Institutions

...now browsing by category

 

Stop and Smell the Roses

Friday, November 7th, 2014

GHSMS_waste3Long ago, when it was snowing a lot and often, Alina Josan and I spent eight weeks at the Germantown Historical Society.  The majority of our time at GHS was spent with the records of the Germantown Theatre Guild, but at the outset we worked on a much smaller project, the (very) Small Manuscript Collection.

This collection was made up of a smattering of many things. Full of treasures, but usually only one or a few records concerning an individual, family or organization. The legacy decision had been to collect these items together into a catch-all collection and we were foldering the records and creating an inventory. As we worked our way through these disparate pieces, I remembered a question that Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe had asked during my interview for the Hidden Collections project, “Will you have any problem moving quickly through materials that interest you?” My answer was, “No problem—I’ve handled many interesting things in my career and I’ll be able to resist the urge.” Well, here’s to report, it’s difficult to glide by some things, without pausing to wonder! I’ll call it the inevitable minimal processing speed bump—you fly along, until you just have to stop and take a good look at something.

GHSMS_waste5The Small Manuscripts collection had a number of speed bumps, especially since foldering meant, in many cases, item level labeling. I noticed that Alina was riveted by some materials relating to Thomas Meehan (the 19th century botanist and nurseyman), but I resisted temptation until I encountered the Billmeyer waste books. The manuscripts were dated 1795, and while very handsome in themselves, with elegant handwriting on fine paper, they were fairly mundane account books representing “the mony, goods or debts owed to me.” However, on further inspection I noticed something special: Anna Billmeyer—perhaps a daughter, or granddaughter—had co-opted one book at a later date and used it as a sketch diary. Careful sketches and notes pasted on top of the accounting records reveal this well-educated girl’s world view: several pencil sketches of “Mr. Chew’s House,” a series of watercolor vignettes, maps of the South Pole, Bolivia, and “Ethiopia Unexplored Region,” a botanical watercolor of “The Drooping Lily,” architectural renderings with simple perspective diagrams, and pressed violets are just some of the things that Anna chose to document and preserve in the recycled Waste Book.GHSMS_waste9

I had to stop and admire. I had to stop and consider. I was drawn by the mixture of romance and smartness; the dreamy yet precise nature of this girl’s mind that was so clearly reflected in these drawings tucked into the back of an account book. So there you have it, no matter what your processing cruising speed or how short the deadline, sometimes the records simply deserve a pause, an extra few beats of inspection. No matter how many things you may have seen, no matter how many objects you’ve handled, you’re not immune to the allure of “The Drooping Lily.”

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together!

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

One of the lessons I’ve learned during the course of this project is that often, despite your best efforts, processing will inevitably lead to snags that slow down your pace and extend processing time. When you’re aiming for 4 hours per linear foot in order to stay under the minimal processing time requirements, this can definitely cause some problems. While my partner, Steve, and I have had collections that matched the MPLP requirements closely enough to stay within that deadline, there have been times when it was a struggle to make the timeline work. Some forced us into item level processing. Some surprised us with accessions that had been completely removed from their original home or reordered for no apparent reason. These slowed down our processing time considerably.

How not to store blueprints.

How not to store blueprints.

But then there were the Hahnemann University Academic Affairs records at the Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections. This collection has by far best matched the MPLP requirements at this point in the project, despite being the largest collection with which we’ve worked. This collection consists of 250 linear feet of Academic Affairs records, coming from all the various iterations of Hahnemann University. These include the Homeopathic College of Pennsylvania, Hahnemann University, and even a few records from its current Drexel University College of Medicine title. This large collection also came to us quite disjointed, with multiple accessions often originating from various faculty members’ offices or departments within the college, which made for a lot of overlap. However, despite this small challenge, the records themselves were in great shape for MPLP. None had been previously processed (aside from one small “collection,” whose enterprising owner had taken out all the records from their folders and stacked them loosely into a Xerox box, destroying most of the original order). Additionally, because the records came from specific offices and departments, they were often far more consistently organized than personal papers, making it easier to find links between the contents and to figure out what certain folders contained, without excessive detective work.

Because we did not have to focus on item level processing or learning how to re-work previously written folder titles, it left us free to focus on carefully constructing DACS compliant folder titles, and made physical processing that much easier, as many of the separate “collections” were left intact and made into series or subseries. For example, Series II of this collection consists of administration and faculty records. We created subseries based on the faculty member or department from which the records came, which meant very little reorganization, since these records were already split this way.

