On Thursday, February 15th, Ina Dillard Russell Library held its first African American Read-In, an opportunity that invites students, faculty, and staff to read from the works of their favorite authors and some of the most remarkable African Americans in our history. It is meant to serve as a sort of “open mic” celebration, where participants are encouraged to recite and/or perform pieces of creative nonfiction, fiction, spoken word, poetry, etc. About 70 students, as well as numerous faculty and staff, participated in the event.
Special Collections was asked to create a small exhibit to supplement the read-in, to create a display for students to not only to consider, but interact with. We decided to set our focus on three local and influential African American individuals — Former Georgia State Senator Floyd L. Griffin Jr.; Reverend Wilkes B. Flagg, founder of Flagg Chapel Baptist Church; and well-renowned activist and author, Alice Walker. For each, we picked memorabilia, documents, and other artifacts from each respective collection that represented their greatest and most stirring accomplishments. Because the exhibit operates on a small scale, narrowing the materials proved difficult. Continue reading “The Exhibit for the First Annual African American Read-In”→
You first heard of W.J. Usery, Jr. last spring when several of us in Special Collections drove out to the former Secretary of Labor’s estate to collect some of his materials. I wrote a blog post on what it means to do an “archival appraisal.” We spent a morning sorting through memorabilia, packaging picture frames, and cataloguing information we would need after acquiring his collection.
This semester we’ve cleared shelf space within the archive to make room for Usery’s dense and impressive collection. We joke that he is becoming this academic year’s James C. Bonner, meaning we expect Usery materials to pop up well after we’ve closed each box and considered the collection finished. Not unlike Floyd Griffin, a phrase Brendan and I have come to use quite frequently while cataloguing Usery’s materials is “this man did everything.” From being one of the greatest allies and progressive forces for labor union workers to mediating some of the United States’ biggest disputes, Usery’s positive influence has directly and indirectly touched the lives of many. From awards of high recognition and honor to framed photographs with Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, and others, it’s easy to see from these materials that Usery had a hand in political change for decades. Continue reading “Usery: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”→
It is officially October, and though pumpkin-flavored everything and sunset colored leaves are certainly indications, we know it is October for a more particular reason: October means Georgia Archives Month. Organized by the Society of Georgia Archivists in 1969, GAM represents 100 repositories that cherish historical records. Georgia College is one of those repositories.
This year, the theme is called “Come on in, Y’all! Accessible Archives in Georgia.” We’ve decided to focus on ways in which the Ina Dillard Russell Library has changed and developed over the years, how its resources have become more accessible to students, faculty, and visiting researchers and writers. Using information and materials located within our archive, we’ve designed a digital exhibit to display on a touch screen in the Atrium of the Library, found on the first floor near Books & Brew.
What do you get when you cross an uncensored and sexually exploitative art show put on by GCSU’s Art Department with a cacophony of performance reactions and concerns?
You get “Mexotica.”
In 2004, an art show put on by performance artist and writer Guillermo Gomez-Pena and a number of volunteers, in conjunction with the school’s Art Department, was held in Russell Auditorium. The reactions erupted discussion that traverses the entire spectrum.
Gomez-Pena works in a number of artistic mediums exploring cross-cultural issues, immigration, and the politics of language. His mixing and blending of genres and art forms, of truth and fiction, seeks to create a “total experience” for the viewer/reader. He is the creator of La Pocha Nostra–an online collaborative art laboratory for performance artists to link up and connect with other rebel artists. Its main function is to destroy borders separating people by race, gender, and other cultural differences. La Pocha Nostra’s mission statement is “to provide a base for a loose network and forum of rebel artists from various disciplines, generations, and ethnic backgrounds.” The term is meant to represent Mexican empowerment and to praise abnormality and indecency. Click on this interview for Guillermo’s detailed explanation of the where the name originates from.
