This useful and interesting archive not only sheds light on the institutional memory and history of Robert College, American College for Girls and Boğaziçi University, but it also provides valuable information on the everyday lives and practices of many people whose paths crossed with these institutions. The archive includes both published and unpublished written and visual archival materials pertaining to Robert College, the American College for Girls and Boğaziçi University. In its current form, the archive is comprised of four main sections: the Columbia University Robert College and American College for Girls Collection, the Prime Ministry Archives of the Ottoman Empire (İstanbul), the Archives of the Republic of Turkey (Ankara), the Bulgarian Archives and printed materials about these institutions. The Robert College, American College for Girls and Boğaziçi University Archive illuminates the intertwined histories of these three institutions and we aim at enlarging and enriching it with future additions.
The Columbia University Robert College and American College for Girls Collection constitutes the main component of this archive. Robert College was established in 1863 thanks to the efforts of philanthropist Christopher Robert and Cyrus Hamlin, a missionary devoted to education. Its most systematic and comprehensive collection was formerly housed at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Our university acquired this collection through a protocol signed between Columbia University and Boğaziçi University on 20 December 2013. The archival documents, which date up to 10 September 1971, when Boğaziçi University was established, were delivered to us in 2016.
With its establishment financed by Christopher R. Robert in 1863, Robert College began its institutional life in a house in the locality of Bebek, known as the “Seminar School”. In 1868, the foundation of the oldest building of Robert College, Hamlin Hall, was laid in the area known today as the South Campus of Boğaziçi University. This building, which now serves as the Male Dormitory, housed the first lectures of Robert College in 1871.
The Columbia University Collection also documents the role played by Cyrus Hamlin in purchasing the land on which Robert College was to be built. He also obtained the construction permits, defined the mission of the school and provisioned financial matters. Preserved in this archive are many images of the buildings of Robert College that reveal their construction processes and their interior and exterior facades. In these archival materials, it is also possible to find interesting documents such as regulations pertaining to how the buildings were to be used.
Amongst the buildings of the Üsküdar campus, the first ones were the Bowker Building, named in honor of the donor Sarah L. Bowker, and Barton Hall, built in 1882 by James Lee Barton, who was the director of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Barton Hall burnt down in a fire in 1905. Despite the fire, nine students graduated from the school in 1905. The last graduation ceremony held at the Üsküdar campus took place in 1913. The new campus buildings of the American College for Girls was built in 1914 in Arnavutköy, and though it still shared some common features with the buildings of Robert College in terms of architectural traditions, building materials and ornaments, it exhibited a specific architectural style and monumentality.
The number of students attending Robert College rose from 170 in 1871 to 216 in 1873. The student body was comprised of students coming from many different nations, religions and regions. The majority of the first graduates earning their degrees in 1868, and in the first years of the school, were non-Muslims and foreign students of the Ottoman Empire. Later on, Muslim Turkish students started to enter the college, and Robert College produced its first Turkish graduate in 1903.
Sports played an important role for students studying at both of the colleges. The origins of the "Sports Fest" organized at Boğaziçi University dates back to the "Field Day", the first public athletics contest held in 1898 at Robert College. This first Field Day, held at Robert College, was organized by the Athletics Association, founded in 1896. In the field, today known as the “South Square”, students competed in athletics events including running, high-jump and javelin.
The Columbia University Robert College and American College for Girls Collection contains many photographs that illuminate the campus life of the students. Photographs of lectures, club activities, sports, music, theater activities and conferences attended by students, as well as graduation photographs and meetings of alumni, convey the daily life of these two colleges.
Today, the Bulgarian State Archives and Bulgarian National Library house archival documents pertaining to Robert College and, to a lesser extent, to the American College for Girls. Bulgarian students constituted the majority of the student body from the 1870s to the 1890s. Additionally, many figures who played significant roles in the establishment of Bulgaria as well as its political and cultural transformations were Robert College graduates. These figures include two prime ministers, twelve ministers and countless parliament members, intellectuals, authors and thinkers. These documents, which have been brought to Boğaziçi University, also provide valuable information pertaining to the lives of these students following their graduations.
