Preserving the Past
Three projects capture IC history.
By Sara Friedman ’13
“A friend of mine, who complained about the lack of seating in the library, decided to protest against it,” says Burt Altman ’70, with just a hint of a bigger smile to come as he recalls an incident from his undergraduate years at IC. “So, one day he pulled a small study table and chair from one of the classrooms, brought it into the elevator, and parked himself in there to do his studies. Anytime a student needed to go upstairs or downstairs, he would usually find my friend studying hard in the elevator.”
Altman’s story is part of one of the interviews captured through a digital time capsule project launched during Fall Splash last October. Sixteen alumni were videotaped over the three-day weekend, alone or in small groups, in five- to ten-minute segments. Amanda Johnson, a researcher in the Office of Institutional Advancement, organized the project.
“We were hoping alumni would want to talk about things that happened when they were here at IC, what they thought about the College when they came back for reunion, and what hopes and dreams they have for Ithaca College in the future,” she says.
Participants were given a list of suggested topics and the option to either talk extemporaneously or have the camera operator ask them questions.
“It wasn’t terribly structured,” says Johnson. “Part of that is because it’s the first year for the project. We were curious what this would do. Would people like the idea? Would they like to do it again?”
The digital time capsule complements a couple of other projects that IC library director Liz Chabot and archivist Bridget Bower are conducting. One is the IC Oral History Project, in which retired faculty members and administrators are interviewed about their time at IC. The other is IC Stories, an online, interactive, multimedia history of the College designed to capture stories, primarily from alumni.
To kick-start participation in IC Stories, Chabot and Bower have created a blog where they post pictures and ask viewers to share their stories online. So far, they have posted images of the old bowling alley in the Hill Center, Park School radio DJs, and a thespian performance, but their long-term plan includes using images from all the schools and various campus events. Bower says they hope to fill in the gaps in the College’s recorded history by collecting firsthand stories about student life and the student experience at Ithaca across time.
“We don’t know when the next Ithaca College history will be written,” she says. “The current history only goes up through 1975, so it’s 35 years old. There’s a lot of time for which we don’t have any student recollections.”
That includes “harrowing” tales like the one Ed Tobias ’70 submitted: “You haven’t really experienced winter in Ithaca unless you’ve had an 8:00 a.m. swimming class, followed by a 9:00 a.m. class on the other side of campus. We didn’t have the luxury of inside walkways in the late ’60s, so my wet hair would freeze as I walked between buildings and then thaw and drip down my neck during the 9:00 a.m. session. I took as many bowling classes as I could.”
A Google voicemail has also been created to allow alumni to share their stories over the phone. And the library is also working on a series of videos where old photographs are superimposed over new video footage to show how the campus has changed over the years. Tentative plans to merge the digital time capsule project with the library’s efforts are under discussion.
“There’s a ton of stuff that we don’t know,”
Bower says. “The pub used to be in the Towers
Concourse, for example. We really have no idea. You can look at pictures in the yearbook;
you can look at the Ithacan — but it’s such a tiny slice of it.”