By Karen Emmons, Archivist/Librarian, Historic Charleston Foundation
In July, I received a phone call from Birmingham, Alabama, regarding a donation of historic documents pertaining to the house at 72 Tradd Street in Charleston, the earliest of which dated back to 1765. The call was from the son of the owners of the house from 1980-1995 who discovered the collection of documents among the belongings of his recently deceased mother. I accepted the donation as it seemed like it would enhance the documentation already on file for the large double tenement known as the Fotheringham-McNeil Tenements. My hunch was right! About a week later, the large package arrived, and secured between two wooden covers of this giant book was an archive of several historic deeds and other property conveyance documents dating from 1765 to 1960. These documents represent the entire ownership history of 72-74 Tradd during that time period.
But questions remained: Who had assembled this amazing book and why and how did it end up in Alabama? All of the documents were contained in protective sleeves and many of the oldest ones appeared to have been mended and conserved. The wood cover was carefully crafted, with the address etched onto the front. It was obvious that whoever assembled the book did so out of love for both the house and for the documents. I and my colleague Katherine Pemberton (HCF's Manager of Research & Education) marveled over the contents as we went through the book page-by-page to try to discover a clue. It was there, on the last page … a blueprint drawn for Mr. and Mrs. Thomas E. Thornhill.
Thomas (“Tommy”) Thornhill is well-known and beloved by Historic Charleston Foundation. He is a long-time preservationist, serving on HCF’s Board of Trustees for almost 30 years (including 3 years as president), and he continues to be active. Katherine and I immediately felt that it had to have been Mr. Thornhill who had assembled the book. And so another hunch became reality when Katherine called Mr. Thornhill to tell him about the donation. As soon as she said the words “package from Birmingham,” he knew exactly what the phone call was about and was overjoyed that his beloved book had returned home at last.
As it turns out, Mr. Thornhill had acquired all of the deeds, etc., upon purchasing the house in 1958, and he had the foresight to send the oldest documents to the SC Dept. of Archives & History for conservation. Next, he and his wife stitched three sides of the protective sleeves that had been made. The documents were inserted into the sleeves, thus further protecting them from wear-and-tear. The sleeves were then bound between the two wood covers, held in place by screws, making it possible to easily remove the sleeves. Photographs that illustrate some of the changes made to the house were also added. And finally, using a wood-burning tool, Mr. Thornhill etched the title 72 Tradd onto the cover.
It turns out that the book had been gifted to the new owners when the Thornhills sold it but when the house was left vacant for some time in the 1980s, Mr. Thornhill tried to retrieve it. The owner refused but he didn’t give up and for many years, even after she moved to Birmingham, he continued trying to convince her to return the book to him to no avail. As Mr. Thornhill shared with me and Katherine, “I never stopped thinking about that book or wishing it would return to Charleston.”
Mr. Thornhill’s wish came true and so the book he created has come full circle. The "story" of 72 Tradd Street has come home in remarkable condition! Hopefully, the book will be digitized and added to HCF's many collections on the Lowcountry Digital Library. The original will remain safe in HCF’s Archives and accessible to researchers.
Thomas Thornhill with the book containing documents regarding the Fotheringham-McNeil Tenements in Charleston, SC.
By Nancy Sambets, Director of Archives
We had a productive summer at the Historical Center of York County accomplishing a great deal in a short amount of time. In addition to our five long-term volunteers, who focus on abstracting names from court records, we had six interns offer to spend their summers in the archives. Although unpaid, we do offer a climate-controlled environment, flexible schedule and free snacks in the break room. Prospective interns complete an application and interview for the opportunity to work in the field.
Outnumbering staff two to one, our interns this year included graduate students from Winthrop University and the University of Tennessee, rising sophomore from Furman University, rising senior from Lander College, recent undergraduate from Clemson University, and a recent master’s graduate from the University College in Dublin. Several seeking school credits. Although not a requirement, each of them had an interest in history and archival practices. While that may not seem unusual to most, some of our previous summer interns have had backgrounds in art, business, and education. They were also some of our most focused interns who left with a greater appreciation for keeping organized records.
