Wilkes University senior Jeff Stanford came face to face with the past this summer, and did what only a digital history student would do; recorded it.
Stanford was an intern at the Antique Auto Club of America Museum in Hershey, Pa. He assisted the museum with taking inventory of a 1950s diner, Valentine Diner, with the intention to have digital records of the diner and its contents. He described around 400 objects or more, including duplicates.
Stanford is a history major with a digital history concentration. Students in the concentration take an interdisciplinary approach to studying, preserving and sharing the past. Students like Stanford work hands-on in a variety of fields and are required to complete at least one internship.
“I would try to accurately describe how old an object is and what the condition was,” he explained. “My only real tools to do this were the objects themselves and the internet. It is important to connect with people through digital objects so they can learn, not only about just the diner, but about history.”
Stanford used skills learned in his Wilkes classes to research the manufacturing stamps on the back of objects such as plates. This would lead him to where the objects were produced and help him inspect other manufacturing marks of other objects.
“After I took the inventory, I was able to describe the history of the diner and its importance to the auto industry, as well as what happened to it.” he said. “There were objects like a rearview mirror above the stove so the cook could see what was happening behind him. Objects like that helped me gather information on the diner.”
Stanford also catalogued items such as grey cloth hats that the servers at the diner used to wear. He researched the 1950s crank cash register as well as three small jukeboxes that were spread out on the diner’s counters. The jukeboxes took dimes and patrons would turn their dials to play the song of their choice.
The research Stanford and his colleagues did for the diner even helped connect one person with her personal history. A family from Chicago stopped at the museum and a woman unexpectedly recognized the diner from stories her grandmother used to tell. A volunteer at the museum showed the woman a photo of the diner owner and it was the woman’s grandmother. When she was a child, she had sat in the first seat where the register was now located and did her homework while her grandmother cooked. She knew the diner went to California after her grandmother passed, but did not know what happened after that…until now.
He is going back to the museum during Wilkes’ winter session to continue his work to bring the history of the diner into the 21st century.
“I am going back to write a couple of paragraphs describing each object and its importance,” Stanford said. “I will then make all the records digital, eventually having an iPad for the diner and its history.”
Stanford credits Wilkes for his developing ability to research efficiently online and fact digitized. He previously had an internship with University library where he digitalized photos and saved them on Archon, the digital library.
“I think it is important to make sure people have something digital to look at. We live in a digital age and we have to integrate history into that so people can tell stories and connect more with the past,” he said.