University of Wisconsin–Madison

Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Ham (1930-2021)

Jerry HamDr. Gerald “Jerry” Ham, who was instrumental in establishing the archives program in the 1960s, passed away in June. Originally hired by the Wisconsin Historical Society as the state archivist, his arrival in Madison coincided with momentum at the then-named School of Library and Information Studies to provide formal archival training. Dr. Ham’s willingness to teach the very first LIS 734: Modern Archives Administration course with very little notice, experiment with course timing and format from year to year, and lend his professional knowledge to help the program grow led the archives program to be consistently ranked among the top in the nation.

Throughout the profession, Dr. Ham was one of the most widely recognized leaders in the evolution of archival education. Dr. Charles Bunge, former director of the School of Library and Information Studies, remembers Dr. Ham as the “epitome of the effective clinical professor. He brought to his teaching wide and deep knowledge and experience in the best practices and theories of archival work. He also took back to the practicing field insights gained from his scholarship and his interactions with students.” The three foundational courses developed with his direction were adopted as the standard for archives programs across the nation.

Over his 25 years of teaching, Dr. Ham’s students were known as excellent practitioners in the field. Archival training through UW-Madison was, and remains, a respected and appreciated skill set. Many alumni of the archives program rose to regional and national leadership positions and several followed in Dr. Ham’s footsteps by also becoming instructors in archives programs. Dr. Susan E. Davis (MA’73,PhD’03) shared that “Jerry continued to influence my career as my professor, my boss, and my long term mentor. Eventually, I became a full-time archival educator in two MLIS programs and had the opportunity to introduce my students to Jerry’s writings and his strong influence on the course of the archival profession.”

iSchool students today benefit from the foundation Dr. Ham established. Now called ‘Archives in a Digital Age,’ the program’s sustained partnership with the Wisconsin Historical Society provides critical field experiences for students. Camaraderie in the program led to decades of an active student chapter of the Society of American Archivists and the program’s reputation allows the school to attract top students year after year. The iSchool is grateful for the commitment and contributions of Dr. Ham and honors his legacy by continuing to educate archival leaders and innovators at UW-Madison.

Read Dr. Ham’s obituary.