This summer we were able to concentrate our efforts on processing large collections that had been waiting for dedicated attention beyond “at least they are in acid-free storage cartons”. So we got down to business and shared the work. Paul Laffredo, from Winthrop University, has spent 7 months processing a very large collection of general mercantile records which include automotive, cotton and banking industries spanning almost 100 years of receipts, ledgers, correspondence, and financial records. He has decided to turn this project into his master’s thesis and has spent time gathering research and oral histories. Staff is looking forward to the final product.
Sarah Breaux, recent master’s graduate from the University College, has spent the past 10 months processing a large collection of business records related to coal and cotton industries as well as personal papers of the business owner. The current spreadsheet has over 600 entries identifying the contents of each folder. We aim to consolidate some of the folders, reorganize the boxes to eliminate duplication, and re-create continuity. Hopefully our intern will be able to complete the project before she is gainfully employed by a very fortunate institution.
One of the most daunting collections we began processing this summer with our interns Eleanor Mixon from Furman University, Chloe’ Doster from Lander College, and Sarah Marshall from Clemson University was a photographic collection from a photographer’s studio spanning 4 decades of portraits from the 1940s to 1970s. They have successfully sorted hundreds of letter-sized envelopes filled with negatives and prints into chronological order. A process that has already yielded 40 record storage boxes and we have not yet finished the final decade. They are happy to leave a legacy for other interns to emulate. In the following summers, new interns will have the opportunity to process a box or two until the entire collection is alphabetized, scanned, rehoused and every name entered into a spreadsheet.
To stay on top of things, we had our graduate student Carleigh Isbell from the University of Tennessee work on recently donated collections processing family papers from the 1800s, materials related to a local textile plant, and 1950s accident photographs from a former local policeman. Her practical experience in the archives not only benefitted staff but also satisfied her master’s degree requirement. With new accessions in her capable hands, staff had time to focus on tackling the larger collections.
And our work continues…patrons visit to research their ancestors, donors bring us family papers, the local historical society partners with us for state historical markers and interns continue to impress us with their dedication and enthusiasm to help preserve York County’s history. Of our six interns this summer, three will continue until the end of the year. We deeply appreciate their time and assistance; from May through July our interns collectively contributed 362.5 hours. The most memorable intern quote overheard was “I had no idea this much happens in an archives!”
Looking for a chance to make a difference and to contribute to the promotion of archives and our state’s history? The Board hopes to attract both new and seasoned leaders to help SCAA provide support, training and voice for both large and small institutions. Please consider putting forth your name and making a difference! If you cannot run this year but think someone else might be a candidate, please nominate a colleague (with their consent).
The deadline for nominations is Monday, September 18, 2017.
We are currently seeking nominations for the following officers:
Vice President/President Elect - The vice president shall perform the duties of the president in case of the president's resignation or absence. The vice president shall serve as the president-elect and as the official Association liaison with other organizations or committees with which the Association cooperates, and shall perform other duties as requested by the president. The Vice President will rotate into the President’s position after the first year, effectively serving a two-year term.
1st Year Director - Directors in their first year shall serve on the Program Committee and perform other duties as requested by the Executive Board or president. Directors (2nd year): Directors in their second year shall chair the Program Committee, coordinate arrangements for the annual meeting, and perform other duties as requested by the Executive Board or president. This is a two-year position.
Secretary – The secretary shall record the minutes of all Executive Board meetings and the Annual Business Meeting. The secretary also organizes and preserves annually the documents associated with SCAA business. This includes transferring older materials on a retention schedule. This is a two-year position.
As Immediate Past President, Andrea L’Hommedieu serves SCAA as chair of the Nominating Committee. Please click here to submit a nomination. Remember to include full name, phone, title, position for which you would like to be nominated, the institution with which you are affiliated, and why you would like to serve on the SCAA Board. You must be a member (or become a member) to serve on the Board.
