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This blog post is a slightly edited version of a talk I gave last Friday to our regional professional organization, New England Archivists. We have a one-day meeting in the fall, and this year it was held at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. Our theme for the meeting was ethics in archives, and each of the nine presenters discussed collections or events that dealt with ethical challenges. 

Like librarians and doctors, archivists have a code of ethics that guides our work. You can read ours here: Society of American Archivists: Core Values and Code of Ethics for Professional Archivists. Shared discussion and consideration with colleagues is an important way for us to develop and learn as professionals, especially about ethical questions, which are always matters of judgment.


Describing Archival Collections—Ethical Considerations

It’s hard to say no to your boss, especially when it’s your first job as a professional archivist. Reprocessing the

Frederic Brewster Loomis (AC 1896) Papers

took far more of my time and labor than either of us expected. Negotiating this collection and its ethical demands was both personally and professionally challenging. Looking back now, nearly a year later, I find that I can better trust my own ethical judgments and see more vividly the violence inherent in overly “neutral” or “objective” descriptive practices.

Replacing an imperialist, genocidal mascot–Lord Jeffrey Amherst, who proposed gifting  smallpox-infested blankets to Native communities–with a huge purple mammoth was an excellent idea. The 20-ft tall inflatable version in the right-hand image above greeted our new first year students this fall.


Why do we have a mammoth?

image4

This guy, Frederic Brewster Loomis. He’s the one on the left.

His friends called him “Mud Puppy.” He’s standing in the workroom next to the Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) fossil skeleton he recovered in 1923 and 1925. 

The new mascot meant that this paleontologist’s two boxes of papers were now a priority to reprocess, with an eye towards eventual digitization. This seemed to be an easy job for the new archivist (me). But when I began reading Loomis’s accounts about the 1923 and 1925 digs in Melbourne, Florida,I realized that in addition to mammoth fossils, Loomis recovered human remains and artifacts.

Suddenly, this collection was not as easy as I had expected it to be.



As I continued processing, I began noting the locations of Loomis’s worksites, which could be vague, noted only by a creek or town name. I also began looking for more context in museum and anthropology literature, focusing on the 1990 North American Graves Repatriation and Protection Act (NAGPRA), and the ethical responsibilities of institutions holding Indigenous bodies and artifacts.

NAGPRA reviews and inventories had in fact been conducted for the holdings of the Beneski Museum of Natural History, Amherst’s science museum. Loomis’s work had focused on museum collection growth, and his shipments of  fossils became a large percentage of the holdings.

 


 

BOO the UNDEAD T. rex @SUEtheTrex. Portrait shows the T. rex's large open mouth and many sharp teeth. Profile text-Legendary Fossil. Apex Predator. National Treasure. New Suite Getter. All Caps Name Haver. They Them Pronoun User. LARGE MURDERBIRD. Chicago, IL (via South Dakota).I initially assumed that the non-human fossils were not an ethical concern, until I remembered SUE. The T. rex fossil at the Field Museum (Chicago, IL) had been purchased at auction for $8 million after protracted court cases were required to determine ownership after the 1990 dig on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

The Field Museum does science outreach and education through SUE’s Twitter persona, @SUEtheTrex.

The museum’s site about SUE discusses how they came to the museum, and what paleontologists have learned about tyrannosaurus rex.

The non-human fossils were valuable resources, and their removal to Amherst College was not harmless. For more analysis, I recommend Lawrence Bradley’s book Dinosaurs and Indians in the references.


 

In order to acknowledge where the specimens like our mammoth came from, I used ARCGis (precision map creation software) to map Loomis’s digs with varied precision, depending upon his location descriptions in publications and correspondence.

Overlaying maps of Indigenous nations’ homelands and treaties allowed me to identify the peoples Loomis and fellow paleontologists before and since had exploited.

A map of South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, and the Lakota Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation. Arrows and circles show dig sites.

This map shows where South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming meet, with green circles around the locations where Loomis recorded digs. The names of Indigenous nations indicate the recorded names of the nations as different treaties were signed.

 


 

But even “non-reservation” land had only been taken barely a generation before: Loomis was digging at Wounded Knee Creek 40 years after the Wounded Knee Massacre of Lakota men, women and children in 1890.

A map of Wounded Knee Creek on the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation, with the label

This map zooms in onto the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation. Wounded Knee Creek was the only identifier Loomis noted for these excavations, so the entire length of the creek is highlighted.



I wanted to provide researchers with this context and to create description that acknowledged the harmful nature of this creator’s work and how exploration and exploitation entwine in fieldwork and research across fields, and to recognize the Indigenous communities affected by his excavations, without ignoring Loomis’s dedicated work as a faculty member and teacher.

Here’s what I wanted to write:

This dead white guy stole lots of stuff for

Overly blunt summary can be a satisfying reaction when confronting people’s harmful actions, but this phrasing would not help a researcher wanting to understand Loomis and his papers.

 



I ended up with this:

Throughout his career, he collected both fossils and Native artifacts for Amherst College collections from the homelands and reservations of Native nations.

—Biographical note, Frederic Brewster Loomis (AC 1896) Papers, 1896-1938 https://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/amherst/ma18.html

Furthermore, one paragraph of the biographical note explicitly situates paleontology’s development within the settler colonial wars against Indigenous peoples of the late 19th century, and its contribution to other forms of resource extraction like mining and oil (and other fossil fuel) extraction.

That paragraph took a lot of revision: was I editorializing? Over-interpreting?

My own judgment was that omitting this background would in fact be contributing to the white supremacist and settler myths of science and individual careers as worth more than human lives and well-being.



The second descriptive tactic I used involved the mapping I described earlier.

June-September 1931

Accompanied by Louis H. Walz (AC 1931) and John W. Harlow.

South Dakota: Porcupine and Wounded Knee Creeks, Pine Ridge Reservation. In Oglala Lakota Nation.

Wyoming: Van Tassell. On Lakota and Arapaho homelands taken by the Act of February 28, 1877.

—Expedition chronology, Frederic Brewster Loomis (AC 1896) Papers, 1896-1938 https://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/amherst/ma18.html

In creating a chronology of his fieldwork, I named the nations where Loomis worked. The repetition over his 20+ documented digs helps underline and reinforce Indigenous presence and sovereignty. This example corresponds to the highlighted site on the second map image.


 

Part of archival work is documenting who and where our collections come from. We keep records about our collections that track how we acquired the materials we hold. In archives, we typically define collections by their source (whether from a person, a family, or an organization like the Office of Admissions). This practice (and related actions like not mixing materials from different origins, even if the documents refer to the same events) reflect a key principle of archival work that we call provenance.

provenance

n. (provenancial, adj.) — 1. The origin or source of something. – 2. Information regarding the origins, custody, and ownership of an item or collection.

Notes: Provenance is a fundamental principle of archives, referring to the individual, family, or organization that created or received the items in a collection. The principle of provenance or the respect des fonds dictates that records of different origins (provenance) be kept separate to preserve their context.

Society of American Archivists. “Provenance.” Society of American Archivists Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology. https://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms/p/provenance.

By acknowledging the true costs of past scientific fieldwork supported by the College, and refusing to continue the myth-making about unused wasteland and White discoverers, I simply extended the same principle to include the subject of the collection, not just the origin of the physical papers.


 

Archival description expresses professional ethics and values.

—Principle 1, from the Revised Statement of Principles for Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)

New revised principles for our professional standard for describing archival materials are under consideration by the Society for American Archivists.

These new principles begin with the fundamentals of what we do, and why we do it. Description is ethical work. How we describe records’ creators, subjects, and content is and should be a place where we stop enabling Whiteness and its associated myths. Academic disciplines require sources for fuel like any other fire, and for too long, communities, peoples, and lands constructed as “other” have been those sources.


 

References

  1. Bradley, Lawrence W. Dinosaurs and Indians: Paleontology Resource Dispossession from Sioux Lands. Denver: Outskirts Press, Inc. 2014.
  2. Caswell, Michelle. “Teaching to Dismantle White Supremacy in Archives.” The Library Quarterly 87, no. 3 (2017): 222–35.
  3. Dussias, Allison M. “Science, Sovereignty, and the Sacred Text: Paleontological Resources and Native American Rights.” Maryland Law Review 55, no. 1 (1996): 84–159.
  4. Redman, Samuel J. Bone rooms: from scientific racism to human prehistory in museums. Harvard University Press, 2016.
  5. Society of American Archivists Technical Subcommittee on Describing Archives: A Content Standard (TS-DACS). “Revised Preface and Statement of Principles for Describing Archives: A Content Standard.” under consideration, posted Aug 6 2018. https://github.com/saa-ts-dacs/dacs/pull/20.

Wordsworth for the Blind

 

One of the great things about working in a college library is that student research projects often send us digging into parts of the collections we probably wouldn’t have explored otherwise. Earlier this week I talked with a vision-impaired student who had consulted our twentieth-century braille edition of Worsdworth in the past. The published bibliography, The Amherst Wordsworth Collection, includes entries for two other editions of Wordsworth produced for blind readers in the nineteenth century.

Matthew Arnold’s edition of Wordsworth in braille

Matthew Arnold’s edition of Wordsworth in braille.

Before we go any further, I must give all the credit to the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston for their excellent summary of the history of Books for the Blind, a corner of printing history I had never explored before. Thanks to their site, we can situate the two nineteenth-century works within a wider context. The 1891 edition is printed under the auspices of the Perkins School with Boston Line Type, based on a system developed by Samuel Gridley Howe in 1835.

Wordsworth printed in Boston Line Type, 1891.

The Howe Memorial Press was named to honor the inventor of the Boston Line Type, a system of raised letterforms that can be read by touch as well as by sight. Here is a stanza from the poem “There is an Eminence” in Boston Line Type:

“There is an Eminence” in Boston Line Type, 1891.

In contrast to the Perkins School, Dr. Simon Pollak started using braille at the Missouri School for the Blind in 1860. We hold an 1896 edition of Wordsworth printed with the Missouri Braille system:

Wordsworth in Missouri Braille, 1896. Printed in St. Louis.

We are grateful to the person who took the time to add the title page information in ink, since this volume is entirely in Missouri Braille. As a bonus, the Missouri edition had a loose broadside tucked in the front with samples of multiple writing systems for the blind:

Alphabets for an Exhibit

Alphabets for an Exhibit, 1934

Although it’s difficult to make out in this image, the alphabets are Boston Line, “Moon’s Type,” New York Point, American Braille, and “Braille’s Type.”

Beyond simply holding copies of these items, there are clues to a closer connection between the Wordsworth collection and the Perkins School for the Blind. Both the 1891 and the 1896 editions have bookplates that indicate they were once part of the Perkins School library:

The final image that includes “Presented by Perkins Institution” suggests that the school may have given the volumes either to Cornelius Patton, who then gave them to Amherst, or they were donated to Amherst to add to Patton’s Wordsworth collections.

Archives holds one other item related to the Perkins School: The Life and Education of Laura Dewey Bridgman, the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Girl:

Laura Dewey Bridgman, 1878

First published in 1878, this biography of the first deaf-blind student at Perkins to learn to read and write includes a facsimile of her first letter:

Laura Dewey Bridgman.

 

A Strength of Snells

A pounce of cats.  A crash of rhinos.  A gaze of raccoons. A prudence of vicars.  A strength of Snells.

Whenever I think of the Snell family of Western Massachusetts, I think of collective nouns, especially the entertaining “terms of venery.” The Snells are such a distinct unit that they seem to demand their own term.  There are a lot of them, so there are many lives to follow and stories to be told.  And they’re tight-knit.  Something —  maybe it’s from those early days as a big family in North Brookfield – bound them together, even when some of them ended up on the other side of the country.  So there’s a strength to them as a group, and that suggests their term, a “strength of Snells.” It’s not as colorful as “a murder of crows,” but it certainly describes the Snells.