A student from 1883 -- what fine hair!

A student from 1883 — what fine hair!

As a result of having to spend less time worrying about archives “detective” work, we were able to come up with some methods to streamline the process even further. My favorite of these methods arose when it came time to create the container list. Generally, we had done data entry first and then wrote the scope note after all the physical arrangement had been completed. This time, we wrote the scope notes as we created our container list. It seems like common sense now, because this allowed us to have a fresher memory of what each series and subseries included, and we were able to make preservation and digitization notes as we went along. It helped us track some of the connections between series, as well as to look through the material to double check records that were especially unique within their series. I thought that it would extend the data entry process, looking over all those records again, but this time around Steve and I worked separately on different series, cutting data entry time in half and allowing us to become ‘experts’ on certain sections of the collection. This reinforced the knowledge we had already gathered while working on the collection, and contributed to the ease of creating the scope note as well.

Aside from the well-suited nature of the collection to MPLP, Steve and I also divided our roles more efficiently this time around. We split up data entry, re-boxing, and physical arrangement duties.  Having more time in one institution was also helpful, although a variety of ‘snow days’ meant that, despite finishing about 8 weeks ahead of schedule, there were still a couple of wrenches thrown in that could have considerably stalled us were we working with a less-ideal collection.

250 feet of beauty!

250 feet of beauty!

The takeaway here is that minimal processing works much better for some collections than for others. Repositories looking to get through some of their backlog should carefully consider the fact that not all collections are going to yield a 2-4 hour per linear foot result, regardless of applying MPLP methods. Often, previously processed collections in particular make that result extremely difficult. If a processing archivist is given a previously-processed item level collection with vague folder titles and no obvious original order, MPLP is probably not going to function like one might hope. However, when the right collection is chosen, the result can be a collection ready for researchers in a fraction of the time.

 

 

A challenge from the Superintendents

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

When I first approached the Archdiocesan Superintendent of Schools records at the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center (PAHRC), I was concerned to say the least.  In fact, I was panicked.  The collection, which documents the administrations of three superintendents spanning a period of thirty years, is all of 9.2 linear feet, which is small compared to most collections.  One hopes that a collection of this size can be dealt with quickly.  However, given that half of the collection consisted of loose, unsorted papers stuffed in document boxes and the other half processed by no less than 8 different LIS students at Villanova University in the 1960s, I assumed we would never meet our processing deadline.  Little did I know upon the terror of first viewing the Superintendent records that it would be the first collection my partner and I completed processing in well under our 4 hours per linear foot limit.  When all was said and done, MPLP processing allowed us to transform twenty-three boxes of disarrayed records into an accessible and usable collection at a swift processing speed of 2.6 hours per linear foot.

My biggest concern while processing this collection was how my partner and I could responsibly process 9 boxes of loose, unsorted records and somehow meaningfully interfile those records into the arrangement we imposed upon the collection.  We did not have enough time to view every loose record individually.  Item-level review is not a luxury afforded to MPLP processors!  Therefore, we could not be entirely sure that we were spot-on with regard to chronology.  We also realized early on that some of those unsorted records were bound to be interfiled within the wrong series, since we were not processing at item level.  Bearing in mind Greene and Meissner’s principle of processing “good enough,” we allowed ourselves to become comfortable with the idea that a few records may be misplaced, which seemed well worth the sacrifice if it meant that the majority of those loose records would finally be given an intelligible arrangement and made accessible to researchers.  When faced with a predicament such as this, it is important to remember that whatever has been done according to the MPLP methodology can be undone.  Those potentially misplaced records would not be buried and lost forever and could very easily be repositioned according to a more refined arrangement at a future point in time!

MPLP is not a final solution.  MPLP is a step in the right direction, though not without its imperfections and limitations.  With MPLP, one should always assume slight imperfections, and collections that have been processed minimally should indeed be revisited and refined when more resources become available.  While easily corrected imperfections are a real possibility of MPLP processing, access is an absolute certainty.

More Pragmatism, Less Protocol

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Griffin1

More Product, Less Process is a great way for putting our workflow into perspective in archives. Some tasks do not require a lot of detailed attention, and a cursory run-through along with some healthy description should suffice for making archival materials accessible. Other tasks may require a bit more work, but in the grand scheme of things will not suffer from the prioritization of other duties. MPLP is ideally suited for these types of situations, but when one is confronted with a stack of papers with no obvious relationship or readily determined content, more work is necessary. So what do we do when a collection contains records of both types?

