People interested in exploring the history of Whitman College from a student's perspective have a new avenue for research: This spring, the archivist at the Penrose Library finished a yearlong effort to digitize archives of the Whitman Pioneer and Whitman Wire newspapers.
The old editions of the student newspaper have become an important part of work in the Office of Alumni Relations, especially when it comes to planning reunions.
"There's something about remembering who you were in relation to who you are. It gives perspective to our life, and that's how we use the Pioneer newspapers," said Nancy Mitchell, director of Alumni Relations. "When planning class reunions, it's popular to go through old newspapers to figure out ways to encourage alumni to come back to campus and foster memories."
That feeling of connectivity to one's past is something Mitchell and Ben Murphy, archivist and head of Digital Services, are hoping to cultivate through the digitization project. Murphy said the project gives greater access to the newspaper content for students, alumni and community members.
"Whether you're looking at student activism in the 1960s or the history of fundraising at Whitman over the years, the starting place is to look through what was happening in the Pioneer," Murphy said. "That starts with flipping through physical copies. The goal was to make that research easier."
The Pioneer renamed itself the Whitman Wire in fall 2016.
Alumni Relations and Library staff receive multiple requests for copies of old student newspapers a year. For example, Mitchell said one alumnus asked him to send old copies of the Pioneer so he could create a meaningful program for his classes 50th reunion. That meant locating and photocopying relevant issues and mailing them out. Another alumnus requested records to inform research on student activism at Whitman College. Alumni Relationships shipped him 10 boxes of photographs, Mitchell said.
Mailing original documents and photos carries risk of damage, or that items won't be returned, Murphy said. With the new digitization system, the physical transfer of newspapers is no longer necessary. Instead, a database called Arminda allows alumni to search within specific editions of the paper online. It is undetermined how often the archive will be updated, but as of now, the newspaper editions begin with an 1896 edition of the Pioneer and continues until a 2009 edition.