a subset of organizations developing brief histories and sharpened their archival skills finding photographs and scanning Davidsonians.

The activity planning boards group wrote about the Interfraternity Council (once known as the Pan-Hellenic Council and now part of Patterson Court Council), the Publications (now Media Board) and the Union Board (still functioning as the Union Board).  They discovered stories of streaking and frolics, self-selection controversies and literary magazines.

Frolicing with flowcharts in 1992

Frolicing with flowcharts in 1992

Research around honorary fraternities focused on the sciences, economics and music with Sigma Pi Sigma, Gamma Sigma Epsilon and Omicron Delta Epsilon and Phi Mu Alpha. Unexpected stories uncovered for this group included Davidson’s role in publishing a chemistry journal (serious work but with a few chemical jokes added in),  our first female professor in economics,  outdoors experiments on Chambers lawn, and the tradition of interfraternity sings.

ODE in 1966

ODE in 1966

Changes in student social life and service activities in the 21st century made some of the experiences of around independent student groups intriguing for our student researchers. Anyone remember Lingle Manor, Alpha Phi Omega or any of the co-ed eating houses:

Lingle Manor the building, home once to Lingle Manor, the student organization.

Lingle Manor the building, home once to Lingle Manor, the student organization.

Today’s students found more in common with the political and social groups. Although only one group, the College Republicans, still exists, the concerns of the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and Just Peace continue in new expressions.


You are invited to explore these new encyclopedia entries and the intersection of the history of extracurricular life and current writing curriculum.

Teachers & Lake Norman

What do you get when you bring 5 public school teachers to the archives?

An amazing amount of energy and a wonderful set of lesson plans designed around Lake Norman topics. Working with Dr. Hilton Kelly, professor of Sociology and chair of Educational Studies, the archives staff reached out to teachers to help us add a collection of learning activities to the Under the Lake site.

Celia Arch presenting her lesson plans

Celia Arch presenting her lesson plans

Along with gathering photos and stories about the lake, the we wanted the website to be a source for research and teaching. How better to bring the lake into the classroom than by having practicing teachers design and create online lessons?  Supported by the Duke Energy Foundation, we recruited local teachers. The 5 finalists were an amazing group and covered the full range of education – kindergarten to high school, mathematics to ESL to social studies and earth sciences. Together they created 11 different lesson plans, some with multiple activities.

Erik Dykes convincing fellow teachers and Little Library staff that maps and math can work tofgether.

Erik Dykes convincing fellow teachers and Little Library staff that maps and math can work tofgether.

The teachers are Celia Arch, Eric Dykes, JoCelyn Roundtree, Carolyn Singleton, Erika Williams.  In one intense week, they learned about Lake Norman, explored the website, learned WordPress and built their lessons. On Friday afternoon they presented their work to their peers and members of the library staff.  The instruction librarians came away with a great respect for the teachers grasp of pedagogy and some new ideas to try out on our students.

As part of the project, the archives team added a collection of digitized area maps to the website.  Included are Lake Norman maps, county maps, town of Davidson maps and college campus maps.

1963 map of newly created lake.

1963 map of newly created lake.

While the activities are geared toward classroom learning, anyone can test them out. Try brushing up on your math skills or write your own essay, draw a cartoon, share a rainy summer afternoon with a child learning together or explore the history the maps show us.

The lesson plan creation team: Eric Dykes, Celia Arch, JoCelyn Roundtree, Erika Williams, and Carolyn Singleton

The lesson plan creation team: Eric Dykes, Celia Arch, JoCelyn Roundtree, Erika Williams, and Carolyn Singleton


Digitizing “An Old Family Friend”: The Aubrey Neblett Brown, Jr. Scrapbook

This week’s post was written by Nancy Lingle, a volunteer in the Davidson College Archives & Special Collections. Nancy is a May 2016 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a Masters of Library and Information Studies degree, and works at the Davidson Branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library.

Photos from a road trip with college buddies. The scores from an all-important football game.  Notes about family and friends.  An advertisement for shoes for $16.50.  Ticket stubs from a concert.  For many of us, these phrases sounds like things we might see on a typical Facebook or Instagram post.  But in this case I’m describing a book; to be more specific – a scrapbook from a member of the Davidson College Class of 1929. A scrapbook that does not belong to my family, but now feels like an old family friend.

