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Art in the Archives: Doodles, Sketches, and Fine Art

Monday, January 24th, 2011

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People often think of archival collections as dusty boring boxes of papers, but even if the boxes are dusty and full of paper, they are rarely (never, in my opinion) boring.  Who knows what you will find when you pop open that liquor store or candy bar box ?  One of the things that I love finding is artwork, which is very prevalent in archival collections, in varying degrees of artistic quality.  Regardless, I love it because it really allows you to see the world through the creator’s eyes.  Textual material allows you to discover the way the creator thought , but art allows you to see what they saw (or maybe not … maybe it is what they wanted to see).  Fascinating!

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The kind of art that our project has revealed was created for lots of purposes:  work, clarity, creativity, and boredom (or perhaps nerves—I am a nervous doodler).  Workwise, we have found amazing sketches in the Academy of Natural Sciences Exhibit records reflecting the creation of the dioramas  with plans for the backgrounds, the foliage, and habitat.  A professional artist’s work is represented in the Thornton Oakley collection on Howard Pyle and his student.  The John H. Mathis Company records contains ship plans; and when we process the Armistead Browning, Jr. papers at the University of Delaware, we will be working with landscape plans.  Natural historians documented their scientific studies as well as amazing new things they discovered:  Pierre Eugene du Simitière and J. Percy Moore are notable examples.  The Logan family papers include some drawings that show James Logan’s interactions with the Native Americans in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s.

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We also have student artists who saved their work—this is evident in the Reinhardt, Hawley and Hewes family papers, the Marvin Rosefield Keck, the Vaux family papers and Nicholson and Taylor family papers.  The artwork in these collection is far beyond amateur and both William Nicholson Taylor and Mary Vaux Walcott studied art formally.  Taylor and Keck used their considerable talents to draw humorous cartoons of the world they observed.  Mary Vaux Walcott created beautiful paintings from her experiences with the United States Board of Indian Commissions.

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Others drew plans of their hopes … James Rush has amazing sketches of architectural features for a home he was building on Chestnut Street.  In John Dickinson’s papers, there are sketches of a bathtub (introduced by Benjamin Franklin) as well as plans for succeeding in a military battle.  I can only imagine how wonderful a bathtub seemed in a time when plumbing was scarce.  The Logan family papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania include tons of land surveys—quite beautiful … I don’t know if the Logan, Dickinson and Norris families were planning to buy land or or already owned it.

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Finally we have the doodlers … and I love the doodlers!  I cannot decide if I like the doodles on the inside covers of Benjamin Rush’s financial books or John Dickinson Logan’s doodles on the list of rules for officers serving in the Civil War.  Either way, these doodles are of a most decidedly human nature … I have a strong suspicion that I, and many of the readers of the blog post, would doodle in similar situations.  Hopefully, you have not been doodling during the perusal of this post!

The Horace G. Richards papers at Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

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I recently completed processing the Horace G. Richards papers at the Academy of Natural Sciences, my last collection here for the PACSCL project! Richards was Chair of the Geology and Paleontology Department at the Academy from 1960 to 1972, although he worked here from 1937 till his death in 1984. He also taught courses at the University of Pennsylvania and was a Research Associate at the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory of Columbia University. He frequently was a guest lecturer at various institutions. He did several radio interviews, presented papers, wrote articles, compiled comprehensive bibliographies and performed research that took him all over the world!

His papers were relatively in order. At the start, the materials were mostly grouped into series, but series or subseries were not necessarily always identified or arranged. At pre-processing, the collection measured 47 linear feet and at post-processing 41 linear feet.  The arrangement of the correspondence took the most time, as there were seven preexisting subseries.  The preexisting divisions were various spans of time, sometimes five years, sometimes full decades. Although the correspondence for each time had been pulled out alphabetically, the dates often overlapped, were not in order and were often incorrectly labeled on the folders.

