Archive for the ‘Inside the Archives’ Category

Guest Post by: Marielle Gage

Arlington, Vscr_9710212dA boasts some of the most famous military memorials in the United States. The National
Cemetery, founded on the former property of Robert E. Lee, Confederate general, is the final resting place of many an American soldier, and holds both John F. Kennedy’s grave and the tomb of the Unknown Solider, perhaps the most poignant symbol of the costs of modern war. But there is another gem, not the site of yearly rituals. Right near the entrance is a small memorial dedicated to some of the most overlooked characters in American military history. To quote 1776’s Abigail Adam, “don’t forget about the women!”

The Women in the Military Services for America Memorial’s history reflects some of the realities of military women’s history. The current site of the Memorial was built in 1932 as the “Hemicycle” to be the ceremonial entrance into Arlington, but never served that function, and fell into disrepair by 1986[1]. In 1985, Congress approved the creation of a women’s military memorial, and approved the Hemicycle as the site in 1988. Reconstruction began in 1995 after several years of design and redesign. Controversy followed the first plan, as politicians feared several features would diminish the appeal of other monuments, such as disrupting the view of the Lincoln Memorial from Arlington House and the Kennedy gravesite. A later plan which eliminated the most contentious feature, glass prisms, was accepted. The architecture of the memorial has been widely praised, but the lack of “statues, symbols, or inscriptions that make the memorial identifiable as one for military women” has bothered some visitors.[2]

womens memorial1            Unfortunately, the Memorial has not become a major visitor site in Arlington. Arlington Cemetery’s Wikipedia page has only one line on the Women in Military Service memorial, buried amidst descriptions of several other memorials, all of which receive at least a little more attention in the article.[3] But the limited visibility and knowledge of the Memorial does not leave it without value. This little gem has a secret weapon: its museum and archives. At the “heart” of the memorial is the Register, a computerized database of military women. Users can access “photographs, military histories, and individual stories of registrants”[4] to recreate for themselves the history of women who have served our country from the American Revolution to the present. Furthermore, the Memorial has an Office of History and Collections that curates six separate collections, available to use upon appointment: Institutional Records, Photographs, Documents, Artifacts, Textiles, and Audiovisual Records.[5] The Office of History and Collections also sponsors regular special and online exhibits, in addition to the upkeep of the permanent exhibits on site.[6] Their current online exhibit is A New Generation of Warriors, which “honor[s] the servicewomen of Enduring and Iraqi Freedom”.[7] It can be accessed here:  exhibitcases

The Women in the Military Services for America cannot help but be an activist archive. Archival Activism is “the conjunction of [the] endeavors”[8] of preserving the past and influencing change in the future. By focusing on a group largely marginalized in the popular memory and historical record of the American military services, The Office of History and Collections at the memorial provides an essential service to those hoping to redirect attention towards the heroines of our nation’s history. Despite being a small, oft-unnoticed site in Arlington, the Women in the Military Services for America Memorial dreams big, and deserves our admiration.



[2] Kilian, Michael. “Women in Uniform Get Their Due.” Chicago Tribune. October 17, 1997







Guest Post by: Clara Bannigan

            On October 30, 2015, I attended the 2015 Archives Fair hosted by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference, the National Archives Assembly, and the Smithsonian Institution Archives and Special Collections Council.  The theme of this year’s fair was “Hidden Connections.” The presentations focused on exposing historical narratives that may not fit the traditional narrative of the American experience. One particularly local narrative, the history of African Americans in the District of Columbia was discussed in the panel “Beyond the Processed Box: Unearthing the Research Muse through the D.C. Africana Archives Project.”

