Thomas Phelan papers, 1973-1996 and undated
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Brief Description:

The bulk of the Thomas Phelan papers (MC 76) collection consists of student research papers written for Phelan’s undergraduate courses from the mid 1970s until 1994. Paper topics reflect the nature of the courses taught, such as Medieval art and American architecture and artifacts. However, a large percentage of the papers pertain to local history, reflecting the popularity of Phelan’s course “Troy: A 19th Century Industrial City.” These papers illustrate the wide ranging interests of both the professor and his students, with subjects such as transportation (canals, bridges, railroads, steamboats, street cars), industry and industrial archeology (iron and steel manufacturing, paper and textile industries, collar making), local figures (Henry Burden, Sanford Cluett, Erastus Corning, Uri Gilbert, John Griswold, Kate Mullany, Russell Sage, Canvass White, etc.), workers’ living conditions, 19th century entertainment, religious and ethnic groups, and a variety of other topics.

There is also a small amount of miscellaneous research material compiled by or for Phelan, including research notes, photocopied articles, photographs, negatives, and slides. Topics are similar to those listed above. In addition, the collection contains typed transcripts of documents pertaining to Stephen van Rensselaer which were originally transcribed for William Bertrand Fink's 1950 dissertation "Stephen van Rensselaer: The Last Patroon."

Held at:
Institute Archives and Special Collections
Phone: 518 276 8340
Email: lib-archives [at]
Created by: Phelan, Thomas (1925-)
Volume: 3.6 Linear Feet

This collection is arranged in four series:

I. Graded title pages (access restricted)

II. Student research papers

III. Research materials

IV. Transcriptions regarding Stephen Van Rensselaer

V. Miscellany

Series I and II are arranged chronologically and then alphabetically by authors' last names within each semester. Series III is arranged alphabetically. Series IV has been removed from binders and reflects its original order.

Biographical Note for Phelan, Thomas (1925-) :

The Reverend Thomas Phelan dedicated more than four decades of his life to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), where he served as chaplain, professor, dean, historian, and special adviser to the president. A native of Troy, New York, Phelan began his long association with RPI in 1959 when he was named the resident Catholic chaplain. Rev. Phelan’s legacy to Rensselaer includes building the Chapel + Cultural Center, which opened in 1968. Phelan, who was named dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (H&SS) in 1972 and served in that capacity until 1994, is credited with overseeing the renovation of the Russell Sage Laboratory to bring H&SS onto the main campus, and developing a strong faculty focused on bridging the humanities and technology.

Phelan’s contributions to the community outside of Rensselaer were also numerous. He is known as the founding president of the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and fostering pride in the local communities that played a major role in the industrial revolution. He also served as chairman of WMHT Educational Telecommunications, and was a leader or member of a host of ecumenical, mental health, historic, and educational groups. He also wrote extensively, on historical theology, American material culture (especially as it reflects our industrial heritage), and higher education. He is perhaps best known for his writings on the American Industrial Revolution, using the Troy area as a model for understanding the implications of industrialization in U.S. history. Phelan’s work through the years earned him numerous honors. He was elected a fellow of the Society for the Arts, Religion and Contemporary Culture in 1972. He was awarded the Albany League of Arts Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts, the Albert Fox Demers Medal for distinguished service to Rensselaer in 1986, the first Community Service Award from the Hudson-Mohawk Consortium of Colleges and Universities in 1987, and the Academic Citizens Laureate Award from the State University of New York Foundation at Albany in 1988. In 2005 the Institute created the Thomas Phelan Endowed Chair in the Humanities and Social Sciences to recognize an outstanding scholar who has contributed significantly to an understanding of the relationship of material culture to the history and development of society.

Access Restrictions: Access to Box 1 is restricted.
Languages of Materials
English [eng]
Rights/Use Restrictions: This collection is protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).
PreferredCitation: Thomas Phelan papers, MC 76. Insitute Archives and Special Collections, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY.