HAPA: Josh Schwartz on Columbia and World War I

In this field note, Josh Schwartz gives us an update on his research progress with the development of an exhibition of on Columbia University’s experience of World War 1.

To my great delight and eventual exasperation, the Columbia University and World War 1 archival collection is incredibly rich, composed of 19 document boxes. Consequently, I spent close to two months working in it, going to RBML daily to capture images and develop an argument. I have since finished with this collection, as well as the astounding companion section of the University Archives photographs. Columbia’s institutional ties to the war are shockingly well documented, as the University set out after the war (in 1919) to create a complete record of its participation. This means, in effect, that almost every aspect of the administrative mobilization is available for researchers, down to the departmental level.  A link to my document archive can be found here, though I should note that the photographed documents on comprise of a small selection of those parts of the collection that I have notes on.

To make sense of this vast quantity of source material, I’ve chosen to pull out several relevant characters and storylines moving forward, grouped loosely into categories of “enthusiasm” – encapsulating the stories of those like Marston T. Bogert, a professor in the Biological Chemistry department who served in the military as chairman of the Army Committee on Chlorine and Chlorine Products in the US Chemical Warfare Service, as well as those of the famous economist E.R.A. Seligman, whose support was also strong, but more contingent on the continuation of progressive policies – and “Resistance,” including the well-known Beard-Cattell story, as well as smaller acts against the war, documentation for which surprisingly survives in a significant (and quite moving) quality. I also plan to revisit even the Cattell story, placing more emphasis on the student resistance that provoked it, specifically focusing on the intriguing story of Eleanor Wilson Parker, the Barnard “girl defendant” of Columbia’s draft resistance trial.

Other sections on the website for which research has been completed will include a long section on student service, both at CC and Barnard (the gender dynamics here are quite interesting), as well as student life, and curriculum changes (including some information that appears to be relevant to the history of the core). The source photos for these sections have likewise been obtained, in low res format.

The unfortunate consequence of the exceptional richness of the primary collection is that the other proposed collections have been left unattended. This means very little for the larger “Over Here” side of the website, but the “Over There” side has been largely untouched – at least by me. I realized this would be a problem very early on, however, and consequently, I hired a research assistant to help me with the “Over There” section. She has as yet made little progress, so I am considering bringing another on board, or simply transferring this responsibility to another assistant.

Other collections have been culled from the scope of the project due to practical constraints. RBML’s large collection of WWI posters, for example, does not seem to be available for researchers – or at least not available without a fight. On the advice of Dr. Jones, I elected to avoid this fight and focus on other visual material. Fortunately, as I happily discovered, this sort of material is not lacking in other collections.

One other challenge has been getting that material photographed at a higher resolution. While the existing images may be good enough for a prototype website build, when the time comes to go fully live, it seems as if I will have to do significant work for the library in order to get high-resolution images – library policy requires that I assemble the metadata for each photo before it is scanned. This will likely be quite time-consuming.

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