If you walk the area around the Independence Seaport Museum, you will find historical plaques, monuments, and other testaments to memory. In Spruce Street Harbor Park is the monument to Christopher Columbus which was built in 1992 to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of his 1492 voyage. The monument calls him a cartographer, mathematician, charismatic leader, and naturalist among other things. These titles then, impose on the visitor a perception of Columbus that deviates from a more objective reality of who he was.
Across the street from Spruce Street Harbor Park are larger monuments to veterans of the Vietnam and Korean Wars, and the conflict in Beirut. These were all constructed after 1980, long after the area where they now stand was razed of its homes to make room for Interstate 95. These military monuments are meant to honor those who died in service to our country, but they also seem to honor those responsible for funding its creation, as their names, too, are carved into the polished granite. This, for me, left me feeling somewhat confused. Certainly, those who donated to this cause deserve praise for their patriotism, but what does it say that we place their names adjacent to those who fought in a brutal war a world away?
Memory is an interesting and fickle thing. The title of this post is inspired by John Green’s popular novel, An Abundance of Katherines, in which Green succinctly expresses just how impressionable memory is. He writes, “And the moral of the story is that you don’t remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.” Green does not write this with memorials and monuments in mind, but the point does indeed transfer to mnemonic infrastructure. Penn’s Landing, Spruce Street Harbor Park, and the immediately surrounding area are packed full of memorials and monuments, which creates an environment that shapes the way visitors remember the history these monuments seek to commemorate. These monuments do not, and perhaps cannot, express the full historical reality surrounding things like the Columbian conquest or the Vietnam and Korean Wars, but the narratives they do tell by their very presence and design influence viewers own memory and understanding of those histories. Their memory, thus, crystalizes as historical fact. This becomes particularly dangerous when thinking of difficult histories, like those of slavery and racism, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities and mental illness, among others. The physical landscapes we build to enforce certain historical narratives in collective memory have real implications for the present, and given the current climate, perhaps it is time to start building an environment that challenges this status quo.
 John Green, An Abundance of Katherines (Speak, 2006): p. 207.
Late in the night of December 22, 2002, Nizah Morris, a Philadelphian trans woman, was found at 16th and Walnut streets injured and unconscious. She later died from blunt-force head trauma at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. In the wake of her death came a maelstrom of controversy and scrutiny aimed at the Philadelphia Police that had offered Morris a courtesy ride to the hospital earlier that night due to her intoxication, but who left her at the corner of 13th and Walnut, three blocks from where she was later found suffering from a serious headwound. But what does this have to do with archives?
In the years following Morris’s death, which the police department deemed an accident despite an alternative decision from the coroner (which labeled the case a homicide), questions abounded regarding the police’s choice to leave Morris for a traffic stop, particularly when Morris needed medical attention. In 2009 and 2013 Philadelphia Gay News presented the District Attorney’s office with the dispatch records for the officer’s traffic stop. The formats between these records differed, but in 2015 the D.A.’s stated that it had destroyed the original copy of the 2009 record following its records-retention policy. Last month, however, the D.A.’s office came forward saying they discovered the original record after all, though did not explain the circumstances of its discovery.
When we discussed retention schedules a few weeks ago, we addressed the potential legal issues surrounding records destruction. In reading this story, considering the circumstances surrounding this particular record which was related to a suspicious death closely tied to the city’s police department, the idea that the District Attorney’s office would destroy a related document strikes me as profoundly unethical. Additionally suspicious, is the fact that they rediscovered this record two years later amid the continued scrutiny regarding this case. The District Attorney’s office is no archives, but it is a government body with a retention schedule that should account for situations like this. The mishandling of records like this really only enables the perpetuation of systemic violence against trans women of color like Nizah Morris.
 Tim Cwiek, “D.A.’s Office Finds ‘Destroyed’ Morris Record,” Philadelphia Gay News, November 15, 2017, http://www.epgn.com/news/local/12778-d-a-s-office-finds-destroyed-morris-record. Accessed 11/16/17.
In efforts to develop and expand their archival collections, Arizona State University is reaching out to their community for help. ASU wants to use their holdings to tell the state’s diverse history through the stories of community members, and a sizable grant has recently made this objective more achievable. This grant allows the ASU Archives to conduct free workshops over the next three years, providing them an opportunity to connect with their communities and show them how to care for their fragile items that help them tell their stories. The Arizona State University Archives especially wants to connect with local Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, and LGBTQ+ individuals in preserving and sharing their individual stories, which together contribute to the state’s larger historical narrative. The ASU Archives will help digitize materials and teach participants how to interview relatives and other community members, all of whom have their own stories.
In class this week, two of our main topics were advocacy and outreach, and one of the questions we raised was how to advocate for this kind of work in communities whose experiences do not reflect the largely white and middle-class experience most often reflected in archives? We all agree that these underrepresented populations’ experiences need to be preserved and shared, but how do we reach them and advocate for them to do so? Archives like the one at Arizona State University provide possible answers. Granted, how they plan to garner audiences for these workshops is not explicitly stated in this article, but considering they have the funding to conduct such workshops for the next few years, they certainly have time to develop an effective methodology. I hope that once they determine an effective formula for community engagement they will share that information with other archives who share their ambitions, but lack their economic support.
 Allison Rodriguez, “Arizona State University looking to expand community archives,” ABC 15 News, November 2, 2017. http://www.abc15.com/news/region-southeast-valley/tempe/arizona-state-university-looking-to-expand-community-archives.
In Material Culture last week, we spent our class period aboard the Cruiser Olympia, a late 19th Century warship most famous for leading Admiral Dewey's "Great White Fleet" through the Battle of Manila Bay. During our tour of the Olympia, I found an interesting artifact in the open section of the ship inhabited by the sailors. A piano. A plaque on the piano states that after the victorious Battle of Manila Bay in 1898, sailors celebrated their victory through song. What is particularly fascinating, however, is that this piano was neither present for the battle, nor originally found in that room when the Independence Seaport Museum accessioned the ship decades ago. The piano was found in the wardroom, where the ship's officers would meet. Furthermore, the piano's design is more accurately representative of a piano built in the 1920s. The wardroom of the Olympia is stylistically Victorian; a product of its time between the late Industrial Revolution and the Victorian Era. If the piano itself were to reflect this, it would be more ornate, like the wardroom itself.
Despite these facts, there remains the possibility that the piano is originally from the late 1800s, and was simply altered after the fact leaving its appearance as it is. There also remains the fact that these sailors did have access to a piano after the Battle of Manila Bay and celebrated musically. It is also worth mentioning, that not far from the piano's current location is the ship's original band room. All of this together provides a largely untold aspect of military life at sea. As part of their Cruiser Olympia exhibit inside the Independence Seaport Museum itself, they interpreted the story of a musician who played trombone. Perhaps between these two objects, and whatever other related objects they have in their archives, the Independence Seaport Museum could design an exhibit about what music meant to sailors aboard the Olympia throughout its life (from the late 19th Century and well into the 20th).
I would love to see this piano transformed into an immersive exhibit experience. They could plug period appropriate piano music in to set the scene for visitors, and in conjunction there could be panels with examples of the music that sailors would play or sing along to in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Given this piano's "original" location in the wardroom, this exhibit could also be divided spatially, with classical music playing in the wardroom where the higher class officers would meet, and more popular sailor tunes playing in their public space where the piano is today. Finally, because many of the exhibition panels on the Olympia already share first person stories from sailors, I think it would be a great idea to share their stories regarding their musical experiences on the ship. With all of this in mind, I think the Independence Seaport Museum could craft an immersive experience that shows an auditory shift between the "classes" aboard around the turn of the 20th Century, and tell a more personal, social historical narrative into the lives of those who sailed aboard the Olympia.
On October 21st I drove down to Port Penn, Delaware and walked to the marshes along the Delaware River. According to the Independent Seaport Museum’s accession records, the eel fyke net I am studying this semester came from the Port Penn Area Historical Society (now the Port Penn Interpretive Center) in 1987. Although the center is closed for the season, I thought it would be beneficial to visit the closest thing to an origin point I have for this fyke net and examine the environment in which it was used, to situate it both in space and time, as I contemplate the object’s age.
I have yet to pin down an original owner, but based on this net’s purpose, I can say that the original owner was a fisherman, and certainly an eel fisherman. Given the object’s size (just over three feet long) and its composition (hoops possibly made of willow wood and netting of twine or cotton) I also speculate that the owner made this net himself, likely in the late 19th or early 20th Century. More modern eel fyke nets, specifically the leaders and wings that extend before the net itself, can vary from fifty to 200 feet long. Given this variation in size between modern nets and the one I am studying, I am confident it must be significantly older, and therefore likely made by hand. Additionally, given how small a town Port Penn is, and how old I believe the net to be, I further speculate that the original owner was not a man of considerable wealth.