            The DC Africana Archives Project (DCAAP) Director, Doretha Williams, and the graduate student presenters piqued my interest in this project, especially because as a local of the D.C. area, I am aware of the direct and important impact African Americans had on the development of the District of Columbia. DCAAP is a partnership between George Washington University’s Special Collections Research Center, George Washington University’s Africana Studies Program, and several local archives to “enhance access to previously unavailable research materials that document the history of the African diaspora in DC, the civil rights movements, the struggle for Home Rule, the rise of Black-owned businesses, the development of Howard University, slavery in the nation’s capital, jazz music in D.C., and the literary arts.” GW is partnering with the District of Columbia Archives, the Historical Society of Washington D.C., the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Public Library, the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University, the Archives Center at the National museum of American History, and the George Washington University Special Collections.

            The DCAAP team and the partnering institutions identified 125 unprocessed archival collections that are focused on its mission, and is supported by a grant to George Washington University from the Council on Library and Information Resources. A group of students work to process these collections for the purpose of creating online finding aids to make the material available. These graduate and undergraduate students are exposed to the collections of local archives and the archival processing theory of ‘more product less process,’ and participate in panel discussions in the area. DCAAP is currently working with local high schools to increase the use of local history and primary source learning in schools.

            At the Archives Fair, several student workers presented on the projects they participated in. Haley Bryant, an MA student at George Washington University presented “Archival Ideologies- Ethnography of Archival Practice at the Mooreland-Spingarn Research Center” discussed the negotiations between the practice of ‘More Product, Less Process’ (MPLP) and traditional archival processing methods. Haley discussed the critiques of MPLP and how they speak to larger issues of power structures and the purpose of the archive as an institution. DCAAP specifically trains the student workers to use MPLP processing techniques, but as Haley pointed out, there are valuable critiques of MPLP that should be addressed, especially with special projects like DCAAP that seek to provide access to ‘hidden collections.’

            The African American community has a critical role in the development of Washington, D.C., and DCAAP is providing the tools that researchers and students need to understand and articulate that role further. If you are interested in the local history and the influence of African Americans in the District of Columbia, check out the project and their finding aids, available online at

Guest Post by: Rebecca Hoffman Moore

An Example of Participatory Archiving in Washington, D.C.

            Archives come in all shapes and sizes, as those of us who live in Washington, D.C. are keenly aware. Perhaps you have taken a tour of the National Archives (either downtown or in College Park, MD) and sensed the immense nature of their collections. You may have also been able to pay a visit to your local historical society or archive, like I did in my hometown along the Jersey Shore. While likely much smaller in size and scope, these smaller archives are an important part of your community.

The D.C. Punk Archive, a special collection at the D.C. Public Library, is an example of one such smaller archive that has arisen from the need to document an underrepresented, but nonetheless historically important, component of Washington, D.C. history. Washington, D.C., as the nation’s capital, certainly has a large population, and each community within that population contributes to the city’s unique history. The punk rock community is no different, and the DC Punk Archive began in 2014 with a mission to document how this musical movement was shaped by social and economic factors, as well as how it spread its influence outside of the city.DC Punk Archive 2015

With an interest in an archive documenting punk as a Washington, D.C. phenomenon, archivists were tasked with locating materials to include. While not nearly as active as in the 1970s – 1990s, the punk community of Washington, D.C. is still alive and well in the District. But how would the archive convince people to donate their cassettes, zines, and concert posters? The DC Punk Archive devised a novel way to blend their outreach efforts with acquisition strategies. In 2014, the Archive hosted a Punk Rock Swap Meet, a concert where members of the community could gather and learn about the archive and its mission. While monetary donations were accepted, attendees were encouraged to bring their documents and artifacts of Washingtonian punk history as a kind of admission ticket. The result was a collection of various formats, including audio-visual, zines (journals), posters, and other art. The archive complemented these crowd-sourced collections with donations from punk historians and others, and they still accept donations through their website.

