Sunday, 1 July 2012

Week 4: History is always Relevant

On Tuesday night, I left work at 7:30 PM to discover that I had lost my bus card. Instead of walking to Roosevelt and catching a train back to Hyde Park, I decided to buy a bus card and head to the movie theater in Streeterville. It was completely irrational the most I could have done at home was work on editing my evaluations and abstracts, the least would have been to get some sleep, both of which would be better than catching the 9:30 PM showing of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. The movie is based on Seth Graeme-Smith’s novel of the same name and takes the position that the Confederates were made up of vampires who preyed on slaves, thus making the abolition of slavery worth fighting for. Vampires killed Lincoln’s mother and his son, so he had a personal vendetta to resolve by writing the Emancipation Proclamation and winning the Civil War. The movie was ridiculous but it gave me something to think about when Dr. Reed was discussing the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln in class on Wednesday. A theme from the movie and the lecture was that the end of slavery was not about a new found love of black people, depending on the historian/novelist, it was about economics, politics, power or vampires. Even well published abolitionists would not hire black people in their establishments. It is ironic that the end of slavery did not provide any support for the struggle of black people to find a place of peace and equality in America.  

When I was living in Phoenix, Arizona in 2011, I volunteered at the Arizona State Library in their Archives department. In January, the state library hosted the Arizona Archives Summit at the Polly Rosenbaum building in Phoenix. Archivists and record managers from all over the state were invited to talk about their collections, new initiatives and attend lectures in order for everyone to be informed about what was happening with the archival collections in Arizona. The portion of Dr. Salvatore’s lecture dealing with Documentation Strategy took me back to this program. There was a committee who was working to get a survey filled out by every archival repository in the state, so that they could see where the gaps in the collecting were. Although the committee presented with fancy graphs and tables, they conceded that not all of the institutions were represented. They opened the floor for discussions on how they could obtain more accurate reporting. The representatives from the Native American communities quickly spoke up about the irrelevancy of the fields in the survey form. For example, what geographical region (choose one) does a collection represent? To them, their materials spread across county and state lines, and their ancient artifacts do not fit easily into pre-defined categories. Other institutions shared that they had so much unprocessed materials that they could not report with full confidence about the contents of their collections. These are just a few of the problems that archivists face as we try to standardize and balance our collections.     

This week at the HistoryMakers Fellowship, my progress on my finding aids was stalled because of my work on the Mayme A. Clayton PowerPoint presentation and our field trip to The University of Chicago Special Collections and Research Center. Up until now, I was taking notes and lazily adding slides to my presentation, but now I have it all mapped out in my mind. I chose the California African American Museum (CAAM) as the accompanying institution for my presentation. CAAM has more of a focus on art, while Clayton is a more traditional archive with a wider variety of materials. The field trip to The University of Chicago was very informative. The staff who gave the tour was so knowledgeable and encouraging about their collection and careers in archives. The accessions manager, Isabel, is the lynch pin to the organization’s strategy of processing all collections at a top level and making them available to researchers. I know that there are benefits and drawbacks to all different kinds of processing strategies, but it is hard for me to find flaws in what they are doing at The University of Chicago. I finished the evaluation summary of Suzan-Lori Parks, and Dr. Ronald Gerald Coleman, a professor of African American History at the University of Utah. I began watching tapes for Eric Werner, and hope to complete his evaluation summary early in the week, in order to make up some of the ground I lost last week.

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