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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Come Join Us at the 2017 Archives Fair!

As an archivist, ethnomusicologist, and musician working at the Smithsonian, I feel inspired when I have opportunities to work with colleagues within and beyond the Institution to provide public-facing platforms for dialogue. I get particularly enthusiastic when these events relate to the power of archival collections to provide context for the customs and traditions that shape the cultures in which we live. On Saturday, October 21, 2017, I will be participating in such an event at the National Museum of American History in the Coulter Performance Plaza and the SC Johnson Conference Center.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the public is invited to celebrate American Archives Month at the 2017 Archives Fair with the theme Performance and Preservation. As described on the National Archives webpage, participants will explore “the ways in which the preservation of archival collections translates into the preservation of culture through the performance and artistry of individuals and communities across the United States and around the world.”

The Fair has four main features. First, a diverse range of musicians, dancers, singers, and performers will take the stage throughout the day in the Coulter Performance Plaza to illuminate the ways in which the archival record informs their work as artists. Second, a series of panel discussions in the SC Johnson Conference Center will reveal how archival documentation influences artistic expression, dance (bodies in motion), and access. Third, we will have representatives of over 20 archives and organizational repositories exhibiting at tables set up throughout Coulter Performance Plaza, sharing information about their archival work in a wide range of institutional, regional, and community contexts. Last (but definitely not least), visitors will have the rare opportunity to participate in a behind-the-scenes archives tour at the National Museum of American History’s Archives Center, home to some of the country’s most valuable archival collections.

Ultimately, this year’s event would not be happening were it not for the vision and collaboration between members of the National Archives Assembly, the Smithsonian Institution Archives and Special Collections Council, and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference DC and Maryland Caucuses. For more information about the schedule-of-events and a full list of the Fair’s participants, please visit the Archives Fair website and plan on arriving at the National Museum of American History when it opens at 10 a.m. The official welcoming and opening remarks will begin at 10:45 with the first performances and panel discussions taking place at 11!

We look forward to seeing you there!

Greg C. Adams, Assistant Archivist
Ralph Rinzler Folklife ArchivesSmithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Monday, October 16, 2017

Bryson Jones’ Deep South Travelogue: A Glimpse into Tourism’s Impact on Southern Landscapes and Identities

As a summer intern at the National Anthropological Film Collection (formerly known as the Human Studies Film Archives) in the National Anthropological Archives I digitized clips from the documentary film Bryson Jones Travelogue: Deep South, ca. 1940. This film was used by an amateur travel-lecturer and documented his travels through the American South, focusing on popular tourist destinations. I believe the footage captured in this documentary is particularly valuable for anthropologists and historians alike because of its footage of southern tourism.

Florida oceanarium, likely Marine Studios, St. Augustine, Florida (frame grab sihsfa_1995_11_008_fg_1), National Anthropological Film Collection, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

But why should we care about southern tourism? Well, because the tourism industry is not only one of the South’s most powerful economic forces, tourism is also an incredibly important actor in the creation of southern imaginaries and landscapes and has played a significant role in shaping a unified and easily identifiable “southern” identity (Starnes; McIntyre). In the half-century after the Civil War, northern tourist writers marketed the South as an exotic, anti-modern, and picturesque escape from modern industrial society to the North’s “affluent urbanites” (Cox; McIntyre). Aiding the growth of southern tourism were rapidly improving and expanding transportation systems and an emerging northern middle class (Cox). Although the South was not the only region of the United States popular for travel during this time period, it was more accessible and less expensive to those Americans living in the North and Midwest who wanted to experience a change in landscape (Cox). The influx of tourists to the region aided in reimagining the South and transforming major cities while southern attractions began promoting a highly romanticized version of a mythic “Old South” and other contrived regional mythologies (McIntyre).

By 1940, tourists were flocking to popular southern tourist areas, many of which are captured in Bryson Jones’ travelogue. This film includes footage of New Orleans, Miami, Jamestown, Appomattox, and the Florida Keys. Each of these locations are examples of tourism’s pronounced impact on southern culture, identity, and landscape. For instance, New Orleans, previously cast as a dangerous “moral escape hatch,” was culturally white-washed and rebranded as a festive city with a romantic, foreign past during the interwar years (Stanonis; Souther). As tourism transformed New Orleans, Miami “burst upon the national consciousness” and its defining values of leisure and luxury appealed to tourists (Schrum). In Bryson Jones’s travelogue you can observe how the tourism industry and the rapid changes in the decades after the Civil War had manifested in both cities by 1940.

