Each month, we post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. Here’s the scoop for September:
Catherine Alexander papers, 1871-1962, undated: Alexander was a widowed Southern Baptist missionary who became a benefactor to Baylor University. Her papers provide insight into the network of conservative Protestant missionaries sent out from the United States during the first half of the 20th century.
Carl Lovelace papers, 1865-1969, undated: Correspondence, literary productions, photographic materials, and other documents relating to Dr. Lovelace’s life as a Rough Rider, doctor, and Baylor alumnus.
Meet Benna Vaughan, originally from Whitney, Texas, and Special Collections and Manuscripts Archivist, in our latest staff post giving you a peek into the day-to-day work of The Texas Collection:
In a nutshell, I get to work with some of the coolest stuff on campus. How often do you open a box and pull out a land grant signed by Stephen F. Austin? Or touch a set of pilot’s wings that were worn while flying in World War I? Or have someone call you up and say they found something you might like to have, such as an original 1894 Texas Cotton Palace medallion from the very first Texas Cotton Palace? Or handle a piece of Republic of Texas currency so thin you can see through it, and wonder where it has been and how many hands touched it and passed it on? I have a job where I can do this every day. I get to be in and amongst things that made history and that are now historical research materials. I am the Special Collections and Manuscripts Archivist at The Texas Collection, and it is my job to manage, preserve, and make available the wonderful special collections of Texana that come through our doors.
My days are varied. Most days I get to work with students and researchers alike on projects, from the smallest term paper to a full-sized book, commercial, or documentary. I might talk with donors who want to see their materials preserved, maintained, and used for research purposes. I attempt daily to process collections such as the Pat Neff collection, which took two years and the help of many graduate and undergraduate assistants to complete. I perform various inquiry tasks for researchers who contact me online, by phone, or in person. I sometimes give presentations to classes who will conduct research at The Texas Collection. In the fall, I also serve as an instructor for the University 1000 program for incoming freshmen students. I enjoy working with students as they begin their college careers and try to help them get adjusted to Baylor life. I guess you can say that for me everyday is a little different from the last.
Currently, I am beginning initial processing on the Roxy Grove papers. This includes research into her life and determining the condition of her records. (Are the pages brittle? How can we protect them? How are the records arranged?) I learned that Roxy Grove received two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree from Baylor. She began working at Baylor in 1926 and was the chair of the Music School for 17 years. Some of you may have classes in the building named after her: Roxy Grove Hall (third photo from top on the linked page). With every collection, I learn about the personal side of the individuals or organizations as I research and process their collections. For me, working on another person’s materials makes a connection with that person and allows you to discover the person, organization, or even place, through the things that are left behind.
But it is not always idyllic. Sometimes a collection will come in that was stored in a barn or a garage and the boxes contain bugs, and the records are in poor condition. When that happens, I get to be an exterminator. I pitch in to help with special projects and the administrative tasks that come with a special collections library. No matter what I’m doing, it is a great job, at a great place, and I am blessed to be here.
The Texas Collection turns 90 this year! But even though we’ve been at Baylor for so long, we realize people aren’t quite sure what goes on in a special collections library and archives. So over the course of 2013, we are featuring staff posts about our work at The Texas Collection. See other posts in the series here.
Kenna Lang Archer, a veteran researcher at The Texas Collection, is our guest blogger for this series, “A User’s Guide to The Texas Collection.” Drawing on her research on the Brazos River, Dr. Archer offered advice on identifying resources (including staff) in her first post; in her second, she addressed challenging resources. In this final installment, she offers her tips on determining when the research is DONE.
For the final post in this series, I’d like to address a question that is as challenging as it is important…when is enough, enough? When is it time to step away—trusting that you have read enough letters, seen sufficient photographs, and pored through the right amount of memoirs, and how do you know that you’ve reached that point? It’s entirely possible that I am the last person that should be offering advice on the subject. My friends and colleagues have often chided me for “excessive” research, as have several editors (apparently, one really can cite too many sources in too many footnotes). However, my occasional inability to know that I have gathered the necessary citations means I am actually well placed to offer guidance.
That advice begins with a simple realization: it is possible to spend so much time looking through archival materials that the notes you collect become overwhelming and your work with them, inefficient. A paradox of historical research—people working with primary sources tend to assume that where one source is good, two sources are better, and three sources, best. The problem with this line of thought is two-fold. First, as your notes or copies increase in number, it becomes increasingly difficult to incorporate that information into existing outlines, chapters, etc. After completing my dissertation, I found a stack of Xerox copies more than one foot high that I had never written into my outlines. I missed nothing of import in those copies, but I was fortunate. I could easily have lost valuable information to a crowd of unheeded papers. Second, if you focus exclusively on research, you will never finish the project that prompted that work in the first place. Research alone does not produce finished works. Books, articles, and even blog posts can only be written, edited, and completed by an individual who has found the courage to say, “Yes, this research and my thoughts on it can stand.”
So how do you know when enough is truly enough? Where do you draw the mythical line in the sand? Personally, I use a series of hypothetical scenarios to weigh what I might find in future research against what I know from my current research. Would my ideas still hold if, somewhere, a source existed that said X; if I later found a source that said Y, would I still feel comfortable with my project? If I decide that nothing short of indisputable evidence refuting my argument would cause me doubt, then I leave my research be. If I feel like there is more than one way in which my ideas could be threatened or if I see a glaring omission, then I continue to research until I feel comfortable in my analysis.
