Currently viewing the tag: "Archival Arrangement"

(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!

The main issue we faced today was dealing with random groupings of collections housed in the same box, many of which were way too full. Upon further processing of the collections, we came across certain series that were separated and would be more logically housed together in the same box. There was definitely some confusion and organizational issues related to the labeling of multiple collections grouped together, which took a while to sort through and take a proper count of the slides in each collection. Each box with multiple collections was marked so that at a later date they can be properly reorganized.

The most eye-catching find of the day was the Tibetan Butter Sculptures. Try to guess what they’re made of? That’s right…Yak butter and dyes are used to create temporary symbols for the Tibetan New Year and other religious celebrations. They are all very intricate and brightly colored. Who knew?…butter makes it better!

Today we encountered more unprocessed materials than on previous days. Records from the Departments of Animal Behavior and Entomology both presented us with large, varied, and often chaotic arrangements. In particular, we noticed that, unlike with previous departmental records which focused on finances or administration, the content of these records was varied, encompassing all aspects of a department. Any arrangement of materials could not be easily discerned. We found glass slides, photograph negatives, field notes, and other miscellanea (including a two-winged monarch butterfly — more on that later). Besides difficulties in determining the intellectual content of the materials, there were also several glaring conservation issues which we felt must be noted in the spreadsheet.

Boxes of materials from the Department of Comparative Anatomy proved to be quite thought provoking. Labeled simply “Lecture Materials,” we quickly realized that the information contained in the folders was more complex and interesting than that. We wondered if these materials could benefit from more detailed descriptions of the actual topics or the creation of container lists to promote better discovery. We were also unable to determine a context for these materials. However, the focus of this project is not archival processing so we had to settle for a basic data entry. Maybe these materials will provide a great project for some future intern.

But it wasn’t all obstacles today. There were plenty of objects to marvel at, including notebooks, sketches, and field notes from the Department of Entomology. Sean was particularly taken by the field notes of F. E. W. from the early twentieth-century. In trips to Upstate New York, F. E. W. discussed species of butterflies, the train ride to Niagara, and the sandwiches he and his companion ate while in the field. Jenny was quite excited to find the two-winged monarch butterfly. Described as a “Freak Monarch,” the butterfly had not survived after emerging from its chrysalis. Upon inspecting the butterfly, the researcher realized that this monarch only had two wings instead of the usual four and mounted the butterfly – carefully unfurling its wings.

Today was our first day working with the Departmental Records. We toured the collection to get a sense of the types (and quantity) of materials that we will be working with. After an introduction to using the database, we went through a few of the collections – cleaning up the existing data and adding new information as we saw fit. We did find some discrepancies in the dates recorded both in the database and on the boxes so it was good that we double checked the dates of the collection items.

We found conference agendas, most of which were in bound volumes, which may be related to other manuscript records in the future as they are from the time when Henry Fairfield Osborn was president of the museum. Moving forward, we think that collections DR002-DR004 could be combined and possibly consolidated as we noticed some duplicate volumes.

The biggest issue that we faced today was the question of what is the best course of action if we notice discrepancies with dates. We are also thinking about what to do with the duplicate bound volumes found in the Conference collections if the materials are eventually merged.

Anthropology has a wonderful website that offers access to a database of their collections including some of what is included in their archive. Luckily they were able to offer the archive data to us, we’ve requested the data as both Excel and Access files. The students will verify and add to these archive records in our Excel sheet as they come across them. The data is a great gift as it contains already vetted records including extensive subject headings.

We are working on moving the data into the Excel sheet that we are using for Phase 1. In the meantime, the team will start with some of the collections that are not included in the database. Any new records that we create will be offered back to the Anthropology department so that they can update their database. These collections will include:

  • Accession Ledgers
  • Accession Envelopes
  • Donor Cards
  • Original Catalogs
  • Original Publication Artwork

Over the course of the project we will be finding many standard departmental records throughout the various departmental archives. That said, the departments often organize and use the records differently.

In Anthropology the accession records are made up of Accession Ledgers, Accession Envelopes and Donor Cards. All of these records relate back to each other and offer an additional perspective on the details of a collection that has been accessioned. For our Phase 1 cataloging effort each of these will be recorded as a different collection which relates to the other. This should help us capture the unique and comprehensive approach that the division uses and make sure it’s reflected in the OPAC records that will be generated.

I thought it might be interesting to share how Anthropology is going to define their Accession Envelopes for the Catalog records. This definition comes from Kristen Mable and Paul Beelitz in Anthropology.

There is an “accession envelope” for each of the x,xxx accessions which have been made by the Anthropology Division since the time of the Museum’s founding to the present.  The envelopes are stored chronologically, and contain documents pertinent to each accession, e.g., correspondence, shipping records, lists, collector’s notes, letters of transmittal (implemented in the 1980s), AMNH accession records, record of payment, ephemera, etc.

This afternoon Barbara and I walked through the Department Records with a laptop, a cart, and a writing pad for notes. So far, not bad. Most of the records are fairly well-organized and our current inventory, while it needs some cleaning up, is mostly good. There were a few record collections we thought could use better arrangement:

  • collections of mixed records that could be separated,
  • similar records in different collections that can be combined, and
  • collections that should be removed altogether (restricted internal documents).

An example of a mixed records collection included Charters, By-laws, Rules and Regulations, and Pension Board Reports, 1890-1958. A few boxes over there is a collection of just Pension Reports, 1935-1968. These collections would certainly benefit from a second pass.
Of course this has its advantages and disadvantages. Better arrangement = greater visibility of these hidden records = increased research potential. However, there will be box renumbering and new labels to made. But the data set is small (approx. 170 collections) and should not take too long to accomplish.

Worthy of note are the Conference meeting notes recorded when Henry Fairfield Osborn was the President of the Museum. Barbara had mentioned that these documents speak so much to Osborn’s personality, it may be a good idea to make a note for “related resources” that points to his manuscript collection. And more importantly, the Fairfield’s manuscript record should point to this particular collection within Department Records because a researcher may not think to look in this data set. I am excited to start the process and look forward to your discoveries!