The Snells are of particular interest to us because of their links to Amherst College.  If you’re even a little familiar with Amherst’s early history, you’re likely to have heard of Professor Ebenezer Strong Snell (1801-1876), known to his family as Strong.  Strong was about 14 when his father, Reverend Thomas Snell, a trustee of Williams College, was meeting with other trustees to discuss whether Williams should move to Hampshire County, and Strong was a student at Williams College during the September 1818 “Convention of the Congregational and Presbyterian Clergy,” when his father participated in discussions about an institution of higher learning in Amherst.  To make a long, complicated story short, a new college was finally formed in Amherst and Reverend Snell’s old friend President Zephaniah Swift Moore of Williams was chosen to lead it.  Shortly thereafter, in September 1821, Strong Snell and a small group of students accompanied Moore from Williams College to Amherst to open the new institution.

Strong’s senior year therefore took place at Amherst College. Many decades later, he reminisced, “I was the first individual ever admitted to Amherst College. For Dr. Moore, having heard my examination at Williams College, received me, without requiring another examination, which was the case with no other.”* Strong was one of two students to graduate in the first class (a third having left before the end of the year). His father, Reverend Snell, continued to support the new college by participating in President Moore’s inauguration ceremony and serving for 33 years on the Board of Overseers of the Charity Fund, 15 of them as Secretary.  Given this history, it would not be surprising if both Strong and his father were deeply attached to the College and if Reverend Snell regarded it as one of his children.

Reverend Snell’s children – the human ones – numbered ten. Thanks to a 2017 gift of 24 daguerreotypes and an accompanying genealogical chart, we can see this founding family of Amherst College as they were in the early era of photography. There are even daguerreotypes for the houses occupied by each of the married Snell couples.  The gift was from Susan Burr Snell, a great-great-granddaughter of Reverend Snell’s youngest son, William Ward Snell, who was born in April, 1821, as the first Amherst College building, South College, was being completed and in the year Amherst College opened its doors. What makes the gift even more extraordinary is the fact the daguerreotypes were taken by William Snell. In the two photographs below the genealogical chart halves are arranged against the corresponding daguerreotypes:

 

A founding family. Note that nos. 9 and 22 are the same daguerreotype (numbered 9); that there is no daguerreotype for one member of the family (Sarah) who died before photography was available; and that #19, the daguerreotype for Lewis Thorpe, is missing. There were also two sons, Samuel and Edward, who died early.

 

A camera obscura. Image from the “American Cyclopaedia” vol. 3 (George Ripley and Charles A. Dana).

So how did young William Snell (visible in daguerreotype number 15) come to be a photographer in an era where photography was still new? His biography has not been written – it exists in pieces here and there — and he has been entirely unknown to historians of photography.**

Several sources (listed below) have brief entries for William, including one or two that quote him. From these sources, we know that William spent time (maybe a year or so) working at Otis Tuft’s machine shop in Boston.  Since Boston had several practicing daguerreotypists who taught others, he most likely learned the art there. The influence of his older brother was probably involved as well – we know from a letter of April, 1829, that Strong had a camera obscura that William had access to.

Strong Snell to his family, April 1829: “One thing more, and I must stop for want of time. I should like much to have at Amherst the principal parts of my “Electrical Machine,” and my “Camera Obscura Box”…The Box (Camera Obscura) is one, and I should be glad of the whole.”

 

An as-yet unpublished “Rushford History of Churches, Schools, and ‘Movers and Shakers’” provides some important details and is the most specific source for the years of William’s travel as an itinerant daguerreotypist:

“At age 22 he learned the newly discovered art of photography, and being in delicate health [this is borne out by the letters in the Snell Family Papers], became an itinerant daguerreotypist.  In this capacity he traveled for three years [1843-46] visiting nearly all the states in the Union, but devoting the greater part of his time to Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Carolinas.”

In an e-mail about the gift of daguerreotypes, Susan Snell, William’s descendant, wrote that William “took photos of southern belles so that they could be shared around the neighborhood in hopes of finding a husband.”  In fact, Susan’s gift contains a daguerreotype of a Southern girl that William retained from among those he took for customers, along with an explanatory note.  The note, from an interview in 1900 between William and his son William Emerson Snell, records that the daguerreotypist was offered ten slaves by the girl’s mother if he would marry her.  “I relinquish my claim when you make yours,” the mother told him.  As an abolitionist, the note says, he was shocked at the offer.  Since he remembered it more than 50 years later, the occasion clearly made an impression.

