The Philolexian Society

Project Director: Tamar Zeffren

Source of Materials: Archives of the Philolexian Society, 1811-1995, University Archives, Columbiana Library, and assorted visual, written and artifact materials in possession of the Society.

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This project will endeavor to digitize the archives of the Philolexian Society, a literary debate organization at Columbia University. As Columbia's oldest student group and the second oldest collegiate literary society in the United States, Philo's records will be of particular interest to researchers interested in the development of American literary societies, to historians of Columbia University and of New York City, to current Columbia students and alumni and to current Philolexian members and alumni.

Founded on May 17, 1802 by associates of Alexander Hamilton, the Philolexian Society counted among its earliest members Columbia students who would go on to occupy roles within Columbia University, New York, American politics, literature, law, theater, and various theaters of academia. In the years between the two World Wars, the Society was essentially inactive, and throughout the last 1940s and the early 1950s, the Society would experience three more extended periods of obsolescence over the next two decades. This last period, which commenced in 1962, was arrested in 1985 when the Society was revived, and, in consideration of the fact that its alma mater had become the last Ivy League university to admit women, amended its constitution to allow women to become full Philolexians. Over the succeeding three decades, the Philolexian Society has re-established its presence on both the Columbia campus and within the universe of collegiate debate societies.

The bulk of the Society's records, which primarily consist of correspondence, news clippings, minutes of board meetings and of debates, petitions, and poetry, as well as a limited number of illustrated invitation cards and member diplomas. More recent records were last recorded as being in the possession of the Society. Unfortunately, given the paucity of space on the Columbia campus, the Society has had to move several times over the past decade, which therefore has made it difficult to definitively locate and affirm the content and type of records in the Society's possession. The objective of this project is to, by digitizing and transcribing images and documents, effectively explain and contextualize the formation and evolution of the Society, its relationship with the University and with other college literary societies, the contributions of eminent Philolexian members to Columbia, New York, and other institutions, and, currently, Philo's revival in the 1960s and the dynamics of its current manifestation on campus. Moreover, this project is also principally concerned with doing justice to the current state of Philo records as a "living" archive, and intends to raise awareness of and solicit feedback and contributions to the Society's archival holdings.

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