The story of a Simmons GSLIS Archives Internship in the Perkins Archives, Fall, 2013

color drawing of the Perkins Watertown campus and tower, a daguerreotype of Sophia Carter with a pupil, an illustration of the Howe Memorial Embossing Press, and a newspaper clipping about the Perkins South Boston building.

Color drawing of the Perkins Watertown campus and tower, a daguerreotype of Sophia Carter with a pupil, an illustration of the Howe Memorial Embossing Press, and a newspaper clipping about the Perkins South Boston building.

January 7, 2014

My experience can best be exemplified by my discovery of a theater review for a production of Alice in Wonderland from 1919. Upon finding this, I was directed to a photo of the production on the Perkins Flickr page, and subsequently taken on a tour of the tactile museum, where the taxidermy swan in the photograph still resides.

From a father’s letter to his daughter describing his visit to the Institution for the Blind and Laura Bridgman in 1840 to a 1919 Perkins Glee Club performance at the Charlestown Prison, my internship at the Perkins School for the Blind Archives, this fall was always full of surprises. As a first semester Simmons College graduate student, studying to become an archivist, my experience at Perkins gave me a fantastic opportunity to get hands on experience processing a collection. From this internship, I learned a great deal about technique, but am just as grateful for getting to know many of the people and events that make Perkins history, and this collection, especially interesting.

“Perkins Institutional History: Publications, Clippings, and Manuscripts,” the collection I processed was 8 boxes of widely varying material that ranged from 1829 to 1990. Because this collection is so eclectic and covers such a long time span, it was enormously satisfying to start  finding stories among the clippings, photos, ephemera, documents and manuscripts, that were coming out of the boxes. I especially enjoyed finding first hand accounts written by former pupils, or visitor's, detailing their experiences at the school. This inclusion of personal history provided me with a more extensive picture of Perkins that I greatly appreciate.

It was great to get the experience of working with so many different types of materials, but this collection also provided me with the opportunity to address its preservation needs. Much of the materials are paper, and newspaper clippings which were inside acidic envelopes and/or bound together with rusting paper clips or metal pins. Having had no prior experience with preservation, I learned a great deal about how to protect the material from future damage, as well as learning about the specific causes of the damage itself. I will forever be grateful for being introduced to Absorene, the silly putty like substance that removes dirt from paper, which I found incredibly gratifying to use. Learning how to address preservation quickly, especially with piles of newspaper clippings, was something I feel like I only got a handle on towards the end.

Though it took me longer than I anticipated, by mid December I had arranged and described the materials, addressed their preservation needs, re-housed them in acid free boxes, and created a finding aid. I feel like I have come away with knowledge about archival processes that only hands-on experience, and an outstanding supervisor can afford. My experience can best be exemplified by my discovery of a theater review for a production of Alice in Wonderland from 1919. Upon finding this, I was directed to a photo of the production on the Perkins Flickr page, and subsequently taken on a tour of the tactile museum, where the taxidermy swan in the photograph still resides. Making connections to other collections and to the school as it exists today, made this experience exceptional.

Stage production of "Alice in Wonderland"

Alice in Wonderland - The Trial of the Knave of Hearts, 1901. Note: Swan and other taxidermy animals on table at right.