Capturing Campus Life During a Pandemic

By Bethany Anderson and Jessica Ballard

Image courtesy of University Housing, which created and gave us permission to use this flyer.

A photo of a desolate street. A video journal entry. A student’s hip hop performance. A screenshot of a Zoom meeting. These are but a few examples of submissions that the University of Illinois Archives has received as part of a call to the campus community to share their experiences during the COVID-19 crisis.

Over the last few weeks, life at the University of Illinois has drastically changed in response to Governor Pritzker’s “stay-at-home” order: students and faculty have shifted in-person courses to remote instruction; most staff are working remotely in their homes; and meetings that were once in-person are now conducted primarily by video conference. The impact of these changes to daily life has been profound and disruptive. What’s become clear is that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every part of the University of Illinois community–from building workers to students, faculty, staff, and alumni–and it is affecting everyone in different ways.

An example of a submission: Professor Larry DeBrock, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Finance and Professor of Economics, during a webinar on the economic impact of the coronavirus. This photo was taken in his home studio with ad-hoc sound-proofing.

We are living in an unprecedented time, one which future researchers will want to study in order to understand what it was like to live through this pandemic. The Archives wants to ensure that these experiences are captured and preserved for future generations, whether they are in the form of artwork, an email to a colleague, a photo of one’s remote workspace, or a written or recorded snapshot of one’s experience at a specific moment in time.

Consider sharing your story with the Archives. Submissions may be made through this form: The form will remain open through December 31, 2020, but the deadline may be extended if needed. Submissions may also be anonymous. Your submission does not necessarily need to be a digital item–the Archives is also accepting physical items for donation once we resume onsite operations.

Please contact Bethany Anderson (Natural and Applied Sciences Archivist) and Jessica Ballard (Archivist for Multicultural Collections and Services) with questions about this initiative.

“In the Present Uncertain Situation”: Scarlet Fever at the University of Illinois, 1914

Man smiles from inside the Emergency Hospital during the 1914 Scarlet Fever outbreak. Image 0011593.

As life drastically changes for students, faculty, and staff at the University of Illinois and across the country, it may help to remember that this is not the first time that the University has faced a disruptive health crisis. Multiple outbreaks have peppered the University’s past, including the flu, smallpox, and scarlet fever. In 1914, a scarlet fever epidemic disrupted student life and spurred the University into action.

The Daily Illini reported the first student with scarlet fever in 1914 on February 10. By February 12, four more students were confined to the Burnham Hospital in Champaign. The spread of scarlet fever prompted Thomas A. Clark, the Dean of Men, to put out a statement, “In the present uncertain situation with regard to scarlet fever no one can afford to take unnecessary risk.” Clark urged sick students to see a physician, to isolate themselves until their diagnosis was confirmed, and not to attend class if they were sick. [1] Continue reading ““In the Present Uncertain Situation”: Scarlet Fever at the University of Illinois, 1914”

John C. Houbolt: The Man Behind the Lunar-Orbit-Rendezvous

On May 25th, 1961, President John F. Kennedy called for the nation to “commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 successfully landed on the surface of the moon, and 6 hours after landing Commander Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the lunar surface. This July 20th will mark the 50th anniversary of that historic event, and in honor of that day, a University of Illinois Archives exhibit calls attention to alumnus John C. Houbolt (B.S. 1940, M.S. 1942). For without his work and advocacy, the brave Apollo 11 astronauts would never have made it home.

Houbolt was a NASA aerospace engineer from Joliet, Illinois who developed the unpopular idea that to land a man on the moon and return safely, the only way was to use his concept of Lunar-Orbit-Rendezvous (LOR) and a lunar landing module. At the time the prevailing ideas for landing on the moon were Direct Descent or Earth-Orbit-Rendezvous. Neither of which would be cost-effective or feasible. The Lunar-Orbit-Rendezvous eventually became the ideal and safest way to accomplish a moon landing.

There are always scientists and engineers who may be responsible for the success of historic events but who remain anonymous to popular history. Without Houbolt’s idea and persistence, this event would not have been possible. So that he is not just a footnote in history our exhibit opens a window into the work and life of John C. Houbolt.



