Brought to you by the Sullivan Museum and History Center

#197 – The History of Our History

Archer Greenhalgh 200 Things about Norwich, Fun Facts & Stats, Leaders & Legacy 8 Comments

Norwich University has curated a collection of documents and objects that honor our heritage and tell our story since at least 1902 and likely earlier. When Dewey Hall opened in 1902, it included space for museum cases to display “geological specimens, etc.” and “relics of various descriptions.” The Hotchkiss Revolving cannon that stands outside of Dewey Hall today is an example of an item we know was in the collection at that time. By 1928, the museum had moved to the top floor of Chaplin (then called Carnegie) Hall. A Guidon feature on the museum highlighted historic flags, uniforms, and weaponry as some of the most interesting elements of the collection. And many readers may remember the decades-long period when the NU museum resided in the basement of White Chapel.

During this time, the NU library was also home to many historical collections, including the papers of our presidents and notable alumni and rare books from the university’s past.  When the Kreitzberg Library opened in 1993, it included a small Special Collections reading room and storage space on the 5th floor. There, the special collections librarian curated and provided access to the university’s oldest manuscripts, rare books, and historical records. The space was soon bursting at the seams, with a mashup of cataloging systems inherited from the many former keepers of Norwich’s past.

Faculty and library and museum staff have collaborated over the years to organize the historical collections and make sense of our rich heritage. William Arba Ellis, an 1897 graduate who also served as librarian for a time, worked for over a decade to produce the monumental three-volume Norwich University: Her History, Her Graduates, Her Roll of Honor, published in 1911. Professor Robert Guinn took up his mantle 50 years later; after teaching modern languages for 35 years, he assumed the role of historian in 1960 and penned Volume IV of the university’s history, released in 1965. It was also around this time that Vernon Pinkham, a retired business and economics professor, served as museum director. Professor Sidney Morse then held the position of historian and archivist from 1969 to 1983 following a 23-year career on the history faculty. And who could forget the tireless Professor Gary Lord, who retired from his post as university historian in 2017 and is truly the living expert on all things Norwich.

These individuals and countless others (notably including librarians Krista Ainsworth and Jacqueline Painter) helped curate, preserve, and disseminate the manuscripts, documents, and artifacts that were discovered in basements, donated by family members, and passed on by retiring employees over the decades of the university’s history.

In the early 2000s, a series of developments prepared Norwich’s historical collections to take on a new life in the 21st century. The library’s small Special Collections department hired Kelly Nolin in 2003. With the enthusiastic support of President Schneider, she grew the department from a few cramped rooms to an entire floor with a staff of three trained archivists who use the unique manuscript collections to facilitate in-depth research and teach critical thinking and historical empathy using hands-on learning that cuts across curricular divides.

At the same time, plans were being made to construct the state-of-the-art Sullivan Museum and History Center. The new museum was endowed by Colonel Jennifer Pritzker to house artifacts and mount interpretive exhibits that showcase our legacy for the community and the world to see. The collections moved out of the White Chapel basement—with manuscripts and other documentation transferred to the new Archives and Special Collections—and the museum opened to the public in 2007. In 2014, the museum became a Smithsonian Affiliate, opening new pathways to create a powerful educational experience while sharing our history with the world.

Today, the two historical departments reside under a single executive director and work together to ensure that our university’s heritage continues to come alive for present and future generations of Norwich alumni, faculty, staff, students, and friends. The staff of the NU Archives has been honored to bring you this 200 Things About Norwich series to celebrate our bicentennial!

Comments 8

  1. Rich Schneider

    Hi. This has been so wonderful!!! . Thank you for sharing these great stories about our University!! I love starting the week this way!! Rich Schneider

  2. T. Doherty, 57'

    Seems to have been omitted that –
    Professor Judge George Newbrough, English Department, was museum curator in the 50s when in the basement of White Chapel.

  3. Steven P Carney

    Any idea as to when and where the photo was taken? It looks like the old hallway in Dewey Hall. Respectfully, as the title of the article is “The History of Our History” it would be helpful to provide context to the photo, as part of Norwich History. Thank you!

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