“A Southern girl.” This daguerreotype shows a backdrop that would be very typical for an itinerant daguerreotypist. The tablecloth shown here appears in a daguerreotype of a family member (not included in this post), suggesting that Snell carried this particular tablecloth with him and that its pattern could be used to identify at least some of his daguerreotypes. Note that there are several different cloths in the daguerreotypes of family members shown above, some specific to a couple and probably from their own homes.

The Rushford History continues: “In 1846 he returned home with improved health taking charge of a garden near Boston for two years [a letter in the collection suggests that it was his sister Tirzah’s in Brookline], then entered into a machine shop at Lawrence, and became a machinist by profession, as he was by the strong bias a mechanical genius. William has been credited with the invention of the principle of the mechanical knotter or twine binder, which he sold to Appleby who made improvements and revolutionized American agriculture.”

A letter from Strong to his sister Tirzah Emerson in spring of 1847 confirms that William was back in Massachusetts but was still trying to determine what he would do for work – by this time he had decided he didn’t want to farm. Working as a machinist seems to have been a temporary solution for him, but he still felt unsettled.

At the same time, the Snell family was approaching the celebration in 1848 of Reverend Snell’s 50th anniversary as pastor of the North Brookfield Congregational Church. There were plans for family members to gather for the occasion, and it seems likely that many of the daguerreotypes above were taken during this period. However, evidence in Strong’s letters suggests that the Porters in Illinois couldn’t attend the celebrations, so the daguerreotypes of the Porters were probably taken toward the end of William’s earlier travels and after March, 1845, when the Porters moved to Hadley, Illinois. One or two others – such as the Rushford cabin — must date from even later since William only moved to Minnesota in 1855. During all the time that he was a daguerreotypist he seems to have used the same camera lens, one more suited to portraits than to landscapes.

In late 1850 William married Jane Fay of Vermont, and in the spring of 1855 he left for Minnesota, where he staked a claim to land in the new town of Rushford.  Jane followed him there a short time later. In Rushford, William found the preacher in himself, no doubt reaching back to what he learned from his father. The family remained in Minnesota until the late 1880s, when they moved to California. William Snell died there in 1901.

The southeastern area (Sioux territory) of Minnesota. William Snell settled in Rushford, located in the lower right section, a bit below the “t” in “Hokalt.” Map detail from “Chapin’s New Ornamental Map of the United States” (1853) from the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

Knowing that William Snell took the daguerreotypes above also demonstrated that he took several of the daguerreotypes that have long been at Amherst College as part of the Snell Family Papers.  These daguerreotypes were taken at the same sitting as the ones we received from Susan Snell, or very close in time. In each of the comparisons in the slideshow below, the additions from the new gift are on the left and the daguerreotypes that have been at Amherst for several decades are on the right. Notice the subtle differences between the daguerreotypes for each individual.  (Click on any image to see the slideshow.)

One of William’s daguerreotypes of Strong is also curious in that it shows him with equipment (as yet unidentified –if you know, please tell us) and two books, one of which supports a section of the unidentified equipment:

Strong’s books and equipment. Image flipped.

As a dedicated nosey parker (or an undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive), it was important to look at the books Snell has with him. Sometimes the books in daguerreotypes can be identified, sometimes they can’t. In this case a little Photoshop work and subsequent investigation in our library catalogue revealed not only the title of the work – they’re two volumes of a four-volume title — but the fact that we own the exact copies that Strong uses in the photograph. How often does that happen? Probably not that often:

Left to right, the volume in the daguerreotype, flipped; the same volume in the Archives and Special Collections, and interior with Snell’s signature.

