Three Reasons to Visit Special Collections Before You Graduate

  1. You can find out what the lives of past Middlebury students were like.

Special Collections has lots of materials on the college’s past. In one of my courses, we looked at course catalogs, letters from students, and a student’s notebook. We found out that women at Middlebury in the early 20th century were offered courses on domestic skills, like sewing and furnishing a home. We also looked at a student’s scrapbook, which was stuffed with all sorts of papers and pictures, including dance cards and a hotel bill from a conference she’d attended.

2. It’s kind of like the Internet.

Okay, maybe not exactly like the Internet, but each time I’ve been to Special Collections, I’ve wandered off-topic and ended up stumbling across fascinating and random things—kind of like when you get on your computer to check your email, and then Google reminds you that it was the Oscars yesterday, so you click on the link to see who won, and then you really like one star’s hairstyle, and pretty soon you’re on a website about sea charcoal hair masks. For instance: last semester I went to Special Collections to look at a letter for a class project. While I was looking for my letter, I got distracted by other letters in the folder, and ended up paging through a juicy early-20th-century book on sexual health that was set out with the letters. There are so many surprising and eclectic things to learn about—from missionary diaries to medieval manuscripts—that you can easily spend a whole afternoon researching—or getting sidetracked from research

3. It’s kind of magical to touch something that’s hundreds of years old.

Going to an archive and working with documents or objects from the past is intimate. Turning the pages of a letter written two centuries ago, it feels like the writer is speaking to you directly, and you get to uncover the “secret,” personal aspects of the past: people’s relationships, their pastimes, their observations and opinions about the world around them. If there’s a topic you’re interested in, visiting Special Collections can provide this kind of depth and texture to your research.

Special Collections is open Monday-Friday 9-5 PM. To make an appointment to do research at Special Collections outside of these hours, please email