Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

African American Photograph Album: How to Process?

July 17th, 2017

In order to make manuscript collections available to researchers, we have to describe what we have so they know whether it is of interest or not. Typically archival description provides information about what is in the collection itself, as well as some contextual information to aid researchers in understanding more about why materials may be in the collection—a biographical note or administrative history of the creator of the collection, for example, or information about how Spencer acquired the collection. This additional information may come from the collection itself—the creator handily leaves a copy of their resume in their files, or the organization has created annual reports that provide some historical information about them. It can also come from external sources, such as websites and materials the creator and/or donor provided the curator when transferring the collection to Spencer, including notes the curator took when discussing the collection with the donor.

Sometimes, particularly with photographic collections that have little to no textual material donated with them, processing staff have very little to go on when creating a finding aid to help researchers. Take, for example, a collection of cabinet cards and tintypes that had been assembled into a photograph album. These photographic images are beautiful, posed portraits of African Americans in late 19th-century eastern Kansas—but we have very little external information about these images. We’re not even sure how we acquired this collection, or the story behind the creation of the photograph album. If any portrait is identified with a name, it’s hidden on the back, and we haven’t taken the album page package apart, even if the album overall was disbound due to its severe deterioration.

Photograph of a family group

Family group, circa 1890s? African American Photograph Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 531. Click image to enlarge.

In this kind of situation, we provide what information we can. We can describe simply at the collection-level, or we can attempt to describe at the file or individual item level, but those descriptions will necessarily be generic: “Tintype of a soldier in a Civil War-era uniform.”

Tintype of a soldier in Civil War-era uniform

Tintype of a soldier in a Civil War-era
uniform, circa 1880-1900.
African American Photograph Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 531. Click image to enlarge

We can also provide rough date estimates for when the portraits were made, based upon the clothing worn by the sitters and upon the photographic processes used.

Photograph of an unknown woman

This woman’s overskirt—draped at the back of her dress
helping to create a bustle—tightly-fitted sleeves with cuffs,
and fitted basque-type bodice all indicate her photograph
was probably taken around the mid-1880s. African American Photograph Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 531. Click image to enlarge.

Photographers’ names, often provided on the bottom of cabinet cards and cartes de visite—think about watermarks on professionally-made digital photographs in the 21st century—also provide clues about where and when a collection is from. The photographers found in this collection mostly appear to come from Topeka, Kansas, with some also from Atchison, Lawrence, and perhaps other towns in the eastern part of the state.

Photograph of an unknown woman

The text under the image indicates it was taken by F. F. Mettner,
photographer of Lawrence, Kansas. Also notice the girl’s giant
leg o’mutton sleeves; this style was quite popular in the mid-1890s.
African American Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 531. Click image to enlarge.

There are many decisions that go into processing a collection like this: Do we take apart the individual album pages to see if we can find more identifying information? Do we leave as is because this was how the images were intended to be seen (and who knows if anybody wrote anything on the back anyway)? Do we describe at a detailed level when we cannot provide names, or are we content with providing a simple collection-level description and hope that researchers are able to realize there may be a treasure trove from that collective description?

Photograph of an unknown gentleman

Who is this gentleman? If we knew his name,
what other information could it provide?
African American Photograph Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 531. Click image to enlarge.

No matter what we choose to do, archival description cannot capture the beauty of the women’s and children’s dresses and men’s suits—the sitters no doubt wearing their Sunday finest—the personalities that peek through even these stiffly posed studio portraits, the stories that may be hiding in the pictures themselves.

Photograph of an unknown woman

Portrait of an unknown woman, circa 1880-1900.
Marcella is especially fond of this photograph.
African American Photograph Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 531. Click image to enlarge.

If you have any information about any of these images, or others in the collection, we would be happy to add that information to the finding aid. To request to use the collection, contact Public Services staff at ksrlref@ku.edu. To provide more information about the collection, please also contact our African American Experience field archivist, Deborah Dandridge, at ddandrid@ku.edu.