When we look at all the Snell family daguerreotypes above (and there are more in the Archives than I’ve included here), we can imagine the scenes: William visiting family members; gathering and setting up the backdrop, the chair, the table, the cloth to cover the table and the books or flowers on it; William suggesting poses (“hold still!”), including where the hands should be, and the silence in the room for those long seconds a daguerreotype required. The Snells come to life in this way – you can feel them bustling around the room, moving the props around, or maybe running to change clothing between shots. You can sense the excitement they must’ve felt as they anticipated how the daguerreotypes would turn out. That these images lasted as a group this long – almost 170 years! – is amazing, and a testament to the strength of Snells.

 

**********************************************************************

 

* Amherst Graduates Quarterly, 1947, but originally from Strong Snell’s diary in the Snell Family Papers.

**A daguerreotypist named William Snell operated in Eastern Massachusetts from 1843-1865, but he is not William Ward Snell.

 

Sources that mention William Ward Snell:

History of North Brookfield, p. 755.

The History of the Descendants of Elder John Strong, of Northampton, Mass., p. 62.

Congregational Work of Minnesota, 1832-1920, p. 278.

The Home Missionary, vol. 55, Feb 1883, p. 303.  Snell is also mentioned in several other volumes of this publication.

Minutes of the General Congregational Association of Minnesota, referencing Snell’s “Reminiscences of a Thirty Years’ Pastorate in Minnesota,” [Sept.] 1884, p. 18.

The Christian Union, Vol. 30, No. 21, re “Reminiscences,” p. 502.

“A Tale of Two Valleys,” by Conrad G. Selvig, chapter 2.

Minutes of the Annual Meeting of the Southern California Congregational Conference, 1901, p. 52 (obituary).

“Rushford History of Churches, Schools, and ‘Movers and Shakers’,” unpublished volume; excerpt provided by the Rushford Historical Society.

“History of Fillmore County,” volume 1, 1912.

 

 

 

 

Here at the Amherst College Archives, we love sharing with our readers all the fascinating (and sometimes hidden) stories we find in the archives. But we also love sharing with you how we make it possible for researchers to find those stories themselves. It’s important to take our researchers behind the scenes to understand how the archives profession works. The department has been working on a strategic plan to better improve access to our archival material, and we’d like to share a small but crucial section of that plan. In short, our processing team is preparing to take stock of our entire collection and ensure that any hidden collections are made visible to the public.

What’s a hidden collection? Basically, any collection that the researcher does not know of – because there is no online presence to signal that it exists. Because of past professional practices emphasizing highly detailed archival processing, institutions often accumulate extensive backlogs of material to be processed.

Archival practice has moved steadily away from the practice of describing collections in exhaustive detail. Greene and Meissner’s seminal article “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing” appeared in 2005, issuing a challenge to “many of the assumptions archivists make about the importance of preservation activities in processing and the arrangement and description activities necessary to allow researchers to access collections effectively.” Ten years later, Daniel Santamaria published Extensible Processing for Archives and Special Collections: Reducing Processing Backlogs (ALA, 2015), taking the More Product Less Process (MPLP) approach even further: “Extensible processing offers an alternative, allowing collection managers to first establish a baseline level of access to all holdings, then conduct additional processing based on user demand and ongoing assessment. Adhering to archival principles and standards, this flexible approach emphasizes decision-making and prioritization.” What both of these approaches have in common is a focus on users and access, rather than descriptive work by archives staff.

Here at Amherst, we are inspired by these monumental shifts in our profession. And we’re looking to overhaul and systematize our internal practices to better reflect these recent developments in archival theory and practice.

One immediate goal for the department is to conduct a shelf-by-shelf review of our holdings to ensure that a minimal record exists for every collection in our care, in line with the principles of extensible processing mentioned above. A minimal record means that we’ll offer a description of the collection online – it might take the form of a short finding, an abstract on the Archives’ Collections and Holdings page, or a library catalog record. Once we have a handle on this fundamental aspect of collections management, we can determine priorities and establish timelines.

We intend for the survey to accomplish the following goals:

    1. Identify hidden collections. Ensure that a minimal record for every collection exists and is publicly available.
    2. Assess each unprocessed (or reappraised) collection to determine ideal minimal processing level.
    3. Assign a high/medium/low processing priority to each collection.
    4. Look for preservation issues. Identify issues that could be addressed and investigate how to tackle these issues.
    5. Determine recommendations for digitization priorities.
    6. All collections that currently have only paper finding aids will be moved into our archival collections database (which is keyword-searchable).
    7. All accessions will be recorded in the collections database.

