Recording and Preserving Purdue’s History

This blog series, Putting the “Purdue” in Purdue University Press, is celebrating PUP’s 60th Anniversary by featuring the work our Press does in service to its parent institution. You can find the whole series here.

This post celebrates our work in supporting those who record and preserve Purdue’s distinguished history.


Purdue’s history is vast and distinguished, but preserving the stories of the thousands of students, faculty, and staff that make their way through campus each year ultimately falls to a small group of authors and archivists.

During last year’s celebration of Purdue’s 150 Years of Giant Leaps, Purdue University Press published two incredible new books, Purdue at 150: A Visual History of Student Life by David M. Hovde, Adriana Harmeyer, Neal Harmeyer, and Sammie L. Morris, and Ever True: 150 Years of Giant Leaps at Purdue University by John Norberg.

In Ever True, Norberg captures the essence of the university, delving into the stories of the faculty, alumni, and leaders who make up this institution’s past.

“Purdue is among the great universities of the world and it has an amazing history. It’s important to preserve the story of Purdue so people of today and tomorrow can understand it — the good and the bad. I learned from writing the most recent comprehensive history of Purdue, Ever True: 150 Years of Giant Leaps at Purdue University that the school has more history than can ever be put into one book. There’s a lot more work to be done.” said Norberg.

Carrying an encyclopedic knowledge of Purdue’s history and a zeal for all things Purdue, Norberg was the right man for the job. An accomplished writer, author, and journalist, he has frequently written books on Purdue and its alumni.

“In 1986 Purdue Bands wanted to celebrate its centennial with a book and I was hired to write it. I didn’t write anything technical involving music, orchestration, and marching — mainly because I didn’t know anything about that. Instead, I wrote about the people of Purdue bands, the people of 100 years ago and the people of today. I loved it. And people liked the book.” said Norberg. “In 1999 I suggested a book to Purdue about the role of its graduates in the story of aviation and space. It was approved and I’ve done a lot of writing about Purdue people in flight and space ever since. I grew up in the early days of the space race and I’ve always been fascinated by it. Purdue gave me the opportunity to write about that, including the stories of its 25 astronauts.


A picture of the books Ever True and Purdue at 150. Behind them is a statue of the Purdue P.


The authors of Purdue at 150 take a different route to telling Purdue’s story, through rare images, artifacts, and words.  Sammie Morris, one of the four authors, is the University Archivist and Head of the Archives and Special Collections Division of the Purdue University Libraries and School of Information Studies.

“Writing Purdue at 150 was an exciting challenge. I and my co-authors from Archives had to balance research and writing of the book— and digitization of materials— with finding content in the Archives that would offer new and different aspects of Purdue history than what had previously been published.” said Morris. “We were fortunate to have a team in the Archives that was knowledgeable about Purdue history and committed to sharing the treasures in the Archives with a wider audience. Every staff member and student employee in Archives contributed in some way to the book, and it was exciting to offer this research and scholarship experience to our student employees, who did excellent work processing collections, scanning photos, and conducting research on Purdue history.”

Many of our books on Purdue wouldn’t be possible without the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections. The research for many of our books starts there, including both sesquicentennial books, and two recent volumes on Purdue alumnus Neil Armstrong that utilize the some 75,000 letters of his correspondence stored there.

“Authors writing books about Purdue frequently use the collections of alumni, faculty and staff personal papers in the Archives to write books about people and events in Purdue history. University records are also frequently used by authors, from consulting historical course catalogs and annual reports to University photos, campus maps, and historical enrollment statistics. These records provide important information needed to understand the work, culture, and identity of Purdue throughout its history.”

Ever True and Purdue at 150 are the most comprehensive histories of Purdue to date, but its history is so much deeper than one book can convey. Our Founders Series is filled with valuable projects on Purdue’s schools, departments, and alumni, many of which are also available for free through Purdue e-Pubs. Additionally, our series  Purdue Studies in Aeronautics and Astronautics has produced books on some of Purdue’s many astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, Jerry Ross, and Gus Grissom.

Even still, our entire catalog doesn’t even begin to encapsulate all the stories worth telling. There are thousands more to be told about Purdue, and as long as we have hard-working, passionate authors and tremendous colleagues in the Archives, we’ll keep finding them.