The Special Collections & Archives graduate assistants, Rebecca L. Bramlett and I, are busy preparing for the opening of our exhibit next Wednesday, October 15th. “That I May Remember: the Scrapbooks of Florida State College for Women (1905-1947)” showcases many of the scrapbooks from the Heritage Protocol & University Archives’ collections and explores the scrapbook as a means of communication, focusing on the themes of school spirit, friendship, and creating self. With each scrapbook we opened, Rebecca and I were struck by the way the unique personalities of the women of FSCW jumped off the pages at us. As a whole, the FSCW scrapbooks provide an invaluable insight into what student life was like at one of the largest women’s colleges in the country – a college with rigorous academics, zealous sporting traditions, vibrant community life, and even secret societies. Individually, they present a visual narrative of each student’s college journey, as seen through her own eyes. Which got me thinking… As a means of creating and communicating self, the FSCW scrapbooks operate in much the same way that popular forms of social media do for students today.
Wall posts, friends, messages, memes, event invitations, and “likes” – these conventions are not reserved for the twenty-first century. Many of the FSCW scrapbooks, like Laura Quayle Benson’s (pictured right), contain autograph pages signed by the scrapbook creator’s friends. Like a Facebook wall, these pages list a person’s friends along with personal notes from each of them. Some of the notes seem to be the generic words of a passing acquaintance (“With best wishes”), while others are rich with suggestions of inside jokes (“I love Laura ‘heaps’ – I wonder if (?) does?”). The scrapbooks are full of other forms of communication between friends and family – letters, notes, calling cards, package slips, greeting cards, and telegrams. Invitations to join sports teams, honor societies, and sororities are given pride of place as signs of belonging to a group, and collections of event programs read like a personal news feed of where each girl was on a given date. Flipping through the FSCW scrapbooks is a bit like scrolling through each girl’s Facebook wall. It gives one a sense of who she was at a certain point in her life – who she was friends with, what she did, what her interests were – even if the deeper, more personal meanings of the scrapbooks are sometimes obscured from the outside observer.
Tumblr and Pinterest
Creating a scrapbook is an act of curation – carefully selecting texts and images and arranging them in a meaningful way. Although the creators of scrapbooks manipulate physical objects, users of sites like Pinterest and Tumblr use digital media to create collections of text, image, video, and sound meant to express something of themselves. The scrapbook of Annie Gertrude Gilliam (pictured left) contains many excellent examples of well-curated pages. Her clippings from advertisements, theater bills, and magazines are carefully arranged and replete with lively commentary (“A real knock out,” “Exciting and thrilling to the end”). These pages speak of a timeless need to organize our thoughts, express ourselves visually, and voice our opinions, whether in a private scrapbook or a public webpage.
Photographs are a common feature of almost all of the FSCW scrapbooks, and many of these photos include captions written by the scrapbook’s creator, such as those by Jewell Genevieve Cooper (pictured right). Photos in scrapbooks are, in a sense, “tagged” by the scrapbook creator. Jewell Genevieve Cooper’s “tags” tell us what the photos are of (an Odd-Even baseball game, one of FSCW’s wildly popular inter-school rivalries) and who is in them. These social layers added to photographs in scrapbooks are similar to the tags and descriptions users add to photos in social media sites like Instagram. Even though a picture says a thousand words, we can’t seem to resist adding our own words anyway.
The FSCW scrapbooks give a unique window into student life as told by the students themselves. While the scrapbooks present plenty of cataloging and preservation challenges for archivists, they are at least physical objects that can be stored and displayed as such. Students today are also telling their own stories, but they are doing so through social media sites like Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram. How these stories will be preserved and shared with future generations remains to be seen and is a question beyond the scope of this blog post. In the meantime, “That I May Remember: the Scrapbooks of Florida State College for Women (1905-1947)” will be on display in the Strozier Library Exhibit Space from October 15th through December 1st.
Katherine Hoarn is a graduate assistant in Special Collections & Archives. She is working on her Master of Library and Information Science degree at Florida State University.