Treasures from Special Collections & Archives: Black History Month Edition

In Celebration of Black History Month, this month we share an item from our digital shelves: an oral history with Nathaniel Smith.

Nathaniel Smith is Director of NYC Men Teach at Queens College, CUNY. The interview was conducted by former staff member Obden Mondésir over Zoom in two parts, in November and December 2020. In the interview, Smith talks about his early childhood, family, and education throughout his life. He also touches on Hurricane Katrina, the organization of the BLFSA (the Black & Latinx Faculty & Staff Association) at Queens College, and the lockdown at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this clip, Smith discusses the work of the BLFSA on campus after the murder of George Floyd:

You can watch the full interview on the Queens Memory Aviary portal. You can read the full BLFSA 2020 statement and call to action here.


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Road to Equality Exhibition

Exhibit Dates: January 26, 2023 – June 30, 2023
Exhibit Location: Barham Rotunda

Black History

Road to Equality Exhibition Black History

Black History Month gives the Queens College Library the opportunity to celebrate and honor the efforts of QC students and faculty who sought social justice for all by their participation in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, especially the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964. Starting in 2009, Queens College Library’s Special Collections and Archives (SCA) began collecting materials from alumni, faculty, and community members involved in these movements that now constitute part of the Civil Rights Collection of the photographs, printed materials, and miscellanea seen in the present exhibition documenting experiences of the participants that speak to the courage and optimism as well as to the rich history of QC activism during the civil rights movement.

In 1989, the QC library clock tower was dedicated to the memory of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman (a QC student), and Michael Schwerner, civil rights activists who were murdered during the Congress of Equality’s (CORE) Freedom Summer project of 1964 by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Their deaths have inspired countless others to continue the struggle for equality and justice for all Americans.

Women History

Road to Equality Exhibition Women History

The inclusion of materials supporting Women History movement in the exhibition bridges the coordinated efforts of the suffragists across centuries and countries for abolitionism and women’s rights by demanding change to the voting laws. The suffragists understood the persuasive power of language and utilized postcards to spread their textual information; propagated visibility through marches and campaigns; and contributed to political empowerment through the visual arts (posters, collages, buttons, et al) to connect to the great and just causes of human history in order to disseminate their message. Their sense of energy and urgency established a new and formidable expression in the world that ultimately changed cultural perceptions and reshaped the discourse of American democracy for the better.

Upcoming Event: Celebrate Douglass Day 2023!

You’re invited! Douglass Day 2023, February 14, featuring a Transcribe-A-Thon of the papers of Mary Ann Shadd Cary.

Douglass Day is a collective act of radical love for Black history, and an event that helped inspire the creation of Black History Month. 

Details for Queens College:

  • Date: 2/14
  • Location: Queens College Library Room 225
  • Time: 12:30pm – 2pm
  • Light refreshments will be provided!

Douglass Day is an annual program that marks the birth of Frederick Douglass. Each year, we gather thousands of people to help create new and freely available resources for learning about Black history. We frequently focus on important Black women’s archives, such as Anna Julia Cooper (2020) and Mary Church Terrell (2021).  

This year, Douglass Day features a transcribe-a-thon of the papers of Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893), who “was one of the earliest Black women to edit a newspaper, serve as a Civil War recruiter, attend law school, and so much more” according to the Douglass Day website. The organizers of the event “are pleased to be partnering with the Archives of Ontario, Libraries and Archives Canada, and many others. Together we are presenting newly digitized and fascinating collections from Shadd Cary’s long and fascinating life.”

The event is organized by Transformative Learning in the Humanities and will run at three CUNY campuses. A transcribe-a-thon is an event in which people gather in person or online to work simultaneously on a crowdsourcing project. We share cool finds and more on social media, connecting across all of our locations. 

Please register (RSVP) at the link above if you plan to attend in-person at Queens College Library! 

We also encourage anyone who is unable to attend in person to join the live stream on YouTube, and contribute transcriptions for the project on February 14. Visit douglassday.org for more details! 

Queens College Library: #ColorOurCollections  

From February 6-10, 2023, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world are sharing free coloring sheets and books based on materials in their collections. Sponsored by the New York Academy of Medicine, the initiative is a wonderful way to publicize unique holdings and create new uses for public domain materials. Please download, print, and share your favorites

Here at the Queens College Library, members of the Special Collections and Archives and Web and Digital Services units teamed up to create a coloring book based on illustrations from the text Pepper and Salt or Seasoning for Young Folk (Harper Brothers, New York, 1885). The item is one of several hundred in our rare juvenile literature collection.