Marcella Huggard
Manuscript Processing Coordinator

New Finding Aids Available: Part II

April 4th, 2017

Finding aids are documents created by a repository’s staff members as a point of access for an archival or manuscript collection. To understand more about how finding aids helps researchers navigate collections of manuscripts, organizational records, personal papers, letters, diaries, and photographs, check out our Finding Aids 101 blog post. Here’s a list of some of Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s newest finding aids, so see which collections interest you!

A photograph of members belonging to the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity at a banquet from the Dorothy McField collection of sorority and fraternity papers. African American Experience Collection, Spencer Research Library.

A photograph of members belonging to the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity at a banquet
from the Dorothy McField collection of sorority and fraternity papers.
African American Experience Collection. Call number: RH MS P944.3. Click image to enlarge.

The first page of a listing of titles for Éigse Eireann ["Poetry Ireland"] from the Catholic Bulletin collection. Special Collections.

The first page of a listing of titles for Éigse Eireann [“Poetry Ireland”]
from the Catholic Bulletin collection. Special Collections.
Call number: MS 329 Box 2 Folder 45. Click image to enlarge.

A photograph of two cowboys on horseback from the Wallace, Kansas photographs collection. Kansas Collection.

A photograph of two cowboys on horseback from the Wallace, Kansas photographs collection.
Kansas Collection. Call number: RH PH 60 Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.

The title page from Eugène Farcot’s Literary Manuscript Un Voyage Aérien; Dans Cinquante Ans. Special Collections.

The title page from Eugène Farcot’s Literary Manuscript Un Voyage Aérien; Dans Cinquante Ans.
Special Collections. Call number: MS K32. Click image to enlarge.

May 7th and 8th from the five year Diary of Maude Egbert, note her entry on May 8, 1945 or Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day). Kansas Collection.

May 7th and 8th from the five year Diary of Maude Egbert, note her entry on May 8, 1945
or Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day). Kansas Collection.
Call number: RH MS B77. Click image to enlarge.

Other new finding aids:

Mindy Babarskis
Reference Specialist
Public Services

Workshop Recap: Care and Identification of Photographs with Gawain Weaver

June 20th, 2016

Last week Spencer Research Library hosted a workshop on the care and identification of photographs, taught by photograph conservator Gawain Weaver. I was fortunate to attend the four-day workshop along with three other fellow Spencer staff members from Conservation, Public Services, and Processing, as well as archivists and conservators from Missouri, Texas, and elsewhere in Kansas.

Our group met in Spencer’s Johnson Room and jumped right into things on day one by preparing paper to make our own salt prints. We coated paper first in a sodium chloride solution and, once dry, in a silver nitrate solution, then we placed leaves on the coated paper and exposed them in the sunlight over our lunch break. This simple exercise was a fun and engaging way to demonstrate the fundamentals of photographic chemistry.

Salt print (photograph)

The salt print I made in the workshop…it isn’t pretty, but the exercise was very useful!

Over the four days, we divided our time between Gawain’s incredibly information-packed lectures on the history of photographic and photomechanical processes, and lively hands-on sessions examining examples of many of the processes we’d learned about. The workshop fee included a small 60x-100x handheld microscope and a binder filled with the lecture slides, reference guides for identifying various processes, articles and recommended reading lists, and lots more useful information. Participants also had the option to purchase a sample set of photographic and photomechanical prints – a great addition to an archivist’s or conservator’s reference library.

Hand-held microscope

This microscope is small, inexpensive, and very handy for identifying photographic & printmaking processes.

Photographic sample set provided by Gawain Weaver

Photograph sample set of eighteen different photographic and photomechanical prints.

In addition to covering photographic history and technique, Gawain also discussed digital prints and issues of photograph deterioration, storage conditions, and proper housings. I enjoyed this workshop a great deal, and I came away with a clearer understanding of how photographs are made as well as greater confidence in my ability to identify photographic processes and to better address the particular preservation needs of photographs in the collections I work on. Many of the guides and resources in the workshop packet are available for purchase or to download for free from Gawain’s website, along with links to many more resources and information about this and other workshops that Gawain offers.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Meet the KSRL Staff: Marcella Huggard

November 30th, 2015

This is the fifth installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Joining us in October 2015, Marcella Huggard is Spencer’s newest team member; she’s the Manuscript Processing Coordinator.

