Abby Munro was a teacher from Rhode Island who came to Mount Pleasant, South Carolina to help Cornelia Hancock in teaching Black freed men and women at the Laing School. At the Laing School, students received an education and were given an opportunity to learn a trade. (Laing Middle School of Science and Technology; Fludd; Town of Mount Pleasant Historical Commission). In the 1870s, Munro took over for duties from Hancock and became the principal of the school. She expanded on the original work of Hancock, when in 1882 she opened a Children’s Home for Destitute Children, one of the first orphanages for African Americans in South Carolina (Fludd; Mount Pleasant Historical Commission). Though older than the Jenkins’ Orphanage, the Destitute Children’s Home was smaller and served the local population of Mount Pleasant. (Fordham, 2009).
This collection consists of a range of items related to Abby Munro’s work at the Home of Destitute Children and the Laing School in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, like legal documents signed by parents giving custody of children to Abby Munro. Additionally, documents in the collection frequently outline that a child will be cared for while receiving an education. A second medium found in this collection is photographs, most of which are of the Laing School. These photographs allow for a glimpse into education at the Laing Normal and Industrial School. One photograph shows students learning to cobble shoes. Another photograph shows young girls learning to sew.
Arthur Macbeth, an African American photographer based in Charleston, South Carolina, took many of these photographs of the Laing School. After studying with German, French, and American photographers, Macbeth opened his own studio in Charleston in 1886 (Bowser, 1999). A few of Macbeth photographs were used some of the in Laing School publications that reported on progress of the school and home. Both the Laing school and Children’s Home relied heavily on donations and these publications used to show how the donations were being used, plus how the donations were making a difference.
I landed in digital collections by pure serendipity. I entered the Public History program with a focus on historic preservation at the University of South Carolina. Receiving no funding from my department, I applied for a position in Digital Collections helping to digitize The Gamecock from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. Discovering my love for Library Science too late, I continue to work in Digital Collections hoping to build upon my interest in how digital collections can be used for historical preservation. Over the last few months, I have worked on five different projects including digitizing a portion of the John Caldwell Calhoun papers.
In planning for the Teacher Workshops for Social Studies teachers, library organizers selected the John Caldwell Calhoun papers for use in the workshop. A controversial figure of history today, Calhoun was an active proponent of slavery and states’ rights during his political career. A native of South Carolina, Calhoun served in the United States House of Representatives, became the Secretary of War and became the Vice President of United States. Thus, it was easy to see why items from this collection were ideal for a workshop focused on helping social studies teachers utilize digital collections in their classroom.
This collection consists mainly of business and personal correspondence of John C. Calhoun from the South Caroliniana Library, little of which was digitized. For the workshop, a few letters were selected to be digitized. In selecting this letters, however, it was discovered that these letters were silked, in attempt to preserve the letters. Silking was a conservation technique used in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth centuries. In basic terms, this process consisted of adhering a thin piece of transparent silk to a document. The reasoning behind this process was to slow down the deterioration process of the paper (Barrow, 1942; McCarthy, 2016).
In digitizing the Calhoun papers for the Teacher’s Workshop, my initial thoughts were on time management for the project, in order to ensure that everything was accessible and usable for the workshop. Thus, my focus was on the project flow of this endeavor, scanning all the items and ensuring clear images, that any questions about the metadata edited, and everything loaded on the library depository, well before the deadline. Although it was interesting to see and work with letters that went through this early method of preservation, the fact that items in this collection were silked was not a part of my initial focus.
I started by scanning letters from the Calhoun collection on the Zeutschel, a large flat base scanner in the Digital Collections office. In looking at the first images of the scanned letters, I noted problems in seeing the handwriting in the images. Since the letters were going to be used in a workshop, and the fact that handwriting from the nineteenth century materials are in themselves hard to read, the clearest images were needed. Thus, I sought advice on getting more clear images. The library consulted a conservator to see what could be done about the silked documents while in the office, basic research was conducted into experiences from other libraries and archives in using silked materials.
One unexpected outcome of silked archival items it that the items become harder to read over time. The aluminum in the paste affected the acidity of the paper, resulting in ink dissolving and discoloration of the paper overall. It is possible that this what led to the discoloration in the documents. Further research also revealed that this process often used arsenic. While there was no evidence that these materials contained arsenic, I took precautions and wore gloves when handling the Calhoun papers (Information Resource Management Association, 2019; McCarthy, 2016).
While the problem with clarity of some of the images remained, I continued to scan the letters and began to create metadata in hopes some of the images could still be used in the Teachers Workshop. The last step was to add the images and metadata in to the library’s digital depository known as CONTENTdm, so the images would be accessible online through the Library’s website. Some of the more legible images were used in the teacher’s workshop. The fully digitized John Caldwell Calhoun collection can be found here: https://digital.library.sc.edu/collections/john-c-calhoun-papers/
Barrow, W. J. Restoration Methods. (1942) The American Archivist. Page 152 Retrieved from http://www.americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/aarc.6.3.497248722g4584rr?code=SAME-site.
Information Resource Management Association USA. (2019). Digital Curation: Breakthrough in Research and Practice. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=lcxjDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA200&lpg=PA200&dq=arsenic+in+silking+archival+materials&source=bl&ots=ymV2dnhioj&sig=nzhC0NeX3EpyvjEGAzeaKA2nyAU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiwv5jFv-rdAhWC21MKHcwZDfAQ6AEwCXoECAIQAQ#v=onepage&q=arsenic%20in%20silking%20archival%20materials&f=false.
As we unveil our new university website and our new Digital Collections and Exhibitions website here at the University of South Carolina, we can’t help but blog about it!
Digital Collections got started in 2004, and was created by a group of special collections curators and archivists. We primarily serve the special collections units at the university: Irvin Department of Rare Books, South Carolina Political Collections, Government Documents, the South Caroliniana Library and Archives, the Music Library, and the Moving Image Research Center. Our department also participates in nationally-held industry best practices regarding digitization, metadata creation, access, and digital preservation. We serve our South Carolina community as well, and partner with institutions across the state, to share resources and expertise.
Since 2004, over 250 collections (containing over half a million items) have been digitized and described using the content management system CONTENTdm (dm = digital management). During the last 14 years, over 75 staff and students have created these digital wonders, giving you open access to historic newspapers, published and unpublished manuscripts, photographs and negatives, university archives, sheet music, rare books, engravings and prints, oral histories, and political records. Not surprisingly, UofSC’s Digital Collections department was a founding member of Digital Public Library of America and the South Carolina Digital Library.
We’ll be using this blog as a way to show our work, like all your math teachers insisted on. Our department is under lock and key (not open to the public), but our methodology and progress needn’t be. We’ll have guest bloggers (Digi staff, interns, and students) describe their digitization process, cool things they found in the collections, and a nice cross-referenced link or two where you can find the original item we’ve digitized. We’ll also announce new changes to our workflows, exciting new equipment, grants, and collaborations here.