Visiting professor to showcase historical scrapbook collection

GVL / Courtesy -
Mandy Ross

GVL / Courtesy – Mandy Ross

Anne Marie Smit

Mandy Ross, a professor from San Francisco State University, will be visiting Grand Valley State University Friday, Sept. 29, to share her vintage scrapbook collection. The scrapbooks, titled “Paper of the Past,” are a compilation of photographs, letters, diary entries and other collectives that document the stories of ordinary people between 1840 and 1950. 

On her website, Ross describes her motivation behind the creation of Paper of the Past, writing, “It allows me to put these stories back out into the world and connect with other book lovers who daydream of digging up time capsules and exploring antique shops on their time off.”

Ross sought out GVSU in particular for its archives of James “Bill” Ochs’ scrapbook, a man from Luxembourg whose letters she purchased last year. Ochs saved all of the letters from his pen pal, Suzie, and Ross would like to continue to piece together their story with GVSU’s collection. 

“I’m pretty invested in Bill and Suzie’s story and even traveled to Luxembourg to try and learn more about Suzie this summer,” she said via email. 

Leigh Rupinski, archivist for public services and community engagement at GVSU and a host for the event, said Paper of the Past is an opportunity for Ross to expand her research while sharing her project with students. 

“Ross will give a talk about Bill and Suzie’s story and also how she’s using these old scrapbooks to revive an artistic medium that’s falling out of popularity these days,” Rupinski said.

Ross’ vintage scrapbooks are unique in their effort to tell the stories of ordinary people from the past, a method of engaging people in history in a sentimental way. 

“It’s more personal because it’s not a textbook account of a story,” Rupinski said. “There’s all kinds of different fashion cutouts, letters, photographs, ticket stubs and cards that people have sent.” 

Due to the variety of material displayed in the project, Rupinski believes Ross’ vintage scrapbooks will attract students from a range of disciplines. 

“I think this event would appeal to students who are interested in history, art, design and communications,” she said. “For people who scrapbook, it might be of interest to them as well.”

Rupinski said Ross collects most of her research and heirlooms online, so her visit to GVSU is a rare occasion. 

“The particular scrapbook collection that she owns half of is 40 letters to a Luxembourgish woman,” she said. “The scrapbook we have does not contain the same letters that her scrapbook does, so she wanted to come here to finish out her research.” 

Due to her teaching career in California, Paper of the Past is more a hobby that Ross pursues in her free time. She primarily publishes her findings on her Instagram account, which has more than 19,000 followers. 

According to Rupinski, Ross plans to publicize what she discovers from Ochs’ scrapbooks stored at GVSU. 

“Her Instagram account is pretty popular, so there’s clearly a good following of people interested in this art form,” she said. “She will be promoting our stuff as part of that as well.” 

Ross will showcase Paper of the Past from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m in the Seidman House. For more information on Ross and a link to her Instagram account, visit