From left, Rhode Island College alumni Britni Gorman '13 and Shaina Weintraub '18
Did you know that Annie Smith Peck, a RIC alumna, was a world-famous mountain climber who once scaled the Matterhorn, the highest summit in Europe?
"With apologies to our beloved Tom Brady, Annie Smith Peck was the real Greatest of All-Time (GOAT). I mean, she scaled the Matterhorn just for the fun of it!" reads a social media posting by Shaina Weintraub '18, the reference and multimedia administrator for the Providence City Archives.
Weintraub and fellow RIC grads Britni Gorman '13 and Antonio Santurri '18 are part of the team at the archives injecting new life into obscure Providence history.
Tucked away on the fifth floor of Providence City Hall, the archives are an extensive collection of manuscripts, printed materials, blueprints and images tracing the city's founding in 1636 to present.
Established in 1978, the office contains 40,000 cubic feet of records that researchers comb over, seeking details about the history of Providence people, homes, events and more.
Weintraub, who started her whimsical social media postings last year, says she didn't become a history buff until she started taking classes at RIC.
"I actually hated history in high school," she says. "When I started taking classes with RIC professors David Espinosa and Quenby Hughes, I saw how history could have energy and excitement. Through them, history started to speak to me."
After an internship at the archives, she was hired full-time. However, creating social media posts – predominantly on Instagram – wasn't initially part of her job description.
"I'm lucky there is so much content here," she says. "All I do is give it a voice. I'm happy that some of my postings are allowing people to see Providence in a different light."
RIC alum Antonio Santurri '18 tinkers with a vintage camera at Providence City Archives office.
Gorman, deputy archivist, says Weintraub's work has helped elevate the archives' stature.
"One of the most common comments people make when they discover us is that 'I didn't know you were here,'" Gorman says.
While there is no quantifiable data available yet to track the impact of the archives' social media presence, both Gorman and Weintraub say that history advocates in Providence have reached out to express their appreciation. As of last week, the archives' Instagram page surpassed 2,300 followers.
A Pawtucket native, Gorman, in her senior year at RIC, worked alongside history professor Erik Christiansen doing inventory work on Providence's North Burial Ground. That experience called for her to do research at the archives.
"I fell in love with the place," she says. "I didn't have public history experience under my belt, so it was a learning process."
Gorman says her relationship with Christiansen and other history and political science professors at the college led to an unofficial partnership to allow RIC students like Santurri, Weintraub and others to complete unpaid internships at the archives.
Santurri, who is currently working to attain a master's degree in history at RIC, has been a paid archives intern since September. His role includes helping clients with reference work and scanning photos from bygone days.
"Working with photography is my thing," Santurri says.
While sifting through old photos at the archives, Santurri says he has become more aware of Providence's historical significance.
"It's breathtaking to see how much has changed and how little has changed," he says. "It's also baffling to see the sheer number of documents that have survived since Providence's founding. These are documents that have changed the course of history."