Saving face for NU history

Kimra Mcpherson

University Archivist Patrick Quinn has had trouble keeping his collection of freshman facebooks on the shelves. So he keeps a close eye on researchers doing background work on famous Northwestern graduates and even on alumni laughing at goofy pictures of themselves with combed-over bangs and braces in 1986, lest they try to pocket an archived copy.

“It’s one of the most valuable commodities on campus,” Quinn said.

For a historian like Quinn, the books provide sociological profiles of NU classes through the ages, providing a record of the increasing diversity and changing trends within the student body.

For the typical student, faculty member or graduate, they’re just hilarious.

“The things had to be censored at times,” Quinn said. “You’d get some crazy, wild young applicants who would put down things for their interests that were unpublishable.”

Until 1992, students had full freedom to write in their own favorite pastimes. And so incoming freshmen revealed their passions for everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to synthesizers to Dave Barry to the ethics of euthanasia — to cite a few examples from the class of 1994.

Now, students pick more generic interests like “animals” or “people” from a pre-written list of options sent home each summer. But the archivist noted that tracking interests over the years still reveals trends — however bizarre they may be.

“There was a period when macrame was a big interest,” Quinn said. “Why that was, I don’t know.”