The emphasis on community participation in the DC Punk Archive is notable because this archive reflects the values of those it documents. In addition to this interesting acquisition effort, the archive hosts a variety of outreach events, including documentary screenings, concerts, and lectures. The amount of community participation, whether through donations or activities, is critical, because the collection is not done growing. Artists continue to produce work, and they may still have their personal collections tucked away. By inviting the community to participate in the archive through donations, and by continuing to offer them a welcome space to engage with the collections (both in person and digitally), the archive is fostering a relationship with its constituents that will likely benefit it in the future.

Now celebrating its first anniversary, the DC Punk Archive is a thriving resource for residents of Washington, D.C. and beyond. Its success has even sparked interest in a similar DC Go-Go Archive, which is following the same acquisition/outreach tactics. Only time will tell how these efforts to documents musical history in Washington, D.C., but the initial results seem promising. Archives dealing with living donor communities can take note of these practices to engage their donors throughout their lives. Not only can this demonstrate to donors that their belongings will be cared for, but it can also foster lasting relationships and contribute to more robust arrangement and description for collections when time is at a premium for such processing activities.

Guest Post by: Erin Sidwell

NationalCathedral            The category of church archives in Washington, DC can be said to be as old as the city itself, making them an intrinsic aspect of cultural heritage in the community.  The Holy Trinity Catholic Church was established in 1787, and its earliest surviving records date from 1792, just two years after the city of Washington, DC was founded.  The Holy Trinity Catholic Church Archive is an invaluable source of information, not only regarding the administration of the church as an institution, but also a source of information about the many people that have special ties to the church and the about community that grew out of it.

One institution that, surprisingly, did not have a designated archives from its beginnings is the Washington National Cathedral.  Its archive was not established until the 1980s by the voluntary leadership of Richard G. Hewlett.  Hewlett was the historiographer for the Washington National Cathedral, and he established the Cathedral archives in the 1980s.  This was not his first experience forming an archive; Hewlett was also historiographer for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington as well as the Atomic Energy Commission and established archives there, and prior to that he worked as an Intelligence Specialist for the U.S. Air Force (“Richard G. Hewlett, Co-Founder,” 2015). Richard-Hewlett

The Washington National Cathedral archives contain materials from the Cathedral’s founding and construction, including the frequently-referenced building plans and architectural drawings (“Cathedral archives,” 2015).  The accumulation of materials since then caused the archives to outgrow the available space at the Cathedral. Aside from being the person primarily responsible for archiving the collections, Hewlett can also be credited with the long-term preservation and accessibility of not only the Cathedral archives, but several others as well.  Hewlett was one of the co-founders of History Associates, Inc., a company that provides a variety of archives-related services, such as archiving, collections management, histories, and exhibits.


History Associates, Inc.  (2015). “Richard G. Hewlett, Co-founder.” Retrieved from

Washington National Cathedral. (2015). “Cathedral archives.”  Retrieved from

Guest post by: Bobby McHugh Westfall 

The Maryland Historical Society was incorporated in 1843 through the efforts of Brantz Mayer, a Baltimore attorney, and first met in 1844.  With historical records being treated carelessly throughout the states that made up the original thirteen colonies, societies organized to ensure their preservation for future generations. Maryland was no exception to these conditions, so in 1844 the Maryland Historical Society was founded, with its charter specifying that “its purpose was to collect documents.”[1] To this end, the state’s General Assembly passed a resolution to donate duplicate or decaying pre-revolutionary documents to the society, while the society solicited donations from Maryland’s societal elite in an 1844 circular, citing the risk of Maryland falling behind other states in preserving its history. [2]marylandhistoric171922mary_0007

In addition to preserving historical documents, the Maryland Historical Society functioned in its early decades as an elite social organization, growing as it gave the men of Maryland’s aristocracy, “within the realm of their historical work, a gentleman’s club where they opened a chess room, read the daily newspapers in the periodicals room, and gathered for monthly soirees.”[3] During this period the society also cemented its financial longevity with the establishment of an endowment in 1854, which was specifically intended to support only scholarly work and preservation of documents, not the social events or art gallery hosted by the society. This period of growth in the 1850s was ended abruptly by the bitter divisions of the Civil War which, reflecting broader conditions in border-state Maryland, set the society’s members against each other while current events distracted members from the task of preserving history. The society ended the war with substantially fewer members than when it began.[4]