Aubrey Neblett Brown, Jr's senior portrait, from the 1929 Quips and Cranks.

Aubrey Neblett Brown, Jr’s senior portrait, from the 1929 Quips and Cranks.

I came to know this scrapbook through a class assignment.  I am not a Davidson College student.  (In fact, based on my SAT scores, I’m pretty sure I would never have been admitted.) In pursuit of my MLIS degree at UNCG, I took a class in digital libraries. One option for my final class assignment was to find a local library and ask to work on one of their digital projects.  As a resident of Davidson and having been married to someone with long ties to the college, I was familiar with the archival work that the Davidson College Library had produced.  With fingers crossed, I emailed Jan Blodgett, the college archivist, and offered my services.  Jan, along with Sharon Byrd and Caitlin Christian-Lamb graciously tossed around some possible project ideas that I could work on.  They came up with digitizing a scrapbook, one of the 279 that have been collected by or donated to Davidson over the years. These scrapbooks are stored in the college archives – a veritable treasure trove of documents, photographs and other ephemera related to town and gown.

At first, I was slightly surprised by their choice of this project. With all the “important” books, manuscripts and photos that need to be digitized, I thought digitizing a personal scrapbook was something that should possibly be further down on the priority list.  How wrong I was.

Advertisement for women's shoes for , from a program for "The Girl Friend" at the Auditorium Theatre

Advertisement for women’s shoes for $12.50 to $16.50 , from a program for “The Girl Friend” at the Auditorium Theatre pasted onto page 79 of Aubrey Neblett Brown, Jr.’s scrapbook.

Why scrapbooks?  The reasons are many. Scrapbooks give us a more personal account of a period in history.  We can see what was important to an individual at a given time.  Newspaper articles, dance cards, photos showing clothing, hats and shoes all come together to paint a detailed picture and give us a higher degree of insight than a standard text book can offer. Digitizing a scrapbook, while adding descriptive and searchable metadata, adds to our collective resources and knowledge sharing abilities.  By making these resources available to the public, we can give others the opportunity to access material that would otherwise be nearly impossible to see.  Many college and university libraries have been working on digitizing their scrapbook collections. These scrapbooks are in very fragile states; their aging pages crumbling, disintegrating a little more every time we open each archival box. Preserving them for future generations is a worthy task.

The Process

Caitlin was very familiar with the Davidson scrapbook collection.   She herself had worked on a similar project when she was a graduate student at Simmons College so she understood with great clarity the details involved.  Of all the choices under consideration, we decided to digitize the scrapbook of Aubrey Neblett Brown, Jr. It had lots of nice details, many different types of items and at 82 pages, it seemed the perfect length. The goal was to preserve the scrapbook in a way that makes you feel like you are turning the pages of the actual item – viewing the scrapbook as it was intended to be seen.

Page 25 of the Brown scrapbook, with photographs of many Davidson College campus buildings and hand-drawn pencil animals (including two wildcats).

Page 25 of the Brown scrapbook, with photographs of many Davidson College campus buildings and hand-drawn animals (including two wildcats).

First came scanning. Each page of the scrapbook (and each page of each pamphlet or brochure within each page) was scanned and saved as a TIFF file.  The pages had to placed carefully on the scanner in an effort to keep them as intact as possible.  Sometimes we found pages stuck together either due to the adhesive (mucilage) or a staple.  Caitlin, using a scalpel with surgeon-like precision, removed the staples so we could easily access the individual pages. Sometimes items fell off.  Often I had to lift one delicate yellowed newspaper clipping to access another one beneath it.  One time, a headline that had lain folded for umpteen years crumbled in my hand.  While I felt terrible, it also made me realize how important it is to scan these documents so they can be preserved before more disintegration takes place. It turns out this 82-page scrapbook was really 311 pages when all was said and done. Scanning took 24.75 hours.

TIFF files are wonderful at preserving details but are also very large. The Omeka site we were using to host this project has a limitation in file size, so I converted each TIFF to a JPEG.  This is a fairly easy process and took only 5.5 hours.

