Week Six

I’m still describing documents, printing them out, and integrating the digital and paper collections. When I first started describing documents, I asked my supervisor if I could name a document something like “racist slander.” He laughed and said that didn’t meet professional standards of objectivity, but that I could “dance around that” as best as I could. I want to be objective, but I’m realizing there is an inevitable level of subjectivity in whatever I do. 

Maybe what jumps out at me as the subject of a document isn’t what would jump out at the next person who reads it. I’ve disagreed with my predecessor on several subject categorizations. Maybe they thought a certain letter was praising segregation and complaining about African Americans, but I thought the praise of segregation was minimal. Things with a single subject will be easier to categorize, so putting the subject as “Complaining About African Americans” is an attractive option.  I’m supposed to give things a short title, not write a novel, but on the other hand, I’m not the only researcher who will be using this collection.  

Another example is using people’s titles. My predecessor was not consistent in using titles in the finding aid, and while I made a resolve to be consistent in my use of titles, I often forgot and only used titles when it seemed significant.  Example: Some people claimed that God supported their racist views, but many Christian pastors drew up petitions in opposition to segregation. I included the title Rev. in the finding aids for these petitions because I wanted to highlight this contrast.

I wanted to highlight this contrast. Ugh. 

When I step back, though, I can see that the issues are negligible, that I am really doing a good job, and that my finding aid will be professional and useful. 

Author: Althea Cupo

I’m Althea Cupo, a Museum Studies MA student at Johns Hopkins University, and I’m interning in the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum (WWPL)'s archives from August 29th through early November. My task for the semester is to create finding aids for the papers in "Woodrow Wilson and Segregation Box 1" and curate a digital exhibition based on the information in the box. I’m very excited because I eventually hope to start a museums consulting firm dedicated to equitably presenting controversial history and this is a chance to test out my personal theories.