The school’s Colonnade featured several articles of audience reaction following the performance. President Dorothy P. Leland, who was newly appointed president at the time, is quoted in the articles. Mexotica was the first visual arts performance she attended at GCSU, and what a way to acclimate her to the fine arts within the university. Gomez-Pena allowed students the freedom to wear what they wanted to wear and to perform what they wanted to perform and I think that’s one of the most important factors that went in to all of this. Performance is about trusting other artists. One student told The Colonnade that she felt like she was in the red light district; others felt it was fuel to confront issues regarding sexual exploitation. Continue reading “Mexotic-huh?”→
Dr. Bob Wilson of Georgia College spends many of his afternoons in the research room of Special Collections, rifling through stacks of folders and pages of books from the archive, as he updates the college’s history. Recently he stopped by to request help in locating a very specific, rather unusual item. He recalls a story he heard from a dinner party thrown by Dr. James C. Bonner several years ago. Somewhere in Bonner’s collection existed an elusive “Dandelion Wine” recipe. Mikaela and I vaguely recalled coming across a wine recipe of sorts, but where it lay within the stacks, we had no idea where to begin. Bonner’s papers house eight shelves in the archive, an entire section of an aisle. We knew finding the recipe would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Dr. Bob first learned of the recipe through Dr. George Kirk, the chair of his graduate program at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He invited Dr. Bob to a dinner party where they enjoyed the distinct yellow colored wine. “The idea was cool, but I wasn’t a big fan then. So hopefully now, my tastes have changed.” He remembers it being very potent. Dr. Bob had forgotten about the wine until Dr. Ralph Hemphill, former Vice President and Dean of Faculties of Georgia College from 1968-2002, shared a story with him from a dinner party Bonner held years ago. Hemphill worked with Bonner, who was head of the social studies department at the time.They often saw each other outside of the university. Since his conversation with Hemphill, Dr. Bob has wanted to give the recipe a go himself. Continue reading “Wine Not?”→
As graduate assistants working in Special Collections, Mikaela and I have gotten hands-on experience in just about every step of what it means to sustain a collection and/or donation. We’ve inventoried materials from the acquisitions room, we’ve processed and re-processed documents, and we’ve learned about the actions taken to seek out a collection. But how do we get there? How do the items in the acquisitions room come to be in our possession? Suffice it to say they do not magically appear though that would certainly make things easier, wouldn’t it? Of course, that wouldn’t make for as interesting a story…
Recently we took our first “field trip” (as I like to call it) out to Lake Sinclair in Milledgeville to appraise personal items at the home of William Julian Usery, Jr., a labor union activist who served in the Ford and Nixon Administrations and was eventually named United States Secretary of Labor under Ford. Born in Hardwick, Georgia, W.J. Usery attended Georgia Military College and later enlisted in the Navy as an underwater welder on a repair ship in the Pacific Feet. He’s also widely known for being a special mediator in resolving labor conflicts. When we arrived at his home, we met with Doug Heene, executor of W.J. Usery Jr.’s estate. Doug was Mr. Usery’s assistant in his consulting business. We came into his acquaintance through Melvin Usery, W.J. Usery’s son, who hoped to have several of his father’s possessions detailing his accomplishments placed in an archive. We’re grateful he’s chosen Georgia College and the town in which W.J. Usery grew up to do so.
Appraisal is defined by the National Archives as “the process of determining the value and thus the final disposition of Federal Records, making them either temporary and permanent.” The National Archives and Records Administration “works with interested parties to ensure that essential evidence is created, identified, appropriately scheduled and managed for as long as needed.” I asked Digital Archivist, Holly Croft, what appraisal has come to mean for her. She describes it as a more three-dimensional act, looking at the entire picture.
“There’s this belief that archives are ‘neutral’ and there’s a concern in the community today about the difficulty of keeping everything. There’s just no way to keep every single scrap of paper. You want to be sure you’re getting the items that are most representative of the contribution the person made.” In Usery’s case, we were concerned with showcasing his contributions in labor relations on the national level, but also Usery as a person. Some of the objects featured in this blog post, such as what we’ve dubbed, “The Dung Pony”, exemplify this. (Scroll down for a detailed picture). Holly says, “It’s really about creating the story of who the person is. It’s not a neutral act; it is making a judgment call. You have to be aware of biases, think about who is going to be using this information in the future, and do your research on whose stuff is being appraised.”
