Archiving Student Action at HLS

Historical & Special Collections requests records from Student Organizations

Over the past few months, students have worked to reshape Harvard Law School’s educational and cultural environment, as you have done throughout HLS’s history. As we all know, the work isn’t happening in a vacuum, but is part of a larger national movement to address cultural changes on campuses across the U.S. Thus issues being discussed at HLS are evidence of not only an historical moment at Harvard, but an historical moment in America.


Harvard Law Record, May 4, 1984
Harvard Law Record, vol. 78, no. 10 (May 4, 1984). © Harvard Law Record Corp.

When activity first began on campus, the Historical & Special Collections (HSC) staff thought deeply about what our role in this moment could and should be. HSC has always documented the history of HLS by collecting Law School publications (catalogs, admission packets, etc.) and faculty and student organization papers. But what we collect and how we collect it is rapidly changing. Gone are the days of paper as a primary format; now we archive hybrid collections containing physical material accompanied by digital files, websites, and email. Because the life expectancy for digital content is incredibly low and its variability high, documenting activity as it occurs is becoming an increasingly important method for archives to avoid losing important cultural and institutional memory.

So, we got to work. We started capturing blogs such as Reclaim Harvard Law, the Record’s HLS Untaped series, and Royall Asses using HLS library-grown technology We recently archived the post-its shared on faculty portraits and the posters displayed in Wasserstein.  These otherwise ephemeral items that are such a powerful visual part of the movement will now be catalogued and made openly available to researchers well into the future.

01_22_16_post-it removal-3
HSC Assistant Jane Kelly prepares post-its for future research use. Photo by Lorin Granger

Now we’re asking students to help us expand these collections. Your voices are important, and we are committed to adding them to the historical record. Documents such as meeting records, flyers, photos, videos, emails, and Google Drive or DropBox collections are the raw material that researchers (writers, historians, documentarians, genealogists, legal scholars, and future students) will use to portray and contextualize this moment.

So as you, HLS students, prepare to mark the world by “contribut[ing] to the advancement of justice and the well being of society,” won’t you also be a part of our record here? If you are a member of a student organization, formal or informal, that would like to preserve the record of your organization’s contributions to HLS (or would just like to talk about what we are doing), please contact the Historical & Special Collections staff at [email protected] to schedule a consultation. We hope to hear from you, and we’re excited to broaden our collections to include the very important work that HLS students do outside of the classroom.

HSC’s work isn’t happening in a vacuum, either! This initiative has been largely inspired by Princeton’s ASAP project and other archivists’ efforts in response to campus activity across the US.
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