Please share your coloring on social media using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections and make sure to tag @qclibrary and @queenscollegearchives on Instagram and @LibraryQc on Twitter! 


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Archival Inspiration!

How can the archives inspire you?

This past October, Queens College’s Special Collections and Archives and Professor John Wegner’s Design 1 class met to cultivate inspiration for the Design course’s final project: designing a suite of menu materials for imagined New York City restaurants.

The Restaurant Menu Collection, donated in 2014, includes menus from New York, New Jersey, around the country, and even the world, dating from 1938 through 2013. However, the strength of the collection lies in its New York City menus. What sets this collection apart is its emphasis on takeout and to-go menus, “underscor[ing] food habits and trends” that “give insight into the current economic and technological advances of a given community.”

Selections from the Restaurant Menu Collection

While the collection is a valuable historical resource in itself, Professor John Wegner saw an additional use for it: as a site of creativity and a way for his Design 1 students to get inspired. “I wanted to collaborate with the Queens College Special Collections and Archives because it’s such a valuable resource for inspiration, documenting the rich visual history of our local community,” he explained. The collection speaks to a clear history of food habits across the five boroughs, but it also displays vibrant examples of business history, technological history, and, yes, design history. Questions like “How has the ordering process changed from phone calls to websites and apps?” and “What kind of customer is the restaurant trying to attract and how is that reflected in the design of the menu?” can be explored when browsing this collection.

Students from Design 1 review materials from the Restaurant Menu Collection

In Wegner’s Design 1 class, students were asked to create an identity for a brand-new restaurant concept, complete with logotype and menu design. To jump start the creative process, he scheduled a class in the library to look at the Restaurant Menu Collection in-person, saying “As a designer, I think it’s important to have a sense of place in the world, and to be in touch with the history of your community.”

In addition to reviewing and interacting with the Restaurant Menu Collection, students also learned about what archives are and how they can use the physical and digital materials SCA collects. Art librarian Scott Davis was on hand to talk about resources for graphic designers and artists more generally, all available through the Queens College Library.

See below for several selections from students’ beautiful final portfolios!

Are you interested in utilizing archival resources in your class or encouraging archival literacy in your students? SCA can work with you to provide instruction in archives at the Queens College Library. Contact qc.archives@qc.cuny.edu for more information.

Sneak Peek: Processing the Alexander Kouguell Papers

By Pamela Padilla 

Wondering what an archivist does? In this post, Pamela Padilla, the library’s Shirley Klein Rare Book and Manuscripts Graduate Fellow, provides a sneak peek of her work processing the Alexander Kouguell Papers. Kouguell, a world-class cellist, taught at Queens College for over 68 years and sadly passed away on October 2, 2022. He donated his papers to the Queens College Library just a couple of months ago, in August 2022. 

Most librarians will agree that archival science is an important branch of library work, but despite the deference there is often the question of what exactly an archivist does. There are many aspects to an archivists’ profession such as reference work, collections care, and management of new/existing material, but today I will be focusing on processing—an invaluable part of collections care.

This was the case with the Alexander Kouguell collection, which required extensive processing. Not every collection has these processing demands, but the Alexander Kouguell Collection is diverse not only in its content but its mediums. Music manuscripts required rehousing, documents required de-framing, and photographs required sleeving. Several scrapbooks had to be vacuumed to mitigate any risk of mold, and their contents were well worth saving. 

Dr. Kouguell’s career as a professor at Queens College began in the 1940’s and lasted over 60 years, with an additional 10 as an adjunct lecturer. His collection offers its viewer a snapshot of his life, from his honeymoon photos to his participation in Queens Colleges faculty orchestra throughout his tenure, but his extensive career as a cellist also offers a cultural snapshot of NYC throughout half a century. The preservation of his life and history serve as a reminder of the impact that can be made by a singular person. 

It’s usually the case that people unfamiliar with the profession may ask “Why rehouse anything? Aren’t the folders/envelopes/plastic slips that these materials come in enough?” and our answer to that is that they usually aren’t. Photographic negatives, photographs themselves, or oversized papers aren’t typically argued against when discussing rehousing, but even paper requires special care. Paper isn’t what it used to be and hasn’t been since the mid 19th century—its lower quality leads to an inevitable yellowing and breakdown due to acid hydrolysis, or the breaking down of the cellulose that keeps the paper together. This process threatens paper and its contents. 

