Special Event on Nov 16: The Iron Curtain

On Tuesday, November 16, Mason Libraries and Mason OLLI (the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University) will host “The Iron Curtain,” a virtual event, from 3:30-5 p.m. This event is open to the Mason community, but registration is required – please register here to reserve your spot, and a Zoom link will be sent to you prior to the event.

A panel of selected OLLI members will discuss the pivotal years of the Cold War and their pervasive influence on American culture. The panel will be moderated by Samuel Clowes Huneke, assistant professor in the Department of History & Art History at Mason. The event will be recorded and added to the Special Collections Research Center’s (SCRC) Oral History Program collection.

“The Iron Curtain” marks the fifth annual special oral history collaboration between SCRC and OLLI. The program is funded by a Special Project Grant awarded to the University Libraries by OLLI Mason.

An associated exhibition, Looking Over Our Shoulder: The Cold War in American Culture, is now on view in the Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) exhibition space on the second floor of the Fenwick Library on Mason’s Fairfax campus. A corresponding digital exhibit is also available online. Read more here.

New exhibition on the Cold War in American Culture

Looking Over Our Shoulder: The Cold War in American Culture is now on view in the Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) exhibition space. A corresponding digital exhibit is also available online.

High School students practice “duck and cover” technique. Oliver F. Atkins photograph collection, C0036, Box 54, Folder 118, Special Collections Research Center.

In Looking Over Our Shoulder, members of the SCRC team have selected examples from the Libraries’ special collections that illustrate aspects of American life during the Cold War from a variety of angles, through manuscripts, photographs, publications, material culture, and other items. From concerns about the spread of Communism, the threat of atomic warfare, and the Space Race to architecture, fashion, art, film, theatre, novels, and even home décor, the exhibit demonstrates the pervasiveness of the Cold War era on every aspect of American life.

With each exhibit curated by SCRC, Bob Vay (technology and exhibitions archivist) tries to link the history to the lived experience here at Mason. For Looking Over Our Shoulder, he curated a case focused on “The Cold War as A Source of Dissent at George Mason College/University” and highlighted some of the protests in the 1960s. In addition to his work in creating the corresponding digital exhibit, Vay will be sharing a series of blog posts about the current exhibition on the Special Collections Research Center blog. His introduction to the exhibit is available here, and his exploration of “The Ever Present Fear of Atomic Attack & Atomic Energy” is available here.

On Tuesday, November 16, 2021, SCRC will be partnering with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University (Mason OLLI) to host “The Iron Curtain,” a virtual event where Professor Samuel Clowes Huneke will moderate a panel of select OLLI members regarding the history of the Iron Curtain and their individual experiences. This event is made possible by an OLLI Mason Special Project Grant awarded to the Libraries. The discussion will be recorded and added to SCRC’s Oral History Program collection.

SCRC collections are available for use by students, faculty, researchers, and others for research or instructional use. In addition to the items featured in the current exhibit, SCRC holds other related collections to the Cold War as well as many other subject areas. For more information SCRC and their collecting areas, visit their collections site.

Archives Month 2021: Activism + Archives

By Amanda Brent, Processing Coordinator, Special Collections Research Center

It hardly needs to be said, but 2020 and 2021 have been landmark years for the United States, and the world at large. Not only did 2020 bring a global pandemic, it also brought forth focused attention on racism, bigotry, and institutional inequality like never before. This led to a groundswell of activism and a fight for intrinsic human rights – particularly those of BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) communities – that the U.S. has not seen since the 20th century. The activism of thousands of Americans, both past and present, inspired this year’s Virginia Archives Month theme – Activism and Archives.

Marchers, many carrying signs, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963. Oliver F. Atkins photograph collection, C0036, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

How do archives intersect with activism? Well, not only do archives provide documentation of activists, activism, social movements, and social injustices through the decades, archives and archival collections are also used as tools in modern activism. Examples include: bringing a modern lens to past injustices, gathering information to support modern causes and research, and providing information and documentation to assist with reparations. We’ve included links to projects and news where archives supported these kinds of inspiring and necessary projects.

This year, we welcome you to explore records from Virginia repositories highlighting activism of the past and present on our Flickr page. Free coloring pages can be used in the classroom, both in person or virtually, to teach about activism and protest. We’ve also created some downloadable postcards for you to print off and send to your representatives so you can advocate for the causes you’re passionate about. (Post cards are also available in SCRC on the second floor of Fenwick Library!)

As always, we also have links to archival information and events happening during October. We hope you’ll find some benefit to these resources and share them with colleagues, friends, and family. All of this can be found at https://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/archivesmonth/2021/

Preservation and Conservation at work

Following up on Preservation Week, Amanda Brent, Processing Coordinator in the Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, has written a piece examining the difference between preservation and conservation, with an example from our special collections.

