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Hands-on Engagement with the Past

In his role as a student archivist in the Special Collections & Archives Research Center at Oregon State, senior Ethan Heusser digs through the millions of items in the extensive collection to find materials for patrons doing research.

He has explored diverse artifacts, such as the papers of former Oregon State faculty member and poet, Roger Weaver, and Linus Pauling, a scientist and winner of two Nobel prizes, who studied at Oregon State as an undergraduate (when it was Oregon Agricultural College). For one project, Heusser studied the collection of Paul Persiani, a nuclear scientist who worked on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union. The papers consisted of letters Persiani sent home to his wife.

“He offers a behind-the-curtain look: ‘I talked to the Russian ambassador today,’ or, ‘The Russian subdelegates don’t know if they’ll be able to find food at home.’ It shows the human interest side, humanizes people across the table, which today, more than ever, is important,” Heusser says.

He summarized and wrote about the papers for the SCARC online database. “When people come to find this resource, they’ll find it through the lens I created.”

Heusser has written about the Pauling papers and other materials on the SCARC blog and social media, assists with faculty-assigned projects and helps patrons looking for resources. “This experience has been really valuable because there aren’t many positions within the humanities,” Heusser – an English major – says. “I’m interested in how traditional humanities scholarship has changed now that we have computers, how we can use algorithmic analyses of texts and how we store massive amounts of information so it’s serviceable.”

Heusser initially connected with the position, which is cofunded by SCARC and the Honors College, through his honors coursework. He met Anne Bahde, a librarian in SCARC, when she taught an honors course on the history of the book during his first year, and then again when she spoke to one of his other classes on the subject of digital humanities. Ultimately, he worked with Bahde as a digital humanities intern in SCARC. “The Honors College allowed me to build that relationship,” Heusser says.

The student archivist position is one particularly designated for honors students, and it offers students a valuable immersion in the actual workings of a library that is customizable to each student’s interests. “I have a literature and arts focus, but someone who comes into the position next year, if they’re a history of science nerd, could do a project with 1800s journals.”

HC Director of Student Success and Engagement LeeAnn Baker , says Heusser’s position is a good example of how the Honors College strives to support students in gaining career experience. “We try to find students something in the realm they’re passionate about and support them in gaining transferrable skills.”

For Heusser, doing work he is excited about is the best part of his position as student archivist. “Learning is part of the job. I truly do discover more every day.”

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