For an informative account of Houbolt’s contribution visit NPR’s 1A interview with Todd Zwillich, “Fly Me To The Moon: Apollo 11 and The Unsung Hero Who Made It Happen”

Overlooked Campus Landmarks Turn 150

How many times have you gone down 4th St. by the Armory or Huff Hall? Probably hundreds of times, right? It so happens that when you do, you’re passing some of the last vestiges of the Illinois Industrial University, as the U of I was called 150 years ago.

Where are these vestiges? Just look up. It’s the trees—several tall, shaggy Austrian Pines, to be precise. They are all that’s left of a series of windbreaks that were planted 150 years ago this week, between June 1 and June 7, 1869.

With both Champaign and Urbana having Tree City USA designations today, it’s hard to believe that in 1868, when the first students arrived, the only landscape feature, aside from the lone sycamore south of Gregory Hall, was one, lone university building surrounded by acres and acres of open fields. It’s not surprising that one Trustee even said that “the University Building looked like a stake driven into the ground.” At least one student wrote home to bemoan the mud and desolation in which she found herself.

Enter the College of Agriculture, which in 1869 planted several windbreaks on what they considered the far edges of an imagined, future campus. They included a hedge of osage orange, many silver maples, Norway spruces, red cedar, and 110 Austrian pines planted along 4th street to protect the experimental orchards. It’s all described in considerable detail in the Trustee’s Report of March 1870, right down to the locations and how many feet apart they planted the trees.  At last, something besides a lone building existed on what was to become the tree-studded campus of one of the world’s great universities.

Want to see these original, living relics? There are still about a dozen of the Austrian Pines found on the east side of 4th St from just west of the Armory to the northeast corner of Pennsylvania Ave.  For one of the most distinctive groups, look for the five tall trees directly behind the construction sign for the Siebel Center for Design,  just south of Huff Hall.

Or, if you’re at the northeast corner of the Armory and 4th St., you’ll see a lone, tall tree standing like an umbrella. Stand by its trunk and look south to see the trunks of three more that are partially hidden from the street by lower growing trees.

A further one is near the southernmost door of Huff Hall. Until they were removed this spring, two more could be found immediately west of the Art and Design Building. All these trees date back to 150 years ago this week, making them the oldest mark left on the landscape by the University of Illinois. They even predate Mumford House, the oldest University building. There is nothing else on campus—not a building, not a marker—that connects so closely to the beginnings of this university.

It’s important to respect and pay attention to our landscape, especially when there are building projects, or else we’ll lose part of the identity of this university. It’s part of what makes this campus the attractive place that people remember.  The natural environment is fragile. Take note of these ‘monuments’ while they are still here.

Found in the Archives: Alta Gwinn Saunders and the Art of Business Communication

In June 1948, Alta Gwinn Saunders boarded a plane for New York, in order to speak with her publisher about a third printing of her book, Effective Business English, and then to travel on to the seventy-fifth annual Delta Gamma convention. She had been a faculty member at the University of Illinois for thirty years and a full professor for ten. In addition, she both edited and wrote for The Anchora and was nationally recognized as a founder of the field of business communication. Her plane never arrived, crashing near Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, and killing all aboard. Saunders’ death left the University of Illinois, Delta Gamma, and the wider academic and business communities “shocked and saddened.” [1]

Alta Gwinn Saunders, University Archives, Series 39/2/25, Box 3

This past July, the University Archives received a copy of the second (1939) edition of Effective Business English as a part of a routine records transfer from the Gies College of Business. Although the title may seem a bit dry, it is truly quite intriguing. The book’s content draws readers into an era of business both foreign and familiar. Saunders’ book, first published in in 1925, is aimed at teaching “the business correspondent to use written English as a powerful, effective business tool” [2] through an exploration of the nature of business correspondence and its reliance on a knowledge of culture. She wrote:

A knowledge of human nature is the basis of sympathetic understanding. It helps a correspondent to write in some degree as if he were face to face with a person. It enables him to talk to a reader; not down to him or at him. [3]

