Sunday, April 29, 2012

Spring 2012 Mid-Atlantic Archives Conference

Perhaps it was the setting (Cape May, gorgeous weather). Maybe it was the wonderful Local Arrangements folks who were very proud and knowledgeable of their local history. Or, it could have been the program and the workshops. The winning combination of all of the above likely made the Spring MARAC (April 12-14) a success as an entertaining and educational conference.

Dating 19th Century Portrait Photographs Workshop
One of my favorite parts of the conference was Gary Saretsky’s Dating 19th Century Portrait Photographs workshop on Thursday April 12. During his presentation, I felt as if I were absorbing a semester’s worth of knowledge in an afternoon. In addition to giving workshops, Gary is the Monmouth County Archivist, and Coordinator of the Public History Internship Program for the Rutgers University-New Brunswick History Department. He also is a fine photographer himself, with a recent exhibit of blues performers at the Plainfield Public Library.

Gary’s workshop took its participants through the history of early photographic portraiture from the earliest Daguerreotypes in 1839 through cabinet cards in the late 1800s-early 1900s. We learned the distinctive elements that help date Daguerreortypes, ambrotypes, tintypes (also known as melainotypes and ferrotypes), cartes-de-visites, and cabinet cards. Gary also provided us with resources for determining the dates of costumes in photographs.

He brought many examples of cabinet cards and earlier photographs, and invited us to try to identify them, using what we had learned. I just wanted to buy a micrometer and attempt to identify the cabinet cards (by thickness and other means) within the Plainfield Public Library’s Local History collections. Overall, it was an inspiring, informative workshop that was well worth the price of admission. If I were an archives professor, I’d book Gary as a guest lecturer every semester.

Conference Sessions
In the sessions I attended, I noticed a pattern with some of the speakers – they were the users of archives and special collections, rather than “us.” I was glad to hear how these professionals tied the importance of archival collections to their work because they are our patrons and researchers. They teach us how to best help them. Most also expressed their intense gratitude for the work archivists and librarians do to make materials accessible in person and especially online.

For example, the plenary speaker was historic preservation consultant Joan Berkley, who spoke about the archival resources, especially primary sources, she used to uncover the structural details of an historic house museum. Importantly, she named all the repositories she used, and explained how she used the archival materials in her work. Another session I attended, on preserving and promoting New Jersey’s historic structures, also featured three speakers who use archives and libraries to preserve historic properties, the Doo Wop resort architecture of the Wildwoods, and lighthouses in the state.

Additionally, the final session of the conference featured the author of Boardwalk Empire, Nelson Johnson, and a writer from the HBO series of the same name, Edward McGinty. These two gentlemen talked about the value of archives and libraries from two very different directions, but each made clear cases for the use of primary sources whether digitized or not. The other two speakers of that session, Heather PĂ©rez and Shannon O’Neill of the Atlantic City Free Public Library, talked at length about how the show has changed the way they do their work and deliver their services to patrons.

In the sessions featuring archivists as speakers, there were many standouts, including one focused on the Brooklyn Historical Society's efforts to attract and educate students. It was inspiring to see how dedicated the BHS is to its young student and undergraduate patrons. The society has created a host of programs reaching from K-12 through undergraduates. One example is the Young Curators program, which allows 4th and 5th graders to construct their own meaning of history in a new and visual way. They do this by completing a 12-week residency program wherein they create exhibit panels using the BHS’ archives to encourage further research, and spotlight historical events and people. BHS' programs might be a bit ambitious (and expensive) for the libraries where I work, but the depth and breadth of their offerings are certainly well worth the funding the staff has been able to secure for them.

Public Displays: Using Your Collection and Archives to Tell Your Story was a session featuring three diverse views on displays. First, a young researcher (Rachael Rohrbaugh of Chatham University) talked about the results from her study on the lack of exhibits education in MLIS/MLS programs. Next, a couple from the Cape May County Historical Society (Bruce and Pary Lion Tell) showed us very economical and practical ways to set up and display facsimiles of historic documents in exhibit cases. Finally, an archivist I had seen at a previous MARAC, when she worked at the Andy Warhol Museum (Amy Lucadamo, now of Wilson College), provided a variety of methods to showcase collections. In particular, she focused on an innovative timeline she created for alumni visitors – it connected images and icons of shared history with individual histories of alumni. She also showed ways to spotlight objects and records in nifty ways, such as magnifying text (a museum display technique).

Finally, one of the most riveting speakers was neither an archivist, nor historian. He was our host, Curtis Bradshaw, owner of Congress Hall. Curtis is the grandson of Carl McIntire, a fiery fundamentalist Presbyterian minister whose mammoth collection of papers and audio records was recently processed by the Princeton Theological Seminary (primarily by MARAC Program Commitee Co-chair Bob Golon). In the session Rescuing and Making Available a Controversial Collection: The Carl McIntire Papers at Princeton Theological Seminary, Kenneth Woodrow Henke, of PTS, provided a lively history of McIntire. He also told us how the collection came to PTS, then introduced Curtis, who shared his personal impressions of his grandfather. Curtis told many stories of how his grandfather worked. For example, he would watch his grandfather at the microphone, delivering his radio sermons. He also directed groups of female volunteers to keep newspaper clippings files (now at PTS) in order to save a record of his 20th century reformation of the Presbyterian church. A charismatic speaker, Curtis kept his audience amused, and gave us a peek into the famed minister’s life.

As always, MARAC exceeded my expectations and left me with more knowledge and skills to take back to the libraries where I work. To see the complete program, visit MARAC (downloads a PDF).


Lee Price said...

With apologies for being off-topic, I was awarded one of those silly 7x7 blog awards and decided to play along. As you publish one of my favorite blogs, I included "Here and There" in my round-up. "HERE AND THERE connects with my professional interest in archives and special collections. I love it when author Debra Schiff takes her readers along on personal behind-the-scenes tours led by knowledgeable curators, archivists, and librarians."

You can see the entire post at 21 Essays:

Please feel no obligation whatsoever to pass it along. But I do hope you receive a little traffic from it.

Deb Schiff said...

How lovely, Lee! Thank you very much. I'm a fan of your Tour America's Treasures blog:

Any traffic is appreciated. :)