Also included in the travelogue are what appear to be two of Florida’s most popular tourist attractions, Marine Studios, popularly known as the “World’s First Oceanarium,” and Silver Springs State Park, a popular tourist destination that offered glass-bottom boat tours and the Ross Allen Reptile Institute. Although a small portion of Bryson Jones Travelogue: Deep South, the footage of Silver Springs State Park is a fascinating window into Florida tourism because of the ways in which this attraction and other similar ones invented a mythic history of Florida’s Everglades and Seminole people. Until the end of the 19th century the Seminoles were cast as “craven mixed-race killers” central to the view of Florida as a “forbidden land” (Knight). Around the turn of the century the Seminoles were recast as “benign specimens of moral and racial purity and saleable symbols of the state’s unique appeal” (Knight). In addition to the recasting of the Seminole Indians, south Florida’s growing popularity and real estate boom in the 1920s caused drainage canals to permeate deeper into the Everglades and erode the resources previously relied upon by the Seminoles (Knight). Thus, Seminoles were more and more likely to work at tourist sites. Tourist sites, such as Silver Springs, capitalized on the draw these newly recast Seminole Indians had on tourists and set up commercial Seminole tourist camps, where the inhabitants would sell crafts as souvenirs and wrestle alligators, as seen in Bryson Jones’ travelogue (Mechling). Alligator wrestling became synonymous with Seminole manhood, yet in reality was inauthentic and violated Seminole taboos about mistreatment of spiritually powerful animals (Frank). Regardless, the image of Seminole Indians constructed by Florida’s tourism industry entered popular culture and the larger southern imaginary.

Possibly Ross Allen or a Seminole Indian employed by Allen at the Reptile Institute, Silver Springs, Florida (frame grab sihsfa_1995_11_008_fg_2), National Anthropological Film Collection, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
Bryson Jones’ Deep South travelogue is not the only of his travel films housed at the NAFC. The NAFC received eight travelogues documenting his travels to all corners of the world during the late 1930s and early 1940s. These travel films can be found in the NAFC in the National Anthropological Archives, located at the Museum Support Center in Suitland, MD. You can also find clips from Bryson Jones Travelogue: Deep South on the HSFA YouTube channel.

Caroline Waller, Intern
National Anthropological Film Collection,
National Museum of Natural History

Cox, Karen L., ed. Destination Dixie: Tourism and Southern History. University Press of Florida, 2012. Florida Scholarship Online, 2013. doi: 10.5744/florida/9780813042374.001.0001.

Frank, Andrew K. "Authenticity for Sale: The Everglades, Seminole Indians, and the Construction of a Pay-Per-View Culture." In Destination Dixie: Tourism and Southern History, edited by Karen L. Cox. University Press of Florida, 2012. Florida Scholarship Online, 2013. doi: 10.5744/florida/9780813042374.003.0014.

Kelly Schrum, Gary R. Mormino; Travel, Tourism, and Urban Growth in Greater Miami: A Digital Archive, Created and maintained by the Otto G. Richter Library, University of Miami, Fla. Reviewed Feb.–April 2007. J Am Hist 2007; 94 (3): 1045-1046. doi: 10.2307/25095307

Knight, Henry. "'Savages of Southern Sunshine': Racial Realignment of the Seminoles in the Selling of Jim Crow Florida." Journal of American Studies 48, no. 01 (2014): 251-73. doi:10.1017/s002187581300128x.

McIntyre, Rebecca Cawood. "Introduction." In Souvenirs of the Old South: Northern Tourism and Southern Mythology. University Press of Florida, 2011. Florida Scholarship Online, 2011. doi: 10.5744/florida/9780813036953.003.0001.

Mechling, Jay. Florida Seminoles and the Marketing of the Last Frontier. Westview, 1996.

Starnes, Richard D., ed. Southern Journeys : Tourism, History, and Culture in the Modern South. Tuscaloosa, US: University of Alabama Press, 2014. Accessed July 10, 2017. ProQuest ebrary.

Stanonis, Anthony J.. Creating the Big Easy : New Orleans and the Emergence of Modern Tourism, 1918-1945. Athens, US: University of Georgia Press, 2006. Accessed July 12, 2017. ProQuest ebrary.