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Richards’ main area of expertise was the Quaternary Period, which is the past 1.8 million years.  He studied invertebrate fossils, geologic formations and the changing shoreline of coastal plains, primarily the Atlantic coastal plain from Long Island to Florida.  He started a project called the Atlantic Coastal Plain Project (ACPP), in which he studied deep water wells and oil wells along the Atlantic coast.  As part of his work, he wrote a Bibliography of the Geology of the Atlantic Coastal Plains. He was also actively involved with International Union of Quaternary Research (INQUA), a society devoted to studying environmental and climate change.  As I surveyed the materials of the ACPP and INQUA, which were in large boxes together, I discovered that he also worked on an Annotated Bibliography of Quaternary Shorelines, which was unrelated to ACPP and INQUA.  Once identified, I created a series for the additional material.

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Richards’ papers have an extensive amount of visual materials: photographs, negatives, lantern slides, scrapbooks and photo albums, but most especially slides! The slides are pictures from his expeditions and field work which led him to travel all around the world. The slides are housed in neat looking slide boxes, however, they are not archival. Sadly, due to minimal processing, I was not able to rehouse the slides. I was able to create a usable intellectual order and organized the existing boxes into a more convenient physical order.

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Among the many amazing aspects of working at the Academy (namely head archivist, Clare Flemming), we have been lucky to be able to consult with subject specialists as needed.  For example, while processing this collection I came across a few negatives of unidentified insects. Although I knew I could just write “unidentified insect,” I also knew an Academy entomologist, Greg Cowper, who would be able to and did come by to tell me what the negatives were of.  What I found really neat was: although 8 of the negatives looked essentially exactly the same to me, Greg was able to identify that the images were of various species of grasshoppers! So with the exception of two of the negatives, they were of different insects!

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While working on the scope and content note, I had the privilege to speak with Invertebrate Paleontologist, John Sime, who kindly looked over the collection and discussed with me the potential research value of the materials.  It was amazing to  hear about how salient Richards’ work still is today. The Quaternary period and especially Richards work on the changing shorelines and climate change is of special interest.  Some raw data exists in the collection related to Richards’ work with the ACPP. The extensive images from his expeditions depict shorelines all over the world throughout the 1930s through the 1970s, and these images could provide evidence of past shorelines and geologic formations.  Richards’ papers may also help catalog some of the specimens of invertebrate fossils that he collected for the Academy.

It was also interesting to discover how remarkable a figure Richards is.  Richards kept thorough scrapbooks, which chronicle his career and activities at the Academy, as well as notable happenings of his colleagues and students.  I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know him through his papers and make them available to researchers.

Academy President’s Office records and Provenance

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

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While at the Academy of Natural Sciences, we processed the Academy’s President’s Office records. On this collection, we got to work for a week with our Project Archivist, Courtney, who is always a pleasure to have around.  It was especially nice to have additional assistance and her expertise on such a complicated and large collection. The collection comprised nine different accessions with little to no information regarding the transfers.  There were 140 linear feet of boxes (or 240 containers), most with several sets of overlapping dates and various numerical schemes written on the boxes. Which numbers meant something? Which numbers should we go by? Well, as it turned out, all of the numbers on the the boxes meant something! But the numbers weren’t enough.

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Although the size of the collection was slightly daunting, it seemed logical at first that the creation years of the documents would most likely correspond to the President in office at that time.  Unfortunately, as we quickly discovered, not all of the materials were  created by the President or  his office. We realized that the provenance of the collection was not clear cut and that other materials were mixed in. Determining provenance was a little tricky at first as many of the employees shared a secretary or had secretaries that worked in a similar fashion.  After going through each box, analyzing who created the materials and then determining what that person did at the Academy, we were able to determine that 87 boxes or 43 linear feet of the collection were actually created by the Managing Director, not the President. We also learned that there was a Managing Director collection at the repository. When we took a look at the Managing Director records, we noticed that the two sets of materials filled in gaps and really did belong together. There was still 93 linear feet worth of materials to work with in the President’s Office records, spanning from 1874 to 2003, with a bulk of the materials created between 1939 and 1993.

