A New Year and Archives 101

August 21, 2017 wasn’t just the coolest event I’ve witnessed (the total solar eclipse); it was also the first day of the fall semester here at Georgia College.

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The total eclipse, as seen from Greenwood, SC.

It brought an end to a very busy summer for Special Collections. Caroline Fry, our summer intern, has now left us, but we’ve added two new service learning fellows and one new graduate assistant. You’ll continue to see Miranda Campbell around these parts, but now we have Brendan Starr, Shayla Burnett, and Catherine James with us as well. As they write posts, we’ll introduce them properly.

Some of our summer adventures made it into blog posts or onto our Facebook page, but one that has not until now is the Archives 101 class I co-taught on August 5th. Special Collection sponsored the Society of Georgia Archives’ event, that was held at the Ina Dillard Russell Library at Georgia College, which provided basic archives training to librarians, historians, and volunteers with historical and genealogical organizations who were responsible for archival materials. We welcomed 20 attendees to the Ina Dillard Russell Library to talk through acquisitions, processing, preservation, access, and outreach — yes, in one day! Continue reading “A New Year and Archives 101”

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Mexotic-huh?

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?”

When History Gets Dirty You Mask Up! A Glance at Inventory in Three Perspectives: Part 3, Weird and Funny Anecdotes from our Inventory

The inventory of the acquisitions room is a task that I believed would take us an infinite amount of time to complete considering the daunting amount of boxes, papers, and files I could see from first glance. The room was dusty and freezing, and as we set up a large standard gray folding table and some chairs as a workspace within this cluttered room I hoped my initial assessment was wrong. On our first day we put some boxes onto a rolling cart to bring over to the table, and as soon as we put two boxes onto the table, it collapsed. Mikaela and I frantically rushed to one-handedly catch a thirty pound box stacked full with paper before it fell off one end of the table as we both also held up the bottom of the table with our thighs. We were in limbo waiting for someone to come rescue us from outside the acquisition room doors. Unfortunately, Miranda was locked out and knocking on the door, worried about the chaos she could hear erupting inside. We were off to a great start.

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The acquisitions room pre-inventory.

Our first day already foreshadowed an interesting, dirty, educational, and physically challenging (though laughter filled) job. We quickly realized that this task would not take us an eternity, as I feared, but would be a brief evaluation and organization of the contents in the room. The first thing that caught my attention was a rat-eaten and mold-covered book that Mikaela found. It was with fascination that I observed the fragility of the object and the destruction that was growing on it. The bizarre sights didn’t stop there; they kept coming, and among other things, I learned to distinguish active mold from inactive mold!

Continue reading “When History Gets Dirty You Mask Up! A Glance at Inventory in Three Perspectives: Part 3, Weird and Funny Anecdotes from our Inventory”

When History Gets Dirty, You Mask Up! A Glance at Inventory in Three Perspectives: Part 2, Repeat Offenders (A Look at Mold, Decay, Rats, and Bugs)

“If you see live bugs, get out and tell us. If you see mold, come get us right away. Good luck.”

If you heard those words out loud, I’m not sure what you’d expect, but I’ve learned to expect an adventure in the acquisitions room. On our first day, this was the short warning we received before we began sifting through uncharted items. With every uncharted course, however, there are also a few adventures and dangers. After hearing a rundown of bug damage, how to tell if mold is active or not — if it’s standing up, you’ve got a problem — we were left to our task. Everything else was on the go, hands-on learning.

With all the potential problems in store, walking into the acquisitions room kind of felt like walking into a minefield. I don’t think any of us had any idea what was in store for us. I know that I didn’t think that it could possibly be that bad. While the threats of bugs and other natural calamities hung over our heads, they seemed like possibilities that wouldn’t come true — not in our collection! I can’t even begin to say how wrong I was.

Life in the archive sometimes feels a little like being in an alternate reality where the ultimate law is Murphy’s law — everything that can go wrong will. And while working with acquisitions, this seemed doubly so. Just a few days in, we encountered our first problem — a box labeled with a sticky note: “Inactive mold. Caution. Do not open.” This was the first time I had encountered any of the problems we were warned about, and I probably should have heeded that like an omen. Just a few days later, the floodgates were open, on the most fitting day of the week, a Monday.

To start off our morning, we first encountered audiovisual decay of two types — vinegar syndrome and sticky shed. These occur when audiovisual materials begin to break down whether through their natural life span or through outside elements like increased humidity. This whole adventure started off when Miranda pulled a box off one of the shelves that reeked of vinegar, which we identified as vinegar syndrome.

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Its actual scientific name? Acetate film base degradation. But after opening a box to the sharp, pungent smell almost like a rag soaked in a vinegar bath (at least this is how I described it to my mother to get my point across), you quickly learn to call it by its more common name — vinegar syndrome. This happens as film material degrades, shriveling up and falling apart, and quickly becoming irretrievable. These symptoms are generally accelerated by storage in warm and humid conditions. Once it starts, the film is gone quickly. Media prone to vinegar syndrome should be stored in cold and dry storage, and if you suspect vinegar syndrome might be onset, diagnose it quickly to save the material. Unfortunately, this particular tape was unsalvageable. Continue reading “When History Gets Dirty, You Mask Up! A Glance at Inventory in Three Perspectives: Part 2, Repeat Offenders (A Look at Mold, Decay, Rats, and Bugs)”

Hello from Penitentiary Square!

Welcome to Georgia College, home to a beautiful campus in Milledgeville, Georgia. Walking around, a visitor would have little notion of the area’s original use in the town. Milledgeville was the home of Georgia’s first penitentiary, which was located in the very square where the college is located.

In 1811, Georgia allocated funds for the penitentiary, which officially began accepting prisoners in 1817 and existed until the 1880s. Legend has it that Sherman burned the penitentiary on his March to the Sea, but according to records and firsthand accounts from November 23, 1864, it already was engulfed in flames by the time his soldiers arrived. After the war, Governor Joe Brown was convinced that inmates had set the fire in hopes that it would be pinned on the Union troops, and he fought vigorously against restoring the prison. In his mind, it was “a school for theft, lawlessness and villany” and “a den of thieves.” The citizens of Milledgeville, also, disliked having the penitentiary in the middle of town. However, despite its many detractors, it remained on one of the main squares in Milledgeville, being restored and expanded for even greater prisoner capacity.

After the Civil War, the population of the penitentiary tripled, and the population became three-fourths African-American. Prior to the Civil War, offenses by slaves were punished on plantations, but after the war, the state became responsible for penal functions for all citizens. In 1868, Georgia moved to a “convict lease” system, a predecessor of the notorious chain gangs of later decades. This leasing system incentivized localities and the state to have a “good supply” of prisoners (particularly new freedmen) at all times to ensure funds were raised to help pay for state and local services. By 1870, 85% of the prisoners at the penitentiary in Milledgeville were African-American and only seven were not “leased out” to companies. In 1897, Georgia created the position of state prison warden and established a prison farm two miles west of Milledgeville. Convict leasing officially ended in 1908, but as the prison farm could only accommodate 600 convicts, the chain gang system increased in usage. Continue reading “Hello from Penitentiary Square!”