Photo of Kennedy Library exterior

Written by on July 10, 2013

Adventures in the Archives: My first week

Ben Simon is a student assistant in Special Collections & Archives. This summer he is working on a project to organize the papers of Cal Poly President Julian McPhee (1933-1966). This is the first in a series of posts in which he shares his experiences processing McPhee’s papers and learning more about the university’s history.

Having lived the entire 22 years of my life within the city of San Luis Obispo, I have always been simultaneously intrigued by the rich history contained within the Central Coast and dismayed by the public’s lack of awareness of SLO’s relevance.

Black and white photo of McPhee and Allen in Dexter Library

President McPhee and librarian Francis Allen study an efficiency chart in Dexter Library

For these reasons and more, I am delighted to start a summer internship project with University Archives and Special Collections, as they contain a wealth of unearthed information on Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo County, from Julia Morgan’s sketches of Hearst Castle to the previously unexplored files and documents from the 33-year tenure of Cal Poly President Julian A. McPhee, of which I have the privilege of being one of the first to fully examine.

It started with rare comics

I first became interested in Special Collections and University Archives nearly two years ago when I discovered the Moore Collection of Underground Comix, a collection which contains multitudes of extremely rare comic books from the latter half of the 20th century such as Robert Crumb’s Zap Comix, S. Clay Wilson’s The Checkered Demon, and Steve Purcell’s Sam and Max.

After nearly exhausting my obsession with alternative comic books, I decided to embark on the creation of my own archives for one of my favorite musicians, “Weird Al” Yankovic, who attended Cal Poly in the late 1980s. Having enjoyed doing research on Yankovic’s college years and receiving rare recordings Yankovic did for KCPR, Cal Poly’s radio station, I began to realize how rewarding archival work is as it allows me to give back to the community I grew up in.

Black and white photo of Cal Poly President McPhee in front of admin building

President McPhee in front of the new Administration Building, 1942

Now I’m researching Julian A. McPhee

Having already spent a week researching the life of Julian A. McPhee with University Archives, I look forward to the months to come.  The possibility of uncovering letters from a young Jackie Robinson is exciting to anticipate, but the realization of my impact upon future generations of Cal Poly students and San Luis Obispo residents is in itself amazing.

Read more on ben simon, cal poly history, cal poly president, julian mcphee, special collections, and university archives.

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