While Commencement may be months or years away for many of you, we want to announce a new digital asset that has just been created. Each year in late May, a 100-page paper program is printed for distribution to graduates and guests at the ceremony. For most attendees, those annual programs are one-of-a-kind items, or are soon discarded as the glow of graduation gives way to “life-after-graduation.” You may not think that these publications have lasting value, but they definitely do. The Archives receives copies of Commencement programs each year and adds them to our permanent holdings, where they are consulted frequently.
Who, besides graduates who appear in a program, would be interested in past Commencement programs? New graduate students are often advised to look at recent dissertations in their area of interest. Given that dissertations are part of the Archives’ holdings, and do not receive full subject headings, it can be difficult to identify relevant items in Catalyst. When they come to the Archives, we produce recent Commencement programs and they can sit down and peruse the listings, looking for similar dissertation titles.
Until very recently, the only way to use these programs was to sit in our Reading Room and look at the paper copies. We have now completed a project to scan these programs and create searchable PDFs, allowing people to use them remotely. Through Lyrasis, with funding assistance from the Sloan Foundation, we were able to digitize all Commencement programs (1878-2011), and they are now available online. They will also be in JScholarship in the near future.
Also digitized in the same project were the Johns Hopkins Half-Century Directory, a priceless source of basic information on Hopkins affiliates from 1876 to 1925, and the first twelve Hopkins yearbooks (1889-1900). Both of these resources are available online and will also be in JScholarship.
To illustrate how the Commencement programs can be helpful, a few days ago someone asked me about locating a dissertation that he could not find under the author’s name. He thought it was in Chemistry and dated from the 1970s. I checked the name in an alumni directory and found that his PhD was actually in Physics, and was conferred in 1969. With that information, I searched the name in the PDF version of the 1969 Commencement program, and found the title of his dissertation. Searching by title in Catalyst brought up the item.