My name is Michael Spachek and I have been working with the Jackson County Historical Society this summer as they process the Wilborn Negative Collection and with the Alexander Majors as a Collections and Research Intern.
JCHS Wilborn Negative Collection Archive
The collection contains an estimated 500,000 historic images of Kansas City from the early 1900s to 2006. My main responsibility is to organize the collection into a system that meets archival standards and will be more user friendly in the future. Eventfully, the Wilborn Collection will be digitized and made available to the public online by Missouri’s bicentennial in 2021. I have been involved with similar photographic collections in the past, but nothing this large.
So far, the most challenging part of the internship has been the size of the collection. Before I began, I thought I had a good understanding of how to process photo negative collections. Unsurprisingly, I was wrong. That hubris formed the bases for the most important lesson of the summer. In my previous experience, I did not feel like I had to be as rigorous in my processing and I made plenty of mistakes because of it. Part of that was, as an undergraduate, not knowing any better but it was also working with small collections where mistakes were easy to fix. The second I saw the boxes where the collection is held, I knew I had to become much more detailed in my approach to processing. Thanks to the help of the Jackson County staff, I have done just that. They taught me the proper way to put a collection into an organized system of box and file numbers and how to describe each file. I have learned to double check each box as I complete it to make sure the files are in order. Needless to say, I am much better prepared for a career in public history now then I was a few short weeks ago.
Alexander Majors Barn – Collections & Research Internship
In addition to the Jackson County Historical Society, I am also interning for the Alexander Majors House Museum this summer. For this internship, I am processing their collection of blacksmithing tools and creating an exhibit that is focused on blacksmithing in the 19th century and the role of skilled slave labor on the Majors property in the 1850s. The first step was separating the blacksmithing tools from the random assortment of other objects. Right now, I am beginning to research the individual tools to determine if they fall into the Museums timeframe of the 1850s to the 1880s. The final product will be an interpretive space that educates the public on this topic.
The Museum has a wide variety of visitors and the exhibit will need to be appropriate for all ages. That has challenged me to really think about how to interpret very serious topics like slavery for children and adults. I am not quite sure how I will do that yet but the process has been enlightening. However, that is not the only the challenge of this internship. I have very little blacksmithing knowledge so it has been a test of my research skills to learn about these objects.
This has been a very educational experience for me because it has combined all aspects of research, collections management, and interpretation into one project. I have worked on exhibits in the past where I was responsible for just the research or just the interpretation but I have never been solely responsible for the entire project. It is intimidating knowing that I have no one to blame but myself if the project does not meet my standards. By having control of all aspects of the exhibit, it has forced me to grow as a public historian and an educator. I am looking forward to the completion of this project and the knowledge that I have what it takes to make it as a professional historian.