I (might) need a New Camera

I have two digital cameras, both of which came into my possession six years ago. I have a handy little Canon PowerShot SD700, a little thing which I bought before leaving for Scotland because it was the best camera in the store when it came to taking pictures of things through glass and I wanted something for use in museums. Later that year I was given a Canon PowerShot S3, which has a larger body and took better pictures.

Taken with the S3, 2006.

Sadly, the S3 has died (it only works if I hold the battery case very tightly shut, and even then it’s 50/50). The PowerShot works well enough, and has been traveling with me to archives this fall. However, I feel the need for a new camera (especially as my father and sister have DSLRs which take Such Nice Pictures!), and this leads me to a conundrum:

Do I continue to use the PowerShot in archives until it (eventually) dies and just buy a camera for taking out and about, or do I try and find a camera which will work in the archives and on the street (or at the parade)?

Taken with the SD700 at the National Archives (US) earlier this fall

Further, if anyone has advice about a particular camera they’ve used in archives that worked especially well, or a camera setup, please do share. Feel free to point me to some blog post which answers all my questions. I’m just looking for input.

What you save

I declared my undergraduate major in History on the first day of classes of my sophomore year of college, September 2001.

A handful of days later, what might have been an ordinary Tuesday became a historic event. I knew it was going to be what children in the next generation would ask me about, saying “Do you remember” and “Where were you?”

A few months ago, in preparation for a move from Charlottesville, where I was working as a historian, to Northern Virginia, where I am now again a history student, I went through the box of papers I’d saved from college. In the box was a letter-sized plastic envelope with documentation about the immediate aftermath of that September.

Until I came across it, I’d forgotten completely about collecting these things. It made sense then, as now, to try and gather an archive of my experience, of the experience of my college friends and community. The envelope has a copy of the student newspaper and the daily broadside from campus, the cover of a New Yorker magazine, emails and a poem I wrote, and some other items. I remembered selecting things to save, making sure to get copies of things, even though I knew that the college library was probably doing the same thing. It didn’t matter if they were. I was saving these not for the next year, or even 10 years out, but 30 or 40.

I looked over everything carefully, then put it all back in the plastic envelope and promised myself I’d get archival storage once I finished moving.

The Donor Side

This past week I participated in the museum donation process from the other side – the donor side. My father was donating some of the papers of his father and grandfather to a military museum, and my sister and I joined him.

The initial meeting with members of the collections and research departments was relatively familiar to me, having witnessed it happening in my own department when I was at the historic house museum. They explained the process of accession – slightly different from what I was used to – and we talked about the content and history of the 2 trunks, display table, and assorted files and scrapbooks. They were very excited about some of the material, and sensitive to the fact that it was sort of hard for us to let it all go. They are, however, going to digitize everything, and we’ll get a pdf of the finding aid once it’s complete.

The best part of it all, however, wasn’t even on the original itenerary. Dad of course mentioned that I had just worked in a curatorial department, which led to some friendly colleague chat with the research guys. They suggested that, after visiting my great-grandfather’s aircraft (undergoing restoration), we visit their office building, also the collections storage site. Continue reading “The Donor Side”

Thoughts from Virginia Forum

I spent the last two days at my first Virginia Forum. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I really enjoyed myself.One of the strengths of the Forum is the diversity of the attendees: professors, graduate students, museum types (like me), university librarians, museum librarians, library librarians, archivists, historical society staff, independent scholars, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something.  Anyone can apply to present, and nametags only have your institutional affiliation, not your rank or title. Sessions are three or four presentations of 15-20 minutes, all based around a common theme, with plenty of time left at the end for questions and comments.

I’m not going to try and offer thoughts on every session I attended; maybe at some point, but I still have to check out my hotel this morning, and get on the road home. There is, however, one experience from Forum I want to share.

One discussion which started in a session and (for me) took off on twitter was about archivists and approaches to processing material. E. Lee Shepard, from the Virginia Historical Society, talked about the difficulties of deciding how closely to follow the material when creating a finding aid. He read us a quote from an incredibly moving letter written by James Ewell Brown Stuart to Mary Walker Lewis a year after the death of his daughter.  It was very moving, and an insight into the psyche of the man, but how do you put something like that in a finding aid, where most of the time all you can do (because of time limitations, etc.) is write “Stuart to Mary Walker Lewis, Year month day”?  What his presentation, and the others in the session, revealed was that archivists frequently know a great deal more about their collections than what’s written in the finding aid.

This concept was summed up in the phrase I tweeted “make friends with the archivist.” I got a response from @amycsc, who (having only read the tweet) said she objected to the idea that in order to find what you’re looking for, you have to buddy up to someone. Once I explained the background to the tweet, she pointed me to the Special Collections Research Wiki for the College of William & Mary.  She explained “The idea of ours is in part to download what’s in our heads, share what we’ve just emailed to a researcher, & seek info from others”. I think that’s fantastic. It’s probably not applicable to every institution, and I have no idea how easy it is to find from the more standard web pages (I was tweeting from my iPhone, which can surf the web but isn’t ideal for such things). Still, I think it’s a good way to start getting information out of people’s heads and into something more permanent, so that when they are gone, the information will still be around. That problem isn’t limited to archives – we have trouble with it in my department at the museum!

I had a fantastic time, and met some very interesting people. I feel really energized and enthusiastic today. I want to come back and spend a whole day at the Mariner’s Museum, and explore this area a little more. I plan to drive on some of the Colonial Parkway, rather than just taking the highway home. Thanks to everyone who made Virginia Forum happen – see you next year!