Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Looking Back at High School

Brownie, 1974
It’s that time of year again. The time when high school seniors all across the country don gowns and mortar boards as they accept their diplomas and say goodbye to their alma maters. Whether you’re feeling nostalgic for your high school years or are curious about those of another generation, consider checking out the Southern History Department’s collection of yearbooks from area high schools.

Yearbooks are a great form of social history. Changing fashions in clothes, music, and hairstyles can all be observed, but be warned: viewing old yearbooks can induce peals of laughter and much cringing. Big hair: check. Popped collars: check. Blazers with the sleeves pushed up à la Don Johnson in Miami Vice: check.

Over time, yearbooks have changed a great deal. The earliest ones that we have date from the 1910s and are really more like literary magazines. They have few pictures but lots of poems, short stories, and personal essays. The senior class is usually the only one pictured. Other classes may have group shots, but the students’ names are often not included. Gradually these literary magazines gave way to the type of yearbook that we are more familiar with. Loaded with pictures of every team, club, and activity they are the next best thing to a time machine.

You can search the library’s catalog to see which yearbooks we currently have. Simply enter the school’s name as the author and our holdings will be displayed. Yearbooks can be viewed in the Southern History Department of the Central Library. Our digital collection contains a few yearbooks including some very early Ensley and Phillips High School, as well as a large collection of Jones Valley High School yearbooks. Our collection is built exclusively with donations and is, therefore, not comprehensive. If you’d like to help us grow our collection by donating your annuals from Birmingham or Jefferson County schools, please contact the Southern History Department at 205-226-3665.

Submitted by M.B. Newbill
Southern History Department
Central Library

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