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The larger numbers on the boxes were simply numbering each box throughout the entire collection, but the boxes weren’t necessarily in a particular order. The dates written on the masking tape often indicated a set of materials that went together and the smaller written date range reflected the actual dates of the material within the boxes. Of course, provenance was the single most important factor in determining how this collection needed to be arranged and what materials belonged together.  After that, we were able to see what, if any, original order existed within each set of records. This collection was a prime example of why accessioning is so important. All and all, once the creator of each set of records became clear, the arrangement came together fairly well.

The next challenge was writing the historical note. The collection contained the papers of four Academy Presidents and one interim President, as well as the papers of several employees from various departments within the Academy, such as the treasurer, the comptroller, the director of eduction and others. What made writing a cohesive history so difficult was that the Presidents, whose papers are in the collection, did not always succeed one another, and the additional staff members, whose papers are in the collection, were not necessarily working with those Presidents.  At first I wrote a chronological history, including the names and terms of service of all the Academy’s Presidents, but only highlighting those represented in the collection.  Following Courtney’s suggestion to first discuss the history of the Presidents and follow with the additional staff, I realized that if I created a separate note within the finding aid listing each President and their term of service, I could tighten up the prose of the collection-level history, making it clearer and more specific.

These institutional records will be extremely useful to researchers interested in the history of the Academy of Natural Sciences, the activities of the Academy President and various projects undertaken during the dates of coverage.

E.R. Fenimore Johnson–a potentially explosive collection at Academy of Natural Sciences

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

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Last week I finished processing the E.R. Fenimore Johnson photographs at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. If ever a creator of a collection should have been an archivist, it was E.R. Fenimore Johnson, the son of Eldridge R. Johnson,  founder and President of the Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, NJ.  Fenimore Johnson was a documenter. He took photographs of everything–and even more importantly–he took notes on and identified the subjects of his photographs which make this collection an amazing resource.

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Fenimore Johnson owned an underwater photography supply company called Fenjohn.  He sold diving suits, cameras, tripods, exposure calculators, and turbidity eliminators, to name just a few.  And he took pictures of these products–lots of them.  He also used all of those products to take pictures of other things … fish, boats, people, underwater gardens, places he visited, animals, and oddly enough, air conditioners.  As I said, he documented his world.  Happily, he identified the air conditioner as an air conditioner, as I am not an expert on either air conditioners circa 1930-1935 or underwater photography equipment.  An interesting component of this collection is his series of test photographs in which he documents two photographs of the same thing taken with different equipment.  For someone in the know, I believe these photos would be amazing.  His use of film formats is impressive–included in the collection are prints, negatives, lantern slides, and motion picture film.

Also included are some pretty amazing scrapbooks of Fenimore Johnson’s experiences on an expedition to Matto Grosso, Brazil.  His captions are indicative of the time and are, occasionally, a little on the shocking side, but the images present a world that probably no longer exists today.

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I was a little worried about minimally processing an image collection, but I had nothing to fear thanks to Fenimore Johnson and his archivist tendencies (high compliment, as you might imagine!).  He created an organizational scheme that I used for processing … every print is stapled to an index card with identification and reference to the negative number … he even provided my series and subseries titles.  As a result this collection really worked for minimal processing.

I processed this collection in a lot less time than I anticipated because it is possible that about 2/3 of the negatives in the collection are on nitrate film which is not something with which archivists or researchers should spend much time working.  How do we handle a problem like this in the minimal processing at 2 hours per linear foot world?  Well, we box them up and put them in cold storage until an expert can examine them.

