What Sparks Archives Joy

While spending a lot of time at home, many of you might be cleaning out old closets, basements, and attics and exploring hidden away boxes full of forgotten treasures. The popular KonMari cleaning method famously asks us to examine our possessions to keep only what “sparks joy” and discard what does not.

Box full of letters and documents
Donation of WWII materials

While you are cleaning and considering the joy found in collegiate mementos and a multitude of old textbooks and photographs, we ask you to consider: What sparks joy for archives?

In other words, before you pack it up or throw it away, think about whether there might be value in it for archival research. Did you have a family member who served in the military? A relative who pioneered in a career field? Did you attend Grand Valley State University? Did you collect ephemeral materials related to West Michigan? All of those – and many others! – might be reasons to consider donating and spreading the joy.

Joyful Findings

Archivists love to receive donations of people’s stories. What items in your home tell stories about your family? Consider donating:

  • Old family photographs and scrapbooks (especially if people and places are identified and/or dated)
  • Letters (especially if both sides of the correspondence are present!)
  • Grand Valley State University related items (event flyers, posters, memorabilia, etc.)
  • Old or rare book series

Remember, archivists cannot ascribe monetary value to your items, so if you are looking to have old things valued prior to donation, check with an appraiser.

What to Discard

Well, this can be a more complicated question to answer, and when in doubt consider consulting with an archivist first. Some examples include:

  • Old newspapers: Many of these are available online and the archives are kept by the paper publisher.
  • GVSU course catalogs and yearbooks (Most archives will already have multiple copies of these).
  • Textbooks
  • Items that are in very poor condition. If an item has mold, for example, it can easily contaminate nearby items which makes it risky for archives to keep.

It Still Sparks Joy…For You

Many items might fall into the category of “donate later”. Some items still hold sentimental value and you may not wish to part with them right now. And that’s totally fine! To keep your valued items in the best condition for the future – whether that’s in your family or in an archive – consider the following:

  • What’s it kept in? Items that are crammed together risk being damaged. Similarly, leaving tons of space in a box may cause paper items to fold and bend at strange angles. Think about the size of the storage container, how much other stuff surrounds it, and what the container is made of. Tightly closed plastic containers, for example, can trap moisture and gasses inside, causing photographs to stick together or items to become discolored or fragile.
  • How is that container being stored? Basements and attics, while common storage locations, can be more susceptible to pests and mildew. Make sure valued treasures aren’t kept in damp locations, and keep them off the floor!
  • Is there information that explains the value? You may have a wonderful family photo album, but you might be the only one who knows who everyone in the pictures are! Consider writing labels on the back of the photographs or in margins of scrapbooks to help future family members (or archivists!) identify who’s who and why this memory was important to you.
  • Does it require special technology to view or use properly? Technology becomes outdated very quickly! Are there backup copies available? Contact an archivist for recommendations about how to digitize or preserve your materials.

For more about the KonMari method of cleaning, visit: https://konmari.com/

For more information about donating to Special Collections and University Archives, email collections@gvsu.edu.

To The Letter S2 E13: Mustering Out

We’ve come to the end of Season 2! We’re wrapping up with a little bit more about John’s life in service and what he did after the war.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them. John Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at University Libraries.

The letter featured in Episode 13 is available below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, June 13, 1865


Additional research for this episode:

Thank you so much for listening! Interested in more seasons? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E12: The End of the War

It takes a long time for the Civil War to be officially over in every state and territory. In this episode we take a look at how the end of the war actually came about.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them. John Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at University Libraries.

Letters featured in Episode 12 are available in full below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, March 15, 1865

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, April 9, 1865

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, April 17, 1865

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, April 6, 1865


Additional research for this episode:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E11: U.S. Sanitary Commission

Once again we’re talking about medical needs during the Civil War. This time, we investigate what the U.S. Sanitary Commission was all about.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them. John Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at University Libraries.

Letters featured in Episode 11 are available in full below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, July 30, 1864

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, March 12, 1865


Additional research for this episode:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E10: Black Soldiers in the Army

In this episode we’re talking about the roles of Black men and women in the military during the Civil War.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them. John Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at University Libraries.

Letters featured in this episode are available below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, Apr. 12, 1864

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, February 25, 1865

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, March 3, 1865


Additional research for this episode:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E9: Vote for President!

Episode 9 is all about the election of 1864, in which only 25 states participated!

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them. John Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at University Libraries.

The letter featured in Episode 9 is available below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, Dec. 27, 1863


Additional research for this episode:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E8: It’s So Rare We Get Any Mail Here

We couldn’t resist talking about how the mail system worked! While delays in communication were a common theme in Season 1, John hasn’t talked too much about the mail yet. In Episode 8, we take a look at how letters were delivered, especially as troops moved into enemy territory.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them. John Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at University Libraries.