The processing of collection often begins before the first object is rehoused. That is, it begins with the acquisition. An archivist ensures that their institution has an appropriate level of copyright and intellectual control through of a deed of gift. By ensuring the proper acquisition of a collection from a donor through a mutually agreed upon deed of gift (assuming the donor is one outside of the institution), an archivist has begun the processing of this collection.  

The processing of an archival collection takes time, patience, and (surprisingly enough) a bit of elbow grease. It’s how we rehouse our materials to maximize their longevity and how institutions ensure they have the intellectual control needed to make collections accessible. 

Pamela Padilla is a second-year candidate in the Dual Degree program in Library Science and History (MLS/MA), pursuing a Certificate in Archives and Preservation of Cultural Materials. Padilla is one of three graduate students participating in the Archives Fellowship Program at Queens College Library over the 2022-2023 academic year. Fellows carry out real-world projects in Special Collections and Archives, receiving stipends, mentorship, and professional development opportunities.

Behind the Collab: KITH x Special Collections and Archives

This past September, the anticipation for the CUNY x Kith collaboration was through the roof.

Kith apparel, a “multifunctional lifestyle brand for men, women, and kids, as well as a progressive retail establishment,” partnered with CUNY to create a range of shirts, hats, jackets, and sweatshirts emblazoned with Queens College and Brooklyn College insignia. Alumnus Jerry Seinfeld even modeled the wares in a high-profile publicity campaign before the drop, garnering attention from all corners of the internet.

The clothing is undoubtedly cool—but look closer! There’s more about Queens College history displayed on these items than first glance would reveal.

Representatives from Kith visited the Special Collections and Archives at Queens College looking for inspiration for the CUNY line in fall 2021. Archives aren’t only for your research papers (though they are great for that), they can be places of creativity, too.

The Kith collaboration is an excellent example of how expansive archives can be, and how they can serve all kinds of people and needs. The patches on the jacket above were sourced directly from a printed program for a 1952 Varsity Sports dinner honoring the athletes, preserved in the archive’s Student Publications Collection.

The artist of the original drawings, Earl Rubin, crowded the cover with lively illustrations evoking the teams that represented Queens College athletics that year. Inside, each page celebrated a different sport and cohort (the Women’s Basketball team was once…the Hoopsterettes!). Looking to evince a retro vibe for its letterman jacket, Kith used this material to throwback to an authentic mid-century look with a 21st century spin.

Cover page, Queens Page Knight athletic program
Queens Page Knight, Varsity Athletics dinner program

The Student Publications Collection is an unbeatable record of student experience on Queens College campus, stretching back to the founding of the college in 1937 through to 2014. In it, you’ll find copies of dozens of student magazines and newspapers, detailing the events, opinions, and interests of Queens College students in their own voices for almost 80 years.

Stop by the archival storage room on the third floor of the library—the jacket, born from the archives, is now part of the Queens College archives and on view!

Think you could use some inspiration? The Student Publications Collection is open for research and browsing; contact the Special Collections and Archives at qc.archives@qc.cuny.edu to make an appointment to view any of the materials.


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85th Anniversary Exhibit Open for Viewing

The exhibit Under Construction: 85 Years of Building Futures at Queens College illustrates the evolution of the college’s buildings, grounds, and leadership from the early days to the present. The exhibition celebrates the college’s history of providing opportunities for so many students over the decades while recognizing that we are continually “under construction” to meet the demands of the future. The exhibit premiers on October 12th in conjunction with the celebration of the 85th anniversary of Queens College. 

Model of the Queens College grounds, circa 1937
Model of the Queens College grounds, circa 1937

Highlights of the exhibit include a never-before-displayed 1915 photo album documenting the Parental School (the predecessor institution to Queens College); a refurbished model of the grounds circa 1937; maps, images, and printed ephemera that document the campus and its activities throughout the decades; and even groundbreaking shovels.  

The exhibit takes place across three satellite locations and will be on view through the end of the fall 2022 semester. 

See the exhibit: 

  • Barham Rotunda at the Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library 
  • Charles Tanenbaum Room 300i 
  • Music Library in the Aaron Copland School of Music building 

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Advanced Archival Practicum Provides Real World Experience to Students

By Annie Tummino and Caitlin Colban-Waldron 

A collaboration between the Department of Special Collections and Archives and the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies provided students a special opportunity to gain real-world experience in the library’s archives during the summer 2022 term. 

SCA Students
Students review materials in the Barbara Rosenthal Collection.

Danica Stompor
Danica Stompor reviews materials in the “Ephemera” subseries of Rosenthal materials.

