If you’re a senior at the College, you may know the Colonial Echo through their emails reminding you to get your portrait taken. If you’re an underclassman, perhaps you’ve seen the Colonial Echo up for grabs around campus at the end of the Spring semester. For those still unfamiliar, the Colonial Echo is William & Mary’s student yearbook; it’s a record of the events throughout the year and the students who matriculated. The Colonial Echo was first published in 1899, and has been published every year since then except for 1900 and 1904. That means there have been over 100 editions of the yearbook, and Special Collections has a copy (or multiples) of every edition. While physical copies are available, you don’t have to actually come into Special Collections to view the Colonial Echo – the 1899-1995 yearbooks have been digitized. To give you a glimpse into W&M’s history, we pulled the 1917 Colonial Echo. Exactly 100 years from the current academic year, this yearbook is a great example of what has – and has not – changed on campus since its publication.
At some point most of us have pondered this question. Life would just be so much easier if everything was scanned into a big database, streamlined for our convenience, and text searchable. Trust me, as a scholar in the middle of doing research for my master’s thesis, I completely understand the frustration. Sometimes the thought of trekking hours away to look at printed copies of a newspaper or becoming blinded by the dull screen of the microfilm machine reinforces the idea that digital is always better.
Throughout the past month, as a part of my graduate apprenticeship I have been working with the Johnson-Nance Family Papers, a manuscript collection from the early twentieth century at Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, at the College of William and Mary. My apprenticeship at Swem began in August 2010 briefly after I moved from Tucson, Arizona to Williamsburg in order to begin my graduate studies in early American history. One of my first tasks as part of my graduate apprenticeship at Swem was to create a lesson plan for the William Taylor Correspondence, a collection consisting of letters between Taylor and his wife during his service in the Civil War. This collection was one that had already been thoroughly processed in previous years, including a finding aid, transcriptions, and digital scans of each item. When I began work on the Johnson-Nance collection I was presented me a very different task as this collection had just recently been acquired in July 2010 and entirely unprocessed.