H is for Historian: Professors preserve past and present

Nancy Richey, a visual resource librarian, logs historical documents into the WKU archive. Richey has been an Assistant Professor of Library Special Collections at the Kentucky Library and Museum on campus for the last three years.

Zirconia Alleyne

Guy Jordan gained an appreciation for history from museum visits with his grandfather.

Jordan, now an assistant professor of art history, perused the civil war and art museums in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

“As a little kid, I was interested in dinosaurs and science,” he said.

Jordan started college at George Washington University majoring in international affairs, but early on he found out that his true passion was for art and the history behind it.

“I found myself cutting class to go to the museums,” Jordan said.

He would spend countless hours in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., when he said he should have been in class learning about bureaucracy.

Now, as a seasoned professor, Jordan is a connoisseur of art history without restitution.

Jordan studies the history of objects because he said they are visual objects that can be used to understand the past.

He finds himself drawn to visual and popular culture.

“They’re not just reservoirs of culture, but fountains of cultural identity for a particular time and place,” he said.

Jordan said one of his favorite paintings, “The Heart of the Andes” by Frederic Church, captured the cultural identity of 1856.

“For people of that time, it was the equivalent of Avatar,” he said. “People flocked to see it.”

Jordan, like many historians, finds it not only interesting, but vital to preserve history from the past.

Martha Jenkins, a retired fashion professor and historian, said that fashion is a reflection of what’s happening in the world.

“It includes not only clothes, but household textiles and architecture,” Jenkins said. “Most anything you think about has a fashion of the day.”

Jenkins likes to study the details on fashion items to learn about the people that designed them.

She enjoys studying Dior and Givenchy originals, but those aren’t always available to study firsthand.

Jenkins said students don’t need a well-known museum to learn about history.

“A lot of colleges and universities have fabulous collections you can study,” she said.

The Kentucky Library and Museum opened the exhibit, “Preserving the Past, Sustaining the Future,” last Friday.

The exhibit is a quilt show that represents the 100-year history of the family and consumer sciences department.

Jordan challenges students to visit local museums and not rely on technology to do historical research.

“Technology has opened up the realm of art to people who may not have ever seen a Rembrandt,” he said. “But it doesn’t take the place of the viewer in front of the art.”

The Fine Arts Gallery and corridor on the second floor of FAC features rotating exhibitions once a month.

It currently houses an exhibit by Christopher Olszewski called “The Devil You Know,” which addresses the issue of urban landscape.

Jordan recommended that students take advantage of the librarians who are here solely to make historical information available.

Visual Resources Librarian Nancy Richey said a librarian should be a historian’s best friend.

“Historians interpret and present history,” she said. “Librarians collect it so people can get to it.”

The Kentucky Library collects artifacts dating back to the 15th century, including diaries or pages from the Quran.

Richey said a lot of donations come from the community because they believe it is valuable to the library and students.

“We have things that people would throw away that students can use to study a time period,” she said.

Richey said she is concerned about how advancing technology will contribute to preserving important history.

“People don’t write letters anymore and pictures aren’t printed out,” she said. “Family history that’s on a floppy disk may be lost.”

As a historian and librarian, her mission is to capture information before it’s lost and transport it to new technology for younger generations.

Richey said she also wants to break the mold of the typical librarian.

“I don’t wear my hair in a bun or go around shushing people,” she said. “I absolutely love my job and I want to get students excited about what we have to offer.”