In the course, “Library Science 790.3 Advanced Archival Practice,” students developed advanced proficiency in archival appraisal, arrangement, and access through embedded fieldwork. Under the supervision of course instructor Caitlin Colban-Waldron and with the assistance of Head of Special Collections and Archives Annie Tummino, students engaged in a hands-on project from beginning to completion, processing portions of the archival collection of artist Barbara Rosenthal. The class was held in the Charles J. Tanenbaum Room, funded by the Pine Tree Foundation of New York for use as a special collections classroom. 

Headshot of Barbara Rosenthal
Barbara Rosenthal Photo by Rhys Votano

Barbara Rosenthal, a QC alumnus and multi-media artist, whose donated work and materials served as the basis for all practical coursework, was an invaluable resource to the students as both a unique and compelling subject and as a rich source of information and context for the materials themselves. By the end of the term, students completed processing work on specific sections of the larger collection and will be able to translate coursework into tangible skills and outcomes for inclusion in their professional résumés. 

The course is one of several initiatives developed by the Department of Special Collections and Archives to fulfill its strategic mission of “training the next generation of archivists.” Barbara Rosenthal’s collection is an exciting new addition to the archives, encompassing a lifetime of record-keeping, notes, drafts, versions, and materials for every project in many media, plus household, family, and moment-to-moment life-recording and professional correspondences. 

Treasures from Special Collections and Archives: QC Faculty and Staff Oral History Project 

By Lori Wallach, Adjunct Archivist and Queens Memory Outreach Coordinator 

One of the primary functions of a college archive is to preserve and make accessible a record of the school’s past – its institutional history. At Special Collections and Archives (SCA), we do this through a variety of collections, such as those containing yearbooks; student publications; administrative records of numerous departments, schools, and programs; and items donated by individual faculty members and alumni. Of course, our Photograph Collection, which we are in the process of digitizing, provides an especially rich documentation of the college from its very earliest days.

Over the past several years, we’ve made a concerted effort to expand another type of institutional history – our oral history collection. Through our ongoing Queens Memory partnership with the Queens Public Library, we’re able to preserve both audio and video recordings and make them easily accessible to the public. These oral history interviews provide a fascinating firsthand look into the college’s history in the words and voices of those who lived and shaped it.

In 2019, we embarked on the Retired Faculty & Staff Oral History Project, an ambitious plan with two goals: 1) to actively pursue interviews with retired QC faculty, staff and administrators, and 2) to comb through our collections and solicit donations of earlier interviews that can be formatted for online access. Dr. Dean Savage, retired professor of sociology, has been instrumental in helping us locate many of his fellow QC retirees.

An important addition to our oral history collection is a set of interviews conducted in one of Dr. Bobby Wintermute’s history classes in 2013, to commemorate Queens College’s 75th anniversary. Dr. Wintermute donated the recordings and supporting documentation to SCA, and to date, we’ve processed and made accessible nine interviews, with several more to go. We were particularly delighted to find recordings with former QC President Saul Cohen and longtime history professor Dr. Martin Pine, both of whom have since passed on.

In this clip, former QC President Saul Cohen explains how he appealed directly to then-Governor Mario Cuomo for funding to construct a new building for the Aaron Copland School of Music.

Bette Weidman
Dr. Bette Weidman Founder of Oral History at QC

Among the important interviews in our collection are those with QC’s oral history pioneer Dr. Bette Weidman; Prof. Alexander Kouguell, who taught in QC’s music program for 68 years and recently celebrated his 102nd birthday; 50-year history professor and civil rights activist Dr. Frank Warren; and former QC President James Muyskens. Our current President Frank Wu and immediate past President William Tramontano also recorded interviews as part of our COVID-19 Project.

William Sales
Dr. William Sales
Former SEEK Director

Another component of our oral history collection comes from SCA’s larger SEEK History Project, which documents the history of QC’s Percy Ellis Sutton SEEK Program from its inception in 1966. Over 15 interviews associated with the SEEK program have been conducted, and eight are fully processed, including those of former director Dr. Bill Sales, counselors Alan Townsend and Waldo Jeff, and faculty member Dr. Jessica Harris, all of whom were with the program in its earliest years. SCA recently selected two QC grad students to process additional SEEK interviews this summer. The students will be paid stipends from the department’s foundation funds.

Please do explore our full oral history collection! Catalog records for each interview, with links to the audio/video and transcripts, are located in our online archives database. If you are interested in volunteering to conduct an interview, would like to nominate someone to be interviewed, or have a previously recorded oral history to donate, please email us at qc.archives@qc.cuny.edu.