The History Keepers
History | August 15, 2016
By Kate Jeracki, as appearing in SOURCE
During Ram Welcome, incoming students learn about many of the beloved traditions of Colorado State University: why we paint an A and not a C up on Horsetooth Rock, the definition “stalwart,” and what a Bronze Boot has to do with a Border War, to name a few. New Rams learn what CSU is all about from upperclassmen, who learned from Rams who came before.
But, as Provost Rick Miranda points out, tradition is merely an invitation to history. And history is scholarship, according to James Hansen, professor emeritus of history and author of two volumes tracing the university’s past.
His first book, Democracy’s College in the Centennial State: A History of Colorado State University, was published in 1977. It had been originally planned as a retrospective to celebrate CSU’s centennial in 1970, but when Hansen arrived on campus that year with his newly minted Ph.D. from the University of Denver, he discovered one tiny roadblock.
“There were no university archives,” he recalls. “No one had ever collected any records documenting the history of the university.”
So, before he could write about the first 100 years of Colorado’s land-grant college, Hansen had to collect it. Armed with a memo from President Ray Chamberlain giving him access to any documents he needed, he and his graduate assistant went from college to department filling cardboard boxes with papers and other memorabilia. Then they hauled them to a makeshift space in a corner of Morgan Library and began to sort.
“I had never been trained as an archivist, but I had spent plenty of time working in archives, so I knew enough to arrange materials by who created them rather than by subject,” he said.
By the time Hansen had enough material for his book, he had also established a firm foundation for the University Archives – and made the case for hiring a professional archivist to oversee it while Hansen went back to teaching. John Newman took on the task and the archives found a permanent home in the library, where collections of materials related to the history of Colorado began to grow.
Lessons from 1997 flood
Hansen retired from teaching in 2002, but the next year CSU President Al Yates convinced him that enough had happened since the burning of Old Main in 1970, where the first volume ended, that Democracy’s College needed an update. Democracy’s University was published in 2007, 20 years after the first book and 10 years after the deadly Spring Creek Flood washed away original documents, photographs and other one-of-a-kind materials stored in ground floor offices, including Student Media. Years of bound volumes of the Collegian and negatives of yearbook photos were destroyed and lost to future historians.
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