In the end, even if we accomplish half of these goals, the result will be a stronger archives program based in consistency and transparency for the researcher.

And what does that mean for this blog? Simply that our posts will mostly focus on highlights of the reappraisal survey – but that certainly means that we’ll be unearthing more stories to share!

Amherst College Archives and Special Collections is pleased to announce the acquisition of the Records of the Paris Press. The records arrived here in April 2018 and we’re looking forward to making them quickly available to the public.

The Paris Press was founded in 1995 with the mission of publishing “groundbreaking yet overlooked literature by women.” Paris Press authors include: Muriel Rukeyser, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Bryher, Ruth Stone, Zdena Berger, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In 2018, the Press was acquired by Wesleyan University and all Paris Press books will be available through the Wesleyan University Press.

The Records of the Paris Press includes some fifty to one hundred linear feet of paper records in addition to several terabytes of born digital material. This is the perfect opportunity for the Archives to practice the principles of extensible processing – an iterative process that creates baseline access points for archival material but allows for more detailed work as user demand dictates. The Paris Press records were well-organized when they were active, and the records creators kept everything categorized by publishing job and at the box level. We’ll be maintaining that organization as we prepare a box-level inventory for the public. We soon will have publicly available descriptions of the collection on our collections portal and in the library catalog. Check back soon!

Below are a number of shots of the newly-arrived Paris Press records as they made their way onto shelves at our off-site storage facility, the Bunker.

In honor of Preservation Week, I thought it was high time to do a post on our film preservation program.

Cellphone pictures of a few nitrate negatives from
the Lincoln Wade Barnes Photographic Negatives Collection

First off, what is film and why was it so ubiquitous for so long? The first 70 years of photography were dominated by images created on metal and glass (daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, glass plate negatives). These technologies had some significant limitations – they were bulky, fragile and difficult to use. The advent of the first plastic film base in the 1880s was revolutionary. Nitrocellulose film, or nitrate film, was light, flexible, portable and could be produced on an industrial scale. Film allowed for an explosion in amateur photography and the invention of motion pictures. Nitrate film had the major disadvantage of being highly flammable and degrading in a relatively short time frame. Cellulose acetate film base (popularly known as “safety film” in the early years because it was not flammable) was under development beginning in the 1910s and was fully adopted by the early 1950s. Acetate film has only been superseded by digital photography in the past couple decades.

Why do we need to preserve film?

It is easy to understand the need to preserve nitrate film – no one wants a fire hazard in their collection and many nitrate negatives show clear signs of decay. Ultimately, very decayed nitrate negatives will turn either to dust or goo, completely destroying the image. Acetate film also decays, causing the film base to shrink, warp and become brittle with time. For photographic film, this can cause bubbling and channeling between the image or emulsion layer and the film base.

For motion picture film, the shrinkage of the film base can make it so that the sprocket holes in the film no longer match the holes in the projection equipment, causing the film to tear or break when projection is attempted. Advanced decay can cause curling, spoking (see below), warping and breakage.

In addition, color dyes used in photograph and motion picture film are very sensitive fading with time and detrimental environmental conditions. While it is often possible to recover the images from damaged acetate film, it is a very expensive and time consuming process that involves separating the emulsion layer from the film base and carefully adhering it to a new polyester film base. Unfortunately faded dyes can not be recovered.

What is Amherst doing to preserve our film?

IMG_20180419_105931227

Cold storage is hands down the best way to slow the chemical reactions that cause decay in nitrate and acetate film and color dyes. Storage below 30 degrees Fahrenheit extends the life of film by hundreds of years. (This calculator from the Image Permanence Institute allows you to explore the life span of acetate film under various environmental conditions.) With the generous support of the college, we’ve been able to install two freezers for storing our film materials. Our nitrate films are now all housed in a special flammable materials freezer and we are steadily moving our acetate film materials into a new walk-in freezer that will ultimately house all of our acetate film collections – negatives, slides and motion picture film.

