Mason Library archives contain a variety of historical objects and research materials
The archives at Keene State College hold pieces from around the world, and students can tour them any time.
Located in the Mason Library on campus, the archives are on the first floor. As you enter, an old standing camera greets you, along with wooden statues and reed baskets from Malaysia’s Orang Asli people. Sliding shelves stacked with archival boxes line one wall of the room. In the middle of the room, too, shelves stand high and packed with various bits of history.
As for the kinds of history stored there, the archives boast a varied collection. Professor Rodney Obien, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Keene State, calls the archives “an eclectic array of materials”.
One such collection in Obien’s care is the Robert K. Dentan collection. Dentan, a doctor of anthropology, studied the Semai people of Malaysia. The Semai belong to the Orang Asli, or “first people” of the Malaysian peninsula. The Orang Asli are still around today, and Dentan studied them from the 1960’s to sometime in the 1990’s.
Started in the early 2000s by professor emeritus Rosemary Gianno, the Keene State archives have quite the collection of Orang Asli materials. In addition to Dentan’s notes, the archives contain several wooden statues and reed baskets made by the Orang Asli people. A collection of annotated photographs depicting the life and practices of the people, along with recordings of the Semelai tongue can be found in the archives as well.
“We have one of the biggest collections of research materials from the Orang Asli people of Malaysia,” said Obien.
Dr. Karen Heikkle has come to make use of Keene States’ repository of Orang Asli knowledge. Heikkle is here on residency from the Finnish Cultural Foundation and University of Helsinki to study the Dentan collection. She is hoping to fill in some gaps in the research using her field of study, geography.
“Place names often contain indigenous knowledge,” Heikkle said, “I think we researchers have a duty to preserve that knowledge.”
The Keene State archives are also home to pieces of Holocaust history. In a display case within the archives sit cloth stars from victims of concentration camps and German passports stamped with a large red “J”.
A part of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies’ special collections, which Obien curates as a part of the archives, these passports and stars are kept in excellent shape. The passport books are able to be opened and flipped through, giving a glimpse into the lives of those who fell victim to the Nazi movement.
Additionally, this collection hosts a series of photos of the Nuremberg Trials. These photographs show the bombed city, as well as the trials themselves. Included with this collection are cards with the fingerprints of people who stood trial.
The college also boasts one of the largest film archives in New England. Stored in the Media Arts Center’s walk-in cooler (the building used to be a dining hall), thousands of reels of film sit in storage. One collection, that of award-winning New Hampshire filmmaker Louis de Rochemont, contains nearly a thousand reels on its own. De Rochment classics such as Lost Boundaries and Whistle at Eaton Falls can be found in the archives, along with his 1936 Oscar.
The Keene State archives aren’t kept a secret. According to Obien, it can be quite an ordeal for a student to access other archives. He doesn’t uphold that tradition.
“You would be surprised to see how hard it is to access other collections, if you’re a student. You need two or three letters of recommendation” he said.
“[Accessing the archives] is a privilege of being a student at Keene State.”
Obien puts this into practice in how he runs the archives. Students can work with him to catalogue information, scan documents, or restore old films. Senior John Amadon works in the film archives restoring and rehousing old films. Whether it be swapping out rusty film canisters for fresh new plastic ones or splicing film that’s been damaged, Amadon gets to be hands on with film history.
“A lot of the past is stored in this fragile medium… It’s important to keep this around,” Amadon said.
If you’re interested in checking out the archives, contact Rodney Obien at email@example.com to set up your appointment.
“Maybe if you come, something will perk your interest, and get you thinking, and maybe for some people change your lives. I’ve seen it happen before,” he said.
Andrew Michaud can be contacted at