Griffin4Such was the case with the Martin I. J. Griffin Collection at the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center. Griffin was a Catholic historian during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and thus has some interesting research files. Some of these files easily fit into categories and can thus be minimally processed, but others are almost unusable without further item-level description and conservation. Examples include scrolls of brittle paper and assorted research files, all of which are written in Griffin’s cryptic handwriting, and these materials cannot be described further due to the time restraints of MPLP. We thus have a collection that is mostly processed, but I cannot call it complete until the miscellanea is dealt with.

Of course, we cannot simply abandon our working model every time we come across materials that areGriffin3 not suited to MPLP; we must press on! But in retrospect, what is best for such a collection is a synthesis of MPLP and standard item-level processing. Since there are two types of needs for these hybrid collections, we should use a hybrid working model. This type of synthesis does not come naturally in an administrative environment, however, since schedules are often designed around predictable processing rates.

Where does this leave us? I’m not sure, but I know that we must approach collections pragmatically, and address each collection’s specific need. MPLP, traditional processing, or both, we need to use whatever method is appropriate. This does not mean that processing projects will necessarily be designed to accommodate such circumstantial decision making. Nevertheless, within the confines of established procedure we can certainly try our hardest to act in the best interests of collections and vocalize our dissatisfaction when this proves insufficient.

Griffin5

…A File By Any Other Name???

Friday, May 16th, 2014
Letter found in Boggs' correspondence.

Letter found in Boggs’ correspondence.

Archives coursework doesn’t prepare you for the fact that legacy file names may have multiple personalities. Local naming conventions sometimes resemble nicknames rather than a folder title relevant to a future researcher.

At the Philadelphia Museum of Art we found a number of opportunities to wrestle with this. In a museum there is the added challenge of the exhibition process itself: exhibitions may start with a conceptual title (French Decorative Arts), move through a development phase with a shorthand title (the “Exchange” exhibit) and then, often after several years, finally end up with a formal title (such as, “The Second Empire: Art in France under Napoleon III”). We found a great example of this in the Jean Sutherland Boggs records and the Directors’ Exhibition records, where we encountered many different file names for an exhibition that was ultimately called “Manifestations of Shiva.”

In the Boggs records, the early files discuss an India exhibit, and the documentation is mostly in files associated with the curator, Stella Kramrish, and filed under K. As the exhibit developed, it was filed under Shiva or Siva, and documents are filed under S.

We agreed to defer to the spelling of the deity’s name preferred by Kramrish, an authoritative scholar of Indian art and mythology. “Siva” was what we stuck with until we came across a 1980 memo addressed to all PMA staff from the director’s office addressing what had evidently been an ongoing conversation at the time too. Jean Sutherland Boggs herself had spoken and she said:

Memo from Boggs regarding the spelling of "Shiva".

Memo from Boggs regarding the spelling of “Shiva”.

“Dr. Kramrish has decided, with my approval, that we should spell the god, “Shiva”. From now on, it will be Manifestations of Shiva”

And so it was for us too.

The legacy files didn’t really became more consistent. Ultimately, as the exhibition process progressed, the formal name of “Manifestations of Shiva” was used more often, and although the legacy system still had many files in the S location, now files were in the M run as well. We successfully avoided the impulse to create a false consistency—and, in the end, felt that the many-titled folders actually tell a story of their own.

The PMA Directors’ Exhibition records has traditionally organized exhibitions by their opening date and then by their formal exhibition name (so for the above, the primary location is 1981 March 29, and the files read “Manifestations of Shiva”)—working titles are always changed to formal exhibition titles in this collection. As an additional finding aid, the Archives maintains a master list of preferred exhibition titles and their opening dates.

Publicity materials for Manifestations of Shiva.

Publicity materials for which Shiva exhibition?

However, a puzzle, related to the “Manifestations of Shiva” files, appeared in the Directors’ Exhibition records where we encountered “the ‘Exchange’ exhibit,” often interfiled with “Manifestations of Shiva” materials. At first we thought this meant that “Manifestations of Shiva” became a loan exhibit, but a little research uncovered the fact that an exhibit called “Masterpieces of Modern Art from the Philadelphia Museum of Art” was an exhibition of paintings from the PMA collection sent to India in exchange for the loan of significant artifacts for the “Manifestations of Shiva” exhibition. In this case, we did correct the folder titles to meet the policy of filing exhibitions by formal name.

