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American Heritage Center, University Archives and Records Management Program: History

The University Archives and Record Management Program is the official repository for permanent records of the University of Wyoming.

The University of Wyoming

Image: Aerial View of the University of Wyoming campus, circa 1928. University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Coll. 400073, Box 4.

History of the University of Wyoming

The University of Wyoming was founded in 1886, when Wyoming was still a territory.  In September 1887, UW opened its doors to 42 students and 5 faculty members-as befitted the university of "The Equality State" both the students and faculty included women from the first day. Built on the outskirts of town in Laramie's city park, Old Main was UW's first building and held classes, the library, and administrative offices during the first years of the University's existence. Over the next hundred years, the university would expand throughout the eastern part of the city, interconnect with residential neighborhoods like the beautiful “Tree Area,” and become a symbol of the growth and development of this once tiny western railroad town.
Like all other United States land grant institutions, the University of Wyoming was entrusted with the creation and implementation of programs that helped establish and refine agricultural practices on the campus and throughout the city and state. Due to the progressive mentality of the state of Wyoming, coupled with a small student population, young women at the university were afforded many opportunities, like cadet training, not available to women during that time period at most other American colleges and universities.

UW has since grown into a major teaching and research university with approximately 13,000 students and over 700 faculty members.  Throughout its existence, UW has been the only four year university in the state of Wyoming, though it has maintained a close and cordial relationship with the state's community colleges. Programs such as athletics, agricultural extension, state and federal partnerships-and more recently such initiatives as the School of Energy Resources and the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center have played important roles in the lives of many Wyoming residents and communities for almost 125 years.  

The University Archives at the American Heritage Center is a great resource to access historical materials about important events in UW's history such as President Kennedy's speech on campus in 1963 and the Black 14 civil rights incident (1969)-films about both can be viewed here.  The AHC also has thousands of photographs of the University of Wyoming in its online digital collections.

(More information about the history of the University of Wyoming can be found here.)

History of the University Archives

The history of the University of Wyoming Archives begins with the establishment of the University Archives and Western History Division in the University of Wyoming Library in 1945. The department was established to care for the records of the University and to collect and preserve materials having to do with the history of Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain Region.

The Board of Trustees approved the policy that required all departments to “preserve in their files programs, circulars, and mimeographed all materials issued by the departments or offices; correspondence of significance to the University; record books, financial reports, and all other records of importance… When the departments or offices no longer wish to keep such materials on file, the University Archivist [should] be consulted as to what material may be disposed of and what should be turned over to the University Archives for permanent preservation” at the February 16-17, 1946, meeting.

Under the direction of Gene Gressley, who took over the role of University Archivist in 1956, the archives grew to include topics beyond the UW Archives. By 1976, Gressley became the Director of the newly named American Heritage Center, which was no longer part of the Library. From 1982 to 1986, the AHC was briefly returned under the administration of the Library. Then in 1986, the AHC again became an independent unit while still housed within Coe Library.  In 1993, the Archives moved into a new building, the Centennial Complex, shared with the UW Art Museum.  Since then, four archivists have held the position of University Archivist: Mark Shelstad, Laura Uglean Jackson, Irlanda Jacinto, and Sara Davis. 

In 2008, the Board of Trustees adopted University Regulation 7-490 (now 2-400): Regulations of the American Heritage Center. The regulation outlines that the mission of the AHC is  

(1) to preserve a clearly defined set of primary sources and rare books reflecting the written, image, and audio history of Wyoming, the Rocky Mountain region, and aspects of the American past and (2) to make these resources accessible to all.

Further, the regulation formalized that the AHC will designate a faculty archivist(s) to fulfill the role of University Archivist; the University Archivist

will assist in assessing functions related to managing information at the University, particularly electronic data, to make certain that departments and programs are 1) consistent in following procedures for managing information, 2) complying with state public record laws, and 3) ensuring long-term preservation of administratively and historically valuable material by verifying completion and fulfillment of records retention schedules. The University Archivist shall participate in the decision-making process for different University electronic information management systems to ensure the systems meet legal and administrative requirements and best practices for recordkeeping.

Through this mission, the AHC plays an active and creative role in the teaching, research, and service mission of the University.

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