Monthly Archives: May 2014

Marcus C. Robyns, University Archivist: Yesterday, Today, and Beyond

We at the Archives recently updated the board outside the Archives in honor of Marcus C. Robyns, the University Archivist and a full professor at Northern Michigan University. Here is the result of our artistic endeavor:


Marcus is a native of Eugene, Oregon. Before arriving in Marquette on March 1, 1997, Marcus was the City Archivist for the city of Portland, Oregon, and an adjunct assistant professor of history at Portland State University. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and Master of Arts degree in United States history from the University of Oregon with a concentration in archival management. He is a former member of the board of directors of the Michigan Archival Association, a member of the Editorial Board of the Michigan Historical Review, a team Leader for the Academy of Certified Archivists (ACA) Recertification Petition Review Team, the ACA Regent for Exam Administration, and a member of the ACA Exam Development Committee. Marcus is married and has two children. He has recently taken up gardening.

Marcus is currently the Secretary for Northern Michigan University’s AAUP. He has also written an article about unions at NMU entitled “The Battle for Shared Governance: The Birth of the Northern Michigan University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, 1967-1976” (The Michigan Historical Review, vol. 28, No. 2, fall 2002). He is the author of the article “The Archivist as Educator: Integrating Critical Thinking Skills into Historical Research Methods Instruction” (The American Archivist, vol. 64, no. 2, fall/winter 2001). His new book, Using Functional Analysis in Archival Appraisal: A Practical and Effective Alternative to Traditional Appraisal Methodologies, comes out June 16.

Ideas Person/Instigator: Glenda Ward

Creative Consultants: Anne Krohn and Morgan Paavola

Blog prepared by Annika Peterson


Collection Spotlight: The Elizabeth Brown Beard Losey Papers

Elizabeth “Betty” Brown Beard Losey (1912-2005) was an ornithologist, a self-described “biological historian”, and the first female field biologist for the National Wildlife Service. As a young woman, her work was praised by Rachel Carson, but Betty Losey did not know until decades later. It was only in 2003 that she received a copy of the private memo Rachel Carson had written about her work, which had almost been thrown away decades before. Three years after starting her job in the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, she was told that she was to be transferred West. Betty decided to quit her job because “in the meantime, romance had crept in and I had to make a decision. So I reluctantly took the romance, although I am very happy I did”. (Read the full interview here.) She would later receive grants to write about wildlife management and conservation in layman’s terms and also taught graduate courses at the University of Michigan.

In her spare time, she traveled all over the United States and Canada with her husband, Everett, collecting photographs and information on fur trading posts. Out of more than two decades of traveling came a book, Let Them Be Remembered: The Story of the Fur Trade Forts, as well as many friendships across the continent which lasted decades. During her travels, she collected Native American art and artifacts which she donated to the DeVos Art Museum at Northern Michigan University. The items in the collection can be viewed here.

After her husband Everett died in the mid-1990s, she started to volunteer at Seney National Wildlife Refuge, where she had worked many years before. She wrote a book for them entitled Seney National Wildlife Refuge: Its Story. This remarkable woman continued to volunteer at the refuge into her nineties, participating in waterfowl surveys and studies. She was also putting together a photo essay on the fur trade, which she sadly never completed.

The Archives recently finished processing an addition to the Losey collection. Previously, it contained data and notes from her professional work as well as notes about the fur trade for her aforementioned book. We now have some of her personal records. This includes the records from her travels and correspondence, sometimes spanning decades, with the friends she and her husband made on those trips. Other personal correspondence as well as professional correspondence relating to her books and work have been added as well as articles which she collected over the course of her lifetime about topics that she was interested in. It also contains copies of the title pages of her collection of biology-related books, which were frequently written upon or autographed. One, a copy of Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac which she originally gave to her mother, reads “To my darling mother on Mother’s Day from Honey. This book will explain much better than I can how I feel about the outdoor world and why I love the work I am doing”. Betty Losey’s papers are filled with that love for the outdoor world and an enthusiasm for life that is really quite remarkable and inspiring.



Prepared by Annika Peterson

Oral Histories

The Archives does not just contain paper documents. It also has many audio and video records which cover a wide range of topics related to both Northern Michigan University, the Marquette County area, and beyond. A website summarizing the oral history interviews and other audio recordings located at the Archives and in other local archives and libraries can be found here.

The Red Dust Project Oral History Collection contains 800 interviews conducted by students of the National Mine School and Aspen Ridge Middle School from 1983 to 2000. The interviews cover topics such as the Depression, immigration, job histories, mining, logging, World War II and military service, education, the polio epidemic in the UP, and social life.

Another oral history project here at the Archives is the Italian-American Immigrant Oral History Collection. It contains interviews with Italian Americans in the UP and beyond and discusses their lives in Italy, the trip to America, and life here, including mining, other work, religious activities, and social life. Recorded in Stone: Voices on the Marquette Iron Range is another oral history project which discusses immigrant populations. Groups for which oral histories were recorded include Finnish, Cornish, and Italian immigrants. Besides oral histories, the website has articles about various ethnic populations in Marquette County. It also contains digital copies of some issues of Clover-Land, a magazine promoting farming settlement in the Upper Peninsula.

Some audio collections relate directly to Northern Michigan University. The Archives contains copies of many commencement speeches given at Northern over the years. It also has tapes of lecture series and debates at Northern from the 1950s to the 1980s. There are also many interviews with Presidents of the University, faculty members, and students. Some of these interviews are listed by name. Others have some indication of the content discussed in the title.

