Just over a year ago, in July 2012, the archivists at the Burns Library started an ambitious backlog processing project. Since then, we’ve worked on a variety of archival collections, most recently the institutional records of the Boston College President’s Office. While institutional records might not seem as exciting or as glamorous as manuscript collections, no institution is an island. It is affected by its neighboring community and their concerns, as well as by state and national events. To research institutional records is to find out what makes the clock tick, and how.
In the records of Boston College’s twenty-first president, Joseph R. N. Maxwell, SJ, we found a great example of the kinds of treasures institutional records can contain. A letter dated October 9, 1956, from the Archdiocese of Boston Department of Education reminded school administrators that new teachers and faculty were required by law to take oaths of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and to the Constitution of Massachusetts. These oaths, which had to be notarized in duplicate for each faculty member, were sent to the State Department of Education and had to be reaffirmed each year. The administration kept detailed, up-to-date lists of which faculty members had or hadn’t taken the oath. Similar oaths at other universities led to controversy over academic freedom versus the perceived threat of Communism. Maxwell’s records provide an interesting snapshot of opposing forces in 1950s era America.
This year, Boston College is celebrating its 150th anniversary. Back in 1963, President Michael P. Walsh, SJ, presided over Boston College’s centennial celebrations. To commemorate 100 years, the university held dinners, luncheons, masses, convocations, and even put on plays. Attending these events were numerous Boston notables. The invitation list included bishops, Cardinal Bea, presidents from other colleges, alumni, faculty, Boston political leaders including Governor Endicott Peabody, and Jesuits from across the country. Even President John F. Kennedy spoke at a convocation held in honor of the centennial – he joked about being glad to be back in a place where people pronounced all the letters in a word. Boston College also published a book on the history of the university, called Crowned Hilltop, and commissioned a play to be written specifically for the celebrations, Seven Scenes for Yeni. The entire affair took months to plan and had a budget of $180,000. To learn more about President’s Walsh’s tenure, see the finding aid to his records.
In 1937 Boston College expanded its influence past the boundaries of campus and commissioned an expedition to Lebanon under the leadership of Rev. Joseph G. Doherty. In sponsorship with Fordham University, the mission was to excavate the paleolithic site of Ksar ‘Akil, a rock shelter not too far from the Antelias Cave. The events that led up to the expedition and the original proposal can be found in President Louis J. Gallagher’s President’s Office records.
Doherty and his men came to a mutual agreement with the Lebanese government’s Director General of Antiquities to allow the dig. Originally, they were granted rights to excavate for six years (which would later be extended from 1937 to 1948, with breaks in between seasons and delays caused by the war). In return, Doherty agreed as the representative of Boston College to send the Director General reports, itemized lists, and photographs of findings.
Doherty also sent reports home, corresponding regularly with presidents Gallagher and McGarry during his years on the dig. His letters can be found in the President’s Office records and give accounts of the daily activities and experiences of the expedition in Lebanon. Also found in the expedition files are sketches, photographs, contracts, agreements, permits, and proposals.
As you can see, there is much to be discovered in the records of Boston College’s presidents. From campus celebrations to international adventures, these records can provide interesting fodder for researchers covering a wide range of topics. To learn more, browse the finding aids, or contact the Burns Library staff at 617-552-4861 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Xaviera Flores and Jessica Meyer, Processing Assistants, John J. Burns Library.