Today was the last day of my internship at the history center. It is amazing to think ten weeks went by so quickly and I am now done. This was undoubtedly a rewarding experience, as I learned to use PastPerfect software to catalog items within the collection and make them accessible for other users. More importantly, this internship gave me the opportunity to appreciate the value of local history centers. These institutions are vital to preserving local memory and documenting the lives of ordinary people. I became particularly interested in looking at the local impact of global events like World War II. Overall I enjoyed my experience at the history center. It greatly aided in giving me much needed experience for the job market and gave me another way of appreciating the role of archives for preserving memory and making the information accessible to the public.
While I have found items related to cooking or war, today I cataloged an item sobering to read, but important to preserve. I came across a copy of the 1923 by-laws for the Monroe County chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in one of the boxes, which was initially surprising to find. Reading through it was not easy, and the requirements to even become a member were certainly harrowing to read. Though the Ku Klux Klan should not be honored in any way, preserving their history is important to educate others about the hate and violence the Klan has used against minorities and those who they deem a threat to their well being. Even though reading the by-laws was uncomfortable, I remembered history is supposed to introduce uncomfortable topics in order to challenge our perceptions and better educate us about controversial topics.
Today my supervisor informed me I made a small mistake when I put the re-labeled boxes back on the shelves. At some point I inadvertently labeled Box 6 as Box 5, meaning there were now two Box 5’s on the shelf, and subsequently making all boxes I subsequently renamed also mislabeled. While I hoped this was just a minor mistake I could fix by simply slapping new label stickers to the boxes, I realized this was not the case once I started going through the materials to see if I had mislabeled their locations. As I went through what was supposed to be Box 6, I discovered I had entered items in Box 6 as being in Box 5, meaning I had to go back and change all the locations to the correct location. Unfortunately this was not limited to just Box 6, as what was supposed to be Box 7 was now labeled as Box 6 and what was supposed to Box 8 was labeled as Box 7. Luckily the latter two boxes were quickly fixed by changing their labels, but by the end of the day I realized how tenuous, yet important, giving the correct labels is when organizing information for others to locate. The problem was indeed solved, but it certainly gave me a valuable lesson for organizing collections.
One aspect I like about looking through old cookbooks is discovering how food safety has evolved. While one could easily argue sardine salad is not safe for consumption, reading about chemicals used in food can be frightening. Reading through the old cookbooks gives a good example of how food safety has evolved over the last 50-60 years.
In this case, I found a 1950s cookbook titled, “Calorie Saving Recipes Using Sucaryl.” I was not familiar with sucaryl, but I was certainly intrigued by its apparent usefulness. Drinks suddenly became sweeter and cakes tasted better through the wonders of Sucaryl. After looking it up though, it became apparent it was more dangerous than useful for food. Sucaryl, whose chemical name is as sodium cyclamate, is an artificial sweetener that has been banned in the United States since 1970 due to concerns about causing cancer. Though it has been banned in the U.S., it is still used in European countries and Canada. Cooking is one of my favorite things to do, so reading the cookbooks held at the history center has given me a new appreciation for food safety and has also given me some chuckles looking at recipes I would never attempt to make.
When I pulled the box I was supposed to work on off the shelf, I did not expect it to be the most challenging box I have cataloged during the course of the internship. As I began looking for items in PastPerfect, the history center’s cataloging software, it became apparent the entirety of the box’s contents were in fact not cataloged at all, meaning I had to essentially start from scratch and enter each item in individually. I did not think to count how many sheets of paper I cataloged from this particular box, but I would estimate it was around 250 sheets of paper at least.
While not an overly challenging process, it did get tedious quickly, meaning I had to stay focused. Entering items into Past Perfect is a multi-step process requiring me to do the following:
- Enter the item into the existing accession record.
- Give the item a catalog number.
- Create appropriate metadata, including what the item is and dates.
- Scan the item into the system to create a thumbnail, and give the thumbnail appropriate metadata.
- Attach thumbnail with document record.
- Enter the location of the box holding the document.
