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

Education: The Mightiest Weapon

March 22nd, 2017

Spencer’s current exhibit Education: The Mightiest Weapon is free and open to the public in the Spencer Exhibit Space through May 18, 2017, during the library’s regular business hours.

Field Archivist and Curator Deborah Dandridge with
her student assistant Arielle Swopes. Click image to enlarge.

“While white folks have been wrangling as to whether colored children should be admitted into the public schools,” reported the Evening Dispatch newspaper in 1859, “Mrs. Burnham, a colored woman, has been teaching a school for Negro children on the corner of Potawatomie and Third streets,” in Leavenworth, Kansas. Like Mrs. Burnham, African American settlers in Kansas found a variety of ways to pursue their cultural tradition of placing a high value on formal education, despite laws and practices that denied them equal access to all public schools.

Education: The Mightiest Weapon highlights the public school experiences of African Americans governed by the 1879 Kansas law allowing public school boards in cities of 10,000 or more to decide whether to establish racially segregated grade schools. Except for special legislation passed in 1905 for Kansas City, Kansas, Kansas law prohibited racially segregated public high schools. It features schools in Kansas’ urban and rural areas, African American state supported schools, and the 1951 U.S. District Court case in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Setting up the Education exhibit

Setting up for the exhibit. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Zachary Lassiter and Arielle Swopes

Zachary Lassiter, a Public Services student at Spencer Library
majoring in history, with Arielle Swopes. Click image to enlarge.

Statement from student assistant Arielle Swopes

In 2014 I started at KU as a Behavioral Neuroscience major, and began working as a student assistant in Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Working on the current exhibit, Education: The Mightiest Weapon, has given me even greater insight about how enduring and adaptable African Americans have been. For this exhibit I’ve had access to hundreds of pictures and been able to read letters, petitions, newspapers, and posters that all show the daily life and struggles of African Americans from the 1890s to the 1970s. From all of these materials it is easy to see the determination that these people had to always find a way to persevere.

Photograph of the Sumner High School Second Orchestra, 1918

Sumner High School Second Orchestra,
Kansas City, Kansas, 1918. Sumner High School Collection.
Call Number: RH MS-P 1137. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of the first page of a letter to the Lawrence School Board, 1942 Photograph of the second page of a letter to the Lawrence School Board, 1942

A letter from the city’s African American community to the
Lawrence, Kansas, School Board opposing the Board’s
suggested plan to place all African American elementary students
in Lincoln School in North Lawrence, November 12, 1942.
USD 497 (Lawrence School District) Collection.
Call Number: RH MS 1255. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of the Monroe School eighth grade class, 1932

Eighth grade graduating class of Monroe School, Topeka, Kansas, 1932.
Cooper-Sheppard-Cox Family Collection. Call Number: RH MS-P 576.
Click image to enlarge.

Arielle Swopes
Spencer Research Library Student Assistant
African American Experience Collections

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist and Curator
African American Experience Collections

Meet the KSRL Staff: Deborah Dandridge

February 22nd, 2016

This is the sixth installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Deborah Dandridge is the Field Archivist/Curator for the African American Experience Collections in our Kansas Collection.

Deborah Dandridge. Field Archivist/Curator for African American Experience Collections.

Deborah Dandridge reading over her presentation notes
at the Black Archives of Mid-America conference held in
Kansas City, MO this past October.

Where are you from?

I was born in Topeka, Kansas, where I attended school K through 12. I began kindergarten at Washington School, one of the city’s four elementary schools designated for African American students and teachers. After the 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision, I completed my grade school education at Washington because my parents determined that Washington’s excellent faculty and supportive environment afforded me the best opportunity for a quality education, although I lived only a half block from a previous whites-only school.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I reach out to communities across the state for donations of their historical materials (i.e. written and photographic) that document the experiences of African American families, churches, organizations, and businesses and I serve as curator of these materials (i.e. the African American Experience Collections).

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

I began my work in KSRL as field archivist for a 1986-1989 National Historical Publications and Records Commission grant awarded to the Kansas Collection, in cooperation with KU’s African and African American Studies department.

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

All of the items reflect important experiences in the lives of the donors. They represent special moments or routine activities of the past that inform us about the present.

What part of your job do you like the most?

Visiting with potential donors of materials and participating in community public programs across the Kansas region.

What are your favorite pastimes?

Although it’s difficult, I’m enjoying my new journey into the world of physical training as a client of an expert in the field.

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

Be prepared to embark upon a fascinating, never seen before, exploration of the rich, diverse record of human past.

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist/Curator
African American Experience Collections
Kansas Collection

Happy Election Day!

November 3rd, 2015

November 3rd is Election Day here in the U.S. and although it’s not time for the presidential elections, the races and ballot initiatives taking place are no less vital. To celebrate the importance of civic engagement, I’ve selected a few items from Spencer Library’s Kansas Collection that highlight different ways of being politically active.

One of our researchers from the University of Chicago found this delicious thank-you note. Coffeyville, Kansas, native Bruce McKinney was thanked by Bill Clinton and Al Gore for his vote by receiving his very own copy of Hillary Clinton’s Chippers recipe!

Hillary Clinton's Chippers Recipe and note of appreciation for Bruce McKinney's vote for Clinton and Gore

Hillary Clinton’s Chippers Recipe, circa 1992-1996.
Papers of Bruce McKinney, 1900-2008. Call Number: RH MS 1164.
Click image to enlarge.

Mervyn Anderson was an active member of the League of Women Voters of Kansas. Her dedication to informing Kansans on political issues and candidates is evident in these two items from her papers.

War Time Pledge Card for the League of Women Voters of Lawrence, Kansas

War time (probably referring to the Vietnam War) pledge card for the
League of Women Voters of Lawrence, Kansas.
Mervyn Anderson Papers, 1956-1987. Call Number: RH MS 1091.
Click image to enlarge.

Cover of the April 8-9, 1959 League of Women Voters State Convention program in Salina, Kansas.

Cover of the April 8-9, 1959 League of Women Voters State Convention
program in Salina, Kansas. Mervyn Anderson Papers, 1956-1987.
Call Number: RH MS 1091. Click image to enlarge.

Many Kansans have engaged politically by serving in local, state, or national government. Robert C. Caldwell is an excellent example of a public servant to the city of Salina, where he was elected as the first African American mayor in 1970.

Mayor Robert C. Caldwell's keys to the city of Salina, Kansas.

Two identical keys to the city of Salina, Kansas, undated.
The key at the top displays the side engraved with Salina, Kansas,
while the key on the bottom is engraved with Mayor’s Key.
Robert C. Caldwell Family Papers, 1922-1999. Call Number: RH MS Q119. Click image to enlarge.

Mindy Babarskis
Library Assistant and Supply Coordinator