Caring for Archival Collections

A recent acquisition of some old Academy images  brought up some thorny problems. The photographs, taken by Edwin L. Cunningham in the early 1900s, were in very rough shape, with prints exhibiting extensive waterstaining, thick layers of surface grime, and in some cases, obvious mold growth, and glass plate negatives which were either broken or rendered entirely useless by having been stuck together for decades. While we accepted many of the images for scanning, once completed, they were returned to the donor as they were pretty much at the point where physically restoring them would have been either been prohibitively expensive, or in most cases, an act of futility.

Once we had good “master” scans of the images (meaning that no editing is done besides rotating and cropping), we set about making “user” copies, where we employed some fairly basic Photoshop techniques to make the images usable again for possible online publication and/or physical printing. Deciding exactly how much editing to do can be a tricky business, but we tended to be a bit conservative on this project. Basically, we simply tried to minimize the most visually damaged elements, rather than attempting to bring the images back to a pristine state.

Click the images below to see large versions, and a read a terrific Q&A on how to handle some of your own photograph/document collections here.

A Short Slideshow from the Archives

Using a new slideshow feature that WordPress recently introduced, we thought we would share some images of the Third Academy Building from the Archives. Before it was lost to fire in 1914, it occupied the same space as today’s Academy Building, but was built from far more flammable materials. While not much survived the conflagration, we have images to remind us how lovely it was.

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Abraham Lincoln in Exeter

Come by the library to see our current exhibit honoring the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s visit to his son at Exeter in March 1860.   On display are a selection of books and photographs illustrating a few of the many facets of Lincoln’s life:  the frontiersman, the family man, the inventor, the politician, the Commander-in-Chief, champion and defender of the vulnerable and oppressed.   

Included in the exhibit is a letter from Robert Todd Lincoln to his mother, written December 2, 1860, shortly after his father’s election as U.S. President.  On a visit back to Exeter during his first year at Harvard, Robert wrote, “Dear Mother – You see I am back at Exeter and I feel very much at home…..Tonight we are out to tea which will wind up our fun, as we have to commence study again tomorrow.”  He fills her in on other general news and continues, “I have a couple of friends from St. Louis who are going to the inauguration after vacation is over and I have invited them to stop at our house on their road.

Balancing studies and social life, inviting classmates home for a visit – in some ways life at Exeter has changed very little over the past 150 years!

Also on display are commemorative postage stamps and coins on loan from members of the Academy community and photographs of Exeter-born Daniel Chester French and his work, which included the famous seated statue in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.  One of French’s first public commissions was the Minute Man Statue in Concord, Massachusetts; later in his career he sculpted others whose names are well-known locally including entrepreneur and philanthropist Ambrose Swasey, lawyer and politician Amos Tuck, and lawyer and statesman Daniel Webster (PEA Class of 1796).

The Lincoln exhibit will be on display through the month of April. 

Astronomy Celebrated in our New Exhibit

Stars Over Exeter posterOur new exhibit on display in Rockefeller Hall is a photo-history of astronomy here at Phillips Exeter Academy, ranging from the days prior to observatory construction to the present day. The range of studies has taken students from snow covered fields in winter, to domed observatories here and at professional facilities in Arizona.

2009 marks the anniversary of two important events: the first use of the telescope as a scientific instrument to study the skies by Galileo Galilei, and the 20th anniversary of the Grainger Observatory’s construction. To mark the former, the International Astronomical Union has declared 2009 the International Year of Astronomy and is hosting celebrations around the world to promote astronomy and astronomy education.

In October of 1989, the Academy opened the Grainger Observatory, the culmination of a dream held by the first observatory director, Dr. Chris Harper, who envisioned students making astronomical observations in a setting permanently established for the purpose. It was a huge leap from the days of bringing small telescopes out onto a snow covered roof of the then science building (now the Academy Center).

Now twenty years after the construction of the Grainger Observatory, the facility houses three domed observatories, a solar telescope, library, and digital Harkness classroom. The observatory has been keeping up with the ever present technological changes over the years: from film to electronic CCD cameras, manually operated telescope mounts to completely robotic and remotely operable observatories.

Used by the Academy’s three astronomy courses and the summer school program, the observatory is also open to the public and surrounding community on a regular basis. Local elementary and high school visits are common, as well as requests from researchers at colleges and universities around the world.

More Video from the Archives

We’d like to share a bit more footage from the digitized film we wrote about in June. Last time, we provided a quick video of pre-baseball game festivities. The clip in this post, which features a Phillips Exeter gymanstics demonstration, is even shorter (~20 seconds).  There’s a strange scene in it in the last few seconds (blink and you’ll miss it) where students appear to vault themselves directly into a waiting coach, . . . who then proceeds to drop the first gymnast.

We suggest that you not try this at home.

Recycling the Unrecyclable: Public Art Project Inspires “Green” Thinking

Students in Isaac Bingham’s Access Exeter cluster, Project Exeter: A Greener Earth, converged in the Library on July 17, 2009, to assemble a mosaic out of bottle caps. The project, a result of planning and cooperation between three class sections, highlights the relationship between unrecyclable materials and global warming, and offers a model for the creative use of unrecyclable objects. Students mounted bottle-cap collection jars throughout campus and spent time organizing the caps by color. Under Bingham’s direction, they presented proposals for the mosaic design; ultimately a footprint was chosen to reflect the concept of an “environmental footprint.”

Working in teams, Bingham’s students spent roughly six hours assembling the mosaic, which will be on display in Rockefeller Hall through Tuesday, July 28. The students have posted digital video relating to the project at 

http://www.youtube.com/user/WhyArt2009 

The Story Behind KEP House

An early KEP logo
An early KEP logo

Walking past 8 Elliot Street, you may have noticed an Academy sign that reads “KEP House” and wondered what KEP signified.  Are K-E-P perhaps the initials of some administrator or alumnus from Exeter’s past? The answer can be found in the Academy Archives in the pages of old Exeter Bulletins and PEAN yearbooks.  Here one discovers that KEP stands for Kappa Epsilon Pi and that the building at #8 was the home of the KEP fraternity, one of 6 fraternities that existed at Exeter about 100 years ago. 

The history of the fraternity system at Exeter is an interesting story that reflects some of the social changes that have occurred at the school.  In the 1870s, when many students lived in town homes, several “secret” societies were formed by students at Exeter as a way for them to gather and socialize.  Because these societies began to pose a discipline problem, Principal Fish abolished them in 1891.  However, in 1896, Principal Amen lifted the ban on these groups and allowed fraternities to form once again with closer faculty supervision.  Eventually, there were 6 fraternities—Phi Epsilon Sigma, Kappa Epsilon Pi, Kappa Delta Pi, Kappa Beta Nu, Alpha Nu, and Phi Theta Psi—each of which rented rooms in various homes near the Academy. 

Finally, in 1942, the faculty voted to close all fraternities.  By this point, all Academy students were housed in dormitories, providing more opportunities for friendships and social interaction.  There had also been an increase in the number of clubs and student organizations.  The house in which KEP met on Elliot Street was purchased by the Academy in 1944 and is today a faculty residence. 

The KEP Fraternity in 1934
The KEP Fraternity in 1934
KEP House today
KEP House today