Updates from Special Collections and University Archives


Time flies when you're having fun! Over the course of the last month, I have worked closely with MS 058 Rabbi Samuel Mendelsohn Papers. This collection was donated back in 1989 by the Temple of Israel and had been previously processed. Since its merge into ArchiveSpace, some data needed to be reviewed and updated for accuracy. The collection also required new archival-grade folders in order to best preserve the papers within. Because most of the intellectual work was already completed, it has been my duty to pay close attention to the details to ensure everything is in tip-top shape! To be fair, Dr. Mendelsohn made it much easier for us because he labeled each of his manuscripts with a designation (sermon, lecture, address, etc.) that became the series in which the collection is organized.

My first duty was to physically rearrange the collection to make sure it matched the record in ArchiveSpace. While I did that, I typed up brand new labels, which will be attached to the new folders. The document I produced for the labels has also had the added benefit of acting as a quick reference list for the contents of the collections without having to go into ArchiveSpace, which can take a bit longer to peruse. After this, I replaced the old folders with new acid-free folders, which are used broadly across archives and museums to keep documents safe. It is a very simple act but can extend the life and usability of a record by many years. As strange as it may sound, this is typically one of my favorite parts of the process, not just because it helps the object but is one of the only times I will get to engage with every object. I found it so cool that Dr. Mendelsohn wrote on ruled paper in the 1870s, just as we do today!

After replacing the folders, I carefully updated the finding aid to make sure the names were correctly reflected, and then updated the main collection fields in ArchiveSpace to make sure the finding aid was as complete as possible. Much of archival work is detail-oriented, which is certainly a skill I have honed during my internship here. I certainly used this skill as I reviewed scans of the over 200 objects within the collection to check for imperfections and made notes of which ones would need to be rescanned. I will start rescanning the documents soon!

Overall, I have begun to make progress in meeting my learning goals for my practicum. I am becoming more familiar with ArchivesSpace through careful combing of data. I have engaged with many new professional texts that have reinforced basic archival principles, such as provenance and original order, but also have increased my knowledge of current professional discourse within the archival community. This relates to my last goal: to become more aware of archival silences. I recently read "Moving Toward a Reparative Archive: A Roadmap for a Holistic Approach to Disrupting Homogenous Histories in Academic Repositories and Creating Inclusive Spaces for Marginalized Voices" by Lae'l Hughes-Watkins which discussed why archives need to reexamine their collections, collecting practices, and their relationship with their communities. Hughes-Watkins identifies archives (and other institutions of higher learning) as places that have contributed to oppressive archival practices that contributed to archival silences.

Through engaging with that text and others like UNC Chapel Hill's "A Guide to Conscious Editing at Wilson Special Collections Library," I am becoming more aware of how I can help erase silences and strive for a more inclusive archive. This does not just mean changing collecting missions, but also the way we talk and write about collections. In reference to Dr. Mendelsohn's collection, reading "Removing the Invisible Norm of Protestant Christianity" in "A Guide to Conscious Editing" revealed the way that our vocabulary is inherently influenced by Protestant Christianity. Being aware of verbiage and how I describe collections can help me better represent existing collections and start to eliminate silences within the archive.

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Updates from Special Collections and University Archives