‘Staches and Spirits

“‘Staches and Spirits: A Young Friends of HSP Event”

Brush, tease, and apply the pomade for a party all about hair! Come prepared to show off your best ‘do for a chance to win a prize, then try to match hair trends to the right decade with an exclusive one-night document display showcasing some of the best coiffures through the centuries!

Guests will enjoy hors d’oeuvres, music, and a special whiskey tasting.

Prizes will be awarded for best facial hair and hairstyle, and everyone can enter the raffle for a chance to win item.

Event time: Thursday October 16– 6:30pm – 830pm
Location: Historical Society of Pennsylvania at 1300 Locust St. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Tickets available at:  https://staches.eventbrite.com
Event Website : https://www.facebook.com/events/304304139749078/

Please email Nick Mumenthaler at nmumenth@villanova.com with questions or if you are planning to attend.

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Ireland Blog Journal 3 August 28, 2014. If a Blogger Writes a Blog Post and Nobody Reads it, Does it Exist?: A Post Script Assessment of My Summer Research.

Somebody left the door open.

Somebody left the door open.

Hello, friends. I apologize for my extended hiatus from the blog and our chat on the many adventures of primary source research in a foreign archive.  While sitting down to write this blog I was reminded of one of my first days in Dr. Martinko’s Graudate Introduction to Public History course.  We were assigned an article by Terry Cook, “The Archive(s) Is a Foreign Country: Historians, Archivists and the Changing Archival Landscape.” which appeared in The Canadian Historical Review in 2009, but can also be found here (apologies that it is behind a paywall through Project Muse for those who do not have easy access to JSTOR).  At face value, this article speaks to me since my archive, the National Library of Ireland, was quite literally in a foreign country.  On a deeper level, however, Cook’s motivation for writing this somewhat lengthy article was to define the two (previously) distinct and perhaps disparate professions of historian and archivist while concluding that both could benefit from a strengthened partnership, one centered upon the history of the record or record keeping itself and how this can produce better history. Cook defines this relationship as “critically important to enabling (and sometimes compromising) many aspects of historical research.”

This idea of either supporting or compromising is where I would like to introduce my last few days in the National Library. In total, I spent 4.5 days in the manuscripts reading room located on Kildare Street. From my chair and desk space, totaling perhaps no more than 2.5 square feet, I ordered nearly 40 folios full of letters, telegrams, envelopes, scrap paper, photographs, newspaper clippings and other documents. In total, these primary sources numbered over 3,000 individual sources and ranged in dates from 1910 to 1940. I list these figures not to prove that I worked hard and didn’t just spend hours in pubs, but rather to demonstrate Cook’s point about shared authority between historians (me) and archivists (like the angry one mentioned in previous blog posts).

They really left the door open though.

They really left the door open though.

I arrived in Ireland with a list of documents and folios  planned to order. This set of 15 folios came from the Manuscripts subsection of the collections database located on the National Library’s website. In this section of the  website I was able to type my subject into the search field. A small but specific return of manuscript and book collections were listed by any number of search fields including date, subject, etc. I then simply copied the manuscript number: for example, MS 17, 495; as well as a description of the documents, my name and reader’s number. At the next scheduled delivery time I could expect three folios (the maximum allowed to be ordered at any given time) to arrive. I could then begin to photograph and catalogue the documents I wished to take with me. My plan after the first 15 folios were completed was to use these manuscript collections as the initial mile markers on my growing roadmap of time periods, topics and individuals to explore in the coming days. In truth, however, I was discouraged by the online return, which listed so few documents when I knew the library possessed hundreds and hundreds more.

The first 15 folios, however, represented two days of solid research, so I wasn’t deterred until the afternoon of my second day when I finally confronted that mysterious keeper of time and folios: the reading room archivist. Readers of my first two blog entries know my relationship with at least one of the archivists was strained at best; and at this point I was beginning to think I might have problems getting the documents I wanted. However, when I arrived first thing in the morning, much to my surprise, a new archivist was on staff. This nice man helped me translate some of the documents written in old and new Irish and even ventured into the vaults to grab folios between delivery hours as he knew my time at the library was short. I was grateful for his extra effort.

