This is the latest post in our series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society.
The Historic Village at Allaire is a living history museum named posthumously for its founder James P. Allaire. The museum interprets an iron-producing factory town during its peak year, 1836. The village offers a variety of craft demonstrations and activities such as blacksmithing, hearth cooking, and carpentry.
In this latest post, Archivist and COPA Early Career Member, Kristi Chanda, interviews Felicity Bennett. Felicity Bennett is the Museum Collections Coordinator. Her role is both an archivist and handling museum collections. For the first time in the museum’s 60 year history, there is a full-time paid staff position whose sole purpose is to look after the collection. The role was usually handled by volunteers or added to other positions in the past. In her new role, she is looking to further professionalize the museum and organize the collections.
KC: Who was James Allaire and what was his significance to Allaire Village?
FB: James P. Allaire is our founder for the Allaire Village, and during his lifetime it was actually called Howell Works. He was a steamship engine manufacturer, and he had an office in both New York City and Monmouth County, New Jersey, where we’re located. What we were doing was harvesting bog iron, which is a renewable source of iron, and smelting that down into workable iron. It was basically a forge used to manufacture all the parts for the engines that would get shipped to New York for boats.
KC: What types of materials are in his collection? What items are particularly interesting to you?
FB: So, in addition to the museum collection, our archival collection has more of his business documentation, such as his deeds. He did purchase a lot of land from local farmers and everything to build this kind of manufacturing town. We also have some of his personal papers, photographs and other things of that nature. I would say the most interesting to me is the personal papers of his son, Hal Allaire. He was just kind of an eccentric man and he lived here after the village forge shut down. He basically turned into a recluse and kind of let everything become deserted and in ruins. There were still people living here and he did entertain quite a bit in the house, but he was more interested in letting everything return to the forest.
KC: What are some misconceptions surrounding Allaire Village? What information from the collection helps free some of these misconceptions?
FB: So, there is the misconception that it was deserted or abandoned because the original title for our museum was the Deserted Village of Allaire. A lot of the forge and businesses shut down, but there still were people living here, and there’s never really a gap in ownership. So we do have in the collection, we have a lot of the deeds saying who owned it and when. We also have a lot of photographs showing people doing something similar to motor tours. Because during the turn of the century that was a really big public tourist activity. People would get in their little cars and drive on tracks because it was a new adventure at the time.
KC: So, I remembered when I searched Allaire Village online, it was listed as a haunted historical site. I heard about you all receiving inquiries from paranormal investigators.
FB: Those websites are very inaccurate a lot of the time. As far as the history goes, I saw one saying how Hal was a child ghost, that he was a little boy, and he died when he was in his 50s. So, definitely not a child. I have seen stuff confusing his [James’] two wives. You have to be careful using websites because one, ghosts aren’t real, and a lot of the history isn’t correct.
KC: Is there additional information that you would like to add about the collection?
FB: We do continuously find more information by going through our archive. I think that’s really interesting how we can continue to learn just based on what we find, like reading someone’s old diary or something.
KC: Is there anything specific that you’ve learned like any of the materials?
FB: So we’re actually putting together an exhibit about the later years of the village. I had never known the name of who owned the village between Hal and Brisbane and who sold it to the state. I recently found out that it was a man named William Harrison, who was a friend of Hal, who purchased it and paid off taxes and then sold it.
KC: I remember when learning about Arthur Brisbane, there was a lot of misinformation surrounding his contributions.
FB: Brisbane was a huge newspaper editorialist and did a lot with Hearst newspapers and magazines, which are still around today. I forget off the top of my head which ones are still owned by them, but I know it’s a lot.
KC: What do you hope visitors would take away from their experience at Allaire Village?
FB: My hope is for visitors to be engaged with history and to see the relevance between life in the village and today. There are a lot of parallels in how people live then and now. This is really the start of the industrial revolution and a lot of the industry and businesses visitors see in the village had a direct impact on societal and economical changes that happened over the last century. I also want to see more people get involved in local history, because there’s always really interesting things to learn.
The Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) is collaborating again with our favorite professional storyteller, Micaela Blei, for our archivist and archives-centric storytelling event, A Finding Aid to My Soul, on October 6, 12:00 pm — 1:00 PM CT.
Micaela Blei, PhD, is a storyteller, educator and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She’s a two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner, former Director of Education for The Moth and former third grade teacher who has told stories, taught storytelling workshops and hosted shows around the world. She gives keynotes and research talks on storytelling and empathy at conferences and universities nationwide. Micaela’s stories can be heard on The Moth Radio Hour and podcast, the acclaimed podcast Family Ghosts, and many others. You can find out more about her upcoming online courses and hear more stories at micaelablei.com.
This is your third time hosting COPA’s A Finding Aid to My Soul. Last year we took this event online for the first time. What surprised you about last year’s event? What do you think the benefits are of an online event?
It was a surprise how well it worked! I was nervous at first: it was our first time working together for a show that was fully online. But I was thrilled when people shared their reactions— that they found it meaningful, connecting and most of all fun. I think the benefit of an online event— and this isn’t news to us, now that we’ve been doing things online for over a year— is accessibility. It was amazing to see people logging in from all over, who might otherwise not have made it to a live event.
You offer coaching and storytelling workshops to all kinds of groups. What is it like working with archivists?
I find archivists to be really fun to work with, partly because of my own personal fascination with libraries and archives! I worked in an archive as an undergrad (at Beinecke, for the amazing Pat Willis) and it has always felt like the career I never had. Also, archivists understand stories! You all are immersed in stories all the time, and you’re communicators in so many modes— to the public, to stakeholders, to the people whose archives you are stewarding. In short— you’re my favorites.
Is there anything else you’d like to share regarding your work as a storyteller and educator?
Just that I’m thrilled to be back working with SAA and I truly can’t wait to work with some new archivist tellers this year!
“Storytelling provides safe conditions for daring decisions.”
When did you decide that you wanted to be an archivist? What was your first encounter with an archives? How did you handle a challenge in your work? What is a unique, serendipitous, moving, mysterious, special, or humorous experience you’ve had as an archivist?
During “A Finding Aid to My Soul,” archivists from a variety of institutions and experience levels will share 5-minute true, personal stories of their connections to archives they have encountered. The virtual event—on Wednesday, October 6, from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm CT—will be hosted by award-winning storyteller and educator Micaela Blei (The Moth, Risk). Sponsored by SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness, it is part of American Archives Month and will be recorded.
We’re looking for a wide range of voices to share their experiences. Absolutely no storytelling or performance experience necessary. Bonus: Micaela will be available to support you as you practice your story.
You may think that your story is not “dramatic” enough. We beg to differ! We want to hear stories with high stakes as well as small, intimate stories of the work you do and the personal ways it connects to your life. If it mattered to you, it will matter to us, too. (If you need some inspiration, listen to selections from past “Finding Aid to My Soul” events on theArchives in Context podcast.)
Pitches are due August 31. Selected storytellers to be notified by Sept. 5. Pitch it here!
Want to listen to more? Selections from past Finding Aid to My Soul events can be found on the Archives in Context (season 3) podcast.
The SAA Annual meeting begins next week, though on-demand sessions were available starting Monday, July 26, and SAA section meetings have already started earlier in the month. Below is a list of sessions about awareness, advocacy, and outreach.
Please note, there is a mix of live, recorded, and on-demand opportunities. Make sure to visit the schedule for specific times for live sessions and to view session descriptions to see which category a session or meeting falls and whether you need to register for a session. Unless noted, all events are included with your annual meeting registration.
This is the 3rd year we have had two-time Moth GrandSLAM winner (and former Moth director of education) Micaela Blei facilitate a storytelling workshop for archivists. Separate registration and fee ($49) for this workshop where you will learn:
What makes a story work,
The connections among narrative performance, research, and teaching, and
How to brainstorm and craft stories of your own.
The workshop is aimed at budding storytellers as well as seasoned bards looking to refresh their skills. It is structured to make the online experience as welcoming and engaging as possible, using a webinar format followed by an optional small-group discussion structure so that you can take part in the workshop at the level that will best serve you.
