Monday Marvels: The Early Years

In anticipation of a blog entry I’ll be posting soon about re-processing Part I of the collection, I thought it would be fun to highlight one of the collection’s earliest items today. This piece of correspondence was written in 1920, just one year after the ACLS was first formed to represent the United States in the Union Académique Internationale (International Union of Academies). The document speaks for itself, so here it is:

Very early correspondence regarding the ACLS.

It’s always fun to find things like this in collections – formative thoughts about ideas, events, organizations, and projects that go on to become a Big Deal.

“Has anybody sent you information about our American Council with the long name…?” Surely that “long name” refers to the full name of the organization as stated in the Constitution: American Council of Learned Societies Devoted to Humanistic Studies. How interesting to look back through the lens of history and see the beginnings of an organization that is currently putting millions of dollars into fostering the humanities every year – they certainly have come a long way in the past century!

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Monday Marvels

While processing collections, archivists occasionally come across documents related to someone who was very famous, powerful, or important in some way. We say that these items have intrinsic value – that is to say, the item is important partially because of its physical characteristics, and a photocopy of it would not offer the same type of value. We look for many types of value in archives; this is one that describes very specific types of materials. For example, a check signed by Louis Armstrong would have intrinsic value because of its physical association with the jazz legend. An actual signature on a document touched by someone with that amount of historical influence would normally be something that people would think is worth keeping, even if they would dispose of a very similar item signed by someone else.

Many times the value we search for is informational in nature – what can people learn from this document? Might anyone be interested in using it as part of a research project in the future? What does it tell us about a specific person or event, and how does that fit in with the larger picture of society in this time period? Sometimes, though, it’s great just to find something that was read by or written to someone with a big name; someone you’ve read about in school or seen on television, or someone you greatly admire for their actions and accomplishments.

The following document doesn’t strictly fall into the realm of intrinsic value (it’s debatable, anyway), but it was written by the ACLS to someone quite well-known: President Lyndon B. Johnson. This letter, written by former ACLS President R. M. Lumiansky, thanks President Johnson for his strong backing of the arts and humanities.

1967.03.01 Letter to LBJ

I suspect the special message to Congress mentioned is the one here; it’s dated just a few days before this letter was written. In this special message, President Johnson asks Congress to approve a $16 million budget for the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities, increasing it almost one-third from the previous budget.

It’s always wonderful to see people in power fighting for arts and humanities funding. Although the President did not personally write back to the ACLS, there is a response from his office thanking the organization for its support.

Tuesday Treasures: Tiananmen Square, Part II

Last week, I posted some materials from and about scholars who were in China during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. This week, I’d like to expand on that post by showing you all two more items related to the protests – I just found so many interesting documents that I couldn’t confine them all to one blog post!

In the last post, I wrote about the importance of primary sources: they give us a glimpse into the past by allowing us to see first-hand accounts of it, and pull us into history by making it more human. They can give us stories, memories, and cultural insights. Likewise, they can pull us straight into the heart of an important event from the past, allowing us to see details that might otherwise have been lost forever.

If you’re interested in history, though, you can’t just think about the details. You also have to make an attempt to see the bigger picture – context is important! Some questions we could ask about the Tiananmen Square protests include (but are not limited to): What happened in the months or years leading up to June of 1989 that might have contributed to these protests and the government’s reaction to them? What types of people were protesting, and what were their reasons for doing so? How did the rest of the world view China at this time, and vice versa? Did any non-Chinese agents play a part in these protests? Were there similar movements happening elsewhere? How did the protests change things in China and the rest of the world, if at all? How did the government react to these actions in the long term? Did the lives of normal Chinese citizens change at all on a day-to-day basis as a result of these protests? Did the educational system in China change, due to these protests being student-led? Primary sources can help us answer these types of context-driven questions.

This first document is a memorandum from the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China (CSCPRC) to their National Program scholars who left China early because of the protests. In the memo, dated about a month and a half after the June 4th incident, the CSCPRC urges the scholars not to return to China before January of 1990:

In terms of context, this quote is of particular interest:

The current political crackdown by the present leadership is having a profound impact on the Chinese academic community in China. Students and faculty are being arrested, and it is not unlikely that ties with foreign scholars will be viewed suspiciously by the government in the coming months. At the same time, it is also clear that some Chinese scholars are under pressure to inform foreign friends that their institutions are open for business as usual, that nothing happened on June 4, and that everything is back to normal.

