Learning by Doing at the Perkins Archives

An image of a scene from the 1942 Perkins production of You Can't Take It With You.

A photograph of a scene from the 1942 Perkins production of "You Can't Take It with You." Features eight male and female costumed students acting on stage.

July 18, 2017

I came to the Perkins Archives this semester courtesy of my Archival Management class at Simmons College. It is a requirement for us to complete a 60-hour internship, and while we get to pick our top three choices, it is not ultimately our decision. Perkins happened to be my first choice, as I found it to be the most interesting option, and I was lucky enough to secure the spot. To be completely honest, I was very nervous on my first day, as I had never had the opportunity to know or work with anyone who was blind or deafblind. I feared that my lack of experience with this community could make my time here difficult, or that I might offend or upset someone unknowingly.

Not only were those fears unwarranted, they immediately dissipated when I was welcomed by Jen Hale and Susanna Coit and given a tour of the school. Everyone I have encountered here has been encouraging, understanding and eager to tell their stories. The warm atmosphere here at Perkins made me feel right at home. After learning about the school’s history, I was excited to begin work on processing the ephemera collection that awaited me.

The collection was in great shape compared to some others that I have done processing for. It was in chronological order, and many items came in envelopes, which helped to keep them intact. Typically, they were in bundles that included a card with the date range of the items inside. This made taking inventory an effortless process. I was then able to sort the items into three different series: Concert and Recital Programs, Theatrical Production Programs and Photographs, and Graduation Programs and Special Events Ephemera. Each series contains around twenty folders of material, which are organized alphabetically, with the contents of the folder ordered chronologically. The collection is now titled Perkins Performing Arts and Special Events Ephemera, and the finding aid is now available online.

I had a wonderful time working with this collection. It was fascinating to see the different events and programs that had been put on over the years. In particular, I enjoyed looking through the scrapbooks and Boston Line Type embossed programs for the theatrical productions at the school. These items contained photographs of plays from the late 1800’s through the 1940’s, and it was impressive to see the costumes and sets as they evolved over the decades. I connected most with the collection when I found a scrapbook for a 1942 performance of “You Can’t Take It with You.” I had performed this play myself in high school and our sets and costuming looked very similar, which took me right back to all those memories. It was powerful to connect with the collection and those students in this way.

This internship has provided me with the opportunity to make connections to the classes I have taken so far at Simmons, but beyond that I have also learned about what it is like to actually work in an archive, not just the best practices. Often, our classes will teach us how things are supposed to be done, but not enough about how to manage an archive that may not have the resources to operate at their fullest potential. That aspect of learning made this internship invaluable. Jen has been an incredible mentor for me; she has taught me so much in such a short period of time. She would stop what she was doing to answer my questions, give me guidance and tell me about the history of the school. She has a wealth of knowledge and passion, and Perkins is lucky to have both her and Susanna. I have so much respect and admiration for the Perkins community, and I hope to return soon as a volunteer to continue all the wonderful work being done in the archives here.