In a way, the changing name of this exhibit provided a perfect storm for the way naming conventions in legacy collections can be a fluid and sometimes messy challenge. As Alina and I discussed this we noted that one of the greatest benefits of creating an electronic finding aid for this type of legacy filing system is the magic of keyword searching—offering the possibility of finding resources no matter the number of different file names they may have accumulated.

Minimal deaccessioning

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

The parameters of our Hidden Collections project generally preclude any deaccessioning efforts from being part of the process. We’re tasked with moving at a relatively swift pace – roughly twice the speed of “traditional” archival processing – and this doesn’t leave a lot of time to go through and check to see if some items could or should be removed from the collections. Additionally, being archival interlopers, fairly unfamiliar with the collections and procedures of our temporary homes, leads us to err on the side of caution and leave the task of deaccessioning for another time and, usually, another archivist. However, I’ve found that from time to time, some deaccessioning can take place with relatively no additional time taken for the process.

Folders of publications.

Folders of publications.

A prime example of this came in the past couple of weeks with our collection at the Drexel University College of Medicine (DUCOM) Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections. At DUCOM, we are processing about 250 feet of materials in the Academic Affairs records group of Hahnemann University. This group is made up of many smaller collections of papers from administrators and faculty, as well as broader collections from academic units, assorted publications, and more. While processing each of these collections, we often noted files that we knew we had seen before and were obviously duplications, but due to time constraints and issues of provenance, we let this fact bother us momentarily and then moved on. But when it came to the series of publications, the rules changed a bit.

As the materials in the series came from a variety of smaller collections of publications, the aim was to file them all together, leaving issues of provenance out of the picture. And, as we decided to file them chronologically within four subseries, picking out the duplicates became quite simple during the final process of arranging and boxing. As can be seen in the accompanying pictures, duplicated publications were blatantly obvious.

Deaccessioned publications.

Deaccessioned publications.

After a quick glance through each set of duplicates, three copies of each were retained, consisting of the versions in the best condition or any annotated copies. The excess duplicates were removed from the collection and given to the main archivists who will decide upon their ultimate fate. Though it may not seem like much in a collection of roughly 250 feet, we were able to remove over a foot of redundant material in this manner without slowing down our process. We consider this a win-win situation and recommend using this idea of minimal deaccessioning when possible with future collections.

Surprise! The Marion Turner Stubbs Collection is…probably not what you expected.

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Many times, in archives, we come across collections that do not turn out the way we expect. Perhaps the processing time takes far longer than we anticipated due to a box full of deconstructed file folders with no arrangement. Perhaps someone has come in before the archivists and “preprocessed” without letting anyone know, and with their own idiosyncratic system. These kinds of challenges are common in the archives and add to the flavor of processing, so even when they make you want to tear some hair out, in the end, you find you’ve grown as an archivist.

The squirrel's tale. Provenance unknown.

The squirrel’s tale. Provenance unknown.

And then, there are the collections that, simply put, turn out to be a little different. Not at all what we anticipated. Revealing in ways that make the job as exciting as it truly is. I’m talking, of course, about collections where you open up an envelope and find a severed squirrel’s tail in the middle of a box of financial records.

The Marion Turner Stubbs collection at Temple University was one of these collections, and remains one of my favorites processed to date. Some of the materials were so unexpected and painted such an interesting snapshot of the time from which they came that this small and at times vague collection ended up being uniquely exciting.

These papers came from Marion Turner Stubbs, a founding member of Jack and Jill of America, Incorporated. The papers are mostly her husband’s, Dr. Frederick Douglass Stubbs, an extremely gifted chest surgeon in Philadelphia, and from her father, Dr. John Patrick Turner, a respected physician, police surgeon, and first African American serving on the Philadelphia Board of Education. TheseDiureticTherapy three people led enormously influential lives in Philadelphia, and were prominent, well-respected members of the community, so I went into the project hoping for some interesting background on their lives. I was not expecting…a squirrel’s tail. Nor was I expecting the records to mostly come from Dr. Stubbs’ research files, which at first, was a disappointment, if only because I wanted to learn more about these remarkable people and how they kept records of their many accomplishments. Honestly, the answer, based on this collection, seems to be that they didn’t keep very many. Most of the collection (aside from the research) consisted of plaques and certificates from the many awards these three received throughout their lives. Fun to look at, but not really helpful for providing some context about who they were as people, one of the best parts about working in archives.

