This blog post was authored by John Wallace ’24, an intern in the Library’s Special Collections unit from the Department of History in Fall 2023.
Prior to this internship, I worked in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Special Collections as a student assistant throughout the spring and summer of 2023. As an assistant, I gained a better understanding and appreciation of archiving, working with archivists to preserve and process historic materials. From this experience, I knew that archiving was a career I was called to. I applied and got accepted as an intern for Special Collections for the Fall semester to prepare myself for a career in archiving and to add crucial skills and experience to my library school application. The supervising archivists worked with me to tailor my internship so that I could gain the specific skills and experiences I needed: the creation of a finding aid.
I established a set of goals to create this finding aid and learn the associated skills. These goals were: 1) to understand how descriptive standards and controlled vocabularies are utilized to create digital access points for archival materials in collection management tools such as ArchivesSpace, 2) to utilize my knowledge of historical research methods to create robust archival descriptions, interpret and make use of descriptive standards such as DACS, 3) to edit and perfect archival descriptions guided by supervisor feedback, 4) to contextualize and present sensitive archival material following reparative archival practices, and 5) to understand and apply repository criteria for selecting archival material for digitization in accordance with Special Collections’ Collection Development Policy.
Throughout the semester, I authored a Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)-compliant finding aid for the Davis (Sandy) Sandlin photographs collection. This collection primarily consists of photographs of Chattanooga’s minor league baseball team, the Lookouts, as well as other materials such as signed baseballs, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia. The bulk of my work with this collection consisted of researching the various people, places, and events related to the collection materials. From this research, I created both a title and date range for each archival object. In order to effectively and accurately title and date each object, I learned how to utilize controlled vocabulary from the Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT). With the resulting titles and dates, I created digital instances for each physical object in ArchivesSpace, Special Collections’ collection management software. After this, I authored various notes based on DACS guidelines to describe the scope and contents of the collection, including the historical context of the collection and a biography of the collection’s creator, Davis Sandlin. These notes will aid researchers in better understanding the creation, context, and contents of the collection as a whole. With the resulting titles, dates, digital objects, and notes, the resulting finding aid will be published and accessible through Special Collections’ website.
Throughout this internship, I practically applied the historical research and interpretation skills I had learned through my coursework as a history student at UTC. I had to conduct extensive research on a variety of sources in order to accurately title and date each object and author robust archival descriptions. My knowledge of historical databases such as Newspapers.com’s Southeast Collection aided tremendously in accessing such sources. Likewise, my previous experience as an assistant in Special Collections and as a historic records keeper for an architectural firm proved useful. My familiarity with tools such as Google Sheets and ArchivesSpace allowed me to more effectively navigate the collection’s metadata and streamlined the creation of digital objects.
I overcame a multitude of challenges in this internship. One of the greatest challenges was learning and applying the controlled vocabulary of the AAT. The collection contains a diverse variety of photographs with different points of view and contents, thus, I had to familiarize myself with a wide array of terms and phrases to best title each object. To accomplish this, I consulted example collections on the Digital Public Library of America to see how other archivists would approach similar material. Another challenge in creating this finding aid was the subject matter of the collection. Being grossly unfamiliar with baseball and its history, authoring this finding aid forced me to expand my knowledge beyond my comfort zone. Listening to podcasts, documentaries, and videos about baseball and its history provided me with a broader context of the collection and its significance. The next challenge of this internship was titling problematic materials within the collection. A key example is the photograph below.
Joe Engel, president of the Chattanooga Lookouts club in the 1930s-1950s, was known to orchestrate various publicity stunts and events in Engel Stadium to increase interest in the team. One of his most well-known performances, however, included culturally insensitive and openly racist depictions of Native Americans. This photograph depicts Lookouts’ former scout and owner, Joe Engel and player Woody Arkeketa enacting a skit they titled “Custer’s Revenge.” It was a challenge to properly convey the problematic nature of some of the collection’s material while also following DACS standards and archive guidelines. I overcame this challenge by following reparative descriptive guidelines and consulting the publications of other archives while also reflecting on my own limitations as a white intern describing these contents. The final challenge of this internship was time management. Due to the large scale of the project and my unfamiliarity with guidelines such as AAT, a majority of the internship time was spent titling and dating the objects.
I am beyond thankful for this internship experience with Special Collections. I am honored to have worked with such wonderful archivists whose guidance and feedback helped refine my ability to create a quality finding aid. The skills, knowledge, and published work obtained through this internship will be invaluable to progressing my education and career in archiving.