Scrapbooks have played a large part in recording the history of individual students’ lives at Cornell, examining all aspects of the campus experience from social gatherings, cultural events, gripes about the food, registering for classes, Slope Day, and more intimate details of what it means to be a student in the larger world. For some students, attending Cornell is their first time away from home and friends, and sometimes even their native country. It is a time filled with excitement but also adjustments and new insights, and the scrapbook, for many, becomes the receptacle for their frustrations, plans, and hopes.
The Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in Cornell University’s Kroch Library is home to many of these documents. Since the early years of the University’s existence, scrapbooks have been kept and eventually given to the school. The earliest one in this exhibition was compiled by Bessie DeWitt, Class of 1878. It is an intriguing compilation filled with exam questions, bills for attending Cornell ($20/semester), and images of the campus. Juliette MacMonnies’s book (Class of 1916) is a more social record, with dance cards, invitations, and photographs of her new friends. Dorothy Heyl, Class of 1929, follows suit, though hers is so jam-packed as to be unwieldy—filled with menus, autographs, clippings, and other, less expected things: a lettuce leaf and pieces of a windshield.
Since 1996, Professor Carol Kammen has been teaching a course, “History 126,” which enlists a new generation in the process of recording their Cornell lives. The students compile scrapbooks for a semester, and then the books are given to the library, no exceptions. The results are touching reminders of all aspects of the Cornell experience—the academic pressures coupled with the fun, and placed in the context of the world. The students who took the course in the fall of 2001 not surprisingly devoted many pages to the events of 9/11; one writer tells of emotional family problems at home while also dealing with the death of a friend, who fell into the gorge. First birthdays away from family and Valentine’s Day all play a part in their record. And food. College life over the years has, in many ways, not really changed very much.