There was a snow day yesterday, so I was unable to post the regular Monday Marvels entry for this week — instead you will get Tuesday Treasures!
Before we start to physically process a collection, us archivists like to spend some time researching the creators of that collection. Sometimes this means reading biographies of people or finding books about the projects they’ve completed. Sometimes it means studying the history of an organization by reading any books, articles, and dissertations that mention that organization. We find out as much as we can about the context of the collection in order to understand it in a way that will allow us to process it more efficiently and accurately.
Once we’ve completed the initial research with secondary sources (or, on occasion, primary sources outside of the collection), our best way to find out more is through the collection itself. For example, I found a chart in Part I that told me when the original volumes of the Dictionary of American Biography were published. I have been able to determine the rough time periods of employment for some major figures in ACLS history, and used the collection itself to find the full names of many organizations and committees that are often referred to by acronyms.
Last week I came across a quite useful document: a (very) brief history of the ACLS written by Mortimer Graves, who was the Executive Director of the organization from 1953 to 1957. Written in the Post-World War II era, this paper says a lot about the organization and how it was shaped by the events of the early 20th century. I love finding things like this, because they allow me to gain insight into the organization from the very people who have run it. I’ll just post the first few pages here – if you’d like to read more, come to the Library of Congress and ask for box E60 in Part I of the collection! As always, Graves has a beautiful style of prose here that is quite a joy to read.
Later, Graves talks about various major ACLS projects, as well as the organization’s relationship with its constituent societies. He mentions that the concerns of the organization eventually branched out to cover more than just research: “training, development, implementation, and communication,” to name a few areas. Perhaps the most interesting part of this history is his take on how the organization was shaped by both World War I and World War II, leading to programs focused on countries and languages around the world.
What a useful tool, and a treasure to boot.