Hello its Gaten again, back again with another intern blog. These past 3 weeks have had me work on Finding Aids for the numerous collections that are public. I followed a similar procedure fpr each one. First I created a Finding Aid Template. For each of the collections I filled in the information the best I could based off the existing finding aid. If no finding aid existed, I had to use information from the master collection spreadsheet. For some of the collections, I imported the collection list from the museum’s website. To wrap up each finding aid, I created a pdf of the finding aid in Microsoft word. Omeka needs pdf files for uploads so I had to do that.
My name is Gaten Cancino, a JMU alumni, and I have been an intern at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum for almost two months now. After rotating between a few projects in the very beginning like working on finding aids, subject headings, and the McClure collection, I finally settled on the subject headings as my main focus. This project consisted of entering subjects for public photos on the museum’s Omeka website. Initially, there were 3500 photos that needed subjects but at the time of writing this blog, that number has been reduced to zero. I did not have to think of subjects on the spot due to the museum already having a list of subjects on their website. Since these were official, I tried to use a subject from the list before finding one from the Omeka auto-complete. Some cases like portraits or political cartoons are such examples. The process was a slow grind but thanks to copy and paste, it moved along faster. When it comes to deciding on what to list as the subject, it usually came down to what was the dominant part of the photo. For example, the photo could be of the Austrian delegation to the 1919 Paris Peace conference. What I determined the subject to be was the Austrian delegation. Decisions like that came up often and it comes down to judgement honestly. This is what I did for six out of the seven weeks and it genuinely felt as if I was contributing to the museum and the archival system.
Twelve weeks and 150 hours later here we are.
It’s been an experience, WWPL, one I’ll definitely cherish (and not in a cheesy way, I promise). Mark’s been an excellent guide this summer and invaluable in getting me the hands on archival experience I’ve so desperately needed since realizing I could graduate this fall.
As I told a coworker the other day, I stupidly thought I could finish up getting a Master’s without any kind of internship; that my archival streets smarts learned solely from textbooks would be enough to coast me into a decent job. Boy, was I wrong and I’m so glad that I was.
Reading and learning about something is one thing: physically doing something and learning is another. But, ultimately, it takes two to make a thing go right and you won’t get very far without one or the other.
It feels kind of surreal to be finished and, perhaps most terrifying of all, I think I might miss having to get up super early to get Staunton on time. It all adds to the big picture though that some day I’ll hopefully actually be working in archive somewhere and can look back to the place where really it all started (not counting a digital classroom).
Sixteen collections later and one giant embarrassingly overly color coded spreadsheet later, this intern is done. And will miss quiet mornings in the library and research center touching old things just because I’m an intern and I’m allowed to.
I’ll be back for visits and maybe even some volunteering since I’m local enough, so beyond my enormous amount of thanks for a summer well spent learning about archives and what I want to do with my life, there’s only just one thing left to say…
I didn’t actually make it in this week and instead worked from home due something that was eerily like food poisoning.
Cook your meats, kids. That’s all I’m going to say.
In lieu of onsite work I instead ended up in an internet click hole learning about ArchivesSpace and EAD. YouTube is truly a gift in terms of free education and learning; it’s pretty much how I entirely learned PhotoShop.
I also found a lot of other archival intern blogs and read through those as well as some more official blog posts from the National Archives, the Smithsonian, and amazingly enough, the American Pigeon Museum & Library (the latter of which I thought was a joke until I clicked it on and, well, joke’s on me now).
I also found that, when searching for “weird archives” videos on YouTube — thinking there’d have to be some with death masks, right? — you instead get a bunch of Archie videos which…makes no sense at all. Or, well…Archie’s one letter away from archive? Close enough? No?
Depending on how into social media WWPL is future interns could very well do some video posts about cool items from the collection or some “a day in the life” videos where they explain what they’re working on and why. I’ve noticed a lot of repositories are starting to do this to get some attention which definitely isn’t a bad thing; it’s a fun thing. I catches the eye and makes people want to physically pay a visit just to touch things.
Me most of all.
Mark’s returned to us!
And right before Ashley and I were planning that giant archive party, too. Shucks.
Work continues on with finding aids and trying to be as thorough as possible in the details. My biggest fear is that I won’t have them filled out with nearly as much information as they need, but I’m working with what I’m able to find so I feel good about that. I think I might be able to give Sherlock Holmes a run for his money, but probably not.
