I’ve finished compiling all the gathered information about the objects in the Alexander Major’s House into an Excel spreadsheet, which I believe will then be imported into PastPerfect (the museum’s collections management software). There are several required fields that must be filled out when adding object records for accession.
One is the Collection field. I decided to have each room of the house be its own collection. For example, there’s a painting of Alexander Majors in the house’s entry hall, so it will be part of the Entry Hall Collection. Objects are given both a less descriptive Object Name, as well as a more descriptive Object Title. The Object Title would be “Oil Painting of Alexander Majors,” while the Object Name would simply be “Painting.” The Object Description includes even more details about an object, including information about the object’s specific location in the room, it’s composition, place of origin, etc. For instance, the Object Description for the Major’s painting contains details about the artist and painting, like how it was painted by local artist Mary Campbell and was based on a tintype of Majors at age thirty-six. Other information required in an object record include the date the object was made, the name of the donor, the catalog date, and the name of the staff member who cataloged the object. The most difficult part has been finding out who the donor of an object was, which I am currently working on by looking through old newsletters and organizational papers.
My first digitization project was a collection of photographs from President Truman’s first inauguration. I scanned pictures of Truman’s family, Vice President Alben Barkley, the inaugural ball and parade, and the inauguration ceremony. Archivists must wear gloves when handling the photographs to prevent damaging them. After scanning, I began the process of entering the description of the photographs and putting them on the Harry S. Truman Library’s website. For each photograph, I wrote a brief title and recorded its size, color, and photographer. I also described each photograph’s content and identified any significant people, which sometimes required research. Once the descriptions were complete, the photographs were uploaded to the website.
I’ve also digitized hundreds of pages of documents in addition to these photographs, including State Department memos to President Truman regarding the Korean War and several of Harry Truman’s notebooks from his military training in World War I. Handling President Truman’s personal belongings has been one of the most exciting parts of my internship. I’ve also gained an appreciation for the art that goes into properly scanning frail and awkward documents.
Here are a few pages from one of Truman’s notebooks:
One aspect of my job as an archivist at the Truman Library and Museum has been record digitization. Although this can be a tedious and repetitive task, I find it as rewarding as processing collections and writing finding aids. As a researcher, I understand the value of having online access to photographs and documents. Researchers anywhere in the world can view records online, and many archives are digitizing their holdings. Digitized records can also be shared on social media to reach a broader audience.
For example, I scanned Margaret Truman’s diary from 1941 because the Truman Library wanted her December 7th and 8th entries to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Over the past two days, the Truman Library has shared the diary pages on their social media accounts and website. As of today, 275 people have liked or shared the diary pages on Facebook and 139 people have liked or retweeted them on Twitter. This is why I find digitization so valuable. Making history accessible is a large and rewarding part of what public historians do. I was able to connect over 400 people to an important part of our past simply by scanning two documents and putting them online. Digitization may not be the most exciting task, but it is certainly an important one filled with meaning.
Prior to writing the finding aid for the Michael Davis Papers, I researched the collection’s contents and learned that Michael Davis was the chairman of the Committee for the Nation’s Health (CNH) during Harry Truman’s presidency. The CNH supported Truman’s national health insurance initiative and campaigned against organizations that opposed the program, such as the American Medical Association. Most of the collection contained publications, articles, press releases, and newsletters from the CNH and opposing organizations.
Once I had a thorough understanding of the collection, I began my description. First, I described the collection as a whole by summarizing the types of documents it contained and the collection’s primary subjects and themes. I also provided the historical context of the collection and explained how the collection related to Harry Truman. My series description was brief because there was only one series, the Subject File. Again, I outlined the types of documents and the subject matter of the series, along with the series’ arrangement. Lastly, I described the collection at the file unit level by listing the folder titles for each box in the collection.
There was other essential information I included in the finding aid, such as copyright information and information about the collection’s size and date span. I also needed to compose a biographical sketch of Michael Davis’s life, which proved difficult because the collection had little information about him. However, after some research in the archive, I was able to create a timeline of Michael Davis’s education and employment history. My final step was to write the HTML webpage for the finding aid using a program called Dreamweaver. As a HTML document, the finding aid was added to the Truman Library’s website where it is now available to researchers.
Today I would like to begin sharing the process for creating a finding aid. A finding aid is an index or description of a collection’s arrangement and contents created for researchers so they can determine whether or not a collection is worth their time. Before I describe the process of writing a finding aid, it is necessary to first explain the collection’s arrangement, which is usually described in a finding aid.
