Archival Field Fellowship: Historical Society of Greenfield

The Archival Field Fellowship is a pilot program from the Roving Archivist Program debuted in October 2019.  This new offering increases hands-on assistance to Massachusetts repositories and provides emerging archivists with professional experience and mentorship. In 2019-2020, six institutions representing a diverse cross-section of archival repositories are hosting field fellows. As the fellowships are completed, field fellows share reflections and insights about their site experience on the MA SHRAB blog. This program is funded through support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. This is the second post in a six part series.

Author: Sarah Morin

If you want to know what was really important to someone, take a look at what they chose to save. For my archival field fellowship at the Historical Society of Greenfield, I got to do just that by processing their impressive scrapbook collection.

Kicking off the project! From left to right: Sarah-Jane Poindexter (MA Roving Archivist), Sarah Morin (SHRAB Field Fellow), Meg Baker (HSG), and Pleun Bouricius (SHRAB).

These 113 scrapbooks, lovingly and deliberately created, are an intriguing look into what Greenfield residents over the past two centuries considered vital and valuable enough to document for posterity. The history and current events of Greenfield, Massachusetts were popular topics, as was national/international news and notable people, including the New England Hurricane and Flood of 1938, World War II, the Sacco Vanzetti trial, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, the Lindbergh baby, and the British royal family. Several of the scrapbooks also preserved information of more personal and local interest, such as the activities of Girl Scout troops, political campaigns and participation, home and gardening advice, an appendix removal, and the births, deaths, and marriages of friends and relatives.

The materials in these scrapbooks date from 1820 to 1990, and there were a plethora of delights to peruse and catalog—postcards from a World War II soldier to his sweetheart back at home, dance cards and theater programs from the aughts, tickets to the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, a souvenir score book from the 1915 World Series (Red Sox vs. Philadelphia), a ship’s passenger list of U.S. troops, French and English war brides, and German prisoners during World War I, photos of local buildings and people, whimsical advertising/trade cards from Greenfield businesses, and so much more.

Advertising standards were certainly interesting back then.
A list of James Harrington’s dance partners over a century ago, captured forever in time. Note at the bottom of the card that ragtime and speiling [sic] were “positively forbidden”—as Harold Hill would say, ya got trouble, folks!
This dreadful piece of advice to limit one’s water intake, circa 1800s, came from a compilation of housekeeping, gardening, and farming instructions that represented the knowledge of the times. My, how far we’ve come since then!

The scrapbooks also contain a great deal of newspaper clippings—so many clippings! As my site supervisor surmised, several Greenfield residents seemed to be attempting to create their own personal Google, in a time where access to information was not nearly as robust or widespread as it is now.

Due to space constraints and lack of resources—challenges which are sadly all too common for historical societies—these scrapbooks were being stored in a third-floor attic without climate control when I arrived on the scene. Although there was an amazing lack of mold or pest damage, several volumes were in brittle condition and, after creating a comprehensive inventory and arrangement, I worked to stabilize these unique and irreplaceable pieces of history. The historic house where the Historical Society of Greenfield resides is currently undergoing major renovations, so I anticipate that this collection will eventually be moved into more hospitable surroundings. An archivist must be pragmatic when ideal storage conditions are not possible to achieve—while the scrapbooks are still on the third floor for the time being, we at least know what they contain, and they are being stored in a much more protective manner.

Scrapbooks are now arranged and accessible for better ease of research!

I would like to thank everyone at SHRAB and HSG for making this fellowship possible. It was a privilege to unearth these treasures and preserve them for future generations to enjoy!

Archival Field Fellow Sarah Morin,
inventorying scrapbooks at the Historical Society of Greenfield.

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