This next document is a trip report by previous ACLS President Stanley N. Katz written a year after the 1989 protests took place – the first page gives a general introduction as to why he took the trip in the first place, explaining that his Chinese colleagues very much wanted him to return in the aftermath of the protests:

Stanley N. Katz: American studies trip, page 1
Later in the report, President Katz makes note of what has happened to institutions of higher education, American studies, and scholarship in general as a result of the previous protests. I found this segment of the report (the end of page 20 through the beginning of page 22) particularly interesting:

If you don’t want to read all of that, here are a few quotes:

…individual programs…have been temporarily badly damaged by the political repression following June, 1989. (p. 20)

The faculty seem determined to settle in for the long haul not at all confident that anything positive will happen soon, but seemingly sure that in the long run more reasonable values and policies will win out. The graduate students, on the other hand, seem angry, openly defiant and quite aggressive in their pro-democratic values. Their comments after my lectures, refusing for the most part to pursue the discussion of American studies and insisting upon talking about rights and constitutionalism, showed just how unafraid they are. (p. 21)

On this trip I came to believe that the single most subversive thing the United States can do in China is to promote the study of American culture. (p. 21)

The ACLS American Studies Program, which ran from 1961 to 1992, aided foreign scholars studying the United States. In visiting China to ascertain the state of American studies there, President Katz made note of the bigger picture as well, offering a look at the context surrounding an important event in Chinese (and world) history. This is the type of material that keeps scholarship pushing forward, offering a better understanding of how events and people and places fit together and influence each other. These documents can’t answer all (or any, in full) of the questions I asked above, but they do give us a starting point from which we can ask more questions and start building a map of history.

Monday Marvels: Tiananmen Square, Part I

Like most archivists, I love studying the past in order to better understand the world we live in today. There are many great stories to be told, and many lessons to learn. That is why it is such a joy to find items in collections that directly relate to important moments in history. Encountering a letter from a soldier who witnessed firsthand a watershed moment in wartime; reading a speech given during a major civil rights protest; holding a photograph documenting the first instance of a new technology emerging: these things have a certain quality about them, and that quality is part of what draws people to primary sources in the first place. We read about these moments in history and social science textbooks at school, but seeing a firsthand account of them brings us something more – these objects tend to add more humanity to past events, allowing us to put ourselves into the shoes of these people, to see that actual human beings participated in these unforgettable moments, helping to shape their contemporary world as well as the one we live in today.

One such event took place 25 years ago – in the spring of 1989, student-led demonstrations were happening in Beijing, China. Gathering mainly in Tiananmen Square, the protestors called for widespread economic and political reform, and the government responded by declaring martial law. On June 4th, the military was sent to the square in an effort to displace the protestors. Arrests were made, and soldiers opened fire. Because the Chinese government refused to release any information about the event after it happened, casualty estimations range from several hundred to several thousand. I don’t condone using Wikipedia as a serious scholarly resource, but it’s great for learning basic information – the page on the Tiananmen Square protests is certainly worth reading if you’re interested. The BBC also offers a very short version of what happened in their “On This Day” feature. Most of you have probably seen the photo of a man (known only as “The Tank Man”) standing in front of a line of tanks – it is widely perceived to be one of the most iconic images of the 20th century, and was taken during these protests. Stories about the 25th anniversary of the June 4th incident have been peppering the news lately, showing up everywhere from Time to The Washington Post to The Guardian.

At this point, you might be asking yourself how this is related to the ACLS collection. I’ve written before about the international focus of the organization, so if you’ve been following along, you will see a pattern emerging – international programs are so important to the ACLS that there is currently an entire department devoted to them. Some of the boxes that arrived with Part III of the collection hold materials from the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China (CSCPRC, later known as the CSCC). I won’t delve too deeply into the details, but the CSCPRC was partially sponsored by the ACLS, which is why we’ve got some of their files here at the Library of Congress now. China has always been a main area of interest for the ACLS, and Chinese studies are heavily represented in all three parts of the collection.

