As John Shepherd wrote in last week’s blog, the first few years of the 2000s saw Catholic University getting its digital feet wet in collaboration with other members of the Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC). The products of that collaboration (since christened “Boutique Digital Collections”) are still amongst our most utilized online resources. The success of that project inspired the Archives to expand into a more fully realized digitization program, but it was not until 2014 that the will and resources coalesced to allow us to move forward.
My colleague Dr. Maria Mazzenga has blogged previously about digital materials, especially those used in the American Catholic History Classroom teaching sites. My intent here is to review the separate and distinct digital collections that originated from a 2001 grant from the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services’ National Leadership Program to The Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC), of which CUA is a member. Each member was asked to provide materials for digitization via WRLC’s collaborative facilities known as the Digital Collection Production Center (DCPC), and CUA provided a total of ten collections during the DCPC’s era of operation, 2002-2010.
I confess that I am not one of those archivists mesmerized by every new shiny bauble that comes along, so I had curmudgeonly doubts about the utility of putting resources into digitizing at that time. Fortunately, taking a chance turned out to be the right thing to do as the collections selected (or ‘curated’) have been enduringly popular and frequently accessed by researchers. However, things have changed since 2010 and the process to create what many would call these ‘boutique’ collections is now being augmented, if not superseded, by mass digitization of a broader range of materials and formats (which my colleague Paul Kelly will talk more about future). Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Hark! The Digital Angel Comes!”→
One minute, there you are back in the old days, rifling through, say, some of Mother Jones’ colorful letters condemning the empty-brained dictators, and then, poof!, here you are sitting in front of your computer reading online versions of same.
As mentioned in an earlier post, my job originated with University Archivist Timothy Meagher’s decision to commit resources to an in-house online educational program using our collection materials. When I began working as Education Archivist in 2005, it was to create and promote educational websites. An educational website is, by the way, not a digital collection. Where a digital collection is a digitized set of materials with supporting identification data, our educational websites target history teachers and their students by posting not only primary sources, but interpretive information that aids users in understanding the context of the source as well as the source itself. Hence our educational sites center around specific historical themes and feature chronologies, background sections contextualizing the topic, primary source descriptions and questions, further readings sections, “so what?” points intended to illuminate the historical significance of the site topic and connections to the National History Standards, which most teachers use to plan their curricula.
We select site topics based on collection strengths and what we know about what high school teachers, in particular, teach. As John Shepherd notes in an earlier blogpost, our collections are strong in the twentieth century U.S. Catholic experience, particularly national Catholic organizational life, Catholic intellectual life, Catholics and Labor, and Catholics and immigration. We currently have 22 themed sites featuring hundreds of documents, images and audio. But please don’t take my words for it. Visit our would-be saints, sinners, and everyone in between yourself.
The Archives houses over 500 individual collections, from personal papers to institutional records, totaling nearly 14,000 feet of records and manuscripts. You may be asking yourself, “How in the world can anyone hope to find what they are looking for in such a vastness?” You may even be awestruck when an archivist is able to quickly locate an item. Are archivists wizards? Do we spend too much time with the collections? While the answer to both questions may be “yes,” the truth is that we have a trusty means to locate a needle in the stacks. We have finding aids.
As mentioned in a previous blog entry, the Museum Collection at CUA is the oldest part of the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives. The first donations date to before CUA opened in 1889. Items were displayed in Caldwell Hall until 1905, and thereafter, until 1976, parts of the collection were either displayed in McMahon Hall, Mullen Library, or in storage. Since then the collection has been stored in Curley Hall, and more recently parts in Aquinas Hall or with items being used in campus exhibitions, often the May Gallery in Mullen, or loaned to secure campus offices to be displayed and enjoyed as office decoration.
CUA continues to accept a small number of artifacts as part of its manuscript collections along with paintings, sculptures, and other objects from individual donors. In 1976, responsibility for the museum was taken up by the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives (then known as the Department of Archives and Manuscripts), though it was not until 1994 that a project to establish a comprehensive and descriptive catalog of the entire museum collection was undertaken. The museum collection today includes art works and artifacts representing different periods and genres, totaling about 5,000 pieces. For more on the history of the Museum, see http://archives.lib.cua.edu/musecol.cfm. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Collecting the Sacred and Secular – The Museum at CUA”→
Tucked away on the northern reaches of campus, one may expect the Archives to receive little in the way of visitors. One may imagine us as a group lost amongst stacks of record boxes, shunning outside contact. However, our little space is frequently called upon by University staff, students, and faculty, as well as scholars from across the country and world. Researchers as varied as middle school students to Yale professors to PBS documentarians grace us with visits and inquiries. But what do they ask of us and how do we handle reference questions?