Marcella Huggard. Archives Manuscript Coordinator

Marcella Huggard working with materials in the beginning stages of being processed
in what is lovingly referred to as Smaug’s Cave.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Valparaiso, Indiana, which is what I like to call a suburb of a suburb of Chicago. Since then I’ve lived in Illinois, Colorado, and Kansas. My mom is from Topeka so I came to Kansas a lot as a kid for family reunions.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I’m in charge of coordinating the processing of the unpublished manuscript materials at Spencer. This includes personal papers, diaries, correspondence, business records, organizational records, and a wide variety of other materials that can be found in the personal papers of KU alumni and faculty, the Kansas Collection devoted to regional history mostly dating from 1854-onward, and the Special Collections.

Processing entails arranging and describing these collections of materials in order to make them more easily available to our researchers and to let our patrons know what we actually have. Often we receive collections in a fair amount of disarray, and we have to make order out of chaos—and describe that order—so that our patrons know what we have even before they come in our doors.

How did you come to work in special collections and archives?

I was in my junior year of college and trying to figure out what I wanted to do after college—I knew I didn’t want to teach, but I also wanted to use my history degree. My college’s career center helped me find an internship at a nearby historic house museum, and the following fall I got to do an internship at my college’s archives, among other duties transcribing the 1820s love letters of Eli Farnham, one of the college’s founders, and his future wife. After that kind of introduction to working with historical materials, I was hooked. I worked on my Masters at Colorado State University-Fort Collins, where I was able to concentrate both on museum studies and archives administration in order to broaden my career opportunities.

What is the strangest item you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?

I haven’t yet gotten to dive too deeply into the collections here—I started working at Spencer in late October—but I did come across an accession document for an inkwell I have yet to track down. I was also just introduced to a mask worn by Moses Gunn in Titus Andronicus.

What part of your job do you like best?

I really enjoy solving problems, and processing archival materials is a series of problem-solving!

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?

My husband and I love to ballroom dance (not that we’re any good, mind you). I also sing with the Lawrence Civic Choir and a small group of women called Heartland Harmony operating out of Topeka, and I really enjoy trying out new crockpot recipes.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

The advice I offer to any researcher wherever I work that I think applies here at Spencer too is try to touch base with a Public Services staff member before you come—at least start looking at the catalog and finding aids so you have a good idea of what might be available for you to review. Letting our staff know you’re coming before you get here is always a great idea because they can give you lots of great information about what to expect when you arrive and can help you fill out your research requests, streamlining the process when you come to the library so you can dive right in!

Marcella Huggard
Manuscript Processing Coordinator

Counterparts and Crossed-out Prohibitions against Fornication; Or, Adventures in Indentures

September 26th, 2013

Anyone who has ever tried to read the fine print on a lease or an online click-through user agreement knows that contracts can at times be rather stultifying documents. Even in the early modern period, contracts used formulaic language that could be dry and impenetrable enough to put off all but the most dedicated reader. However the physical formats of these documents can be quite fascinating, especially to modern eyes.

An indenture is a legal contract between two or more parties which reflects an obligation or covenant between those parties. Common types of indentures include leases, bonds, apprenticeship agreements, and marriage agreements, to name a few.

Image of a lease indenture from the Kaye Family Estate Papers, 1639

Lease indenture between John Kaye of Denby Grange and lessee John North of Bankend for land in Almondbury in Yorkshire, 1639.  Kaye Family Estate Papers. Call Number: MS 240B: 111. Click image to enlarge.

The term “indenture” originally referred to the physical form of this contract. As a security and authentication measure, two or more copies of the deed would be written on the same piece of parchment (animal skin), usually head to head (i.e. with top of one copy facing the top of the other) and then the parchment would be cut in two in a wavy or zigzag pattern to produce the two copies of the contract. The authenticity of the indenture could then be validated by reuniting and matching its edges to those of its “counterpart.”

