Category Archives: Finding Aids

In Process: The James L. Farmer Collection

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Most Mary Washington students, faculty, and alumni know about James Farmer’s legacy, both to American history and to our institution. One of the Big Four leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, he organized the Freedom Ride in 1961 to ensure desegregation of interstate transportation, co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and was a committed activist, leader, and teacher. His teaching career ended here at UMW, where he served as Distinguished Professor of History and American Studies from 1985 until his retirement in 1998.

Presidential Medal of Freedom. 1998. The James L. Farmer Collection, Special Collections and University Archives.

James Farmer, a native Texan, donated his papers to the University of Texas at Austin, where they reside in the repository at the Briscoe Center for American History. However, portions of his papers remained at UMW and now live in our Special Collections. These materials primarily consist of items pertaining to his various professional interests and engagements in the last few decades of his life. Previous staff members and student aides have done some preliminary work with sorting and arrangement, and past students have done a lot of great work with pieces of his collection, but now his entire collection is being fully processed and described with the goal of making this whole valuable archival collection discoverable and available to the research community and greater public.

Processing the collection takes time and involves certain measures. We need to make sure we respect the integrity of the items and any original order that may have been established by the creator, but we also need to ensure the materials last as long as possible and can be reasonably used by researchers. These measures may include organizing the materials into series based on material type and/or subject, and taking practical preservation steps such as housing papers in acid-free archival folders and protecting photographs with mylar sleeves. Ultimately, we want to make sure these materials stay safe to help tell James Farmer’s important story for as long as they can, and we want to make sure that you can discover all the parts of the story available to you here.

Possibly the most interesting treasures in this collection are the audiovisual materials collected from Farmer’s time in Fredericksburg. They make up about a third of the collection. Among other items of interest, these document some of his lectures and various television and radio appearances over the course of his life. Fortunately, these materials have been digitized (alas, VCRs and reel-to-reel players are not too common any more). However, another not-so-glamorous part of processing involves sifting through the recordings to determine the relevant copyrights and ownership. It’s important to ensure that everything is credited properly and attributed to the correct source. Once that’s sorted, we can take steps to preserve the digital files (that’s for a post about our exciting digital asset management system another day!) and make these accessible along with the papers.

Stay tuned for updates! We’re working hard on completing the processing and hope to have the collection available soon.

August 18, 2017

UMW Presidents Collections

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Last month, UMW celebrated the inauguration of Troy Paino, our tenth president. Such a milestone in our history serves as the perfect opportunity to look back on the legacy left by our previous presidents. And here in the archives, legacies are our specialty!

The University Archives holds the administrative records and personal papers of all UMW’s past presidents. Some of these collections have been arranged and processed, and you can view the contents of those collections in their respective finding aids. The UMW Presidents Collections page contains a comprehensive list of all nine previous presidents (in chronological order) with links to the corresponding finding aids where available.

The Presidents Collections site also contains links to expanded biographies of each former president. If your memory doesn’t quite go back 109 years and you don’t remember much about our early presidents, it’s a great place to start.

Edward H. Russell (1908 - 1918)

Edward H. Russell (1908 – 1918)

Each president oversaw vital changes to the university. Edward Russell (above) became president very shortly after the school was founded and authorized construction of the very first buildings, Frances Willard Hall and Russell Hall (now known as Monroe). President Russell’s records have been fully processed and described, and you can explore those contents at the online finding aid.

Morgan L. Combs (1929-1955)

Morgan Combs served as president from 1929-1955, and in that time saw a tremendous amount of growth. Many more construction projects took place under President Combs, such as Mason and Randolph Halls, Lee Hall, Seacobeck, and the Fine Arts Center (duPont, Melchers, and Pollard Halls). Also during this time, the school consolidated with UVA and became the liberal arts women’s college. It also took a new name: Mary Washington College.

William M. Anderson, Jr. (1983-2006)

Another of our presidents with a long and notable tenure was William (Bill) Anderson. President Anderson held the position for 23 years and oversaw a great deal more expansion. More buildings sprung up at the campus in downtown Fredericksburg, and the academic offerings grew to include graduate programs that necessitated a brand new campus in Stafford. With this growth came another name change: University of Mary Washington. President Anderson’s collection also has a finding aid online if you’d like to view the contents of those records.

Visit the UMW Presidents Collection site to read about more of our past presidents and see what finding aids are available, or make an appointment to come by Special Collections to view some of our unique materials.

May 19, 2017

New Finding Aid Published

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As a follow-up to my previous post, I’m excited to report that we’ve successfully published a new finding aid! A Guide to the Michael Louis Altstetter Records is now available to view through the Virginia Heritage database of archival resources.

First of many new finding aids to come!

First of many new finding aids to come!

To help put this into context, I’d like to answer a few questions you may have:

What is a finding aid?

Virginia Heritage’s FAQ does a good job of answering this:

Finding aids (also called guides or descriptive inventories) are the key to locating primary source materials. The finding aid provides a comprehensive overview of a collection, explaining how it is organized, outlining a collection’s origin, contents and dates, and listing locations within a collection where relevant materials may be found. It also informs the researcher about how a collection may be accessed or copied.

Basically, a finding aid tells you what we have in our physical manuscript collections. Finding aids don’t display digital content–you’d still have to come to our reading room to view these items–but they do function as the best way to determine if our manuscript collections have what you’re looking for.

What is Virginia Heritage?

This is a centralized database that we use as a repository for our finding aids, along with many other Virginia institutions with archival collections. Various participating universities, libraries, and museums across the state upload their finding aids here as a way of consolidating resources and making those resources widely available. You can search finding aids broadly by subject or keywords, or you can narrow down your search to a specific institution.

Visit About Virginia Heritage if you’re interested in learning more about what they do, the history of the project, and the participating institutions.

How can I see what finding aids UMW has available?

Right here!

But for future reference, Special Collections and University Archives has a link to the current, full list of finding aids on our homepage, in the Resources and Services menu.

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You can also find us on the main Virginia Heritage page by selecting University of Mary Washington as the repository and clicking search.

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Does UMW have more in the archives than what’s listed here?

Absolutely! We’re working on making more of our manuscript collections searchable and available for research.

Part of the goal of processing the Altstetter collection was for me to become familiar with coding the finding aid according to established standards (Encoded Archival Description, or EAD, is generally accepted as the XML standard for encoding finding aids). Now that I’ve figured out the basics of EAD and publishing online, I’ll be focusing on producing finding aids for those manuscript collections that have higher potential research value. We want to increase our visibility and make sure that anyone interested can discover our resources.

In the meantime, feel free to visit Special Collections’ Research and Instruction page to learn about additional ways to find and access our various collections and artifacts. We’re always happy to help!

February 16, 2017