In the Class Historians Workshop, Class of 1982 historian Julio Gomez spoke with five other class historians ranging from the Class of 1966 to the Class of 2009 on how to address problems such as lack of pull and the need for prescriptive guidelines that are faced by Princeton class historians.
The job of a Princeton class historian is to document the people in a class and the events they participate in from the beginning of their freshman year to the present day. The accounts of historians at the workshop did not reveal any uniform method for becoming a historian, although the process usually involves some form of appointment. For example, Gomez volunteered for the position and had to interview along with two other candidates, while Class of 1971 historian Jack Hittson was chosen by the president of his class.
In performing one’s duties, “you can define your role as historian,” Gomez said. For example, the class historian must decide whether the memorabilia in a class archive must be relevant to the entire class.
Gomez said that the primary, and farthest reaching, goal of being a historian is to enrich the experience of one’s class. As historian, one should “build an accessible class history.” This history involves both physical items, which should be well stored and easily displayed, as well as electronic items, which should be easily added and viewed. The class historian should also build class spirit and involvement, “making people feel better about the Class of ’82,” in Gomez’ case. Gomez added that the class historian should “identify and develop class member values,” which can include career advancement as well as family and leisure.
The class historian’s more immediate goals involve identifying and filling gaps in the class paraphernalia available to them, Gomez said. The historian for any given class “should identify target areas of solicitation from that class.” Of particular relevance are accounts, pictures and memorabilia from aspects of daily life, such as concerts, athletic events and bonfires, and accounts, pictures and memorabilia based on themes such as official class gatherings and roommate reunions.
Gomez and Hitson also discussed the importance of setting up an oral history locale at upcoming major reunions. Hitson said that oral histories provide rewarding, substantive information, but tend to provide costly transcription fees.
Methods of furthering these goals include taking inventory, Gomez said. Gomez noted that the class historian should regularly visit the Mudd Library and look at archives, making sure to confirm that no class documents are missing. The historian should also “confirm and secure all reunions books and costumes” as well as “any other class-published materials and communications,” which include letters from the President about community service projects or letters from the President announcing the state of the class.
Gomez added that the class historian must also work frequently within his or her class. He said that the class historian should frequently update their class on goals and progress, and explore collaboration with historians from surrounding classes. “Products,” meaning class memorabilia, should be accessible to classmates through the Internet.
“You need to get into the flow of your class,” Gomez said.
Gomez also noted that one’s class can be an important source of information. The class historian should contact current class officers to request operating records and “develop a communication plan to solicit materials from classmates.” Gomez added that a highly useful person for class historians is the class secretary, whose duties often overlap with those of the historian.
The Princetoniana Committee, which works with the Archives to collect Princeton memorabilia, was founded in 1981 by Bob Rodgers ’56. The role of “class historian” largely originated with the Alumni Council Committees on Class Affairs and Princetoniana, held in 2008.