As the new intern in the IU Archives this semester, I was assigned to continue processing the collection of history professor Walter T.K. Nugent’s papers. This collection, comprised of a sizeable 79 boxes, is a somewhat atypical accession for the IU Archives. Who is W.T.K. Nugent, you ask? Nugent was a history professor at Indiana University from 1963 to 1984, at which point he accepted the Tackes Professor of History chair at the University of Notre Dame, where he spent the remainder of his active teaching profession. Though he retired in 2000, he remains busy writing articles and reviews, focusing on the American West, the Progressive Era, and social/demographic history. As I was a history major myself (at the small school across the street from Notre Dame, coincidentally), I am really enjoying going through this collection – though I do occasionally get confused as to where I am after spending the afternoon reading off of Notre Dame stationery. Why does IU have the papers of this professor who spent most of his distinguished career at Notre Dame? To put it simply, he liked Indiana University better. We’re not questioning this too much.
I started the semester where the last intern left off, right in the middle of Dr. Nugent’s monographs. The history professor clearly took up his profession with gusto. The proof is in the amount of books, articles, and reviews he published; the speeches he gave; and the advice he shared with colleagues and friends through letters and email. Nugent has been active for nearly 50 years, culminating in approximately 50 boxes containing something about his publications. There are subseries within each major work, as well, including correspondence, reviews, drafts, and research. I never know what I’ll find when I open a box; as a true historian, Nugent filed away all kinds of papers, from Mackinaw Island pamphlets dating from the 1990s to personal photos taken on a trip to Brazil, to this little sheet slipped in among 1970s book reviews:
As a history student, I love to find these things when I’m working in the archives. However, as an archives student, the variety in Nugent’s collection raises many questions about what material is historically significant and what material is perhaps too sensitive to keep open. There are a few seemingly random papers like his golf scores, but there are also items like references and personal letters that raise issues of confidentiality and potential privacy problems interspersed with regular material. While it might be entertaining to know that Nugent shot some decent games in 1973, this likely will not help researchers interested in knowing Nugent’s take on that William Jennings Bryan book published in the same year. Still, can keeping one little paper like this really hurt the research value of the collection? These are the kinds of decisions archivists have to make as they process a collection. Access restrictions to sensitive information is perhaps more well-known as a processing issue, but along with that, processors must make some accession decisions on seemingly irrelevant but nonetheless fascinating material. I would argue that this makes the job all the more interesting.
Prof. Nugent’s papers will take awhile to process, but I have been enjoying all the research I’ve seen so far and look forward to the things I will find as I continue on. I’m almost done with his publications, which I think have given me a decent grasp of the ex-IU professor’s interests and methods in his academic life. I feel prepared to tackle the rest of this collection with a good understanding of what is historically important in Nugent’s life, and by extension, his papers.