Mary Mills Patrick, principal of the İstanbul American College for Girls, sent a letter of request to the Bulgarian Embassy in İstanbul. She thanks the embassy for sparing a coach for the Bulgarian students who returned back to their countries via train. Additionally, she mentions that three of her students who were leaving with their brothers had faced hard times at the hands of the municipality police. She states that many students would be returning back to their countries, and if the ambassador informed the Central Commissariat at Pera, their troubles would be minimized.
The correspondence between George Washburn, who was the principal of Robert College between 1877 and 1903, and Konstantin Stoiloff (1871 graduate), lasting between 1880 and 1888, includes everyday conversations along with advice that Washburn gave to Stoiloff on his political career.
“My dear Stoiloff,
I have followed the events in Bulgaria with the greatest interest and have felt the deepest sympathy for you all. Wherever I could have exerted any influence in your favor I have failed to do it. I am very glad to see that Bulgaria stands higher today in the estimation of the World than before. I believe that in some way good will come out of all your trials. It is through adversity that we become strong.”
Additional archival documents that foster and enrich this archive have come from the Prime Ministry Archives of the Ottoman Empire (İstanbul) and the Archives of the Republic of Turkey (Ankara). These materials, which add up to almost 600 files, have been collected, catalogued and digitized.
“Nezâret-i Maârif-i Umumiye
Siruz Hâmlin nâm Amerikâlu’nun Boğaziçi’nde Rumelihisârı civârında vaz ve tesis murâd eylediği bir aded mektebin kavânin-i saltanat-ı seniyyeye ve bu misillü mekâtib hakkında olân nizâmâta tatbik olunmak ve dâima Maârif-i Umumiye Nezâreti’nde olub hilâfi hareketde bulunmâmak ve ol-bâbda takdim olunub Meclis-i Maârif’de hıfz etdirilmiş olan bir kıta lâyihada beyân olunân fünundan mâadâ bir şey tedris ve talim edecek olduğu hâlde ol emirde nezâret-i müşârünileyhaya müracaatla istihsâl-i ruhsat etmedikçe berâ ü mübâşeret etmemek şartıyla kendüsine mekteb-i mezküri küşâd etmek üzere ruhsat verilmiş. Husus Meclis-i Maârif’de tensib olunarak keyfiyet Bâb-ı âli ile badü’l-muhâbere şâyân buyurulân ruhsat-ı aliyemiz mekteb-i mezkürün ol-vechle küşâdı içün nâz ü niyetini mübeyyin mümaileyhe işbu ruhsatnâme itâ kılındı.
Fi Zilhicce sene 1278 [Mayıs/H 1862] Es-Seyyid Ahmed Kemâl.”
“… A number of distinct objects are proposed to it.
1st, That it should be to some extent a law school. There will be a Professor of law who will give a regular course of lectures upon certain departments of law, and who will guide the studies of those students who may wish to give special attention to the study of law in general.
2nd, That it should promote the study of the natural sciences, especially as applied to the useful arts.
3rd, That it should also give a sound and thorough education in Mathematics, Mental and Moral Philosophy, Logic, History, etc.
4th, As such an institution must by necessity have a common language, which in this case must be English, there will be a preparatory department in which the students not acquainted with
English will learn that language in order to enter upon the higher course.
This plan has been laid before the most distinguished institutions of learning, and the most of distinguished men in America, and has received their warm approbation. Among the many individuals of distinguished character and position who are particularly interested in the College are the following, who are well known to yourself . . .”
The documents in this archive, dating back to the establishment of Robert College in the 1850s, shed light on a variety of subjects such as the correspondence between government officials and administrators, regulations on the type of educational system that would be implemented in these colleges, documents pertaining to the travel, research and residence permits of lecturers and students, the records of students including their exam papers and notes on their political activities, intelligence and police records and documents on the transformation of Robert College into Boğaziçi University.
In addition to these three archives, news and essays published on Robert College, the American College for Girls and Boğaziçi University in national and international media, and academic work on the history of the institutions have been compiled to serve researchers. At this stage of the project, news and commentary from international newspapers and magazines such as the New York Times and National Geographic, as well as from Ottoman and Republican periodicals, has been scanned into a digital archive and the original documents have been organized. Books, memoirs, articles and theses written about Robert College, Boğaziçi University and the history of Ottoman and Turkish education in a broader sense have also been brought together for researchers to access.