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Herman B Wells Home Movies: Presented by University Archives and the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive

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Presented by the University Archives with the assistance of the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive.

Herman B Wells, Indiana University President from 1937-1962, is remembered for his friendly demeanor, his desire to form meaningful connections with students, and his crucial role in realizing change for the University. He loved to travel, and he often used his time abroad to recruit international faculty and students. Domestically, his fierce promotion of academic freedom attracted professors from all over the country. At the local level, with the help of like-minded students, he cracked down on discrimination during his time as President, desegregating housing and dining on campus and promoting the recruitment of nonwhite athletes; these actions had ripple effects in lessening discrimination in downtown Bloomington as well. It is due in large part to his efforts that IU became recognized as a top-tier public university. 

This collection contains twenty-three home movies filmed by Wells between the late 1930s and early 1950s. The films provide a kind of insight into Wells' life that even his detailed autobiography, Being Lucky, did not. Although his written reflections upon his career at Indiana University are of course extremely valuable, the visual record he left behind should not be perceived as any less valuable. Nonwritten sources add depth of understanding to a historical narrative. Wells' films can be thought of as a different type of autobiography, one that details his personal, rather than solely his professional, interests. What he deemed worth capturing helps us better understand him as a person and gives us more information about the motives behind his professional decisions. 

Wells was very interested in the people and the culture of every place he visited. Much of his footage depicts the ordinary citizenry conducting their everyday affairs. He also appears to have enjoyed the natural world immensely, as indicated by his frequent focus on the mountains, rivers, lakes, plants, and animals of the particular place he was in. There are also numerous shots of the local architecture in most of the places he chose to record; one may therefore conclude that this was of interest to him, too. And then there is his evident love for his family. His mother was often his traveling companion, and as a result, she appears in many of his films. Wells' home movies provide further evidence of his people-focused personality and cultural and scientific curiosity, and help to further explain his desire to hire more international faculty, promote study abroad programs, encourage academic freedom, and create an inclusive campus community during his time as University President. Click on any of the section headings to the right to access the digitized home movies by category.

Further readings

Capshew, James H. Herman B Wells: The Promise of the American University. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012. 

Wells, Herman B. Being Lucky. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.


Created by Jennifer A. Tucker. Many thanks to Dina Kellams, Andy Uhrich, Rachael Stoeltje, John Summerlot, Jason Baird Jackson, and Eric Sandweiss for their guidance and support!