I have finally finished with the Michael Harney collection, and am now onto a new collection which has already been worked upon. This is the John Hayes collection, and it has already been partly compiled by a former volunteer at the North Carolina Room Archives. This is something that can unfortunately happen at an archive, that accepts volunteer work. The volunteer’s time simply does not last as long as is needed for all their projects, and an incomplete mess is left behind. So, I started by simply going through everything and seeing what had been scanned, and what had not been, as well as what the folders in DBTextworks are meant to be centered around. I quickly learned that the majority of the collection had not been scanned, only one book of photos had been. Then, by comparing the rest of the scanned items in the collection with the physical collection, I learned that much of what had been scanned we did not have a physical copy of. After some confusion, Zoe learned that most of what had been scanned had been on loan to Pack, and was never fully donated, so the volunteer had to simply can these items as quickly as possible before they were forfeit. So, after going through everything, I have now begun the process of sorting the written documents into categories.
The question of interpreting sensitive material is hardly one that pertains to the American race based slavery and southern historic memory alone, but rather to all histories in which multiple perspectives on the truth are held. But I luckily only have experience in dealing with white southerners that would prefer to remember slavery as simply another form labor, little different than underpaid factory labor at the beginning of the industrial revolution. In my experience at Vance these white southerners commonly clam up when the subject of slavery comes up during a tour, and where they will ask a variety of questions about the cooking implements or gender norms at the time, they rarely venture questions about the enslaved people that were on the farm. I believe that for many southerners it is because of an unwillingness to learn about the reality of slavery in the U.S. South, as they would prefer to not only live in ignorance, but they would also like to create their own delusional history where slavery was something people agreed to become a part of and never questioned. But it is the purpose of interpreters at historic sites and public historians in general to help break down these dilutions with the power of facts. To help educate people on the reality of the past, instead of some Gone With the Wind fantasy in which slavery is a natural part of capitalist system. Before I finish rambling, I want to simply make not that this is not so for all southerners, in fact the majority want to know what slavery was like in the Appalachia.
This past week has been pleasantly productive, where last week was unfortunately the opposite, as my absence of a blog post no doubt attested. Unlike previous weeks I have not been learning anything new, but rather I have been continuing with the information that I learned in previous weeks, and using it to continue to enter the data of the Michael Harney collection. So far I have completed my first box of this collection, its number being MS370.001, with each folder being given a letter of the alphabet. It was quite auspicious that once the folders that contain magazines were added, there were exactly twenty-six folders, allowing for there to be folders MS370.001A to MS370.001Z. After organizing the piles of miscellaneous articles and documents into folders and giving each folder its own page on DBTextworks, I chose some choice documents from each to scan and place upon the folder’s corresponding DBTextworks page. Not only will these documents be immortalized by digitization, but they will also serve as mouth-wetters for anyone interested in what the folder has to offer. This is useful, as a mere two sentence description of a folder can say too little of what is in the folder, where copies of just a few of the documents inside can speak volumes on exactly how useful this collection may be to one’s research. I have also found that I have been able to get into a flow with my work, enough so that I can listen to radio plays as I work, were before I would lose track of my current task after even a small distraction.
This past week at the Pack Library, I have been digitizing the Michael Harney collection that I had been organizing before. The process is far simpler than I had originally imagined. On the database I write down a bit of the information on each folder, giving each folder a page as well. First is that time period that the folder covers, then some different search terms, any associated groups or organizations, and most importantly the description. The description for each folder should be written in a straightforward manner, while also thoroughly describing the contents of said folder, much the way a historian’s writings should be clear while also being heavily detailed. The scanning process is just as simple, yet far more rewarding. The scanners at Pack are really rather nice, and easy to use. Simply place your page you are scanning onto the scanner, preview the page and make certain you are scanning it in its entirety, name and number your page, and scan! Then turn it into a pdf file. If there are multiple pages to a document, you must combine them into a single pdf, which is where the numbering is most useful, as it assures that the pages are in order. Once the document is a pdf it must be converted to a pdf that can be recognized as having text, and then made smaller so it can more easily go onto the database. I had always wondered how pdfs were created, and now I know it is simply a matter of having the proper software. Each folder needs about three documents online, simply as a way to give someone looking at the folder online a good idea about what they can find in it.
This past week I have gotten the true archivist’s experience, getting to sort through a massive pile of unorganized documents, many of which are only vaguely related to the collection’s theme. The collection that Michael Harney gave to the Pack Library that I have been sorting through is centered around The Needle Exchange Program of Asheville (a program that allows those with a need for clean needles to exchange their old used needles for clean ones in an attempt to stem the spread of AIDS/HIV) and Michael Harney’s work with the Western North Carolina AIDS Project; however, I have found that some of the material is either only loosely related to these topics or completely unrelated to either. Allow me to share some examples. A plethora of printed off online articles about AIDS/HIV from a variety of online news sources, many of which have nothing to do with Western North Carolina. A project report from the North Carolina Division of Transportation highlighting some changes they plan to make to the roads in Asheville. And my personal favorite, an advanced math book from 1985 written in Spanish, accompanied by some of Michael Harney’s assignments, all written in Spanish as well. All in all it has actually been fun to go through this material, excluding the online articles, and sort it out into different folders. This coming week I will be learning to scan properly and use the online database to enter stage two of this collection organization.
This semester I will be interning at the Pack Library in downtown Asheville. So far I have met with my internship mentor Zoe, and worked five hours. So far there are a variety of differences from the Vance Birthplace. First, the Pack Library has a less structured scheduling system, as while it is open to the public, it is not hyper-focused at helping visitors as the Vance Birthplace is. So I can come in whenever is good for me and get to work. The work is also, as one might imagine, quite different. Rather than deal with visitors, I will be working with an archive. My first project will have me attacking a rather recent collection left by the Western North Carolina Aids Project writer, Michael Harney, also known as the Rubberman. Harney wrote a wide variety of articles in newspapers, which I have just finished organizing be publication and date. Now I will be going through the mass of other documentation that he left, attempting to organize it into different folders by theme, and then organize those be date.
Over the course of my internship at the Vance Birthplace, I have done database entry, artifact handling, retail work, cleaning, inventory, education programs, and worked with the public, and can safely say that it was enjoyable. One of the most important lessons that I learned is that in working at an understaffed and underfunded state historic site, one can expect to do a variety of jobs, and that general maintenance of the site is largely up to anyone working there, especially if the site is as small as the Birthplace. I also learned of the strangely extensive libraries that these sites have, and how extremely niche the content can be. One less pleasant thing that I learned is that many historians in the field of museum studies can disagree on what aspects of the past are important, and the Vance Birthplace is a good example of these differences of opinion clashing. The site itself was begun as a variable shrine to Zebulon Vance, who many Western North Carolinians consider a hero. This positive opinion of Vance is based primarily on his popularity in the Civil War and his help in bringing the Railroad into Asheville and many other opportunities to white Western North Carolinians. While the morality of Vance’s character is questionable, it is not for historians to question, as we are not moralists, but it is our place to question the importance of the historic sites that we help maintain and create. Many of those who helped in the creation of the Vance Birthplace would say it is important simply because of Vance, and not because it can be used as a way to,educate the public on how a wealthy pioneer family would have lived in the early 18th century.