Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hard day, Interesting discoveries

Today was a harder day at the archive, but I also made some very interesting discoveries with my co - intern Jake. We found a collection from a donor with a mixed assortment of objects. In addition to properly storing the materials, we also worked on identifying the connections between the various pieces. At first, we were not getting very far, finding more and more seemingly unrelated pieces, and getting cluttered and confused. This collection had very little information with it and only a few objects had the important data (i.e. names, dates, locations, etc). We knew that the collection was primarily from 2 different families; the Murakami family and the Arai family. We found quite a few photos with Mrs. Arai identified, but unfortunately not with her full name (yet). We also found a few with Tom Arai (her son) identified. In most of the photos he was pictured in uniform or at different locations in Europe during the war. I also found documents from the Veteran's Association describing his benefits as a disabled veteran. Finding this piece of information gave me a much greater sense of his life story. Before finding the photos, the question about his injuries or death during the war was always in the back of my mind as I have not yet seen a photo of him in his old age. Learning the extent of his injuries helped me understand not only his life, but also the lives of his mother and family. After looking through many more photos, including some from turn of the century Japan, Jake and I came across two large family portraits with the names "Tom", "Benzo", and "Chiye" written on the case holding them. In the photos were 3 children; 2 boys and a girl, and 2 adults. When we compared this portrait to other photos we had of Mr. and Mrs. Arai, it was obvious that the 2 adults were much younger versions of the couple. Tom, who was seated on his father's lap looked just like the uniform - clad Tom pictured in Italy (pictured in my previous post). His face was only a bit chubbier and his outfit a bit tinier. I realized that I had also seen a photo addressed to Chiye in the collection, as well as a few other unidentified portraits with it. We compared the photos to the little "Chiye" and noticed another significant resemblance. This connection will have to be further investigated and verified, but finding these links gave us hope. We could tell, from the quality and framing style of the family portait, that this object was from many years before the army photos, supporting our conclusions about the individuals pictured. While we were only able to build some understanding about a few objects, the result was rewarding. Our next few visits to the archive will probably be focused on these materials, and hopefully we can make more interesting discoveries.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Archiving Materials

An essential and seemingly very boring part of archiving is understanding the physical materials. Part of archiving is studying materials and identifying names, dates and donors for pieces. The other part is putting these identified materials away in high quality containers that protect the objects from damage. Every piece of the packaging is important as acids as well as natural chemicals that seem harmless can really damage a piece over time. Therefore, it is important that we utilize every precaution when dealing with these delicate and irreplaceable pieces. Using cotton gloves when handling anything that can be damaged by the oils and proteins on our hands is an important step to remember. Taking extra care with old newspapers and magazine can be more difficult than one would expect. And finally one of the most difficult tasks is to attempt to restore an item that has undergone damage from improper storing. Being mere interns, our abilities to restore a damages piece are very minimal, however, even the smallest tasks can be very difficult as we must avoid causing further damage.

The CJAHS is a very small organization, so buying thousands of the highest quality cardboard for boxing objects, or the latest photo negative scanner is not always an option. However, some expensive materials must be purchased, which is why I try to find innovative ways to recycle materials for some of the less important parts of archiving.

One day as we were organizing large boxes and storing many different objects in them, it became apparent that we needed a way to easily identify which objects were in what boxes without permanently labeling any of them. Writing on the boxes in pencil might have worked but would become messy if things needed to be erased. Still, we could not leave them blank. I noticed a pile of transparent small plastic photo protectors that had belonged to a series of WW2 era propaganda postcards donated to the CJAHS. The postcards were relocated into our files and did not need their protectors. I also found a large stack of stiff paper that was no longer being used either. So I decided to cut the paper to fit the plastic protectors and attach the plastic to the boxes. Now the accession numbers for all the objects in the box can easily be added and removed without risk of damaging the box itself.

While this may seem like one of the most boring parts of my work at the archive I actually quite enjoyed the process of discovering a cheap solution for a little problem. Also, it was satisfying to see all the boxes together with a uniform look. I hope that even though I do not have professional expertise, I can make some contribution to the organization of the archive. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Day with Photos

Last Saturday, I returned to the CJAHS archive. As it stands today, there is a great amount of work to be done. Accessioning items into our new program means that every item within the archive must be removed, examined, identified, and stored in its new, proper location. Some items are easier to identify and have ample amount of information attached to them. Others, namely photographs, are harder to link to a year, person, or location. During my last visit to the archive I only worked with photographs. I had been working on a large stack of photographs on the previous Saturdays, but the pile was becoming overwhelming. So, I decided to focus on a group of old photos from a single donor. I was lucky enough to find one large photo in which a group of Japanese Americans were posing with a massive tarp sign which fully identified the photograph.

Chicago Japanese Christian Church Group Spring Tour

I also was able to recognize Mrs. Arai, giving me a better sense of the photographs origins. In the same collection I found photographs of the same individuals posing in front of various monuments in Washington D.C. I also found a photograph of the group at a Christian gathering with what appears to be many different individuals from a variety of churches. While at first the task appeared very daunting, as I began to put the pieces together, I was able to understand the history behind the photographs. It felt like the moment when you finally solve a multilayered puzzle.

As I explored further into this collection of photos, I came across some very interesting photographs of Tom Arai in the army. From his uniform and the dates listed on a few of the photos I was able to identify the year, which placed him in the Second World War. Furthermore, "Rome", "Genova" and "Pisa" were written on the backs of the photos. This was one of my most interesting discoveries, as I have recently visited Genova while studying at the John Felice Rome Center. Never would I have guessed that my work in the CJAHS archive would bring me all the way back to Rome.

Tom Arai in Pisa, Italy