Life in an Archive: Heartbeats, Lifelines, and Legacies

Connecting People and Papers of the Past and Present

Arcihve Month 2014 - Stewardess with soldiers

Photograph of stewardess and soldiers inside a Boeing 707 on a Vietnam Rest and Relaxation Airlift, circa 1960s, Pan American World Airways, Inc. Records collection.

by Emily Gibson and Laura Capell

It may sound anachronistic to refer to “life” in an archive when you consider that archives house the collections of people and places past. However, life is precisely what archives are all about. Case in point: the Pan Am Collection.

With over 1,500 boxes of historical materials, the Pan American World Airways, Inc. corporate records touch upon many different aspects of twentieth century history—not just in the United States, but around the world. Since it’s such a rich treasure trove of information, the collection is incredibly popular with researchers interested in an immense variety of topics.

World Wings Grant (attendant_on_engine)

Photograph of stewardess seated inside a Boeing 707 engine intake well, circa 1960s, World Wings International, Inc. Records collection.

Researchers are the heartbeat of our collections. Many Pan Am researchers are former Pan Am employees or family members of former employees interested in documenting their family history. Aviation enthusiasts also like to use the collection, since Pan Am played such a significant role in aviation history. The collection is also popular with scholars researching a wide variety of historical, social, and cultural topics.

Sometimes our collections are lifelines. Take for example a Vietnam veteran who contacted UML Special Collections searching for documentation in support of his disability claim. Information from a Pan Am timetable from Southeast Asia from the early 1970s provided the final piece of information needed for the VA to approve his claim. As an archivist, it’s incredibly fulfilling to connect people with the information they’re looking for, especially when that information has the power to change a life.

Archive Month 2014 - Map with Saigon

Detail of route map from 1972 timetable, Pan American World Airways, Inc. Records collection.

The Pan American World Airways, Inc. corporate records may be the linchpin of Pan Am’s legacy, but the motor driving the legacy are organizations like the Pan Am Historical Foundation and World Wings International whose missions are to educate people about Pan Am’s history and connect the people who made that history possible. These organizations keep Pan Am alive.

The Pan Am Collection includes the records of the Pan Am Historical Foundation, Inc. and World Wings International, Inc., and the personal papers of dozens of former employees, in addition to the corporate records. These collections, and the relationships we forge with the people and organizations who donate them, are a very important part of life in UML Special Collections.

Stay tuned throughout Archives Month for stories about how UM students, researchers, donors, and community members are breathing life into UM Libraries’ unique and distinctive collections.