When researching at the UNI Special Collections & University Archives, we often start by looking through generalized sources. One of the benefits of our holdings is access to sources that are both tertiary and primary. These are some of our go-to spots to gain direction through the many, many boxes of photos, documents, and artifacts kept in storage. For instance, the UNI yearbooks have great leads on students and faculty members. Student newspapers are great for focusing a range of dates and learning about specific events. I would like to introduce another general scope source which is not yet fully available online (though a few are available in ScholarWorks). The Archives keeps a collection of bound UNI bulletins and course catalogs in the special collections reading room which proved invaluable to a recent project of mine. In explaining how, I hope to pique the interest of students and community members to the research potential of these insightful documents.
First off, a quick explanation of what the UNI course catalogs are. Most colleges and universities use web pages and student portals to provide information about degree paths, department faculty, and class listings to students, but this was not always the case. From its founding to the 2010s, UNI printed and distributed documents each year (and summer session) with updated information on university news and academic offerings and requirements. I turned to the course catalogs while providing citations to a listing of academic departments and the years those departments were active. This may sound mundane, but slight differences in language can add either fruitful leads or hours of work to an archival research project.
For example, at what point were languages other than English taught at UNI? Well, turning to the course catalogs we see that not only have there been many different language offerings over the school’s history, but they have been grouped together in different ways. In the current UNI course catalog (2021-2022) through the Department of Languages and Literatures, we see offerings for English, Spanish, and an opportunity to minor in French. The course catalog from 2010 however, lists a Department of Modern Languages which offered majors and/or minors in French, German, Russian, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Sticking with German, German was only taught out of its own academic department between 1900-1909 and 1918-1927, but between these two time frames it was taught as a part of the Department of German and French. Why might that be? Maybe the merging of languages into a holistic department was part of a natural progression, or were departments forced to reorganize for budgetary reasons? Was streamlining departments a reaction to enrollment numbers? Perhaps the department was dismantled and consolidated as a result of anti-German sentiment during World War I? What might account then for the enrollment in advanced German classes doubling in 1920?
Those answers are not specifically in the UNI bulletins and course catalogs, but the research path was refined by them. How might the cultural setting of a time period affect UNI promotion and policies, and vice versa? I would encourage anyone doing research on the cultural environments of UNI or the relationship between UNI and the State of Iowa to make an in-person appointment at the UNI Special Collections & University Archives and consult past UNI bulletins and catalogs.
- “38-39 Bulletin Iowa State Teachers College,” Iowa State Teachers College Bulletin, 1939, Vol. 40, No. 1, p. 80, University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.
- "Bulletin of the State Normal School," Bulletin Iowa State Normal School, 1905-06, Vol. 6, No. 1, p. 72, University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.
- "Bulletin of the Iowa State Teachers College," Iowa State Teachers College Bulletin, 1950, Vol. 51, No. 1, p. 1, University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.
"Catalog and Circular; College Year, 1917-1918," Iowa State Teachers College Bulletin; 1917-1918, Vol. 18, No. 1, p. 13, University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.
“University Catalog 1976-1978," University of Northern Iowa Bulletin, January, 1976, Vol. 77, No. 1, pp. 1-3, 146, University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.