Stories from the 2019 event, including one from Micaela herself can be found on Season 3 of the Archives in Context podcast. To learn more about Micaela, check out this ArchivesAware! interview from 2019.
Like last year, we will hold our related storytelling event, Finding Aid To My Soul, in October and it will be online. So stay tuned for more information this fall!
This 120-minute workshop, led by members of SAA’s committees on Public Awareness (COPA) and Public Policy (COPP) and featuring members of the Issues and Advocacy Section and the Regional Archival Associations Consortium (RAAC), explores a process-focused approach to advocacy. Attendees will participate in round-robin-style breakout sessions and walk away with personalized strategies.
Laura Millar, author of A Matter of Facts: The Value of Evidence in the Age of Information, along with Chris Burns, past chair and current member of the Committee on Public Awareness, and Bryan Whitledge, co-chair of the Committee on Public Policy, will explore the topic of archival advocacy amidst a global pandemic, the equity movement, political and social unrest, and climate change.
Join the conversation to learn what you can do to make the public understand why archives matter and how you can advocate and become an influencer with decision-makers.
Know of other outreach- and advocacy-related sessions, events, and general happenings taking place over the course of ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2021 that didn’t make our schedule? Tell us in the comments below, or let us know which of these and other annual meeting events you are most looking forward to!
The Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) invites you to our Open House during our annual business meeting on Thursday, July 22nd, 3:30-4:30 pm CST.
Want to learn more about COPA and what we do? This is your chance! Meet our committee members and ask questions. This is your opportunity to let us know what’s on your mind. Are there particular stories or issues that you would like COPA to bring increased awareness to through our channels? What would you like COPA to focus on in the coming year? Are there activities that you would like to see or have COPA co-sponsor?
Here’s a short announcement and invitation from our chair Vince Lee.
Fill Out Our Survey
We want to hear from you! Please take a moment to fill out our quick survey. This is your chance to help us plan for activities in the coming year.
Welcome to another entry in the new ArchivesAWARE series, “Archival Authors” where we feature archivists who have used their professional experience to inform books they have written for the general public. What inspired them? How did archivistics affect the tone or direction of their book? What did they want readers to take away?
In this post, Kaye Lanning Minchew talks about her new book, “Jimmy Carter: Citizen of the South.” Minchew recently retired as Executive Director of the Troup County Archives and Legacy Museum on Main in LaGrange, Georgia, an institution that received the SAA Council Exemplary Service Award under her leadership. A Fellow of the Society of American Archivists, Minchew has served on the Board of Regents for the Academy of Certified Archivists, served as NAGARA’s representative to the NHPRC, has chaired the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council, and was named Georgia’s Writer of the Year for History in 2017 for her book “Franklin Delano Roosevelt: A President in our Midst.”
Transitioning from being an archivist to an author now seems to have been a natural progression in my career. Throughout the 32 years that I worked as director of the Troup County Archives in LaGrange, Georgia, I often said that if I got to research even one-fourth of the time that people thought I did, I could be a very happy person! Now that I no longer direct the operations of a museum and an archives, I get to focus my energy on researching and writing.
My first pictorial history focused on Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Georgia. During my first book signing at Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, I remembered another visitor who had walked the same ground. Jimmy Carter has spoken there several times, including giving a talk there on Labor Day, 1976, as his Presidential campaign entered the all-important fall season. With my new book, Jimmy Carter: Citizen of the South, I spent time at archives, especially the Jimmy Carter Library as I made extensive use of photographs, oral histories, and other archival records. Spending time researching and writing has had many rewards.
Researching a fairly-recent President meant that there were many resources available and some, but certainly not all, resources were digitized. My book focuses primarily on Carter’s post-presidency but one has to understand that his hometown of Plains, his Georgia governorship and his presidency of the United States from 1977-1981 to fully appreciate the many activities of this man. The photos, oral histories, newspaper and magazine articles used in my book help tell the Carter story.