Time, time, time.

Time, time, time.

It was obvious that several of the folios I had requested had not been used since modern preservation methods had become prolific. That is, some papers were bound together with pins or rusty paperclips. Other, more fragile pieces like telegrams that were never meant to stand test of time were left unsupported in the folders — left to crumble. As the reading room had become much busier since the morning hours, I offered to secure these documents with stronger paper, plastic clips, and reinforced folios. Channeling the shared mentalité of our changing yet shared landscapes as described by Cook, I became as much an archivist as the archivist was a historian when he advised me on folios or other manuscript topics to explore.

By the afternoon session, however, my old friend with the glasses and (rightly) stern disposition had returned. Soon after she arrived I finished with my last folio and walked the long, six paces to the archivist’s desk. The library closed at 4:45 that day, so I began my stumble to her station around 2pm and think I arrived there somewhere around 4pm—cowering behind other readers and diving behind chairs whenever possible. Inevitably, I arrived at her station, gulped, and began to explain that I had completed looking though the folios I had planned on exploring, yet I knew the library possessed at least a dozen more folios directly related to my topic that I couldn’t find after searching the manuscript collection.

Her reaction surprised me to a level that I still have trouble communicating fully now, even a few weeks later. After several apologies she began to explain to me that the library is currently in the process of digitizing and streamlining their collections databases. For some reason the Manuscript Collection has always been divided into at least two separate sections on the website. By misfortune I chose the section that had the smallest number of catalogued items.   The archivist then directed me to the main catalogue, which includes links to all manuscript and alternative documents. She explained that indeed this is somewhat unintuitive based on the layout of the website, but that she was happy to be of assistance moving on. I asked if she could help me request several documents (exceeding the maximum of 3 by using both the online request and written forms) so that I could begin to make up for lost time in my remaining two and a half days. Surprisingly, she obliged my request and I began to receive more folios than I could process. From this point on the relationship between archivist and historian was highly productive. In the remaining days I cataloged twice as many documents as I had in the previous few and the content became ever more relevant and fascinating.

Breaking down fences.

Breaking down fences.

Several of the folios I requested were returned in receipt form and it was explained to me that these files were “currently not available for staff use.” Since one of these folios was a British Secret Service file, I immediately became suspicious and began to think that I might have been getting stonewalled by some archivists with a political agenda. That is, by this point a quick review of all the folios I requested would give some insight into my project and perhaps even my hypothesis. This particular source was extremely important to my research needs and by withholding the documents one could conceivably change the outcome of my research. I was told that the manuscript collection is currently undergoing a digitization project, which is expected to be completed by February of 2015. The archivist suggested I email the library in a month with these manuscript numbers so the documents could be scanned and emailed to me within a week or two. This calmed my concern, although I still did not gain access to two very important British Secret Service folios. I, of course, will be following up with the archivist over the next week or two.

The Clock at the General Post Office.

The Clock at the General Post Office.

The fact that large sections of the manuscript collection and other sections of the NLI are being digitized is very exciting for researchers. I asked the archivist what the intention of the digitization project was: that is, was it a complete scanning of all documents held by the institution or just those documents deemed ‘important’ by archivists. This is a very serious issue Cook raises in his article: how archivists can evaluate what is important and by what standards. The archivist explained to me that the goal is to fully digitize the manuscript collection over several years, with older, more fragile, and more nationally significant documents or those related to more significant individuals taking precedent. When I asked if there was concern over whether this would decrease the amount of visitors or researchers to the reading room, the archivist explained that since the library offers entry and reading free of charge, their biggest concern at the moment is document preservation followed by increased access to materials via the internet.

