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New Semester, New Ideas

Well, I really didn’t intend to take a six-week hiatus from blogging, but time does tend to slip away during the summer.  I especially wanted to keep the blog going so that anyone who actually reads this would know that Wofford’s librarians and archivists, as well as our student assistants, were hard at work this summer.  However, I was juggling several projects along with two trips and a few vacation days.  Here’s a summary of an August in the Archives. 

From July 31 to August 3, I attended the first ever workshop-training event for Methodist Annual Conference archivists.  It was sponsored by the General Commission on Archives and History, which is the United Methodist Church agency responsible for maintaining the church’s archives and promoting its history.  We met at GCAH headquarters on the campus of Drew University in Madison, NJ.  Let me just say that their facilities were excellent and that part of New Jersey is very pretty.  Part of the workshop included a tour of Methodist historic sites in New York City, including the John Street Church, the oldest active Methodist congregation, and sites related to Methodism in lower Manhattan.  I often refer researchers to my colleagues in other annual conferences, so it was nice to be able to put faces with names.  It was also nice not to have to explain to anyone else any of the terms Methodists and archivists use.  The folks at GCAH provided great information that will help all of us help the local churches better.  And they fed us well, and as Methodists, we all know that’s key. 

Back at the ranch for the bulk of August, my student assistants and I tried to wrap up a few projects.  Hilary continued to scan campus building photos and made major headway on scanning some of the Methodist ministerial directories.  Phillip helped me complete processing on President Walter K. Greene’s papers.  The finding aid will be posted soon.  That brought to completion two major presidential paper processing projects (how alliterative!) this summer.  Over the next few weeks, I’m planning to post a lot of the images that we scanned this summer so that researchers can use them. 

After answering a batch of reference inquiries, writing a Wofford Today column about the college’s literary societies, and taking a few vacation days, I left for the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists in San Francisco.  (I know, that’s so sad that I had to go to San Francisco for a conference!)  Again, it’s always nice to be around other people who do what you do for a living and to not get blank stares when you tell someone you’re an archivist.  I shared what I do with this blog during a meeting of the Lone Arrangers Roundtable (yes, that’s what archivists who work alone call themselves).  I always learn new things when I attend SAA and bring back a new idea or two about how to promote the archives, present a collection, or something like that.  And I have lots of good photos of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the Japanese Tea Gardens at Golden Gate Park. 

And now, I’m back and ready for the fall semester.  Over the next few weeks, I’m going to try to write about the opening of school at various times, perhaps unearth some football stories, and otherwise talk about some things that are going on in the archives as we get back into the fall semester routine. 

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Summer in the Archives

Lest everyone think that the librarians and archivists at Wofford get the summer off, I thought it would be good to share some things that are going on in the archives this month.  Summer can be slightly quieter than the regular semester in the library, partly because the flow of students and professors slows down considerably, but the librarians and archivists are using the time to work on projects that are harder to complete with patrons around.

I took a short break from blogging after Commencement, partly to give myself a break and partly because I was involved in setting up some summer projects for my assistants.  I have two summer assistants this year – and they keep me busy keeping them busy.  One of those assistants, Phillip Mullinnix, is helping me complete work on the papers of President Henry Nelson Snyder.  Over the semester, we’ve worked our way through about 20 file cabinet drawers of files.  Last week, we emptied the last five drawers of Snyder’s papers downstairs and brought them up to the archives to arrange.  Today, I’m going through the last few piles of those folders, deciding what to keep and what to throw away, and how to arrange what we keep.  As we go through these, we learn a great deal about how the college operated in the 1920s and 1930s.  I’ve mentioned a few of these things already – the George Washington Carver letter among them – and will talk about more of these stories as the summer goes on.  We’ll probably finish this processing project in the next few days, then later, we’ll move on to the papers of President Walter K. Greene. 

My other assistant, Hilary Phillips, is working on the buildings and grounds files.  We have a folder on each of the buildings on campus – even the ones that don’t exist any more – as well as a folder of photographs on each of these buildings.  The photos tell an important story themselves – many of them show buildings that are gone, and others show the changes that have happened to the campus over the past century or more.  After she completes rearranging and straightening up these files, we’re going to start scanning many of these photos – both for their preservation and to be able to make them accessible – accessible to folks who aren’t on campus.  There are some other photographic collections that we want to scan and make available as well. 

There are plenty of other things going on in the archives.  There are a few small collections that need to be arranged and evaluated.  More recordings need to be digitized.  People – especially off-campus patrons, alumni, church historians, and genealogists, call or drop by with questions. And with temperatures in the upper 90s for the past few days, we’re all trying to stay cool.  So, check back through the summer to see what we’re up to – I’ll be sharing more stories about things we uncover and pointing you to new images and documents that we put up on the web. 

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Welcome to the land of archives

I’ve been around Wofford for a long time for someone who’s not really that old. I came here in 1990 as a freshman, and with the exception of a few years away in graduate school, I never really left.

I started working in the college archives as a sophomore. When Herbert Hucks ’34 hired me, he assigned me to one of his indexing projects. I spent my first two years completing the index of The Journal, Wofford’s literary magazine that’s been continuously published since 1889. I also clipped a ton of newspaper articles about the College and South Carolina United Methodism along the way. But more importantly, I sat in the same room with Dr. Hucks for three academic years and three summers, and I absorbed as much of a lifetime of Wofford history from him as I could. My friend and colleague Dr. Carol Wilson of Wofford’s English department once called it my “inherited memory.”

I studied history and government, and found many of my professors were willing to share Wofford stories with me. Early on, I decided that the life of a historian appealed to me, and so after I graduated, I went on for a master’s degree in history at the University of Georgia.  I studied South Carolina history and began to figure out what it meant to be a professional historian. In 1996, I moved on to the University of South Carolina, where I continued to study American history. I took advantage of USC’s Public History program, which moves the study and practice of history outside of the classroom and into the wider audience of the museum, the historic site,
or the archives. In 1999, I returned to Wofford to succeed my mentor as college and United Methodist Conference archivist, and after 4 years of working and writing at the same time, I completed my doctorate in American history at USC.

In almost nine years of full-time work as the college’s
archivist, I’ve found some treasures, and I like to tell people that I learn something new about the institution almost every day. I find that I’m almost always on call, whether in the office with a patron, in the faculty dining room with a question from a faculty or administrative colleague about a long-past event, or even waiting in line at Gibbs Stadium for the Wofford-Richmond game a few weeks ago when I found myself talking with a Wofford fan about the first intercollegiate football game in South Carolina, played between Wofford and Furman on Saturday, Dec. 14, 1889. (Wofford won.) 

I want people to understand that archives are important not because they’re old, but because of what they tell us about the institution and the people who are part of it. Archives are more than just an accumulation of old papers, photos, and ledgers; archives are the raw materials of history.  Maintaining and sharing its archives allows the college to know its past, but most importantly, it ensures that the past has a future.  One of my main obligations is to collect today’s history so that the next generation will understand what the Wofford of the current generation was like. 

So, for however long this experiment in blogging from the Wofford Archives continues, I will be sharing the stories I learn and the things I uncover here on the top floor of the library.  Watch for more items with interesting stories as I discover them.  I hope there’ll be some images and even some sound files to share very soon. 

And, since I’m always on call, questions, comments, and suggestions are always welcome.