SCAA invites you to present a session at the 2017 Annual Meeting at the Citadel in Charleston, SC on October 20, 2017!
This year’s theme is “South Carolina at War.” 2017 marks centennial commemorations of the United States’ entry into World War I, the end of involvement in the Mexican Expedition (1916-1917), and the creation of Fort Jackson in Columbia. The 2017 Program Committee seeks proposals that highlight preservation, access, and applications of archival materials documenting the experiences of military personnel and civilians in the face of conflict and struggles for peace.
The conference will also feature three options for participants to share their collections and experiences: 45-minute traditional presentations (1-3 speakers), 20-minute short presentations (1-2 speakers), and a poster session to showcase accomplishments and special projects of South Carolina archivists and allied professionals and students.
View the Call For Proposal for more details
On Becoming Certified: Personal Reflections on Joining the Ranks of the Academy of Certified Archivists
By Mary Jo Fairchild, MA, MLIS, CA
The choice to embark on the journey to become a Certified Archivist is a personal decision based on professional experience, preferences, and devotions. In this post, I will share some observations based on my own experiences with the processes of taking the exam and recertifying before highlighting some nuanced ideas to consider if you are interested in joining the ranks of the Academy of Certified Archivists.
I enjoyed preparing for the Certified Archivist exam. Something about the tidy but comprehensive delineation of roles is very satisfying to the archival disposition. Over the course of one summer, I devoured books, articles, and case studies (many of which are freely available via HathiTrust) within the framework of the seven comprehensively defined domains upon which archival theory and practice are scaffolded, at least for the ACA. Collectively, I call these “the universe of archival roles and responsibilities.” I created the infographic below to illustrate the interconnectedness of archival functions that, as professional archivist, are also essential responsibilities. These include selection, appraisal, and acquisition; arrangement and description; reference services and access; preservation and protection; outreach, advocacy, and promotion; managing archival programs; and (finally!) professional, ethical, and legal duties.
I often share with colleagues and students that I found the act of preparing for the exam to be the single most valuable piece of the initial certification process. Whether I took the exam and passed or failed was inconsequential when compared to the wealth of knowledge I accrued from rigorous engagement with professional literature over the short period of several months. Under what other circumstances could I justify reading Ritzenthaler, Jimerson, Dooley, Spencer, and Pugh in such a short amount of time? It was a delightful excuse and taking the test certainly provided motivation for spending my weekends consuming technical literature relating to my chosen career.
The experience of taking the exam is unremarkable. But I will say that on the day on which I took the exam in a classroom on the campus of the University of South Carolina, I was compelled to not-so-fondly reminisce about the standardized tests we take in high school (as if an archivist would have any trouble remembering the requisite #2 pencils to fill in the scantron bubbles for each of the 100 multiple choice questions!) In all seriousness, the ACA’s Examination Development Committee strives to “evaluate, monitor, and oversee periodic revision of the examination for certified archivist to ensure its accuracy, comprehensiveness, and appropriateness” (see theACA By-laws for more on the EDC). Because of the vast pool of archival principles and practices that a certified archivist (CA) should have facility with, the exam is tricky. Oftentimes there are at least two multiple choice answer options that could be correct and it is up to the test-taker to judge the varying degrees of correctness. Many talented archivists sit for the exam on multiple occasions before passing. If this happens to you, you are in the best of company! Rosalye Settles writes about the experience of taking the exam multiple times in her article “Three is a Charm: Certification by Examination”.
The ACA requires CAs to recertify every five years to ensure that they do not become stodgy or out-of-touch. CAs can recertify by taking the exam (again!) or by petitioning the ACA. I chose to recertify by petition this spring. A successful petition demonstrates sustained contributions to the profession and development of one’s own archival skillsets based on a weighted rubric of “qualifying experiences” that include employment, education, participation & outreach, service, and writing, publishing, & editing. Be warned, the application interface for entering recertification data remains clunky at best, however, the process is clearly defined and straightforward as far as which professional activities count towards recertification credits. The ACA website comprehensively outlines the benefits and drawbacks to both pathways to recertification.
