If you’ve ever noticed the quotations rendered in large block letters on the walls of Frist Campus Center, watched a freshman Pre-rade and Step Sing, or viewed the Reunion and beer jacket exhibits in Maclean House, then you’ve experienced the handiwork of the Princetoniana Committee.
“The Princetoniana Committee is focused around the history and traditions of Princeton, familiarizing people with those and constructing traditions as they go along,” said former committee chair Gregg Lange ’70. “One reason we do that … is to give people a sense of belonging, a sense of import, and a sense of context to what they’re doing and why.”
More than archivists, members of the Princetoniana Committee are actively contributing to the University’s traditions. Just 11 years ago, the committee inaugurated the Pre-rade as a way to welcome freshmen to the Princeton community. A few years later, the committee added a Step Sing on the steps of Blair Arch after the Pre-rade as a way to ensure that freshmen knew the words to “Old Nassau.”
According to current chair Sev Onyshkevych ’83, the Princetoniana Committee was founded in 1981 after the death of Frederic Fox ’39, who was the University’s recording secretary for 17 years and earned the title “Keeper of Princetoniana.” Fox’s classmate Hugh (“Bud”) Wynne established the committee under the Alumni Council as a way to continue Fox’s work in preserving Princeton traditions.
“What one person did, we now have a committee of 40 doing,” Onyshkevych said.
The committee comprises undergraduate and graduate alumni, including the Orange Key historian and the Band librarian; current undergraduates; and some University staff, including University Archivist Dan Linke. Anyone with an interest in Princetoniana can join the committee, which meets in Princeton three times a year, Onyshkevych said.
Committee subgroups currently are working on an oral-history project, which records the reflections of alumni and former University staff, and the Reunion and Beer Jacket Collection. The collection, which is stored in a warehouse, includes 47 of the 93 beer jackets created since 1918, as well as Reunion jackets from 58 classes beginning with the Class of 1904. John Wriedt ’85 took over as keeper of the collection after his predecessor, Bob Rodgers ’56 — who also was largely responsible for beginning the Pre-rade — died in 2011. Wriedt said the committee plans to post photos of the collection on the Princetoniana website.
The committee as a whole has plans to do even more online. There are already active discussion groups and initiatives such as PBay, a weekly digest of Princeton-related items on sale at eBay and other auction sites, and the Wikipedia project, in which committee members write entries on Princeton-related topics for the online crowd-sourced encyclopedia. Several new sites are in the works, including a pictorial database of Reunions that would document every logo, costume, year, class, and theme during the event each year.
Linke, who has headed the Mudd Manuscript Library and been a member of the Princetoniana Committee for 12 years, said of Princetoniana: “There are traditions that you need people to carry from generation to generation; you can’t just do it through paper or recordings, [though] those can help, of course.
“There are Princeton customs that seemed really foreign or different when I first came here … but now I realize how important they are to the life of this place, and the Princetoniana Committee is really part of the reason why these things keep going.”
To experience the committee’s work during Reunions, visit the “Take It or Leave It” tent on the East Pyne South Lawn, where people can bring their surplus Princeton memorabilia and clothing and leave with something else. To learn more about the committee, visit princeton.edu/princetoniana.
Jennifer Shyue ’17’s story about the Princetoniana Committee was published in the 2015 PAW Reunions Guide, available on campus this weekend.