Being a researcher at an archives instead of being a staff member is always interesting. Archives have varying rules and processes plus each place makes materials accessible in different ways. Try to share rules of an archives on your website so researchers can review them in advance. When I arrive at an archives, I am happy to look over the rules but I tend to be distracted by the research I am about to do so seeing the rules in advance and onsite can be a plus.
Another issue I face as a researcher is getting permission to publish a photo or a long quote. At the Troup County Archives, we always tried to respond as quickly as possible to such requests and I appreciate the many archivists who do the same, even during Covid days where staff may be working remotely. Answering questions from researchers and sharing information about using quotes or photos in a timely manner makes things much easier for authors. Researchers realize there may be legal issues but, whenever possible, try not to take six or ten weeks just to give a legalese answer!
One plus in having a former archivist or an archivist who is writing a book in their spare time is that these people appreciate the hard work involved in getting your collections ready for researchers! Authors/archivist get excited about a slightly blurry photo that helps prove one of their points. Assuming finding aids are readily available online, former archivists likely read those finding aids before their visits and use them to direct their research. Finally, those same researchers can sometimes help identify unidentified or incorrectly identified photos and documents, as long as they know you want the corrections and researchers can offer proof for their identifications. Generally having archivists as researchers is a win/win for all!
Bryan Whitledge is Archivist / Manager for University Digital Records for the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University. He currently serves as vice-chair of the Society of American Archivist’s Committee on Public Policy (SAA-COPP).
Have you ever considered how archives are funded? – we are talking about a true assessment of where the dollars are coming from to support archives and enable all of the work to collect, preserve, and make historical documents accessible? Chances are, it is a twisted knot of all sorts of tangled threads. And chances are, one of those threads, if we chase it to the end, involves some sort of federally backed public funding. Maybe it was a one-off grant for a small preservation project in the past couple years. Or maybe, years ago, there was major building renovation helped by a federal matching grant. Or maybe an archives is home to an ongoing multi-year project employing several people. Federal spending surely does not make up the bulk of archives expenditures at institutions across the country, but it does account for millions of dollars each year. And these dollars are often the difference between a particular project seeing the light of day or sitting on the shelf for another time.
So how does this money make it into the federal budget to be doled out to archives? Well, it doesn’t magically fall out of the sky. Nor does Uncle Sam have a particular soft spot for archives, history, and the humanities. The robustness of the programs that support the work of archivists and our researchers is because of the advocacy efforts of people across the country—people who, for generations, have worked to inform legislators about the importance of supporting archives, history, and humanities-related projects.
National Humanities Advocacy Day
For several years, professionals and students from across the country have traveled to Washington, DC, each March for a major humanities advocacy effort. In 2021, everything went virtual, but the goal is still the same: advocate at the federal level, with a core focus on increased funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). As those who work in humanities-related fields know, the NEH isn’t the only federal program that supports humanities learning, teaching, and research. For this reason, the organizers and advocates also include an archives-specific prong to their advocacy agenda: increased funding for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This is National Humanities Advocacy Day.
The name, “National Humanities Advocacy Day,” is a little misleading – it is not just a single day, but rather a major event put on by the staff of the National Humanities Alliance (NHA) and affiliated organizations. In the lead up to the event, NHA staff do much of the legwork of coordinating the advocates, scheduling meetings with legislative staff members (and, on occasion, legislators), gathering research on each legislator, and producing the concise information handouts for advocates to pass along to congressional offices.
In the days leading up the day of advocacy, advocates from each state are introduced to each other and they attend sessions to learn about legislative advocacy and the major messages NHA is asking advocates to hammer home. The NHA staff also provide advocates with research tools to find information that can be helpful when talking to a legislative staffer. For example, if a group of advocates is trying to speak to the local impact of NEH funding, there is no better source than the lists of grants awarded to a particular representative’s district. When an advocate can tell a Congressional office that the NEH has distributed $5 million of grant funding to seven different organizations in the district over the past 10 years, that gives a legislator something to think about in terms of the impact on their constituents.
In addition to information gathering and message honing, the days before Advocacy Day are used to fire up the participants with an inspiring keynote address. In 2020, the keynote, which included a special shout out to the archivists in the room (three of us), was delivered by Dr. Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress.
