In just nine days, the 2016 presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis will be a memory.
But thanks to University Archivist Sonya Rooney, it’s a memory that will be preserved for generations.
“My job is to collect everything associated with the debate, from paper documents to swag,” Rooney said. “We collect this so people can get a sense of what it was like to be on campus at the time. These items reflect not only what the debate was like, but also what we were like.”
Many artifacts and documents from past debates — three presidential and one vice presidential — are part of the new exhibit, “Presidential Debates, Part of Washington University’s Legacy.” On display in Olin Library’s Grand Staircase Lobby through Oct. 30, the exhibit features buttons, press kits, T-shirts, flyers — even a piece of carpet from the debate stage.
One highlight of the exhibit is the photography, much of it shot by veteran photo editor Joe Angeles. One of Rooney’s favorite images captures an audience of rapt students glued to the television at a watch party in 2000. Another, shot at a watch party in 2008, shows students staring at their computer screens.
“In the first picture they are all looking up, but in the second photo they are all looking down,” Rooney said. “You get a sense of how social media has really changed the debates. It makes me wonder what the pictures will be like this year.”
Other exhibits on campus
Washington University is hosting two other presidential-related exhibits:
“The Many Faces of George Washington,” a national traveling exhibition that examines the multi-dimensional, real-life man behind the myth, is now open on Level 1 at Olin Library through Oct. 21. Produced by George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, in conjunction with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, this exhibition presents the many different facets of Washington’s leadership through color graphics of paintings, photographs and iconic objects from the Mount Vernon collections.
“American Presidents: Life Portraits,” the only complete collection of American presidential oil portraits by one artist, will be on view in the lobby of the Athletic Complex Oct. 11 through Oct. 13. Commissioned by C-SPAN, the exhibit features the work of North Carolina artist Chas Fagan, biographical sketches of all 43 presidents, photographs that capture each president’s time in the White House, as well as audio and video content viewers can access through their smartphones.