USD’s archival department keeps local history alive for future generations
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USD’s archival department keeps local history alive for future generations

One of the more integral, yet overlooked, departments of the I.D. Weeks Library is tucked away in the eastern portion of the building’s third floor.

Materials such as rare books and manuscripts are gathered by the archival department and sorted into collections based on their content or subject.

The main collections housed and overseen by the university’s archival department are the USD Archives, records of the university’s academic and administrative departments and the USD Photograph Collection, visual documents of USD’s history from its founding in the 1880s to the present day.

Other collections maintained include:

  • The Chilson Collection of Western Americana (collecting Native American culture and Western expansion)
  • The Mabel Richardson Collection of manuscripts focusing on “the cultural, political, and economic history of South Dakota”
  • The Mahoney Musical Collection, one of the largest collections in the country pertaining to the violin and instruments in the violin family

Archives and Special Collections is responsible for the large poster display on the library’s second floor, taken from the personal papers of former USD president James Abbott. It shows a black-and-white aerial photograph of the campus in 1998, shortly after Abbott became president.

Although similar in many respects to how the campus looks today, the most visible differences include the now-demolished Redwood and Cypress Courts between Burgess-Norton and the North Complex, and the various trees north of Old Main cleared in the late 2000s to make the building more visible from University Road. Another recent request undertaken throws a wrinkle into the debate over the position of the American flag on campus. 

Doris Peterson, archive associate,  found two articles in 1959 issues of The Volante that documented the replacement of what was the university’s main flagpole at the time following the previous pole getting struck by lightning. Although prominently positioned southwest of the Old Main building, the archivists have not found exactly when or why this flagpole was taken down.

Michael Seminara, a native New Yorker and “archivist by trade,” joined the Archives and Special Collections team two years ago to help organize the papers of former South Dakota governor Bill Janklow.

Seminara became interested in the archive’s localized holdings and eventually moved into his current role as an archivist.

“What that entails is the management of the Archives Program here, overseeing collections new and old, working with students as well as staff in the archives to arrange, organize and describe collections and make them available to students as well as researchers,” Seminara said. 

Seminara also said his favorite part of his job is being able to work with student groups and English or history classes to find what they need to complete a project.

“We’re always encouraging students to come up here and use our collection… you don’t have to be working on a specific project or be in a history class,” Seminara said. “If you’re interested in the history of our region or university, just stop by and talk to us.”

The office hours for Archives and Special Collections are Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.