Because neither of our freezers have humidity control, we bag each box of film that goes in the freezer in moisture proof packaging using the protocols designed by the National Park Service. The materials in each box are packed carefully to reduce motion (film is very brittle when frozen), and each box is packed in two layers of vapor barrier bags. Inside each bag is a humidity monitoring card that we use to make sure that seals on the bags have not failed during storage.

Olivia Gieger ’21 packaging film from the Amherst College Football Film collection

If researchers need to work with any of the frozen materials, we can remove them from the freezer and after a 24 hour equilibration period, they can be freely used.

Cold storage allows us to stabilize the condition of our film based materials so that they can be used for centuries to come. It also allows us to focus our digitization and preservation reformatting efforts on materials that have a more urgent need for attention, such as audio-visual materials on magnetic tape (look for a post on legacy AV media digitization in the coming months!)

Resources:

https://www.filmcare.org/
This page created by the Image Permanence Institute has a lot of great information about identifying types of film and levels of deterioration and tools for cold storage planning.

https://www.filmpreservation.org/
The National Film Preservation Foundation is a key organization in the United States providing funding and information on motion picture film preservation. The Film Preservation Guide available as a free pdf on their website is a great introductory text for cultural heritage institutions.

https://www.nfsa.gov.au/preservation/guide
This technical preservation guide from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia includes a section on preservation at home for film, audio, video and still photographs.

https://www.nps.gov/museum/coldstorage/html/index.html
This guide by the National Parks Service demonstrates the step by step procedures for implementing cold storage.

I recently processed a single box collection of correspondence from Viola Roseboro’, a fiction editor and author at the turn of the 20th century, to her friend Gertrude Hall Brownell, poet and author.  The correspondence spans an eight year period (1936-1944) toward the end of Roseboro’s life.

This small collection contains primarily one-sided correspondence from Viola Roseboro’ to Gertrude Hall Brownell, with the occasional enclosed letter by Gertrude Hall Brownell or other correspondent, including a single Willa Cather letter. The correspondence reflects Roseboro’s views on literature, politics, current events, shared acquaintances, her health, finances, and living arrangements, and her lifetime love of Shakespeare.  This collection gives a glimpse of  a close friendship between two women in early 20th century New York.

Viola Roseboro’ was born in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1858, daughter of the Reverend S.R. Roseboro’ and Martha Colyar. Roseboro’ attended Fairmont College in Monteagle, TN and worked as a stage actress before settling in New York around 1882 to begin a career in newspapers and magazines as a freelance writer and reader.

Roseboro’ joined the staff of McClure’s Magazine, a monthly periodical publishing literary and political content, as a manuscript reader in 1893 before becoming the fiction editor for the magazine. As editor, Roseboro’ was known for her talent in selecting and publishing unknown authors, such as O. Henry, Jack London, and Will Cather.

Roseboro’s first collection of short stories, “Old Ways and New” was published in 1892. “The Joyous Heart,” a novel, was published in 1903, followed by another collection of short stories, “Players and Vagabonds,” published in 1904. “Storms of Youth,” Roseboro’s final novel, was published in 1920. Roseboro’ also published numerous short stories and articles in various magazines.

Roseboro’ and Gertrude Hall Brownell (nicknamed Kitty) first met at an afternoon reception at the Barnard Club in New York City in 1900 and remained close friends and correspondents until Roseboro’s death in 1945 in Staten Island, NY.

Gertrude Hall Brownell was a poet and author, born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1863. Hall Brownell married William Crary Brownell (AC 1871) in 1921 and died in 1961.

Viola Roseboro to Gertrude Hall Brownell envelope

The Gertrude Hall Brownell Collection of Viola Roseboro’ Correspondence can be accessed in the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections.

Digitized copies of McClure’s Magazine are accessible online through Hathi Trust.

Bibliography:
Viola Roseboro’ obituary. New York Times, January 30, 1945.
McClure, S.S. “My Autobiography” McClure Publications, 1913.