Perhaps one of the most commonly asked questions is “what’s YOUR favorite item in the collection”? Staff favorites often vary from day to day and year to year, depending what project we’re working on. Last year we shared some of our favorites in a series of “Meet the Archivist” posts. But things are evolving every day as we encounter exciting things we hadn’t seen before in our collection of over 2 million documents. 2016 has brought us some wonderful opportunities to teach and learn with our collections in new ways.
One of my favorite discoveries this year was a letter from the personal papers of John Roderick Finn, a Norwich alumnus from the Class of 1946. Finn’s letters home from World War II are among the wonderful collections in the Norwich Archives that illuminate the front line experiences of our alumni in uniform.
Recently when I was preparing to use this collection for a class, something caught my eye. One of the letters has dramatically different handwriting from the others, almost like it was written by a child. When I started to read, the reason quickly became clear. This is the first letter that John Finn write home from a Red Cross hospital after he was wounded–in the hand. His right hand. Having no other way to reassure his family that he was alright, he wrote a two-page letter with his left hand. And in cursive, no less!
I love this striking example of how primary source documents can provide visible, tangible connections to the events of the past, beyond the content of the words on the page. Other letters from John Finn indicate that he recovered and was back on the front in just a couple of months. His handwriting returned to normal, and he continued to share insightful observations with his father about life as an American soldier in Germany. You can learn more about Finn and his papers in our guide to the collection.
Thank you to all of our researchers, students, faculty, alumni, and friends who have made the Norwich Archives such a vibrant place of curiosity and learning in 2016. We hope you will connect with our new Facebook page, which will be launching after the holidays. In the meantime, you can share in the comments below: what did you learn about Norwich history in 2016?