Tag Archives: Special Collections

Ancient clay artifact meets the Future

Today in Special Collections, our oldest text faced the library’s newest technology.

Our cuneiform tablet, a beer token from 2,000 BCE, took a new form when DLA postdoctoral fellow Kristy Golubiewski-Davis captured it in a 3D scan.

Mounted on a tripod, a small camera photographs the tablet, on a turntable, while a small projector shines different light patterns onto its surface. In the background, a laptop shows the 3D scan as it materializes.

To see 3D scanning in action – along with the tablet and other important Special Collections objects – come to Davis Family Library this Friday! Kristy will by demonstrating 3D scanning in the library atrium from 10am-2pm, and Special Collections will host our annual Fall Family Weekend Open House from 1pm-4pm.

And stay tuned for a 3D printout made from the scan coming soon, a plastic facsimile students and researchers can inspect in their own hands!

Graduation Traditions: Cane Ceremony

In the 1940s, a revival in interest in Gamaliel Painter, one of Middlebury’s founders and early benefactors, saw the birth of a new graduation tradition. During convocation ceremonies at Middlebury’s former Women’s College, graduates began passing down replicas of Painter’s cane to the junior class. Today, every Middlebury graduate receives such a replica to keep as a symbol of their alma mater and with which to tap along when “Gamaliel Painter’s Cane” is sung at reunion.

This compilation of 16mm film footage from the college archives shows the cane-passing ceremony as part of convocation processions in the 1940s held behind Forest Hall.


Find out more about the story of Painter’s cane and its place in Middlebury history in The Story of Middlebury’s Cane Tradition a video created by the College’s own Chris Spencer, Stephen Diehl, Benjamin Savard ’14, and Matthew Lennon ’13.


Graduation Traditions: Pipe Smoking

Two graduates eagerly take part in Middlebury’s bygone pipe smoking tradition

Just as coming across full page ads for Chesterfield cigarettes used to be part and parcel of reading the latest edition of The Campus, pipe smoking was once a traditional part of Middlebury’s graduation festivities. Dating back to at least the 1920s during the “Class Day” activities that preceded commencement, graduates would gather outside to take puffs on long white pipes (sometimes lit by proud parents) before heading off to the alumni barbecue.

Pipe-smoking graduates in 1942

This compilation of 16mm film footage from the College Archives captures the pipe smoking tradition from the late 1920s to mid-40s. Although even those graduates who coughed through the smoke appear to have had a swell time, the annual tradition eventually ended in what we can only assume was the interest of public health.



Mead Chapel Centenary: Then & Now Pt. II

In celebration of the 100 year anniversary of the completion of Mead Chapel and Hepburn Hall, Special Collections presents a series of posts featuring interactive before-and-after imagery of these Middlebury icons.

Below is an interactive slider with images of Mead from the archives (tap or drag the bar to the right and left to slide between images). The before image was taken in 1942 while the after image shows the chapel and the surrounding (or should we say obscuring) landscape as it looks today.


A new 48-rank chamber organ was installed in Mead Chapel in 1970 after the condition of the original had deteriorated beyond repair. Music director Emory Fanning recalled that at the start of one performance on the dilapidated instrument, 12-inch blue flames had shot out of the motor before it was turned off, a prayer for the dead was recited, and it was turned back on for the remainder of the performance — which continued without a hitch.

The interactive slider below shows the dramatic presence that the new organ holds in Mead, having covered up the window above the altar. The before image is a 1919 postcard showing the interior of the chapel while the after image shows how it looks today. Other changes include balcony seating and updated lighting fixtures.


The Organ in the Chapel.” Middlebury College News Letter, July 1, 1969.
A12 PF Mead 1942 02,  Special Collections & Archives, Middlebury College
A12 PF Mead 1919 01,  Special Collections & Archives, Middlebury College

New Special Collections exhibits just in time for summer!

Currently populating the glass cases of Davis Family Library are Margaret Armstrong book covers and historic postcards. Don’t miss the chance to see them before heading out for the summer!

As part of American Studies professor Ellery Foutch’s AMST 101 course, American Holidays, students researched holiday postcards from our collection, exploring how symbols and themes reflect the cultural mores of turn-of-the-century American life.

The postcards they studied and their comments are on display in the library atrium.

To compliment this exhibit, college archivist Danielle Rougeau curated and designed an exhibit featuring postcards and scrapbooks from the archives. The postcards capture Middlebury College’s landscape and characters as well as the role of postcard correspondence through history.

Postcard from Marjorie Phelps, class of 1917, to her mother. As she mentions, she and her roommate are pictured on the reverse.
Postcard from Marjorie Phelps, class of 1917, to her mother. As she mentions, she and her roommate are pictured on the reverse.

Rounding out our summer exhibits is a tribute to Margaret Armstrong, curated by Joseph Watson and designed by Danielle Rougeau. Margaret Armstrong (1867-1944), one of the most accomplished book cover designers of the early twentieth century, produced cover art and illustrations for over 270 books.