Important questions.

Important questions.

However, these research files provided an amazing look at 1930s medicine and thought, especially with a focus on tuberculosis and even prohibition-era philosophies. Dr. Stubbs was, for much of his career, focused on the treatment of tuberculosis, and so most of the research pertains to new medicines and surgical options, even treatments centers for children. But there was also information debating the socialization of medicine, the effects of alcohol, and the emerging “Negro Medicine” field.

Here were research files placed in Stubbs’ own particular order (not always the easiest to understand, until we realized he worked both alphabetically and often by subjects, like “Hospitals”) and which included a variety of materials like pamphlets, correspondence, and article reprints. I did not expect these materials to shed as much light on the philosophies of the time period from which they came, considering they were from a fairly narrow subject area.

To be fair, this was one of my first collections processed, and was a lot smaller than the others, so my AcmeColorsexpectations probably weren’t as high as they could have been. However, the important thing I got out of this collection was that keeping this collection intact, and preserving the original order as much as possible really provided the true value of the collection. Separating out all of those medical journals from the correspondence could have been an option. But seeing some of the letters Stubbs wrote to other doctors in conjunction with this research painted a much richer picture. I did not expect to walk out of this collection with information about the uses of whiskey in therapeutic treatment, or the stance of the Philadelphia medical community on socialized medicine, or the colors available on Acme appliances for a particular year.

Part of the excitement of this collection, too, was the fact that despite my complete lack of subject knowledge on any of these topics, I was able to get the information I needed, even with minimal processing, to properly describe the files and create a finding aid that I felt touched on all the important aspects of the collection. Additionally, since the collection did not have as much information about the family, I had the chance to do some of my own research to find out more about what they accomplished and who they were. It was exciting to use some of the clippings in the collection to piece together important moments in their lives and fill in the gaps with information I had to go track down on my own. In fact, I was thrilled to find a variety of clippings available on flickr that documented some of Marion Turner Stubbs’ life.

So while this collection did not turn out the way I expected, I got to immerse myself in a time period that I had previously never explored, from a perspective that made it all the more fascinating. Also, I got to see the reaction of my Project Manager to opening an envelope expecting a letter, or perhaps a piece of cloth, and instead finding that squirrel’s tail. Truly one of the finest moments of my very short career.

Why is a Museum Director like Indiana Jones?

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

While working with the records of Langdon Warner (Director of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Arts, 1917 to 1923), we were struck first by the fact that Mr. Warner was far away from the Museum a good deal of the time: December 1917 through January 1919. And struck next by the interesting places that some of his correspondence was from. When in residence at the museum, his correspondence reveals that he wandered still: scattered amidst his administrative correspondence at the Museum are reports of archeological expeditions in the Middle East and Asia, photos of artifacts from far flung locations and reports of Bolshevik activity in Siberia.

With some time left the following week, we became curious enough to do a little exploring ourselves. If you Google Langdon Warner the first thing you find out is that almost everyone mentions him as a model for the character of Indiana Jones. We had to admit, the photos bear a distinct resemblance …

Langdon Warner and Indiana Jones. Striking, no?

Langdon Warner and Indiana Jones. Striking, no?

Warner became the Museum’s Director while relatively young, but his interests in Asian art and archaeology were already well established. While a student at Harvard University he traveled to Russian Turkestan with the Pumpelly-Carnegie Expedition in 1903. He traveled to Japan in prior to becoming the associate curator of Asian art at the Boston Museum of Art (1906 to 1913), and he was Director of the American School of Archeology, Peking, directly before coming to Philadelphia. While on leave of absence as the Museum’s director, his travels with a Smithsonian expedition were interrupted by the Russian Revolution and he was recruited as the United States Vice Council in Harbin, traveling extensively as the liaison between the State Department and Czechoslovakian exiles.

After leaving the Museum, he taught at Harvard University, became the Curator of Oriental Art at the Fogg Museum of Art and he participated in many other projects related to Asian arts and traveled an estimated 18 times to Asia.  Apparently quite modest, he was, however, highly influential as an educator and scholar, very well respected, and an entertaining and dedicated correspondent.

Photographs of artifact acquired and excursions made by Warner.

Photographs of artifacts acquired and excursions made by Warner.

Warner has not escaped controversy. Early discovery and collection of artifacts by Western scholars and archeologists has come under scrutiny and many now consider the actions taken by these early collectors as damaging, as well as ethically questionable. If Warner was indeed involved in such activities, it would certainly be balanced by his later work during World War II; as a “monuments man” –one of over three hundred other museum directors, curators, art historians, artists, architects, and educators–he was tasked with the mission of protecting cultural treasures in harm’s way. Warner is specifically credited with taking actions that protected the cities of Nara and Kyoto during the Allied bombings of Japan in 1946 and this work reflects his very real concern for the preservation of cultural heritage sites. Warner died in Cambridge, MA, in 1955; after his death Japan awarded him the Order of the Sacred Treasures.

All in all, maybe better than a movie…

“Two Gun” Bessie and the case for better folder titles

Monday, April 14th, 2014

One of the issues with working with a legacy finding aid is that previous descriptions can easily fall short. Such is the case with the MOLLUS collection, and we tried to go back through folders with unclear titles to fix this problem. One such folder, titled “Front, 1941”, provides an excellent example of why accurate folder description is important.

Jessica and Evan process MOLLUS.

Jessica and Evan process MOLLUS.

Upon further inspection, “Front, 1941” contains a series of newspaper clippings related to the sudden resignation of Dr. Bessie Burchett. Dr. Burchett, known as “Two gun Bessie” for her tendency to carry two pistols to defend herself, was a Latin teacher at West Philadelphia High School who strongly opposed communism. She even wrote a book on the communist infiltration of American schools: Education for Destruction. In fact, Burchett was so strongly against communism that she was revealed to have Nazi sympathies. When news of her political extremism broke, there was a cry of public outrage against her, and rather than awaiting her inevitable dismissal, Burchett elected to resign.

The case of Dr. Bessie Burchett provides an interesting snapshot of Philadelphia and the United States during an era of extreme political movements. But if a researcher were to come across the title “Front, 1941”, the researcher could never be aware of the treasures in the folder unless they opened it because the folder title provides so little useful information.

Processed MOLLUS at home in the new Union League secure vault.

Processed MOLLUS at home in the new Union League vault.

This means that an archivist must choose between properly titled folders or item level description, and when using MPLP the latter is out of the question. Folder titles should thus properly identify contents, and it is important to conscientiously consider such titles. For “Front, 1941” we had some difficulty coming up with a title that adequately captured the contents, but after a while we settled on “’Front:’ Clippings regarding Philadelphia school teacher Bessie Burchett, especially regarding anti-communism and Nazi sympathy, 1941”. This title is a much more accurate description of the folder contents.

So much for this folder, but how many other folders are out there that fail to describe their contents? How many more stories like Dr. Burchett’s are hiding in the crevices of archives, waiting to be discovered?

Saint Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church records

Friday, April 11th, 2014

The records of St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church of Philadelphia, one of the collections held at Temple University’s Special Collections Research Center, sheds light on a unique aspect of Philadelphia history. The church was started in 1886 when African American Catholics in the region grew tired of the discrimination they faced at Catholic Churches of the day (if they were allowed in at all). Members of three parishes united together to form the Peter Claver Union with the goal of creating a “Church for Colored Catholics” in Philadelphia.

In 1889, they were officially recognized by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and in 1892, they moved into their new home at 12th and Lombard Streets (a former Presbyterian church). The church continued to function for almost a century until the Archdiocese suppressed the church in 1985, stating that due to the changing racial climate, a dedicated church for African Americans was no longer needed, thus removing their parish status, as well as all of their records. At this point, the church continued to function as a community, but could not offer most religious sacraments and services.

Steve processing at Temple University.

Steve processing at Temple University.

In processing the records of this collection, one obvious drawback is the lack of most records from before 1985 (outside of the school records). Rather than finding records focused mainly on the administration and rituals of a church, this collection’s focus is found in the community outcry over the suppression of the parish, clippings and other subject files covering the African American community at the time, the church community’s struggle to remain vibrant in a neighborhood that had lost its African American majority, and many issues of racism (real or perceived) within the Catholic Church as a whole.

From a processing perspective, this was my favorite collection from our time at Temple and that comes from it not having been previously processed. It was quite rewarding to take a box full of papers and create a logical order to the contents, rather than just relabeling folders or trying to figure out why someone had deemed certain records appropriate to folder together.  This collection, though smaller than our previous ones, offered a chance to do some actual MPLP processing (a goal of this project), as well as learn more about Philadelphia history. And while I’ll not comment on my personal views of the acts of the Catholic Church regarding St. Peter Claver’s, it is quite eye opening to read about this time in Catholic history.