Letters featured in Episode 8 are available below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, Nov. 8th, 1863

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, Dec. 3, 1863

(Notice in the December letter that John wrote in both directions to conserve paper!)


Additional research for this episode:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E7: Bushwhacking

This episode explains “Bushwhackers” and “Jayhawks”. Bushwhackers was the term given to pro-Confederate secessionist guerillas of Missouri, in particular, but was also applied to other guerilla fighters in Kentucky, Tennessee, northern Virginia, and even California. Jayhawks, in contrast, were pro-Union guerilla fighters.

Several famous outlaws in the West got their start as bushwhackers, including Frank and Jesse James.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them. John Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at University Libraries.

Letters featured in the episode are available below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, July 21, 1863

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, Oct. 27, 1863

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, March 3, 1864


Additional research for this episode:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E6: The Invalid Corps

In this episode we delve into the aftermath of Civil War medicine. What happened to soldiers wounded in action?

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them. John Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at University Libraries.

Letters featured in this episode are available in full below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, July 5, 1863

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, May 19, 1863


Additional research for this episode:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E5: Prisoner of War

In today’s episode we discuss the capture of the 19th Michigan Infantry by Confederate troops near Brentwood, Tennessee and how prisoners of war were treated during the Civil War.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them. John Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at University Libraries.

Letters featured in Episode 5 are available in full below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, April 26, 1863


Additional research for this episode:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E4: Sisters of Charity

In Episode 4, we continue to talk about medical treatment during the Civil War – particularly the role that women in religious organizations played. The Sisters of Charity, Daughters of Charity, Sisters of the Holy Cross, and Sisters of St. Joseph all provided volunteer nurses.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them.

The letter featured in Episode 4 is available below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, January 17, 1863


Additional research for this episode came from:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E3: Sawbones

Episode 3 is all about Civil War medicine – which is a huge topic! John was one of many Civil War surgeons, but one of few that had prior medical training.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them. John Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at University Libraries.

Letters featured in Episode 3 are available below in full:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, November 9th, 1862

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, November 30, 1862

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, Dec. 28, 1862

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, February 7, 1863

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, March 18, 1863


Additional research for this episode:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E2: Always Be Prepared

In Episode 2 we’re getting into what military camps looked like during the Civil War and how John got involved in the war. He enlists as an assistant surgeon in 1862 with the 19th Michigan Infantry.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them. John Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at University Libraries.

Letters featured in Episode 2 are available below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, August 21, 1862

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, October 23, 1862


Additional research for this episode:

Questions? Comments? Let us know!

To The Letter S2 E1: An Introduction

We’re so pleased to bring you Season Two of To The Letter!

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Department’s Digital Studio at GVSU. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them.

This season, we’re discussing the letters of John Bennitt, a Civil War surgeon from Michigan. Bennitt is voiced by Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at GVSU.

Letters featured in Episode 1 are available below:

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife, Charlotte “Lottie”, Dec. 1861

Letter from John Bennitt to his wife Lottie, Aug. 21, 1862


For more information about John Bennitt, or if you are interested in reading all of these letters in their entirety, our Curator of Rare Books & Distinguished Collections, Robert Beasecker, edited a book called “I Hope to Do My Country Service” that contains all of the letters, with additional footnotes. It is available through Wayne State University Press.

Questions? Comments? Tell us what you think! Contact Leigh at rupinskl@gvsu.edu or leave a review on iTunes or Spotify!

WWII Paper Dolls

Although often considered a child’s toy nowadays, paper dolls were originally used to advertise current fashions, illustrate moralistic stories, and, of course, reflect society’s view of women.

First manufactured in America in 1812, they were printed in women’s magazines as well as newspapers. Godey’s Lady’s Book, a popular women’s magazine famous for its hand-tinted fashion plate, printed their first paper dolls in November 1859. By the early 1900s, magazines such as Good Housekeeping and Ladies’ Home Journal regularly printed paper dolls.

Paper dolls reached their height of popularity during the 1930s-1950s. Since paper was an affordable medium even during the Great Depression, and was not affected by rationing during World War II, paper dolls became a popular plaything.

Paper dolls produced during World War II reflected the changing roles of women. While the clothing choices included the requisite military uniforms, they often appeared alongside “date night” appropriate and traditional clothing choices. Despite their expanding roles in the work force and military, still needed to be seen as feminine and desirable.


To view the Paper Dolls Collection please visit Special Collections & University Archives in Seidman House.