Rediscovering Acadia with Archival Research
By Theodore Giesen
Promoting the Esther Clark Wright Archives
Tangible pieces of history that have stood the test of time are invaluable resources for researchers of all kinds. Wendy Robicheau, Acadia University Archivist, works to not only preserve these important documents, photographs, and maps, but to show them off to the community and share their rich lessons.
Robicheau has been at Acadia since 2005 after completing a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts, both in Atlantic Canada Studies from Saint Mary’s University. Since then, she has made it her goal to promote the Esther Clark Wright Archives at Acadia University and has been working tirelessly to advocate for the use of archival primary sources to the public, students, faculty, and staff. One way that Robicheau has started to make the Archives more accessible is digitizing physical documents, which makes them easier to access and use.
Since 2015, Robicheau has taught a popular course on archives and archival research - a topic not generally covered in an undergraduate degree. Her work in raising awareness of the impact of archival research on our understanding of history will continue this winter with her Acadia Lifelong Learners class, which will examine photographs from the Archives.
Adopt-A-Soldier: Acadia’s Involvement in World War I
The concept that World War I was the war to end all wars, but ironically started many more, has always interested Robicheau and has inspired many years of research. Robicheau, in an effort to tie the Wolfville community to Acadia’s involvement and sacrifice in World War I, has started an ongoing project called Adopt-A-Soldier, which aims to identify and remember all Acadia Alumni who served. The result of the Adopt-A-Soldier program will be a publication, formatted like old The Athenaeum student newspapers from 100 years ago.
In the summer of 2016, Robicheau travelled overseas to follow in the footsteps of the 85th battalion, who fought in the First World War, and to commemorate Acadia's fallen men and women. The purpose of the trip was to solidify Acadia’s place in history by making sure every alumnus involved in the war was recognized and accounted for, but the trip went beyond just research purposes. It also helped Robicheau understand her place in history and gave her Adopt-A-Soldier project emotion and life. Her experience was so powerful that she plans to make another trip back to Europe before the release of the Adopt-A-Soldier project in 2021.
Currently, Robicheau is searching through sources in Acadia’s Archives and Special Collections to find photos of the missing faces of anyone involved in World War I who went to Acadia and collecting as much information about them as possible - both while they were attending Acadia and while serving.
Robicheau uses a variety of resources to gather personal details about the lives of each of these people, such as academic calendars, old Athenaeums, war records, and service records. As more information comes to light about more people, more of the puzzle pieces will come together and start to create a clearer image of what Acadia looked like 100 years ago. Not only does this project provide information about the individuals that lived at Acadia, but it also teaches us about Acadia’s community life then, which can be compared to the way it is now.
The Power of Archival Research
Between teaching classes, researching veterans for her Adopt-A-Soldier project, and working to help researchers find primary archival sources, Robicheau finds time to teach the younger generation about the importance of using archives for research. Robicheau believes it is crucial to start educating at a young age and has been going to elementary schools to get students engaged in the history they are reading and help them see how history has impacted their own lives. She encourages researchers of any kind who are embarking on a new research project to start with a big picture concept and boil it down to a specific question that interests you, and to not be intimidated by a blank page.
If you have any questions about how to get involved with Adopt-A-Soldier or Robicheau’s work in the Archives, feel free to email her: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Acadia and the War: Commemoration and Dissemination blog, http://aboutacadiawar.blogspot.ca
Adopt-A-Soldier today! https://www.facebook.com/groups/adoptasoldieracadia/