The contents of a collection have various levels of control, meaning there are various ways a collection can be grouped. The broadest grouping is the collection level, which for my collection was the Michael Davis Papers. The second broadest classification is the series level. At this level, records are organized based on their similarities in topics, functions, or document types. This is often used to divide larger collections with many boxes into manageable segments. Since the Michael Davis Papers fit into a single box, there was only one series level. A narrower grouping is the file unit or folder level which can be organized alphabetically, chronologically, topically, or by document type. For the Michael Davis Papers, the folders were separated primarily by organization. For instance, materials from the American Medical Association were in a different folder than materials from the Committee for the Nation’s Health. The narrowest level of description and arrangement is the item level, which can be arranged chronologically or alphabetically. This level consists of the individual materials in the folders. Many finding aids don’t describe on this level of detail because of a lack of time, resources, and practicality.
My finding aid described the Michael Davis Papers on each of these levels except for the item level. The descriptions varied in detail and content, depending on whether I was writing about the collection, series, or folder levels. Next time, I will go into the writing process and explain some of the content I was fortunate enough to work with.
The first items that got digitized and handed back to me were two cassette tapes entitled “Recollections.” Recorded in the 1960s, “Recollections” consists of an elderly John Gage recalling his childhood and family life in Kansas City. Apparently read from a manuscript, Gage’s lawyer-like delivery conjures up scenes of Civil War era Kansas City and the lively development of the early metropolis. It was fascinating to hear about Colonel Thomas H. Swope, guerrilla warfare, and the wild celebrations that occurred upon the completion of the Missouri-Pacific railroad and the Hannibal Bridge connection. Here is an audio clip from the story Gage’s father told him about the completion of the Missouri-Pacific railroad.
Equipped with a laptop, notebook, and headphones, I have immersed myself in the fascinating stories of “Recollections.” The goal of the finding aid I am creating is to strike a balance between enough information and too much information. This balance will enable researchers, and anyone else who may be interested, to assess the importance of the audio without having to listen all the way through. In the meantime, Marr Archives will store the hard copies of the John B. Gage collection, while the digital archival copies will be stored in the larger Missouri University server.
During the past few weeks, I have been doing ongoing work with the Truman Map Room collection. This is a collection of great significance, since it encompasses critical correspondence between the allied leaders and their aides. During WWII, this information was top secret and it was not declassified for researchers until 1976. The collection is extensive – over 8 linear feet – and details Truman’s plans to end the war in Japan, along with working with Stalin and Churchill to end the war in the East. This portion of the collection deals with the personal communication of the “big three” leaders. Communication ranged from serious issues dealing with the war, to personal notes of kindness. Once online, researchers will have a vast amount of material to examine dealing with the end of World War II.
This week I am still working on the Map Room materials. The correspondence between the U.S. and the allied powers is fascinating, and I feel as though I am a fly on the wall getting to see their plans on ending the war in Germany and later Japan. As I was scanning the documents, I became interested in the history of the Map Room and inquired as to how the room got its name. The room is located on the east side of the White House in the lower level. The room was originally a recreational room for the First Family and was later turned into a billiard room during the late nineteenth century. During the administration of Franklin Roosevelt it was turned into a situation room for Roosevelt and his aides to examine and exchange sensitive war communication. Here they would post and examine maps to chart the war’s progress and that’s how the room received its name. It has now been remade into a personal room for the president and his family. More info can be found here.
I am now in the process of scanning the navy portion of the Map Room papers. A large portion of this collection contains the minutes and proceedings of the Potsdam Conference. Early on as a student, I was fully aware of the importance and significance of the conference and the world it created after the war, but examining these first-hand documents shed more light on the major historical event. In the meeting minutes, one can see the tensions beginning to surface between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over the fate of the occupied territories. It was evident after reading these documents that the Cold War was beginning to crystallize. Just by spending an afternoon working with the documents and reading them, I now have a clearer understanding of the issues dealt with at the conference and I believe researchers will feel the same way.
This week I am working with the Margaret Truman Papers. This portion of her papers has not been opened to the public yet, and my role is to help organize them and mark each document with the Truman Library stamp. During the brief time I have been working with this collection, I have been awestruck with how she literally saved every letter (good and bad) that she received, along with invitations, cards and news clippings. Once this portion of the collection is open, it will assuredly be a valuable resource for researchers. Information on the open Margaret Truman Papers can be found here.