I was first introduced to the world of archival materials while engaging with primary documents as part of my undergraduate program in history at University of California at Santa Cruz. Archives struck me particularly because they contained materials that were as close as humans can get to presenting an objective version of the past. That version is painted by the creators of the materials naturally, but those eye witnesses to historical events were closer to past events than I could ever be, and as a result archives and their holdings remain infinitely fascinating.
To be entirely honest, I began interning at Wistariahurst not out of any particular interest in its holdings, but because it’s a ten minute walk from my house. An unexciting reason I know, but it’s the best reason I have. However, my self-serving decision-making paid off, as Wistariahurst’s holdings are trove of information about the history of my chosen community.
The Nueva Esperanza collection, the one I have been assigned to describe as part of my internship duties, is itself a rich vein of material spanning the very recent past. Founded in 1982 to combat urban decay, develop community centers, provide safe spaces for children, and present commerce opportunities for the underserved hispanic majority of Holyoke, Neuva Esperanza has spent the past 30 years engaging in grassroots activism and actively improving the lives of citizens in south Holyoke. As an archivist keen on social justice issues, the materials presented by the Nueva Esperanza collection demonstrate what can be accomplished to improve your community. Looking through old photos, memoranda, newspaper clippings, and various realia attesting to Neuva Esperanza’s many successes is truly inspiring.
It might sound like a blessing to get to skip out on an unpaid internship, but I’d much rather be sorting and describing materials than be cooped up at home. I’m hardly in a position to complain while people are dying, so I’ll keep my belly-aching to a minimum. That said, it’s a lot more difficult to enjoy the archives when I can’t go there. I’ve been keeping myself busy enough doing graphic design work for Hollinger box labels and writing these blog posts, but it’s a very far cry from having my hands around archival material.
The last thing I was up to was taking care of some blueprints. The first step is easy enough: put in the research, find out how other institutions house their own blueprints, and write up a plan on how to incorporate those methods into our own best practices. Turns out what the cool kids are doing is wrapping their blueprints around an acid-free cardboard tube and wrapping them in alkali paper. I’m very grateful for the amount of power I’ve been given by my supervisor, as I was able to make the recommendation and have the materials arrive the next week. My internship hasn’t merely been an exercise in busywork that other archivists simply don’t have time for. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to actually do decision-making work that will be in evidence in the collections long after my internship has run its course.
I said last time that I have a lot of fun handling the materials, so naturally I was excited when the carboard tubes and wrapping material came in. The blueprints in the Nueva Esperanza collection are interesting. They’re for office space, community centers, and living spaces, almost all of which was constructed in south Holyoke. A surprising amount of them are for the same addresses but from different architects and contractors, a practice I didn’t realize was common. The different layers of the blueprints, electrical, water, sewer, and so on, were really cool to look at, though I tried not to ogle them too long. I’m here to preserve, not read, after all. At the beginning of my internship, these various blueprints were all rolled together in big logs and housed in cardboard tubes. Following what I’d learned from my research, I began by laying out individual set of plans and carefully rolling them around the outside of a fresh new acid-free tube. Next, I carefully cut an appropriate length of the alkali paper and wrapped the blueprints in it. Using this method, little harm can come to the plans, and a label can easily be affixed to the outside.
This probably sounds painfully dry, but it’s satisfying work. It’s made all the more enjoyable since it is all part of seeing a well-laid plan through to the end. Finding out what to do, preparing to do it, following through, and then getting to see your work on the shelf every time you clock in is a great feeling, no question. And I can’t wait for the crisis to be over so I can get back to it, though there’s a good chance that won’t happen. With only a month left of the semester, there’s a good chance I’ll still be right here in my home office, fleshing out what I can of the finding aid based on my notes and writing these little blog posts.
Stay home, stay safe, stay healthy!