On April 6, 1917 the United States entered World War I, then known as the Great War. A century later, objects in Special Collections reveal memories of Americans’ lives at wartime. Among the variety of materials available for research are a collection of Red Cross posters, a veteran’s scrapbook, and a nurse’s correspondence with loved ones.
A popular means of documenting personal interests and life events, the practice of scrapbooking dates back centuries. In contrast to the modern practice of pasting family photographs and vacation mementos onto brightly colored paper, early scrapbooks were often compilations of newspaper clippings, artwork, hand-copied quotes, and letters. In addition to being aesthetically interesting, old scrapbooks provide unique insight on the lives of their creators. What did an individual decide was worthy to keep? How does ephemera reflect personal, local, and national events?
Often when I tell people that I’m working on making a database of all the scrapbooks in the Special Collections Research Center, I get a reaction something like, “Oh, that’s nice,” a reaction with subtext that seems to say “oh-that’s-nice-but-not-something-actually-significant-like-Thomas-Jefferson’s-letters.” And while the correspondence of our illustrious college alumnus certainly holds the utmost importance for the historical narrative of our country, the value of the everyday person’s point of view can sometimes be lost in the search for those of history’s best and brightest.