Emily Brown

The Archival Management program provides a unique path for students beginning a new career, but is equally beneficial for adults seeking a career change. Prior to becoming an archivist, I worked in the corporate sector for many years. Although I didn’t realize it then, being laid off in 1991 represented the first of many steps toward an archival career. During that year I participated in protests to preserve the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan and served as a historical researcher and public educator for the Office of Public Education and Interpretation of the African Burial Ground Project (OPEI). As a result, I got to know the holdings of various repositories in the city.  My layoff also inspired me to renew my efforts to obtain higher education, first at City University of New York, followed by Columbia University, where I majored in history. I was uncertain about how to use my degree until my graduate advisor, the late Dr. Manning Marable, former Director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS), taught a seminar in which he spoke about the value of archives. Since history was a prerequisite for entering archival studies, he encouraged me to use Columbia’s consortium program to earn credits while ‘testing out’ NYU’s archival program.

I was very fortunate to have Peter Wosh as an advisor.  He provided a solid foundation in the history and theory, and assigned a practicum at the Manuscript Division of the New York Public Library that contributed to my special interest in manuscripts and personal papers.  I gained practical day-to-day experience from Nancy Cricco, director of NYU’s University Archives, where I worked as an archival assistant while attending classes. In my final year, I conducted an independent study, and with Nancy’s guidance produced an article “Revisiting the Separate Sphere: Women’s Education at New York University,” published in Metropolitan Archivist (Vol. 8, No. 2) and on the University Archives web site as a “Select Guide to Women’s History Collections.”

I graduated with an archival certificate in 2003 and Peter helped me to secure a position at the Research Institute for the Study of Man (RISM), a non-profit organization founded by Vera Dourmashkin Rubin (1911-1985). Rubin, who was born in Russia, became an anthropologist when few women were in the field. RISM was headquartered in a town house on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and included a comprehensive library on Caribbean studies; one of the primary regions where Rubin conducted research. After her death, the library declined and eventually became defunct. Rubin’s papers, and those of several colleagues, were left in the basement for many years. Although it was hard work, I am proud I was able to survey the material and arrange and describe several notable collections, including the Vera Rubin Papers. Some years later I was given an opportunity to collaborate on an article about another RISM collection with Jorge I. Giovanetti, a scholar at the University of Puerto Rico. “A Hidden Window Into Cuban History: The Carl Withers Manuscript Collection at New York University” was published in Institute of Caribbean Studies, UPR, Rio Piedras Campus.

In 2005 RISM’s staff was informed that NYU was going to purchase RISM’s library and archives and their jobs would be ending when the transfer was complete. I applied for a fellowship from ARL to attend Pratt Institute and in 2007 graduated with an MLIS specialization in archives. Soon after I learned about Harvard University’s unique Administrative Fellowship Program, open to anyone interested in developing professional leadership skills within an academic setting.  During the year I participated in the program, I was encouraged to take advantage of strong networks formed by Harvard librarians and in 2008 obtained my current position at the Schlesinger Library for the History of Women in America, which is in many ways is my “dream job.” In addition to the manuscript collections and personal papers that represent a broad range of women’s issues, Schlesinger Library has adapted the best practices of the archival profession, successfully blending traditional methods with current trends in digital technology and social media.

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