Apr 012011

Summer 2011
Norwich Record: Norwich University Alumni Magazine
News Feature


Mapping out the Past

University Archivists Move Forward with NU’s “Historical Serials Indexing Project.”


In 1836, Captain Albert Martin rode out from the Alamo Mission, near present-day San Antonio, Texas, to spread word of an impending attack by some 1,500 Mexican troops against the Alamo’s 189 Texas revolutionaries. Having delivered his message, Martin then broke back through enemy lines and returned to the Alamo, where he would fight and die alongside American icon Davy Crocket, later captured and executed by Mexico’s presidential-dictator Santa Anna.

For the US, the Battle of the Alamo stands as a symbol of America’s enduring fight for freedom and democracy. For Norwich University, the Alamo has another story to tell.

Captain Martin, 30 at the time of his death, is believed to be an early graduate — sometime around of the 1820s — of Alden Partridge’s American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy, the forerunner of Norwich University. He is considered to be Norwich’s “first war hero” and stands at the head of a long and illustrious line of Norwich alumni who have played a vital role in US history.

Gary Lord, NU’s official historian and a professor at the school for 42 years, has spent much of his life exploring Norwich’s historic alumni. Part of his job is to field questions about the school from a wide array of people, including Norwich students, faculty and staff, but also genealogists, journalists, historians, filmmakers and just about anyone else interested in Norwich’s connection to the past.

Lord has spent hours pouring of University records, and for him and the many curious others, digging into Norwich’s history is rarely, if ever, straight forward and easy. It can often involve reading through hundreds, if not thousands of pages, and all with only a hope of uncovering a relevant fact. Thanks, however, to the effort of the university’s archivists and the aid of a professional indexer, much of that work will soon get a great deal easier.

In 2019, Norwich University will celebrate 200 years of history, and in the lead up to the bicentennial, university archivists have begun the colossal task of indexing three of the university’s major publications: the Guidon, the Record, and the Reveille — a student newspaper that was in print from 1860 to 1922 and preceded the 1922 launch of the Guidon.

“Basically, an index is a verbal map,” explains professional indexer Carol Frenier, the independent contractor charged with indexing the 36,000 pages, in 250 volumes, that span more than 130 years of university history. With a computer by her side and the aid of indexing software, Frenier will read through each of the 36,000 pages and record key dates, names, events, and concepts that, as she says, “I think the reader might want to look for down the line.”

The indexing project, which began last year with a pilot project and has now been approved for completion, is estimated to take an additional two to four years to complete, depending on the speed of the indexer, and will cost approximately $150,000, says NU’s assistant archivist, Gail Wiese. “Part of the reason that this is such a huge task, with a huge price tag,” Wiese explains, “is that it has never been budgeted as part of the production (of these publications), so now we have 130 years of three publications that were never indexed at all.”

Wiese adds, however, that once the historical index is complete, maintaining it will be considerably more manageable, which will ultimately insure that the contribution of Norwich and its alumni to the past, the present and the future will be that much easier to trace and remember in the years, decades and centuries to come.