A Day in the (Texas Collection) Life: Paul Fisher, Processing Archivist

Meet Paul Fisher, Baylor graduate (BA 2009, MA 2011), native Texan, and Processing Archivist, in our latest staff post giving you a peek into the day-to-day work of The Texas Collection:

From Civil War hospital records, to documents about Baylor’s activities in Independence, to old photographs of early Texans, The Texas Collection has a great deal of fascinating materials. My work preparing archival record groups (groups of records that share the same creator or collector) for researchers means that I get to see all the cool items we have on a daily basis. I have a BA in museum studies and an MA in history, both from Baylor, so “old stuff” definitely fascinates me, especially Civil War-related materials.

James E. Harrison report, 1861, Carter-Harrison Family papers
One of Paul’s favorite documents in The Texas Collection is this handwritten report by Waco native and Confederate general James E. Harrison. The full document tells of his journey to the American Indian tribes in present-day Oklahoma, to see whether they would side with the Confederacy in the American Civil War.

So how do I go about preparing archival record groups for users? This usually includes organizing the collection if needed, rehousing the materials in new acid-free folders and boxes, and writing documents called finding aids to help researchers locate and use them. An increasing part of my job is to help students discover how to do this work well, whether they are student interns, students in a class, or students who work for us.

Much of my work now is devoted to preparing our new archival software system, called Cuadra Star, for launch this summer. For the past 11 months I have led a team of staff and students on a number of projects to get ready for this launch. There have been some challenges to solve along the way, but we address them and continue to forge ahead. Cuadra Star will allow us to find information, organize our collections, and provide better archival service to you than ever before.

One of my favorite activities as part of working at The Texas Collection has been working with a class from the Department of Museum Studies here at Baylor. In fall 2012, Dr. Julie Holcomb taught her annual Archival Collections and Museums class to thirteen students, and as part of the class each student processed one archival record group for use by researchers. The class was taught here at The Texas Collection, and I offered special office hours every week when students would come to work with me on their assigned archives. The project gave them valuable professional experience, and also prepared thirteen of our record groups for use.

A Homegrown Vision: Robert L. Smith and the Farmers Improvement Society" exhibit
The Keeth display case, part of the February 2012 exhibit “A Homegrown Vision: Robert L. Smith and the Farmers Improvement Society.”

We also showcase exhibits on various interesting topics throughout the year, and I have helped with several during my time at The Texas Collection. One of the most interesting was our spring 2012 exhibit, which featured the Farmers Improvement Society (FIS) and R.L. Smith. The society was founded by Smith to help African American sharecroppers in the early 1900s have access to financing for their farms, life insurance, better farming methods, and an agricultural school. Such exhibits help increase awareness of the resources we preserve. More than year after this exhibit was over, we were still receiving questions about our FIS-related records on this blog, and we hosted a research fellow this year who came from New York to spend a week studying these records.

With all of these different projects to work on at The Texas Collection, from working on record groups to planning the next exhibit, every day is different. Yet some things remain the same day to day. Every day is a chance to do more than tell people about history—it is a chance to highlight rediscovered pieces of history from the actual documents written by Baylor and Texas people past and present.

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.

Research Ready: January 2013

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. As we did in December, we have a few special entries from the Archival Collections and Museums class that worked on an archival processing project with us here at The Texas Collection. (Read more about that project from a student’s perspective.) Here’s the scoop for January:

Simons-Stoner-Rose Family Papers
During the Civil War George F. Simons served in the Confederate army Company K, 2nd Texas Infantry Regiment, and participated in the Battle of Shiloh. He received this certificate of parole in 1865, which can be found in the Simons-Stoner-Rose Family Papers.
    • Bertie Routh Barron Papers, 1897-1972, undated: These papers contain correspondence, financial documents, literary productions and photographic materials pertaining to Barron’s life, particularly the time she spent at Baylor Female College.
    • De Cordova Family Papers, 1845-1956: The chronology of the collection ranges from 1845 to 1956, but the bulk of the materials originated from 1845 to 1863 when Jacob de Cordova was most active as a land agent in Texas. Most materials are correspondence or legal documents related to land sales in central Texas, particularly Bosque and McLennan counties. (Archives class)
    • Olive McGehee Denson Papers, 1916-1957, undated: The bulk of the Denson papers are scrapbooks about Texas and church history. There are also photographs from Independence, Texas. (Archives class)
    • James M. Kendrick Jr. Papers, 1922-1945: Kendrick’s papers include various items of correspondence between family and friends of Kendrick, as well as some financial and legal documents. There is a large number of literary productions, comprised of an assortment of documents and Kendrick’s own diaries. Also present are several photographs and artifacts pertaining to his time at Baylor University. (Archives class)
    • Harry Raymond Morse Jr. Collection, 2000: This collection consists of four cassette tapes containing oral history interviews related to the Waco Tornado of May 11, 1953.
Southwest Conference meeting minutes, April 24, 1922 (page 1)
These minutes are from the papers of Henry Trantham, who served as Baylor University faculty representative to the Southwest Athletic Conference from 1916 to 1923, and from 1925 to 1941. Trantham was the president of the conference from 1918 to 1919, and from 1938 to 1941, and in that position he assisted in the establishment of the Cotton Bowl Association.
  • Simons-Stoner-Rose Family Papers, 1828-1977, undated: The Simons-Stoner-Rose Family Papers are comprised of original correspondence, legal and financial documents, literary productions, military records, printed materials, family histories, and photographs pertaining to five families (including Wells, Simons, Kay, Stoner, and Rose) in Texas from its pre-republic days to the late twentieth century. (Archives class)
  • Henry Trantham Papers, 1894-1962, undated: Trantham’s papers consist of correspondence, administrative and academic materials, and other loose materials related to Baylor University and the Greek and Classics Departments, the Southwest Athletic Conference, and the Rhodes Scholarship program. (Archives class)
  • Charles Wellborn Papers, 1945-2009: This archives contains sermons and other materials primarily from Wellborn’s time as pastor of Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco, Texas.

