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Scarlet and gray through the years: Ohio State archivist releases book on OSU history

An Illustrated History,' at an event hosted at the William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library on Oct. 13.

There may be no one alive who knows more about the history of Ohio State than Raimund Goerler.

In his 32 years as OSU archivist, he spent every day working among the photos and documents that collectively tell the story of this historic campus.

Now Goerler has written “The Ohio State University: An Illustrated History,” a book which takes all of this information and presents it in a single package. It features about 300 photographs taken from the OSU archives, and it is the first comprehensive history of the university to be written since 1952.

Goerler discussed and read from his book at an event hosted at the William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library Thursday.

Goerler said the book was inspired by his time teaching the course “OSU: Its History and Its World.” There was no available textbook for that course, and he was surprised by how little his students seemed to know about the history of the very university they were attending.

“As university archivist, I was responsible for responding to reference inquiries about university history,” he said. “I had a sense of the popular topics that were being asked, so through my class experience the relative lack of knowledge of the campus struck me as particularly troublesome.”

Goerler was also unimpressed with the histories that had been written so far, including the 1952 book by James Pollard. He said his primary complaint about Pollard’s work was that it stressed chronology over readability. Goerler’s book addresses just a single aspect of OSU’s history per chapter, and how it’s evolved over time.

“(My book is) a different book because it’s topical in arrangement rather than simply chronological,” he said. “In fact, most chapters typically begin with a description of the present and then review how we got to the present. I didn’t want to duplicate the Pollard book that was published in 1952.”

Pollard’s book also lacked footnotes, which annoyed Goerler because he never knew exactly where Pollard was getting his information. He said this is because he and Pollard have incredibly different backgrounds. Where Pollard was a journalist, and thus unaccustomed to footnotes, Goerler’s background is in history.

Goerler said his book discusses topics such as academics, student life, the conflicts involved with the founding of the university and how athletics slowly found its way into life at OSU.

“(The book) doesn’t refer to any championship team in any sport and doesn’t refer much to individuals,” he said. “It’s much more focused on how athletics became an integral part of the university. That was not true at the beginning of the university.”

Kathleen Prawdzik, a third-year in fashion and retail studies, attended Goerler’s reading at Thompson Library. She did not know much about his book going into the event, she said, but she found the subject matter intriguing.

“It seemed like a book I would read,” she said. “I thought it was really interesting hearing about different traditions and the history of athletics and student life.”

Shukri Zanika, a third-year in chemistry and Spanish, also attended the reading. In his time working at the library, he has become familiar with a section of books that deal with OSU history. He said he has never really thought about the stories that might be found within.

“I really don’t know all that much about any of our traditions or any of that,” Zanika said. “I always just pass it by.”

One of the things Goerler most loves about OSU is its size and diversity, and he believes learning the school’s history will only make people more appreciative, he said.

“This university experience is one that should be transformational in all of our lives,” Goerler said. “I think that’s true of not only students but also our faculty and staff.”

“The Ohio State University: An Illustrated History” is available through The Ohio State University Press, Amazon.com and locally at Barnes & Noble.

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