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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Throwback Thursday: A Work in Process

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Helen Louise Peterson (Oglala Lakota) may be best known for leading the National Congress of American Indians as its second executive director from 1953-1961. However, this driven and accomplished woman served several other organizations including the City and County of Denver Commission on Community Relations, American Indian Development, Inc., and the White Buffalo Council.

The Helen L. Peterson papers were only partially processed in 1989 and my internship at the National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center involved re-boxing and re-foldering the processed portion and fully processing and integrating the remaining boxes. Processing an analog collection (that is, paper and photographs and the occasional object but nothing digital) is an intellectual exercise as well as a physical one. On a typical day my work space looked like this:

Processing the Helen L. Peterson papers. Photo by Carla Davis-Castro, 2015.

While working on this collection I came across many interesting items such as this 1970 copy of The Indian, (left) a newspaper for the American Indian Leadership Council. The headline is cheekily inviting its readers to a  “hair raising reception” in honor of General Custer (formal attire of paint and feathers requested). In addition to newspapers, letters, organizational flyers and posters I saw many of the awards both received by and presented by Peterson. This 1973 Friendship Award (right) was presented by the White Buffalo Council and is made of leather.

Processing the Helen L. Peterson papers. Photos by Carla Davis-Castro, 2015.
Peterson’s travels abroad produced interesting photo collections and albums such as her 1949 visit to Cuzco, Peru as the United States representative for the Second Inter-American Conference on Indian Life. On the back of the photo of a man carrying a calfskin (bottom left), she wrote “Just the way we do it back home on the Mesa.”

Processing the Helen L. Peterson papers. Photo by Carla Davis-Castro, 2015.

While I was unable to process the entirety of Peterson’s Papers, I learned practical skills where library science and archival theory leaves off. I also learned about a fascinating historical figure that was not covered in my Native American studies classes. I am grateful to Michael Pahn and Rachel Menyuk for their support during my unique experience at the National Museum of the American Indians’ Archives.

Carla Davis-Castro, Spring Intern (2015)
National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center

**Information about internships at NMAI can be found here**

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