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By comparison, in a full processing world, I would have gone through all the negatives, identified the negatives that were absolutely NOT on nitrate film, and processed them.  Fully processing this collection would have included removing the negatives from their original sleeves and placing them in mylar sleeves, at which point the processor would have looked for the the magic words: “safety film.”  Even with unlimited time, boxing up the potential nitrate negatives and placing them in cold storage would probably be the best temporary solution.  Nitrate film is highly unstable:  it is flammable and can explode with a shock … so if you have a box of nitrate negatives and you accidentally set the box on the table a little harder than you intended or if you store it near a heat source,  you could have a problem.   One piece of nitrate film is a problem and this collection contains almost 4,000 negatives, about 2/3 of which I anticipate could be nitrate.  That is a lot of nitrate.

Despite putting roughly half the collection in cold storage, researchers still have full use of the content of the collection, arranged quite tidily via Fenimore Johnson’s organizational scheme.  The only reason a researcher really would need access to the negatives is for reproduction.  We don’t know that the negatives are on nitrate, we just are not sure …  and experts say that if you are not sure, you should treat the film as nitrate.  We know that these negatives are all from the “right time” for nitrate film, that very few have any kind of markings (certainly not the “safety” designation), and that Fenimore Johnson used nitrate film–one of his motion pictures was recently saved by reformatting.  Clare Flemming, archivist at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, plans to seek help from a film expert, so if our fears prove unfounded, the rest of the collection can be processed.

The J. Percy Moore papers

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

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Dr. Moore was a professor of Zoology at the University of Pennsylvania. His involvement with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia began as a young man. Dr. Moore wrote an amusing account about how he came to be associated with the Academy. Upon entering the Central High School in Philadelphia “. . .(which was really a Junior College granting the A.B. degree), Dr. Jacob Holt, Prof. of Natural History and Physiology, introduced me to Dr. [Edward James] Nolan, the Secretary and Librarian [of the Academy], and I was given the privilege of using the library and a free card of admission to the museum. From that time I attended the Tuesday evening meetings of the Academy (as an invited visitor). These meetings were held at the head of the long reading room of the Library. Here was a raised platform and a well-lighted counter at its front. Behind this were three ornate chancellor chairs, the largest one in the center occupied by President Leidy and the smaller but similar ones on each side by the General Secretary Nolan and Corresponding Secretary [Edward Drinker] Cope. We boys used to designate the three as the Father, the Son and the Holy Terror.”

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At the Academy Dr. Moore served several positions there throughout his lifetime, Assistant Curator, Corresponding Secretary, Trustee, Library Committee, Publications Committee, the Council, Research Fellow and much more. Dr. Moore is best known in his lifetime for being the world authority on Leeches! That’s right, Leeches!

I had never really thought much, or anything for that matter, about leeches. But I found myself, the night before I began work on the collection, reading about Leeches. They are quite amazing creatures. I learned that there are 650 species of Leech. Later I discovered that Dr. Moore had named 6 genera, 229 species, 5 subspecies and 4 varieties of polychaetous annelids (the classification that includes ragworms, earthworms and leeches).

Initially, Dr. Moore’s papers were estimated by the PACSCL survey as being approximately 15.5 linear feet, however, upon inspection during the first day it actually measured 18 linear feet pre-processing. At post-processing the collection measured 23 linear feet! This was my first experience with the collection growing upon processing.

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The collection dated from 1847 to 1963 and essentially had no original order. Only one linear foot had an order, it was of correspondence and was arranged alphabetically. However, it did not comprehensively include all of the correspondence in the collection. But this was among the least of my worries. Out of the 18 pre-processing linear footage, 9 contained materials lying stacked on top of each other mostly in envelopes, and sometimes in boxes within boxes. I couldn’t process the contents with the materials stacked and inside old manila envelopes. Keeping the original order of the materials, in case there was one, I took out the bundle of papers from the envelope and placed both the contents and the envelope in an acid free folder, vertically in an acid free box. After all the materials were transferred I could discern what the contents were and if there was an original order. . . there was not.

