About the Process
For the 2021-22 academic year, the College of Arts and Sciences at Eastern Michigan University is celebrating the city of Detroit. The Department of History in partnership with the University Archives supported a summer internship to illuminate a relatively unknown piece of Detroit history housed at Eastern Michigan University--the records of the Detroit Club. Although the Covid-19 pandemic hindered the ability of EMU Graduate Student Connor K. Ashley to physically interact with documents, a digitally oriented approach to research was devised.
The first step was searching the Detroit Club Collection for pertinent materials using an online finding aid. Next, once pertinent information was identified and located, the corresponding boxes and files were pulled for viewing by a University Archives employee. After the requested materials were made available, digital surrogates were made by scanning and photographing materials. A variety of reasons limited physical access to materials, but having digital surrogates allowed materials to be reviewed remotely.
Lessons Learned From the Project
Working with the Detroit Club collection, materials illustrated the multitude of perils that can befall physical archival resources. The documents currently present in the Detroit Club collection have survived a host of factors like fire damage, water damage, theft, mismanagement, misplacement, and simple record destruction. The documents that have survived into the collection reflect the Detroit Club members most invested in its safekeeping towards the end of the club's life. This isn’t to say there aren't valuable or interesting documents in the collection, but that the collection is representative of the time it was donated to the EMU Archives.
In many ways I think I have seen myself grow as a historian working with archives. As someone whose graduate career has existed in a Covid bubble, it was refreshing to see how adaptable the potential work of a historian utilizing an archive can be when working in partnership with the archivists. As should be the goal of any internship, I have learned more than I thought I would about the software OmekaS, metadata, Library of Congress subject headings and how to effectively use a finding aid. Above all, I know that I am particularly lucky to have been given such an immense opportunity to work with the staff in the Eastern Michigan University Archives who were willing and able to open their doors and collections to me during a global pandemic, while other archives in Michigan, the United States, and across the globe were closed to scholars and students.