“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a to be fire kindled,” an old saying goes. On these cold snowy days, why not warm your mind with curiosity and history at the College Archives in Mason Library?
Why not discover treasures like the Oscar awarded to the New Hampshire producers whose films changed hearts and minds; a history book written by a Puritan minister who judged the Salem Witch trials; and a photo album belonging to a painter whose murals cover the walls of the Library of Congress?
These are the college archives. Steel shelves line the room, mobile and tightly arranged to maximize space. Thousands of old books, documents, photographs, and artifacts fill the shelves, sheltered in an environment where the temperature and humidity are ideal. The room looks, feels, and smells like History itself.
What lies waiting for discovery borders between the ordinary and extraordinary. A search can lead you, for example, to an ordinary piece of luggage owned by a Colebrook (N.H.) student who traveled to Keene in the 1940s to become a teacher. Or the Orang Asli Archive (OAA), one of few collections on this planet, dedicated to preserving history and culture of the indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia. Each collection and each item has a unique story.
Ironically, the college archives department isn’t very old. There wasn’t a full-time college archivist until 2009. The archival collections were spread throughout the library and campus until 2011 when they were centralized in the current location. A classroom reading room and processing office were added in 2021.
Tired of streaming repeats on your tablet? The film archives, housed in the Media Arts Center, is the largest holding of motion picture films at a public college or university in New England.
Our college history, New Hampshire history and literature, modern poetry, social justice, children’s literature, and Holocaust studies are subject area strengths.
The OAA is one of many collections represented on KSCommons (https://commons. keene.edu), the college archives’ digital repository. Its sum total includes 16,000+ volumes, 600+ linear feet of archival material, and 8000+ digital objects.
The numbers (and sight) can be bewildering to the public, students, and faculty who visit the archives for the first time. But the staff is always there to help (archivist@ keene.edu; 603-358-2734).
Every search has the potential to yield surprises and untold stories. Yesterday shifting through a of unprocessed papers, the staff found a poem handwritten in ink and cursive.
The first line reads: “We know the hand that holds in check.”
“Nothing shall perish!”, reads a line from the last stanza. The poem is signed Celia Thaxter.
What story does this document hold? You’ll have to wait to read about it in next week’s column.
Rodney Obien can be contacted at