In the first grouping of boxes I went through, I came across some grant materials from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Included were memoranda, pieces of correspondence, briefings, and notes about the Tiananmen Square protests to, from, and about scholars who were studying in China under the CSCPRC at the time. I thought it was worth taking the time to look more closely at these materials than I normally would, due to the historical importance inherent in them. Needless to say, I found them fascinating, and I hope that you all feel the same.

This first document, dated a few days after the June 4th incident, is a one-page letter from the Acting Director of the CSCPRC, Robert Geyer. In it, Geyer states that the committee is doing its best to get its sponsored scholars out of the country in order to ensure their safety. The seriousness of the situation is very clear:

CSCPRC - letter from June 7th, 1989

The following three-page fax sent to the D.C. CSCPRC office is worth reading in full, as it details the definite or assumed whereabouts of each of the program’s scholars on June 6th, noting that some scholars’ whereabouts were actually unknown at the time. I can only imagine how frantic and nerve-racking it must have felt to be in this situation, unable to find certain people. If you read nothing else, read the last paragraph. I can’t put into words how amazed I was reading this, so I will let the document speak for itself:

 

You might have noticed that Melissa Macauley’s name was highlighted in the above documents. That’s because they were with other documents related to her – for each scholar, the committee kept a packet of materials documenting their time in China. With Ms. Macauley’s permission, I give you one more document that I find to be particularly enlightening – a briefing from her to future scholars titled “Tips for a Safer, Happier Stay in the New, New China” from September of 1989:

Melissa Macauley - September 1989

The paragraph about demonstrations and mobs is especially interesting, with strong enough language that anyone reading it could imagine being there.

Documents like these ones always make me feel like time is suspending itself – there is nothing quite like a firsthand account of an important moment in history, the humanity jumping straight out of the source to engulf you in a true experience. I look forward to finding more documents like these as I continue processing the collection, and can only hope that researchers for years to come will use them to help us all better understand the human experience.

Strength in the humanities: The ACLS 2014 annual meeting

This weekend was a good one for the humanities – the ACLS annual meeting took place in Philadelphia from Thursday to Saturday, bringing together some of the brightest and most influential people in the fields. The ACLS graciously extended an invitation to me, so I took the train out and spent a few great days having inspiring conversations and listening to some truly thought-provoking speeches.

The annual meeting brings people together to discuss the state of the organization, its role in the humanities, and the humanities fields in general. There are panels giving presentations about specific topics or projects, speakers who give lectures or lead conversations, and of course there is the report of the President. Pauline Yu gave an excellent speech this year. She focused largely on the 1964 Report of the Commission on the Humanities (published 50 years ago!), which the ACLS produced alongside the Council of Graduate Schools in America and the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa and which eventually led to the establishment of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Comparing the present to the past is often a powerful tool, and this was no exception: In 1957, the ACLS was on the verge of bankruptcy. After some major changes, it picked itself back up, and today it is financially stable with a healthy treasury. Its robust fellowship programs continue to grow, and one only needs to look at the list of recent fellows to see the great diversity of projects funded by the ACLS, as pointed out by President Yu during her speech. Indeed, she affirmed that the humanities are not, in fact, dying.

And why would anyone think that the humanities are dying? For those of you who are not fully engulfed in the current conversation about the state of the humanities, it’s been a contentious one. For decades, the “crisis in the humanities” has been a hot topic of debate, and there’s no exception to that today – if anything, the conversation has become more heated in the past few years, in part because of the recent recession and its profound effects on society as a whole. If you do a Google search for “humanities crisis” (without the quotation marks), you’ll get more than 19 million results. Click on just a few of these results, and you’ll see a slew of articles and op-eds about how the humanities are crashing and burning: Lee Siegel says in this article that literature should be privately enjoyed, not studied in the classroom;* Gordon Hutner and Feisal G. Mohamed state here that the humanities crisis is happening in public universities; some point out that the downward-trending role of the humanities might have something to do with gender; and the New York Times has published on the subject in this article (with a quote from Pauline Yu on the second page!). It’s easy to worry about a decline in the humanities, especially when politicians are pushing to defund them, as in Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan’s most recent budget proposal, which states that the government should not be funding arts, libraries, museums, or the humanities in general. Well-known statistician Nate Silver has written about it on his blog, stating that the crisis is not nearly as bad as everyone is thinking, but also ending the article in the following way: “Perhaps we should at once encourage or require college students to take coursework in English – and tell them to be wary about majoring in it.”