The historical society’s mission grew in the twentieth century, with an emerging focus on recent history. Immediately following the First World War, the Maryland Historical Society began work to collect the records of its history, including “individual records of those who had served their country, the histories of military units, and accounts of activities that ‘contributed to the war effort’” as well as “ephemera such as posters, bonds, and photographs”[5] related to the war. When World War II broke out, the society’s membership built on the experience of preserving those records. Society President George Radcliffe advocated for the Maryland Historical Society to take on the job of preserving Maryland’s World War II records, and was granted the position in 1945.[6]

The Maryland Historical Society has a long history of collecting the records of its home state, and Maryland itself is “are deeply indebted to this institution for preserving much of [its] priceless archival heritage.”[7] In the present day, working with a budget of $2.5 million, the society preserves a collection numbering more than 7 million documents.[8] By preserving Maryland’s history, the Maryland Historical Society is an integral part of the communities that make up the state of Maryland. As the present executive director Mark Letzer describes it, the Maryland Historical society is Maryland’s memory and the repository of its past.[9]

In addition to its work as part of the first wave of American historical record preservation in the early nineteenth century, the Maryland Historical Society has contributed to the archival field through its commitment to publishing historical material. Early in the institution’s life, MdHS publications consisted of papers read by members and guests at meetings, covering a wide range of historical topics. Only a small number—usually one or two a year—were published as pamphlets, due to limited funds. This changed in the post-Civil War era when a donation from Baltimore philanthropist George Peabody, enriched the society’s endowment enough to support a larger publication program.[10]

The increase in funding enabled the society to publish more copies of its own collection items, of which only one, the journal of Charles Carrol of Carrolton, had been published prior to funding.[11] One of the most significant publications of the MdHS began in what Shelley calls the period of “Fund Publications.” The first volume of the Archives of Maryland series was published in 1883, under the authorization and funding of the state government. This series made colonial and revolutionary-era Maryland records available to readers and continued to be published by the MdHS until 1972, eventually reaching 72 volumes.[12] The series has been a significant source of information for numerous scholarly works on colonial Maryland including a study of colonial figure Dr. Thomas Gerard, begun as a genealogical study, and an examination of Protestant religious influences in originally Catholic Maryland, written in Indiana with the help of the Archives of Maryland series.[13] The series continues to be published by the Maryland State Archives, covering more recent documents.

By the early twentieth century, the society was ready to move into more organized, regular publishing, and launched a periodical, the quarterly Maryland Historical Magazine. Early on, the content of the magazine consisted mainly of articles on archival “source material, family genealogies, and articles on particular phases of Maryland history.”[14] This expanded in the middle of the century, as routine society news was moved to a separate pamphlet, and the magazine began to include book reviews. Shelley rates the magazine as the MDHS“most essential activity”[15] of the society after its preservation of historical manuscripts.

Today, the MdHS continues to publish the magazine, making issues published through the end of 2009 available online for free.[16] Furthermore, the society has expanded its publications to include books. There are currently 35 books in print from a catalog of over 100, distributed with the cooperation of Johns Hopkins University Press.[17] Through these outlets, the Maryland Historical Society builds on its contribution to the archival field as a groundbreaking institution in publishing original scholarly material based on the records it collects, both preserving history for future generations and participating in the scholarship that preservation facilitates.


“Archives of Maryland, All Volumes.” Archives of Maryland Online. Accessed October 18, 2015.

“Books,” Maryland Historical Society. Accessed October 18, 2015.

Shelley, Fred. “The Publication Program of the Maryland Historical Society.” American Archivist 15, no. 4 (1952): 311.