The text is filled with examples of business letters and reports, illustrations of “attractive letterheads,” and practical insights into the principles and characteristics of business writing. Saunders remarked that “custom and manner can be acquired only by being exposed to them through reading good letters.” [4] A product of their time, some example letters in Effective Business English read much like a foreign language to modern audiences, giving insight into a world of personalized, direct-by-mail sales:

Dear Miss Smith:

Never have we been more excited about new millinery fashions than we are right now! They’ve never been so dramatic, so inspired, so different–and with it all–so wearable. And never has your hat been more important as a definite part of your ensemble–asa bold accent of color, perhaps, to lend your costume spice. Its selection, therefore, is a matter of thought and consideration Leschin’s is well able to render.

Just to give you a birds eye view of our spring millinery selection, we are sending these sketches to you. We hope they’ll intrigue you enough to make you come in and let us find YOUR hat for you. For whether you plan to look tailored or acquire the devastatingly feminine Margot look, we have the perfect hat to complete your costume picture.

You’ll note two very amazing things, too–that you may pick up a casual little hat for as low as $7.50–AND–you may have an exclusive model made in our workroom for as little as $12.50–and that IS news!

Even if you are not ready to select your hat now–won’t you come in and let us show these new things to you, while our collection is so complete? [5]

Still, there is a timelessness to many of Saunders’ lessons. She emphasizes clarity and conciseness, use of positive suggestion, attention to use and overuse of slang, and general courtesy. Saunders’ work remains the foundation of business communication practices today, underscoring basic principles of business conduct through a command of “good English.”

View of Green Street, ca. 1922, showing The Green Teapot tea room on the right, University Archives, Series 39/2/22, Box 96

An accomplished businesswoman and prominent academic, Saunders made her mark on the university as a determined scholar and educator. She earned her Bachelor’s (1907) then Master’s (1910) degrees in English and later returned to the university as an Instructor of Business English in 1918. Having successfully helped run a household of four sisters, founded the Delta Gamma sorority, opened and managed The Green Teapot tea room, and co-managed the Flat Iron Department Store, Saunders’ practical business experience was both diverse and exemplary. [6] By 1925, she had been appointed as an Associate Professor of Business English and ten years later, she helped found the American Business Writing Association (later renamed the Association for Business Communication). In 1938, at a time when women were almost universally shut out of the upper levels of academe, Saunders’ accomplishments earned her promotion to the rank of Full Professor.

Saunders’ legacy can perhaps best be summed up in these closing words from her 1925 book, Your Application Letter:

The world is just as much yours as it is any one’s else and for most people success depends upon concentration, combined with intelligent and persistent effort. [7]


A description of the full collection, Alta Gwinn Saunders Publications, 1929-1951 (Record Series 9/2/27), is now available. For more information on Alta Gwinn Saunders, her achievements, and publications, visit the University Archives and browse her file in the Alumni and Faculty Biographical (Alumni News Morgue) File, 1882-1995 (Record Series 26/4/1), or contact the archives for information on requesting access to her file in the Staff Appointments File, 1905-2001 (Record Series 2/5/15).

[1] Spindel, Carol, “Alta Gwinn Saunders: The Invention of Business English,” The University of Illinois: Engine of Innovation, ed. Frederick E. Hoxie, (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2017), 66.

[2] Saunders, Alta Gwinn, Effective Business English, 2nd edition, (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1939), v.

[3] Effective Business English, 19.

[4] Effective Business English, 26-7, 33.

[5] Effective Business English, 232-3.

[6] Spindel, 63.

[7] Saunders, Alta Gwinn, Your Application Letter, (Urbana: University of Illinois Supply Store, 1925), Conclusion.

The Four Color Theorem Project


Students work on arranging and describing Kenneth Appel’s Papers.

