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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

The stories held in the library halls

Farber Library is a common place for Brandeis students to meet up with friends and do work. Now it is questionable how much work you will get done on Farber Mezzanine, but the building has some of the highest foot traffic on campus as it is frequented by students working on group projects and going to office hours. For a building with so many people passing through its doors every day, community members often go right by The Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department, which lies just below library goers on Farber 3. 

The University Archives & Special Collections are home to the university’s unique and rare primary sources. These sources are available to students, though they may be viewed in different formats, according to their website. The archives are divided into three main sections: university archives, specialized collections and digitized collections.  

The university archives collection, “reflect[s] many aspects of Brandeis University’s history, development and function,” according to the archive’s website. Included in this collection are photos from decades past of the university. You can take a look back at how the university used to look over the course of its 75 years. You may be surprised to see how similar it looks and yet at the same time so different. 

The Brandeis Archives Instagram page features photos from the university’s past, including professors lecturing in rooms whose chalkboards look eerily familiar. While the style of the students may be different, it’s very easy to pinpoint spots on campus. Another post features photos of students playing in the snow. While some of the buildings are no longer still standing on campus, there are glimpses of dorm halls first-years still reside in today. 

Massell Quad and the library are easily recognizable, though the students photographed have long since graduated. These snapshots into the past not only show us how far the university has come but also serve as a reminder that we will one day become a part of the history of this campus as well. 

The archives also has a collection dedicated to Middlesex University—also formerly called the Middlesex College of Medicine and Surgery, followed by University of Massachusetts—which sat on Brandeis’ campus. The learning institution opened in 1914 after being founded by John Hall Smith, according to the archives. When the university transferred its charter, Brandeis was then formed in 1948. The photos from the Middlesex University collection date from approximately 1915 to 1950, according to the archives. The information in the collection centers on documenting campus buildings and construction as well as classroom spaces. Included in these photographs are photos of Usen Castle, which was partially demolished in 2017 to make room for Skyline Residence Hall. While a majority of the castle was torn down, one tower remains on campus. In the archives, the full structure is preserved in film. The spires of the castle are photographed, including the multiple towers that got removed from the structure. In some of the photos as well, you can observe the reservoir that used to be overlooked by the castle. Many students may not be aware that there was once a man-made reservoir on campus, where Usdan Student Center now sits.

The special archives are also home to more than 10,000 rare books. Included in these are volumes of fairy tales that have been preserved in their physical copies. Also in the archives are autographs including those of Isaac Newton and Leo Tolstoy. The university also has preserved some auto recordings from famous alumni, including Abbie Hoffman. 

The university’s archives stand as a reminder of how far the university has come. The archives highlight the lives and legacies of those who’ve been a part of this university in various magnitudes—whether as a faculty member or a student. So stop by the archives and take a step into yesteryear.

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