More than 100 years after its formation in 1905, the Stetson University Historical Society is back — thanks to an eager archivist.
Kelly Larson was hired in 2018 as the library archivist for the university’s duPont-Ball Library. She said the Historical Society is a great way to share the archive’s collections with anyone who may be interested.
“Resurrecting it seemed like a great way to reach out to the community so people can see what we’re up to and what resources we have to offer,” she said. “For a lot of people, archives are not very welcoming. It’s not like a library where there are open stacks. You have to go through an archivist.”
The archives contain such gems as a student’s letter written during the 1918 flu pandemic, for example, along with photos of early DeLand.
The last time Stetson University had an active historical society was nearly 100 years ago. Larson wants to recapture the interest.
“The original Historical Society started in 1905, and seemed to trail off in the 1930s,” she said. “It’s so cool we had this organization, and it was probably our first archive. The oldest stuff we have in the archives was probably collected during this period, and I thought it was cool that they thought ahead.”
Larson is also thinking ahead by collecting modern-day, locally relevant pieces.
“We’re actively collecting things from COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter protests here, anything that tells us what this period has been like,” she said. “It may not be historically interesting now, but it will be. That’s the foresight you need when building a collection like this.”
Stetson University was founded in 1883, and its artifacts run the gamut from then to now.
Collections include photographs of DeLand’s olden days, hats and hatboxes that belonged to the university’s — and the hat’s — namesake, John B. Stetson, and even photographs of pre-World War II Warsaw, Poland, where Stetson’s son, John Jr., served as ambassador from 1925 to 1929.
And while Larson gets to engage with these collections often, thanks to her job, she wants the student body and the community to be able to, as well.
“The aim is to involve others. It’s an ongoing conversation,” Larson said.
Dean of the Library & Learning Technologies Susan Ryan is running the organization with Larson. She said the decision to launch a renewed Historical Society came from a successful test run of a history club over the summer.
“When we said that ‘this is our last meeting’ last summer, there was a collective decision that the club members wanted to continue in the fall,” she said.
At the group’s first meeting, on Sept. 18, Larson shared some historically relevant pieces from the archives.
“I shared some info from the archives about Stetson's response to the 1918 pandemic, and we talked a bit about the First World War. I shared some writings from a student's diary from 1918, and a letter that was written to an alumnus that was in France at the time,” she said.
One student who joined this semester is freshman Hunter Wentz. Wentz said being a part of the newly reformed group is exciting.
“You, as a member, have the honor of re-creating and reforming an organization that prioritizes the preservation of Stetson’s past,” he said. “And though I’m not directly affiliated with the matter, it’s certainly invigorating to associate myself with a community that does so to this day.”
Larson encouraged anyone in the community to join, student or not, and to send along documents or artifacts that may be relevant to Stetson University’s history.
The group meets monthly via Microsoft Teams, and their next meeting will be Friday, Oct. 16. For more information, or to join, email email@example.com.