Updated descriptions and new finding aids available

We have written a lot about process here on Fondly, Pennsylvania to let you know what projects we have in the works, but I realized that we have not kept up with telling everyone what we’ve completed.  There are 51 collections included in the Digital Center for Americana project, and at this point, 22 collections have been processed, conserved and digitized (in part).  I thought I’d share a list of those collections as a way to celebrate our accomplishments, and to give interested readers the opportunity to peruse our new finding aids and descriptions.

Small collections, which have descriptions in our OPAC, but not full finding aids:

  • Pierce Butler letterbooks (Am .0368)
  • Daniel H. Emerson diary (Am .062)
  • William F. Colton diaries (Am .10246)
  • Charles R. Mervine diary (Am .10385)
  • Journal of Isaac Jones Wistar (Am .192)
  • Manuscript diary (unknown author) (Am .451)
  • Helen S. Grier diary (Am .6090)
  • Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society records (Am .216, .2161, .2162)
  • James E. Wenrick diary (Am .66954)
  • Richard H. Coolidge letterbook (Am .6698)
  • Daniel Dougherty diaries (Am .6702)
  • Civil War envelopes and currency collection (Collection 1605)
  • Charles C. Burleigh papers (Am .8192)
  • William McCarter My Life in the Army (Am .6952)
  • Society of Friends Committee of Women to Inquire into the Condition of Friends Manumitted Slaves minutebook (Am. 7218)

Finding aids are now available for the John Rutter Brooke papers (Collection 78) and the Andrew Atkinson Humphreys papers (Collection 304).

Finding aids and descriptions will soon be available for the rest of the newly processed materials, and we’ll keep updating you about our progress on the Digital Center project.

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Surveying Humphreys’ view of the Mississippi River

River Gauge, circa 1850

One of the remarkable components of the A.A. Humphreys papers is the documentation of the surveys the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers conducted during the 1850s and 1860s.  These surveys were done in response to repeated flooding along the Mississippi Delta.  Humphreys was appointed head of a team to make recommendations about how to remedy the flooding problem.  He and his assistant, Henry L. Abbot, spent many months along the River assessing the viability of the levee system.  They published two voluminous reports on the matter–Report on the Mississippi River (1861) and Report upon the Physics and Hydraulics of the Mississippi River; upon the protection of the alluvial region against overflow (1861).  Both of these reports offered studies of the rise and fall of the Mississippi and its tributaries, and provide background about the geographical structures and physical features of the land.  They describe their methodology for the conduct of the survey, and illustrate the text with tables detailing ratios between velocities, gauge readings, discharge per second, and other technical data.

Their correspondence innumerates the difficulties of the survey–including the challenges of weather conditions, illness, and the differences of opinion on the value of building up the levees or creating jetties.

I was truly riveted by these documents–the level of sophistication of their science, the earnestness of their engineering perspective, how firm their ideas that they could “fix” nature to conform to human desires.  I am amazed by the ways that the modernist view of the natural world permeated everything in the early days of industrialization and mechanization.  I look at the results of this belief that we can form and mold nature into what we desire, remembering the destruction caused by the failure of the levee system holding back Lake Pontchartrain and other areas along the Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina.  I certainly can’t blame A.A. Humphreys and Henry L. Abbot for their spirit of innovation.  I have just been reflecting on the ways that we humans often think that our actions have no impact.  Holding back walls of water is a tricky business, as evidenced by the depth of study necessary to repair the levees in the 1860s.  My personal views aside, this is a fantastic collection of documentation about the Mississippi River surveys done by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1850s and 1860s.  I am excited that these documents will soon be much more accessible than they were just three months ago.  I hope to have the finding aid for the collection posted in the next few weeks.

The complicated story of the A.A. Humphreys papers

A.A. Humphreys

I have been working on processing the Andrew Atkinson Humphreys papers for the past month and a half, and am looking to finish them up by the end of this month.  This 111 linear foot collection consists of military records related to the Civil War, Humphreys’ work as a surveyor and topographical engineer, papers related to the Bounty Fund and the Sanitary Fair, family papers, Humphreys’ writings, and many other items.  One of the most puzzling things about this collection is the amount of material that is seemingly unrelated to A.A. Humphreys’ life and work.