Souther, Jonathan Mark. New Orleans on Parade : Tourism and the Transformation of the Crescent City. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Flashback Friday: Lantern slides of the Florida Everglades

Lantern slide depicting Alanson Skinner's expedition to the Florida Everglades in 1910. National Museum of the American Indian, L00300.
For Flashback Friday, let’s go to Florida in 1910. This hand-colored lantern slide depicts three men following behind an oxen team pulling a cart through the waters of the Florida Everglades. The man on the left is possibly Alanson Skinner (anthropologist), the Seminole man in the center is wearing a foksikco bi, or 'big shirt', and the man on right may be their guide Frank Brown.

This photo was probably shot by Julian A. Dimock. In 1910 the American Museum of Natural History in New York sent anthropologist Alanson B. Skinner to conduct ethnographic field research on the Seminole people of the Florida Everglades. Both Skinner and professional photographer Julian A. Dimock photographed the expedition.

In 1916 Skinner joined the staff of the Museum of the American Indian. He probably used this and other lantern slides for public lectures. He may have donated the images to the museum, or they may have been found among his things following his death in an automobile accident in 1925 while he was on a collecting trip to South Dakota for the museum.

To see more photos from this expedition, check out the set on the Smithsonian Collections Search Center.

Emily Moazami, Assistant Head Archivist
National Museum of the American Indian

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Microfilm Memories

Man microfilming newspapers. Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
A “Throwback Thursday” seems like an ideal time to contemplate that quaint photographic technology called microfilm, which nearly everyone assures me is obsolete in the face of digital technology. Many gazillions of rolls of microfilm are being supplanted in libraries and other repositories by digital copies. Internet searches on microfilm indicate that it is dead or dying. Yet just this month I found advertisements for new, sleek, futuristic (and expensive) microfilm cameras. I haven’t researched this apparent contradiction (fake news or fake advertising?), but it is clear that microfilm is hardly as popular as it once was as a means of (a) preservation copying or (b) miniaturization. As Bob Horton, the Chair of the National Museum of American History's Archives Center notes, "One of the biggest reasons people prefer digital to microfilm is we all carry the capacity to read digital images in our pocket – reading microfilm is a bit more challenging."

I first became fascinated with microfilm while researching its rather romantic history (think microphotography for espionage) for our museum’s exhibitions on the history of photography years ago. Later I took a course on microfilming as a preservation tool from the Northeast Document Conservation Center, partly because the Archives Center had inherited an ancient Recordak microfilm camera from the Smithsonian Institution Archives and I wondered if we had a use for it. I experimented with it, and exposed and processed some film. As a favor to Dr. Alixa Naff, donor of the Archives Center’s Naff Arab American Collection, I filmed two books borrowed from other institutions, adding one microfilm to her collection, and establishing the other, the History of Young Men of Deir-El-Kamar and Suburbs: Account Book, ca. 1926-1950, as a separate collection. Although the latter has been used by researchers, no one ever asked to purchase a copy of the entire microfilm until this month. In order to fill the request, I’ve had to consider whether a microfilm copy or asking the requester to pay for a digital version would be most suitable.

Microfilm has been criticized because so much of it is of dismally low quality, especially in terms of operator errors such as skipped pages. Operator errors were often blamed on the evils of the mind-numbing repetitious work. After using a microfilm camera myself, I became convinced that a culture of speed and a production-line mentality actually caused the operator fatigue, boredom, and carelessness that produced many mistakes. I explored the benefits of slower, meticulous filming—for which the old-fashioned microfilm camera was actually well-suited. On one hand, the classic Kodak Recordak camera seemed primitive because it lacked a variable-aperture lens. On the other, uniform exposure was achieved by altering the light level with a rheostat; the camera, perfected in the 1930s, had a built-in light meter! It also had an auto-focus feature, plus a rangefinder for greater precision, meaning that one could change the height of the camera without refocusing. You could take the time to match the camera height to the size of the item being photographed (as any conscientious photographer using an ordinary camera on a copy stand would do to make lecture slides), yet without seriously impeding the production level and rhythm of microfilming. It seemed to me that the practice of framing each object individually, utilizing the autofocus feature, could in itself aid consistency.

Speaking of speed, when we began scanning the Archives Center’s Scurlock collection negatives, it was clear that microfilming was much faster than scanning! Through a pilot project with a contractor, several thousand Scurlock negatives had been microfilmed, and we later obtained sample scans of impressive visual quality from a few frames, giving us both preservation surrogates and versatile digital versions.