As expressed before, the net was used specifically to fish for American Eels which live in the Delaware River and its surrounding marshes. In addition to its original utilitarian purpose, I believe the net was also used for decoration, as it has a stick attached to its side which could have helped in hanging it on a wall somewhere. Significantly more interesting is how this object reflects the particularities of its surroundings. In 2017, the two major forms of employment I saw in the small village of Port Penn are agriculture and fishing. Port Penn is no more than ten miles from Route 13, but in traveling those ten miles I saw primarily small farms, and in town I saw several stores related to fishing (a bait and tackle shop, a market for crab, and so forth). Although there may never have been an eel fishing industry, it seems possible that the original owner sold his catches in a local fish market. These are the particularities of the human environment; in the natural environment I saw a few willow trees on my drive into town, which lends credence to my assessment that the net’s hoops may have been made of willow, though other sources state that most fyke nets were made of oak, hickory, or grapevine. Furthermore, the inlets from the river that lead to the marshes are not particularly wide. Given the nets roughly three feet in length, if we consider proportional additions in the leader and wings, the net would be roughly eight or nine feet wide. This is more than enough to span these inlets and capture plenty of eels. I wonder though, if the proper methodology dictates that one stakes these nets down and waits for the eels to swim in, what would the original owner do in this down time? Would he bring a fishing pole with him and catch the bass and other fish that swim through the Delaware? Would he bring box traps to catch the blue crabs I saw scuttling about in the surrounding ponds?
My interactions with this object have colored my impression of it insofar as I am now more certain than ever of its colorful life. By life I refer to its creation, likely at the hands of its original owner, its usage in the marshes of the Delaware River, its time as a wall ornament, and its arrival at at least two maritime museums. If my assessment is correct, this object was made by the original owner. This means that the owner had to bend the willow wood into hoops, and weave the twine or cotton into its z-twisted form and then craft the net and internally woven traps, and then treat it all to prevent water damage. This evokes a sense of wonder. The time, energy, and care that went into crafting this net colors my impression of it greatly. Furthermore, what struck me most as I sat by the marshes was the ambient noise around me. I could hear the water flowing by, the seagulls screeching overhead, the wind blowing through the wild grasses, and the birds in the brushes. All of this evoked an idyllic image of a man fishing by the river, surrounded by these sounds in the early 20th Century, but without airplanes and large barges drifting down stream. Whether this image is valid or not is something I have yet to determine. During a previous visit to the Tuckerton Seaport Museum in New Jersey, an archivist there spoke of a lumber industry not far from the Delaware River that, at times, would choke the river with sawdust. This is a different form of pollution than what I witnessed at Port Penn, but certainly one worth considering as I move forward.
Nevertheless, in visiting Port Penn, Delaware and walking around the marshes along the Delaware River, I obtained a greater understanding of this eel fyke net through witnessing the environment in which it was used, the town it once called home, and considering the changes this village has seen over time.
A few weeks ago we discussed disaster planning and response in archival settings. At the same time, wildfires raged across the Pacific Northwest, including California, and more specifically the Fountaingrove headquarters of Keysight Technologies, a derivative of PC manufacturer Hewlett-Packard. The Tubbs fire in northern California burned across 36,807 acres of land, destroying thousands of buildings, killing at least 22 people, and in the process destroyed irreplaceable documents pertaining to the rise of Hewlett-Packard in the early years of the Silicon Valley. The documents were estimated as being worth up to two million dollars in 2005 and were previously held in flame retardant vaults. Karen Lewis, a former HP staff archivist helped put together the collection in 1988 and felt the destruction could have been prevented, but above all, mourned the loss of documents relating to the electronics industry’s history as early as 1939. Jeff Weber, a spokesman for Keysight Technologies, stated that appropriate measures were taken to protect the materials, but that the firestorm thwarted any such efforts. He also asserted that a large section of the collection remains in HP’s possession. An update on October 30th further explained that while Keysight Technology was saddened by the loss of these significant documents, they “met and exceeded the strictest standards for archival protection.”
In discussing disaster planning and response in archival settings in class, we discussed fire alarm and suppression systems, but the question remains, what are we to do when the forces of nature overwhelm our “strictest standards [of] archival protection”? Ideally disaster plans and an archives location are sufficient in limiting the impact of disasters like hurricanes, and plans are in place to aid cleanup efforts afterwards. But still, when states like California face their worst wildfires to date, and Florida, Texas, and other states in the southeast face their worst hurricanes to date, protecting one’s archive’s collections can seem a herculean task. Ideally an archives can protect and keep their original documents if nothing else, but Hewlett-Packard may have a point in backing up their collections with digital copies of their documents at several of their archival locations, even if irreplaceable documents in their Fountainhead archives were lost. Perhaps, then, part of a disaster plan in regions like these is to not only identify which materials are the top priority to save, but ensuring a digital copy of those materials can live on elsewhere in a worst-case scenario. Given the increased presence and severity of natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires due to climate change, perhaps digitizing our archival priorities could similarly increase the possibility of digital archival phoenixes rising from the ashes of tragedies like those in northern California.
 Tom McKay, “The California Wildfires Burned Down Irreplaceable Documents on Silicon Valley History [Updated],” Gizmodo, October 29, 2017. https://gizmodo.com/the-california-wildfires-burned-down-irreplaceable-docu-1819955915. (Accessed 11/2/17).