Author Ivan Doig’s papers come to MSU

The collected works and writings of late author and Montana-born Ivan Doig have found a permanent home at MSU. Displaying MSU’s dedication to expanding its commitment to the humanities, MSU faculty hope that the collection will enhance educational and research opportunities for students and scholars. Comprised of Doig’s notes, manuscripts and correspondences over the years, the collection will soon become available in its entirety in digital format for students and fans of Doig around the world to peruse and study.

The acquisition of Ivan Doig’s papers mark a new page in the history of Montana State University. We are absolutely thrilled and committed to be careful stewards of the Doig archive. Montana State University will treat these materials with the utmost care and respect while making them widely available to students, scholars and the global community, both in their print formats and through digitization and the accessibility of Internet search engines,” MSU President Waded Cruzado said.

She continued, “Our land-grant mission of teaching, research and outreach make Montana State the natural partner for a man whose life and work is deeply tied to our state. Our historical commitment to educating the sons and daughters of the working families of America is clearly captured in Ivan’s writings representing the lives and tribulations of ordinary people in rural Montana. This is a marriage made in Big Sky heaven.”

Doig was an acclaimed writer and novelist who also had considerable experience as a journalist. Born in White Sulphur Springs, MT, Doig grew up along the Rocky Mountain front. After graduating from Valier High School, he attended Northwestern University and received bachelors and masters degrees in journalism. The 17 books he penned were often set in the historic landscapes of his childhood. Doig passed away at 75 years old in Seattle, Washington this past April.

Acquiring the Doig collection was spearheaded by Kenning Arlitsch, dean of the MSU Library, and Nicol Rae, Dean of the College of Letters and Science. Both were enthusiastic about the chance to bring Doig’s work to MSU.

“I think it’s a recognition of our reputation as a center of excellence for the study of the West … we have scientists working on issues important to the West, we have historians on our faculty and graduate students who work on the history of the West, we have scholars of western literature and social scientists who work on the region,” Rae said. “I think getting the Doig papers is a recognition of that. Second, it shows our commitment to the humanities: that we are committed to that area as well as the sciences.”

Ivan Doig was a writer who was very much attached to this part of Montana … most of what he wrote about took place along the Rocky Mountain front, along the Bridger mountains and so forth, so he’s very rooted in this area,”said Arlitsch, who initially approached Doig’s widow, Carol. “From that perspective alone, bringing his papers back to the institution that’s located in this area makes the most sense.”

According to Arlitsch, Doig employed an archivist to help him organize his materials before he passed away. The archivist sent him an inventory of the collection in July and, along with the Associate Dean of the Library, Brian Rossman, flew to Seattle in August to visit with Carol and look at the collection before returning to Bozeman, where they spent a week preparing a proposal.

The proposal was developed collaboratively by MSU’s Library and the College of Letters and Science and backed by MSU Faculty as well as local writers and community members. In total 26 individuals provided letters of support including President Cruzado, MSU writer-in-residence Rick Bass and Red Ants Pants owner Sarah Calhoun. After support was secured, the proposal was sent to Doig. She liked what she saw, said Arlitsch, and MSU’s proposal was accepted.

[Carol] really liked what we proposed because her and Ivan’s primary motivation was that this collection get out to the public and be used by the public, students and scholars,” said Arlitsch, “A lot of times when collections come into archives, it takes a long time for them to see the light of day. It can takes years before anything becomes available, so we are trying to be very aggressive with this in getting it out as quickly as possible, and I think that really appealed to her.”

Arlitsch explained that while the bulk of the collection is paper documents, it also includes audio and slide collections.

For instance, when he was writing This House of Sky he went back to the White Sulphur Springs area in Ringling and he interviewed a number of his old neighbors and he recorded all those interviews on audiocassettes.” said Arlitsch.

Describing the collection as “very complete”, Arlitsch said the documents showcase Doig’s writing process in its entirety. “He was a meticulous writer and he was a very process oriented writer. He would write out what his ideas were for books — what the title would be and how many words that he thought the book would be. He would start to take notes on yellow legal pads — he would write ideas, phrases and quotes on these big index cards, and then start to type out his manuscript … his entire writing process is laid out and I think that this is what will be interesting to scholars who are interested in Doig; How did he write? What was his process? What were his ideas, what were the things that didn’t make it into the book?”

The collection also includes boxes of correspondence that Doig had with people who wrote to him and speeches that he gave, including a Friends of the Library speech he gave at MSU in 2010.

The library’s plan is to outsource the digitization of the collection to a specialist company in order to finish the task on schedule; in the proposal to Carol Doig the library had promised to have 90 percent of the collection posted online within eight months of receiving it.

Both Rae and Arlitsch are excited about the opportunities the collection will provide for MSU students and scholars of Doig. While there are no concrete plans for the use of the collection, some potential uses detailed in the proposal include incorporating the collection into undergraduate and graduate syllabi for American studies, English, geography and history within 12 months, and developing software applications to help students and scholars within 24 months. Such proposed applications include crowdsourced annotations of Doig’s manuscripts and using interviews and correspondences with Doig to show his influence over time.

Since I have come here I have been trying to push something called digital scholarship – sometimes it is referred to as digital humanities,” Arlitsch said, “The idea is that if you digitize a mass of documents like this … you can do things with it that you couldn’t do with paper documents. You can sift through and synthesize and analyze … there’s a lot that you can do with digital scholarship applications that you cannot do with just a print collection.”

Rae added that the College of Letters and Science intends to organize and hold a conference to honor Doig and his work in the Fall of 2017. The conference would be as open to the public as possible and would serve as opportunity to bring scholars and writers to MSU while acknowledging Doig’s memory.

“This is my biggest contribution to the project. I think it would be great to do a scholarly conference on Ivan Doig once we have the papers. I anticipate we could do it in the Fall of 2017, and I will find the funding for that, one way or another. I think it would be a good opportunity to bring some leading western writers and scholars of the west and western literature to MSU and to showcase some of our own very strong faculty and students in that same area … That’s my part of the deal. We’ll do it, and I think we can put a very neat event together here in Bozeman,” Rae said.

Now that Doig’s collection has found a home at MSU, both Rae and Arlitsch hope students will be able to appreciate and use the new resource available to them.

I think that this is not only for students who grew up in Montana, but for any students who are studying at MSU. This is about as close to home as it gets, and I hope that students will take an opportunity to come in and sit with the material in special collections and look through some of it and interact with it on the web and through the digital scholarship applications we are going to create.”Arlitsch said, “I think that students do not always realize what treasures they have here, and this is definitely a treasure they should take advantage of.”