A Vacation in the Archive

I am back in the office after my summer vacation with my family, and glad to be back into my daily routine. But I enjoyed my vacation, part of which I spent in some archives for my internship this summer. I was visiting archives which I happened to be near in my travels to Maine and Boston, so the choices were a bit haphazard, but I really got some more insight into how archives are running. I also got some more insight for the paper I’m working on about LGBTQ collections in archives.

The first archive I visited was the Bowdoin College Special Collections in Brunswick Maine. It’s a very pretty little campus, with a nice modern library. The Special Collections was quite small, especially compared to my big State University, but the people were very helpful and I spent a nice hour looking through some of their collections. They didn’t have too much about LGBTQ topics, despite having a Women and Gender studies program and developing a minor in Queer Studies sometime in the 90s. They directed me to a much bigger collection at the University of Southern Maine just down the coast a bit, but unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit that one.

My second archive was a bit more productive, as I visited the Massachusetts Historical Society Archive, and had a reference interview with one of the archivists beforehand. The reference meeting was incredibly helpful in orienting me to the archive (and figuring out how to use their finding aids and request-service). The archivist turned out to be a good contact as well, another queer woman who is interested in my research and was able to give me some direction as well. The archives themselves were much more heavily populated with LGBTQ materials, which were much better marked with metadata denoting their contacts as referencing queer subjects or people. I looked through the ACLU of Massachusetts gay rights papers, comparing them to what I had seen in my work with Florida’s ACLU gay rights papers. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences there. I also examined some of the papers of the first out gay congressman, Congressman Gerry Studds, and the correspondence of a woman from a prominent Mass family who lived with another woman in the 1920s-1940s. The condolence letters to her lover were particularly poignant in the ways they danced around the women’s relationship without ever truly acknowledging it.

Overall, it was a good experience and helped me to continue refining my research project. I liked getting insight into the different archival practices over this summer as I’ve never done archival research before, and I’m eager to finish my research proposal and finish up my internship in the next two weeks so I can move onto the next step of doing the actual research (less looking forward to diving back into the IRB process, but what’re you gonna do).

One thought on “A Vacation in the Archive

Leave a Reply