It’s not all bad, though. Several pieces have pointed out that there might not be a problem at all, or at least the problem is not what everyone is saying it is: Anne E. Fernald states in this op-ed that “the crisis is not with the humanities. The crisis is with the failure to value them enough.” Michael Bérubé, one of the presenters at the meeting this weekend, says here that the actual numbers do not show a decline in the humanities at all. Additionally, all this talk of a crisis has encouraged hundreds (if not thousands) of people to blog, tweet, and post their thoughts about the subject all over the internet. One article called “The Unintended Value of the Humanities” gives some food for thought, and there has even been a book recently published called The Value of the Humanities. An infographic titled “The Humanities Matter!” is an excellent resource to pull out anytime someone might ask you, “but why would anyone want to study English/classics/history/religion/(insert humanities subject here)?” In short: people are defending the humanities, which is great!

But I digress – back to the meeting (being there just made me so excited about the humanities; I had to write a bit about this debate)! From reports of fellowship projects to conversations about the public face of the humanities to a panel about the results of a recent census of the ACLS’ constituent societies, there were a lot of interesting thoughts and ideas to take in. One project of particular interest to me was “CSI Dixie: Race, the Body Politic, and the View from the South’s County Coroners’ Offices.” Stephen Berry, the 2013 ACLS Digital Innovation Fellow, has used coroners’ reports to expertly paint a vivid picture of the Antebellum South, and will be launching a website on this subject soon – I look forward to seeing it once it has gone up. I was also particularly interested in the census of constituent societies, the results of which will be publicly available at some point in the (hopefully near) future – for those of you who are interested in the state of learned societies, look forward to this! In general, the societies seem to be growing in a healthy way in terms of membership, conference attendance, and revenue, which goes to show that Pauline Yu was right: the humanities are not dying.

Meeting attendees were also able to hear from Earl Lewis, President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. One of the things President Lewis stressed was that the future of humanities research and scholarship will be more teamwork-oriented than ever before. In order to bring the humanities into the digital landscape in a responsible and accessible way, scholars will have to work together with computer scientists, metadata experts, and people in a wide variety of other fields. I do think that sound digital humanities scholarship needs to be rooted in sound humanities scholarship in general, but he has a solid point here. Personally, I believe this foray into extended teamwork is exciting. Everything seems to be merging together and becoming more interdisciplinary, and we can only become stronger by working with each other and trying to understand disciplines outside of our own.

 

* I heartily disagree with this assessment – I understand the literature I studied in school in way that I never would’ve been able to without having an open discussion about it, and university classes made me appreciate and love the likes of Chekhov, Faulkner, and numerous other phenomenal authors that I might otherwise have never read in the first place.

Monday Marvels

Last week I promised to start posting interesting records from Part III, so that’s what I’m going to do today! In general, Part III has more recent materials than Parts I and II. This means I’ll be able to share some more contemporary ACLS activities with all of you, highlighting some programs and aspects of the organization that are very much still alive.

One of the things that makes the ACLS so special is the inclusion of constituent societies under its umbrella. Many of the records in this collection focus on these member societies, and one of the most important ways in which they are able to communicate with each other and the ACLS is through the Conference of Administrative Officers (CAO), which “holds semi-annual meetings to discuss substantive issues in the humanities as well as practical and organizational aspects of society management,” according to the ACLS website.

The CAO originally started as the Conference of Secretaries back in 1925. The title was changed in 1988, and the CAO continues to be an essential part of the ACLS mission to strengthen the relationships between its member societies. Before receiving Part III and beginning to process it, I was told that I would be seeing a lot more CAO files in this part than the previous two. This is already true! Three of the thirty boxes that arrived on the first pallet contained CAO materials, including many administrative files. Most of the files regarding the Conference of Secretaries / CAO in the first two parts pertain directly to the semi-annual meetings, with just one or two folders per meeting in general. The CAO files in Part III are rich with information, however, and I’m excited to see more of them as I make my way through this next stage of the project.