Molly Malone will always keep visitors coming to the Fair City of Dublin

Molly Malone will always keep visitors coming to the Fair City of Dublin

Looking at my documents folder and the hundreds of documents left to organize and catalog, I have begun to think about the next step in my project: the independent study and the paper that will result from my research. In the coming weeks I am going to look not only at subject matter, but also date range and the number of documents contained within these sub-fields. This should narrow the research down to a few essential documents. I will look to continue this blog series, which will occasionally track my progress with the development of the research, my paper, and my findings.

I want to thank everyone who took time to read these blogs and edit them (Alexandra Webster). I also want to thank the archival staff at NLI who may or may not know this blog exists. Anything I have said negative was truly in jest. Without these individuals, I would not have been able to complete my research as I planned. Also a big thank you to Dr. Bailey for sponsoring my research and perhaps absurd chases down rabbit holes. Finally, thank you to the Villanova University’s Summer Research Grant program, without whose support my research would not be possible.

 

Until Again,

 

Nick

Thanks, Everyone

Thanks, Everyone!

Ireland Blog Journal 2, August 14, 2014: Copyrights, Copywrongs, and Overzealous Document Mining.

8/14/14

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Readers of my first post will know that my trip to the archive yesterday was not without minor folly. Today was very much the same. I suppose even the Dr. Giesbergs of the world (sorry, Dr. Giesberg; I don’t mean to drop names here, but I guess this is a good way to see if you read the blog 😉 ) get the wry, “over the half-moon glasses” look from the guardian of the documents: the reading room archivist. This gate keeper, seated roughly three feet elevated above the researching hoi polloi, stands guard over their precious manuscripts and illuminated documents like new parents over a cradle, but perhaps even more so.

Since part of my research involves espionage and spy craft, I have been on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary with or on the documents that might indicate I was on to an earth-shattering, book deal type of find. Thus when I came across subtle but matching water marks in two separate and relatively unrelated folios, I became quite excited. So excited that I immediately removed the precious infant of a receipt ledger from the folio and held it up to the beautiful Irish sunlight beaming through the massive 15 foot windows of the reading room.

I mean LOOK at that light!

I mean LOOK at that light!

(As a short aside, I should mention I have been in Ireland for since Tuesday morning and have experienced only 6 minutes of rain).

No sooner did I have the ledger, my camera, and watermark positioned for the perfect shot than the talons of the archivist sank into my upper back. In a shrill brogue she demanded I put the document down immediately and, as if I were back in grade school, we reviewed the “Reader Handling Guidelines” which embarrassingly seemed to materialize in front of me.

Rules, rules, follow the rules!

Rules, rules, follow the rules!

Was I wrong? Well yes, of course! But the watermark! Was it the breakthrough I have been looking for? Probably not. But I have been sitting in this chair for so long, resizing and renaming photos that you begin to see things where they are not.

Needless to say the “help” from the “help desk” waned in the aftermath of this incident. On the bright side, I managed not to destroy any national treasures or mistakenly break into official government buildings, so I consider that a step in the right direction. I also managed to find the building in the recommended travel time of 11 minutes rather than the 3 hours it took yesterday. Baby steps, right?

As for the title, “Copyrights and Copywrongs,” I wanted to address the importance of understanding both institutional and national laws regarding copyright, especially pertaining to cultural heritage. The digitization of documents, even the signed meal receipts of a moderately famous dead guy from a century ago is, at present, a hotly debated issue in Ireland, the UK, and the European continent. Archivists, librarians, historians, and cultural conservators contest the digitization and sharing of these documents by organizations like Google Books. To these individuals, digitization through these outlets amounts to the theft of cultural heritage. CNN wrote a fantastic synopsis of this argument which can be found here. The copyright procedure at the National Library in Dublin, much like archives in the United States—the Historical Society of Pennsylvania for example—requires a list of all photos taken. The National Library of Ireland (NLI) then requires the researcher sign a waiver swearing his or her understanding of the rules of “self-service copying” and the illegality of the reproduction of images. I am glad I read the sheet very closely because I was going to include an image of one of the documents I was researching in this blog post. If you want to see one that badly, see me and I can show you on my computer. Or you could fly to Ireland and visit NLI (if you can find it). They would love to have you.

