Category: Keweenaw Digital Archives

Flashback Friday: Skaters Gonna Skate, Skate, Skate

Happy New Year, Copper Country! We hope that you had a fun and relaxing holiday. For many of you, the first work week of the new year isn’t until next Monday and for the rest of you, well, you’re skating into the weekend already! So despite the recent melting and rain, there’s still plenty of fun to be had outdoors with your free time, which is why for this week’s Flashback Friday we are focusing on outdoor fun with an ice skating photo collage! Enjoy!

[Making an outdoor skating rink], 1913. Image no. MS019-11-05-02
[Ice skating on an unidentified lake], undated. Image no. MTU Neg 00414
[Skating in L’Anse], January 13, 1964. Image no. MS051-021-005-001

Ice skating on Portage Lake, January 1, 1914. Image no. MS042-034-999-G137G
Off for the skating rink, December 27, 1915. Image no. MS668-01-06-30
Skating on Portage Lake, January 1, 1914. Image no. MS042-034-999-G137D

Flashback Friday: Seasons of Change in the U.P.

“Scenic Views – Ripley,” Daily Mining Gazette, November 21, 1956. Image number: MS051-011-001-005.

Happy Flashback Friday, Copper Country! Can you believe we’re heading into the fall break and sliding into December? Okay, maybe “sliding” is a bad term after during this awkward transition from fall to true Yooper winter. There’s certainly been a lot of feelings shared around town about the rain, sleet, and snow; not to forget the slush and ice impacting our daily routines.

With that in mind we’re keeping things simple and optimistic this Flashback Friday with a lovely historic view of a freshly snow-covered Mont Ripley from 1956 and a wonderful little poem about winter and the promise of spring. Just remember, there’s always beauty, not just cold, to be found in those wintry months ahead.


Brusso, Clifton. Tales from the U.P.’s Copper Country. Laurium, MI: Iroquois Press, 1992.

We listen not to the quiet sound,

as crystal leaves drift slowly down,

and softly caress the cold, bright ground.

Life asleep in their far flung home,

others seeking as they roam,

for food and shelter, the woods they comb.

Carried aloft on air currents they fly,

spotting for prey they spy,

ever alert with a sharpened eye.

From the North comes a frigid blast,

freezing and biting are the winds that last,

caring not who…through this scheme they’ve past.

Rays of light seldom are seen,

shadowy trees interspaced with green,

silver creeks with their icy screen.

Months later, bright warmth melting the snow,

rains lashing out helping it go,

golden skies seen through a rainbow.

Children playing in muddy fields,

to Spring winds, Winter, grudgingly yields,

and new life upward slowly steals.

Over 13,000 Images Now Hosted on the Keweenaw Digital Archives

Michigan Technological University Marketing and Communications Photograph Collection ACC 10-010-143

The Keweenaw Digital Archives surpassed an impressive milestone in April 2015 – the online repository for the Michigan Tech Archives’ digital images now hosts just over 13,000 images.

J. W. Nara Photograph Collection ACC-05-097A-022

The Digital Archives got its start as a grant project funded by the Michigan Humanities Council in 2004-2005. The project was geared at providing online access to a database of key-word-searchable digitized historic images from the archives’ collections, while allowing users to add comments to the images online.

The Digital Archives also facilitates an interface for duplication service requests, and provides secure, off-site storage for digital surrogate files.

Today, it acts as a portal to  the Copper Country’s visual past that is visited by thousands worldwide every month.

This milestone has been met thanks to hard work by many different members of Archives staff over the past decade.

To visit the Keweenaw Digital Archives and search for historic Copper Country images, click the following link:

If you have any questions about the Keweenaw Digital Archives, please call us at (906) 487-2505 or
email us at to learn more.

Daily Mining Gazette Photograph Collection MS051-012-001-002

Historical Collections Now Searchable

A group of new online search tools has enhanced the search and discovery of historical records in the collections of the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections in Houghton, Michigan. The improved access is the result of a two-year project to improve description of the Archives’ extensive holdings of regional manuscript material. The initiative was funded through a $167,600 grant from the National Historical Records and Publications Commission, a division of the National Archives and Records Administration.

