Session 16: Archival History

Moderator: Richard Cox (University of Pittsburgh)
Thomas Jefferson and the Art of Recordkeeping of His Time / Jane Zhang (Catholic University of America)

There might be no better person than Thomas Jefferson as the topic of study to observe the practice of recordkeeping of America at the turn of the nineteenth century. Born in 1743, he came of age a decade before the start of the American War for Independence, and lived through the decade of the American Revolution and several decades into the Early Republic before he died in 1826. He practiced law, ran his family plantation, served as a public official, and lived a life as a philosopher, writer, historian, diplomat, scientist, innovator and more. Above all, he was a meticulous record keeper all his lifetime.

Jefferson’s preoccupation with recordkeeping started early, ran deep, and lasted long. Early in his life, he kept separate records in memorandum books of expenditures, observations, technical notes, and climatological phenomena. All his lifetime, he wrote, copied (using copying machines of his time), and maintained his correspondence “with painstaking care”. He showed a strong interest in copying and publishing historical records as a means of long-term preservation and wrote to his historian friend: “let us save what remained: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use, … but by such multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident.”

The proposed paper will draw on evidence from Jefferson’s papers and related publications to discuss his recordkeeping practice as an example to understand the art of recordkeeping of his time. The research will consult Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress, Jefferson Library Collections at Monticello, the Papers of Thomas Jefferson published by Princeton University, and other related publications.

Trailblazer: Harold T. Pinkett, Archivist-Historian / Alex Poole (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill)

My paper will focus on Harold T. Pinkett, the first African American professional at the National Archives (1942-1979). Elected a Fellow (the first African American) of the Society of American Archivists (1962), Pinkett also edited the American Archivist (1968-1971, again, the first African American to hold the position) and served on SAA Council (1971-1972, still another first). The Society of American Archivists renamed its Minority Student Award for Dr. Pinkett in 1999. This paper shall restore Pinkett to a place of deserved visibility among current archival professionals. It will situate Pinkett among his professional peers as an archivist, historian, and administrator while underscoring the importance of his series of “firsts.” The Society of American Archivists encourages proactive measures with respect to diversity and social justice; scholarship on persons such as Harold T. Pinkett represents just such a salutary intervention.

Industrial History Through Collection Genres: The Origins and Early History of Manuscript Collections at the Hagley Museum and Library / Erik Nordberg (Michigan Technological University)

This research examines the founding and early development of the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware. The institution was founded in 1953 by Pierre S. du Pont, former president of the E.I. du Pont de Nemours chemical company and chairman of General Motors. Formed originally as the Longwood Library to house family papers, books, historical manuscripts, and records relating to early du Pont family business enterprises, it merged with a du Pont industrial museum at the site of the company’s former powder works in 1961 and became an active collector of business manuscripts. Initial work focused on the organization and cataloging of du Pont’s personal library and processing of the manuscript material dating back to the family’s roots in pre-revolution France. From the start, however, the mission and vision of Hagley staff was to broaden its manuscript acquisitions beyond du Pont businesses to include other significant industrial business ventures in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States.

Through its early history, Hagley confronted a variety of conflicting interests revealing the inherent differences in collecting and describing personal manuscripts, historical business materials, monographs, and the records of an ongoing multinational corporation. In addition, the enterprise engaged in an active conference and publication program, as well as a internationally significant research fellowship program with the University of Delaware. Hagley staff were recruited from fields reflecting these varied needs and interests, some assuming important leadership roles in the field of archives and records management.

This case provides a useful contrast and comparison to other significant American collections of business and industrial manuscripts. For instance, the Baker Library at the Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts was established decades earlier than Hagley to serve the nation’s first-ever graduate school of business and economics. It’s “case method,” in which student undertake analyses of real-world business problems, required access to a variety of business information, data which was collected and preserved in Baker Library’s collections. Alternatively, manuscript collections within the National Museum of American History, formed in 1955 as part of the Smithsonian Institution, reflect a museum approach in which important industrial manuscripts were acquired while gathering objects and artifacts for interpretive exhibits.

Although the mission, funding, and archival collecting activities of repositories for business records change over time, an examination of their establishment and early work highlights important differences in each institutional context which continue to affect their selection of manuscript material for permanent preservation. In the case of the Hagley Museum and Library, an initial collection developed around a singular family and its core industrial enterprise became the setting for a deliberate effort to collect and preserve regional industrial records. This research not only reveals aspects of archival practice at this specific institution but can inform appraisal and selection theory and future collecting in the topical area of business and industrial manuscripts.