Image of an indenture and its counterpart matched along their serrated edges.

Indenture and counterpart matched along their scalloped edges. Lease between John Kaye, of Denby Grange and lessee John North of Bankend for land in Almondbury in Yorkshire, 1639. Kaye Family Estate Papers. Call Number: MS 240B: 110-111. Click image to enlarge.

In later years, it was not uncommon to see printed indentures–essentially “forms” in which the formulaic parts are printed and the particulars were added in manuscript.  Spencer’s English Historical Documents collection includes many printed apprenticeship indentures from the 19th century.  It is fascinating to see how the printed forms (still on parchment, mind you!) can be tailored to cover the specific details of a given agreement.  A common stipulation of such agreements was that the apprentice agree not to partake in a variety of activities that might negatively impact his Master or divert the apprentice’s attentions (“he shall not play at Cards, Dice, Tables, or any other unlawful Games…” nor “haunt Taverns or Playhouses, nor absent himself from his said Master’s Service Day or Night”).  In the case of the apprenticeship indenture of young Thomas Inkpen (who, based on his name, clearly missed his calling as a scrivener) to the tailor Dennis O’Leary (below), we can see that the prohibition against fornication or marriage has been struck out, leaving him free to marry during his seven-year term of apprenticeship. Indeed, this stipulation may have been omitted because Inkpen was already married or engaged. (It’s also interesting to note that Inkpen signs his own name, but O’Leary, the tailor to whom he will be apprenticed, signs only with his “mark.”)

Image of an apprenticeship indenture with fornication/marriage clause struck out, 1821.

Photograph of a detail from an apprenticeship indenture with clause prohibiting fornication/marriage struck out, 1821

Apprenticeship indenture of Thomas Inkpen to tailor Dennis O’Leary. February 28, 1821. English Historical Documents Collection. Call Number: MS 239:3818.  Click images to enlarge.

Female apprentices might also occasion the alteration of the printed part of the indenture, which most often assumed a male apprentice.  In the 1834 indenture of eleven year-old Rebecca Dale to  Richard Gray, a Tambour worker and Dressmaker, male pronouns on the printed part of the form have been crossed-out and replaced with female ones.

Image of an apprenticeship indenture form modified by hand for a female apprentice, 1834.

Detail from an apprenticeship indenture form with manuscript modifications for a female apprentice, 1834.

He to She and His to Her: Apprenticeship indenture for Rebecca Dale to Richard Gray, Tambour worker and Dress maker . December 13, 1834. English Historical Documents. Call Number: MS 239:3823. Click images to enlarge.

 Female apprentices soon became common enough that some printers left blanks on their forms to allow for the possibility.  Though the following 1842 indenture is for a boy, William Hicks, to be apprenticed to John Weekes, a Tinman, Coppersmith, and Brazier, the blanks permit it to accommodate a female apprentice with equal ease and even allow for a “Mistress” rather than a “Master.”

Image of apprenticeship indenture with blanks to accommodate both sexes, 1842

Image of a detail from a printed apprenticeship indenture with blanks to allow for either a master or mistress or a male or female apprentice

Fill in the blank: M(aster) or M(istress)? Indenture for William Hicks, Jr. to be apprenticed to John Weekes, Tinman, Coppersmith, and Brazier. November 28, 1842. English Historical Documents Collection. Call Number: MS 239: 3787.

Spencer’s English Historical Documents collection, comprising over 7000 English deeds and manorial, estate, probate and family documents dating roughly from 1200 to 1900, offers a rich resource for investigating the changing face of the indenture.  It also offers insight into two prominent English families, the Kayes of Yorkshire, and the North Family, whose illustrious members include Frederick North, Prime Minister of Great Britain during the American War of Independence.   An online finding aid is currently in progress, but in the interim we encourage interested researchers to contact us with their queries.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian
[With special thanks to Mary Ann Baker, processing archivist for the English Historical Documents collection, for locating and identifying the counterparts referred to in this post.]