Merry Wanderer of the Night + TIME

Figure it Out: Internship Week Three

This week I finally reached the end of the personal papers I have been working with. At least, I thought I had. Then they brought out three more boxes for me. The archivists at the State Historical Society have been working on this project for months and from what I can tell there is no end in sight. That's the thing about archives, just when you think you've reached the end, there are still more and more boxes to go through. Just so you understand exactly how time consuming all of this is, I thought I'd talk about what processing an archival collection actually entails.

Basically what happens is the archives get boxes from various sources. What is inside the boxes we don't entirely know. So what happens first (this happened before I came) is one of the archivists just sweeps through all of the boxes and comes up with a general sense of what the box contains. Are they materials from a department in a college? Are they materials for the Peace Institute? And so on. Then they create a list of what these boxes might have in them and possibly a list of subjects that the boxes could contain (in my experience one box usually has multiple subjects). What I then do is go through each item in the box and get a better sense of what the box has in it, including the stuff we don't really want to keep like Christmas cards. Yes, I have found Christmas cards. I go through and read letters, get a sense for what the project actually was, what the time period it took place in is, and what is in the box that might not fit with the box but might fit with a different collection. I then get to do a lot of data entry which is quickly becoming my favorite thing in the world.

You would think after all of this we would be done. But no, then we have to meet and talk about what we went to keep and later we will actually organize the collection, move it from filing boxes to archival boxes, and then we'll have to create a finding aid for the collection. Phew! I'm tired just thinking about all of that. The fact that it takes so much time to process collections, and the fact that archives are available for more than just collections processing (people actually use those collections you know) is why archives are almost always horribly backed up. It's a fact of life.

In other news, I went through a year and a half of death certificates yesterday. One I found with no name, no parents names, and no birth date. I thought to myself, "What the hell is up with this one?" Then I looked at the description of death. It was a baby found in an outhouse with a piece of paper stuck in it's mouth. I got stuck on that one for awhile, trying to imagine why something like that would have happened. Did she not want the baby? Did her husband not want the baby? Maybe she got pregnant young and couldn't keep the baby. So many stories flashed through my mind. But eventually I had to move on. Later I saw another one that caught my interest. The man had fallen down an elevator shaft. These were both in 1926.

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Figure it Out: Internship Week Three + TIME