My favorite feature of the Recordak was its variable frame size, combined with an automatic, compensating film wind. If you desired, you could produce a sequence of frames of different sizes, such as a vertical image on the film, followed by a wide panorama. I discovered that most microfilmers seemed unaware of these nifty features, generally setting the camera height for the largest item in a particular job—for example, a newspaper page—then never adjusting the camera height for smaller items. The user of the film was expected to change the viewer magnification, thereby contributing to microfilm-viewing fatigue. It seemed to me that the technical advantages of microfilm camera design were seldom exploited to good advantage. I know: that concern may be moot nowadays.

The Archives Center’s Scurlock collection includes photographs showing microfilm camera operators at work, as above, evidently with the familiar Recordak cameras.

David Haberstich, Curator of Photography
National Museum of American History, Archives Center


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Collections Spotlight: Freer Gallery of Art

After being closed for more than a year, the Freer | Sackler is reopening this weekend.  This closure has allowed the Freer | Sackler to completely reinstall all of their exhibitions and revitalize the building, which first opened to the public in 1926.  Importantly, in this revitalization the museum replaced crucial climate control and humidity control systems; work that will ensure the collection is preserved for generations to come. 

IlluminAsia: A Festival of Asian Art, Food, and Cultures - Join us for a festival of Asian art, food that will transform the museums’ grounds with an Asian food market, interactive cooking and art demonstrations, live music by members of the Silkroad Ensemble, and creations by local and international artists. 
This weekend the Freer | Sackler, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and all of the Smithsonian is celebrating the grand reopening with IlluminAsia, a festival of Asian art, food, and cultures. As we wait for the festival to begin on Saturday night, here is a peak at some of Smithsonian Institution Archives' photos of the beginnings of the Freer Gallery of Art. 

Construction of the Freer Gallery of Art. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image # MAH-29337. 
 This October 2, 1916 photograph shows digging of the foundation for the new Freer Gallery of Art. In the foreground equipment of George Hyman Contractors is loading excavated dirt onto horse-drawn carts. Visible in the background is the brick shed built in 1875, called the Laboratory of Natural History, and the Smithsonian Institution Building. The shed, which was used by taxidermists and preparators as well as photographers, was demolished during the course of construction work.

J. Bundy in Freer Gallery of Art Courtyard with Peacocks. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image # SIA2007-0175. 
John Bundy, Superintendent, 1921-1939, Freer Gallery of Art, and Superintendent of Construction, 1919-1928, kneels as he feeds pellets to peacocks in the courtyard of the Freer Gallery of Art. Bundy is holding a dish in his left hand. Peacocks occupied the courtyard for many years. The National Zoological Park lent the peacocks to the Freer Gallery. The Annual Report for the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1923 notes that the peacocks were moved from the courtyard of Freer Gallery of Art to the National Zoological Park for the winter.

Explore more about the Freer | Sackler: 
IlluminAsia: A Festival of Asian Art, Food, and Cultures
- Historic Pictures of the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Blog Post: Cleaning Up Freer's Attic
- Blog Post: Sneak Peek: Freer Gallery of Art

Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant
Smithsonian Institution Archives

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

In the Heart of the Storm: The Resilience of Culture

This post originally appeared on September 19, 2017 in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival's blog. In honor of October being American Archives Month, we republish it here as an example of how the archival record can help us focus on the importance of cultural resilience in times of catastrophe. The photographs and audio used in this piece are all a part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Records .

Young people of the U.S. Virgin Islands march along in a carnival parade, amid the destruction of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Photo by Mary Jane Soule, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
When news started coming in about the catastrophic damage Hurricane Irma brought to the Caribbean, I happened to be filing materials from the 1990 Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s program about the U.S. Virgin Islands. In my twenty-nine years at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, I’ve produced a healthy amount of research, but in going through those particular boxes, I felt odd reverberations.

On September 17, 1989, in the midst of ongoing research for the U.S. Virgin Islands program, Hurricane Hugo struck the islands, with the greatest damage occurring in St. Croix. As described in a Washington Post special report, “Not only was Christiansted strewn with uprooted trees, broken utility poles, shattered cars and tons of debris from buildings that looked bombed, but the verdant tropical island suddenly had turned brown. So strong were Hugo’s winds that most trees still standing were shorn of leaves.” While St. Croix suffered the brunt of the storm, St. Thomas and St. John were also significantly damaged.

We wondered if we should cancel or defer the Festival program to let the region recuperate, physically and financially. But our partners in the Virgin Islands responded with one voice: now, more than ever, the people of the Virgin Islands needed a cultural event to raise their spirits, remind them of their resilience, and tell the world they were recovering. It is particularly in times of disaster that people turn to culture not only for solace but for survival.

