The history of Yale University is a universe unto itself. And like our own universe, our knowledge of the history of Yale is ever evolving. There are things we know, things we thought we knew and things yet to discover.
This all begs the question: where to start looking? That question begins with the University Archives, the official repository of the historical records of Yale University. Whether you plan to visit in person or work at home running searches in an online database, the University Archives is an excellent first stop.
One of the most comprehensive archival resources in the University Archives is the Yale Daily News Historical Archive. This database contains full-text versions of every copy of the Yale Daily News from 1878 to 1995, with a substantial effort currently underway to digitize issues into the 21st century. The history documented in the database represents nearly half of the 321 years of Yale’s existence. Of particular value to researchers is the richness of the archive. Contained within are the opinions of students on issues of the day, notices of activities and events, poems and song lyrics, and other facets of daily life of Yale students. Taken as a whole, it documents how students lived, learned and thought about their world.
A recent example of the use of the archive in a research project was by researchers for the Yale and Slavery Working Group, the presidential committee charged with unearthing Yale’s attachments to slavery and the slave trade. One area of inquiry for the group are the origins of the Civil War memorial located in Woolsey Hall. Researchers used Yale Daily News articles, such as this one dated May 8, 1901, to demonstrate the conciliatory nature of Yale’s students towards Southern alumni who fought for the Confederacy, which ultimately led to their inclusion in the list of war dead for the memorial.
Sources such as the Yale Daily News Historical Archive represent the best of what the University Archives has to offer. Looking towards the future, as the institutional memory of Yale becomes fully digital, the University Archives will continue its mission to preserve and promote the history of Yale in an inclusive, ethical manner and work with communities throughout the University to give them a voice and a place in Yale’s history.
MICHAEL LOTSTEIN is the University Archivist.