My first experience working in an archive began several years ago when I took a part-time position as a Curatorial Assistant at the University of Florida’s Special and Area Studies Collections in Gainesville, FL. At the time, I was a graduate student in Early Modern European History, and other than tentative plans to continue my studies and eventually earn a PhD (or enter the museum world), I had no idea where the theoretical work in my courses would take my career. In the archives, I helped arrange and describe several collections in a wide variety of topics, ranging from the congressional papers of former Florida Senator George Smathers to the watercolor drawings of Wells Sawyer, and helped digitize photographs in the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings collection. The bulk of my work involved the processing, transcription, and item-level deacidification and enacapsulation of several Civil War-era collections. I felt very lucky to work for a fantastic team of archivists at the University of Florida, and thoroughly enjoyed learning the practical skills involved in arranging and preserving a collection and then making it available for research. I realized that a career as an archivist would allow me to share my love for the “tangible” side of history with others.
This realization led me to apply for the Advanced Certificate in Archives at NYU after earning my M.A. from the University of Florida. While my time in the Archives and Public History program was brief, it was enough to give me a strong theoretical background in the history of our profession, and enabled a stronger practical application of that theory by working in several new repositories, creating internet archives and online exhibits for the first time, and collaborating with other future archivists. Due to my status as an NYU graduate student, I was able to enroll in several free seminars held by Columbia University on special collections and archives in NYC, and through this gained incredible experiences, including listening to one of the curators at the Morgan Library discuss his experience working with medieval manuscripts while simultaneously examining the illuminated pages in a small circle of scholars. The NYU program also allowed for a semester-long internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives where I surveyed unprocessed material and created basic accession records. I also held part-time positions at the NYU Archives, where I assisted patrons with research requests, and the Barbara Goldsmith Paper Conservation Laboratory, where I helped flatten, mend, and clean over 1500 eighteenth and nineteenth-century tri-folded documents from the Sylvester Manor Papers.
The NYU Archives and Public History program opened up many new opportunities that I may not have had otherwise. I received two travel grants through the program, which helped fund my travel to the 2010 MARAC conference in Wilmington, Delaware, and the 2010 SAA conference in Washington D.C., where I gave a poster presentation on The Civil War and the Southernmost State: Highlights from the P.K. Yonge Florida History Collection, the internet archive and online exhibit I created in the Creating Digital History course. I also received the summer fellowship at the Mudd Manuscript Library in Princeton, NJ, where I processed two collections, encoded finding aids in EAD, assisted remote researchers, and co-curated and helped promote John F. Kennedy: From Old Nassau to the New Frontier, an exhibition commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the election of John F. Kennedy.
Despite being very concerned about the state of the job market, I was able to find a position immediately after completing my fellowship (in other words- have no fear, current graduate students! There is hope, I promise!) Currently, I am the Project Archivist at the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs , where I helped create a website (to be launched next month at www.afs.org/archives), installed a content management system, and am processing 175 cubic feet of World War I and II archival material. Working primarily as a “lone arranger” in my position is a new experience for me, and yet due to my connections made through the NYU program and my other positions as an archivist, I rarely feel like one. While my coursework has certainly given me the necessary skills to complete my job efficiently and effectively, I am always able to reach out to a network of archivists to trade ideas, discuss the practical application of theory, or just ask for advice should (or when) I need it. While my time at NYU lasted less than a year, I have no doubt that the positive effects of this program and the professional relationships I fostered as a result will continue to positively impact my entire career.
Posted March 2011