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How much do you know about Central’s archives–what they hold, what’s their purpose, and what they can mean to your endeavors?

Recently the Historical Society of Pennsylvania did a study of the Central archives as part of an effort to help small archival repositories manage their files and help them with best practices. Central Archivist and Associated Alumni of Central High School former president David Kahn (220) spoke about that effort and more:

What did the HSP officials do when they visited the Central archives in January?IMAG0491 (1)

Mr. Kahn:  Two of them went through our files–this does not include memorabilia–we’re talking about all written files, to determine in sequence what we have and how much is there and create what they call “finding aids.” Finding aids are lists of topics and things that help you to discover and find what’s in the archives in any given area. They also talked to us about how you catalog, how you organize, what are natural and what might be artificial categories. It is very, very helpful to us.

David Kahn with a book of past Centralizer newspapers

What were their findings?

Mr. Kahn: They thought we were in pretty good condition. They were very, very positive.[In a few weeks] they are going to give us a full report as to what they found, what they accomplished, what our finding aids are. They will create  a link on their website to an archives website that we have to create, which we will also link to the alumni website and the school website.

For the general Central alumnus and Central family members, what is the function of the archives and how are they of use?

Mr. Kahn: The archives function in two ways. First, we are available to academicians for research and have been a resource for many authors in their publications. Second, our archives are available to answer questions for our alumni concerning historical issues, events of particular time periods, family information and so on.

How much time do you devote a week to working in the archives?

Mr. Kahn: I plan—don’t always accomplish this—but I pan on spending  4-6 hours a week in the archives. Quite often it’s less. I am extremely fortunate to have working as an associate with me Maxine Croul, a retired Spanish teacher from Central whose brother Sidney is a member of the 228th class. She does a lot of the heavy lifting, gets a lot of the work done so that I can make decisions with her as to what we need to do.

About how much of your work involves receiving new things for the archives as opposed to organizing what Central already has?

Mr. Kahn: We are given memorabilia and printed materials fairly regularly. We have a policy which, is under review, of accepting anything that is Central related, even if we don’t really need it, even if we have multiple copies thereof.IMAG0157

How would someone submit something for the archives?

Mr. Kahn: The best way to donate Central materials to the archives is to email us at or call and leave a message at school, asking for David Kahn, 215-276-5262.


Click photo to enlarge

Is the space that the archives have adequate?

Mr. Kahn: This space was dedicated for the archives 10 years ago when we rebuilt the library and it is the largest public display space in the history of the archives, but we also have some large items and extra copies of many items that we plan on putting into storage in another area. While we are not out of space, quarters are tight and we would like to be able to clear some space and start working on developing temporary exhibits in the windows.  Currently in the windows are many, many, many old trophies, some scientific apparatus and other odds and ends of memorabilia. We are currently cataloging all trophies, determining which are important and historic, as opposed to– without denigrating–I would use the term ‘routine’.

How do central’s archives compare with other schools’ or entities’ archives in the region?

Mr. Kahn: We know that Central’s archives are very unique for a public school. They might be more appropriately compared to private schools that go back to the 18th century, such as William Penn Charter… Other public high schools that we know of with major archive collections include Boston Latin, the oldest public high school in the United States, and Stuyvesant High School in New York City. We have materials in our archives going back to 1818.

What do you get personally out of being archivist for your alma mater?

Mr. Kahn: I am constantly amazed by what I see. I was always a student of history and remember learning Central’s history when I attended Central. It is thrilling for me to see firsthand, original material going back to the founding of this school and feeling the history come alive in my hands.

If alumni want to come and putter around the archives, can they do that?

Mr. Kahn: We don’t allow routine visitors to search. We do give tours of the school, which include the archives. If someone has a research question, we will make the effort to find that material and make a determination as to whether it is available. If it is available we will make every effort to make copies of this material for the requester.


See the HSP’s post on Central here.


Did you know…Central’s archives hold every class yearbook and every class pin?

Keep up with trivia about Central’s archives with our weekly trivia question.