Archives, Bean Seeds, and a Sleeping Princess

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Sleeping Beauty illustration by Japanese artist Kinuko Y. Craft  http://www.kycraft.com/

Having just earned my BA this past May, the 2018-2019 academic year marks my first as a Graduate Assistant at Special Collections and as a graduate student. I spent the last year and a half researching for my honors thesis which focused on the importance of stories, the ways they are told, and how they are preserved. As an example I analyzed fairy tales for their rich history in oral, literary, and illustration traditions, and for their great ability to remain present in our current day.

Gentry Blog p_1My interest in archival and special collections work derives from my passion for stories and how materials of historical significance are being preserved for future generations. For my first processing project I am organizing the papers of Howard Scott Gentry (1903-1993), botanist, ethnographer, zoologist, and most well-known for his expertise on the agave plant. Through my sorting process I am beholding the work of a devoted expert in his craft. His extensive research on a vast array of plant species and attention to detail exhibits his knowledge and passion for his life’s work. Some favorite discoveries: a packet of bean seeds I found in his file labeled “Phaselus” (aka “Wild Bean”), and his manuscript titled “Jojoba the Sleeping Princess” that he wrote for the 1978 International Conference on Jojoba. In this piece Gentry personifies the jojoba plant as a sleeping princess, and like the fairy tale she needs a suitor to wake her, but instead of a prince, it is the skilled botanist who will bring her to bloom, thereby gifting the suitor with her magic oil. You can imagine my delight of finding these fairy tale-like elements within my first project, reminding me of the importance of my research, and excited for what else I will discover in the archives of Special Collections.

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Southwest Enchantments

A month ago my partner, our three chihuahuas, and I made the trek from Oregon to The Old Pueblo. Having lived in other Arizona cities for most of our lives we were excited for our Southwest return. Though only away for a short time, I realized I longed for the Southwest-scape when somewhere in California the luscious green hills evolved into a beautiful mountainous desertscape. When we arrived in Tucson we were greeted by a monsoon storm and unimaginable colors depicted only by a desert bloom. At a short distance away picturesque mountains touched the sky and a javelina pack enjoyed the vegetation. It was a sight dearly missed and it became evident more beauty and adventure lay ahead. Cactus Bloom

My first month with Special Collections has been equally as welcoming as the greeting received by nature on our first day. I am processing the papers of Curtis G. Benjamin, a University of Arizona graduate, author, and publisher who held multiple positions with McGraw Hill Inc., including that of President. I am weeks in and enjoying identifying the concepts discussed in my courses and analyzing how they come to life in the documents. At the same time, I am witnessing the book publishing industry make history in the U.S. through the historical mergers and acquisitions documented by Curtis G. Benjamin. Through the documents, I am witnessing the expansion of McGraw Hill’s international relations, and I sense the publishing industry’s concern for conglomerates taking root. Through the perspective of C.G.B., as I have come to refer to him, I am able to view some of the thought processes behind partnerships and published works that exist today. The work taking place within Special Collections leaves me feeling inspired daily. How could I not be inspired? It is truly a place of enchantments!

 

 

 

Indiana in the Archive

After a year of working at Special Collections as a Student Page I am excited to say that I, Kimberly Ramsey, am moving up in the archival world and will be finishing my last year in the Masters in Library and Information Science program as a Special Collections Graduate Assistant.

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*crowd cheers*

Working in an archive isn’t necessarily what I thought I would be doing. The Anthropology department never encouraged students to look into this field and I was so focused on being Indiana Jones that what happened to these materials after they had been collected didn’t even cross my mind, how young and naive I was. Luckily for me I’ve found my way here, call me Indy of the Archive if you’d like.

“That belongs in an archive” – Me

Now that you know a little about me, let me introduce you to my new friend, John Weston. Weston was a writer of a plethora of novels, short stories, poems, articles, plays and screenplays. Though a popular author, Weston also spent time working as a professor at different academic institutions, including the University of Arizona. There are 15 boxes of materials, and frankly they are pretty well organized, maybe he was an archivist too.

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One of Weston’s very full, yet very organized, boxes.

His materials contain correspondence, play  material, photographs, and plenty of manuscripts. Weston kept all of his drafts which, along with the correspondence, really create a story of his time as a writer and how hard he worked and struggled to create the legacy he did.

15 boxes is a lot, and arranging them will definitely take longer then I had imagined it would, but I am none the less excited to keep working through his stuff while sharing it with you.

Catch me in the basement,

Kimberly

 

Collections of Disarray: Cleaning Up and Preserving Archival Materials

The 2018-2019 academic year marks my second year as a GA (Graduate Assistant) at Special Collections, but I’ve held different student worker positions here since 2009. My plan to infiltrate the archive and make myself a permanent fixture here seems to be working.  Processing collections has always been one of the most significant tasks I’ve been given and I cannot stress enough how much I love being able to make sense of collections for future researchers, scholars, and curious patrons.

My first processing project this semester is what can only be (lovingly) described as a ‘Collection of Disarray’. This nickname refers to a collection that comes in with no clear order (everything is haphazardly piled into boxes), lots of dirt and grime, needs a lot of weeding (removing and discarding items that have no intellectual value to the collection–like an old phone bill or receipt from the grocery store), and has condition issues.

The collection I’m currently processing arrived to Special Collections looking like this:

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It is not uncommon for collections to come in without any specified order to them. After all, donors are entrusting their materials to an archive because archivists take the time to tidy up the collection: we put materials in folders, clean up any small issues, etc.

Yet this collection was unique because it had significant dirt and grime. This was likely due to storage issues (not everyone has a temperature controlled room, and you should keep in mind that lots of people keep their materials in storage sheds that aren’t dirt and/or animal proof). Thus, as I’ve started sorting these materials, I’ve had to spend a lot of time carefully wiping up dirt, bugs, and other fun treasures. It actually is *very* fun.

The collection itself also has different types of damage.

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A significant portion of this collection is letters from the 1910-1930s. The letter pictured above is family correspondence from 1921, and as you can see there are different types of damage to the letter itself. This letter had some dirt on it, which was easy to carefully wipe away. However, there are still some stain “spots” of an unknown origin. The edges also have some significant damage from an unidentified bug. I have a carcass or two that were preserved in these boxes, and I’m not kidding when I say I’m taking photos and sending them to a friend who studies bugs in order to get the true identity of the letter-eaters! You can see little areas where a bug was happily eating away at the letter (the more ’rounded’ areas). However, there are also nicks and tears in the letter (likely from improper housing and, let’s be honest, plain old age and non-archival paper).

The collection is exciting because it is giving me a chance to use different real-world techniques to get some of these materials back into shape. Cleaning dirt off, putting letters in sealed mylar, and arranging the items is proving to be time consuming but well worth the effort. And… I get to use these exciting blue gloves that make me feel like a doctor–skillfully bringing life back to a collection!

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