Friday, July 31, 2009

Spotlight on: Archives!

Archive inventory isn’t always the most stimulating activity. Very important of course, but let’s face it – sitting at the computer typing in today’s date and my name over and over and over and over and…. But on the plus side I do get to see everything we have in our collection. I’ve been working on the manuscript collections 75 collections (many are only .25 or .5 linear feet of material, i.e. little boxes). I’m in museums, I work in collections, I’m the archivist so I get pretty excited about all things old, but I have found a couple things that anyone could get excited about.

James Cox and a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt, c. 1920

We’ve got a letter from FDR from before he was president – but then who doesn’t have some president’s signature lying around in their collections. Still he’s one of the big ones, one of the presidents most people remember after they finish grade school.

But we’ve also got a letter written by Roger B. Taney. Here is where my history-geekiness truly comes out. I got very excited about this, but many of you are probably asking – WHO? Because you don’t remember all those names and dates from high school history. But this guy is a big deal in 19th century American history. He was a US Attorney General, a Secretary of the Treasury – both pretty important.

He’s even had ships named after him (there’s one in the Baltimore Harbor right now – the Coast Guard Cutter Taney, which is the last ship still floating that also happened to be at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941 – it’s maintained by the Baltimore Maritime Museum). But if anyone knows him, they know him as the Chief Justice of the United States who delivered the opinion in the Dred Scott case. The decision in this case served to perpetuate the status of slaves as property and African Americans as non-citizens in the United States. Our letter is not about that case – Taney is agreeing to consult with a Mr. Nelson on the “question of jurisdiction upon appeals from the Court of Claims.” Fascinating.

And the next great find….well, you’ll just have to stay tuned.

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