Archives + Audiences: Andretta Schellinger, Historian and Author

 

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Andretta Schellinger of Schellinger Research. Photograph courtesy of Schellinger Research.

This is the latest entry in our Archives + Audiences series, which features the perspectives of archival audiences – scholars, journalists, filmmakers, artists, activists, and more – for whom archives have been an important part of their life and work.  In this post, we feature COPA member Rachael Woody’s conversation with Andretta Schellinger and her experiences using historical materials to write her books.

 

Andretta Schellinger graduated from Pacific University with a Bachelor’s in History and Sociology before attending Hawaii Pacific and receiving a Master’s in Military and Diplomatic studies. While in Graduate school, she received an ORISE Fellowship to work in the records room at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command on Hickam Airforce Base, now known as the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). After leaving JPAC, she used her experience to start Schellinger Research, a company based on the belief that history should be shared through the digital and physical world and actively works to build the bridge between them.

RW: First, tell us a little more about From Knights to Skulls and The Men Beyond the Stones.

AS: “From Knights to Skulls” is a look at how culture, both military and civilian, affected the artwork, or nose art, that was placed on planes from World War I through Vietnam. It digs deeper than what was painted into the why’s and who of the artwork. While the book is out of publication, McFarland & Co have republished it as “Military Nose Artwork”. The new book is slightly different and updated, as it has a chapter on current conflicts and what the future holds for nose artwork.

“The Men Beyond the Stones” came about due to my never-ending search for information, particularly the who and why of something. I wanted to know who the men were, how they died, and why they were memorialized. It goes deeper than just a snapshot into their lives, as it looks at the creator of the structure, and the one individual who was from the county and died, but was not included.

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Books written by Andretta Schellinger, author and historian. Photograph courtesy of Schellinger Research.

RW: What inspired you to write these books and use historical materials?

AS: “From Knights to Skulls” was my graduate thesis and what inspired me for it was History of Aviation and Airpower, a graduate class I took. I didn’t know what to do my final paper on, and while talking to the professor he suggested Aircraft Nose Art. I was instantly hooked, and during my Artist, Imagery and War I continued with the progression of Aircraft Nose Art. While sadly the professor who introduced me to the topic left the university before I started working on my Thesis, I pushed through and really began to appreciate culture and the way that culture and history are intertwined. Historical documents for that book kind of fell into my lap, especially nose art imagery.

As for “Men Beyond the Stones,” when I first moved to Oregon after living in Hawaii for graduate school, I travelled to Maryhill’s Stonehenge, a fully built representation of what the English Stonehenge may have looked like centuries ago. On the inner circle’s pillars are bronze plaques representing the men who died from Klickitat County during World War I. I wanted to know more about the men other than their name, birth date and death date. Using my knowledge gained in part at JPAC, I started to research. I relied on the military records to give me a good view of what their life was like during service, but for their child and young adulthood I used newspaper articles.

RW: You’ve written several books and articles, can you tell us more about your process and what goes into creating these written works?

AS: When I narrow my focus to a specific topic that I want to research, I make sure to always look for information that was already published. For both of my books, there was not a lot of information published that looked at the things the way I looked at them. For example, there are many books on military nose art, but those that do look at the culture side, tend to skim over that, and focus mainly on the pictures of the planes and the art. Those are great for the general audience, but not what I had questions about.

Or there could be information out there, but not in one location. Like with “Men Beyond the Stones”. There are many websites that briefly touch on the memorial aspect of the stones, but they’re not comprehensive, because the writers were not looking at those specifically, but more as an addendum to their intended focus.

After that I gain the documents I need, be it newspaper articles, military records, or other primary documentation to assist me with my research, I start writing. I am not one of those authors who outlines a book down to specifics and then essentially fills in the outline. Some authors use that method and it works great for them. I am the type that starts typing out what I want to say, with my source material near so I can grab it when I need an answer for something. While it works for me, I do not recommend this technique for everyone.

RW: How do you choose which materials to inform your books?

AS: That really depends on what I am writing about. For information concerning individuals like my current project, or “Men Beyond the Stones” I seek out information about the individual. For projects that are broader or that I haven’t narrowed the focus on, I tend to go broad with the materials and them slim down as I get narrower on my focus. I cannot even begin to count how many resources I started with for “From Knights to Skulls” because I had no idea where it was going to land. As I narrowed down both the culture and art side, I was able to remove sources that were not pertinent.

I believe in including everything that I use, no matter how seemingly unimportant it is, because, especially with “From Knights to Skulls,” it was intended as higher level reading material, and I wanted to give future researchers all of the tools that I had when I wrote it. I do not believe in hiding or leaving things out because ‘I found them’, I am a firm believer in source sharing whenever possible.