“Maryland Historical Magazine,” Maryland Historical Society. Accessed October 18, 2015.

“A History of the Maryland Historical Society, 1844–2000,” Maryland Historical Magazine, 101 (2006): 401–501

Case, Welsey. “Mark Letzer named Maryland Historical Society’s executive director.” Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD), Mar 13. 2013.

Ham, F. Gerald. “Archival Standards and the Posner Report: Some Reflections on the Historical Society Approach.” American Archivist 28, no. 2 (1965): 223–230

[1] “A History of the Maryland Historical Society, 1844–2000,” Maryland Historical Magazine, 101 (2006), p. 407.

[2] Ibid., 406–407

[3] Ibid., 420.

[4] Ibid., 420–423, 433

[5] Ibid., 457

[6] Ibid., 457, 475

[7] F. Gerald Ham, “Archival Standards and the Posner Report: Some Reflections on the Historical Society Approach,” American Archivist 28, no. 2 (1965): 223.

[8] Welsey Case, “Mark Letzer named Maryland Historical Society’s executive director,” Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD), Mar 13. 2013.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Fred Shelley, “The Publication Program of the Maryland Historical Society,” American Archivist 15, no. 4 (1952): 311

[11] Ibid., p. 312

[12] “Archives of Maryland, All Volumes,” Archives of Maryland Online. Accessed October 18, 2015.

[13] Shelley, 318.

[14] Ibid., 313.

[15] Ibid., 316.

[16] “Maryland Historical Magazine,” Maryland Historical Society. Accessed October 18, 2015.

[17] “Books,” Maryland Historical Society. Accessed October 18, 2015.

Today the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), a collaboration between the Library of Congress, WGBH Boston and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, launched a new website at According to the Library of Congress and other sources, the site will provide the public with access to a collection of American public radio and television content dating back to the 1950s. These audio and video materials, created by more than 120 public broadcasting organizations across the country, have now been digitized and preserved, and will be a resource for scholars, researchers, educators, filmmakers and the general public to delve into the rich history of public broadcasting across America.

The website will initially provide access to 2.5 million inventory records created during the American Archive Content Inventory Project. The records will provide information about which public media video and audio materials have been digitized and preserved in the AAPB, indicate which video and audio files are available for research on location at WGBH and the Library of Congress, and highlight the participating stations. Contributing stations’ histories, information about significant productions and resources for participating organizations will be available online.

More information about the collaboration is available on the American Archive blog at

Be sure to check out the Resources page for links to funding opportunities, professional organizations, cataloging guides and preservation tools.

ARTIFACTS: A photograph of Rosa Parks from the 1950s and a paper she wrote about segregation are among the letters, notes, and other personal items held by the Library of Congress.

The Rosa Parks Collection at the Library of Congress was formally opened to researchers, yesterday, February 4th which also was the birthday of the civil-rights icon.

The collection contains approximately 7,500 manuscripts and 2,500 photographs. Items in the Library’s Manuscript Division can be consulted during reading room hours; the pictures in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division will be available by appointment. Later this year, selected collection items will be accessible online.

The Rosa Parks Collection is on loan to the Library for 10 years from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. Read more at

Leave a comment to share what’s inside your archives. woman riding bicycle

Photo credit: The Historical Society of Washington, D.C (catalog # AL 019.06D)

Today, Jane Zhang and I met with Anne McDonough, Collections Manager at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. to learn about the history of their archives, history of record keeping and figures that impacted archival development. In our brief conversations, we touched on ideas worthy of several blog posts about this organization!

For this post, I will touch on the development of record keeping at the Historical Society. In the coming weeks, I’ll look into some of the figures and collection that showcase the development of archival practices at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

The Historical Society records from 1897 to 1989 are very organized. The members researched the history and topography of Washington DC and published their research and meeting notes in the Records of the Columbia Historical Society (the first records include the 36 founding member’s names and addresses in the section titled “Organization and Proceedings for 1894-’95 of the Columbia Historical Society”). As we learned in class, publishing records was an early preservation method employed by archives.

