Kate Philipson’s Internship at the Whitney Museum

This past spring semester (2018), APH student Kate Philipson worked at the American Irish Historical Society in New York City. Below you’ll find Kate’s blog post about her experience.

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As someone who appreciates art, museums, and history, my opportunity to intern in the Archives of the Whitney Museum of American Art was an ideal fit. While had the chance to learn about the larger mechanisms of the Museum and to assist patrons with various research requests, I primarily worked with a collection titled Early Museum History: Administrative Records, 1930–1960. This collection was visible on the website by name and accessible to researchers, but with extremely limited information about what it contained. Although the 14 boxes of documents (consisting of 477 folders) had been organized to some degree in the past, my role was to “re-process” the collection and provide more description.

By gaining better intellectual control over the materials, and by identifying some physical preservation needs, we made the museum’s founding history more accessible. Importantly, the records in this collection open significant windows into not only how the Whitney operated within the first three decades of its existence, but also how it uniquely fit into the larger New York City art world and the “modern art scene” during this part of the 20th century.

The collection seemed to have been compiled in the late 1980s from a variety of different sources, but with little documentation about who initiated or worked on it, what they did and why, or how they organized the records. This drove home one of the biggest take-aways of my archival education so far – as an archivist, you must keep a record of EVERYTHING you do, and explain it! Documenting your accession and processing decisions is key. So, working with this collection proved to be challenging (and interesting!) because it was like a puzzle. There were many question marks and unknowns to resolve, regarding the organization and contents of the series, subseries, and sub-subseries, the folders themselves, and the dates involved. Having a collection that is clearly organized and accurately described makes research easier for everyone moving forward, including the archivist. Much of my work involved identifying inconsistencies between the three series from its initial arrangement, which was structured by decade, as well as making the subseries and folders more standardized.

The Whitney’s Archives are primarily intended to serve internal users at the Museum, such as the Curatorial Department. However, the Reading Room also fields plenty of research requests from all levels of scholars and historians, curators from other museums, and artists. Included in this collection of Early Administrative Records are a vast range of paper materials, from administrative files, board minutes, and correspondence, to financial, legal, and property documents. By having greater access to historic curatorial research and exhibition information, plus significant records on art, artists, the museums’ collections, and notable occurrences within the world of art history, many different types of researchers can now gain a more in-depth understanding of the Museums’ early inner workings and its historical context.

Alexandra Gomer’s Internship at the New-York Historical Society

This past spring semester (2018), APH student Alexandra Gomer worked at the New-York Historical Society processing and creating a finding aid for the Myron S. Falk papers, adding to the over 20,000 linear feet of material held in the manuscripts collections. Below you’ll find Alexandra’s blog post about her experience.

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When I first received the Myron S. Falk papers, I was told that they consisted of the personal papers of an engineer from the New York City area during the 20th century. By the end of processing the collection, I had learned about a man that had far and wide reaching interests and associations. I processed correspondence and ammunition charts from the World Wars, photographs and artifacts from 1923 China and Japan, and correspondence regarding the Mercury Theatre and Orson Welles.

One of the main challenges I faced was deciphering an arrangement of the collection, as it was my first experience processing a collection that lacked a perceived organizational system or original order. Negotiating between creating a usable physical and intellectual arrangement and the time left to complete the project were always in my mind when making decisions. In the end, I found it was better suited for time management to leave materials within the folders as they were, not pulling any material together, and supplementing the less organized physical state of the materials with rich description in the finding aid through notes. I also made sure to note that although the collection is arranged into series, they were not rigid due to the mixed order of the materials.

Preservation issues were also an unforeseen challenge when processing the collection, especially because the formats included correspondences, diaries, nitrate film, photographs, newspaper, textiles, parchment, scrapbooks, artifacts, and blueprints. There were many item-level conservation issues that needed to be taken care of, such as putting loose newspaper clippings into sleeves of Mylar and/or paper and taking the time to flatten and organize small and folded correspondence found within envelopes while keeping the contextual manner in which they were found. There were also larger preservation issues that challenged the workflow of processing because the materials had to be separated from the collection when sent to the conservation lab, such as rolled papers that had to be humidified and flattened, and then, because they were often uniquely sized, time had to be spent finding adequate housing for them.

The benefit of having this experience in the format of an internship was that my supervisor, Larry Weimer, gave me an environment to work in that fostered the growth of my own judgement when faced with the many decisions, both small and large, that arose when processing the collection, while also providing the support of a sounding board to discuss my ideas with and ensuring I was heading in the right direction.

Archives & Public History Hosts “History Game Night”

With the semester coming to a close, the Archives & Public History Program thought it would be fun to host a “History Game Night” for our students. 

Photograph of Chronology card game

Chronology Card Game

This event, open to current students and recent alums, was designed to let the APH program come together, get to know one another,  and have fun outside the classroom.  We had a wide range of history games including “Chronology” (history timeline card game), a card version of “The Oregon Trail,” as well as a specially modified Jenga whose tiles featured NYC based trivia questions.

Those who played “Oregon Trail”  got to experience the harshness of Westward Expansion by having to navigate the perilous journey from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. 

Photograph of Oregon Trail Card Game

Oregon Trail Card Game

Students who played “Chronology” got to test their knowledge of history dates and events, as well as learn a few new things, such as the year Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women was published and when H.B. Reese introduced the peanut butter cup.

Photography of history jenga

New York City History Jenga

Finally, our New York City History Jenga, tested our students’ skills as architects and strategists — you have to make sure you don’t destroy the Jenga tower — whilst also testing their knowledge about New York City’s colorful history. For example, did you know NYC has 472 stations servicing 27 subway lines?! 

All in all, the evening was well attended and everyone had a lot of fun! We’re looking forward to hosting another “Game Night” in the spring.  

 

 

        

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