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A Cut-and-Pasted University History

Library exhibit displays alumni scrapbooks from various eras of campus life

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November 7, 2013 | by Orko Manna, Medill '16
Scrapbook
This college scrapbook page came from business executive and philanthropist Owen L. Coon (1894-1948), who came to Northwestern University in 1912 as an undergraduate and remained at Northwestern through the completion of his law degree.

Take a walk down memory lane with “Past, Paper, Scissors: Scrapbooks from the Northwestern University Library Collections,” on display at the Main and Deering libraries through Jan. 3, 2014.

The exhibit displays the best of the more than 250 scrapbooks that University Archives has collected from alumni of different eras -- each displayed in an open-page spread, inside a glass box.

“Not many people do scrapbooks anymore in the age of Twitter and Facebook,” said Yvonne Spura, an archives assistant at Northwestern University Library and curator of the exhibit.

“I think it’s exciting and interesting to see how students lived back then and how they documented it,” she said.

Some of the featured scrapbooks were created by notable alumni such as television host Lloyd Thaxson and football Hall of Famer Otto Graham. In addition to Northwestern-centric scrapbooks, there are displays from special libraries and collections, including one on Chicago’s Pullman strike of 1894.

The cut-and-pasted history of Northwestern focuses on the themes of student life, sports, the performing arts, altruistic endeavors and life beyond Northwestern.

Spura also noted how the perception of scrapbooking has changed over time.

“People think scrapbooking is a ‘girls’ thing,’ but actually around half the scrapbooks we have were made by men,” she said.

Each scrapbook undergoes a special preservation process that allows them to be enjoyed by the Northwestern community, and they also are available online on the library’s website, where viewers can virtually browse additional pages.

“People really like looking at pictures of old buildings and students, and comparing that to how it is today,” Spura said.

To accompany the exhibit, Archives and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities are co-sponsoring a lecture called “Reading the Remnants: American Scrapbook History,” by Ellen Garvey. Garvey is an English professor from New Jersey City University who specializes in scrapbook history. The lecture will take place Nov. 13 at 4 p.m. in the University Library’s Forum Room.

Topics: Campus Life