Sunday, 22 July 2012

Week 7: Silent Voices

This week at The HistoryMakers, Skyla and I worked on the special collections of Diahann Carroll, Dionne Warwick and Valerie Simpson. Processing on a team has been especially beneficial when I find myself staring at the same group of documents without a clue of where to put them, and she steps in and gives me an idea in a few seconds. We get each other out of the ruts.

Diahann Carroll
Dionne Warwick
Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson
 We also attended several lecture sessions this week. Dr. Salvatore talked with us about reference services and different models of information seeking behaviors. Dr. Reed lectured about the Harlem Renaissance and the Great Depression. We had a treat when Dr. Goldsby stopped by with an additional archival lecture. She talked to us about her “Mapping the Stacks” project and the ethical concerns involved with modern archives. In preparation for my move to California, I have secured housing in Koreatown, an ethnic enclave community in western Los Angeles. The apartment is affordable, close to public transit and available for my September 2nd arrival. 

April Greiman's "Big Bowl of RIce" mural in Koreatown, Los Angeles

Special Collections processing has been a challenge for the fellows throughout this week. We have been trying to make decisions, asking questions and talking amongst ourselves to no end on a wide variety of scenarios. Thank you letters and in-kind donations have been a constant source of worry. Add a category or elaborate on a folder title is also up for debate. How do we organize the folders so that they will be easy for the outsourced scanning company to understand? How are “An evening with…” program files different or similar to the programs that Brad and Julie have been working on? What is the purpose of this project? Who will be consulting these files in the future? Does provenance or original order matter at all? I have found myself torn between my reasonable idea of what could be done and a strict adherence to the pre-established order. One thing that always drew me to archives as a profession was a sense of autonomy. If we understand archival principles, the mission of the repository, and the relative importance of the collection at hand, it is virtually impossible to design an indecipherable organizational schema. The email exchanges and the mini-meetings about the process do not seem as important of an exercise as just making some decisions and seeing if the end results are palatable. I highly doubt that this team of fellows would leave anyone disappointed.   

Surprises in a box
 Dr. Goldsby’s lecture was especially engaging for me because of what she asked us to read before her lecture. Saidiya Hartman’s “Venus in Two Acts” was an amazingly well written article. It felt more like poetic prose than a piece of academic writing. While I do not believe that it is in the realm of an archivist or historian to recreate stories when certain historical perspectives are missing from the collection, I can identify with the longing to put something in the empty space. When I went to the Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinois, and walked into a dark, old, wooden train car that was used to transport European Jews to concentration camps, I imagined how I would feel or what I would have done in that situation. The same thing went through my mind when I looked at the steep staircase, designated for the slaves to take the laundry up to the second floor of the Drayton Plantation house, just outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Both of these exhibit spaces utilize our senses and longing for a narrative to pull us back into history and care about what happened to people that we have never met. As archivists we can never forget the voices that have been silenced throughout history and strive to find records of their existence, but when all else fails, we have to acknowledge those empty spaces.    

Staircase for slaves at Drayton Hall, South Carolina

An example of a Holocaust train car
Fellow Fellows treated me to a root beer float for
my birthday,
cheers to turning 27!

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