The first question I had about the collection was “why did Humphreys have so many of Frank Etting’s papers?”  The first 40 linear feet of the collection I rehoused consisted of payment vouchers to Civil War soldiers signed by Frank Etting, General Paymaster.  I later learned that Humphreys was Meade’s Chief of Staff during 1863-1864, which might explain some of these vouchers.  I didn’t worry too much about these materials, though, since they fit in with Humphreys’ work in the Army of the Potomac.

The next discovery was a run of 15 boxes of petitions that were collected in nearly every county in Pennsylvania during the 1830s and 1840s.  The language of the petitions covered topics like temperance, pleas for bounties on wildcats, requests for intervention in personal matters (this was usually on behalf of a widow or a woman who separated from her husband), and petitions against the death penalty.  Humphreys was not involved in politics, as far as I can tell, so these petitions are a puzzle in and of themselves.  When I started unfolding the bundles, the questions only got more complex.  I began to find letters, receipts, and other documents addressed to, or written by, Levi Hollingsworth.  HSP owns the Hollingsworth papers, so I did some detective work to try to uncover the connection between Humphreys and Hollingsworth.  I found out that Humphreys had married into the Hollingsworth family, and also that when the Hollingsworth papers were donated, they were called the Morris-Hollingsworth papers, suggesting that the Morris family papers may have also been part of the Hollingsworth family papers.  Cary and I wondered whether all of these collections were sitting near each other on the shelf when a massive rehousing project took place during the WPA, but we merely speculated about this….  This information about the Hollingsworth-Humphreys connection did little to help me understand why these petitions were included with the Humphreys papers, so I put them aside for the moment, and determined that they might be best housed with the Hollingsworth family papers.

More puzzles arose on Friday when I opened the small run of boxes labeled “Letters to Edward Armstrong, Secretary of North Pa. RR Co.”  Silly me, I assumed that these boxes would contain letters between Humphreys and Armstrong, or from Humphreys to Armstrong, but NO.  Instead, what I found were letters addressed to Armstrong from many people, but not Humphreys.  I see no connection at all, in fact, nor can I find any information about Armstrong to help me understand the connection between the two men.  I did find a few petitions mixed in with Armstrong’s letters, and the bit of information I found about him said that he was an attorney, so suddenly I started to wonder if the petitions were connected to Armstrong.  But, then, how was Armstong connected to Humphreys, and why would Humphreys have his papers?

I am writing this, primarily, as a plea for help.  If anyone out there in the reading audience has any idea how these pieces are connected, I would be more than pleased to hear your thoughts or know of any reference sources that could help.  In fact, if you can offer any useful information that can help me to make a coherent finding aid to this collection, I will personally pay for your next research visit to HSP.  I’m all ears…  And thank you.

What are you eating there, soldier?

The longer I work processing manuscript collections, the more I realize that it is not the big events in these materials that get me excited, but the texture and circumstances of people’s lives and how they integrated monumental events into their everyday.  I love sifting through old receipts to see what people were buying, what they ate, and how much they spent.  I like to read their letters to each other about major events, and see how those events impacted them.  I enjoy looking at these collections to get a sense of the people who created them, and when I don’t get that sense, the collection feels rather lifeless–as if they are the papers of some dead person instead of a person who once had vibrant life experiences.  Thankfully, the collections I have worked with that relate to the lives of Civil War soldiers have given me a sense of that vibrancy, that living struggle each person experienced in time and space.

I was processing the manuscript for William McCarter’s memoir My Life in the Army, a text rich with the details of the every day, and what struck me in all of the eleven slim volumes was the desperation that these soldiers lived with during intense battles.  The conditions were terrible–in many cases truly unlivable–and the soldiers spent time foraging for food in shifts because of the lack of food rations in the field.  McCarter writes, in a backward glance at his service, about the hunger he and his fellow soldiers struggled against.

“By this time, hunger was tightening its hold upon every man in camp, the day’s trying and irritating march, seeming to have had the effect upon their appetites, of devouring, long before night, the rations issued to them in the morning, and intended to last till next day.  A little ‘salt horse’ was all that still remained, and that, in only some very few haversacks.  ‘Coffee,’ the soldier’s greatest luxury on a hard march, to nourish, strengthen and invigorate, was all used up….  Here, and for the first and only time during my life in the army, was ‘whiskey’ as a ‘ration’ issued to the troops of the 2d Army Corps….”