One bundle of papers which was wrapped in an old brown paper bag, was in German and French, and predated Dr. Moore’s birth by ten to twenty years. The papers were folded and in envelopes, and some were tied up with string. Upon closer inspection I could make out a few key words, “amphibian,” “fish,” “skeleton,” “Wien” (German for Vienna), and the repetitive appearance of the name “Professor J. Hyrth” sometimes spelled, “Hirth”. Some documents I could tell were financial in nature and others I could tell were official transportation documents. Many were letters to Professor Hyrth. I wondered why Dr. Moore would have these papers? What exactly were they? How did Dr. Moore get them? And who was Professor Hyrth? Tucked inside papers, I came across a letter to Dr. Moore stating his inheritance of papers and some other materials from Dr. Cope, which was a name I recognized. Edward Drinker Cope, was a scientist at the Academy as well as the Corresponding Secretary. While this still didn’t answer all of my questions, it did provide me with the lead I needed to piece it all together. A quick search revealed that what I had thought was the letter “h” at the end of “Hyrth” was actually an “l”, Hyrtl. I learned that Professor Joseph Hyrtl was a renowned Austrian Anatomist who collected fish skeletons, which were purchased by Dr. Cope for a paper he wrote in 1871. Upon Cope’s death in 1898 those papers were bequeathed to Dr. Moore, and the mystery of the foreign language documents about fish skeletons was solved!

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Another interesting set of papers were correspondence about writing a biography on Joseph Leidy, who Dr. Moore first met when he was eleven and attended Leidy’s lectures on Zoology at the Wagner Free Institute of Science. The correspondence shows that completing Leidy’s biography was proving a difficult task, as every person who picked up the task died before completion.

Most of Dr. Moore’s papers were sketches and notes about various annelid specimens. He would write on the tiniest scraps of paper and on the back of anything, even his own work. There was one manuscript that had a draft of a paper on one side and a completely different paper drafted on the other side! The collection included lantern slides and 16mm film reels from his expedition to India in 1930-1931. There were also lots of photographs of leeches.

If you can’t tell, I absolutely loved this collection. It was wonderful to work on it. Examining the collection post-processing, there is a marked difference in access and usefulness, however, with minimal processing I was not able to do everything that I would have liked to do. For example, the many photographs of leech specimens are all well labeled with dates and species names. Time did not permit me to label each photographic envelope, nor put the photographs into an order (the photographs are only processed to the series level). This collection deserves further processing.

The Crawford H. Greenewalt collection at the Academy of Natural Sciences

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

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This was a very interesting and exciting collection to work on in terms of both handling the collection contents and conducting the research that went into creating the collection description. This collection is a view into one aspect of the personal life of the man who ran the DuPont Company during World War II, and oversaw the Manhattan Project. In his spare time he traveled around the world taking pictures of birds. Lots of pictures. Lots of birds.

This collection has a high visual impact. The collection is full of great pictures of exotic birds (i.e. not pigeons and sparrows) in many formats. There are 8 x11 prints, three different sizes of mounted prints, slides, lantern slides, glass slides, enlarged electron microscope images of feather cross-sections, color transparencies, and negatives. There is also a collection of about 600 stereographs. One of the most interesting features of this collection was a set of hummingbird and sunbird feathers mounted on microscope slides. Looking at the forty-one boxes of this collection, Greenewalt’s enthusiasm for bird photography is readily apparent.

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In addition to the multitude of images, this collection also contains seven boxes of textual material. It was surprising to learn that not only did Greenewalt photograph birds, he also published material on technical subjects, such as the physiology of birdsong and flight, and the reflectance of hummingbird feathers. The seven boxes of text contain a few of Greenewalt’s publications, some manuscripts and a lot of research material including acoustic measurements of what must be hundreds of bird songs, and pages of mathematical equations related to bird flight. This portion of the collection represents decades of devotion to intense amateur study.

