Drew Archivists and Collectors Talk about the Life of Daniel Drew

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by Willy Nichter, Staff Writer

At 4:00 on Wednesday, September 27, Drew University Archivist Matthew Beland and Professor Chris Taylor came together to discuss prominent university founder and historical figure Daniel Drew in their event, “Collecting Drew: Daniel and the University.”

The event was organized as part of the continued collaboration between the University Library and the Methodist Archives, and serves as a further commemoration of the upcoming 150-year anniversary of Drew University’s founding.

The guests of the event were varied, ranging from students to older individuals, and even including graduate students.

“I keep abreast of library events,” said Daniel Michalak, a fifth-year graduate student. “I’m interested in hearing Dean Taylor talk about his collection.”

Hamza Radid, a second-year graduate student, agreed. “I’m interested in the lecture about Andrew Daniel and his collection that we have at Drew University,” he said.

“Here in the archives, our work is always steeped in history,” said Brian Shetler, Head of Special Collections and University Archives, to begin the event. He then introduced Professor Taylor and Beland, inviting the former to talk about his collection.

“I thought I would spend a little bit of time talking about how I got into collecting Daniel Drew material,” Professor Taylor began, before discussing how he discovered artifacts of Daniel Drew and began using them as a means to explore the world and time he lived in.

“It was a fascinating period of American history,” he said. “His life was lived during the United States coming to maturity as a country.”

Professor Taylor went on to discuss Drew’s various dealings on Wall Street, for which he became known as the “Ursa Major” due to his habit of short selling stocks. “He was famous for driving the prices of stocks low,” he said as he talked about Drew’s financial history, including his rivalry with Cornelius Vanderbilt.

“Their paths intersected with lots of other interesting people,” said Professor Taylor, using them as a jumping-off point to talk about other fascinating individuals from the time period, including other robber barons. His piece completed, he then gave the floor to Beland.

“I think it’s appropriate to share a bit about the history of the University Archives,” said Beland, “and how archival collections are different from personal collections.”

Beland then went on to talk about the types of Daniel Drew documents that could be found in the university. “Most of what we have of Daniel Drew naturally relates to his involvement with this institution,” he said. “We don’t have many records of his other business ventures.”

Beland spoke of the founding of the Drew University Archives, an action brought about by the discovery of several irreplaceable documents and artifacts that had been utterly destroyed due to neglect and poor storage, leading into his question, “What is really the nature of archival collections?”

“Unlike Chris’s collection, which is pretty sporadic and serendipitous,” Beland said, “archival collections are sort of organic.” He talked about the primary and secondary forms of information that can be obtained from a document, and how both are essential to understanding it.

Before letting the audience go to examine Professor Taylor and Beland’s pooled collection, including a variety of newspaper articles and signatures from both Daniel Drew and Cornelius Vanderbilt, Beland spoke of how he wants the University to focus on its past exploits and honored individuals as well as its future during the upcoming anniversary. “They are a cloud of witnesses that certainly strengthen me,” he said, “and I find that very encouraging and empowering.”

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