University Archivist Bergis Jules joined GW last fall.
It’s not surprising that a university named for the nation’s first president and chartered by an act of Congress in 1821 relishes its relationship with history. The person behind collecting, preserving, and managing that history—almost two centuries of it—is University Archivist Bergis Jules. As he nears his first year on the job, he answered GW Magazine’s questions about being the university’s history-keeper.
What is the most memorable job you had before coming to GW?
Residential housing and student services at Oberlin College and at Indiana University. Working as a residence hall director gave me a unique opportunity to interact with students on a personal level on a daily basis. In many ways, my past work in providing student services has served me well in my work as university archivist here at GW. Students are obviously the lifeblood of any academic institution. At the University Archives, we are really trying to find ways to engage the student body with GW history. Institutional traditions and culture are important to current students, but they are also what keep alumni connected to GW.
What do you think every alumnus and GW community member should know about GW’s past and present?
In 2021 we will celebrate our 200th anniversary. Academic institutions don’t last that long without building a great history while inventing and reinventing traditions and culture. In 1821
President James Monroe signed the charter that created GW—then known as Columbian College—and three years later on Dec. 15, 1824, he attended GW’s first commencement, along with our guest of honor the Marquis de Lafayette. I believe now the GW community refers to these events as “only at GW” moments. They have been happening here literally from day one.
What have been some of the oddest pieces of GW history that you’ve come across so far?
I don’t think it’s odd but it’s certainly interesting that L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, was a student here from 1930 to 1932. He studied engineering and was a reporter for The GW Hatchet. We also have the papers of Walter Freeman and James Watts, who, while professors at GW, popularized the controversial use of lobotomy as a means of treating mentally ill patients. There are lots of stories like this represented in the University Archives collections. One thing I am trying to figure out is why there is a statue of a hippo in front of Lisner. Maybe someone can explain that one to me. [Editor’s note: We can help you with that, Bergis!]
What’s your favorite part of GW?
I would say that the Mount Vernon Campus is my favorite so far, although I’ve been here less than a year so there is still more to discover. As you know Mount Vernon Seminary and College, before it became part of GW, already had a great history as a women’s college. We have the collections that document the history of Mount Vernon in the University Archives. Some prominent alumnae of Mount Vernon are Eleanor Lansing Dulles and Nedenia Hutton, who is best known as movie star Dina Merrill.
What are your goals for GW Archives?
Whether it is through research fellowships, teaching students how to conduct primary source research, or engaging with student groups about their history, it is a priority for the University Archives to support our students. Another one of our goals that is ongoing is better communication with the entire GW community—students, faculty, staff, and alumni—about who we are and what we do.
Learn more about the University Archives at go.gwu.edu/uarchives