The Past Becoming the Present

Written by Justine Rothbart

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“To be honest, I couldn’t have imagined that Manna was still alive. Perhaps that’s one of the problems with being a historian — we assume that the people we read about live only on paper.” Rebecca Erbelding, the archivist at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum who oversees the museum’s material, said this in a recent article in the Washington Post. She was talking about the story of Martha “Manna” Weindling Friedmann who worked at Weir Courtney, the estate in Lingfield where Holocaust children survivors were given a home after the war. “I can’t tell you how long I’ve stared at these photos,” Erbelding said, “When you stare at them long enough, you know them.”

It’s an unusual feeling working with archival collections. You feel as if you know the people, but you also feel as if they cannot exist outside of the paper. Reading this article just reinforces that as archivists, many of us get this feeling. It is the feeling of knowing someone, knowing their stories, and knowing their emotions. Yet, often times, we are unable to meet these people we seem to know so well. What intrigued me about this article is how the archivist actually met the people who used to live only on paper. She gave a tour of the museum to two Holocaust survivors, Andra and Tatiana Bucci, who both lived in Weir Courtney after the war. She also accompanied Andra and Tatiana to visit Manna Weindling Friedman who they described as a “second mother” from Weir Courtney.

Stories like this one shows the range of roles of an archivist. We are the advocate, the teacher, and the memory keeper. We are the ones that connect the stories to the rest of the world. Who knows how many more roles we will acquire. All those roles morph into the exciting the ability to travel into the past and sometimes having the past become the present.

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Click here to read the Washington Post article.

Cupcakes are out. Archives are in.

Written by Justine Rothbart

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The best two days of the year have arrived. What is it, you ask? No, it’s not my birthday. It’s not even Christmas. Need a hint? Fine I’ll tell you. It’s the Library of Congress National Book Festival! Ok, before you stop reading, let me explain why I always get so excited during this time of year. Yesterday and today the Library of Congress hosted their 13th annual National Book Festival on the National Mall. This is where passionate authors congregate to discuss the process of writing their new book and their devotion to the topic. This year some of the topics included: families coping with disabled children, Mexican home cooking, homosexuality and religion, and learning how to motivate others by selling. The best part of the National Book Festival is listening to an author, unknown to you, and becoming completely engrossed in their life and their story. It is invigorating leaving the National Book Festival interested in topics you would have never even thought twice about.

Ok, now that you know the background of the National Book Festival (and are counting down the days ’till next year’s event), I’m writing today to talk about the new trends I learned while attending the National Book Festival. No, I did not learn new fashion trends (although, I did see a family sporting some fashionable, yet very practical ponchos). Anyways, I’m getting off topic. This is the place where I realized that cupcakes are out (we knew that for awhile) and archives are in.

Archives? Seriously? Yes, archives. At the National Book Festival yesterday, it seemed as if almost every speaker used the word “archives” during their presentation. It was used not only at the “History & Biography” tent, but at the “Contemporary Life” tent too. Is it just becoming the new buzzword? Or is the general public finally realizing the importance and becoming interested in archives? I think it is a combination of both.

The first time I noticed it was at the beginning of the first session. Linda Ronstadt was about to come on stage to discuss her new book which highlights her forty-five year singing career. Before the session began, the moderator stated the standard announcement from the Library of Congress, “This session is being filmed for the Library of Congress’ website and archives.” Most people would have not been as excited as me to hear this, but as a graduate student studying Cultural Heritage Information Management, this really got me excited. I was not only excited about the Library of Congress saving this for posterity, but I was excited that it was announced for everyone to hear. Announcing little things like this is just the beginning to archives advocacy. I hope every time people heard that statement, they thought, “Wow, that’s great that the Library of Congress is saving this in their archives.” Maybe I’m being too optimistic. They probably only thought, “Ok, when is the main act coming on stage?”

After listening to Linda Ronstadt talk about her musical career, I headed over to the “History & Biography” tent. Film historian, Christel Schmidt, discussed not only the subject of  her new book, Mary Pickford: Queen of Movies, she also discussed researching in film archives to write this book on the famous silent movie actress. Listening to Christel Schmidt talk about archives just reinforces this trend of the general public wanting to know more about the behind the scenes process.

I jumped from the silent movie era back into 2013 when I went to the “Contemporary Life” tent again. This time I was there to listen to Bonnie Benwick discuss The Washington Post Cookbook: Readers’ Favorite Recipes. Ok, you might think, how can cooking be related to archives? Let me tell you. Bonnie Benwick discussed that in order to find the content for this new book, the Washington Post staff not only looked back in the newspaper’s archives, but they contacted readers to look back in their own personal archives. This is just another example of how archival items can be used today for “Contemporary Life” purposes.

The votes are in. The people have spoken. Archives has been named the new trend of 2013. I only hope, that this is not a trend which will quickly disappear as fast as slap bracelets. In fact, I hope this is not a trend at all, but an awakening.