In 1989 the organization change its name to the Historical Society of Washington, D.C and began publishing its research in Washington History, the Society’s semi-annual scholarly journal. These and the earlier records are available on JSTORE. Through these published records, researchers have access to the history of the organization.

You can learn more about the Historical Society on their website at

Next time, I’ll share more about what’s inside the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

Guest blog by Rachel James

According to the Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology, diplomatics is “the study of the creation, form, and transmission of records, and their relationship to the facts represented in them and to their creator, in order to identify, evaluate, and communicate their nature and authenticity.”[i] Diplomatics as a study enables archivists to confirm authenticity of archival records, and in turn helps the records to be viewed as reliable sources for users. Luciana Duranti points as that some of the characteristics that are studied include “…the presence of different hands or types of writing in the same document, the correspondence between paragraphs and conceptual sections of the text, type of punctuation, abbreviations, initialisms, ink, erasures, corrections, etc.[ii]

Dom Jean Mabillon (Archives de France)

Figure 1. Dom Jean Mabillon (Archives de France)

Dom Jean Mabillon, a French Benedictine monk, wrote De re diplomatica, consequently creating the study of diplomatics in 1681. This followed the work of Daniel Papebroche, who had written stricter guidelines for differentiates real documents from forgeries. Mabillon emphasized public faith in archives and reliance on expertise of their gatekeepers.

During the 1960s, Theodore Schellenberg said, in so many words, that diplomatics is mainly for medieval documents and American archivists do not have much use for it.[iii] However, more recent archivists such as Luciana Duranti and Heather MacNeil continue to study and see if it can be applied today. An example of its use today was showcased in the U.S. National Archives and Record Administration’s magazine Prologue in regards to the U.S. Constitution. The author Henry Bain discussed details of the physical document of the Constitution in “Errors in the Constitution—Typographical and Congressional.” He noted the ways the scribe of the Constitution Jacob Shallus tried to add the words or concepts that had been left out which can be seen in the way the text was altered to include them; his penmanship and methods for correction could be compared to other documents of the day.

The work of Jacob Shallus, scribe of the Constitution. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Figure 2. The work of Jacob Shallus, scribe of the Constitution. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

To prevent future readers from thinking his corrections were forgeries, Shallus listed all of the corrections at the end of the Constitution. It brings to light issues of authenticity legally, historically, and in the lens of diplomatics. It also allows people to consider who are the actors and/or creators of the document and the relationships of all parties involved and how that relates to the execution of the document.

[i] “Diplomatics,” Society of American Archivists, accessed October 22, 2014,

[ii] Luciana Duranti, “Diplomatics: New Uses for an Old Science (Part V),” Archivaria 32, (Summer 1991): 7, accessed October 22, 2014,

[iii] Don C. Skemer, “Diplomatics and Archives,” American Archivist 52, (Summer 1989): 380, accessed October 22, 2014,

Arlington & Fairfax Railway

Arlington & Fairfax Railway Trailer #25, LeRoy O. King, photographer

From the Alexandria Library Archives

Before the Beltway; Streetcar Lines in Northern Virginia

Photographs from the Ames Williams Collection

The earliest electric railway, or streetcar line, in Northern Virginia dates from about 1892. The streetcar lines failed to compete with the automobile and, plagued with management and financial problems, ceased operations by the the early 1940s. The Ames Williams Collection includes 265 numbered photographic images organized in five books. This exhibition was drawn from the first book and displays the rolling stock of the several streetcar companies. Gift, 1979.

Recommended reading: Old Dominion Trolley Too; A History of the Mount Vernon Line, by John E. Merriken. Dallas, TX, LeRoy O. King, Jr., 1987. Reading material is available at the Alexandria Library, Special Collections Division.

Links to the collections:

Visit the Alexandria Library Archives to view more.