I've worked with historic collections now for about seven years, both in archival and museum settings. When I was asked to consult on a project with the Burkittsville Preservation Association, I knew that this would be a different environment than I'm used to working in. To begin with, the collection was spread throughout an abandoned, drafty pre-Civil War house of fourteen rooms and plenty of holes in the roof for water to leak in. From my first site visit, I knew that the first stage of this project would be recovery.
Here is what we started with, documents and objects strewn around the house, including here in the attic. Thankfully, we've moved everything to a secure location where we don't have to worry about water damage or falling through the floor!
My first two weeks on the project have entailed pulling documents and objects from closets, shelves, and even some long-forgotten behind mantels and in the attic, documenting the rooms in which they were discovered, and quickly moving them from the house to a safe storage area. This move is necessary not only because of the condition of the house itself, but also because they are not secure in the house. After a full day of packing, we finished moving about ten boxes, clothes baskets, and bags of objects from the house.
I've been given a space in which to work on the collections and store the collection as it comes into form. My current tasks include preliminary cleaning of materials and compiling the accession inventory for the collection. This has included making fascinating discoveries that encourage me about the future value of this collection.
Throughout my posts, I'll be sharing some information about the previous owners of the house and how their stories shape the collection. The last occupant of the house, Mary Hamilton Shafer Motherway, lived to be 103 years old, living in the house until she turned 100. A fascinating figure, she left the farm in the mid-1920s to become a secretary working in the United States Public Health Service. She soon completed training and became a registered nurse, being stationed in the canal zone in Panama during the 1930s. One of the first discoveries I made unpacking the boxes we brought from the house was a pack containing pieces of her nurse's uniforms and her R.N. license, water damaged but still very legible.
In a collection largely devoid of a pre-existing intellectual arrangement, the defining of the collection will be based on the persons with which the items are associated. This will give the overall collection a chronological framework that reflects the historical evolution of the property held by the Burkittsville Preservation Association.
Jody Brumage is a graduate student in San Jose State University's Masters of Archives and Records Administration program. This project is fulfilling the MARA 295 course requirements for an Organizational Consultation Project.