It’s been great to see the postings from Brave Astronaut (on the Order from Chaos blog) and the Anarchivist about MARAC and also that we’ve got some photos up on Flickr from the meeting (again, search for the tag “maracs07”). Since they’ve done a great job at conveying the social side of the meeting (which was considerable), I’ll try to talk a bit about the sessions I attended.
The program committee did a great job of setting up sessions that followed their theme, “Labor, Business & Archives in the Workplace.” Because I’m trying to find guests for my new podcast series, I attended a lot of these locally-focused sessions (in contrast to what I would have done back in my old job), and I thought the overall quality was quite good.
The first session I attended was “Creating a Sense of Place: Primary Sources and Local History.” The speakers were Robert E. Carbonneau, C.P of the Passionist Historical Archives, Maureen McGuigan, a local poet and playwright, and Jim Quigel from the Pennsylvania State University’s Historical Collections and Labor Archives. Mr. Carbonneau spoke eloquently about using materials from the collections of religious groups to shed light on the day-to-day lives and work of religious persons and to show how their activities were integrated into the larger life of the community. Ms. McGuigan described how she has used primary and secondary source material about local historical figures to bring their stories to life in her works. Mr. Quigel used a collection of reports from the famous Pinkerton detective agency to show how they attempted (sometimes successfully) to infiltrate the forces behind the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.
I arrived late to the next session, “Hidden Labor Revealed: Enhancing Access to Women’s History,” so I only caught the end of speaker from the Hagley Museum & Library describing their holdings related to women and labor. Doris Malkmus of PennState’s Special Collections took an interesting approach–documenting her attempts to find materials in her own collections related to women and labor (largely unsuccessfully), and speculating about how the future application of new guidelines for processing would help or hurt similar efforts in the future. The last speaker, Sarah Keen from Cornell, described collections related to homemaking as a profession and home economics as a discipline, pointing to electronic resources such as the Home Economics Archive.
I was, I have to say, a little disappointed in the next session on “Documenting Irish Immigrant Work, Religion and Culture”–apologies to anyone involved who reads this. I found Paula Kane’s talk very interesting–probably because she took a larger view of the subject, discussing issues of Irish immigrant work within a larger cultural context. The other two speakers (from Seton Hall and NARA’s Philadelphia office) focused more on describing what materials they had in their collections that related to Irish immigration. This type of presentation may be what many of the attendees were looking for, but I was looking for a little more analysis. I should also admit that it was about at this point that spring arrived inside the hotel and so my allergies started to act up. That could have been part of it as well.
I changed my mind at the last minute on Saturday morning and went to “Mind Your Own Business Records” and I was so glad that I did. This was a great session about 19th and early 20th century business records. David Grinnell from the Heinz Regional History Center gave an interesting description of several of their collections that include records of local businesses–often “hidden” in collections of personal and family papers. You could not ask for a better advocate for the use of railroad business records than Patrick McKnight from the National Park Service’s Steamtown National Historic Site . Finally Dr. Daniel M.G. Raff from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania gave us a completely different perspective, describing how he had used some rather obscure records from the early days of the Ford Motor Company to shed new light on the roots of Ford’s success. Although the earlier two speakers were excellent, I found Dr. Raff’s talk the most compelling. Although he lost me in some of his discussions of his data analysis, I was fascinated to hear a user of archives talk about incorporating our holdings into his research in ways that most of us archivists could not have anticipated. I think we need to hear from more speakers like this at the Chautauqua meeting. I later heard that they had a lot of trouble finding a speaker for this last “slot” on the session–that of the user of records. Another piece of information to file away–maybe we need to do a better job of networking with some of our users to able to tap into them later on.
Finally, since I am currently “unaffiliated,” I went to “I Can Get Paid for This? Archival Consulting as a Business.” Again, there were three excellent speakers: Linda Edgerly from The Winthrop Group, Alan Lewis, an independent consultant in audiovisual archives, and Valerie Metzler, an independent archivist/historian consultant. The panel kept their remarks short and very much to the point, with plenty of time for many questions from the audience, as well as from the chair, Jack McCarthy, another archival consultant. I think it would be useful for either SAA or MARAC to collect information like this on career options in archives and publish it in some way–probably on the web. Or is this already being done? Can we have sessions like this at every MARAC meeting as a way to gather information on career options? Just a thought.
All in all I think most people left Scranton pleasantly surprised–both by the city and the quality of the program. In a small organization like MARAC I think it can be hard to bring in new speakers and easy to rely on the same old faces. The program committee should be applauded for making an effort to create a diverse and interesting line up. The Williamsburg program committee faces the challenge of keeping people in the sessions when there are so many other options. But think of the great pictures we’ll get of archivists in the stocks!