The Archivist’s Nook: What Do the Semitics Department, the Franco-Prussian War, and this Dashing Cat All Have in Common?

Tommy, loyal friend to Clara Barton and patient model, 1885 (Courtesy: National Park Service)
Tommy, loyal friend to Clara Barton and patient model, 1885 (Courtesy: National Park Service)

Now that I have the undivided attention of the cat-hungry Internet, I will admit that the charming cat pictured is not the subject of this post. Alas! I will instead be introducing you to one of my favorite Brookland figures and the painter of this furry portrait, Antoinette Margot. Margot was an artist, humanitarian, and Brookland fixture in the early twentieth century.

Born in 1843 in Lyons, France, she was raised in a strict Protestant Huguenot household. Her early life was devoted to painting, at which she excelled. (It would continue to be a lifelong hobby, as she created images of family members and saints.) Margot, however, wanted to help people, and with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, she volunteered as a nurse with the then-new International Red Cross. It was in this capacity that she met an American by the name of Clara Barton, the legendary Civil War nurse and future founder of the American Red Cross. Over the course of the next several years, Barton and Margot would forge a close relationship, as they witnessed the horrors of the conflict and became roommates after the war.

Margot, ca. 1880. (Courtesy: Library of Congress)
Margot, ca. 1880. (Courtesy: Library of Congress)

When Barton departed to America in 1873, Margot returned to her parents’ home in Lyons, where she underwent a spiritual conversion. Upon joining the Catholic Church, she entered a convent in 1874. Ill health and familial pressure forced her to leave the religious order in 1877. After this taxing experience, she made her way to the United States in 1885, moving first to New York and later to Washington, DC with Barton.

Proving the old adage that one should never room with one’s friends, religious differences and conflicts of personality quickly emerged between the two. Parting company with her wartime colleague, Margot struggled to adopt to her new country, eventually finding a home in the Brookland neighborhood.

Focusing her energies locally, Margot settled in the neighborhood with Leonid Delarue, purchasing land and constructing a house – named Theodoron. The two woman, along with Delarue’s mother, moved into the house in 1891. With no local parish in Brookland, local residents often attended mass at the nearby Caldwell Chapel on the new Catholic University campus. Shortly after moving into Theodoron, however, Margot offered space in her house as a chapel for Catholic services. Her newfound friend, Semitic Languages professor and fellow Lyons native Fr. Henri Hyvernat, would sometimes offer these services.

“The Chapel – Miss Margot’s House,” ca. 1920. Note this is not inside Theodoron, which Margot donated to Hyvernat to use as the Institute of Christian Oriental Research, but in her second Brookland home, Villa Maria (Antoinette Margot Papers, CUA Archives)
“The Chapel – Miss Margot’s House,” ca. 1920. Note this is not inside Theodoron, which Margot donated to Hyvernat to use as the Institute of Christian Oriental Research, but in her second Brookland home, Villa Maria (Antoinette Margot Papers, CUA Archives)

Together, Hyvernat and Margot helped fundraise and advocate for the creation of a neighborhood church. By providing the impetus for the founding of this new parish, christened St. Anthony’s, Margot left an indelible mark on the neighborhood. At the suggestion of Cardinal Gibbons, when the church was dedicated in 1896, it was even named in honor of Antoinette Margot’s contributions.

Over the remainder of her life, Margot would become a fixture in the Brookland neighborhood, passing away in 1925. Her longtime friend, Hyvernat, would act as the executor of her estate. Like her famous colleague, Miss Barton, Margot experienced traumatic upheavals in her life and suffered from serious bouts of depression, but as evidenced by the large number of photos she kept of friends and her beloved neighborhood, she continuously cared for those around her.

There are always surprises when searching through an archive – unexpected collections, strange letters, or beautiful artwork. For me, discovering Margot’s papers was an exciting moment. One of my first archival experiences was volunteering at the American Red Cross archives in DC. In the process, I learned a lot about the life of the Clara Barton and her many exploits. I also happened across the name of Antoinette Margot, a shy and devout French woman Barton had befriended. Therefore, getting both sides of their complicated relationship was illuminating! In addition finding paintings of cats, these are the types of connections that make archival work amusing.

The Archivist’s Nook: Digital Footprints of CUA Blue and Gray

The Catholic University of America (CUA) did not yet exist during the time of the Civil War (1861-1865). However, the land that would eventually house CUA and the surrounding Brookland community experienced some of the war’s bitterness, though thankfully little in the way of bloodshed.

Fort Slemmer in Color, 3D
A colorized and stereoscopic image of Fort Slemmer. For 3D effect, cross your eyes until the images overlap in the center and refocus on center image.

On the northern end of the present CUA campus behind Marist Hall, on a knoll covered with trees lies the remains of the Civil War era Fort Slemmer, featured as a key part of CUA’s Historic Walking Tour.

The fort was part of the northern flank of a complex system of fortifications to defend the nation’s capital from Confederate attack (for more information see National Park Service site). Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Digital Footprints of CUA Blue and Gray”

The Archivist’s Nook: Trashing the Trailers – A Short Genealogy of a Space

trailer being removed
Trailing into the sunset. Perhaps not as (un)dramatic as it looks, however: The trailers were gutted and many of the furnishings were donated to Community Forklift for discount resale and to other charitable organizations serving homeless veterans.

University archivists save university stuff.  Our mission entails preserving university-related historical materials that enable us to make observations about our school across time.  This includes the physical space of CUA.  The Archives holds files and blueprints detailing the history of most every building of the University, and even some that no longer exist.

Which brings me to the recent trashing of the trailers.  Back in the 1990s, twenty-six trailers were placed on Curley Court to house an overflow of students—this was before the grand Opus Hall was built to accommodate the incoming numbers.  This past March, however, it was time to remove those trailers, and especially for those of us here on the upper campus who pass by the units daily, it was something of an event. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Trashing the Trailers – A Short Genealogy of a Space”

The Archivist’s Nook: Monsignor Furfey’s “Reindeer” Games

1927-28 CUA basketball team
1927-28 CUA basketball team

When I was hired as audiovisual technician at ACUA in February (after serving as a graduate assistant for two years), I was greeted by John Shepherd (his eyes twinkling with a devilish glee) with my first assignment: processing the athletics department collection. Do you remember being asked by your parents to clean your room as a kid, and you had no idea where to begin? Well, this request was akin to that, only with box scores and rosters instead of GI Joes. However, it has given me the chance to discover some hidden treasures among the papers. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Monsignor Furfey’s “Reindeer” Games”

The Archivist’s Nook: Digital Curation – Sent from the Future to Write-Protect You

In the last two weeks we’ve covered paper and web pages. My job here is done, right? Wrong! Sometimes, we receive collections containing not just paper, but floppy discs, flash drives, and even entire computers. The list goes on. How do we go about processing this stuff?

To begin, it’s essential to have not only data carriers, but also players. Ever seen one of those elephant graveyards? We have something similar in our facility, but with old technology instead of, um, bones. Of course, older hardware was never designed to work on modern computers. We get around this by sticking to external USB drives whenever possible, and using an external control board for 5.25 floppies (FC5025, oh my!) that effectively duct tape an old IDE interface onto, you guessed it, USB.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: Judgment Day
“I swear I will not kill any floppy.”

Did you know that you can alter a computer file simply by opening it? Don’t believe me? Just right-click your desktop and arrange the icons by “last modified”. The very act of saving that last click is an archival deadly sin. Sometimes a piece of media will let you prevent alteration by flicking a switch on the item itself (3.5 floppy discs) or by covering a hole with a piece of tape (5.25 floppy discs). With other carriers, though, you can be fresh out of luck. What can we do about this? In short, by borrowing techniques from law enforcement. Software like Forensic Toolkit (FTK) in conjunction with write-blocking hardware has been used to gather evidence of computer crime for years. Why not apply that technology to archives work? In spring 2015, CUA Archives set up its own digital curation workstation for this very purpose. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Digital Curation – Sent from the Future to Write-Protect You”

The Archivist’s Nook: Archiving the Internet – Do Web Crawlers Dream of Electric Sheep?

Still from "The X Files"
That’s a whole lot of files!

My previous blog entry covered the digitization of physical things. Well, paper at least. We’re pretty on top of that! You take a page, scan it, and kablammo – it’s online, so to speak. But how do we deal with records that are already digital, like, say, web pages? Do we print them? Stick them in folders? What would that even look like? 136 billion pages, apparently. Granted, CUA’s site is tiny compared to the internet as a whole, but you get the general idea.

As it turns out, though, non-profit organization The Internet Archive has been doing more all these years than hosting bootlegs of old Smashing Pumpkins gigs. In fact, since 1996 they’ve also been saving snapshots of websites (47 billion and counting), all of which are accessible through the Wayback Machine. If you know the URL, chances are you can score some older version of the page. I dare you to find my Dead Journal from 2001. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Archiving the Internet – Do Web Crawlers Dream of Electric Sheep?”

The Archivist’s Nook: Digitization – The Revenge

Archives staff using the Zeutschel  scanner.
Angela, scanning like a pro.

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.

In spring of last year, Catholic received delivery of a Zeutschel scanner from WRLC. Built for high speed scanning, shared between all member institutions, and circulated based on need, this scanner allowed us to pilot in-house digitization on a mass scale. Over a three month period, the Archives completed digitization of the Young Catholic Messenger, Iturbide-Kearney Family, and O’Donovan Rossa collections, as well as partial scanning of the NCWC Bulletin/Catholic Action periodical. By the time the Zeutschel left us, we had not only created 37,000 digital objects and associated metadata records, but also proven that we had the expertise and desire to incorporate manuscript digitization into our everyday workflow. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Digitization – The Revenge”

The Archivist’s Nook: Hark! The Digital Angel Comes!

Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact, Vol. 10, No. 14, March 24, 1955.
Treasure Chest, Vol. 10, No. 14, March 24, 1955.

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!”

The Archivist’s Nook: Finding Your Way Around the Collections

Collection of Joseph Novak, former Met set designer
Woe unto the researcher who braves the collections alone. (Collection of Joseph Novak, former Met set designer)

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.

But what is a finding aid and how does one use it? Simply put, a finding aid is a detailed description on what is contained in a collection. It is an inventory of all the materials residing in any given collection, with supplemental information about the collection’s history and nature of its organization. It may be lengthy and meticulous in its descriptions or terse and blunt. It may even offer links to digital copies of the collection. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Finding Your Way Around the Collections”