“The recent disaster of Hurricane Hugo made fieldwork a little more difficult than usual,” reported Mary Jane Soule, who was doing research on musicians in St. Croix. “I was unable to rent a car for the first five days I was there, which limited my mobility. Many phones were still not working, so getting in touch with informants was harder than usual. However, once I actually located the individuals I wanted to see, I found most of them willing to talk.”

Photo by Mary Jane Soule, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.

Photo by Mary Jane Soule, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
A local press announced that, regardless of the circumstances, the Three Kings Day Parade would not be canceled: “Neither rain or hurricane nor winds nor controversy will stop the Crucian Christmas Fiesta.” In her field research tape log, Soule lists the role of Hugo in the fiesta, adding that calypso bands had recorded songs about it.

“Eve’s Garden troop is depicting Hugo,” she wrote. “The No Nonsense (music and dance) troop is doing ‘The Hugo Family’ depicting the looting and tourists on the run. Mighty Pat’s song ‘Hurricane Hugo’ played from speakers on one of the numerous trucks. Sound Effex (band) can be heard playing ‘Hugo Gi Yo’ (Hugo Gives You).”

Several months later when staff returned to the islands, “Hugo Gi Yo” was still very popular, as were the black, monographed sailors’ caps that proclaimed “Stress Free Recovery for 1990, St. Thomas, V.I.” 

Songs about Hugo relieved anxiety. Many people had lost everything. But like all good calypso tunes, they comically contributed to the oral history of the islands. Look at the verses of “Hugo Gi Yo”:

It was the seventeenth of September 1989 Hugo take over.
Hey, that hurricane was a big surprise,
When it hit St. Croix from the southeast side.
Hey rantanantantan man the roof fall down.
Rantanantantan galvanize around…
No water, no power, no telephone a ring.
We people we dead; there’s nothing to drink….
The band Sound Effex plays for bystanders in a carnival parade in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Photo by Mary Jane Soule, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
Listen to "Hugo Gi Yo", played by Sound Effex at Children’s Parade in Christiansted, St. Croix, January 5, 1990:

Calypso songs are noted for their social commentary on events as well as on responses from mainstream society. The Washington Post reported on St. Croix following the hurricane: “The plunder started on the day after the Sunday night storm, as panicky islanders sought to stock up on food. It quickly degenerated into a free-for-all grab of all sorts of consumer goods that some witnesses likened to a ‘feeding frenzy.’ Three days of near-anarchy followed Hugo’s terrible passage during the night of Sept. 17-18 and prompted President Bush to dispatch about 1,100 Army military police and 170 federal law-enforcement officers, including 75 FBI and a ‘special operations group’ of U.S. Marshalls Service.”

In turn, “Hugo Gi Yo” responds:

You no broke nothing.
You no thief nothing.
You no take nothing.
Hugo give you. 
As program research advisor Gilbert Sprauve explained, calypsonians “lend themselves heartily to expressing the underclass’s frustrations and cynicism. They make their mark with lyrics that strike at the heart of the system’s dual standards.”

A parade goer prepares her sign, jokingly addressing the post-hurricane looting that plagued the island of St. Croix. Photo by Mary Jane Soule, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.

Another resident readies her sarcastic sign for the parade. Photo by Mary Jane Soule, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
Mighty Pat’s parade float encourages fellow residents to “stay positive.” Photo by Mary Jane Soule, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
Soule transcribed existing racial and economic tensions in St. Croix expressed in Mighty Pat’s “Hurricane Hugo”:

After the hurricane pass, people telling me to sing a song quickly.
Sing about the looting, sing about the thiefing, black and white people doing.
Sing about them Arabs, up on the Plaza rooftop
With grenade and gun, threaten to shoot the old and the young.
Curfew a big problem, impose on only a few, poor people like me and you.
Rich man roaming nightly, poor man stop by army, getting bust__________
Brutality by marshal, send some to hospital,
Some break down you door, shoot down and plenty more.
When I looked around and saw the condition
of our Virgin Island.
I tell myself advantage can’t done.
One day you rich. Next day you poor.
One day you up the ladder. Next day you
crawling on the floor.
Beauty is skin deep; material things is for a time.
A corrupted soul will find no peace of mind
I think that is all our gale Hugo was trying to say
to all mankind.
Don’t blame me. Hugo did that.
The ubiquitous coal pot depicted on the side of a snack shack in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Photo by Mary Jane Soule, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
Hurricane Hugo also came up in conversations about craft. Knowing the importance of charcoal making, especially in St. Croix, researcher Cassandra Dunn interviewed Gabriel Whitney St. Jules who had been making coal for at least forty years and was teaching his son the tradition. In Dunn’s summary report, thoughts of the hurricane are not far away.

