Setting the record straight
Linke uses skills as historian and teacher to curate holdings at Mudd
Princeton NJ — Just before 9 a.m. on a Thursday in April, University Archivist Dan Linke hopped in his black Saab and headed for Washington, D.C. His excursion to the nation’s capital yielded a valuable acquisition for Princeton’s Mudd Manuscript Library: 14 cartons of material from a former speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter.
University Archivist Dan Linke spends his days preserving and expanding the rich collection of material housed in Mudd Library.
Whether he’s behind the wheel on a six-hour roundtrip drive or tracking down materials cited in a vague footnote for a visiting scholar, Linke has established a reputation for going the extra mile. According to his colleagues, he is resourceful, helpful and, above all, diligent in preserving and expanding Mudd Library’s rich collection of material.
Linke came to the University in 1994 as an assistant archivist. During the eight years he held that position, he pored through nearly 10,000 linear feet of records, supervising the arrangement and description of them. In 2002, he became University archivist and curator of public policy papers at Mudd, which holds the University’s archives as well as a highly regarded collection of 20th-century public policy papers (see “By the numbers” in this issue).
As the head of Mudd Library, Linke supervises a staff of 12, responds to more than 500 reference inquiries a year from inside and outside the University and oversees all acquisitions of new material. He views himself as a purveyor of knowledge.
“At one point in my career I considered teaching, and I still consider what I do teaching,” Linke said.
Linke attended Case Western Reserve University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history. As part of his graduate study he worked at a historical society, which later offered him a full-time position. He decided he would take the job until he figured out what to do next. Two years later he was awarded a fellowship through the Mellon Foundation at the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center in Norman, Okla., where he helped organize a senator’s records and established an oral history program. From there he went to the New York State Archives, where he worked for three years describing historical records and establishing records schedules.
Linke was eager to come to Princeton to work with Mudd’s public policy papers. The collection has important documents that shed light on the history of the Cold War, including the papers of renowned diplomat George Kennan, former secretaries of state James Baker and John Foster Dulles and presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. It also has significant holdings in American jurisprudence, journalism and public policy formation. The collection that is used the most encompasses the papers of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Linke is keen to enhance the public policy collection, and he is proactive about achieving that goal. Three years ago he approached James Fallows, the national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly and a former Carter speechwriter, after Fallows lectured on Iraq at Robertson Hall. Linke asked Fallows if he would consider giving his papers to Princeton.
“He said, ‘Let me think about it,’” Linke recalled.
The two exchanged letters and e-mails over the next three years. Early this year Linke got the final nod for the donation. He drove to Fallows’ house and picked up the papers himself. The 14 cartons included drafts of speeches, reports, subject files, clippings and correspondence.
Fallows’ papers, an intended gift to the University, likely will be open to the public next year.
‘The consummate professional’
Judy Cabral, who works in the president’s office, noted the enthusiasm and professionalism Linke brings to his position.
“Dan was especially helpful when I transferred former President Shapiro’s records to Mudd Library,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without his calming guidance!”
The public policy papers are Mudd’s high-profile collection, but once Linke arrived at Princeton, he was surprised to find that more of Mudd’s visitors make use of the archives than the policy collection.
“Most university archives are rather sleepy places, but not Princeton’s,” Linke said. “Because of its age and its history, people within and outside the University are always interested in Princeton. They value what we have here and make good use of it.”
James Axtell is one of those people. He has logged many hours at Mudd doing research for his forthcoming book on the history of the University in the 20th century.
Linke is “the consummate professional,” said Axtell, the Kenan Professor of Humanities at the College of William and Mary. “He’s resourceful, imaginative in solving problems, scrupulous in following good archival protocol but flexible when the circumstances dictate, good humored, very efficient, always helpful.”
Linke has made it a priority to promote camaraderie among his staff, both the professionals and the students. He throws annual graduation picnics for seniors who have worked at the library, penning quizzes to test their knowledge of Mudd trivia, such as which famous alumna’s senior thesis is requested the most (Answer: Wendy Kopp’s, which proposes the creation of Teach for America). He also has enhanced the teamwork among the staff.
“Dan has fostered a sense of group professionalism that encourages us to all work together to provide the very best library service to our patrons,” said Matt Reeder, a special collections assistant at Mudd. “We are all aware of what our colleagues are working on, what challenges they have encountered and where they need assistance or can offer us some. I also value his sense of humor, his teaching spirit and his concern for his staff as people.”
Princeton’s archives, established in 1959, occupy 15,000 linear feet of shelf space—a single stack would stretch for almost three miles. There are 30,000 images related to Princeton, each encased in mylar plastic. The archives are kept at a constant temperature and humidity, which helps preserve the fibers contained in paper. Twenty-thousand pounds of Halon gas are kept under pressure in the building’s basement. In the event of a fire, the gas would be released to suffocate the fire so that water, which would damage the records, would not be needed.
The most precious item in the archives is the charter granting the establishment of the University, written in 1748 by the governor of New Jersey and affixed with the official wax seal of England’s King George II.
There are files on each University president, which remain closed until 40 years after the records were created. Student records also are kept closed during the lifetime of the student. But each student’s thesis is available to be paged through—there were 52,000 at last count.
A window to the past
The archives offer a window into Princeton’s past. There are more than 100 volumes containing the minutes of meetings of the Board of Trustees, which go back to 1748. A ticket for a 1763 lottery to raise money for the University demonstrates early fund-raising efforts.
Scrapbooks kept by students—there are more than 300, most from the late 19th century—provide insights into the lifestyle of the all-male student body of the time. And stored in a vault is John F. Kennedy’s application to Princeton, which includes a recommendation with the following observation: “Jack has rather superior mental ability without the deep interest in his studies or the mature viewpoint that demands of him his best effort all the time.” (After a brief stint as a member of Princeton’s class of 1939, Kennedy became ill and withdrew, later enrolling at Harvard.)
During a recent walk through the archives, Linke opened a box at random and came across a photo of the 1891 Princeton football team. The players were seated haphazardly, their arms draped around one another in relaxed postures—a very different image from what one would expect in a team photo today.
“The archives give you reminders of the past in very tangible ways,” Linke said. “We’re never fixed in time—the way things are now is not how they always will be. If people walk away learning that, I’ve done my job.”