My reason for sharing so much about the CAO is simple: The document I’m highlighting this week is from a CAO meeting, and was written by ACLS Vice President Steven Wheatley (with the help of other ACLS staff), whose passion and knowledge are acutely expressed in this document titled “International Programs of the American Council of Learned Societies.” I’ve already waxed poetic about the prevalence of international programs and committees overseen by the ACLS, so you know that the organization has a strong international focus. For this November 1994 CAO retreat, constituent societies also wrote reports about how they had dealt with international matters throughout their histories – these files could be an excellent resource for someone doing a project on international affairs (hint, hint)! As an aside, the CAO spring meeting is happening this weekend, right at the tail end of the ACLS annual meeting, which I feel very honored to be attending (you’ll be hearing about it next week!).

This document begins by stating that the ACLS was founded “to represent American scholarship in international fora,” so indeed, the very creation of the organization was centered on opening up scholarly relationships around the world. To date, I have found materials in the ACLS collection representing every single continent except Antarctica, which is quite a feat. This document outlines the goals, activities, strengths, and problems of the ACLS’ international programs. I always love finding documents like this – they help me understand more about the ACLS and its history, which of course allows me to process the collection in a more straightforward and comprehensive way. Happy reading, everyone.

International Programs, page 1 International Programs, page 2International Programs, page 3International Programs, page 4International Programs, page 5

Converting spreadsheets to word documents: A walkthrough

Good news: The first major part of this project is finished! The finding aid is complete for Parts I and II, and has been sent on to my Library of Congress supervisor for preliminary editing. The work involved in editing and standardizing and re-editing and re-standardizing the finding aid took me more time than anticipated, but I have now moved on to the processing work for Part III. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting about some of the things I’ve been doing to intellectually process the collection over the past months. Because I’m physically working with materials again, I will also be returning to regularly scheduled Monday Marvels posts.

As you might already know, when this project is complete, the finding aid for the ACLS collection will consist of three parts:

  1. An Excel spreadsheet with the container lists for Parts II and III, which will be available for research use in the reading room
  2. A WordPerfect word document with pertinent information for Parts I, II, and III, including a title page, collection summary, table of contents, administrative information, organizational history, scope and content note, description of series, container list, and appendices
  3. A version of the completed finding aid in Encoded Archival Description (EAD), which will allow users to easily search through it on the Library of Congress website

Because I am initially creating the container lists for Parts II and III in Excel, I had to figure out an easy way to transfer that information into WordPerfect. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to share some tips on how to do this with all of you (I’ll include information on how to convert to Microsoft Word, as well), since other people out there might also be doing this as part of a large project. Side note: If you’re interested in converting a finding aid straight from a spreadsheet to EAD, you might want to look at this tutorial by Maureen Callahan.

At this point, you may be wondering why I didn’t build the container list in a spreadsheet and a word document at the same time. There are two major reasons for this. First, I didn’t want to have to type everything twice or copy and paste everything individually, both of which would’ve taken up a lot of extra time. Second, I was able to easily re-order the spreadsheet after completing it, which allowed me to put it into the exact order it needed to be in for the word document. If I had built the container list in WordPerfect as I was building it in Excel, I would’ve had to rearrange both, which would have taken an enormous amount of time.

But how to get the information from Excel to WordPerfect without it looking like a huge mess?

1. Here is a screen shot of the Excel spreadsheet for Part II. I’ve used bright colors for the columns because it’s easier for me personally to deal with the information when there is color differentiation involved, and because having a screen full of bright colors is more fun than having one that is just black and white (Caroline, my predecessor, had originally set up the spreadsheet with colors and I thought it was a great idea!).

Excel spreadsheet

2. This is what it looks like when I copy and paste the Excel spreadsheet into WordPerfect:

Spreadsheet copied into WordPerfect
Clearly this won’t do! Many of the columns are missing, it’s in portrait instead of landscape mode, and it’s just a different format overall. So how do I change this to look like a normal word document?

3. One of the great things about WordPerfect is that you can look at the codes going into the formatting, so if something is frustrating you, you can see exactly what is happening and change it right in the code. This isn’t a possibility with Microsoft Word, sadly. To see the codes in WordPerfect, click on View -> Reveal Codes.

WordPerfect's "reveal codes" feature

4. Here is what it looks like when the codes are revealed:

WordPerfect - Table Defined code
You can see them down on the bottom of the screen – it shows information about the font, the style, and all other aspects of the formatting involved in a word document. Now you want to go into the code and delete the table while keeping the information in it. To do this, I first clicked on the upper left hand corner of the table, and then clicked on the “Tbl Def” (define table format) button in the code and hit the delete key on my keyboard.