During the project, Archives’ staff conducted a box-by-box survey of its entire collection, totaling more than 7,000 cubic feet and including personal papers, diaries, organizational records, business materials, mining company records, maps, newspapers, and other historical documents. The project identified more than 700 discrete collections and created standardized descriptions providing information about the size, content, and dates of coverage for each collection.

These descriptions have been revealed to potential researchers throughout the world via a number of online tools.  A full listing of the collections, including collection number, title, and brief description, is now available on the Michigan Tech Archives blog:

Catalog records for each collection are also available on the Voyager catalog at Michigan Tech’s Van Pelt and Opie Library: Visitors may limit their searches by the location “Archives Manuscript Collection.” These records allow searches of collection names, keywords in their brief descriptions and histories, and also using standardized subject headings.

Versions of these catalog records are also searchable through WorldCat, an international bibliographic database maintained by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), a global cooperative of libraries, archives, and museums. The general public can search the main WorldCat catalog: Participating OCLC member institutions may also search these records through the FirstSearch version of WorldCat which allows researchers to limit type to “Archival Materials” and limit availability to library code “EZT” for Michigan Tech archival collection records.

For further information, contact the Michigan Tech Archives at 906-487-2505 or at

Archives Moves Toward New Technologies

Working on mark-up of an EAD file during Michael Fox's recent archival description workshop.

The Archives was closed Thursday-Friday, September 8-9, 2011, so that staff could be  trained in several new software tools.

Michael Fox, recently retired from the Minnesota Historical Society, spent three days with staff of the Michigan Tech Archives (as well as some other friends). Fox reviewed some basic elements of how manuscript collections differ from museum and library collections. It is important to realize that unlike other item-level collections, archives have complex inter-relations within their manuscript collections. Very few archives catalog material to the item level. Instead, they gather descriptive data at the collection level, as well as information about groupings of documents in folders or within collections as records series. The hierarchical relationship between individual documents, the folders they reside in, the series of which they were created, as well as the overall collections which hold them require complex systems of description.

Encoded archival description (EAD) is a standard which has emerged in recent years to help archivists create and hold this type of hierarchical descriptive information. It uses extensible mark-up language (xml)  to take previous types of written inventories and finding aids and turn them into a standardized data format (it also relies on a descriptive standard called “describing archives: a content standard,” or DACS, to ensure that the contents of individual fields is consistent across the board). With information about our collections held in EAD format, the Michigan Tech Archives will be able to export information to web sites and other places where potential researchers might discover our collections.

This work is not for the faint of heart, however, and will involve many changes in the way that we do our work at the Michigan Tech Archives. One of these changes will be the migration of collections information to a new open source archival collections management software tool called Archivists’ Toolkit. AT will allow us to gather a variety of information about our collections, including both descriptive information and internal administrative notes about preservation and processing. From AT, we’ll be able to output descriptive information compliant to the EAD standard. We’ll also be able to export catalog records compliant to the library world’s MARC standard.  In these formats, we’ll be able to update and share information through sites like OCLC’s Worldcat and ArchiveGrid.

Although this may sound like technical mumbo-jumbo to some of our non-archivist researchers, it will mean a dramatic improvement to the variety and level of information that researchers may discover about our holdings.

We were pleased to have Fox’s training workshop supported through grant monies from the National Historical Records and Publications Commission. Over the course of the last two years, NHPRC’s funding of our current ‘basic archives’ grant has provided the first steps in this move toward better and more standardized description. During this period, we have already created collection-level records for each of the manuscript collections held at the Michigan Tech Archives (you can read some of these on our blog over here). With NHPRC funding for Michael Fox’s visit, we made the first steps toward implementation of Archivists’ Toolkit, EAD, and the next steps in our program.

Look for additional updates here.

Stories from the Reference Desk

Here at the MTU Archives we help people with a wide variety of research topics.  As a recent graduate and summer intern in the Archives, working at the reference desk has been a great learning experience.  I didn’t quite know what to expect when I started here, but one thing my education prepared me for was the range of knowledge of what an archive is among patrons.   Not everyone that enters the archive knows exactly what the rules are in the reading room, the kinds of collections we have, or even what an archive is.  But that’s ok!  In fact, one of the most rewarding parts of working the reference desk has been helping people who are new to the process of doing research in an archive.  Oftentimes, they are amazed at the kinds of material they are able to find, touch, and learn from.

