Reading, Writing and Paper Making

I would like to give a shout out to James Harrigan, Grace Beck and their English 151 Honors professor Dr. Tamara O’Callaghan. James and Grace gave a presentation to the Board of Regents last Wednesday about research they did in the fall of 2016 which they developed into poster presentations for the just concluded Student Celebration of Creativity. It was my honor as University Archivist to introduce James and Grace because they had used some of our digital archival collections to start their research.

James gave a fascinating presentation about the Spencerian method of penmanship for cursive writing which requires a specific posture, method of holding the pen and shaping letters. The lack of present day instruction in cursive handwriting caused concern for the potential future inability to read cursive handwriting and prospective loss of history without that skill. The process of handwriting words versus texting them with our thumbs helps reinforce information in our long term memory. Writing information out by hand used to be a beneficial study technique at exam time.


Sarah E. Reasoner, daughter, to Cyrus Reasoner – April 28, 1865

Grace’s curiosity about a paper watermark led to research on how paper was made in the 19th century. Initially discarded cloth rags were recycled as an ingredient in paper. The Industrial Revolution led to steam powered machines which sped up the paper production process, increasing the demand for rags. As their supply dwindled, technology searched for alternative sources, eventually settling on wood pulp from trees. The process used to remove lignin from the wood pulp causes the resulting paper to be very acidic. Acidic paper is still a problem today. If you have ever seen a news clipping left in a book long enough to make a stain on the adjacent pages that is the acid leaching from the newsprint into whatever paper is nearby. Archives purchase boxes that are lignin free and acid free to better preserve the materials stored within.

By the way, James and Grace were in their first semester of college when they conducted their research using archival documents. This is rather unusual and due to Dr. O’Callaghan who regularly uses archival materials in her classes. We, the archivists who work here, think the Special Collections and University Archives has cool stuff. We welcome undergraduate students, and all researchers who would like to use our materials to come talk with us about your research ideas.  We also think more faculty should bring their classes to visit because we think you don’t know what we have that would relate to your classes. We’re not just your ordinary history archives.

About NKU Special Collections and University Archives

Eva G. Farris Special Collections and Schlachter University Archives, W. Frank Steely Library, Northern Kentucky University
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