From October to November 2017, the Illinois Geometry Lab’s program devoted to showcasing undergraduate Mathematics students’ research worked with the University Archives to arrange and describe Kenneth Appel’s personal papers. In 1976, Kenneth Appel and his colleague Wolfgang Haken (both Mathematics faculty members at the University of Illinois), succeeded in proving the “Four Color Theorem.” This theorem argues that every map in a plane or a sphere can be colored with only four colors in such a way that no two countries of the same color are touching. By that time, mathematicians had been working to prove this theory for over one hundred years. In fact, it took hundreds of hours of computing work for Appel and Haken to prove it. The announcement that the theory had been proven was met with a flood of people writing to them. Some were writing to congratulate the team and others to prove the team wrong.

The students worked alongside the archives staff to learn more about the archival process by appraising the material, arranging and describing it, and rehousing the materials in archival boxes, all while taking an historical approach to mathematics, using primary sources to learn more about Appel, his research, and the ways in which the mathematics community reacted to what was then a controversial finding. Kenneth Appel’s Papers include correspondence relating to the Four Color Theorem that illustrates both in number and in tone, the storm of letters that Appel and Haken were bombarded with at the time. Some notable letters include a teacher that says his eighth graders were able to prove the theory wrong and an account of a $100 bet that was made that the theory could not be solved by July 1976, including a photocopy of the $104 dollar check (the four dollars being paid for “interest”). The record series also includes publicity materials, drafts of papers, and data printouts and computer punch cards, much of which relates to the Four Color Theorem.

On Saturday, November 4, 2017, the students will host an exhibit featuring materials from the collection. The exhibit will be a part of the Illinois Geometry Lab Open House which is being held in conjunction with the Department of Mathematics’ Four Color Fest, an event being held to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the proof. You can also see the exhibit in room 146, University Archives, December 8, 2017-January 31, 2018!

Mapping History at the University of Illinois

By Ellen Swain

In January 2016, James Whitacre (GIS Specialist), Marci Uihlein (Professor/Architecture), and Ellen Swain (Student Life and Culture Archivist) received Library Innovation Funds to develop a project entitled Mapping History at the University of Illinois—a “bringing together” of GIS, architecture and archives to tell the University’s story in time for the Sesquicentennial year.

The three project components include:

Campus History:  Brief narratives (written by project historian John Franch) and covering themes across seven historic eras, integrating GIS story maps and architectural modeling, and archival holdings

Check out this Fly-through of University Hall (1871-1938) from Depression Era:

Interactive Campus Maps:  GIS time-enabled map; 3-D modeling, and story maps produced (with James Whitacre’s assistance) by Joe Porto, Scholarly Commons graduate assistant, undergraduate student assistants and interns.  Jessica Ballard, Archives Faculty Resident, created the African American Housing history map.

Check out this Story map of Illinois Field:

Digital Map Archives: 525 campus, community and county maps from University Archives, Map Library and Champaign County Historical Archives holdings, conserved by Conservation and digitized by Digital Services.

Check out the archives here:

Through this project, we hope to inspire and showcase student scholarship about the University of Illinois.  We are continually adding new content.


Historicizing Dance at Illinois: Milestones and Contributions

The University of Illinois has made many contributions to different fields of knowledge throughout its history; an important aspect of this history is Illinois’ contributions to modern dance.

Although dance performances were taking place at Illinois as early as 1898 through, for example, the May Fête celebrations, the early 20th century saw dance at Illinois evolve from a recreational activity such as the May Fête to high-end artistic and academic education.

By 1920, the Department of Physical Education for Women offered academic credits for two dance classes: “interpretative” and “natural” dance (see the Dance Department’s history page). However, it was Professor Margaret Erlanger whose work lead to the re-interpretation of dance in the University as a form of art and an academic subject, beyond its recreational and athletic dimensions. Erlanger came to Illinois in 1948 to the Department of Physical Ed for Women, and that same year began to work intensively to push forward the creation of a Dance Division that would offer a B.A. in Dance. By then, only ten schools across the country were offering a degree in Dance, as Erlanger notes in a May 2nd 1949 letter to the director of Physical Education (letter linked through the image below, page 4). Erlanger, one of the first graduates from the pioneer program at the University of Wisconsin led by Margaret H’Doubler, addressed University administrators with strong arguments about the emergence of Modern Dance, the importance of implementing an academic program at Illinois, and the increasing demand of dance education in the country.

