"Archivist" is a very broad term describing what we in the profession do on a daily basis. We wear many hats: a master staple-remover hat, a scanning robot hat, and a metadata wordsmith hat are amongst the many ready to be plucked off our racks. My favorite accessory is my deerstalker hat, which has the obvious effect of increasing my powers of reason and deduction.
An archivist must often step into the role of detective: we work with a whole lot of old stuff, and not all of it comes with a convenient label or explanation. Most of the time (though not always) we know where our mystery materials came from, in archives-speak, the acquisition. But sometimes, that's all we know. Who wrote this letter? What's happening in this photograph? What is the strange black powder in this box (that mystery was solved: it was powdered vinyl)? WHY is this HERE?
So we dig. We take what we do know about the mystery object and start following the clues. We compare handwriting samples, photography styles, other materials with similar subjects. Sometimes the trail leads to something, and we follow it (holding a comically large magnifying glass, of course) and give our now not-so-mysterious object a proper home. Sometimes materials remain a mystery for a very long time. Let's call these cold cases.
Cold cases are a frustrating dilemma for an archivist. They are hidden in the collection, making them difficult for researchers to use (or even locate), and we have no way of knowing how these mystery materials could impact scholarship.
Thank goodness for the internet.
As the old saying goes, hundreds of brains are better than one. Let's solve some mysteries!
- They were developed by Moses Asch.
- There are hundreds of photographs to parse through, but the majority appear to have been taken in New York City circa 1949. This date is based on a campaign poster for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. in one of the photographs.
- The negatives have an aspect ratio of 1.33 (30 mm x 40 mm), though the closest film format to this ratio and time period is 828 film.
What do you think?
-Cecilia Peterson, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections