The processing of Dr. Ed Wilson’s (aka Mr. Wake Forest) papers project demonstrates how much Special Collections & Archives depends on donors and financial supporters. Special donors funded this very important project which is allowing us to make Dr. Wilson’s collection more readily available for researchers. This is how we tell the Wake Forest story!

If you would like to participate in this project or support Special Collections & Archives, please contact ZSR Development Associate, Joel Rivera or donate directly here. Funding supports our SCA Team and Finley Turner, Archives Assistant, describes working on Dr. Wilson’s collection below.

By Finley Turner, Archives Assistant:

For about the past year, fifty percent of my work day has been dedicated to processing Dr. Ed Wilson’s materials.When I began, there were two already-existing Wilson collections: the Dean collection and the Provost collection. All materials from the beginning of Dr. Wilson’s life through his final year as dean (1968) were placed in the Dean collection. Materials from the beginning of his Provost position until the present day were therefore placed in the Provost collection.

Before beginning processing, we discussed the idea of possibly combining the two collections to make it easier for researchers. However, both collections are fairly large and continuously growing, and we decided combining all the materials could make the single collection too unruly and difficult to navigate for researchers. We also very briefly considered separating the personal materials out into a third manuscript collection, but given that his personal life is so entwined with his professional life, this would have made that nearly impossible.

The first collection I worked on is the Dean of the College collection, which ranges from 1923-1968. This collection is the smaller of the two in terms of linear feet, coming in at 23.06 linear feet with 38 document boxes, 2 record cartons, 2 oversize boxes, and 1 jewelry box. Out of the two collections it is also by far the most personal. If a researcher came to us wanting to “get to know” Mr. Wake Forest and how he came to be such an important figure to Wake Forest, they would most definitely use this collection.

The Provost collection begins where the Dean collection left off, from 1968 to present day. I’m largely done processing this collection, excluding rehousing the artifacts and making some final revisions on the finding aid. Thus far, this collection measures 31.04 linear feet, with 62 document boxes, 1 map case drawer of posters and oversized materials, and approximately 3 record cartons of artifacts. The artifacts will be rehoused into different boxes, so the linear feet will definitely change. The updated finding aid for this collection is still a work in progress, so it has not been published. If researchers came looking for this collection, they would only see what we had prior to me working on this project. It is accessible, it’s just not quite completed.

There are always challenges when processing, no matter how small the collection. The period of 1968-1969 became a bit difficult at times because at one point he still held the Dean position, but much of his correspondence began to be about the Provost position, or even addressed Dr. Wilson as Provost before his position officially began. I used my best judgment based on content to determine which collection. A similar challenge was separating materials into professional versus personal. Due to Dr. Wilson’s influence on campus, at times it was difficult to determine if certain documents, such as correspondence, were personal or professional. Many of his colleagues have close relationships with him, and much of the correspondence would discuss both work and their personal lives in one letter.

I processed the dean collection first and then moved onto the provost collection. For the most part, the accessions had already roughly separated the materials into Dean versus Provost. However, as I began to near the end of processing the Provost collection, I began finding materials more appropriate for the earlier Dean collection. This is an example of how an archival collection is never truly done! While the project is nearly complete, there are still a few things left to wrap up. I’m currently finalizing the finding aid for the Provost collection. There are also artifacts left to be added to the finding aid and we’re in the process of selecting better housing for the items.

A digital timeline for Dr. Wilson is also in the early stages. I’m using software from TimelineJS to create the timeline, which is what we used for the already-existing Wake Forest historical timeline. We will be digitizing selected materials from both Wilson collections, and much of these will be added to the timeline. Prioritizing the best materials for this will be a process, but it will also help us determine which materials we would like to someday use in a physical exhibit.

We look forward to sharing more about Dr. Wilson’s Wake Forest journey throughout 2023!