For example, we recently had a couple come in who were trying to start a family history.  Their ancestors had been miners in the Copper Country, as is often the case with any family that lived here from the mid 19th – mid 20th centuries.  The MTU Archives has employment cards from two major copper mining companies of the area, Quincy and Calumet and Hecla, so  I was able to find the employment cards for several of their relatives.  When I brought them out, the couple was amazed that we had this material.  The cards usually contain a ton of valuable information for genealogists, as well as signatures of the miners themselves.  This last fact was noted by the pair with a certain amount of sentimentality, and they were so in awe of the piece of paper that they double checked that they were able to handle the material.  It was great to be able to help these people, who were a little clueless as to how to begin their research, make a personal connection with history and show them how to get started on their project.  That is, after all, what we’re here for!

However, things at the reference desk don’t always go smoothly.  Occasionally patrons will forget to write down a collection name and box number for the material they were looking at, and come back later hoping we’ll remember.  Since the MTU Archives does not take extensive notes on the material patrons use, it is sometimes impossible to think back and remember exactly which little blue box is needed out of thousands.  Fortunately, through asking questions about the type of research a person is doing and the topics involved there is often a happy ending to these stories, even if there is a delay.  When situations like this occur it definitely serves as a reminder that I need to be vigilant about educating new researchers of the importance of keeping track of their sources.

So far this summer I have found that some patrons, both new and veteran researchers alike, do not know about the Keweenaw Digital Archives, our online image data bank that holds over 10,000 images from the collections of the MTU Archives.  I love it when people come in expecting to spend hours looking for a useful image, but with a quick introduction to the KDA website are able to find what they need with one keyword search.  Recently, a descendant of the man who opened the first Dairy Queen in the Upper Peninsula came into the Archive and had such an experience.  She was looking for a photograph of that first store, which was located in Houghton.  Low and behold, the KDA contained one image that proved to be exactly what she was after.  I hope she enjoyed a beautiful summer afternoon in the Copper Country with all the time she saved!

First Dairy Queen in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Workshop: Introduction to Archival Research

Ever wonder how to start a historical research project? Not sure where to find the right documents to answer your question? Unclear how a research archives operates?  Join Michigan Tech archivists Julie Blair and Erik Nordberg at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 1, for an introduction to archival research. The workshop will take place in Room 244 of the Van Pelt and Opie Library.

This session will provide a general overview of research using historical records. The workshop will include an introduction to historical research methods and attendees will learn how to locate, integrate, and cite archival material in their research. Presenters will discuss what is meant by phrases like “manuscript collection” and “primary source,” how to describe different types of archival sources, and learn about the similarities and important differences between archives, libraries, and museums.

Attendees will also learn how to use the Keweenaw Digital Archives to easily find historic images online, how to create an account, make a digital album, and add their own comments and observations to the photos. The session will draw upon numerous examples from the holdings of the Michigan Tech Archives, which collects historical material about Michigan Tech and the people, communities, and industries of the surrounding Copper Country.

This workshop will also be repeated at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 7, and is part of a weekly series of programs offered by the Van Pelt and Opie Library. For more information on the Library’s workshop series, visit their blog.

Keweenaw Digital Archives Reaches 10,000 Images

This photograph, showing a group of copper miners at an unknown location, was the 10,000 image added to the Keweenaw Digital Archives. Image #ACC03-153D-01-02 from the Van Den Belt Photograph Collection.


The Keweenaw Digital Archives, a web-based collection of historical photographic images of Michigan’s Copper Country, added its 10,000th image on Friday, November 19.  The collection is drawn primarily from the photographic holdings of the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collations and document the social and industrial life of the Keweenaw Peninsula. 

“It’s been an incredible experience,” remarks Christine Holland, library assistant with primary responsibility for adding content to the system. “I’ve lived here all my life, but it really wasn’t until I started scanning photos for the digital site that I really began to appreciate the buildings, places, and history around me.” 

“People know the Keweenaw was a historic mining district, but you can’t see any mining here today. Looking at these historical photos, seeing miners working underground, seeing thousands of copper ingots on the docks, or the crowds dressed in their finery on city streets — that’s when you really begin to understand what happened here.” 

