Photo by Jacob Reynolds
BY ANNA WONDRASEK
The most recent addition to the Drake Archives is a collection of historical papers and materials donated by Wayne Ford, a 1974 Drake Alum, Iowa State Representative from the 65th District and founder of Urban Dreams nonprofit.
These papers will provide researchers and historians with a complete picture of Ford’s political career, as well as an in-depth look into Iowa’s response to its growing diverse population since the early 1970s.
Among those handling the papers is Hope Bibens, the Political Papers Archivist. Together with a team of student archival assistants, Bibens has transferred over 100 boxes of Ford’s records, with more to come. Archiving these documents is a multi-step process, including digitizing portions of the collection and creating an inventory of all available files.
“Student archival assistants have already begun to inventory the boxes and files to provide description for future researchers; the files are then arranged and rehoused in archival folders and boxes,” Bibens said. “We will then create an online finding aid for the collection. This is essentially an index for the collection that is keyword searchable and assists researchers in finding materials.”
The Ford collection is not the first collection of historical documents to be housed at Drake University. Once processed, Ford’s papers will be housed amongst those of Iowa Gov. Robert Ray, Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Neal Smith, as well as the Charles Howard Papers, which are housed in Opperman Law Library. Documents like these are gifts that are always well-received, said Drake history professor Curt Cardwell.
“As a historian, we are always grateful to obtain primary sources even of people not well-known, such as a person who was just an ordinary American who may have kept a diary,” Cardwell said. “Primary sources are a historian’s meat and potatoes, the tools we need to recreate the past as closely as we can.”
For historians like Cardwell, the permanent preservation of materials like Ford’s papers is valuable because it allows future generations to access them.
Preserving papers like Ford’s does not only have academic value – there is political value in the preservation as well. Drake politics professor Gregory Wolf said this is because “researchers interested in Iowa state politics would likely find the papers useful, in the study of the Iowa legislature as an institution, in the policy areas (e.g. urban development, equality, etc.) that Ford pioneered in the state and to get some insight into the experience of one of the first black legislators to serve in the Iowa house.”
After all, understanding the way our political system worked in the past is the key to its evolution. Furthermore, beyond academics, in order for documents like these to be considered valuable, there has to be someone who recognizes that value. History professor Amahia Mallea is one of those people.
“The survival of such papers requires so many things go right: for years someone must see the wisdom in collecting documents in a safe place, then the wisdom in donating them, then a ready archive to preserve and organize papers, and, finally, the people to interpret the sources,” Mallea said. “Without all that, it is just paper.”