Migration isn’t just for the birds

March 27, 2009

A recent CBS Sunday Morning episode by New York Times technology correspondent David Pogue discusses the notion of ‘data rot’–where electronic information (audio, video, data files) is lost because of the breakdown of the physical host it is recorded to;  the lack of appropriate software and hardware to read the data; and by the overwhelming inability to ‘migrate’ data to new and current formats.  The episode is interesting AND there are archivists in it!


He also has the piece in a different format and with interesting commentary on his “Circuits” column of this week at:


The Smith College Archives has over 275 reel-to-reel tapes, the earliest documenting the College’s 75th anniversary events in 1950, through a Rally Day speech delivered in 1992.  There are another 694 cassette tapes documenting all types of programs at Smith: Last Chapel speeches, Alumnae College programs, conferences, musical concerts, oral history interviews, and more.  We are entering a pilot project to digitize 26 of the earliest reel-to-reel tapes–to see what we can still hear from them.  Our hope is that the data hasn’t rotted–although we are also practical-minded about it and realize the chances are high that some data has been lost.  As we have the funding available, we’ll continue to work to ‘migrate’ the information through reformatting.

So, ‘migration’ isn’t just for the animal world–it’s for the electronic world too!

Staff Appreciation

March 5, 2009

The infastructure of an academic residential community like Smith has a large number of people who don’t usually get to see themselves on the College website; quoted in College publications, or tapped for radio pieces on National Public Radio.  They do hold jobs of importance, however, in keeping the pursuits of the academy and campus running as smoothly as possible.  The Smith College Archives blog will periodically celebrate some of these individuals from the past.

Today we celebrate two men who held a dear place in the hearts of students because of their jobs:

John Quirk, 1883

John Quirk, 1883

John Quirk was the first mailman for the College, who also worked as a janitor and nightwatchman.  He served the College from 1878-1895.  On the back of this cabinet card photograph (above) the owner writes, “Mr. Quirk–‘A Man of Letters’  so called because he was our mailman and brought up in one bag to College Hall all the mail of the College.”   The mail was delivered to College Hall and then distributed at the ‘post office’ room near the circular stairs on the first floor, now part of the Student Financial Services Office.  A member of the Class of 1880 described him as “reliable as the College clock… He was a big man with reddish or sandy hair…a distinct Irish brogue, and a characteristic combination of dignity and good humor, and an object of general affection.  When you needed to know about anything, you could always ‘ask Mr. Quirk.'”

The man to replace Quirk also became a Smith institution.  John Doleman was first seen by President Seelye when he was part of the construction crew that built Lilly Hall, the College’s first science building.  He served the College for 30 years as the watchman and on his death in 1923, President William A. Neilson proclaimed, “…no single personality connected with the College has been known more widely than our faithful watchman.  He looked after our institution with skill and zeal.  He knew more people than anyone in the College.  He was known by more people.  Thousands of alumna count him among their real memories of the College.”

John Doleman, College Watchman, 1893-1923

John Doleman, College Watchman, 1893-1923

Rosamond Kimball, Class of 1909 recalled how John Doleman would come to the houses and tell ghost stories at Halloween.  He is also attributed with telling ghost stories in the tower of College Hall on nights with a full-moon.  His best claim to fame with the students, however, was his undercover work to nab a peeping tom on campus.  According to Kimball, John Doleman dressed up in a ruffled skirt and large hat, and walked the campus at night, hoping to lure the peeping tom out from his hiding place.  Apparently the trick worked as Doleman tackled the man and knocked him out cold!  He was so well loved, that there is a  plaque in his honor on the side of College Hall, (facing Pierce Hall) from his many student friends.

The images of both men appear in student photograph albums that are located in the College Archives, which attest to their popularity and integral part of student life.  Today, there are men and women like Quirk and Doleman who take pride in their association with Smith.  Many of these individuals have  spent years in this community.   Periodic blog entries will share their stories, as we know them.

Smith’s First President Helped End World War One!

November 25, 2008

Well, not exactly.

But President L. Clark Seelye’s voice may have inspired the United States diplomats who attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Here’s the story…

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