The entire process took two days, and left me exhausted mentally. That being said, I quickly gained newfound appreciation for what I have learned from my classes. Considering my specialization is in archives, I now have a better understanding of why it is vital to catalog items using established principles so users can find the information and archivists do not have to backtrack and catalog undiscovered items. Even though it was challenging, it is safe to say this particular box provided a valuable learning experience.
As written previously, I love leafing through old cookbooks and finding recipes that today seem outlandish. Today I discovered “Kitchen Craft: The Natural System of Cooking.” Personally, I’m not a big fan of cake. I worked in catering and became burned out on cake after working so many weddings.
Despite my hesitance toward cake, I found myself looking at the cake recipes and marveling at the variety contained within. Among the cakes I looked at, I found one oddly titled Health Cake. Looking at the recipe, it quickly became apparent this was not a cake using healthier ingredients to give health conscious eaters a lighter option. Instead, this cake utilizes a cup of soft butter and two kinds of flour in addition to raisins and nuts. Once it is ready for baking, the cake is placed in a baking dish coated with even more butter, making me wonder when the cake becomes healthy. Interestingly, I catered a wedding featuring only vegan options, including the cake. That cake was certainly healthier, but the taste I’m sure was nothing like health cake.
Among the items I cataloged today is a newsletter printed by the American Red Cross titled, “Red Cross Prisoners of War Bulletin,” dated September 1943. These bulletins were delivered to families whose relatives were prisoners of war across the world. Topics covered included information on the locations of prison camps and the conditions within the camps.
Part of my interest in World War II relates to the home front, and the sacrifices made by American civilians for the war effort. Working at the history center has helped broaden my understanding of how families coped with the war. This particular issue was addressed to Helen Thrasher, whose son, William, was a POW captured by the Japanese and killed in captivity in 1944. Prisoners of war held by the Japanese were subjected to terrible conditions, so undoubtedly these newsletters provided valuable information to assure families of the well being of their relatives.
I am always interested in finding items that seem random, but are nonetheless fascinating. Today I found an award certificate from the American Bowling Congress for Eberle Hardware in Bloomington. Eberle Hardware won the local league championship for the 1956-1957 season.
Since I collect baseball cards, I found similarities between the cards I collect and this certificate. In addition to my internship this summer, I have been writing a paper detailing the historical value of the information featured on sports cards. Similar to cards, this certificate chronicles a team achievement, in this case Eberle Hardware’s championship, and serves to document how people pass the time.
One of the things I have loved about going through items is the amount of cookbooks and little kitchen gadgets contained within the boxes. I personally love to cook, and I’m always up for looking through a cookbook for new recipe. The book I found today, “The Salad Bowl,” piqued my interest as it is devoted to the wonders of mayonnaise and all that can be accomplished with this gelatinous condiment. Personally, I like mayo, but in limited quantities like on a sandwich or in chicken or tuna salad. Though I love tuna salad, I was not prepared to discover sardine salad in “The Salad Bowl,” and I was left wondering how anyone could eat that. I have no problems with eating sardines, after all they are great for the memory, but mixed with mayo? I’ll pass, but thanks just the same. I’ve included a picture for everyone’s enjoyment and possibly for their reference if they are so inclined to try this strange concoction.
Among the items I cataloged today were materials related to the American Battle Monuments Commission, a government organization tasked with overseeing the maintenance and care of U.S. military cemeteries and monuments overseas. The items I cataloged were pamphlets and correspondence between the ABMC and the family of C. Donald Hayes, a Bloomington resident who died in Europe during World War II. The correspondence explains to Hayes’ family the benefits of burying the remains in Europe rather than shipping them across the Atlantic Ocean en route to Bloomington for final burial. Hayes was ultimately buried at Cambridge American Cemetery, which is located in England.
These items piqued my interest as they reminded me of my trip through Germany in 2014. On our way to France, we traveled through Luxembourg and visited the U.S. and German cemeteries located outside Luxembourg City. The American cemetery is overseen by the ABMC and among the soldiers buried there is General George S. Patton. Since we happened to visit the cemetery on June 6, 2014, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, we watched local residents lay a wreath at Patton’s grave. After returning from Germany, I wrote my final paper on the role of military cemeteries as objects of memory and reconciliation, which started a fascination with the ABMC and their work.