McCarter goes on to describe the fights that broke out after too many whiskey rations were consumed, and then the desperate desire for coffee to warm them through the cold night.

request for whiskey rations from the A.A. Humphreys papers

The Andrew Atkinson Humphreys papers are full of orders for food and whiskey rations for officers and for general consumption by troops.  One aspect of these orders that interested me was the rationale for the whiskey rations.  They were used to keep troops warm and to help them get through long nights of service on the front.  These men were positioned behind guns, and the whiskey was given to combat “excessive fatigue and exposure.”  Looking at this reasoning from a modern perspective, it seems rather a bad idea to give men with guns whiskey, but this was the era of whiskey as medicine.

Other papers in the Humphreys collection document the quality control efforts that were made in regard to food rations.  Camps were inspected and evaluated for the quality and preparation of the food troops were served.  In this example, we can see what the troops ate for breakfast lunch and dinner, as well as the rating of the preparation.

Inspection report for rations of the 2nd Battalion R.I. Artillery

McCarter’s narrative memoir of life in the service offers candid evaluations of the food served to the soldiers in various camps.  He marvels at the skill of some cooks and wonders at the greasy, deplorable rations that are offered as food in other cases.  He writes, as do many who kept Civil War diaries, about foraging expeditions.  In one case, he describes stealing a pig and roasting it in the ground, its skin encased in mud, which resulted in the tenderest meat he had ever eaten.

officer's order (A.A. Humphreys papers)

commissary orders

These materials bring to light the difficulties of simply eating in the midst of combat.  For more about the struggles of Civil War soldiers, check out the following materials:

  • William F. Colton diaries  (Am .10246)
  • James E. Wenrick diary (Am .66954)
  • Daniel Doughterty diaries (Am .6702)
  • Richard H. Coolidge letterbook (Am .6698)

All of these materials are described in our online catalogue: http://www.hsp.org/default.aspx?id=17

Secrets to Painless Rehousing

Today, I virtually had the processing room to myself since everyone else is out for the holiday.  This is a rare occasion, and one that I usually take advantage of by playing music and sometimes singing out loud.  (And you thought archivists were serious, proper folks who never raise their voices above a whisper except to scold you when you pick up your pen!)

After many days of sighing loudly at the number of Civil War payment vouchers I was going to have to rehouse, I happily discovered that my pace rapidly improved with a little Billy Bragg playing in the background.  I got through about ten linear feet today.

today's progress

I felt happy all day, and dancing a little bit in between boxes didn’t hurt!  I should probably not reveal these secrets, but, then again, it increased my productivity and made me feel better about all of these gritty receipts that I have to rehouse.  Perhaps it’s time for me to give in and buy an MP3 player.   Especially since this is what I have yet to finish:

so many vouchers

There are a few more shelves below these too, but instead of being dramatic about that 80 linear feet of madness that awaits me, I’ll just dance my way through it…

Happy holiday, all.

Memoirs of HSP Printing Proofs

Memoirs of HSP, before

Memoirs of HSP, before

There are few things in conservation work that excite me more than a substantial transformation of an item.  When I pulled out the bundles of dingy paper from an old box, it was exciting to envision them clean, flat and arranged neatly in folders!

The three bundles were bound in groups of roughly 100 sheets using a ribbon.  After removing the ribbons, I dry-cleaned the pages using eraser bits and a vulcanized rubber sponge.  The pages were then washed in deionized water and flattened in job presses.

2_before

Before

2_after

After

These items are part of the A. A. Humphreys collection and, as a fan of printing history, I found them especially interesting to work with.  Proof sheets were printed as drafts to be revised for final printing.  These sheets contain not only edits, revisions and marks by the proofreader, but I was excited to see the printer’s fingerprints and the use of dingbats and excess type to fill in spaces.

Print impressions

Print impressions

Transferred ink

Transferred ink

Printer's fingerprint

Printer's fingerprint

Out of curiosity, I pulled the bound version of the 1864 printing of the Memoirs of HSP to see what revisions were made.

Revisions

Revisions

Side by side

Side by side