Smith Students Explore Public History Archive

On Thursday, January 14, 2010, archivist Penni Martorell hosted fifteen Smith College students at the Holyoke Public Library History Room & Archive. This visit was the first field trip of many they will make to local archives.

As part of their participation in a new undergraduate archival studies concentration, the Exploring Archives class takes a behind-the-scenes look at the roles archives play in understanding the past. These students will be visiting a variety of local archives, and will examine how different factors such as constituent users, available funding, and institutional mission shape different repositories.

Visiting the Holyoke History Room allowed the students to get a feel for the resources that a public institution has available, and introduce the students to what public patrons are looking for when they access the resources. In addition, they were able to grasp some of the issues that archivists face on a regular basis—housing and preservation expenses, appraisal and acquisition decisions, privacy issues and collecting and de-accessioning policies.

According to the Smith College website ( The Archives Concentration is designed to make our local, regional, national and international histories public through research projects and professional training. Through a combination of academic coursework, practical experience, and independent research projects, students will learn about the institutions and repositories that shape knowledge and understanding of our collective pasts through the collection, preservation, interpretation and display of artifacts, manuscripts, and representation of historic sites. The Archives Concentration creates an interdisciplinary community of students engaged in first-hand use of primary sources in the arts and architecture, medicine, law, history, social activism, the histories of institutions, communities, and professional organizations.

Maida Goodwin, Project Archivist in Smith College’s Special Collections and Exploring the Archives instructor comments, “Thanks for kicking off field trip season in style. The students were really excited by the visit.”

“It was a great visit. I am hopeful that the students interest in Holyoke’s history has been piqued, and that they will want to come back as interns to work on processing, digitizing and exhibit projects for the History Room,” says Martorell.

(Photographs by Maida Goodwin)