My last post I talked about how I am almost finished with entering the entire collection into the museum’s collections management software. I can safely say that next week that will finally be finished. It is a bit relieving finally getting this task accomplished. When I first came to the American Royal almost two years ago, I had no idea the amount of work that was needed. After my first couple of weeks I quickly knew that I could not complete the task within the ten weeks I was initially hired for. I was working off a Microsoft Access database that was created in 2003 and was horribly outdated and was missing over 400 entries. I decided the only way to accomplish this task thoroughly was to go through each file individually and to ignore the Access database. Now I have entered just over 500 artifacts and when I am finished it should be closer to 525.
When I am finished with this I will start writing the action plan and organizing the collections storage areas available to me now. The end of the semester is quickly approaching, but everything is finally coming together.
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.
One collection I’ve been fortunate to help process and write the finding aid for was donated by the Center for the Study of the Korean War in Independence, Missouri. Whenever I’m not working on a specific project, I work on this massive 250+ box collection. My task has been to examine the contents of each folder and create folder titles.
After the initial survey, the curator will review the collection again and discard anything he or she determines to be of little value to researchers. In this collection, for instance, there were many webpage documents on the Korean War that originated from unreliable websites. There were also materials unrelated to the Korean War, such as articles about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These types of materials will likely be disposed of during the next processing phase in order to make the collection more manageable and relevant to researchers. Most of what I’ve worked with has been very interesting, however. I’ve read many letters and diaries from Korean War veterans, Korean War propaganda, and other wartime materials. I’ve been working as diligently as possible to help get this collection processed and make it available to the public.
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.
My time at the Marr Sound Archives has been an amazing learning experience. The people who work at the archives are all awesome people and Kelley Martin especially has been a kind, supportive, and all around great supervisor. Splitting my time up between archiving and public history was a good decision because it allowed me to get a sense of both sides of the profession. It was nice to be able to create an online feature of the John B. Gage collection I processed. If any future UMKC historians read this post, they should seriously consider interning at the Marr Sound Archives, especially if they have a research interest that can be incorporated into the Marr collection. As I have expressed in my previous posts, there is so much to be explored at the archives. The amount of 498 Capstone papers that could come out of the material housed at the Marr Archives would fill volumes.
Well, I hope my digital friends and real friends and stranger friends get something out of the John B. Gage Audio Collection Omeka site, and if not, that is okay too.
Hello friends. I realize that I never explained the extensive planning process I went through for the John B. Gage Omeka site. Before I created an account, I caught wind that I was supposed to draw out a map of how I wanted to organize the materials of my “exhibit.” Because Omeka is geared towards archivists, librarians, and historians, the idea of an exhibit is an important one, as the site encourages people to approach it as they would a room with walls. This method of visualization helps create a concrete system of organization. After compiling a list of audio files, potential photographs, and commentary, I drew out this diagram of how I envisioned the site looking:
I have continued to stay pretty true to my original conception, but like I mentioned in my last post, I have severely cut down on the amount of audio I will feature. Taking the time to envision the site before I started uploading a bunch of files has really helped me to stay focused. It can be a little daunting when one is suddenly immersed in twenty, thirty, forty items that all require their unique bibliographic and metadata information. These pictures, although rough, were important to lessening the amount of stress I experienced while creating my beautiful exhibit. More to come soon!
Well, well, well…I have been working with Omeka for a couple weeks now and I am starting to get the hang of it. Omeka allows one to get as deep, or as surface-level, as they like, and with my lack of html skills, I am barely scratching the surface. This is okay though, because despite my lackluster skills, I am still able to create a pretty slick and user-friendly site. I have mostly been learning through online video tutorials, as well as good old-fashioned trial and error. I was pleased when I was able to utilize my dormant Photoshop skills in creating a homepage image. This is what I came up with.
What do you think? The picture is courtesy of Colin Gage, John B. Gage’s grandson, and the font was discovered online at one of the many free font junctions. It is called Urania Czech and transports one directly to the 1940s…I have realized that I did not need as many sound clips as I originally planned. I am using about 20 one-minute clips out of the 40 original ones I had created. It just made more sense, and I did not want to overwhelm you, my time-conscious cyberspace aficionado and Kansas City political history audio treasure hunter. Yes, I wanted to go light on you. I imagine the next time I post, I will have the site up and running. Cross your fingers! I have included an advertisement audio clip that I will not be using in the John B. Gage Omeka site, but that I get a kick out of. Modern Design! Enjoy!
The semester is over and I am graduating later this week. That doesn’t mean that I am done with the Edgar Snow Project, though. A couple months ago I applied to the History M.A. program here at UMKC and was accepted last week so needless to say I’ll be around for a while. There are a few things other big things going on here in the early spring so I believe that the site will officially launch in March. I have a couple things to finish up before then, like perfecting the video because I am a perfectionist, but can work on those over the winter break. The thing about this site is that since I’ve been working with it for so long I don’t feel like I should walk away just because my internship is over and my grade will be posted. I’m more concerned with completing it and putting out the best product possible. It’s an actual thing I made and pretty much my first “career” experience. I know that I can talk about everything I learned on this project on my resume and in interviews. I’m proud of it. Keep an eye out because I’m sure you’ll hear more about the site very soon.