Special Collections and University Archives

by Kathelene McCarty Smith

Students perusing rare books in the Hodges Reading Room

“What is truth” is a question for the ages, and it was also a question for the students of the spring 2022 ART 344: Digital Darkroom class. One of the most collaborative classes that SCUA teaches, Digital Darkroom combines the efforts of ROI Librarian Maggie Murphy and archivists Carolyn Shankle and Kathelene Smith. Together they created an interesting class session this spring, resulting in projects that helped students construct a library exhibit and zines, inspired by materials founds in Special Collections and University Archives. Dividing the students into three smaller groups helped everyone to maintain a safe distance and gave the archivists more one-on-one time to review the material with the students. While Maggie worked with her group in the library, the remaining students were divided into two groups in the Hodges Reading Room and the Research Room. Hodges was divided into multiple stations which featured rare books related to photography and photographers.

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Kathelene and a Digital Darkroom student discuss the finer points of Phrenology

Each station highlighted a specific time period so that the students could experience the aesthetic, perspective, and technical changes in photography from the Victorian era to the 2020 Women’s March. The Research Room displays focused on the question “What is truth?” or how multiple perspectives give a more comprehensive understanding of the truth. Each table exhibited artifacts that encouraged students to find a “truth” – and since they were art students, they were asked to either describe or draw what they found. In some cases, this might be illustrated by the difference between a photograph of a student and a painting of her, or perhaps the student perspectives seen in campus scrapbooks as opposed to the administrative perspectives seen in a university publication. The students left the session with a greater understanding of what can be discovered in Special Collections and University Archives and were hopefully inspired to create a dazzling exhibit for the Jackson Library Lobby, as well as amazing zines for their class project!

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