Stanford Students Discover Rare Material During Summer Positions at Hoover Library & Archives

Friday, June 26, 2015

Prior to working as a photojournalist on the front lines of the First World War, Percy Brown was a professional roller skater in London.

Throughout the summer of 2015, Stanford undergraduate and graduate students have contributed time, expertise, and enthusiasm toward the cataloging of rare materials at the Hoover Library & Archives. Below they share their experiences of working with archival material—from researching little-known biographies of professional roller skaters to evaluating future careers processing collections.

“I began working at the Hoover Archives just before the hundredth anniversary of the First World War, so all the World War collections had been given first priority. One such collection (one of the first I ever processed) had been created and donated by a Percy Brown. His collection is small, only three boxes, but it’s become one of my favorites because Brown was a most fascinating character. Having begun his professional life as a roller-skating expert in London, he was recovering from a skating injury that prevented him from enlisting when the war broke out. Brown, however, was not content to let the fighting go on without him, so he snuck over to Europe and began a career as a photojournalist. For two years he photographed the front lines in France and Belgium, avoiding both the British military police and the German forces, but was eventually captured and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany, where he continued to document his experiences with his camera.

"Percy Brown’s stories, especially his photographs, astounded me. I was so intrigued by the scenes he recorded that I applied to a Stanford Overseas Seminar on the First World War. Thanks to my experience in the archives, I was able to demonstrate some background knowledge and passion for the topic in my application, which led to an incredible three-week trip to archives in London and battlefields in France.

"Almost two years later, I am still happily immersing myself in personal histories in the processing room of the archives. The hands-on interaction with historic documents I am now participating in has awakened a new appetite in me; thus I am now minoring in history with a focus on Europe and the world wars. As a result, I now frequent the archives as both researcher and archivist. Looks like I’m not done with you yet, Percy Brown!”

—Emilia Schrier, Stanford Class of 2016

“Working at the Hoover Archives was a wonderful and unique on-campus job. Many student jobs, lacking engagement, can become tedious, requiring little more than administrative skills. At the archives, I learned a set of skills that, as a graduate student in history, taught me valuable lessons in organizing, accessing, interpreting, and describing original documents. I was given important responsibilities and the chance to work independently to shape the organizational and interpretive outcome of the collections on which I worked. Just being around the archives gave me insights into the depth, breadth, and importance of Hoover’s holdings; learning about these collections informed my knowledge of American history and helped frame my discussions in classes. On top of all the academic and professional benefits this job provides, the staff at the archives are friendly, love their jobs, and are dedicated to their student workers' success, on the job and academically. The Hoover Archives was one of my favorite on-campus jobs; my only regret is that I did not apply to work there sooner!”

—Sarahi Zaldumbide, Stanford MA in history, 2015

“An internship can be very intimidating at the start, as you never know what to expect. During my time as an archival intern at the Hoover Institution, I not only learned fundamental skills in processing an archival collection from start to finish but developed my skill set with the help of everyone in the department. Working with the group of people in the processing room helped not only build my confidence but allowed me to gain insights into basic archival theories and practices.

"I selected this particular work environment  because of  the reputation and appeal of the archival collections. During the span of five months I not only processed multiple collections but assisted with larger collections along the way. The knowledge gained from this experience proved to be beneficial when seeking out permanent employment as an archivist.  The career-relevant experience is but one benefit of the internship, and the atmosphere of the archives provides a superb work setting.”

—Danielle Lopez, Stanford Class of 2015