For the fire truck enthusiasts (hi, dad!) the hotel I am staying in was formerly a fire station. Part of one of its courtyards remains one of Dublin’s 13 full time fire brigades. The company, which has been at this location for 154 years, is still under the original fire look-out and hose draining tower. Being from Philadelphia, I couldn’t help but talk to the firefighters about our dear friend Benjamin Franklin and the first volunteer fire brigades established in our fine city. The kind firefighters obliged my history lesson.

Do I need to explain?

Do I need to explain?

Presently, I am learning the finer tasting points of aged Irish whiskey from an Irish-Romanian bartender named Alex. I am looking forward to tomorrow, but with only a few work days left and a hefty amount of documents remaining on my sheet of “must sees”, I have to sign off for today.

Cheers! Go dtí amárach!

Nick

Like I said, yeah, it’s that good.

Like I said, yeah, it’s that good.

Ireland Blog Journal 1 8/13/14

Hello everyone! I am presently in Ireland researching on a grant funded by Villanova University’s Summer Research Grant program. The scope of my research here covers some materials that will be utilized for an independent study instructed by Dr. Bailey. This Blog will cover some of the trials and tribulations faced by a researcher new to an international archive.

8/13/14

Tips and tricks for researchers abroad: libraries should not be confused for parliament buildings—no matter how important you think they are.

Yes, that’s right, friends. Dear old Nick, after taking a nice stroll – okay, let’s be honest – I got lost on the way to Ireland’s beautiful National Library and Manuscript Research Building.  The complex is located along a few blocks of Kildare Street—or Kill-dare Street or, more lovingly, Khil-jare, Kilare, or Kaiare as pronounced by a few helpful natives. This linguistic ambiguity further added to my uncertain sense of direction, already compounded by winding streets frequently cutoff by more winding streets and construction. Eventually, I made it—but not before being confronted with a final choice: Door A or Door B. I chose Door B, the highly secure door with the guys with guns. Sure, you’re probably thinking, “context clues, my man!” But when lost in a foreign city there are few context clues that really matter.

IMG_1171

Door B: The Wrong Door

After being redirected by the large, armed, but very friendly men guarding Ireland’s Parliament building, I was redirected to the National Library’s Main Stacks which was right next door. There I was registered and given a reading card. From the main building I ordered two sets of manuscript documents which I planned on reviewing. I then moved to another building just up the street as these documents were prepared and delivered to my new location by super-secret archivists who never see the light of day.

IMG_0081

Almost looks like a mug shot

My plan was to take pictures of all the documents in each folio, then catalog them in a manner mirroring the archive so that I could take full advantage of my limited time. In other words, with these documents digitized on my hard drive, I could review them as much as I wanted, essentially bringing Dublin with me wherever I went. The hardest task, then, became reviewing then thousands of manuscripts and documents related to my topic, even those that may only be tangentially related since I would not be directly reviewing the documents while seated in the reading room as this would take away from the total number of documents I could digitize and take home.

After this evaluation, I simply became a photographer / documenter. First, I photographed the full folio description, tag, and folder. I then recorded a short description of the documents’ content and formats, e.g.: handwritten vs. typeset and the type of paper. I went on to take images of the front of every page and the back of any page that had any significant marking or damage, keeping in mind that this may be the only time I get to see the document. This process could, for more lengthy folios, take upwards of one hour.

I look forward to my return trip to the Library tomorrow. Hopefully I find it a little quicker and, *fingers crossed*, manage not to start any international incidents.

For now, I’m hiding behind a well-deserved pint. Go dtí amárach.

Nick

IMG_1177(1)

Yeah, it’s that good.