“Cooking food by burning charcoal in a coal pot is a technique utilized in the West Indies and Caribbean from the mid-1800s,” she wrote. “Charcoal makers learned the techniques of using a wide variety of woods including that from mango, tibet, mahogany, and saman trees. After Hurricane Hugo, those in St. Croix who had lost access to gas or electricity reverted to charcoal and the coal pot.”

With similar stories from St. Thomas, it became clear that this quotidian cultural artifact that reconnected islanders with their heritage served as an essential item for survival with dignity. The image of the coal pot became central to the themes of the Festival program, both as a useful utensil and a symbol of resilience. To our surprise, the coal pot, which looks much like a cast iron Dutch oven, was identical to that used by participants in the Senegal program featured that same year and led to increased cultural interaction between the two groups. This prompted a re-staging of both programs in St. Croix a year later.

From St. Croix to Washington, D.C., Virgin Islanders bring their parade to the National Mall for the 1990 Folklife Festival. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
The cultural responses to Hurricane Hugo and those I suspect we’ll see following the calamitous hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria remind us that when disaster strikes, whether natural, social, political, or economic, communities often turn to shared cultural resources. Stories, experiences, and traditional skills prove useful, inspiring us to overcome obstacles and help our communities regain their footing.

Olivia Cadaval was the program curator for the U.S. Virgin Islands program at the 1990 Folklife Festival and is currently a curator and chair of cultural research and education at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

View the original post here.

Sprauve, Gilbert. “About Man Betta Man, fission and Fusion, and Creole, Calypso and Cultural Survival in the Virgin Islands, 1990 Festival of American Folklife, edited by Peter Seitel, Smithsonian, 1990.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Summer with Helen

Joseph Garry and Helen Peterson at the NCAI Convention in Spokane, WA, 1955. National Congress of American Indian Records, Photo Folder 158. National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center. 
As I neared the end of my internship at the National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center this past summer, I was able to take some time to reflect on my work processing the Helen Peterson papers (NMAI.AC.016).  While I was not the first person to process this collection, I do think I got to see a different part of Helen Peterson’s life.  My predecessor, Carla Davis-Castro, dealt mostly with Helen’s materials from her time working at the National Congress of the American Indians (NCAI), the City and County of Denver Commission on Community Relations (CCR), American Indian Development, Inc. (AID), and the White Buffalo Council which deal with Helen’s work between the 1940s to the 1970s.  You can read Carla's blog about here work here. While I did get to process through some materials relating to her time in NCAI, CCR, AID, and the White Buffalo Council, most of what I processed related to her life before and after working at these institutions.  Helen was alive from 1915 to 2000 so there was a large portion of her life that had not yet been explored through the collection.

From 1970 to 1985 Helen was a part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).  During her time with the BIA, she went to the United Kingdom to talk about Native Americans.  Around this same time, President Reagan made some uneducated remarks about reservations, catching the attention of the BIA and people that Helen knew, and prompting a response from the Native American community.
Helen was also a very religious person, who was active in the Episcopal Church.  She started her own church called the Church of the Four Winds.  While she wasn’t a pastor she was the leader of the church.  She maintained an active role in the church during the late 1980s through the 1990s.

Church of the Four Winds Flyers, 1991. Helen Peterson papers. National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center. 

While it was interesting learning more about the professional side to Helen Peterson, my favorite series to work with was her Personal one.  She had many personal materials including letters from her granddaughter, personal photographs, holiday cards, and cards from her 80th birthday.  This collection really showed how many people loved Helen and highlighted her connection to the people in her life.  Her personal papers also revealed how her life was not always happy.  I found out that following the death of her mother and brother, Helen sought psychiatric help.  As a part of the grieving process,  Helen wrote letters to her mother and brother to help her cope with the many emotions after both of their deaths.  While it was sad to go through these letters, I am glad I was able to read through them, as these letters were more than just materials that needed to be filed away they were the gateway to see Helen Peterson the person.

Letters from Helen Peterson to her mother and brother following their deaths, 1992. Helen Peterson papers. National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center. 

Sarah Rick, Summer Intern (2017)
National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center

For more information about NMAI Internship program please visit NMAI’s website here.