RW: Please share a story of one of your great archival finds or a fond memory of an archives visit.

 

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Portable scanning station setup with overhead scanner. Photograph courtesy of Schellinger Research.

AS: When I worked for JPAC, I spent a lot of time at NARA scanning military documents for use to help identify remains brought back by our teams. I remember the first time I walked in, bright eyed and bushy tailed thinking I was going to solve all the problems with my laptop and scanner. Only to be told by the archivist, who I later learned had been there for 15 years and became well acquainted with, that I could not bring in my laptop or scanner until I had taken a test. There I was, about to take on the 1500 files that I had requested of them not a month earlier, having to leave the room to take a test. The archivist personally handed me the test with a look, that I could only describe as pity. Awhile later, she handed me my archive license and told me to be careful with the documents. Off I skipped back to my laptop to start processing and scanning the documents.

 

RW: How have archives helped to inform your work?

AS: In some cases, the archival documents have inspired my work, in that I have found something while searching for something else that has taken me down a rabbit hole. That rabbit hole is usually deep and consists of me having books and documents everywhere in my office. For example, while working on “Men Beyond the Stones” I learned about a unit that I hadn’t heard about before. That has since led me to start researching, and I have a book in process.

Most times, what the archives do for me is to help broaden my subject matter. Sometimes I get hyper focused on one thing, and while reading the documents, I find small branches that can help to not only fill in gaps in my knowledge, and the knowledge I wish to impart in my work, but also to fill out the work itself. One good example is that I hadn’t looked at the use of propaganda as much as I should have when I was working on “Knights to Skulls”, but when I started looking into culture, one thing that kept coming back around was the use of propaganda to manipulate.

RW: Is there something you’re still searching for and haven’t found it in the archives yet? (We know people ;))

AS: I still have some soldiers that I can’t find images for from “Men Beyond The Stones” and while the book is published, I still look to hopefully find that long lost photo. It’s the little voice in the back of my head saying, “you should have looked harder.”

I am currently working on a book about the Lane County Spanish American War deceased, so I am starting to search for those individuals. I doubt there will be many images, but you never know until you look.

RW: Were there any barriers to using or accessing the collections? If so, please tell us about it.

 

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A CZUR overhead scanner used to safely scan materials. Photograph courtesy of Schellinger Research.

AS: One of the biggest barriers that I have discovered is the lack of digitization, which is one of the reasons I started Schellinger Research. It is often impractical to fly around the US or even the World to find that one piece of paper that may make or break your writing. Jobs, families, financial constraints all play a part in creating a barrier for some researchers.

 

For this reason, I’m a big proponent of digitizing and, at the very least, documenting what a collection contains. That way researchers can view the collections from their home, or a local library. I feel this will vastly broaden the collective knowledge available and it will give a voice to those who may under other circumstances be unable to share their resource with the world.

RW: What’s one thing you wish the general public knew about archives?

AS: It’s not just large nondescript buildings that have workers wearing glasses with chains. It’s small archives in the back of museums, it’s cubbies at libraries that are full of documents you can’t check out, it’s in your grandmother’s’ attic (we all have that grandmother who has collected everything about something). Archives can be everywhere and of every size.

Also, archivists don’t just love the material they are processing, but they love sharing it with others. I have had archivists who were giddy with excitement to show me something they found while digging for something I asked for. And in some cases, digging is exactly what happens, because there are not enough days, man hours, or people to process all the archival material that’s being made on a daily basis. Be kind to the archivists in your life, they are the keepers of the materials you may need.

RW: What are some of the reactions you’ve received by writing and publishing these written works?

AS: The reaction from “Knights to Skulls”, and its new incarnation “Aircraft Nose Art” has been quite mixed. Some people love how I got into the culture behind the art, others hate that I didn’t add more images of the planes themselves. Some thought that I did a great job connecting culture to the aircraft art, others felt they could have done it better themselves.

For “Men Beyond the Stones”, the response has been almost universally positive. From people not knowing about the reason Stonehenge is there, to others really appreciating that I looked at it from the service members point of view.

While not all reviews, both positive or negative, are helpful, the ones that are help me to become a better writer, historian, and overall more aware of those around me and how my work affects them.

2 thoughts on “Archives + Audiences: Andretta Schellinger, Historian and Author

  1. PeterK says:

    Great interview. as I’m interested in nose art i’ll definitely pick up a copy of the book. But one question What was the test about??

    Like

    • Andretta S. says:

      Hi, thanks for reading my interview and reaching out. The test ranged from basic get to know the archive, to more specific how-to handle archival documents according to their rules. Some of the information was given to me in a binder before the test, while other things I was expected to know.

      Like

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