Come to Special Collections to see a selection of her cover designs and learn more about her life!

Can you tell which cover Margaret Armstrong didn’t design? Come to Special Collections for a closer look and the answer!


Mead Chapel Centenary: Then & Now

In celebration of the 100 year anniversary of the completion of Mead Chapel and Hepburn Hall, Special Collections presents a series of posts featuring interactive before-and-after imagery of these Middlebury icons.

Built with the help of a $60,000 donation from former governor Dr. John Mead to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his graduation from Middlebury in 1864, Mead Chapel was dedicated on June 18th, 1916 and marked “the completion of two years’ work and its entrance into the history of Middlebury as a meeting place for religious worship by faculty and students.”

Below is an interactive slider with images of Mead from the archives (tap or click on the bar to slide between images). The before image comes from the scrapbook of Arthur Thomas Vaughn, Class of 1917, and shows scaffolding around the spire. The after image is a 1916 postcard marking the completion of the chapel.



Stameshkin, David M. 1985. The Town’s College: Middlebury College, 1800-1915. Middlebury, VT: Middlebury College Press.

Dedication of Mead Memorial Chapel.” The Middlebury Campus, June 21, 1916.

S6 Scrapbooks Box 92, Special Collections & Archives, Middlebury College.

A12 PF Mead 1916 02,  Special Collections & Archives, Middlebury College.


“Shall we their fond pageant see?” A Midsummer Night’s Dream May 5-8!

While our February Folio fever has passed, the Shakespeare celebration continues with the theater department’s upcoming production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Come watch the latest show in the long legacy of Shakespeare at Middlebury with performances at 7:30pm Thursday-Saturday, May 5-7 and 2pm Sunday, May 8th in Wright Theater!


And be sure to catch Special Collections’ archival exhibit featuring historic costume and set designs of past Middlebury Shakespeare productions! On display for a limited time in the atrium of Davis Family Library.

Middlebury's 1971 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream
Middlebury’s 1971 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Original watercolor costume design by legendary Middlebury costume and set designer Capp Potter for the 1978 production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Romance of the Skies: Middlebury College Observatory

In 1936, Middlebury chemistry professor John Haller spent three months grinding a 12.5 inch parabolic mirror which he donated to the College under the condition that an observatory be built on the knoll north of Pearsons Hall.  A simple frame was soon constructed and the mirror was installed in a 10-foot-long Newtonian telescope under a dome built by Guatemalan amateur astronomer A. R. Ibarguen.

Astronomy had been studied at Middlebury since the early 1800s when the Old Chapel cupola served as an observatory. Upon its completion in 1937, the new observatory hosted weekly meetings of an extra-curricular course called Romance of the Skies which combined celestial observation with lectures on the history of astronomy and mythology of the constellations.

This recently rediscovered 16mm film reel in the College archives shows unique interior and exterior shots of the observatory as well as students using sextants near Wilson Hall.

Despite these promising beginnings, by 1970 the observatory was little-used and had fallen into disrepair. Settling of the foundation made rotating the leaky dome difficult and wasps had built nests in the barrel of the telescope. But interest in astronomy was growing at Middlebury after the recent successes of NASA’s Apollo program and the building was refurbished. Professor Heller’s original mirror and other optical instruments had thankfully been safely stored away from colonizing wasps and were reinstalled.

Although Middlebury’s octagonal dome on the hill was torn down to make way for the construction of McCardell Bicentennial Hall, a new observatory was built atop that same science center and has been serving stargazing students, faculty, and the public since 2001.

Be sure to visit the Middlebury College Observatory during one of their Open House Nights this spring to get your own glimpse into the Romance of the Skies.



Prof. John Haller Builds Telescope and Observatory.” The Middlebury Campus, January 27, 1937.

Star Gazing.” Middlebury College News Letter, March 1, 1937.

Would You Try to Reach Jupiter with a Rig Like This?Middlebury College Newsletter, Jul 1, 1971.


Stacks & Tracks the WRMC Radio Hour celebrates National Poetry Month with guest DJ, Karin Gottshall

Join us this Wednesday, April 13, 2016 at 12p-1p when Stacks & Tracks, the Special Collections & Archives radio show, celebrates National Poetry Month with Karin Gottshall, poet, Visiting Lecturer in English and American Literatures, and director of the New England Young Writers’ Conference at Bread Loaf. It will be music to your ears, promise.

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Wednesdays 12p-1p, live at 91.1FM or live-streaming through iTunes or online.

First Folio Festival Thursday!

Join us this Thursday February 18th to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the First Folio! exhibit at the Middlebury Museum of Art.

Starting at 4:30pm in the Center for the Arts lobby, there will be musical and theatrical performances, guided tours of the exhibit with professors of English and American Literature Timothy Billings and James Berg, children’s activities with Page One Literacy, and sweet and savory Renaissance refreshments.