Internship at the Archives Center, National Museum of American History
During the spring of 2011, I was an intern at the Archives Center under the supervision of Archivist Alison Oswald. In the course of my internship, I processed the collections of the Fox Movie Flash Street Photography records and the Robert A. Cummings collection. Both of these collections contained a variety of materials, including papers, blueprints, photographs and negatives, lantern slides, glass plate negatives, and three-dimensional artifacts. Additionally, I inspected and inventoried a number of 16mm films that are part of the N.W. Ayer collection at the Archives Center.
During my internship, I learned a variety of skills that archivists possess – from researching to cataloguing to writing finding aids to physically constructing the folders and boxes that house materials. An archivist must be organized, flexible, creative, and accountable as they serve as the custodians of the documents of our past.
The Fox Flash Street Photography Records:
Finding Aid: Fox Movie Flash Street Photography Records
The first collection I processed were the records of an independent street photography business in San Francisco during the 1940s-1970s. In the days before mass camera ownership, photographers would stand on street corners and photograph tourists and locals as they passed by. They shot these images on huge rolls of film, and would only print the specific images that people placed order cards to buy. These images and documents provide a fantastic look at a period in time when people would dress up to shop at the big department stores downtown.
Joe Selle was the proprietor of the Fox Flash Street Photography company, as well as a licensed street photographer.
From the 1940s to the 1970s, these street photographers would take snapshots of passers-by.
People could fill out order cards and send them in to receive copies of the photographs that were taken of them.
Many of the images we received at the Archives Center were mounted on aluminum plates for the photographers to show potential customers examples of their work. These 3-D objects needed to be stored in a way that the image would be accessible, while the object would receive minimal handling.
Sink mats are the solution! Archivists cut out holes in pieces of cardboard to fit an object, then “sink” the object in. Another layer of cardboard on top serves as a protective covering.
The Cummings Structural Concrete Company Records:
After I finished processing the Fox Flash records, I looked for another project. I found it in the Cummings Structural Concrete Company records. While I have a background in photography and film, concrete was a subject I knew nothing about. Everything I know about soil testing, gradients, and dry docks comes directly from this collection.
Robert A. Cummings founded the company after he discovered a way to reinforce concrete structures in the early 1900s.
Here, his son displays the patented “Cummings System.”
Though he completed projects throughout the eastern seaboard, Cummings based his company out of the industrial town of Pittsburgh.
The company was responsible for the construction of bridges, barges, docks, railroads, and commercial and residential buildings.
One great thing about processing this collection was that I had the opportunity to process and house unfamiliar materials, including glass plate negatives and lantern slides.
As an archival technician for a large federal agency, I am exposed to archival practices daily. This internship, however, exposed me to new challenges and scenarios while allowing me to learn about the ins and outs of being an archivist in a smaller institution. Being able to see and participate in the variety of tasks in the daily operations of an organization committed to preserving our past has been a wonderful experience.
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