After a good night’s sleep, it is time for the big day – a day that could have upwards of ten meetings with different congressional offices. Advocates head to their meetings armed with their messages, their packets of information to leave with staffers, and their “I’m an Archives Advocate” pin (or another humanities-related slogan). Each meeting centers on the same kernel of information: funding for archives, humanities, and history is of critical importance.
But each meeting is a little different. For the legislator whose Facebook profile photo shows their family aboard a historic tall ship that sails the Great Lakes, maritime history is the ticket. For the staff member who mentions finding a copy of their ancestors’ naturalization certificates in the National Archives, family history is the angle. For the office displaying flags from all of the branches of the military, this is the occasion to talk about the NEH-funded programs to collect veterans’ stories as well as the services offered by NARA to support veterans.
So, what is the goal of walking miles back and forth between congressional office buildings for a bunch of 30-minute meetings with staff members who have hours of meetings each day (or clicking links for back-to-back-to-back Zoom or GoToMeeting video chats)? In some cases, the goal is action—asking a legislator to sign on to a letter of support. In other cases, the goal is getting on the legislative staff members’ radars during the budget drafting process so that they keep an eye out for archives, history, and the humanities in the proposed budgets. In yet other cases, it is about forging a relationship with a congressional staffer, someone who you can call on when there is a matter of urgency—and someone we can help when they need an archives and humanities expert.
SAA and Public Policy Advocacy
National Humanities Advocacy Day also allows archivists to connect and build strong relationships with our humanities advocacy partners. This past year, as the COVID-19 public health emergency took hold, SAA asked members to complete a series of NHA surveys about the needs of archivists and the impact of the humanities in our everyday lives. Last year, as Congress went to work crafting emergency funding bills in response to the pandemic, NHA staff used the information gleaned from these surveys to ensure that the $75 million for the NEH in the CARES Act would specifically include archive. While over 80% of NEH CARES grant applicants were denied because of the overwhelming need for emergency support for cultural organizations across the country, dozens of archives jobs were preserved by the funding and the Council of State Archivists received a grant that helped CoSA weather the crisis.
This year, two members of SAA’s Committee on Public Policy—Jess Farrell and me—were among the contingent of archivists who joined in the National Humanities Advocacy Day efforts. We show up to support our state advocacy groups and to offer an archivist’s point of view to the conversations. There is no shortage of work to be done and many members of SAA will continue to team up with our partners to advocate for archives and the humanities at the federal level.
But this will not be enough. Advocacy for archives at all levels of government will be imperative for archives to survive the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. For those who want to be more involved in telling policymakers of the importance of archives, SAA has many members who are happy to provide archivists with more information and guidance. You can start by checking out the public policy advocacy resources on the SAA site or contacting a member of SAA-COPP.
On October 22, 2020, Ryan Anthony Donaldson & Rachael Cristine Woody presented the webinar “Archives Are Always Essential” to 280 attendees. Below is a summary of the webinar complete with key takeaways, a summary of questions and answers, and a list of resources.
Many of us in the field know that archives are essential, but sometimes it feels like a best-kept secret. It’s challenging to convey the true value of our collections despite our best efforts with digital content, social media, and other outreach and awareness activities. It’s time to unleash the full potential of heritage collections and archives and we’ll show you how. This webinar will review historic outreach challenges, and how they’ve been compounded and complicated by larger global events in 2020. And in honor of Archives Month, we will explore proactive and actionable responses to these challenges–including relevant examples and additional voices.
Co-Presenter: Rachael Woody is the owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC. After a successful tenure at the Smithsonian Institution and the Oregon Wine History Archive, Woody established her consultancy to teach archives, museums, and cultural heritage organizations how to take care of their collections and advocate for their value. Woody has experienced precariously funded positions first-hand and has proven tactical strategies to demonstrate the value of collection work. As a result of her experience, Woody has dedicated herself to advocating for the value of collection work. She serves on SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness, established the Archivist-in-Residence (paid internship) program at Northwest Archivists, and serves on several salary advocacy committees.