Next, using Dublin Core, I added metadata to each page so the information could be found.  Some pages were relatively easy since they contained only one or two items.  When questions arose, Sharon patiently looked over my shoulder and help guide me to the correct description. The pages that were most challenging were ones that held copies of plays and programs containing the names of the actors, dancers and musicians.  Since our goal was to make the items searchable, I had to add each name that I found on each page. Mr. Brown loved to attend plays.  On page 79 there are 5 different play programs.  Since I was working on this project only 5-6 hours per week, it would occasionally take me that amount of time to add the metadata for just one page. Total time for adding metadata:  32 hours.

Page 79 of the Brown scrapbook - five play programs and a whole lot more!

Page 79 of the Brown scrapbook – five play programs and a whole lot more!

Finally, as I was wrapping up my semester, the metadata was complete.  With Caitlin’s expertise and guidance, we turned the project live (8.25 hours) just days before my semester ended.  Total time to digitize the Aubrey Neblett Brown Jr. scrapbook: 70.5 hours.

What Did I Learn?

Academically, I learned about the digitization processes, about different hosting sites, about the ways different institutions use Dublin Core as a metadata scheme, all the variables involved and the decisions that need to be made when creating a digital library project.

I also learned about life in Davidson from 1924 – 1929.  I learned that Mr. Brown kept a tidy room – there’s a note from Mrs. Black the dormitory supervisor telling him so. (Personally, as the mother of a college-age son, I find this extremely hard to believe.)  Photos told me who Mr. Brown’s friends were and what they did for fun; from building a snowman to attending plays and debates as well as coming up with the attributes for the “ideal woman”. I learned that Efird’s Department Store in Charlotte sold almost everything and that even though the Ziegfeld Follies were famous, the creators of the brochures still spelled that eponymous name incorrectly (as “Ziegfield”).  Among the various letters and cards there was a note about Mr. Brown’s disappointment over the new college president, Dr. Walter Lee Lingle, my husband’s grandfather, and how he wished it could have been someone from outside and not a Davidson graduate who was taking on the position.  (No hard feelings – I promise.)

Page 27 from the Brown scrapbook

Page 27 from the Brown scrapbook, showing scenes around campus (including snowman-building and one of the live wildcat mascots).

Mr. Brown’s documentation of the road trip he took with friends back home to Mineral Wells, Texas was one of the highlights of the scrapbook.  There are photos of the car (which he later sold for $60.00), a map of their route, and postcards he acquired at places he stopped along the way.  It was amazing to me that these postcards, many in color, have retained their vibrancy even after all these years.

What I felt the most as I delved into this scrapbook was the sense of innocence, the love of family and friends, the love of sports, the overall “collegiate spirit” vibe that I felt during my own undergraduate days and see now with my son and his friends.  This “innocence of youth” of Mr. Brown and his friends is juxtaposed with an impeding sense of sadness since we know what is about to happen in the world later on in his 1929 graduation year.

A few weeks ago I ran into William Brown at the Davidson Public Library where I currently work. William is the son of our scrapbook creator and the Director of the Knobloch Campus Center and Student Activities at Davidson.  I told him about the project and thanked him for sharing such a wonderful resource with the college archives and now, thanks to digitization, with anyone who is interested.  He smiled and he talked about that road trip his father took to Mineral Wells.  It turns out that his father didn’t return home again for over 50 years.  When he did, things had changed so much that nothing seemed familiar. Having access to those photos and postcards now seems even more poignant.

Pages 53 and 55 of the scrapbook, detailing the road trip from Davidson to Mineral Wells

Pages 53 and 55 of the scrapbook, detailing the road trip from Davidson to Mineral Wells, TX and including a newspaper clip advertising Brown’s sale of the group’s 1922 Ford Model T.

The Future

Now with one scrapbook project under their belts, I hope that the Archives and Special Collections Department can continue this project with the help of students and volunteers.  Knowing the time and resources it takes to digitize one scrapbook; from computers and scanners to hosting space and librarian oversight, the archivists can better plan how this project fits in with their other projects and goals.

Many thanks to Jan, Sharon, and Caitlin for their guidance, support and allowing me to work with them on bringing this scrapbook to digital life.  You can access the digital version of the Aubrey Neblett Brown, Jr. scrapbook here.