An archivist, a professor and a digital specialist collaborate with students, alumni and each other to tell the stories of the College’s past.
By Meghan Kita
“He kept showing up, so I started doing more digging,” Falciani Maldonado says. She found that he died on the USS Indianapolis, a ship that delivered components for the atomic bomb, at the tail end of the war. “It’s not just that he died; he died in a big way,” she says.
A Trove of Lost Letters
A Collaboration Begins
Around that same time, it became clear that some of the veterans Falciani Maldonado had been in touch with would be willing to speak on camera. Ranieri asked Dalton, who instructs the Documentary Research labs, if he’d be interested in filming those oral histories. Dalton, who attended World War II airshows in Reading, Pennsylvania throughout his youth, agreed, and “it just grew from there,” he says.
Stills from the students’ projects
By the end of the semester, in addition to the World War II content from the exhibit and the oral histories Dalton shot, there were a number of short films addressing the same time period. “Kate and Susan said, ‘Hey, we should really build something online,’” Dalton says.
So, Dalton got to work, creating a custom design that would be easy for the others to update. He built a main landing page for what the group was now calling the Muhlenberg Memories Project, which linked to a landing page for The Forties, where all the work created by that point could live. He hand-drew a font—a first for him—based on The Muhlenberg Weekly’s typeface from that era to use in the design.
“It’s a nice, subtle way to nod to that time period,” he says. “A lot of my work stems from, ‘I’m not sure I could do this, but I’m willing to give it a try.’”
Bringing the Past to Life
While Falciani Maldonado and Ranieri have presented this work at conferences on digital scholarship and at this year’s Heritage Alumni Reception & Dinner in September, a Veteran’s Day event at the Sigal Museum in Easton enlivened the archival material in a whole new way.
Looking Ahead on Looking Back
“I’d like for this project to branch out so students get involved with knowing their history,” Ranieri says. “It’s their College, their second family, and I think they really start to see that.”
Her Documentary Research students have continued working with the archives each semester to produce new content, with each section of the class organized around a theme. For example, students last fall explored the histories of the buildings that existed on campus during the 1960s. That work was just added to the Muhlenberg Memories Project page on a sub-site called Under Construction, a nod to a well-known web-design device. Going forward, the Muhlenberg Memories Project team would like to cover all the decades of the 20th century.
“We show students that their four years here is on this continuum, that they’re part of something bigger.”
The team would also like to continue inviting alumni to speak directly to Documentary Research students. “Students love it when the alumni come to class,” Falciani Maldonado says. “‘Did girls really have to wear skirts all the time?’ They ask questions like that and get responses from people who lived through another era. Alumni always say, ‘My story isn’t actually special—’”
“—until they’re walking out of Walson Hall,” Ranieri interjects.
“This is history for these students,” Falciani Maldonado adds. “With this project, with as many of the classes we can use the College archives in, we show that their four years here is on this continuum, that they’re part of something bigger.”
Mr. Muhlenberg, Revisited
The Muhlenberg Memories Project team has found themselves part of something bigger, too, on at least one memorable occasion. When Falciani Maldonado first discovered Paul Candalino in the archives in the summer of 2014, she Googled him and got nothing. That fall, as the World War II exhibit was running, a military historian from Candalino’s hometown of Hawthorne, New Jersey, Paul Chepurko, published a book that included short biographies of small-town veterans from that era. Candalino was one, so Falciani Maldonado contacted the historian, who gave her some more information.
Candalino had been stationed in Asbury Park, New Jersey., after his wedding on campus, but “he wanted to serve his country more, so he requested active duty,” Falciani Maldonado says. “His wife went out to visit him in California before he sailed on the Indianapolis. She was one month pregnant when he died.”