Public History Intern Blog: Spenser Bailey

“Letting the light into the archives vaults”

         I’ve always had an interest in history – that only grew stronger when I entered the University of Illinois as a history major.  Events from the past can be accessed here in the present through books and photographs, and authors do an excellent job of interpreting past events or painting so vivid a picture of them that modern readers can imagine they are there.  However, being able to actually handle historical items – documents, artifacts, and even the aging buildings that populate our campus – is far better than reading about them in an abstract way.

         So when I needed an on-campus job, I was excited to apply to work at the University of Illinois archives, and thrilled when I was offered the position. I’ve now worked there 67639646_2772031772825988_2843121522200018944_ofor three years, and the things that my job has helped me accomplish and experience are too many to count.  I’ve learned so much about the history of the campus of the University, and also about the students who have gone here.  Additionally, it lead me to two internships, at the National Archives at Chicago and the Chicago Public Library Special Collections and Preservation Division.  While working at the two of those, I’ve handled items signed by presidents and a piece of a bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg. 

         But this is because I worked there.  Anyone from the general public would have to know exactly what they were looking for to see such things.  They’d also have to know that they exist at all – before I started working at the archives, I had no idea that one could simply request to see historical materials for free.  Archivists can’t wait for the public to come to them; rather, they need to, without a particular occasion or motive, make historical items available to the public in an easily visible place.  People might not know that they want to see old documents until they are actually in front of them.  That way, we can shed some light into the closed vaults of the archives and let the people see the things that we’re keeping safe for the future.

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