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UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES

Best Practices for Developing Department, School or College Histories

Originally compiled by The University History and Research Working Group, 2005-2006

There are no strict guidelines on content or presentation of unit histories. However, below are some best practices to consider, along with some campus examples that already exist:

A. Content --

1. Encapsulated-- If the history can be encapsulated into areas of interest or segments of time, smaller sections can attract targeted readers. Consider sections that cluster around:

  • notable people, such as alumni, faculty, students.
  • major accomplishments or milestones of the program, department, school or college.
  • decades in your unit's history.
  • teaching and the development of the field/the curriculum and its evolution.

An example from the Department of Aerospace Engineering.

2. Textually Interesting -- Consider this a public document; make the history interesting to read. Leave the details for a more data-rich, internal document. The public history should feature the highlights, challenges, even the unexpected.

  • Think of the history as a story or narrative.
  • Use a timeline, outline, or other literary forms as appropriate.

An example from the University Archives is University of Maryland A to Z: MAC to Millennium. Other examples come from the College of Education and the A. James Clark School of Engineering.

3. Visually Inviting -- Consider designing your history using images (documents, photographs, or memorabilia) available in the department/college/school, the University Archives, or from alumni and retired faculty and staff.

4. Accurate -- reliable sources and compare information from various sources to verify accuracy.

  • In addition to consulting with the University Archives staff, the University Archives has a number of sources that can assist in the development of department or college histories:
  • Check the University of Maryland's Libraries' online catalog; it contains entries for unit publications and official files.
  • The Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, and Baltimore Afro-American historical databases are available through Research Port on the UMD Libraries' homepage. You can search the databases for articles relating to your unit and/or its faculty, staff, students and alumni.
  • Consider conducting oral histories of faculty, administrators and or alumni. Use these suggested sample oral history topics [PDF] as a guide.

5. Contextual -- Provide context of national and state events and trends where possible. If your unit has an international presence, ensure that it is reflected accordingly. Here is an example from the Smith School of Business.

6. Multi-functional -- Make this investment of time and effort deliver in multiple ways. Think of other uses for a departmental or college history, such as:

  • background for grant and award applications
  • background for department or college reviews, be they campus or external accreditation reviews.
  • components of a promotional piece to present highlights to various publics, e.g. donors, alumni, future students, both graduate and undergraduate.
  • opportunity to gather a lot of information that may exist in several areas of the department or college into one document
  • a record to which future deans and department chairs can refer

B. Formats -- Think about presenting the history in a variety of formats.

  • Web (allows for the inclusion of audio and/or video clips e.g. oral histories)
  • Brochure or other hard-copy publication, e.g. insert to a magazine or other departmental or college publication
  • CD, DVD, or other audio-visual medium
  • Exhibit (temporary or permanent, analog or online)

C. Preservation -- Upon conclusion of compiling the history, gather all documents used and submit them, together with a copy of the finished document or Web file, to the University Archives. Contact University Archivist Anne Turkos (5-9060 or aturkos@umd.edu) for information on how to submit your finished product.