Tufts Libraries: University Archives—and Jumbo’s Tail

The Digital Collections and Archives has both the university’s archives and collections ranging from broadcast journalism to the arts in Boston
students looking over large old book
Visitors to an open house at the Tufts Digital Collections and Archives.
April 12, 2019

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Ray Bradbury once said in an interview, “Without libraries, what have we? We have no past and no future.” For a series on libraries at the university, we’ve asked the librarians at Tufts’ many libraries to tell us about their collections—their most unusual items and best-kept secrets. Read about Tisch Library, Ginn Library, the SMFA Library, the Webster Family Library, the Hirsh Health Sciences Library, and the Lilly Music Library, too.

At the Tufts Digital Collections and Archives, based in the Tisch Library building, archivists did a deep dive into the collection to fill us in.

Focus of the Collection. Digital Collections and Archives includes two distinct collections: the Tufts University Archives and the university’s Manuscript Collections. Manuscript Collections are unique collections of archival material that support teaching and research at Tufts. Like most archival repositories, we specialize in certain areas. Our collections are strong in social and environmental justice, broadcast journalism, the history of medicine, and the arts in Boston.

The Tufts University Archives, of course, documents the history of the university through official university records, as well as material donated by students, alumni, faculty, and staff. We collect material in all forms, whether it’s analog or digital; all together we serve as stewards for more than 10,000 boxes and 10 terabytes of data—including ten years of archival versions university websites. DCA’s team of professional archivists provide stewardship for nearly three hundred manuscript collections and other permanently valuable physical and digital archival materials. DCA staff also assist Tufts students, faculty, and staff with recordkeeping activities, through records management and digital library services.

Oldest item in the collection. The Tufts University Archives includes material dating from the founding of—and slightly before the founding of—Tufts College in 1852. Board of Trustees minutes begin in 1851 and some of the Ballou Family papers include letters dating from 1801. But our oldest items aren’t university records. We have examples of cuneiform tablets, scarabs, and cones, which are examples of writing and recordkeeping dating from as early as 2150 BCE.

Most requested item. Our single most requested item, by a wide margin, is Jumbo’s Tail, the only remaining physical remnant of Tufts beloved mascot. Archives manage collections of material, rather than individual items, and our most requested collection is our collection of “Jumbo” Tufts yearbooks, followed closely by the Edward R. Murrow Papers.

Jumbo's tail

Most unusual/unique/strange item. The great thing about our collections is that just about everything is unique. In terms of strangeness, it’s hard to beat an elephant’s tail.

Best-kept secrets. We don’t keep secrets! Our team works very hard to make sure all 700-plus DCA collections are described online and can be found and used by students, faculty, staff, and the public. You can read about our collections, set up a time to view them in our reading room, or request scans in the Tufts Digital Library. You can also view in-depth exhibits of select collections at here. And we hope it’s not a secret, but we do want people to know we provide record management and record keeping advice to the entire University including student groups.

Most interesting new additions. There is exciting new material coming in all the time. In the last year, the collection of student protest posters found in Metcalf Hall have provided great documentation of student protest in the early 1970s. Zella Luria’s papers document a fascinating study of women graduates of Jackson College. Going back a few years, we accessioned the Gerald Gill papers, which provide essential documentation of students, particularly African-American students, at Tufts.