I’m not quite that good at clue hunting yet.
I’ve also started on the World War I Soldiers collection, one I’ve been secretly eyeing for sometime now and I’m happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed. There’s letters and photographs and even an embroidered postcard from France that should probably be in the museum.
I’m not sure I can exactly describe the feeling of sorting through all these things, the items that tell the stories of men who served overseas driving supply trucks and writing letters from the front. It’s a feeling of curiosity about their lives and a reverence for touching something that’s managed to survive and stay intact since the early 1900’s. It’s an interesting feeling — a good one — to know that these little pieces of their lives still exist somewhere beyond their families in a place where others can access and look at these items to gain a better understanding of a soldier’s life during World War I.
Of the soldiers in this collection I recognized Samuel Lane the most, the photographs he took in Europe being ones that I processed while going through the general WWPL photo collection. I was almost glad to see him again in this collection specifically since he was one soldier that had a lot to his name; pictures, letters, service records and special orders.
Back in the spring I started thinking about what kind of subject area I’d ultimately like to deal with and honestly it’s a toss up between World War I and II. There’s incredible soldier stories from both and any archive that has a collection or two is one I wouldn’t mind interning for (again).
Today I delved into something truly…unique.
When I first saw Presidential Day by Day Card collection on the collections list I was intrigued, wondering if it literally meant “day by day” or something quasi-daily.
Well. I finally got it and boy did it not disappoint.
I don’t know any of the specifics: the who, the what, the where, the WHY.
Upon opening the box I found that there what looked to be quite literally a card for each day of each month. My first instinct was to spread those suckers out on the table in the processing room just to see how much space they took up — the table in there’s pretty big, it would have been impressive — but I didn’t. Because I am an adult. Most of the time.
Instead I flipped through the cards only to find in slight horror that every single month was missing some days. I also found that each card wasn’t just for one year, but multiple years, each recording something notable Wilson did before, during, and after he was President.
It was the best kind of weird thing to find, honestly. I’m still not entirely sure how these cards — this collection — came to be. In my head I’m picturing someone sitting down at a desk inserting 365 different cards into a typewriter trying to get the most accurate Woodrow Wilson timeline possible. I wonder how long it took. I wonder what happened to those missing cards.
Most importantly I’m still wondering how much of the processing room table those things would have covered.
Today was mostly a day of general housekeeping not only for us interns but also for the Library and Research Center as well. We said fond farewells to the dust bunnies that have lined the walls since week 1 as WWPL maintenance staff dusted and vacuumed around us before proceeding downstairs to mop the hall.
After they left it was just Ashley and I and no more furry friends left in sight.
Cue Paul McCartney’s classic “Another Day”.
I managed to get through two collections during our day long shift — our only one this week since Mark left on his trip. Normally it’d take me four morning shifts to knock out two collections, but there’s something to be said about working 9-5 or, well, 9:30-5. I’d like think Miss Parton would give me some leeway there.
The press statements collection was fascinating to go through, researching Joseph P. Tumulty even more so. Before interning I really knew nothing about Wilson’s staffing of the White House let alone the fact that Tumulty’s secretarial position paved the way for what we now as a White House Chief of Staff. Delving into the working relationship between Tumulty and Wilson was honestly a click hole I should have known to avoid, but it was an interesting chain of events to follow in terms of Tumulty’s opposition to Wilson’s second marriage and his offer of resignation among other things. It was better than daytime TV, basically.
After that I moved onto the Manning Gift collection which is entirely just letters and envelopes from correspondences exchanged amongst the immediate Wilson family. I didn’t try to actively transcribe any of the letters, but boy did I try. From what little chunks I could make out the typical conversations seemed to include daily life, work and inquires about health. The envelopes were honestly my favorite part; there’s just something cute about them. They’re like little vehicles of communication that show where your letter’s been and where it’s going and boy did these envelopes have some travel diaries. The ones sent from Pondicherry in French India were the best — the stamps on them were still vibrant and came from somewhere I’ve only ever dreamed of visiting. At least I can say I’ve actually touched something from there, right?
Enjoy the little things.
A week later and ten finding aids down and I’m feeling pretty good about this summer interning thing!