Co-Presenter: Ryan Anthony Donaldson is a content strategist, information professional, and project consultant passionate about the creative and targeted uses of heritage content and archives. Donaldson previously worked as Senior Manager of Heritage and Information Services for The Durst Organization in New York City, conceptualizing and implementing a corporate archive program. He serves on the Archives Month Committee of Washington State and previously with the Business Archives Steering Committee with the Society of American Archivists.
The Archives industry has had historical issues with conveying value, as traditional outreach methods, such as events and exhibits, face significant challenges that are compounded by impacts from COVID-19. While it can be clear to archivists the potential value of heritage collections, it can be difficult to share this vision with stakeholders.
Challenges & Needs
Challenges include a sense of distance and isolation as archives are closed, trauma from job layoffs and cost reductions, with many challenges remaining unresolved for the near future.
To meet these challenges, responses and solutions need to be convenient, address existing needs, and packaged in appropriate ways and formats.
3 Related Responses
Consider the basketball pivot – stay on one leg in the same spot and turn the radius of your direction with the other foot which can feel uncomfortable.
The pivot change the direction of your delivery to achieve the same goal
Pivoting is a proactive way to reassess how to meet the needs of your community and audiences
Layers of pivots
Societal – Time to reflect on values and how archives can respond to current events through the lens of creativity, resilience, and rights. Also attention of audiences is online as screen time for U.S. audiences has increased by 1 hour in 2020.
Organizational – Opportunities for a brand audit that can leverage institutional and corporate archives; or in some cases, an opportunity to formalize or further build an archives
Career – Can be a way to involve individuals in other sectors to engage with archives; in particular for materials already digitized
Outcomes for successful pivots
Deliver on outreach initiatives amidst challenges
Increase audiences and
Retain, reinforce, & enhance online visibility
Response to changing environmental conditions
Look to organizational and industry accountability as an opportunity to express and verify cultural legacy.
Look for inbound and outbound strategies to address the inability to be on-site at the office and with the collections.
Layers of adaptations
Industries – Seek out best practices in other industries, especially art, travel, hospitality, events, service industries, healthcare
Adaptation model for traditional outreach programs are online
Increased extraordinary opportunities for engaging with colleagues globally, examining past practices critically, and to highlight a range of organizations actively communicating the value of archives.
Many programs are recorded and made available after.
Periods of adaptation reveal new opportunities for storytelling through history.
With the perceived value of archival labor diminished and resources denied, it is important to adapt through some self-care
Work and personal boundaries as distinction of space collapses
There are a variety of definitions for flexing, including those that may carry negative connotations.
Aspect of the definition to focus on:
Put your talents, abilities, and skills to use to support the collections.
Communicate the inherent untapped potential of archives to flex the value.
It can be challenging to keep attention with battles for screentime, so consider how to quickly & compellingly promote your collections online and communicate the brand story
As a subject expert, you may have the flexibility to access local cultural historical knowledge that can be shared globally.
Questions & Answers
Q: Do you have suggestions for making a business case for archives in a corporate setting?
A: Look for ways to align with marketing initiatives and core business activities. Consider what language is used with stakeholders – for instance, certain phrases may resonate more effectively than others (such as “legacy curation” for a wine business in place of “archives”). Think outside of the internal company to speak to and connect with larger milestones.
Q: What language should I use to convincingly convey the value of the collections?
A: Use general language rather than rely on technical language that has limited meaning outside of the archives industry and gives any impression of elitism. Tailor your language to your audience and to think strategically for how your audience can connect to an archives. Also consider the language of numbers and metrics, mixing qualitative statistics with some qualitative narratives for researchers and other audiences who have benefited directly from the archives.
Q: Do you have suggestions for expressing why a dedicated space for archival work is necessary?
A: Express how there is a continued value and a furthering of the initial investment in the archival materials. Be open to flexibility of multiple use spaces and developing relationships with facilities staff who maintain the properties in which the materials are housed. Develop a priority list focusing on the most fragile items for the best environment available given the resources. Reference best practices and lean into your expertise to guide discussions with other stakeholders. Calculate time and efficiences for collections being off-site without dedicated storage.