A Documented Look Into Marist’s Past

As the shelves of mobile storage move one after another, a deeper looking into Marist’s past can be observed in the bottom floor of the James A. Cannavino library.

The Marist Archives is a seldom recognized office, but is the home of important historical documents and objects pertaining not just to Marist College, but also the nation as a whole.

Having close ties with the Thomas family, the Lowell Thomas papers are heavily documented in the archives.

“We have Lowell Thomas papers, which is a very large collection on communications, so there’s over a million documents in the collection, 40,000 images, 4,000 cans of motion picture film, hundreds of objects, hundreds of hours of audio,” said John Ansley, director of Archives and Special Collections.

Joining the Marist family in 2000, Ansley has been an instrumental force behind the archives. Ansley began his work at the archives roughly the same year this preservation initiative began, and has brought in and documented substantial history of Marist and the Hudson Valley.  

“We have done a lot over the last 20 years to try to document the modern environmental movement really looking at the Scenic Hudson decision, or the Storm King case,” Ansley said. “We’ve gone from having one collection here about the Scenic Hudson preservation conference to having more than two dozen collections of the modern environmental movement.

Ansley has been a driving force behind creating this special collection and expanding it to offer researchers and students a complete knowledge of the subject.

While the archive is completely open to Marist students for research on papers, it is also open to people writing articles and books or museums looking to feature these documents. “They want specific research for a project their doing, a book or article, or it’s a museum that wants to borrow materials that we have,” Ansley said.

Currently the Marist Archives and Special Collections department has material on loan to three museums in the New York area. Documents and material will be featured in a New York Historical Society showcase over the next six months.

Although many institutions have similar departments, for example Vassar, Bard, and the FDR Presidential library in Hyde Park, the Marist collection has its own, unique crown jewels.  

“[Marist archives has] what we believe is the most comprehensive collection for the Poughkeepsie Regatta. We’ve made a major effort over the last years about the general history of the race,” Ansley said. While some institutions have a collection about the race, such as Cornell, the Marist archives strive to achieve a more holistic documentation of the historic races.

Space is an issue though. While Ansley says they would ideally like to accept every document that is donated to the college, they simply don’t have the room -- but they work to find it a home.

“We just don’t have the space or facilities to take absolutely everything people want to give to us,” Ansley said. But they work to find it a home at Vassar or Bard if it pertains to their area or school.

Luckily Marist and the FDR Presidential library have a good working relationship that helps share pertinent documents. “Marist has been working with FDR library really closely since the 90’s. I work fairly often with the archivists up there. Lowell Thomas and FDR were friends, so we have cross over material there,” Ansley said.  

Preserving and documenting these donations isn’t the easiest process and certainly can become expensive. The ability to scan, categorize, and file a single box of documents can take up to a week. In addition, rigid guidelines need to be followed in order to preserve the document and make sure the public can access it. “It’s very time consuming. It takes a lot longer than you might expect. The basic thought is once it’s digitized, that’s it, but that’s really the easiest part now,” Ansley said.  

Once the document is scanned by a high-tech, high-quality scanner, it then needs to be preserved. Once it is scanned, the life of the document is not yet over; additional steps need to be taken to ensure the longevity of the document. According to Ansley most documents are then put into special acid-free folders then ushered into boxes and finally stored in a cool, dark, dry environment.

Various institutions have grappled with ownership rights to the documents that are donated to the archives, which can cost the institute thousands of dollars in preservation costs if the owners decide to take the documents back. Luckily, Marist archives ensure the rights be turned over to the school so they can be preserved for the next generations to walk the Marist campus.

The idea to obtain the rights of documents that are accepted to Marist occurred when the Lowell Thomas papers were to be returned to the Thomas family. Fortunately the Thomas family were generous enough to allow Marist to secure the rights of the documents and permanently house them at Marist College. “The Thomas family has been great friends to Marist,” Ansley said.

Although the archives have substantial equipment in order to document and preserve any material, sometimes the job is too big for them and an effort to have a secondary organization document it for them is made.

“We just got 107 of those [reel to reel tapes] back from the Northeast Document Conservation Center, they have a great audio lab there, so they did all that stuff for us, but it was expensive,” Ansley said.

This important feature of Marist College is commonly overlooked by attending students when writing papers. Ansley wants to reaffirm their ability to assist on research and help students in any venture into the archives they need, even if it’s just for a peruse of their collections.

Kenneth GuillaumeComment