Post contributed by Kenzie Ross, Student Archivist
Recently, I spent time researching and writing about Oregon Agricultural College in the year 1917, Linus Pauling’s first year of college. Aside from a surface interest in University history (it’s always fun to whip out tidbits concerning bygone eras to impress visiting family members) I knew little about the early years of Oregon State or the collegiate education of a young, eager Pauling. Excited, and a bit nervous, I set out into the stacks and immersed myself in the world of OAC circa 1917. Arriving with a certain set of expectations surrounding the time period and the college experience of the beginning of the twentieth century, I found some of my initial conjectures to be wrong. Convinced of the rigid social formalities of the era, I didn’t imagine I would see my own college experience reflected in yearbook photos and barometer articles. However, the materials of the archive fashioned another narrative, one that pulled a common thread of humanity into focus.
A facile assumption, and an epistemological disservice, is to hone in on the differences between today and previous eras. While there are obvious dissimilarities between Oregon State in 2017 and OAC in 1917, I was struck by the parallels. A prominent discovery developed from The Beaver, the student year-book, whose final section titled “The Disturber” made clear the timeless human desire to let loose and find humor in the world around us. Anticipating an ultra-proper and buttoned up student population, especially considering the global events of the time, I was delighted to find the students of OAC engaged in a lot of light teasing and enjoyed reviewing stories of their classic college antics.
During this project, another figure was thrown into relief. At SCARC, we’re enveloped by the possessions and relics of Linus Pauling, which I’ve come to regard as signifiers of his genius; this, remarkable and incredibly special, often roils a quiet feeling of intimidation. The immensity of a life well-lived permeates my research. In exploring his early diary and gleaning morsels of his youth, I related to him in a new way, empathizing with his banal ache of diffidence. Pauling, entering college at the underachieving age of sixteen, felt, as many of us do at one point or another, insecure and uncertain of himself. While it feels bit comic to think of such a brilliant and prominent scientist as harboring self-doubt, it was a small reminder that confidence is not always a static state.
Working with primary sources and archival material enabled me to find a new reverence for not only my University but for the lives imbricated in its history. It made clear the ways in which we have much more in common with people of the past than we typically assume, a realization that would not have been elucidated without the magic of archives.