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Today Kelly and I continued our Phase 2 work in the Anthropology Archives. The beginning of the day was business as usual, and we made our way through a majority of Room 1. The last collection we looked at is the one that really caught our eye, belonging to Nels Christian Nelson. Nelson was a long-time employee at AMNH, serving in a number of curatorial positions at the Museum. He was also President of the American Anthropological Association, President of the Society for American Archaeology, President of the American Ethnological Society, and Vice President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

While we had written about mixed collections before, this one takes the cake! It was a mammoth collection made up of all different formats: papers, correspondence, photographs, negatives, lantern slides, maps, field journals, and film.

There were over 2,500 photographs and most were curling and brittle, even with sleeves. Luckily they are being digitized, so researchers can still access them despite their deteriorating condition. The maps were also in pretty poor shape, many were too brittle to be unrolled. However, the lantern slides and negatives appeared to be in good condition, with surprisingly no cracks and very little fading. Needless to say, it took us some time to go through and properly assess this collection, but is a great example of the different kinds of materials that make up each collection in the Anthropology Archives.

(Xa’Niyus or Xixanus) (Bob Harris) wearing Killer Whale headdress (FMNH 85087 Anthropology collection). The Field Museum of Natural History, CSA13597 (probably by staff photographer, Charles Carpenter).

Over the past few weeks I have been sorting through the Franz Boas Photo Collection in order to create a finding aid. I first came across this collection in the summer while working the library’s photographic print collection, but now that I’m taking a closer look at the photos I’m discovering how truly amazing this collection really is.

This collection contains images that Boas had collected over time, taken by a number of different of photographers (both known and unknown). There are very few photos in the collection attributed to Boas himself, most seem to deal with his interest in studying native cultures of the Pacific Northwest.

Out of the four boxes that make up this collection, one is neatly processed with labeled folders, while the other three are much more random. You can see the comparison in the photo below.

At first I was nervous that these three boxes would be difficult to make sense of, but I spent time with Iris this morning to figure out the best arrangement plan for the disorganized boxes. We decided that the provenance of this collection did not really exist anymore, as there was no rhyme or reason to the order of the photos. Our plan is to keep the materials within each box, but to rearrange the photographs in a more orderly fashion. Today I was able to create an initial container list for Box 1 by dividing it into two distinct categories: portraits and field photographs. There are legacy numbering systems on the back of some of the photographs but it is unclear what they represent or how they once helped organize the collection.

I’m looking forward to digging deeper into this collection to see what Mr. Boas has left behind for us!

Today was Lauren’s first day in the Anthropology Dept. and Kelly’s first day in general working on the Archiving Project. We are starting in the main Archive room, which is very well organized thanks to the archivist there, Kristen. Phase 1 has already been completed in that room, so we are now on to Phase 2, risk assessment.

Our first day started out a little slow…our first collection had field notes, journals, maps, negatives, and photos…a little bit of everything! We were able to pick up the pace a little bit after that, but mixed media was the theme of the day.

One of the collections made us stop and think how to classify the materials. It was an entire collection of data cards of statues. Each card had descriptions and various types of data, but also included black-and-white prints glued to each card. Should these data cards, which we will probably run into again, be classified as a paper collection, a photographic collection, or both? We consulted Becca who informed us that the ‘mixed media’ category was created just for this type of collection.

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On our final day in the Photographic Slide Collection, we divided our day between the two summer-long goals of cataloging hidden collections and performing a risk assessment of these collections. We are pleased to report that we reached our target of carrying out Phase 1 and Phase 2 up to PSC 359!

It was business as usual on our last day with this collection, and we have certainly seen a lot of amazing images. We had a very productive summer and learned a lot from this experience. See below for a photo of all of the collections we worked our way through.

Both David and I will be returning for the fall and are looking forward to exploring different areas of the archives. See you next semester!


Today we went through the end of Phase 1 and, unbelievably, we also made it through the end of Phase 2. How satisfying. The Photographic Print Collection is now done. Yay!

We came across this cool stereoscopic viewer which allowed us to see the slides in 3D, which included photos of Hawaii and Cambodia. Low-tech Avatar, but it really works.

This summer has been a great learning experience, and we got to see some pretty amazing stuff. Not only in processing the Photographic Print Collection, but through SAA webinars, tours of the diorama renovations and rare book rooms, and the brown bag lunch with Richard T. Fischer.

Lauren will be returning for more museum adventures this fall, but this is Joanna’s farewell. Thank you Iris, Becca, Barbara, Tom, Mai, Greg, and the rest of library staff for everything.

As a diversion from our typical cataloging and risk assessment, today we attended a workshop presented by Stacy Schiff, Visual Resources Librarian here at the museum, on Omeka, an open-source image cataloging software program. AMNH has recently implemented this system…so far four collections have been uploaded, and while none are live yet, they should all be publicly available in the next few months. It was educational and informative as we went step-by-step through the cataloging procedures and the descriptive standard used—AMNH Core—which is based on fields culled from Dublin Core, VRA Core, etc. Should either of us encounter Omeka in the future, we can consider ourselves well acquainted.
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Our day began with a brown bag lunch with former AMNH intern, Richard T. Fischer. Richard presented his summer experience in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian’s Botany Library. He worked on the “Connecting Content: A Collaboration to Link Field Notes to Specimens and Published Literature” project as the Information Connections Research Intern. He spent the summer developing a methodology to connect the materials in the field notebooks, to publications and to specimens.

