Looking forward to looking back

Editorial Jun 09, 2015 Looking forward to looking back

History can do more than provide a fond look back. It also can be used to put historical context around current events.

At the core, institutions of higher learning are forward looking. These are places where research and discovery happen around the clock. Where students focus on learning to ensure they’ll have promising futures.

Ohio State fits this bill. In May, more than 11,000 students earned their diplomas and moved forward into the next stages of their lives. Meanwhile, the university’s brightest minds continue to find new knowledge, such as new ways to  fight oil spills and charge your smartphone.


Yet, despite this forward focus, looking back also is important to many of those in our audience. It makes sense. College is a seminal time for many alums, so looking back holds a special place in the hearts of these graduates. And nostalgia isn’t limited to the old. Young folks have an interest as well.

All of this is why we’ve worked closely with Tamar Chute and her team at University Archives to find creative ways to draw attention to some of the treasures they hold in their facility on Kenny Road.


Tamar has been a regular contributor to Ohio State Alumni magazine for nearly 10 years, first through the “From the Archives” Q and A and more recently with our “Time and Change” feature. We’ve always felt the content Tamar creates connects with the alumni audience, and that was confirmed in the reader survey we conducted last year. Readers identified “Institutional Traditions and History” as one of their strongest interest areas.

When we re-designed the magazine last year, we also launched a digital version that expanded our storytelling opportunities. We acted on that opportunity in March, with a print feature story that highlighted the Archives’ 50th anniversary and a corollary web feature that gave folks even more . Only seven other pages on the Alumni Association website have attracted more visitors this year.

But history can do more than give folks a fond look back. It also can be used to put historical context around current events. In the month leading up to Ohio State President Michael V. Drake’s investiture, we used archival content to share the many ways Ohio State has formally welcomed its university leaders. A photo gallery and short descriptions of previous welcomes helped the investiture Web page accrue more than 15,000 views and provided a gateway for readers to explore other areas of the presidential site.


It’s easy to look at these results and chalk them up to our more seasoned readers desire to revisit their past. However, we’ve had great success sharing archival images on Instagram and Twitter, two platforms with decidedly younger audiences. Our multimedia team established the #ThrowbackOSU hashtag to take advantage of the popularity of these images, and posts using that hashtag are receiving thousands of likes and many retweets.

I think it’s easy to look at this type of content and dismiss it as popcorn — tasty, but holding no great nutritional value. However, I’d argue that our job as communicators is to keep our readers engaged, and no reader is completely engaged by just one type of content. If someone decides to like us on Twitter because they saw a fun nostalgic image, they’re now also going to see news about our work to improve affordability, our research discoveries and the faculty excellence that makes Ohio State such a great educational value.

We’re probably as big of fans of this archival content as our audience is, and it’s why we’ll keep working with University Archives to identify fun ways to showcase its artifacts and photos. We are already working on a feature for this fall that will highlight historical images juxtaposed with the modern-day university. It’s just another way to keep our readers on their toes, whether they want to look forward or back.

About the author

Jay Hansen - hansen.208@osu.edu
Director, Publications
Jay Hansen

Jay oversees Ohio State publications, including Ohio State Alumni Magazine, onCampus, onCampus Today and others. He blogs about publications at u.osu.edu/publications.

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