Along those lines, I would recommend that anybody making extensive use of primary sources develop an effective organization system for their research. Each researcher must find the method that best fits their timeline and needs, but based on my experiences, I would make the following suggestions for people engaged in archival research:
Copying/photographing every source you find is as risky and ineffective as copying no sources at all: to be buried by too much material is a cruel fate.
Trying to track down a citation after the fact is maddening and a waste of precious time: write down every citation legibly and in the same place as the note itself as you go along.
When making copies, do not assume either that the archivists will write down the citation for you or that they will include everything you need for reference: be responsible for assuring the validity and the location of your sources.
Trusting too much in technology will eventually lead to a headache: be prepared to take notes the old fashioned way and keep a list of the sources that you have duplicated (as well as their location).
I made a number of “rookie mistakes” when I began working in the archives; I can even admit that I fell into the same blunders several times. Fortunately for my self-worth (and unfortunately for the rest of the research community), I am not alone in my struggles. I would guess that every researcher has, at one time or another, struggled with the effectiveness of his/her research methods or the decision to walk away from new sources. It’s a learning process, and one that everybody must endure. However, it can be made easier. My hope for anybody reading this series is that his or her experience in primary source research might be a smidge less chaotic, a bit more constructive, as a result of my suggestions.
Onward, archival soldiers…and until next time, good luck!
Missed the first installments? Check them out here.
Archer is an instructor in the history department at Angelo State University. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Baylor and then her doctorate at Texas Tech University. You can learn more about her research on her website, www. kennalangarcher.com.
By Adina Johnson, Graduate Assistant, and Thomas DeShong, former Archival Assistant
About 700 students recently moved in to Baylor’s new East Village Residential Community, which features Hallie Earle Hall and Gordon Teal Residential College. These buildings honor two prominent Baylor alumni who you might have read about already, but did you know that The Texas Collection houses their papers? Read on to learn more about Earle and Teal, and discover how you can learn more about their contributions.
Leading Texas Women in Medicine—Hallie Earle
Dr. Hallie Earle was the first female doctor in Waco, and the first female graduate of the Baylor College of Medicine. However, many do not know the fascinating history of her entire family. The Graves-Earle family papers in The Texas Collection chronicle the history of this influential McLennan County family, including the life and work of Major Isham Harrison Earle and his daughter, Dr. Hallie Earle.
Isham Harrison Earle became a major in the Tenth Texas Infantry during the Civil War. His experiences and those of his extended family are intimately documented in a large collection of correspondence. This correspondence, ranging in date from 1848-1960, tells the history of the Graves-Earle family before the Civil War and for many years afterwards.
Major Earle was also Central Texas’s first official weather observer, creating a National Weather Station in Hewitt in 1880. Included in the collection are his detailed and comprehensive weather observation journals began in 1870. These journals were continued on by his daughter Hallie, who was appointed as Cooperative Weather Observer by the U.S. government in 1916.
In addition to her contributions to weather observation, Dr. Hallie Earle kept a daily diary from 1895-1963, and all of these are preserved in the collection. Dr. Earle’s medical career is documented by a large series of medical documents, various diplomas, and correspondence.
Finally, the papers contain a large, unique collection of photographs. These include 19th century daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes, and a scrapbook made up of candid photographs of the family in the early 20th century. The Graves-Earle family’s world comes to life in these images.
The influence of this family continues today with the opening of Hallie Earle Hall at Baylor, and continued preservation of the historic Earle-Harrison House in Waco. These papers will provide an excellent research opportunity for anyone interested in studying Victorian and Edwardian Waco, medical history, agricultural history, meteorological history, or cultural history.
Revolutionizing Technology—Gordon Kidd Teal
“We can envisage clearly the contributions of electronics to the lives of our children living in 2012 A.D. They will be highly educated by electronic teaching machines…communicate by means of satellites instantaneously to any part of the solar system… voice opinions on national and local government policies by voting electronically from their homes…” Fifty years ago, Baylor alumnus Gordon Teal made these predictions. While some are more accurate than others, technology definitely has enjoyed immense progress thanks in large part to Teal.
Gordon Kidd Teal was a product of Texas and of Baylor. Born in Dallas in 1907, he graduated from Baylor with honors in 1927 with a bachelor of arts in mathematics and chemistry. While at Baylor, he served as president of the Scholarship Society and Latin Club, vice president of the senior class, member of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce, and ran with the track team. For those interested in what chemistry classes were like during the 1920s, some of Teal’s lab notebooks can be found in his papers.
After earning a master’s degree and a PhD from Brown University, Teal worked at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey. For nearly 22 years, Teal accumulated patent after patent with his ground-breaking research in germanium and silicon. These crystals, which had once been deemed useless by the greater part of the scientific community, proved to be anything but. Teal, as evidenced by the extensive research he accumulated in his papers, was determined to use these elements to perfect the transistor.
In the early 1950s, Teal returned to his home state with a position at Texas Instruments (TI). In 1954, Teal and his team revealed the first commercial silicon transistor, which revolutionized electronics in the military, industry, and space exploration. The excitement that this invention created among the public can be witnessed in the news releases and clippings found in the Teal papers. Teal worked at TI until 1965 when he was appointed the first Director of the Institute for Materials Research at the National Bureau of Standards. He served a two-year term and then returned to TI, where he remained until retirement in 1972.
Teal gave back to the Baylor community by serving on the Board of Trustees from 1970-1979. Today, Teal’s love of science lives on through the Gordon K. Teal Scholarship in the physics department, and now with the Teal Residential College for Engineering and Computer Science. His papers are a helpful resource to those interested in Teal, the development of the silicon transistor, uses of germanium and silicon, science and engineering history, and the history of science education.