Monday, March 1, 2010

First Days GPBHM Collection Inventory

Practicum Blog GPBHM Collection
(T.A. Johnson)
February 16, 2010

One week ago, I met Mr. Jim Calloway at the Douglas County Historical Society. There we discussed the possibility of moving the Great Plains Black History Museum’s archival collection from the storage facility (on the lot of the Great Plains Black History Museum in Omaha) into the DCHS on temporary loan. Their lead archivist and Dr. Dennis Mihelich, a board member, attended the meeting. Both felt that they needed to view the collection before making any commitments, in order to determine its condition. The DCHS representatives also expressed uncertainty about whether they could take the collection on a temporary basis. Mr. Calloway decided to open the storage bin over weekend so that the contents could be viewed. On Saturday, staff from the Douglas County Historical Society viewed the contents, along with myself, and two representatives from the Nebraska State Historical Society. After long deliberation, and an offer to place the archival collection at the NSHS for a period of one year for safekeeping in dry conditions, and with the GPBHM retaining full title to the collection, Mr. Calloway decided to place the archives in with the NSHS in Lincoln.
Today, State Archivist Andrea Faling, and Curator of Manuscripts for the NSHS Tom Mooney, myself, and Mr. Calloway loaded onto a truck and transferred the paper portion of the collection to Lincoln. The primary reason for the move was that the materials were beginning to erode. The collection had been stored outside for a number of years due to damage to the roof of the museum. Some of the boxes were tingeing green with mold and a few photos looked to be deteriorating. It is hoped that funding, and or collaborations can be sought to help reconstruct a permanent home for the collection. After the move, Mr. Calloway and I went to see his mother, Bertha Calloway, the curator of the museum for nearly four decades, at the nursing home.

February 22, 2010
I met with Mr. Calloway at a local cafeteria, and we discussed the future of the collection for a couple of hours.

February 23, 2010
Mr. Calloway joined me for a tour of the Nebraska State Historical Society. He wanted to see where the papers are being stored, as well as the place where I will process them. The NSHS is undergoing renovations and we happened to arrive on moving day. Staff members were relocating their offices from one side of the building to another. It is easy to tell that many aspects of the facility have been updated. I think that we were both impressed, and Mr. Calloway inquired about the cost of the project.
February 26 Day 1
Today is Friday. It is my first opportunity to work with the papers. When I arrived at the NSHS I saw that Tom and Andrea had created an office for me. I have a desk, and a computer. I was surprised and very pleased. I spent some time going over a box of photographs. At length I described them. Most will remain in frames unless Mr. Calloway decides that he wants them removed. Most of the people in the photos are not identified (we may find out more when and if we look at the backs of the pictures). The photos included a picture of Omahans celebrating the Masonic festival St. John’s Day. There was also a picture of the locally famous Dan Des Dunes Band, a baby in buggy, and African Americans in early model cars (c. 1918-1930).
At length, I tried to survey the collection more generally. Many of the boxes are numbered and with labels on the outside. I tried to determine whether the labels matched the contents, but found cases where they did as well as cases where they did not. I also tried to organize a couple of boxes by number, and alternatively by color, to see if there were any correlation between those factors and the contents (i.e. associations of material between boxes according to some system). At last I noted that several categories of material emerged. At present I have found that there are: family collections; histories of integrated institutions in Nebraska, local history including a) church history, b) early African American schools, c) homesteaders, d) cowboys, e) and masons. There are also administrative papers, photograph collections (as well as photos in the topical collections), and a biographical collection of the Calloway family. The work was extremely interesting and the collection’s depths I have not yet been able to ascertain as I have only perused 10 or 15 of 180 boxes.