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Telling the Story of GW: An Interview with University Archivist Christie Peterson

The University Archives, part of the Special Collections Research Center at the GW Libraries, preserves and documents the history of the university, including the Mount Vernon College and Seminary. These materials are available to the public for research purposes, and we actively highlight selected materials on social media through @GWUSpeccoll. We asked Christie Peterson, our university archivist, to share some insights into her work.

What does it mean to be university archivist?
To a very large degree, what is in the archives defines what we know about GW’s past. I spend significant time doing outreach about the archives and determining how we can work with offices across the university in possession of historical documents.

As university archivist, I preserve and educate people about the oldest records in the archives—preparing an 1821 copy of the charter for display and lecturing about how Luther Rice’s journals precipitated and documented the nascent college’s 1826 financial crisis are all in a day’s work. I also acquire and preserve the newest records being created including the university website, which includes over 700 subdomains under gwu.edu alone.

What is the best part of your job?
One of the most exciting parts about being university archivist is that I have reasons to interact with nearly everyone who works for, attends, or is otherwise touched by GW. The mission of the University Archives is probably one of the broadest ones in the entire organization—we collect, preserve, and provide access to the documentation of GW’s history, whether it happened 200 years ago or is scheduled to happen tomorrow.

How do you want to expand the University Archives in the future?
I’m particularly interested in growing the archives of student life. I’ve been contacted by several student groups, and I’m identifying ways to reach out to others. I’m also eager to gather records from alumni who were involved in founding a club or establishing a sorority on campus and who have been holding on to files and photographs and ask them to donate their materials to the archives, where they can become part of GW history.

For more information about how you can support the University Archives, please contact Tracy Sullivan, executive director of development for GW Libraries and Academic Innovation, at 202-994-8928 or gwlibdev@gwu.edu.

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