After lunch, we returned to the photographic print collection. Today we had a special guest, Iris, helping us catalog the remaining collections. We found this stunning photo, above, of Bedouin woman from Turkmenistan, taken in 1866 . Check out that headdress!

Next week our goal is to complete Phase 1 and Phase 2 for the photographic print collection. Wish us luck!

Today in Anthropology I worked with Lauren to complete the risk assessment in Location II. There were only about 10 collections left in this location, and fortunately they were fairly large and generally only 1 or 2 collection units. We finished the risk assessment in this location before lunch, and moved on to the map case in the Anthropology hallway after lunch. Our favorite find from Location II today was this floor plan of an unknown museum from the “Notes on Museum Collections in Europe and America, 1911-1930” collection. Notice the bear hunt scene at the far left.


After lunch, we completed risk assessment on the hallway map case, and found these drawings of clay dolls from the collection of James Alfred Ford.


Next week we hope to finish risk assessment on the remaining hallway cabinets, which will bring us much closer to finishing both phases in Anthropology – hooray!

Today, I started out continuing the authority work on the Photographic Slide CAT spreadsheet. I focused on the 6xx and 7xx fields, looking up names as well as topical and geographical subjects. While most of these terms were found using the AMNH OPAC or Library of Congress authorities, again the issue arose of several names I could not find. If this issue occurs, as I assume it does in almost any institution, I wonder what the proper procedure is for dealing with this?

This afternoon Iris and I began labeling some of the slide collections. As we began this right after lunch, we eagerly grabbed the first two boxes in need of labeling, thinking this would be a swift and efficient process. Wrong!

Our first collection was PSC 34, slides of the Hall of Human Biology under construction. Each slide is to be labeled by collection number and the slide label in sequential order (e.g. Slide Collection 34, the slides will be numbered 34-1, 34-2, etc). However, there is often more than one exposure made from the same image, a process called ‘bracketing for exposure.’ The standard procedure for dealing with this process is to select the best exposure first, and follow the duplicates with the same number and an added letter suffix of “A,” “B,” or “C” (e.g. 34-1, 34-1A, 34-1B).

Sounds straightforward enough, right? In a perfect world yes, but there are about 600 slides in this collection, and the duplicates were spread out over the entire box! Luckily the standard procedure is to number slides using a #2 pencil, because we often had to erase numbers and reorder slides when we came across another duplicate of a previously labeled slide. We got about a quarter of the way through PSC 34 before it was time to end the day. This is definitely a more tedious (albeit necessary) process than we assumed.

Once these slides are processed and put into the library catalog, it will end up being much safer to loan them out with numbers and labels, preventing them from being lost or facing our most feared foe – dissociation!

As the weekend begins, I leave you with this image from another collection. Any guesses as to what this contraption is called? And notice how it is already nicely labeled for us.

Beginning our day with the second round of “Risk Assessment,” we swiftly moved our way back through all of the collections we had processed so far. In general, the slides are all in very good condition and rarely show any signs of preservation concerns. The most significant “risk” from these collections is dissociation by lacking any type of identification (other than the label on the outside of the box), thereby rendering them not-so-useful for research purposes.

With half of the day ahead of us, we moved onto a little spreadsheet data clean up and authority work. Here’s a little elaboration on one authority file we updated…Box 208 is labeled “G. Ekholm Collection, Mayan Photographs, 35 mm color slides, 44 images.” This “G. Ekholm” is actually the late Dr. Gordon F. Ekholm, curator emeritus here at the museum. Earning his master’s and doctoral degrees in anthropology from Harvard, Dr. Ekholm was an expert in the field of pre-Columbian archaeology of Mesoamerica. Many of his studies focused on parallels between southern and eastern Asian cultures and the Mayan civilization. An author search retrieved 17 records from the AMNH research library OPAC, including several books, numerous co-authored publications, and a few films. He served as an AMNH staff member for several decades.

But back to the collection…there are 44 slides, many of which are glass mounted, and all of which contain detailed captions, but no dates. The most eye-catching part of the collection concerns a “Volador Pole.” This group of photographs was taken during an expedition to Mexico, which focuses on a ceremonial ritual called the “Danza de los Volodares,” or “Dance of the Flyers.” Think of it as a merry-go-round for very brave adults. It consists of 5 dancers who climb a 30-meter pole, four of whom launch themselves from the top, tied by their feet with ropes, and swing around in circles, while the fifth remains at the top to play a flute and pray. According to myth, the ritual exists to ask the gods for a reprieve from severe drought. In 2009, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized this ceremony with the Intangible Cultural Heritage distinction. For those interested further, a video clip can be accessed here.