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Finding Inspiration in Unlikely Places

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By Daniel Necas, Archivist, Immigration History Research Center Archives

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An invitation to a workshop (and a kind offer by the organizers from Coventry University to cover expenses) brought me to Europe for a couple of weeks in March. It was my first time of travelling to Omagh, Northern Ireland, where I was to meet with a group of corpus linguists, historians and computer programmers interested in digitizing and studying migrant correspondence. They came from places such as Germany, France, Ireland, Spain, England, and the Netherlands, to offer their perspectives to supplement those of the locals from the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies in Omagh.

Since flying to Europe from Minneapolis works so well through Amsterdam, I also used the opportunity to visit the Europeana Digital Library headquarters in the Royal Library in the Hague to discuss the possibilities of working in the Europeana on-line environment with our European partner institutions involved in the IHRC/A's project which makes digitized immigrant letters available for research - Digitizing Immigrant Letters. Since all of the digitized letters from the IHRC/A's project currently reside in the University of Minnesota's U Media repository and will later this year be included in the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), we are working to connect this and possibly additional North American content with letters from immigrants to their relatives in Europe where such letters are now mostly archived. Given our past experience of working with the DPLA and Europeana on the "Leaving Europe" exhibition and in view of the close relationships between the two major digital libraries/archives, it appears to be a promising way of bringing together both sides of the migrant correspondence exchanged between the two continents over the past 150 years.

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Travel plans are usually made with the intentions of getting somewhere and seeing someone and/or doing something there. As one of the bonus wonders of travel, however, I have become to appreciate the fact that along the way, one almost always learns also from what happens or is encountered unintentionally. On my way to the Royal Library in the Hague, I passed by a large parking area for bicycles. They were stored on multilevel racks full of bicycles of all sorts, obviously used for commuting to the historic center of the old city. Each morning the racks are filled, and in the afternoon the bicycles are retrieved to be used again. Much like archival boxes on shelves, each bike must remain safely and readily accessible. Space is a scarce commodity in the Netherlands, just like in most archives. The solutions found in the Hague and other cities of Holland give me confidence that archivists will figure out ways to store their materials more efficiently. Observing the morning arrivals in the Hague, it was obvious that in addition to the space provided by the city and the cleverly designed technology, deliberate and disciplined behavior of the users ("retrievers" and "re-shelvers") is an indispensable component in the process of making it work.



by Sara Wakefield, Reference Librarian, Immigration History Research Center Archives

In the fall of 2013, the Immigration History Research Center & Archives partnered with the University of Minnesota's Religious Studies Program and the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, MI to bring their traveling exhibit, "Little Syria, NY: An Immigrant Community's Life and Legacy" to the Andersen Library's gallery space on the 1st and 2nd floors.

In conjunction with this exhibit, Sara Wakefield, Reference Librarian, and Hope Shinn, Student Archives Assistant, created a display of Arab American print material from the IHRC Archives. 

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The display includes duplicate rare books, contemporary books, serials, and photographs. The display also includes a map from the 1936 Festival of Nations Exhibit Hall in St. Paul, MN, sponsored by the International Institute of Minnesota. On their Homelands Exhibits hall map you will find a Syrian booth between the Italian and Chinese booth.

Items of interest on display are a copy of the Federation Herald of the Syrian and Lebanese American Federation of the Eastern States, April 25, 1949 edition with the headline "New Haven club rehearses for Arabic-English musical comedy May 22". The photograph of this theater troupe and their exquisite costumes is amazing. Also on display is a copy of Sittee Saltany A'laat: a Compilation of Arabic Proverbs Grandmother Told Me by Margaret Salamey, 1982 and Prairie Peddlers: the Syrian-Lebanese in North Dakota by William Sherman, Paul Whitney, and John Guerrero, 2002.

On December 17, 2012, the Immigration History Research Center collections, now to be known as the IHRC Archives, formally became part of the Department of Archives and Special Collections. The Immigration History Research Center, directed by Prof. Erika Lee, will continue to promote the study of immigrant populations within the College of Liberal Arts, and the University Libraries will support the collections. The IHRC and Archives and Special Collections will collaborate through programming, exhibits, events, and outreach to immigrant communities. The IHRCA is second only to the University Archives in terms of the size of the collection, and is one of the most heavily used of the collections in Andersen Library.

Earlier in the fall, the collections of the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest were donated to the Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives. A portion of the JHSUM materials had been on deposit in Andersen Library for a number of years, and the donation reunites all of the collections in one place. We are very pleased that Kate Dietrick will be joining ASC as curator of the Berman Archives in March. Kate comes to us from the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. She received her MS in Library and Information Science from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, and her BA in history and women's studies from St. Olaf College.

We are delighted to add these two stellar collections to our wide-ranging complement of research materials. Both the IHRCA and the Berman Archives connect with other departmental collecting strengths, most notably the Social Welfare History Archives and the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, forming a solid core of research materials in immigration and social history found nowhere else.

Kris Kiesling, Director of Archives and Special Collections

 
 

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