In the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC), or in any archives for that matter, you hear the words preservation and conservation tossed around a lot – and for good reason! For though archivists are the stewards of hundreds of linear feet of collections and rare books, we don’t always have the resources to repair the inevitable damage that befalls the collections in our care. Damage can occur for a multitude of reasons, and is oftentimes, quite simply, unavoidable. Sometimes collections or purchased records arrive at our repository damaged, or sometimes they accrue damage over time due to the format degrading. However, just because a record or collection is physically damaged, does not necessarily mean that the research value is damaged. In fact, because the research value and uniqueness of the item is of the utmost importance, we call on our friendly preservation librarians and conservators to help us out.

Preserving items is an essential function in archives, one that keeps records safer for longer, so that researchers can continue to use them for as long as possible. Preservation is also a continuum, ranging from fixing specific damage on an item or collection, ensuring proper housing of items, managing climate and pest control in your repository, to ensuring your repository’s building is up to snuff. But what exactly is the difference between preservation and conservation?

Preservation

Preservation in archives is defined as “the professional discipline of protecting materials by minimizing chemical and physical deterioration and damage to minimize the loss of information and to extend the life of cultural property.”[1] In SCRC specifically, “preservation” generally means we can identify and solve the problem in-house with the help of our amazing Head of Preservation Services, Amy Sullivan. “Solving the problem” can entail mitigating and halting the cause of damage, and in some cases repairing the item. An example of this would be repairing a structurally unsound book binding, repairing rips and tears in a document, or getting a fragile item out of an old frame. Preservation also encompasses Digital Preservation, which is a whole other discipline that could be discussed at length another time.

Conservation

Conservation, on the other hand, is defined as “The repair or stabilization of materials through chemical or physical treatment to ensure that they survive in their original form as long as possible…Conservation counters existing damage, as distinguished from preservation, which attempts to prevent damage.” However, “Conservation does not always eliminate evidence of damage…”[2] Occasionally, we have to send off an item/items to be conserved – this generally occurs at the nexus of a) the item is damaged beyond the repairing capability of our in-house staff and b) the record is deemed of such archival value and importance that repairing it becomes a priority.

An Analogy

Let’s use a medical analogy to clarify the varying relationships between these cultural heritage experts in an instance of something needing conservation. A patient (a damaged record or collection) gets a routine check-up from their GP (the archivist), who sees them regularly and knows their medical history. The GP notices something wrong with the patient in their encounter – perhaps something they cannot fully address by themselves – and then refers the patient to a specialist. The specialist (or in this analogy the preservation librarian) can further identify the issue at hand and what the patient truly needs in order to address the issue satisfactorily. In some cases, the specialist might recommend surgery. And that’s when a surgeon (the conservator) comes along to fix or mitigate the damage. The GP, specialist, and surgeon, or in other words, the archivist, preservation librarian, and conservator all have differing and important roles, but working together as a team is essential to caring for the record or collection in question.

An Example

One such collection in SCRC, the Grant of Thornton land from Malcolm de Chastillon to Robert, son of Robert Symond (C0401) from 1327 C.E., was recently sent out for conservation at the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). The item, which was acquired in relatively stable condition for its age, was deemed by SCRC archivists and the Head of Preservation Services to be in need of conservation. Though the item could be stored unharmed in our stacks, we were concerned about future patrons handling the item and therefore perpetuating the damage it had already suffered during its 694 years of existence. So, off to NEDCC it went and below is the conservation plan they proposed and that we accepted:

  • Tension mount parchment onto a double-sided window mat with Japanese paper strips using wheat starch paste. The paper strips will be attached to the perimeters of the mat using Jade 403 and wheat starch paste.
  • A sealed package will be created by sealing the window mats, object and archival backings between two pieces of UV filtering acrylic glazing with Scotch #805 archival sealing tape.
  • Create an archival fluted box to store the sealed package.

And here is the final result! Now this collection can be easily accessed by patrons in a manner that is safe for all, and will ensure the longevity of the item.


[1] https://dictionary.archivists.org/entry/preservation.html

[2] https://dictionary.archivists.org/entry/conservation.html

Harlem on My Mind: Abram Hill

Audio clips from oral history interviews contained in the Special Collection Research Center’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) oral histories collection were recently featured in the final installment of Harlem on My Mind, a segment of the Into America podcast with Trymaine Lee. In this final installment of Harlem on My Mind, Lee learns about the legacy of playwright Abram Hill, who used his work to center Black characters, Black audiences, and Black communities unapologetically.

Hill worked with the WPA’s Federal Theatre Project until the program ended in 1939. In 1940, Hill co-founded the American Negro Theater, also known as the ANT, which would become a launch pad for stars like Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier. Hill’s name and legacy is not widely known today, and Lee devotes much of the podcast to sharing Hill’s voice and reflections.

Thanks to a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library & Information Resources (CLIR), SCRC recently digitized the WPA oral history collection audio and interview transcripts, featuring persons who were associated with various WPA projects in the 1930s, including the Federal Theatre Project, Federal Art Project, Federal Music Project, and Federal Writers Project. The digital project will be made available via a new website later this spring.