Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Learning the Trade

Working as archival intern at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington this summer proved both great fun and valuable professional experience. I very much enjoyed pouring over photographs, papers, and scrapbooks in the collections I helped process. Along the way, I learned much about the development of businesses, community institutions, and even families I know today, with walks around my adopted city enriched by the many images of Washington’s past I’ve seen in JHSGW’s collection. Considering that there have always been integral ties between the Jewish and larger communities in the District and beyond, JHSGW’s archival collection reveals much about the broader history of greater Washington as it addresses its core narrative of local Jewish history.

In addition to participation in a range of public and behind-the-scenes activities at JHSGW, my primary responsibilities involved the “processing”, or preparing for accessibility to researchers, of several archival collections. Although I’ve benefitted from some relevant coursework and contributed to a manuscript conservation project in the past, my previous experience with the (I think) fascinating business of arranging and describing archival collections was mostly limited to hypotheticals. This internship offered more active participation, with much of my summer devoted to scanning and cataloging photographs comprising the Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation collection; arranging and rehousing the Tifereth Israel collection; and arranging, cataloging, rehousing, and drafting both a finding aid and an Object of the Month entry for the Robert Rosenfeld Collection.

Working with the
Jewish Community Center records
Cataloging the Rosenfeld Collection also afforded an opportunity to experiment with JHSGW’s database software to express more nuanced relationships between items within larger collections, which could eventually benefit online searchers. I look forward to continuing the arrangement of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington Collection as I volunteer in the coming weeks.

Shelly Buring is a second-year Master’s student at the George Washington University, where she studies museum collections management and history.

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