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Using the ASA Archives

1 July 2010 No Comment

Students Use ASA Archives to Complete Project

Patricia A. English, Committee on ASA Archives and Historical Materials


In the spring of 2009, six statistics students used the ASA archives, located in the special collections department of Iowa State University’s (ISU) library, to produce posters about statistical topics or statisticians of note. The posters were presented at JSM in Washington, DC. I talked with the students about using the archives—ease of use, amount of information, etc.

Some topics and statisticians were easier to research than others. Dai-Trang Le wrote about George Snedecor, for whom there was a large number of boxes from which to pull information (almost too much information).

David Rockoff first wanted to review the history of a statistical test, but found it was not easy to trace through the archives, so he changed to writing about statisticians speaking out on issues such as depression and smoking.

Laura Hildreth's poster highlighting Henry Wallace

Karl Pazdernik chose Oscar Kempthorne, who was an important figure at ISU and for whom there was also a large number of boxes. My favorite quote from Pazdernik’s poster is, “I hated farming so much I had to get out. There was only one way to do it: brainpower.”

Laura Hildreth chose to highlight Henry Wallace. I learned from her poster that Wallace was an influential statistician at ISU who had a positive impact on Snedecor. He went on to be appointed Secretary of Agriculture in 1933 under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and served as his vice president from 1941–1944. As far as I can tell, he was the highest-ranking statistician in government during the 20th century.

Luvenia N. Hellams' poster highlighting Dorothy Cooke

Luvenia N. Hellams highlighted the relatively unknown career of Dorothy Cooke. Cooke earned an MS in statistics from Iowa State College in 1946 and became an instructor in the newly formed department of statistics in 1949. After leaving Iowa State, she went on to focus on sample surveying techniques within developing nations such as Pakistan, the Philippines, Jordan, and Vietnam.

Kristian Schmidt chose H. O. Hartley for his poster, partly because Hartley was born in Germany (like Schmidt). Hartley was an interesting statistician, poet, and great believer in the use of computers and how they were the wave of the future in analysis (and this opinion was expressed before the early 1960s). He also had a sense of humor.

Kristian Schmidt's poster highlighting H. O. Hartley

I have barely scratched the surface of the six posters, let alone the amount of information available about statisticians and statistics in the ASA archives. The posters can be found at ISU; however, you will need to contact the special collections department to get a PDF of one of them. You also can contact me at patricia.english@pfizer.com.

How to Use the Archives

The ASA collection contains 195 boxes of material, including business meeting minutes, handbooks, photographs, lectures and symposia, sesquicentennial souvenirs and other artifacts, collections from famous statisticians…The list goes on for 65 printed pages. However, you can search the online listing by clicking here to see if the collection has what you are interested in. Once you have located an item, you should read the reproduction information here before ordering.
You may request your copy by either calling the special collections department at (515) 294-6672 or sending an email to spclref@iastate.edu. Response time and cost vary. Of course you can drop by the library to look at the materials in person if you are in the area.

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