Embark on a new journey each week to examine rare archives held deep in the library, enriching your knowledge of the past. "Archival Adventures" is a two-hour, weekly, live-streamed exploration of rare archival materials in University Libraries’ Special Collections that tell a story about the history of Virginia Tech, the community, and the world. 

Led by Community Collections Archivist Anthony Wright de Hernandez, the show airs on University Libraries’ Twitch channel at 2:30 p.m. Wednesdays year-round. It features a viewer chat with Wright de Hernandez in real-time during the live show. “It’s an adventure into the past through the documents that have survived,” said Wright de Hernandez. “And it’s fun, interesting, free, and educational along the way.” 

Demystifying archives

Each week, Wright de Hernandez features a new box of materials and discovers what’s inside alongside viewers. During the show, they journey back in time, digging into the box to see what rare items will be found inside — a treasure hunt.

“Sometimes, I know about a topic and share my knowledge with the viewers," said Wright de Hernandez. "Sometimes, a viewer is an expert on a subject, like aerospace and nuclear engineering, and can provide useful information as we explore. And sometimes, we are all learning together and have to go to the internet to find out more about what we’re looking at." 

How it all began

Wright de Hernandez came up with the idea for the show in October 2020 while watching a middle school librarian talk about the Dewey Decimal System on a Twitch stream. About that time, University Libraries’ Studios launched a Twitch channel, and Wright de Hernandez participated in planning the first tabletop roleplaying game show for "The Role of Play" Twitch series. “I was trying to find new ways to share how amazing our collections are and figured if people would stop by to chat online about the Dewey Decimal System, they would probably also show up to chat about our cool collections,” said Wright de Hernandez. The first episode aired in early January 2021.

Fate, whimsy, and a dash of planning

There’s no formal process for selecting upcoming episodes, which may come as a surprise to viewers. “Chance, whimsy, fate, panic, and a dash of planning are how I select what’s next,” said Wright de Hernandez. “I try to include material gleaned from our collecting areas and keep an eye toward highlighting historically marginalized groups. Often, I will look at the date of the show and see if I can align with a nearby holiday, commemorative month, or significant historical event, like when I did an episode about Girl Scouts in mid-March around the organization's birthday. If all else fails, I will browse through our finding aids or walk through the stacks until something catches my attention.” 

"Archival Adventures" is a first of its kind. “Nobody else does anything quite like this,” said Wright de Hernandez. "Most archives share content via exhibits, blogs, or social media posts, but I haven’t found anyone else inviting the public to come join in a live broadcast to look at materials with them as they see them for the first time. The closest I’ve seen is a pre-recorded, edited video where the archivist shares details about the items. 'Archival Adventures' doesn’t do that. Most of the time, I’ve never seen an item before and the viewers are getting my reaction live. We’re discovering things together and learning together. 

“I don’t spend a lot of time looking at things before sharing them,” said Wright de Hernandez. “That gives the show the unboxing feel, but also means we sometimes find outdated language or offensive imagery. Those surprises are bound to happen with old archival materials. I don’t try to gloss over them. We usually take a moment to acknowledge it’s a problem and why and then move on. Learning how to do that is one of the most important things I learned from running the show.” 

Rich in history

"Archival Adventures" has delved into many diverse topics over the years: 

  • NASA’s space stations and interstellar flights

  • Celebrities like the Carter/Cash family and Edgar Allan Poe

  • Home remedies, folk medicine, and patent medicines

  • Melvin N. Gough's papers on a flying boat, comet, and flying saucers

  • Holiday cocktails and mocktails

  • Spooky, creepy, and haunting items in the archives

  • Rare miniature books 

Two episodes stand out to Wright de Hernandez —  Episodes 16 and 109. Episode 16 was a volume of 50 illustrations of fungi and algae with their Linnaean classification information dubbed Watercolors of Fungi by the archives. “We don’t even know the exact date of its creation but the illustrations are gorgeous,” said Wright de Hernandez. Episode 109 is the G. Grahame Duce Papers. “This collection is a set of papers about aircraft from the 1930s-40s that read like magazine articles,” said Wright de Hernandez. “They are expertly crafted narrative pictures and a joy to read. The finding aid says he was the president of Duce Aeronautical Research but, other than their names, we don’t know much about him or the company - it’s a mystery.” 

The future of 'Archival Adventures'

More episodes. More guests. More people. Wright de Hernandez said he plans to start inviting more  guests to join him as co-hosts and explore materials on topics they find interesting. “I’ve had Kira Dietz, assistant director of Special Collections and University Archives and food history expert, join me a few times on stream, and it’s always lots of fun talking about historical food items and how they came about.”

Wright de Hernandez said he’s hoping to bring a student assistant or two on board to help with episode production, selecting episode topics, and making YouTube Shorts videos from old episodes to help grow the viewership.

“I’m a curious person and I love getting to spark curiosity in others,” said Wright de Hernandez. “I enjoy learning new things and I love learning about what’s in our collections. Archives are often seen as restrictive and unapproachable places where you need to have some specific academic research purpose to be allowed to see the materials. That’s ancient history. I want people to know they are welcome to come in and look through a collection because they’re curious to see what’s inside. You don’t need a reason - the materials are here for people to use.” 

Number crunch

Followers are growing and Episode 116 is about to air. Created in the University Libraries’ Media Recording Studio, Wright de Hernandez broadcasts about 45 episodes per year with as many as 1,000 views. Regular viewers hail from at least eight U.S. states along with Guam, Canada, Germany, Finland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. “I provide a collaborative learning space where people worldwide explore and discuss history together, or how fascinating or inspiring something is, or just how much they enjoy seeing things they might never have otherwise had the chance to see.”

"Archival Adventures" recordings are also available on the University Libraries’ YouTube Channel

University Libraries' Community Collections Archivist Anthony Wright de Hernandez leads Twitch viewers on an adventure deep into rare archives that tell stories about Virginia Tech's history, the community, and the world. Photo by Chase Parker for Virginia Tech.
University Libraries' Community Collections Archivist Anthony Wright de Hernandez leads Twitch viewers on an adventure deep into rare archives that tell stories about Virginia Tech's history, the community, and the world. Photo by Chase Parker for Virginia Tech.