In 1948, she wrote in a letter to the director of the Physical Education Department:

“…Modern dance philosophy holds that every individual born has some creative ability and that it is one of the roles of education to see that all children be guided in the development of creative expression in movement as well as in tone, color, or words. The purpose is the growth of the individual emotionally and mentally, as well as physically. Modern dance is in education not for the sake of dance, but for the sake of people… This philosophy fits perfectly into the ideals of our society” 

University Archives, Series 12/13/20, box 3
Margaret Erlanger Papers

Through intense work in developing proposals for a dance curriculum, gaining support from colleagues, and convincing administrators of the value of the field, in 1949–only one year after Erlanger’s arrival on campus–she created a curriculum for a specialization in dance within the B.S. degree program for Physical Education. From there, the path of academic education in dance at Illinois began, creating a M.A. in 1959 and a B.A. in 1962.

The vibrant environment of the Dance Division drew such dance legends as José Limon and Agnes de Mille, who performed on campus as early as 1953 and 1954 respectively. The Dance Division also invited the internationally influential artist Ann Harplin to direct a piece with the Division’s group Orchesis (1957).

Notably, Illinois became the first school with a Dancer-in-residence permanent position in 1959. The first dancer holding this position was no other than Merce Cunningham. Cunningham taught on campus, created pieces for dance students and for himself, which were showed on campus in a concert at the end of his residency. Cunningham and company returned to Illinois in several occasions to teach and show work, which included several collaborations with  contemporary music legend John Cage. A highlight of these collaborations was the 1967 concert for the University festival “Matrix for the Arts,” which was part of the University’s Centennial celebration. For that concert, Cage staged a “Happening” at the Stock Pavilion, at a time when “Happenings” as contemporary art forms had appeared only about ten years before. During the 1950s and 60s several other dance legends visited Illinois as dancers in residence, including Katherine Litz, Paul Taylor, Anna Sokolow, Alwin Nikolais, Steve Paxton and Katharine Dunham.


Samples from material from Margaret Eralnger Papers, Series 12/13/20


The opportunity of having professional companies teaching and creating work on campus, made of Dance at Illinois a pioneer in dance education, and made of that Department a unique environment for artistic experimentation.  It attracted such world-renown dancers as Beverly Blossom and Joan Skinner, who eventually became dance faculty members. Skinner obtained her Master’s from Illinois (1964) and while teaching at the University, developed the “Skinner release technique” which transformed the modern dance education and put somatic education at the forefront of dance education. This environment made of Illinois a center for the evolution of modern and contemporary dance, as well as the “somatic meca” that it is today as noted Nancy Wozny in 2012 for “Dance Magazine.” Three dancers have received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University: Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais, and Katherine Durham.

Program of Joann Skinner’s 1963 dance concert for obtaining her MA fro Illinois.
M. Erlanger Papers (12/13/20), Scrapbook 14.

Through the movement initiated by Professor Erlanger, which was strengthened by the dancers, choreographers, and educators that became part of this process, Dance at Illinois made dance a language of research, innovation, and artistic excellence.

This post is a complement of the exhibit “Dance at Illinois. Milestones and contributions” installed at the Marshall Gallery from the Main Library between May 2nd and through June 30th, 2017. For more information about this topic, you can visit the University Archives, and browse the series: Margaret Erlanger’s papers (Series 12/13/20)Dance Department Records (12/13/1)Dance Programs (RS 12/13/805), and Archives Exhibits File (Series 35/3/54).

University of Illinois Archives Awarded NEH Grant to Digitize “The Cybernetics Thought Collective”

Heinz von Foerster (left) and W. Ross Ashby (right), found in record series 39/1/11, box 3. The W. Ross Ashby Papers are held by the British Library. The University of Illinois Archives preserves the Heinz von Foerster Papers.

The University of Illinois Archives has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to develop a prototype web-portal and analysis-engine to provide access to archival material related to the development of the iconic, multi-disciplinary field of cybernetics. Continue reading “University of Illinois Archives Awarded NEH Grant to Digitize “The Cybernetics Thought Collective””