Artifacts in the Archives – Artifacts that inspire us

In light of  National Poetry Month, Special Collections & University Archives (SCUA) staff are highlighting artifacts that inspire us.

Ashtray #2001-R154.003

Photograph of a commemorative ashtray, yellow with rd text and gold border around rim, "With honor to the past, with vision for the future, 1858 centennial 1958, Iowa State College"

Commemorative Ashtray #2001-R154.003

Chris Anderson, Descriptive Records Project Archivist

ISU Special Collections has seven or eight commemorative ashtrays. To my way of thinking, if you like the message about the school’s centennial, you wouldn’t want to cover it with ashes and cigarette butts, would you? That’s like lining a spittoon with the state flag.

I find these artifacts inspirational because they remind me of how prevalent smoking used to be in the U.S. When I was a child — I was born in 1971 — people were allowed to smoke in more places than they are now. Not only was the smoke annoying (at best), but they littered the ground with countless cigarette butts. Even if you set aside the health effects, smokers made a major nuisance of themselves. My father smoked unfiltered “Camels” all day. I thought the packaging looked cool, but his habit was so unappealing that I never took it up. Thank goodness for that.

We’ve come  along way since then. I suppose there’s not much left of the commemorative ashtray industry.

Button #2002-R001.025

Yellow political button with dark text that says "June 7th, I march for full suffrage will you?"

Suffrage button #2002-R001.025

Amy Bishop, Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist

This button from our Artifact Collection inspires me because the work of first-wave feminists in securing women’s right to vote was so important in propelling forward the advances in women’s rights, a movement that has been carried on by so many generations of women since the late 19th century and continues today. I cannot imagine not being able to participate fully in the political system, or not being able to own property, to work whether married or single, and so many other rights that we tend to take for granted today. My grandma was born in 1922, two years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment. That helps put in perspective for me just how recently women have gained these rights.

This button is from the Carrie Chapman Catt artifact collection, the well-known Iowa suffragist and Iowa State alum.

Daguerreotype of Benjamin Gue #2001-R001

Daguerreotype, left hand side black and white photograph of Benjamin Gue, as a young man, and the right hand side is a flower.

Daguerreotype of Benjamin Gue #2001-R001

Olivia Garrison, Reference Coordinator

Benjamin Gue was one of the authors of a bill to establish a state agricultural college and model farm (what would become Iowa State University). This artifact is inspiring because to me it represents the very purpose of the work we do in Special Collections and University Archives. Part of SCUA’s mission is to preserve the history of the University for future generations to access and learn from. Daguerreotypes were among the first modes of “printing” photographic images and are susceptible to damage with too much light, or too high or low humidity and/or temperature. Providing stable conditions is an important part of our jobs. Another part is providing access to our collections. I think this artifact is a great example of a piece of history that might be lost entirely, or at least lost to the majority of researchers, if it were not for the work we do here.

Banned Books Buttons #s2001.R026.001-03

Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist

It blows my mind to see which books have been banned  by governments around the world: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_books_banned_by_governments.  Libraries and schools still ban books and many of them are classics and award-winning books. I am inspired by these “Read Banned Books” buttons because books inspire me.  The stories within them and the way the authors have crafted their words to tell their stories make me feel connected to people, places, and ideas that are usually beyond my scope of experience.

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