For the acquisition, Special Collections’ Associate Director Nancy Davis Bray, did an initial appraisal to ensure what we are getting has enduring value. Nancy believes she has an “unorthodox opinion” of appraisal. “I recognize the pedagogy surrounding appraisal and try my best to abide by it, but there are times when you need to go past it, in that, not only are you accepting and soliciting materials, but you also need items that illustrate the person for exhibition.” She believes in an approach of “take more and then use a discerning eye later.” In other words, you do an initial appraisal and later take a closer look at what you’ve acquired.
Georgia State University owns W.J. Usery’s paper materials, oral histories, and speeches, while we have come into possession of his personal belongings: airplane model collections, hard hats in memory of his work in labor unions, framed certificates of his accomplishments, etc. during this appraisal.
On the day of the appraisal, Nancy, Holly, Mikaela, and I walked into a two story condominium filled with Usery memorabilia – empty boxes, packaging tape, and bubble wrap in hand. Doug showed us around and instructed us what was now Georgia College’s to take and, with that, we got to work. What seemed on the outside like another overwhelming game of tetris ended up being an entertaining and enlightening insight into who W.J. Usery, Jr. was. There’s a really nice pay-off to a task like this. Beforehand, we learned about Usery in the professional sense – what he did as Secretary of Labor, and what he will be remembered for doing. Boxing his personal items for the archive feels like part responsibility, part voyeurism. But I say this in a good way. I got to learn who Usery was as a person as well as outside of his career. The more I work in Special Collections, the more I realize the significance in knowing what the archive holds. It’s one thing to be familiar with the contents of the collections, but it’s another to know something of the people they’re about or the people who donated them. People come to this space to learn, to research, and it’s a good feeling knowing you helped them in their pursuit.
Below is a closer look at some of the items Nancy, Holly, Mikaela, and I came across in our appraisal that helped to create a full, three dimensional shape of who W.J. Usery was and will remain in his legacy.
Two different hard hats in relation to the unions W. J. Usery Jr. was affiliated with. The left picture is from the Boilermakers Union and the right features Mikaela wearing the Space Team hat, in association with Usery’s involvement in the Kennedy Space Center.
Below are two framed political cartoons we found among other framed photographs.
What made the work extra special at the end of it all was getting to end the day with this lake view from W. J. “Bill” Usery Jr.’s backyard.
Many tasks presented to us in Special Collections can prove a bit overwhelming in their seemingly bottomless scope, and familiarizing ourselves with the acquisitions room was no different. A room full of boxes piled on top of each other in unfitting ways, like an awkward game of Tetris. It didn’t help that all three of us — Mikaela, Aurora, and I — have height working against us, the boxes towering over our heads and concealing several corners of the room. Still, the three of us got to work.
Going into this assignment, I thought it would be similar to how we processed the James C. Bonner papers. In some ways, yes, the two overlap; the same basic principle of sorting through materials and dusty documents is consistent, but I soon learned assessing inventory is very different. The acquisitions room contains donated materials that have yet to be sorted through, so the boxes’ contents are unknown. The Bonner papers, which have become infamous here for its infinity (we’ll probably still be processing newly found pieces of Bonner ephemera by the time I’m a third year, which Holly has firmly informed me is not allowed), was a series that already had several eyes peer through its contents and several hands sift through its manila folders before Mikaela and I tackled it. Our job there was to reprocess. Inventory, on the other hand, is a first look at what we’ve got. Several boxes marked with sticky notes or permanent marker from their respective donors gave us an idea of what the contents were, but beyond that we were unsure, and that is what inventory intends to uncover. We soon learned that white cotton gloves and surgical masks were necessary. And this is where the adventure begins…