Ever want to see the original blueprints for Duke Chapel? Or watch a film of the legendary 1938 football team (the “Iron Dukes”) defeat the University of North Carolina 14-0? Or imagine how snazzy you would look wearing James B. Duke’s top-coat? Valerie Gillispie can show you the genuine article.
Gillispie is Duke’s new University Archivist, the official keeper of Duke history, preserver of university records, and all-around font of institutional knowledge. She is only the third person to hold that office, following William King (1972–2002) and Timothy Pyatt (2002–2011). It’s a big job, being the remember-in-chief of all things Duke. But this native of Fargo, North Dakota, is no stranger to campus.
“I first fell in love with Duke as a graduate student,” Gillispie says. She spent two years working here in the University Archives as an intern while earning a master’s degree in public history from North Carolina State University and a second master’s in library science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I spent many hours learning about Duke’s history as I worked with the papers of Alice Mary Baldwin, Edmund Cameron, and the Marine Lab Collection,” she says. “I had the sense each day when I walked in to work that I was entering a special place. So the opportunity to return as University Archivist is a dream come true.”
For the last five years, Gillispie has served as the Assistant University Archivist at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, another distinguished institution with Methodist roots and a rich academic history. But she’s excited to be back in the Triangle area, and eager to meet the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and visitors who regularly consult the Archives’ holdings.
So what, exactly, does the University Archives hold? For starters, any administrative, legal, fiscal, and historical records that have enduring value for the Duke community, going all the way back to the school’s 1838 Randolph County origins and continuing up to the present. You can also find campus publications, audiovisual materials by and about Duke University, papers and selected publications of Duke faculty members, records of student and employee organizations, not to mention theses, dissertations, final projects, and senior honors papers produced by Duke students—all of it carefully cataloged, organized, and preserved for posterity. There are even digital records, including websites, video and audio files, images, and multimedia projects.
But Gillispie and her staff don’t just collect things, although that’s an important part of the job. The University Archivist also participates in the life of the university, welcoming freshmen and returning alumni, sitting on university committees, leading tours on campus history and architecture, supporting the university administration, and providing guidance on records management for offices all over campus (what to keep, what to toss, and how to store and transfer files safely).
“I look forward to working with everyone—students, faculty, staff, and alumni—to make sure we’re preserving Duke’s unique history,” Gillispie says, “Even the history we’re making right now!”