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Mizzou’s missing memories

We don’t miss MU’s Savitar yearbook, but maybe we should

1947 Savitar courtesy of MU archives

Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker developed his career as a cartoonist during his time as a Mizzou student. He provided many cartoons that decorated the top corners of the 1947 Savitar. In 1992, MU honored him with a life-sized bronze statue of Beetle Bailey.

July 15, 2009 | 12:00 p.m. CST

MU’s May graduates didn’t think twice about leaving campus without a yearbook. But why would they miss a book that last printed three years earlier? Besides, all their memories are archived on Facebook.
For each of its 112 years, the Savitar yearbook recorded MU history from a student’s point of view. Unlike newspapers, the campus’ oldest publication captured the feeling of life on campus as a whole, not just of individual events, through artistic use of photographs and design.
Its volumes contain Mort Walker drawings, Tennessee Williams’ original writing and Thomas Hart Benton artwork. Its pictures unofficially mark the enrollment of Claire McCaskill and Sheryl Crow, as well as athletic feats in bowl games. Perhaps the most popular recent volumes were those including photos of Brad Pitt. “We sold those yearbooks right and left because people would say, ‘Oh, I have a yearbook that Brad Pitt was in in college,’” says Becky Diehl, the yearbook’s former advisor. “And Oprah would want a copy when he was coming on her show so that she could show his college photo.”
But when the once-valuable yearbook stopped printing in 2006, no one seemed surprised to see it go. The AP article that ran in The Columbia Tribune described the death of the “keepsake to reflect on campus life long after adulthood’s unceremonious arrival” as “a casualty of technological age.” Still, a closer look at the history of the book reveals that its demise resulted from its diminishing relationship with the large student body over time.
Logan Aimone, executive director of the Associated Collegiate Press, says that the decline in interest in college and university yearbooks is not a result of technological trends. Interest was already waning before the rise of the Internet and social networking Web sites, and the books with robust, relevant content are still in print on hundreds of campuses. Likewise, high school yearbooks have shown no sign of decline in sales in recent years.
Other media are filling some gaps left by the Savitar. The MU alumni Web site, mizzou.com, recently added nostalgia and traditions pages that they hope will evoke reminiscence and goodwill toward the university like the yearbook did. Mizzou Magazine, an alumni publication, and Mizzou Wire, an online news and features magazine, create records of various aspects of campus life. Alumni connect on Mizzounet, a social networking site, as well as on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Will these online social records provide permanent records for alumni? No one knows for sure. Friends can delete photos and text postings on a whim, or content may disappear if said “friends” deactivate their accounts or, heaven forbid, de-friend you. “Right now the big thing is technology, the Facebook, the texting,” Diehl says. “(The students) don’t think about ‘down the line this is the experience that I want to remember.’ It’s all about the now.”
For most, yearbooks provide the only record of individual students beyond a list of names and degree completion, says Gary Cox, public services archivist at MU’s University Archives. But it’s hard to see any effect of the disappearance of the yearbook now because people don’t usually look for archival information until at least 10 years after the fact.
When the class of 2009 holds their 50-year class reunion, where will they look for their collective memories? Maybe they’ll find some photos from big events in The Maneater archives, gather what’s left of their low-resolution digital Facebook photos and collect some memories from one another via the latest social networking sites. But when they look for the photo of the Brad Pitt of their graduating class, they might find nothing more than a name in the registrar’s spreadsheets and, if they’re lucky, a student ID photo.

See the Savitar for yourself. Browse or search the books any page from the book, 1894-2004, on MU's Digital Archives Web site.

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