During the spring of 1996, Sam Schulhofer-Wohl asked me to serve as Phoenix Historian--he said he thought it would be a good idea to have someone on the editorial staff of the paper who could give some historical backgroud to news stories. The Features editors, Mandara Meyers and Erica Turner, kept suggesting that I write entire articles about Swarthmore History for the Features Section, and somehow or other, by mid-February, I was writing one of these stories every week--usually related somehow to an ongoing issue on campus. The next semester, as the co-editor of the Features Section, I continued to write the articles (although they had less and less to do with ongoing events), and worked with Dave Mimno and Elisabeth Newcomb on some others.
At first, I wrote stories using only the old issues of The Phoenix as references. Then I wandered into Friends' Library for the first time. They have a huge collection of archival documents: photos, Hull's "History of Swarthmore," written over 80 years ago, logbooks, minutes, etc. Their collection does have its limitations, however: they have whatever materials various people in the college have decided to donate. Sometimes they have all the information that there is on a subject, sometimes they have nothing. Friends' Library's Currator, Mary Ellen Chijioke, was also an invaluble help--she knows what's in the collection, and a tremendous amount of information which isn't written down. She's also been at Swarthmore for at least 30 years...
I also learned that college alumni in general make very good sources for history articles. For example, for the article on WSRN, I read about the founding of the collge radio station in old issues of The Phoenix. But I had a few questions. I went to the alumni office, and asked for the phone numbers of the students mentioned in the articles (written back in 1947). The alums always seemed quite happy to reminice at me--and they were always interesting people to talk to. The alumni office is a very useful tool for studying Swarthmore History. The only trouble with learning so much about these sources of information was that these articles were taking longer and longer to write!
I had ideas for a number of articles which I never quite got around to writing. Maybe some student publication editor will try to get these published, or some student history lover will research and write them--maybe you'd like to? Here's my list.