How to archive a presidency

Andrea Bainbridge
June 16, 2017

When the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., president of DePaul, begins a new phase of life in July, so will his records.

The documentation produced by "Fr. H.'s" office will be a tangible reflection of the past 13 years at DePaul. Whether in print or digital format, these records will be preserved in University Archives and made available to current and future researchers, alongside presidential records that date back to the university's earliest days. For each administration, these records reflect the state of DePaul at that time - its administrative and governance structures, academics, culture and more. They frequently document local or global current events, as well as wider trends in academia and Catholic education. Though they will no longer belong to an active administration, Fr. Holtschneider's records will begin a second life as part of DePaul's archival collections.

In conversations that have spanned months, in some cases years, staff from the Office of the President, Special Collections and Archives, and the Office of Public Relations and Communications have discussed and selected which documentation from Fr. Holtschneider's administration will be transferred to University Archives. The variety of formats containing those records rival the topics they cover, including Fr. Holtschneider's website, his Outlook calendar, emails to the DePaul community, as well as artifacts, books and countless other hardcopy records.

The richness of this documentation is due to the proactive stance that Fr. Holtschneider has taken toward DePaul's history. There is no automatic process for funneling DePaul's vital, historical documentation to University Archives. It happens only through the deliberate, committed effort of the university's faculty, staff and students, and the conscious decision to transfer the byproducts of their documents, work-minutes, survey results and photographs to the archives. Fr. Holtschneider's approach has been to select records for the archives in real time. In other words, he did not wait until after he decided to leave DePaul to think about the documentation he was leaving behind. Over time he and his staff created an extensive file with the explicit intention of sending it to University Archives one day, growing it according to the organic flow of his work at DePaul and keeping detailed records about the significance of each document or artifact.

Ongoing conversations between DePaul's archivists and the president's staff will ensure the records' smooth transition into University Archives. A multi-step process, the full transition involves physical transfer of hardcopy files, virus-checking and more for digital files, as well as capturing all that contextual information that Fr. Holtschneider's staff has kept about the documentation. From there, archivists will take steps to preserve the records and make them available to researchers.

"As a doctoral student, I spent three years of my life working in university archives as I chronicled the rise of financial aid in the colonial and new republic eras," Fr. Holtschneider explains.  "Information that seems so simple and ordinary to present eyes is enormously helpful generations later to understand the reasons and ways the university grew and took shape in our time. We're helping them understand us." 

DePaul history is not made in the past - we are making it right now, in offices and classrooms across the university. Fr. Holtschneider has set an excellent example for how other offices and groups might approach archiving, by capturing today what will become historical tomorrow.

Contact Special Collections and Archives to start capturing your historical documents or find out more about existing university collections.