Over the summer, I worked on integrating accessions collected in 2019 into the existing Amherst College Afro-American Society/Black Students’ Union Collection. Before this process, the collection consisted of two slim boxes and some audio visual material and now it has more than quadrupled in size!
This past summer was my first experience working in the archives, and in a library in general, so there was a bit of a learning curve before I could fully begin integrating the material. I had to learn what it meant to really “process” a collection, and what I thought was simply refiling documents turned out to be a very meticulous, exciting (and at times tedious) undertaking.
The first step was looking through all of the boxes and getting a sense of the collection’s scope and any major groupings and themes. Thankfully, the accessions were already roughly organized into categories which made my job a lot easier.
Next, I needed to create an inventory of all of the material, but during this process we actually got in touch with a donor inventory that already had all of the documents from the accessions organized and described! Unfortunately, I still needed to go through every single item in the boxes to make sure the donor inventory was accurate and all the material was accounted for. As monotonous as this step was, I was able to spend a lot of time with the documents and learn more about the collection and in turn the history of the Afro-American Society/Black Student Union at Amherst College.
Historically, archives have been a place of violence for marginalized communities, specifically for people of color. The silencing of black voices and exploitation of the black experience through the (oftentimes intentional) mishandling of manuscripts has been a characteristic of archival work for decades. With that in mind, it was imperative that I stay mindful of the original order of the material and treat everything with care.
Decisions about organization and regroupings were discussed thoroughly with Mariah, my supervisor, and Ash Smith and Chris Barber who have extensive experience working in the archives. We also made sure to record every step of the process in order to maintain transparency with patrons interested in using the collection in the future.
Finishing the integration process was extremely rewarding and I feel a lot more knowledgeable about the legacy of black students at Amherst College. One of the many highlights of the collection is the correspondence between members of the Afro-American Society/BSU and administrators at the College. Looking through the multitude of letters, it’s amazing to see how great of a contribution these students made to the advancement of the black community at Amherst, and improving the College in general.