A deep dive into the archives results in a diversity-focused clothing line

A deep dive into the archives results in a diversity-focused clothing line

screenshot of website with archival photos and articles of clothing

The Polywog Collection — A line of campus apparel, inspired by Black and Latinx engineering students. Images sourced from NYU Poly Archives

In 2019, when Joel Ureña, then an NYU Tandon senior, won a Fellowship for Digital and Inclusive Excellence from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), he was inspired to explore the Poly Archives, housed right in the Bern Dibner Library. The collections, overseen by archivist Lindsay Anderberg, begin in 1854, when the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute was formed, and run through the school’s 2014 name change. The Poly Archives contains official records; student publications; and manuscript collections from professors, researchers, and alumni, but no one who has ever experienced the nostalgic pleasures of flipping through old yearbooks would be surprised that Ureña chose to focus on The Polywog, as the volume was known. Paging through editions that dated back as far as 1887, he was struck by images he did not expect to see: Darnley Howard, a black student who earned a degree in mechanical engineering in 1920, remained at Poly to teach for eight years, and left to head Howard University's Mechanical Engineering Department, for example, or the founding members of the Black Students Union in 1969. 

With Anderberg’s encouragement, he compiled the images on a website, the Polywog Collection. “I hope that Black and Latinx students at NYU Tandon see this project and know that their legacy in this institution is eternal,” he has said. “They come out of NYU Tandon joining a hallowed group of engineers who have impacted the world through their research, reshaped industries, and strengthened their communities.”

He realized, however, that he could better spread the word by printing the images on articles of clothing, and he consulted with members of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) to create appealing archives-inspired designs that could be produced and sold as fundraisers.


Ureña, who graduated in 2020, hopes the garments not only celebrate the history of Black and Latinx engineers at the school but also serve as an invitation to browse the archives. 

You can read more about the project in a recent issue of Archival Outlook.

Visit the Polywog Collection