Book cover of Little Herder in Autumn

From the Archives: Denison Library’s rare book and archival collections

By Jennifer Martinez Wormser ’95
Director and Sally Preston Swan Librarian for the Ella Strong Denison Library


In 2011, Scripps College received a gift from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to create an endowment to support and increase research using Denison Library’s rare book and archival collections, which included the creation of a summer internship program. Scripps students who are granted this competitive opportunity delve deep into the library’s collections over the course of the summer to hone their research skills under the joint guidance of a faculty member and the library director. They later share the results of their research with the community, often at a Scripps Tea event or in the form of a public presentation. This internship is the quintessential example of critical thinking at work: Students identify a question, seek and analyze the information needed to solve it, and synthesize what they’ve learned into a product that can be shared with others.


Some of the recent internship projects have focused specifically on Scripps College history, such as Mel Gilcrest ’19’s Understanding Hidden LGBT+ Histories at Scripps College, which included not just research in the Denison Library archives but also interviews and a survey of then-current Scripps students and alumnae. Zara Singh ’20’s Faculty Activism in the Formation of the Black Studies Program at The Claremont Colleges drew from the library’s vertical files to focus on the less documented but critical role of faculty advocacy during the early years of ethnic studies programs in higher education.


Other internships drew heavily on the library’s printed book collections. Isabel Evans ’23, whose 2020 internship was postponed until this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, immersed herself in the library’s children’s book collection while working on her project, Reading as Resistance: Representations of Indigeneity in Twentieth Century American Children’s Literature. Isabel’s internship provided her with an opportunity to expand her previous research for a class taught by Professor of History Julia Liss in fall 2019, in which she explored the interrogation of white supremacy and patriarchy in children’s literature from the 1960s. Sandro Ortega ’19’s The Narratives Hanging Over My Head: Latinx Identity and the Struggle of Pride explored the racism and xenophobia found in books written about Latin America by American and European authors in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Denison Library’s long-standing focus on collecting materials by and about women created opportunities for other Scripps students to explore these items in depth. Helen Anderson ’22 was on campus this summer to conduct research for her project, Activism and Exploitation of Domestic Laborers During the Depression. The papers of former Scripps faculty member and administrator Virginia Judy Esterly (1882–1946) were the cornerstone of her study, but Anderson also explored former Scripps student theses, the library’s photography books, and other publications. Amy Griffin ’18 focused on the World War II-era letters of Suzanne MacPherson, a volunteer for the American Red Cross Clubmobile Service (ARCCS) who received training in first aid and nursing before serving in France, Italy, and North Africa.


Mentored yet independent research opportunities such as these enable our students to participate in a community of scholarship while learning outside of the classroom context. They also sharpen students’ research and critical thinking skills, preparing them not only for their senior theses but for the challenges that await after graduation.