5. This brought up some options – I could either delete the entire table, just the contents of the table, just the formulas, or convert the table to another format. I wanted the last option, highlighted here:

WordPerfect - Delete table

6. The easiest way for me to reformat the text in the way that I wanted was to convert the table to text with the different cells separated by tabs. Some of you might find it easier to separate the text in other ways, but I found that separating it with tabs allowed me to see where the separations were very easily and also allowed me to reformat it into a usable container list without too much effort.

WordPerfect - convert table using tabs

7. Here is what it looks like after deleting the table structure and separating the cells with tabs – still pretty messy, but much better — at least all of the information is present!

WordPerfect - table grid deleted

8. All that’s left to do at this point is some manual reformatting of the text. This means going through and deleting the tabs, hitting enter whenever a new line has to start, making sure everything is nested correctly, deleting extraneous headings and container numbers, and reformatting in other fairly simple ways. It did take some time, but wasn’t nearly as bad as it could’ve been! Going through the entire container list manually also allowed me to catch mistakes and correct them, see what kinds of terminology I should be changing to make it more user-friendly, and get a better idea of the collection overall. Here’s what it looks like now, as a finished finding aid in WordPerfect format:

WordPerfect - formatted
Beautiful, right? Much better than the original spreadsheet copied and pasted!

Here’s how to do the same thing in Microsoft Word 2007 or 2010 (it’s very similar):

First, click on the table. Then, go to the Layout tab and find the “Convert to Text” button (highlighted here):

Microsoft Word - convert table tool

At this point, you basically get the same message as you do in WordPerfect – the program asks how you want to separate the text:

Microsoft Word - convert table with tabs

Finally, this is how it looks after reformatting everything, as displayed in Step 8 above:

Microsoft Word - formatted

Pretty simple, all things considered.

Stay tuned for more updates about the intellectual processing of the ACLS records!

Monday Marvels

I’ve finally finished Parts I and II of the collection and have started to process Part III! Before starting to post all of the wonderful things that will inevitably show up in Part III, I thought it would be nice to show some materials from Part I of the collection one more time. After all, people like to look at old stuff, and Part I goes back an entire century!

The original finding aid for Part I, which was written in the 1970s, was very bare-bones. For hundreds of containers, only the first and last folders were listed on the finding aid, and almost no date ranges were included. Because of this, I requested that the entirety of Part I be brought to my work area for easy access and heavily edited the container list by physically going through every folder in approximately 500 of the 757 boxes. I’ll write more about editing the Part I finding aid later – now I want to talk about one of the great joys of going through these materials and the original finding aid, which was discovering folders with really fun headings! Some of the best headings were in the Dictionary of American Biography (DAB) series, where the folder titles were often just the names of people who were (or weren’t) included in the DAB. My personal favorite is the folder for States Rights Gist (1831-1864), who was recommended for the DAB but not included in the final publication:

“The seventh son and ninth child of Nathaniel and Elizabeth (McDaniel) Gist, States Rights Gist was born in Union County, S. C., and named for his father’s political creed.”

What a conversation starter! Here’s the folder:

States Rights Gist - folder

The first page of the finished article is an interesting read, and has some fantastic penmanship where there are last-minute extra edits:

Edited article - States Rights Gist

The article draft, though, is even more interesting – this is one of the reasons archives are so important, because they can give you a glimpse into the writing and editing process (something many of us are worried about with the ubiquity of computers and ease of deleting one draft as you save the next). Here are both pages of the draft:

Draft article - States Rights Gist, page 1

Draft article - States Rights Gist, page 2

Some other names in the DAB series of which I am particularly fond:

Caesar Confucius Antoine
Smedley Darlington Butler
Wilberforce Eames
Percival Farquhar
Percy Scott Flippin
Alfred Habdank Korzybski
Walter Learned
Jones Lie
Charles S. Little
Ivan Ivanovich Ostromislensky
Epaphroditus Ransom
William Franklin Gore Shanks
Willard Walter Waller

Many of these people were included in the DAB, and many have Wikipedia pages – go ahead and look them up!

Tuesday Treasures

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.

Graves ACLS History page 1Graves ACLS History page 2Graves ACLS History page 3

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.