Alumna plays pivotal role in archiving Dr. Bob Steen’s collection of Japanese artifacts

Oglethorpe professor of Japanese Dr. Bob Steen made a profound impact on the lives of hundreds of students during his 25 years on the faculty. After he passed away at the age of 60 on Nov. 12, 2020, his collection of Japanese art and cultural artifacts came to the Oglethorpe Library.

Thanks to the efforts of Oglethorpe alumna Caitlin Marshall ’21, Steen’s legacy will continue to educate future generations of students who are able to engage with his collection.

Marshall’s challenge was cataloging the items and designing a display for the collection. A 2021 OU graduate with a B.A. in International Studies with a concentration in East Asian Studies and a minor in Japanese, Marshall was able to take her Japanese classes from Steen. Currently in the Master of Archival Studies program at Clayton State University, Marshall works part-time with University Librarian Eli Arnold ’06 at the Oglethorpe University Archives.

Items from the collection of Dr. Bob Steen, including books, photographs, and a teaching award plaque.

Items in Dr. Steen’s collection are currently on display in the Philip Weltner Library.

“I originally came to Eli Arnold to have a conversation about what my next steps after graduation would be,” said Marshall, who is originally from Perry, Ga. “I had a bit of interest in library studies but during our meeting Eli introduced an idea to get me involved with the university’s archive by creating an archival collection from Dr. Steen’s material that had been left in the library. Since I had a background in Japanese, I was able to take this project on, but it would not have turned out as well put together had I not started my graduate program at CSU.”

What made this collection unique was that it was bilingual. The project drew upon Marshall’s Japanese language skills as well as her archiving and preservation methods. She translated the materials included in the collection, which included a large amount of Japanese literature from all periods of Japanese history. She expanded her vocabulary and learned more about Japan’s history and language.

Dr. Robert Steen

Dr. Robert Steen

“My primary goal with this project was to ensure that Dr. Steen’s memory and history are well documented to show the users of the collection how important of a person Bob Steen was to the institutional history of Oglethorpe,” Marshall said.

“Steen-sensei was one of my favorite professors to have class with during my time at Oglethorpe. He was someone I genuinely admired, and he inspired me all the time to learn more about Japan and continue learning Japanese. This project was super important to me to complete so that future generations of Oglethorpe students will have the opportunity to learn all about him and keep his memory alive.”

Marshall said she hopes that users can get a sense of the large accumulation of knowledge Steen collected over the course of his lifetime and long academic career. He never stopped learning, and he fostered connections with the Japanese population of Atlanta and North Georgia, serving as a cultural ambassador and bridging the community with the Japan-America Society of Georgia. The Society also proved helpful to Marshall in her work on Steen’s collection and helped find a new home at the International Charter Academy of Georgia, of which Steen is a founding board member, for many of the books in his personal library.

Collaborating on this project has already changed Marshall’s career path. She hadn’t seriously considered a career in archives, but she was so intrigued by the resources Arnold shared with her that she was inspired to start her graduate studies at Clayton State. Now her goal is to become a certified archivist.

“Steen-sensei’s collection helped me see the impact that archival records can have on communities, especially small communities like at Oglethorpe,” Marshall said. “Now that I have finished processing this collection, I am more energized to continue moving forward with my archival career and completing more projects at the university archive.”

Eli Arnold and Caitlin Marshall in a classroom with a presentation screen

University Librarian Eli Arnold ’06 and alumna Caitlin Marshall ’21 were invited to present their collaboration on the bilingual collection of Dr. Bob Steen’s Japanese literature and cultural artifacts.

Not only was Marshall able to expand her archiving skills with a bilingual project, she and Arnold were invited to present the project to the Society of Georgia Archivists conference Oct. 12-13 at Kennesaw State University.

“Caitlin did a marvelous job on the collection, and her presentation was incredibly insightful,” Arnold said. “When I approached her with this project, I knew she would do a good job, and I’m glad she was able to have the added experience of presenting at a professional meeting. She definitely honored Steen-sensei with her work.”

As she continues in her graduate studies and pursuing her new career goals, Marshall is grateful for the role Oglethorpe, Steen and Arnold have played in shaping her future.

“My Oglethorpe experience has had so many positive impacts on my life,” she said. “The connections I have made with fellow alumni, faculty, and staff in the Oglethorpe community have been invaluable to the opportunities and success I have been granted. From my friends to Eli to Dr. Steen, I have never been more thankful for all these people that have pushed me in towards my greatest potential.”

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