I got the email this week, just as I was pouring through a treasure trove of monthly meeting minutes from the 1920’s to the late 1950’s of the Garrett Park Civic Study Group, the local women’s neighborhood association. I felt fairly confident taking the exam and I had spent hours at the local library and on the rooftop of our building pouring through the readings and notes from Prof. Jane Zhang’s courses at CUA-MSLIS. I passed and as soon as I complete the required work experience I will be a full member of the Academy of Certified Archivists.
But the real story is the treasure trove I discovered. The women’s group was founded in 1914 but it wasn’t until the end of World War 1 that they got really serious about meeting regularly and keeping a very meticulous record of their activities. They met every month from 1917 until 1959, recording local events, holding discussions about national events, recording dues payments and expenses, and, in short, building their civil society. It’s an amazing collection of stories, data, and daily chit-chat over a most momentous time in American history. I’m hoping I can get one of our student volunteers to take it on as a project and I am thinking about doing a presentation for the county historical society annual meeting.
The items altogether were scattered across several different subject sub-collections, but when one of the town archives pioneers (she’s in her nineties now but still sharp as a tack) told me that the archives had been built originally around the collection of records of various women’s associations in town, I realized that that was the true “original order” and pulled it all into one new sub-collection. It’s what I love most about archiving: original order, provenance, and, of course, the archivist’s discretion in arranging and describing.
I missed the Emir Abd-elkader seminar at AU this week. I first heard about Abd-elKader, the mid-19th century Algerian Sufi sheik and international human rights advocate from my Arabic tutor in Cairo, himself a “closet” Sufi sheik (you have to be careful with religious identity in Egypt!). Abd-elkader, aka Abd-el Qadir for you Arabic purists out there, fought valiantly against the French occupation and eventual annexation of Algeria, spent time exiled in Damascus where he saved the lives of thousands of Syrian Christians, and was eventually honored for his humanitarianism in Paris by Napoleon III, in London by Queen Victoria, in Rome by Pope Pius IX, and in Washington by President Lincoln who sent him a matching pair of Colt pistols as a tribute. A group of his followers emigrated to the U.S. and settled in a small town in Iowa, Elkader, IA, which bears his name until today. He was well known and respected among American intelligentsia and religious scholars, especially the Mormons, Christian Scientists, and evangelical groups of the mid 19th century.
My little secret is that when Emily Dickinson (whose family was part of that intelligentsia) says in one of her poems that she “never saw a Moor,” she was telling one of her slant truths – She knew of Abd-el Qadir! I’m willing to wager that Walt Whitman also knew of the Algerian Moor. Here is more information on Abd-el Qadir. Wikipedia has a well sourced article with great references and external links.
In full disclosure, I have a deeper interest in Algeria. I worked for a couple of years in my former career with the Algerians and Moroccans trying unsuccessfully to resolve the conundrum (what’s a better term for a permanent state of war) known as Western Sahara. I later learned that, unknown to us, or at least to me at the Deputy Assistant Secretary level, both the Algerians and Moroccans were making huge contributions to the Clinton Foundation to curry favor with the Secretary of State, each hoping for top level buy-in on their respective sides of the conflict. The New Diplomacy. Soft Power! Pay to play! Diplomatic efforts were a joke compared to all that high finance. We thought we were making a difference. We thought we were saving the world. It was just about the Benjamins for the Clinton machine.
In the next phase at work I will shift from archives to records management and complete the records retention schedule. Shouldn’t take more than a week. Then it’s back to arranging and describing and preparing for the migration to ArchivesSpace. ArchivesSpace is an open source, web based archives information system. It is also a community of really cool archivists and IT genuises.
There are several stages to complete, and between archiving, catching up oral histories, training and supervising volunteers, and records management, all while working two days a week, I anticipate completing the whole migration project by Summer 2019, with a bit of luck, insha-llah.
Keep in touch!