Questions and Ideas to Consider
While the information contained on the Academy of Certified Archivists website is comprehensive, there are some ideas and considerations that are not fully represented on www.certifiedarchivists.org. Is the ACA right for you? If so, at which point in your career should you begin the process? How does becoming a certified archivist compare with other professional certifications offered in colleges and universities or by professional organizations like the Society of American Archivists?
While graduate curriculum is essentially valuable for becoming familiar with archival theory and methodology, the worth of work experience in an archival repository cannot be overstated. As such, I would encourage individuals engaged in professional archival work for at least 4 to 5 years to take the exam. Making a go at it before one has had the opportunity to encounter a broad range of scenarios or decisions in the field is premature. Furthermore, if you prefer sustained but focused engagement in only one or two of the role delineations outlined above, I would still encourage you to give certification a second consideration. The aforementioned interconnected nature of archival roles and responsibilities mandates that archivists have general facility with all facets of archival work even though they may choose to specialize in digital forensics, processing, or reference, to name only a few areas of expertise.
But it is important to note that embarking on the certification journey facilitated by the ACA is only one way in which archivists can satisfy their devotions to the work of preservation, access, and public service. Chief among the gripes directed at the ACA is the argument that the benefits of certification ( knowledge, credibility, enhanced employment opportunities, etc.) do not justify the expense of certification fees and annual dues. If an archivist passes the exam and becomes certified, they will pay $400.00 over the course of the five year certification period. There is no recertification fee, but a CA can expect to pay the $50 annual dues for the duration of their active certification.
For the purposes of comparison, the expense over the course of the five-year certification period with the ACA is comparatively less than the cumulative fees associated with certification in SAA’s Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) or Arrangement and Description (A&D) curriculum. However, coursework for the DAS or A&D programs is robust and students are paying for a suite of learning opportunities led by experts in the field. In contrast, becoming a Certified Archivist through the ACA is more autonomous and one’s standing is dependent on engaged work in the field, contributions to professional organizations, and participation in an inclusive set of learning opportunities from community workshops and events to academic curriculum in a master’s program.
Another fact that may inform one’s decision to become a Certified Archivist is that, in more ways than one, the ACA is an entity that is grounded in traditional archival theory and practice. Of course, there are benefits and drawbacks to this allegiance to tradition. For example, on the examination, one can expect to encounter questions relating to the histories and evolution of archival work in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries which were dominated by western, white, intellectually privileged, and often male figures. While understanding the principles set forth by these early archivists can be worthwhile for reasons beyond procuring context to identify the framework in which records were created and maintained by earlier generations of archivists, the real value of building basic understanding of concepts defined by individuals who (for better or worse, populate the archival canon as defined by the ACA) may lie in the subversive applications of this knowledge. Awareness generated from consuming early archival literature, can help 21st century archivists recognize these patterns in order to disrupt standards that favor privileged persons and institutions and to ultimately work to build a more inclusive historical record. And, it should be noted, this sustained engagement in our profession in order to bring these ideals to fruition is represented in the currencies of archival recertification credits, or ARCs.
I value my affiliation with the Academy of Certified Archivists because taking the exam and maintaining one’s certification status is one way that I can demonstrate commitment to my profession. If you are considering taking the plunge and want to talk more or have questions, I am always eager to have a conversation! I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Mary Jo Fairchild is the Manager of Research Services in the Special Collections Department at the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library. Prior to arriving at the College of Charleston in 2015, Fairchild was the Director of Archives and Research at the South Carolina Historical Society for nearly five years. Fairchild holds master’s degrees in History and Library Science and is a Certified Archivist. She has served as President of the South Carolina Archival Association and the Charleston Council on Archives, Libraries, and Museums. A member of the Archives Leadership Institute’s 2014 cohort, Fairchild also contributes to the Society of American Archivist’s Regional Archival Associations Consortium and the Southern Association of Women Historians’ Professional Development Committee.
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