Since our founding in 1844 by Father Shipherd, our institution has cultivated a rich history.
And, as of this month, 172 years of it.
History is Dr. Nikki Magie’s forte, who works as an assistant professor of social science and archivist at Olivet College. She specializes in archival research and is a master of organization when it comes to sifting through more than a hundred years of information.
Magie has worked to transform what was once a library storage closet of documents, transcripts, yearbooks and other artifacts into an orderly collection of historic gems that have helped to shape our college’s identity.
The Road to Antiquity
Before coming to Olivet College, Magie spent extensive time researching and studying archival methods not only in the United States, but also in Mexico and Brazil, earning her Ph.D. in History from Michigan State. It was during these experiences, as well as during her undergraduate studies, that she was able to gain a great sense of what the public seeks to learn from an archive.
Not surprising at all, it was our unique college history, and especially the early mission to admit and educate women and minorities, that convinced Magie that Olivet was a standout choice for her; it also helped that our archives were in dire need of, well, archiving.
The main purpose of having an archives is to “document, preserve and share historical documents,” according to Magie.
It’s a large undertaking to sort through such a large amount of history, as “sifting through evidence is a slow, methodical process,” Magie explained. But ultimately it is a process that allows the campus and local community to feel connected to the past by learning more about the historical roots that gave way to the Olivet College we know today.
“I think that the growth of our archives has impacted Olivet by helping our college community learn and share our own history,” Magie said. And she is currently leading a team of students who are doing just that.
Learning from the Past
An assortment of students with diverse majors – from social science to biology, computer science and chemistry – have been working together diligently to research and highlight institutional and educational history, even social experiences of past Olivet students and community members, which is an integral part of the archives’ mission.
Magie finds it to be a powerful experience for her students to not only be able to conduct independent research that will prepare them with field-ready skills, but also become recognized for their work; often they are the first individual to make an important discovery or gain insight as to what student activities might have been like decades ago, Homecoming traditions of the past or trace famous footsteps that once walked across our campus square.
Some fun facts students have found in the archives, include:
- Lester K. Kirk, whom the Kirk Center is named after, served as a Board of Trustee member at Olivet College and was a former CEO of Whirlpool.
- In 1906, Jack the dog was celebrated as the live mascot of Olivet College.
- Michigan State University was a former MIAA foe of the Comets when the athletic association was first founded in 1888; back then, the Big Ten school was known as Michigan Agricultural College.
- The first four-year degrees granted from Olivet College were to three women – Sophia A. Keyes, Sara A. Benedict and Mary N. Barber – each in 1863.
- In 1859, the state of Michigan granted Olivet College its charter, just one year before the start of the Civil War. The same year, we adopted our motto that stands today: “Pro Christo et Humanitate.”
“Students can look at something that someone hasn’t seen in 120 years … and they are the first to see it,” Magie said. Thanks to their efforts, many of these findings are able to be shared with the campus and local community, our alumni network, history enthusiasts and other interested audiences.
“We’ve published an article in the Historical Society of Michigan’s Chronicle and [we’re] now bi-weekly in the Echo (newspaper),” Magie said. “All this shared history is possible because of all the hours of research and organization that our student interns and workers conduct on behalf of our college. It’s pretty amazing!”
The archives also manages a Twitter and Instagram account, using their social media presence to educate and share the college’s history with others. In addition, each Service Day presents indirect learning opportunities for volunteers who visit the archives to assist with organizing historic documents and carefully handle artifacts, many of which were donated to the college over the years.
Each day in the archives presents new discoveries, many of them made by students simply conducting research for a class assignment, article or senior capstone project.
To date, the current collection includes numerous photographs, including a photo from the 1900’s of the football team in great condition that is now a feature in a college history display on the first floor of the Mott Academic Center. The collection also holds more than 200 postcards written by students to loved ones, friends and peers, complete yearbook sets, broadsheet Echo college newspapers from the 1800’s, a hymnal from 1694, one of the oldest cataloged items, and more just waiting to be unearthed by a curious student.
The archives are open to the community Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m in the Burrage Library. To learn more, contact Magie by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 269.749.7177.