Initial funding for the digital archives initiative was part of the Michigan Tech Archives “Interior Ellis Island” ethnic history project. A donation from Dr. Robert and Ruth Nara of Bootjack, Michigan, supported the purchase of computer and scanning equipment necessary for the work. A grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, supported the more significant aspects of the project.   

“This is an incredible milestone for our digital collection,” noted Erik Nordberg, University Archivist. “We began this project in March 2006 and have grown from success to success over the last four years. It’s a testament to Christine’s efforts that we have been able to create such a rich and varied public resource in such a short time.” 

The Keweenaw Digital Archives includes photographs from a variety of sources and covering a variety of periods. Some of the earliest images include the work of local photographers J.W. Nara, J.T. Reeder and Adolph Isler and date well before 1900. More recent images include photos from Michigan Tech campus photographers and alumni, as well as a large number from Houghton’s local newspaper, The Daily Mining Gazette. Topics include copper mining, local cities and towns, social life, maritime and lighthouses, campus life and athletic teams, and almost every aspect of life in Michigan’s Copper Country. 

When asked for some of her favorite images, Holland stops to think. “That’s a tough question. One that immediately springs to mind is a 1909 photograph of the first dirigible to fly over Houghton. I was able to track down a newspaper article about the event and the reporter commented on how the balloon, named The Comet, did a figure eight around St. Ignatius Church.” 

“Personally, I’ve always loved to see the interior decor of Victorian homes. And I really like photographs of social activities like picnics. It’s interesting to see the clothing people wore and the way they did their hair. It makes you think about how things have changed, but also how things have stayed the same.” 

The public can visit the Keweenaw Digital Archives online at  In addition to searching for images by keyword, visitors can browse by subject, or search for just the most recent images added to the system. Interactive features allow the general public to submit comments about individual images, develop their own online photo album, or generate a duplication order for photographic prints or digital scans. 

For further information, contact the Michigan Tech Archives at 906-487-2505 or at 

Detail of image #ACC03-153D-01-02, showing young boy amongst copper miners. From the Van Den Belt Photograph Collection, Michigan Tech Archives.


The Daily Mining Gazette, Houghton’s local newspaper, ran a nice story about our milestone in the December 2, 2010 edition.  The story is in online as part of their web edition and an image capture of the the front page of the paper is attached below (the story is on the lower right). 



Coming at Ya: The Copper Country in 3D!

An example of a historic stereoview photograph, depicting the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company.
An example of a historic stereoview photograph, depicting the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company.

Tired of viewing the Keweenaw’s fascinating history in only two dimensions? Join Erik Nordberg of the Michigan Tech Archives and Jack Deo of Marquette’s Superior View studios as Copper Country people and places ‘back in the day’ jump off the screen with amazing 3D effects! This special event will occur at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 5, at the Calumet Theatre at the corner of 6th and Elm in historic Calumet, Michigan.

Using special digital technology, more than 100 historic stereoview photos will be projected on the giant screen of the historic Calumet Theatre where audiences will see them in eye-popping three dimensions using special 3D glasses.  See local towns, mines, railroads, and scenery as you’ve never seen them before.

This event is a fundraiser for the Michigan Tech Archives, with proceeds supporting the Keweenaw Digital Archives and preservation of historic photographs in the Copper Country Historical Collections.  The College Avenue Vision Clinic in Houghton is providing the special 3D glasses for this event. Additional sponsors include Superior View studio, The Daily Mining Gazette, The Book Concern, Copper World, The Michigan House Cafe, and Cranking Graphics.

Tickets are only $15 for adults and $7 for children and may be purchased in advance from the Calumet Theatre or at the door. Admission includes your own set of 3D glasses. For further information contact the MTU Archives at 906-487-2505, via e-mail at, or visit them on the web at


Winter Carnival Underground


Ever wonder what is going on in the mines during the winter months?  My curiosity was answered when I ran across photos of some beautiful ice sculptures only Mother Nature could make.  It doesn’t get any better than that.  Take a look and see if you agree.


All of these photos came from the Calumet and Hecla Photograph Collection MS003 Box 12 Negative 119-21.  Prints are available by request and the collection can be viewed here in the Archives reading room.