Whether via phone, email, or letter, the CUA Archives receives a variety of reference questions from a spectrum of inquirers. As one can imagine, calls and email requests pour in from University offices, students, and alumni regarding the history of CUA or the broader Brookland neighborhood. But more than anything, as indicated in an earlier post, our collections dealing with the history of American Catholicism as well as labor history are a major draw for scholars outside the campus community. These two source bases provide a wealth of research material for scholars of American religious and labor history, not to mention those curious about genealogy or Catholicism in general. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Have You Been Served?”→
I’d argue, too, that Jefferson was an outreach kind of guy. He wanted “what remains” of lives lived, as in the archival records of public servants in particular, out in the public sphere, where future generations could examine and learn from them. So went the way of archives in America. Generally speaking, American archives are open and accessible to the public, and have become more so over time.
Thanks to archival records, in fact, we know that Jefferson had ties to the Catholic University of America here in Washington, D.C. It was Jefferson who advised Samuel Harrison Smith, a Philadelphia native, to relocate to what is now the campus of Catholic University, in order to establish Washington’s first newspaper, the National Intelligencer. Smith and his wife, Margaret Bayard Smith, followed Mr. Jefferson’s advice and built a home that would remain part of the Catholic University campus until it was demolished in 1970.
Though there was a museum at The Catholic University of America (CUA) going back to the university’s founding in the late 19th century, the Archives at CUA originated much later as shortly before World War II Msgr. Francis Haas began collecting the papers of important Catholic labor leaders such as Terence Powderly, head of the Knights of Labor (1879-1893), and John Mitchell, president of the United Mine Workers of America (1898-1908). These papers were stored in Mullen Library, but there was no staff to organize nor rooms where researchers might examine them. After the war, history faculty, particularly Rev. John Tracy Ellis, worried that university history and of Catholic Americans generally was being lost through neglect of vital records and papers.
As a result of Ellis’ advocacy, a committee that included Msgr. Edward Jordan (the vice rector), Mr. Eugene Willging (acting director of the library), and Rev. Henry Browne, was formed to establish an archives envisioned as the “memory” of the university, a depository for collection of the nation’s Catholic leaders and important organizations, and a resource for the history of Catholics in the American labor movement. The Archives officially opened on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 1949) in an impressive ceremony that included Wayne Grover, archivist of the United States; Archbishop O’Boyle, chancellor of the university; Ernst Posner, archivist of American University and a seminal theorist of archives; Philip Brooks, president of the Society of American Archivists; and Dr. Guy Ford Stanton, executive director of the American Historical Association (see photograph above). They spoke of the importance of archives in the preservation of culture, and, specifically, of the Catholic Church’s long tradition as a keeper of historical records. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: The Archives at CUA”→
Before the 1960s, almost no dioceses had more than part-time archivists, only a few Catholic colleges and universities devoted much attention or resources to the collection and preservation of Catholic documents, and most religious orders had hardly even considered the need to create archives. Professional training among archivists in Catholic institutions was virtually unheard of and standards of professional practice nonexistent.
Since then, increased public interest in history (reflected in the formation of new history museums, the popularity of historic preservation, and the increase in the numbers and professionalism of public history personnel) has been mirrored by the development of archives within the Church.
In 1974, in preparation for the nation’s Bicentennial celebration and after effective lobbying by several historians, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued “A Document for Ecclesiastical Archives.” The bishops noted the general neglect of Catholics in the writing of American history and conceded that that neglect had been caused, at least in part, by historians’ lack of “access to the pertinent documents of bishops, dioceses, religious orders.” The document urged all bishops who did not have an archivist to appoint one quickly. More recently, in 1997, the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church contended that “Archives are places of memory which must be preserved, transmitted, renewed, appreciated, because they represent the most direct connection with the heritage of the Church community.” The Commission went on to encourage professional training of archival staffs. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Introduction to American Catholic Archives”→