Posters: Not Just For Teenagers Anymore

Before starting work at the Special Collections Research Center, I assumed archives were repositories of serious things relating to very serious matters.  There are most certainly serious documents which serve very important purposes, but there are just so many more things housed in the archives here.  Many of these things have come to my attention through work on exhibits or in talking to members of the staff.  There is an entire collection of various editions of The Night Before Christmas.  There is the Chapin-Horowitz Collection which contains over 10,000 books in a number of different languages about dogs.  Some of these books come from the sixteenth century.  There are even models of the choir used to determine standing arrangements for concerts and sports memorabilia from William and Mary athletic events.  All these collections are a far cry from my previous, narrow view of what might be found in the archives.

In creating an exhibit this semester I have been working with the University Archives Poster Collection.  It’s strange to think about posters as being a part of the history of the university, but they offer tremendous insight into student groups, performances, lectures, and life at the College of William and Mary.  These things that adorn our dorm rooms, bulletin boards, and department walls will one day be looked upon by future researchers as they attempt to piece together life at the college.  It is certainly something to think about.

In putting together this particular exhibit, I have been looking at posters advertising Choir and Chorus concerts from the 1940s to the present.  Since I have sung in a choir since the fifth grade, I was excited primarily by the idea of music, and forgot that the posters themselves are important from an artistic standpoint as well.  The 1960s and 1970s posters are full of color and intricate screen printing designs, whereas the 1980s and 1990s posters look more like art work with complicated and beautifully executed drawings.  These are just two aspects of the posters that tell so much about the people who created them and the types of artistic movements that characterized these decades at the college.

The moral of this story is to move outside the standard box when thinking about the archives and rare book collection. There are so many things here in Special Collections to choose from.  It is amazing what you can learn about the college or about exciting new topics with the types of collections housed here.  If you had asked me a year ago what the archives held, I would have mentioned papers and documents and other traditionally academic materials.  I did not realize how many artifacts, rare books relating to diverse topics, posters, pictures, and recordings there really are or how useful they could be to my own understanding of history.


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.