Post Classifieds

Archives tell story

By Kaitlin Nelson
On March 8, 2011

Sitting in a small, cluttered room, slowly and gently piecing through piles of tattered and worn papers, is not an ideal job for many; even if it involves some great discoveries of Norwich's past. However, Gale Wiese does this every day.

When she comes into work she thumbs carefully through boxes of disheveled paperwork, books and photographs. She stops her meticulous research only to assist students, staff, faculty, historians and alumni in historical research.

The Norwich University Archives is home to an array of old articles, books, photographs and other types of memorabilia. The majority of these items are about the history of Norwich; however, vast collections of military and Biblical works have been donated as well, according to Norwich's archive staff.

The archives are a real treasure. So much of the past resides there.

The access, however, is somewhat restricted. If students want to use the archives, on the fifth floor of the Kreitzberg Library, the circulation desk must call up and get an archivist with a key to open up the floor and monitor anything that is used.

Aside from the strict security, there are limited hours. The archives are only open from Monday through Friday from 1 to 6 p.m.

Wiese, the assistant university archivist, explained, "There are a few big differences between a library and an archive, like the way things are organized, the way you find things, the way you access things and the kinds of access you have."

For example, the archive does not allow books and articles to be circulated; research must be done during work hours.

Items are organized by author. All the paperwork, photographs and books by a single person are held together.

The best way to find a specific work is to ask an archivist for assistance or by logging on to the website.

The website ( gives a small description of a person, who they were and what they did. Immediately after that is the collection of things pertaining to the individual that are available in the archives.

The website is a helpful tool. It contains guidelines for faculty who wish to utilize works in the archives; along with many other facts and search engines.

"We like working with faculty, to the extent we can help them incorporate primary source material into their classes," said Kelly Nolin, Norwich archivist and special collections librarian.

"We also serve outside researchers and that includes anyone interested in Norwich history," Wiese said.

The archives contain a wide range of items.

Like "a military book collection and a Russian book collection that supported the old, Russian school," said Weise.

Some items are more personal. A lot of the items given to Norwich are from alumni or their families.

Jennifer Payne, a new employee learning about the archives, said, "I've never seen anything like it; people really care about Norwich, where it's been and where it's going."

She described, "People's families, after the person died, will donate their memorabilia and their items that pertain to Norwich history to us. We then get to see these little snapshots of history."

The oldest item in the archives is a book from 1532.

"It's in Latin and the title loosely translates to On Military Matters, it is basically a book on military tactics and sciences; it is very heavily illustrated," Wiese said.

The illustrations show how to operate different types of weaponry, fortifications or different maneuvers for battle. This was the best form of communication for the illiterate.

One of the most important collections for Norwich's history is Alden Partridge's records and files.

"Because they are his records there are more letters written to him than there are from him," Wiese said. "He had a lot of correspondence with the students' parents."

According to Partridge's files, the first class arrived in 1820 and had students as young as 9 years old.

Norwich was founded as an academy and did not become a university until 1834. "It was originally called the American Literary and Scientific Military Academy," Wiese said.

In a letter to Partridge, a mother pleads for him to guard and protect her son. Ann Biggs, from Natchez, Miss., had sent her 13-year-old son all the way to Vermont for schooling. He needed protection from the larger boys there.

There are also personal items from students.

"I processed a scrapbook that had very intimate photographs from 1942," said Payne. "It was just soldiers doing war exercise, but it was by a soldier looking at other soldiers. So it was something that only could have been gotten from inside and now it's available to anyone who wants to look at it."

Organizing and deciphering these pieces is tedious work. However, Payne said, "I like discovering all these little gems, these hidden surprises about the history of Norwich and seeing the connection between students, former and current."

There is also a sense of duty for the people who work in the archives.

"We have to make sure that these things survive not only this generation but future generations, just to make sure these things will last," Wiese said.

The collection has grown so vast that the entire fifth floor of the library is locked for security. But there is even more; "Most of the collection

actually stored in the basement, in compact shelving," Wiese said.

The limited space means limited accessibility for students, who sometimes need items in the archives for class work.

"We'd like to have longer hours, but a lot of (the workers') time is spent processing the collections and describing what they are," Wiese said.

Library staff started sorting through the material relatively recently.

"The archive hasn't been here a very long time, it's a relatively new program," Nolin said. "Things had been lovingly collected for many years." Before she came, in 2003, most of the material was not organized and could not be seen by students.

"Some of the photographs were just thrown into boxes, nothing was identified, and nothing was organized or classified, providing lots of work" Wiese said.

Says Nolin, "After five or six years of organizing we want the collections to be used."

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