Oral histories relating to the larger area include such topics as underground mining, fishing, and lumber, and the Ishpeming Ski Hall of Fame. Persons of Croatian, Finnish, German, French-Canadian, Slovenian, and Chippewa descent were interviewed about their heritage. Events which occurred in the area, such as the visit of Buckminster Fuller, are also recorded. Meetings and conferences of local groups, including Lutheran synods and Catholic pastoral conferences from the 1980s, the Coalition to Save Longyear Hall, ELF hearings, and meetings about radioactive waste being brought to Marquette. See this page for an incomplete listing of audio relating to Northern Michigan University and the surrounding area.

This fall, Dr. Magnaghi will be training Archives staff to conduct oral history interviews, and the collections will again be expanding. The Archives will also convert remaining analog interviews into a more accessible and lasting digital format.

Prepared by Annika Peterson

Collection Spotlight: John Boyd Letters

John Boyd was a Scottish man working in Barcelona for the J. P. Coates thread company in the 1920s and 1930s. He was worldly, with many family and friends around the globe. One of his cousins, Frank Ellison, lived in Marquette. Three letters from their correspondence have ended up in the Archives.

The letters indicate that he had a vast network of family all over the world with whom he kept in touch. Family clearly meant much to Boyd. His letters contain many references to the visits of various long-lost cousins and mentions of long-dead ancestors.

Boyd’s letters, however, contain more than just family events. They are filled with commentary that can provide insight about aspects of everyday life, business, immigration, and politics in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In a letter written in 1927, John describes newspaper articles he has read about new inventions such as the TV and sensor devices that could tell if a person was moving in the dark. He comments, “It is a horrible prospect to contemplate that the time is approaching when one cannot feel secure in the privacy of his own affairs.” In John’s next letter from 1930, he describes taking his family to a cinema in Barcelona to see The Broadway Melody and states that,  “I myself have given up attending the shows long ago because I found that the films featured, with very few exceptions, were uniformly vapid and stupid.” He continues to review the film:

“I cannot say that I saw anything to induce me to alter my opinion regarding the quality of the stuff served up at the cine houses generally, even admitting that I was skeptical to begin with. In a great many scenes, the sounds coming over did not synchronize with the movements of the players on the screen and it seemed to me incongruous that these huge figures should be booming out their lines with the harsh grating sound of a foghorn one moment and the next be squeaking dismally like the dried up axle of a wooden wheelbarrow. Of course the recording apparatus may have been at fault but if you add to all this the horribly mutilated English spoken by the actors and the disgusting disrobing bedroom and bathroom scenes depicted where young girls in order to earn a living are induced at the behest of cinematographic magnates not only to throw off their clothing but also to throw off every vestige of womanly modesty they possessed and pose in nude pictures in order to create amusement for a type of humanity whose mentality cannot be above such a sordid spectacle…I felt impelled to the conclusion that I had not done a good turn to my family by taking them to see such an exhibition.”

He goes on to explain that while most Spaniards think that the movies accurately depict life in the United States, “intelligent people know that to be a travesty of the truth”. He comments that “pictures of this kind do incalculable harm to the moral prestige of the American people”.

As can be inferred from the tone of his comment about the intelligence of most Spaniards, Boyd is disdainful towards anyone who does not have a British background. In 1927, he wrote, “Here in Barcelona our local factories employ over three thousand work people and are staffed entirely by Britishers. Every year we send half a dozen Spaniards to our headquarters in Scotland for training in our business methods but in spite of that we would drop about 75% in efficiency if the British staff was weakened or withdrawn. We have got to be eternally alert. If we did not there would be an epidemic of sleeping sickness. Probably the climate accounts for it but the natives do take life easy.” Five years later, he wrote, “It is clear that under any form of government that Spain is hopeless. It seems to be inherent in the nature of the Spanish race to be rebellious as can be seen from the almost perpetual state of revolution and unrest.”

Americans, however, were slightly redeemed in Boyd’s eyes. While discussing European journalism about a trip which the Queen of Romania took to the US, he says, “Most of the continental papers contain the usual sarcastic articles on American avarice. The British papers take a saner view possibly because they understand the temperament of their own race better and are accustomed to it through so many Americans marrying into the British peerage.”

His letters contain interesting references to emigration from Scotland to the United States. He tells stories of cousins and friends who moved to the United States to find work and at first did quite well. However, by his 1932 letter, many had lost their jobs due to the Depression. Although Scotland’s economy was not doing much better than the United States, some of his cousins returned there because it already had systems of aid to support unemployed workers.

letterBoyd also discussed his opinions on international events. He approved of Spain’s military dictatorship under Rivera. In 1932, he wrote approvingly of the elections creating a republican government and of the king’s voluntary abdication. However, he also clearly believed that the military dictatorship had ruled Spain better than its new elected government.

Boyd also took a positive view of Mussolini. In another ethnocentric comment in his 1927 letter, he mused that “when one considers the volatile nature of the Italian temperament it appears very marvelous” that the entire Italian people seemed to be behind Mussolini.

One wonders what Boyd thought about events in the following years. What did he think of Mussolini as time went on? How did the Spanish Civil War and the takeover of the country by Franco affect his life? In light of the tumult, did he decide to remain in Spain after his retirement from the thread company as he proposed doing in his 1932 letter? Unfortunately, the correspondence stops in 1932, and so it remains a mystery.


Prepared by Annika Peterson