Crafting an Administrative History

Posted on February 24, 2012

As a student of eighteenth century history, I had rarely been called upon to craft any sort of administrative history before embarking on my project relating to the Ferguson Seminar in Publishing records.  It is amazing how much information can be gathered from only one box of information and how an administrative history can reveal not only the motivation of its founders, but also the environment in which it existed. 

The Ferguson Seminar on Publishing began in 1971 with a gift from the Ferguson family to honor William C. Ferguson.  Ferguson was a graduate of the College of William and Mary, class of 1916 and had served in World War I, pursued a career in the publishing industry, and eventually became president of the World Book Company.  He had wished to establish seminar at William and Mary to promote interest in the publishing industry among its graduates, but passed away in 1967 before his plans could be realized.  To honor his brother, Dr. Walter F. C. Ferguson established the William C. Ferguson Endowment with the purpose of creating a seminar that might inspire an interest in a career in publishing.  This mission to inspire students of William and Mary continues to this day.

Throughout the years a number of prominent members of the publishing community participated in the seminar as speakers, and a scholarship was established to allow winners to study at the Radcliffe College Summer Course in Publishing Procedures.  The Ferguson Committee ran into monetary troubles in the late 1970's which lead to the downplaying of the Ferguson name in order to inspire other donors.  The Ferguson name, however, remained associated with the seminar and the original endowment continued to be utilized and referred to on the seminar programs.  This change gives insight into the motivations behind the actions of committees and a snapshot into the financial matters of universities as a whole as they struggle to balance their desire to offer helpful programs with the financial concerns.

Also fascinating to observe was the shift from a general seminar on publishing, to one that aimed to celebrate William & Mary Graduates and cater specifically to students of the college itself.  Originally, students of multiple universities were allowed to participate, but eventually attendance was restricted to students of the College of William & Mary.   In 1985, the printed programs began highlighting alumni speakers, which continues today. Past attendees and scholarship winners have also been invited to return as speakers to address the opportunities available to recent college graduates.  This move to a focus on the College itself is particularly interesting since I suspect there may be similar shifts observable in other programs.  It speaks to the goal of William and Mary to provide opportunities for its graduates and celebrate their accomplishments. 

Since I knew very little about the career center, the seminar, or the publishing industry in general, it was interesting to wade through correspondence and programs from past events in order to piece together its history.  While the goal was to develop an administrative history, the types of research skills necessary are certainly applicable to other projects and have proved useful when trying to tease information out of primary materials.  It is interesting how much one can learn from the history of one organization.   Hopefully this project will help the organizers of the program as they prepare for their 20th seminar.

Lauren Wallace is a graduate student in the Department of History and a 2011-2012 Archives Apprentice in the Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library. 

 

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