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Photographs and Negatives (Group 32)
[78] Photographs and Negatives, 1848-1995, 250,000 items

Historical Note

Oberlin College had no formal publicist until James H. Ross was hired to submit occasional Oberlin news items to eastern papers during the administration of President John Henry Barrows (1847-1902). Subsequently, the Faculty Committee; the News Bureau Committee, 1914-1929; the Publicity Bureau, 1929-1952; the Public Relations Office, 1952-1984; and the Office of Communications, beginning in 1984, functioned as publicity agents for Oberlin College.

The paid position of college photographer was created in 1917. The role of the photographer was to portray campus events, organizations, and faculty and students. Pictures were used in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine and in calendars produced by the College. Arthur Ludwig Princehorn (1870-1931), the first photographer, held the post until his death. He was assisted by his son Arthur E. (“Pinky”) Princehorn (b. 1904), who took over following his father’s death and served until 1969. Some of their successors include Robert H. Stillwell (b. 1945), S. Joan Anderson, John Seyfried, Edsel Little, John Corriveau, and Rick Sherlock.

Scope and Content

Consisting of approximately 250,000 items, the Oberlin College Archives’ photograph collection contains images that date from 1848 to 1995. Included are black and white and color prints, negatives, glass plate negatives, daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, slides, transparencies, and contact sheets of various standard sizes. Augmented over many years, the photograph collection is an excellent visual source documenting Oberlin’s built environment. The images document phases of construction, exteriors and interiors, landscaping, monuments, streets, and so forth.

Archivist William E. Bigglestone formed RG 32 as the central location for photographic material, combining still images from a variety of sources. The Oberlin College Archives’ unpublished, spiral-bound “Guide to Photographs, Negatives, and Other Visual Materials in the Oberlin College Archives” lists the photographic holdings in groups. Of those pertinent to Oberlin’s built environment, some images are housed in a vertical file (two steel cases), and others are boxed and shelved. Photographic subject files in RG 32 are essentially from the old working files of the Office of Communications.

RG 32/2 “Miscellaneous Photos, ca. 1930s - 1950s,” contains photographs that are boxed and shelved. This category includes a small assortment of folders applicable to architecture, from dining halls to the Veterans Trailer Camp, ca. 1945.

In the “Buildings” category, RG 32/4, are photographs of 80 college and non-college buildings, with both exterior and interior views. This series contains a full range of structures from the Administration Building to the Wilbur and Orville Wright Laboratory of Physics. Included are views of some buildings that have long since been torn down, such as those on Tappan Square prior to 1928. Photographs of individual dormitories are filed in steel cabinets alphabetically under the heading “dormitories.” The photograph collection also includes a ca. 1961 scrapbook containing more than 20 pages of drawings and photographs of the Kulas Organ Center, located in Robertson Hall of the Conservatory of Music. Elevation, floor, and site plans by architect Minoru Yamasaki highlight the Kulas Recital Hall; photograph subjects include architectural models, interiors, exteriors, aerial views, and construction progress. While most buildings photographs are housed in RG 32, others are filed within an associated institutional record group. For example, the Conservatory of Music prints are located in RG 10.

RG 32/5, the “Subjects” category of photographs, is arranged alphabetically by folder title in two steel cabinets. While some of these images are of buildings like the presidents’ houses, others are of smaller details of Oberlin’s built environment, such as the Chinese Bell, classrooms and students’ rooms, and memorials and monuments. Interiors of Finney Chapel, First Church, the old gymnasium, and several tents are depicted in the 27 folders that provide a visual chronicle of the Mock Convention, 1908-1968. Still other folders house visual items clearly intended for artistic display; the researcher will find these photographic essays under the headings “44074 Exhibit” and “Pictorial Memories of Oberlin.” Folders of interest to an architectural historian include: Aerial Views of Campus (4 folders); Arboretum; Architect’s Prints - rejected models; Architect’s Drawings, Men’s and Women’s Dormitories, Conservatory of Music, Misc.; Bandstand; Chapel Services; Chinese Bell; Class Rooms (2 folders); Floods in Oberlin; 44074 Exhibit; Galpin Field; Grave Stones; Hall (Charles M.) Statue; Haskell, Katharine Wright Memorial Fountain; Houses - Historic, Presidential, Unidentified; Little Red School House; Maps; Memorials, Monuments, etc.; Mock Convention; Monroe House; Oberlin College ca. 1890; Oberlin (City of) Views; Oberlin Kindergarten-Primary Training School; Oberlin Community - Children’s Home, Missionary Home, Street, Skylines, Views; Pictorial Memories of Oberlin (Rotary Club); Published Photos; Rocks, Boulders on the Oberlin College Campus; Soldiers’ Monument (designed by Charles H. Churchill); Student Rooms; Tabernacle Tent (for Oberlin Revival); Trees.

Finally, the photograph collection at Oberlin College Archives contains many negatives. The Princehorns are responsible for 48 boxes of these negatives; Karl F. Geiser (see the papers of Karl F. Geiser) contributed three boxes. Two other boxes contain negatives solely of buildings, and 21 boxes of glass plate negatives house over 100 individual images of buildings and monuments. Among the more unique glass plate negatives are those of the Finney Chapel in 1908 and 1910, the Memorial Arch in 1915, Peters Hall in 1890, Wilder Hall in 1930, and Bridge Construction of Hales Gymnasium, ca. 1937 (latter two in box 21).

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