February 20, 2019 | 33° F

Historical exhibition gives glimpse of Rutgers history throughout 250 years

If you have taken a step into Gallery ’50, Special Collections or the University Archives Gallery in Alexander Library lately, you might have noticed something a little different.

As part of Rutgers' 250th anniversary, the historical exhibition titled “Rutgers through the Centuries: 250 Years of Treasures from the Archives” is taking place in Alexander Library on the College Avenue campus, featuring historical documents, artifacts and photographic illustrations.

The exhibition is a glimpse of the years of Rutgers history from an extensive collection in the University Archives, with artifacts from a printed copy of the second charter issued in 1770, to portraits reproduced from collections at the Zimmerli Art Museum, said University archivist Thomas Frusciano.

“A lot of things come to us by donations, alumni, they find things and give them to us or we just happen to find things around the University,” Frusciano said. “So we tried to select things that were the most interesting.”

The exhibition also tries to concentrate on documenting student life, from student publications to an entire board devoted to student activism including early civil rights activities, Frusciano said.

One of the oldest artifacts is a letter written around 1759 in Dutch by Theodore Frelinghuysen, a Dutch reform minister in Albany, who wrote to his wife while on a journey in the Netherlands to plead a case to establish an academy and get support, Frusciano said.

“It’s a wonderful letter written to his wife,” Frusciano said. “It was him saying that this was God’s will for him to make this voyage, and he will miss her dearly and think about her and looks forward to when he returns.”

Another new aspect of the exhibition is the blow-up of student life photographs mounted on the walls on the B-level of the library.

“These are just random student life shots from our collection. We never counted any photographs that we have in our collections, but it’s probably in excess of 250,000 photos,” Frusciano said. “We had a number of people come one evening where they went through boxes of stuff and picked out what they thought were interesting, and we ended up blowing up 35 to 40 images.”

When the University started planning for the 250th anniversary of Rutgers years ago, Frusciano was also part of the planning committee and said it was a given to do an exhibition involving historical artifacts involving the University.

“We have an exhibition program that we try to have twice a year, whether it’s New Jersey history or (something like) rare books,” Frusciano said. “So it was natural, years ago, that we were going to do a 250th anniversary exhibit on Rutgers.”

Preparation for the exhibit took about one year, with a team of people who worked together to put it all together, Frusciano said.

“It takes a lot of people to do something like this, from selection of the items, to trying to conceptualize it and then you have to prepare these items for proper mounting in the display cases,” Frusciano said. “It was really a team effort.”

The whole idea of the historical exhibition was celebrating a milestone, Frusciano said. There have only been nine colonial colleges that can celebrate their founding before the United States became a nation, and Rutgers is one of them.

“It’s also a way of educating through documents, through visual items like photographs and what not, and it gives a sense for students today this rich and varied history of this institution which they are a part of now,” Frusciano said. “They are part of an institution that has really changed and really transformed.”

Samantha Karas

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