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Arranging this collection according to the principles of minimal processing proved to be somewhat of a challenge. The first hurdle was not stopping to admire the fascinating images. On a more practical level, the greatest challenge was determining the folder level arrangement for the photographs. Neither Laurie nor I have sufficient ornithological expertise to identify the birds featured in each image, and the majority of the images are unidentified. Another option was to arrange the photos in a chronological order. Unfortunately, the majority of the photos in their various formats are undated. At two hours per linear foot, identifying each bird was not an option. We did the best with what we had: we hunted for clues. The box of field notes was helpful for putting Greenewalt in a particular geographic location at a particular time. So, for example, if there was an envelope marked “Sweden” which contained a group of photos, and we knew from the field notes that Greenewalt was in Sweden between 1956 and 1960, then we could plug in a circa date. By picking up clues and following little trails of information, we managed to find reasonable dates for almost the entire collection.

We had some difficulty with understanding the purpose and function of the technical data in this collection. We are thankful to both Nate Rice, Ph.D., Collection Manager, Ornithology, and Dan Thomas, Collection Manager, Visual Resources of Ornithology (VIREO) for making themselves available to answer any questions we had about the collection’s content and for graciously and patiently sharing with us their knowledge and expertise. These two gentlemen saved us a lot of time by explaining to us what Greenewalt was trying to do, and what types of papers we were looking at. We are also thankful, of course, to Clare Flemming, Brooke Dolan Archivist at the Academy of Natural Sciences, for taking the time to make this connection.

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Another big task that had to be avoided because of the constraints of our prescribed pace is preservation and conservation. A lot of those prints were curled, and some of them had folded corners. Some of the lantern slides were broken, and most of them were in some sort of plastic sleeves that over time had become sealed to the glass. All we could do was flag them as in groups. The other side of the coin is that we were not in the position to prevent further damage. Many of the prints are fading, and most of the various media needs re-housing. The bottom line is that it is good to have taken some steps to make this collection available for research, but there is a lot more that could be done. This collection is just one of many amazing collections in the Academy of Natural Sciences’ archives, and therefore it has a lot of competition for getting the care it requires.

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In my opinion, this collection has a great research value for anyone interested in the personal life of Crawford Greenewalt; the history of high-speed photography; the history of the Academy of Natural Sciences’ VIREO collection; amateur ornithology; and of course hummingbirds. It would be nice to see this collection receive the attention it deserves.

Welcome to the Academy of Natural Sciences

Monday, March 1st, 2010

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Eric and I have completed our first few weeks at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, where we will be processing nine collections over the next few months. The head Archivist is Clare Flemming whose warmth, professionalism and enthusiasm for the project has made us feel welcome and comfortable.

The first collection we processed here at the Academy was the Board of Trustees records. The Academy, founded in 1812, had an Academic Council made up of staff members who managed the financial and daily operational activities. As the institution grew, the council decided to divide its responsibilities by creating a Board of Trustees who would be made up of outside members. The collection dates from the establishment of the Board in 1925 through 1993, with a bulk of the materials covering the 1970s and 1980s.

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The collection had a significant amount of original order and the remainder had a fairly clear intellectual order. The most challenging series in the collection was the “Working files of the President’s Office.” Through these papers, we were able to establish that on December 16, 1985 the Academy’s president, Thomas Peter Bennett announced his resignation due to taking another position in Florida, where he grew up and much of his family still lived. He was very torn as he had been President of the Academy since 1976. It was clear he had been speaking with the Board about a need for his replacement much earlier. A search committee was formed several months prior to the formal announcement. Bennett was so committed to the Academy, he helped in the search by remaining available to the endeavor for an entire year. After Bennett left he gave the Trustees his working files. I learned a lot about the presidential search from these records, but the portion of the records pertaining to the search was just a fraction of the series; perhaps one third of the series. The other two thirds of the records in the series covered a variety of different topics and had no original order which made the series challenging and time consuming.

Since we will be processing several collections here, I was glad we began with this one. It enabled me to gain familiarity with the organization, structure and history of the Academy. The information I learned from these records will be helpful in the processing the proceeding collections.