Mark was gifted this week via a good ole Google share a folder of finding aids I’ve been plucking away at since my early weeks of the summer. I’m proud of what I’ve managed to come up with seeing as I’ve never sat down and actually done one; I feel like the exercises in my various archival classes don’t really count since all the information was given to us and it was just a matter of putting all the round pegs in the round holes and and square pegs in the square holes. Or like a paint by number. Or something equally obvious and intentionally well mapped out for a classroom-like setting.
I know my finding aids are far from perfect and I’m fully prepared to go back and fix/edit more, but Mark seemed okay with what I gave him and I hope they live on to serve him well…or at least until another intern or volunteer comes along and levels them up like an evolving Pokemon. That’s something I might try to remind to check on in a year or so (let’s be real, I’m going to totally forget).
Speaking of forgetfulness, I feel like a bag lady. Or a paper lady. I have stuff everywhere — clipped together, shoved in my purse, in a backpack, in my work cubby, saved in three different emails and Google drives that, for some reason, I feel the need to print physical copies of. I never said I was organized and I’m still a ride-or-die Post-It noter, but I can see the appeal of digital memos typed neatly on my phone; paper gets heavy after a while.
And why all this paper, you ask? Mark’s going on a world tour! Not really, just over to Germany for some archival training, but he’s still leaving Ashley and I here at WWPL to hold down the fort for two weeks so we can keep on burning through hours. This week was mostly Ashley and I getting work lined up to keep us busy both on and offsite which, in turn, resulted in me scribbling a lot of reminders and notes to myself on my various pieces of paper. Thus, paper lady.
So tune in next week to see what shenanigans — if any — Ashley and I get up to while Mark’s away!
Ahhh, the halfway point of my twelve week journey into the world of interning!
The first batch of finding aids are coming along nicely, to a point I think they’ll be ready to be shuffled onto Mark next week (fingers crossed). It’s been an adventure stringing together each individual finding aid like beads on a string; some have beads scattered all over the place while others they’re at least all in a box just waiting for you. My favorites are the ones where you have to make the beads (oh look, another stretched analogy to go along with!)
And by making the beads I mean taking to the internet at large in order to help put together the big picture that ultimately a finding aid presents of any given collection. It’s nice to know all the who, what, when, where, and why, and how’s of a collection even if that means sourcing out to find all the supplemental information. Sometimes what you find isn’t even included in the collection — and sometimes you can’t find a place to include that random bit of information, either — but it’s still a fascinating process.
Take for instance the Daisie Dodson collection: it’s morbidly intriguing…in a good way. She was only fourteen when President Wilson died so, like any normal teenager would, she collected all the newspaper articles and clippings she could find about it. Okay, so maybe not that normal, but that’s completely okay because this collection — though small — offers so many different perspectives on the same exact event, the death of Woodrow Wilson, a man who somehow managed to steer an entire country through a very large, very new kind of war halfway around the world. Some of the articles, even if the author didn’t particularly care for Wilson’s politics, penned respect where respect was due and honestly they’re just something to flip through and read.
What especially caught my attention were the mentions of Wilson’s death masks and my immediate need to Google just that: “Woodrow Wilson death mask and where is it”.
While I’m still not entirely sure where Wilson’s mask itself is — Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University, some random, travelling death mask curiosities exhibit — I definitely learned something new and did go Google more about it at work after leaving WWPL (my apologies to all the coworkers who I forced to look through online death mask galleries with me!)
The best part about the Daisie Dodson collection — matters of death aside — is that it isn’t alone in the content it offers in terms of offering archival researchers and visitors insights into the multi-faceted times of Wilson’s life both before, during, and after.
IT FEELS LIKE IT HAS TAKEN FOREVER, BUT THE INSTITUTIONAL PHOTOS ARE COMPLETED!!!!!!! It has been a long journey but those 2,000+ photographs have all been logged into Omeka! I didn’t exactly experience any major hiccups, with the exception of about 20 or so photos not being scanned into Omeka, so in all honesty it wasn’t a particularly hard job. I did really enjoy the photographs I found in the institutional photos. I felt like it ranged anywhere from the Dedication of the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace, to the many upon many curators and board members, to possibly every single angle and event that happened with the Pierce Arrow. One thing I found the most interesting was that the Institutional’s basically showed the history of every object in the museum and the manse over time, to the point where we started to get into color photography and Kodachrome.
Now, I am on to my next mission. Conquering the Condon and Cox collection. Wish me luck.