From Museums to Archives: A Graduate Student Journey

In fall 2012, The Texas Collection worked with Julie Holcomb’s Archival Collections and Museums class within Baylor’s Museum Studies program to provide hands-on experience with processing archival records. You can read more about some of these 14 collections in Research Ready: December 2012 and the upcoming January 2013 entry, but we thought we’d ask a student to share her archives experience. Guest blogger Danica Galbraith, a second-year Museum Studies master’s student, gives her perspective:

For those who do not know the subtle differences between museum collections and archival management, it would seem that such a jump from museums to archives would not be overly challenging. At least, that’s what my cohorts and I thought when this class began. However, we quickly found that what is done within the walls of the Texas Collection is very different from what we initially envisioned.

James M. Kendrick, Jr., undated (probably 1940s)
Galbraith processed the papers of James Kendrick Jr., a Wacoan, Baylor student, and WWII veteran.

Armed with tentative knowledge about archival processing, ethics, and theory, along with much needed help (and some emotional support) from Dr. Holcomb and Paul Fisher, Processing Archivist at the Texas Collection, we began processing our assigned collections. Some collections were only a few document boxes, while others took up an entire length of a table. Each brought its own complications, roadblocks, and frustrations.

In order to process our collections, we were required to create an initial inventory. Then we grouped and described the records by series based on theme or material type. This differs from museums because in that setting, each item in a collection is given its own accession (or identification) number, and then cataloged or described individually. Another big difference between the two is that in archives, some items are disposed of due to redundancy, condition, or irrelevance. While this is common practice in the archival world, it left our heads spinning!

Personally, I was given the task of processing the James M. Kendrick, Jr. Papers, a records group which initially included five document boxes filled to the brim with random clutter and materials spanning from correspondence to financial productions and everything in between. I would be lying if I said that I was not overwhelmed that first day of processing in late August.

"Principles of Accounting" textbook, owned by James Kendrick, 1940s
Items of interest in Kendrick’s papers include his very worn copy of an accounting textbook, which can be used to learn how business education was taught in the 1940s.

However, I soon found that by operating at a slow and steady pace––taking each box and each material type one at a time––that the collection was not as frightening as I originally thought. Furthermore, as I began to piece the collection together I realized I was learning a lot about Kendrick.

James M. Kendrick, Jr. came from a prominent family within the city of Waco: his great-grandfather fought in the Civil War, his grandfather was an esteemed Baptist minister, and his father was a strong presence in the early Waco business community. However, Kendrick’s records did not focus on grand achievements, nor did it initially scream of overwhelming historical significance. My collection mostly focused on Kendrick’s time as a student at Baylor, and his journey from adolescence to manhood.

Letter of recommendation for James M. Kendrick from Baylor professor Monroe S. Carroll, for application to Naval Reserve, 1942
While Kendrick was going about his schoolwork, he also was looking into possibilities for military service during World War II. This recommendation notes that Kendrick comes from “one of Waco’s most substantial and patriotic families.”

The archives offered very interesting insight into the world of a college student in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and highlights the all too real ups and downs of a Baylor student required to balance school work, campus organizational responsibilities, family life, and friendships. While Kendrick was living during a time torn by WWII, and actually entered the service after graduation in 1943, I felt that, even in 2012, I could relate to many of his daily dilemmas.

Overall, I gained some wonderful experience out of the class, as did my other Museum Studies peers. Not only did we learn some great lessons about archival processing, we also gained some great connections within The Texas Collection, as well as an online publication with our finding aids on The Texas Collection’s website. I urge you all to go take a look at what we accomplished!

By Danica Galbraith, Museum Studies graduate student, Baylor University