Researcher Profile: Suzanne Walker

Suzanne Walker has been in our reading room diligently working with the Federal Theatre Project collections for the last three weeks. Suzanne was kind enough to allow me to interview her about her project. This is the first in what will become a frequent series of profiles with some of our researchers.

Please tell us a little about yourself:

I am twenty-one years old and go to school at Barnard College. I am majoring
in American Studies, concentrating in media and popular culture 1900-1945.

Can you describe your research project?

My research project centers on the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), which operated from 1935-1939 under the umbrella of the Works Progress Administration, and remains the only instance in the United States’ history of a federally funded andoperated theatre. This project will culminate in the writing of my senior thesis for the American Studies major at Barnard. Ever since I learned of the Federal Theatre Project’s existence, I’ve been fascinated by the possibilities and contradictions inherent in the creation of a national theatre. As I learned more about the history of the FTP, I became particularly interested in the relationship between director Hallie Flanagan’s artistic goals and the day-to-day operations of the small regional theatres. As national director of the Federal Theatre Project, Flanagan harbored ambitious goals both to provide relief to unemployed actors and to create a uniquely “American” theatre relevant to its audience. Flanagan’s definition of an “American” theatre relied on the development of homegrown, local theatres with distinctly regional characters, and my thesis explores to what extent her vision was actually carried out. By focusing on the relationship among
Flanagan, her administration, and the numerous regional directors scattered across the country, I hope to demonstrate that Flanagan’s vision of what constituted American theatre could not always be universally applied, and that artistic minds across the country were forced to modify her vision for political, artistic, and economic purposes.

How did you find the collections here at George Mason University’s archives?

Nearly all the bibliographies in books about the Federal Theatre Project reference the playscript and Oral History collections at SC&A, so it seemed like a good place to come to!

How did you learn about primary source research?

My first real experience conducting primary source research was when I worked as a research assistant last summer. One of the archivists showed me how to search for particular sources with the online catalogue, and very patiently showed me how to use the microfilm machine. From there it was a lot of diving in and learning through my own trial and error.

Do you have any advice on primary source research for other undergraduate students or first-time researchers?

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t find what you’re looking for right away—sometimes you’ll find something you were looking for days ago in a place where you least expected it. Also, don’t necessarily start off with a specific idea or thesis. The deeper you get into research the more you will realize that your preconceived notions are never quite in line with how things actually played out. Start out with a very broad idea of what you’re looking for—the documents will speak for themselves.

What are your impressions of George Mason University? The archives? The DC area?

All three seem absolutely lovely! I’ve been quite impressed with the GMU campus/facilities, and everyone at the archives has been incredibly friendly and helpful. I still haven’t done much in the DC area other than touristy history stuff, but I’m excited to keep exploring!

Mass Shredding Made Easy

In the early days of Records Management, the majority of university records could be disposed though recycling or waste  (simply throwing records in the trash).  Due to the confidential nature of university records and ever increasing security concerns, shredding is now mandatory for most temporary records.  Fear not!  Records Management provides a free shredding service for all university offices and departments.

Before any records are shredded, we must receive disposal permission from the department of origin.  We then stage the records on the floor of the University Records Center and double check each box to assure that only the proper records are disposed.

View inside the University Records Center where boxes are staged for shredding.

Boxes that can be shredded are placed on shred pallets and clearly labeled.

We shred approximately 300 boxes of temporary records each month.  To handle this mass shredding, we use an outside vendor, Shred-It.   We shred all records on-site as an added security measure.

The Shred-It truck parks outside the Central Receiving Warehouse, while shredding is completed on-site.

A peak at the industrial shredder inside the Shred-It truck.

Contents of an entire box are shredded -- no need to remove paperclips, staples, or binders.

Northern Virginia Civil War Images Collection

We have recently contributed to the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL) Civil War in the American South collaborative website.  This website links to primary source materials, focusing on the American South, created between 1850 and 1865, from 24 contributing institutions. We have successfully digitized and added 121 images  and text documents from three collections: The Milton Barnes Papers, 1853-1891, (related post at the National Postal Museum’s blog here), The Alexander Haight Family Collection, 1764-1967, and The Northern Virginia Civil War Images Collection, 1853-1914.

While researching these collections we noticed the finding aid for The Northern Virginia Civil War Images Collection was in dire need of an update to more accurately reflect the location and description of its contents. We have recently completed that task and have included links within the finding aid to a digital copy of the image in the Mason Archival Repository Service (MARS) , further enabling researchers to explore this visual collection online.

The Northern Virginia Civil War Images Collection consists of nearly 200 images depicting Union and Confederate armies, battles, marches, and maps of the Civil War. Images are from publications such as Harper’s Weekly, The Illustrated London News, and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and were created by artists including Frank Vizetelly, Frank Leslie, Alfred Waud, Thomas Nast,  and  Charles Magnus. The images are primarily wood engravings, many of which are hand colored. Most of the maps in the collection were produced by lithography for military purposes for both the Union and Confederate armies. The collection is divided and arranged alphabetically by location with exception to maps which are grouped together. Locations include Alexandria, Arlington, Centreville, Fairfax, Falls Church, Fredericksburg, Manassas, Munson’s Hill, Quantico, and Washington D.C., among others.

Meet the African Objects Collection

In the 1980s SC&A acquired a collection of various African objects, including clothing, figurines, currency, and souvenirs from several donors who collected objects d’art during their travels in Africa. Since most of our researchers are primarily interested in our paper record and rare book collections, there was little information available online about this collection and it sat largely unused for many years. That is until recently when we had a researcher in our reading room to view the materials donated by Frances and Richard Flach.

Frances Rawls Flach was the first woman faculty member in academic counseling at the University of Virginia (Mason was a part of UVA from 1957-1972) and in addition to this collection of objects, her lasting contribution to Mason was the development of what is today known as the Bachelor of Individualized Study (BIS) degree. The Flachs acquired many unique objects and art pieces while living in the region of Kakata in Liberia between the years 1936-1938, when Richard Flach was employed by Firestone.

The collection consists primarily of figurines, jewelry, domestic artifacts, currency, and musical instruments. Other pieces from this collection are housed at the Museum of African Art in Washington, DC.

This is a brass figurine of a Liberian soldier wearing a western style uniform. African Art Collection. Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries.

This is a Cameroon-style brass face mask. It was done in the traditional style but made for commercial purposes by a traditional artisan. African Art Collection. Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries.

This standing female figurine was identified as Fanta at the time it was purchased. It is quite unique with elaborate details such as attached hair realistically styled with a part in the middle, rolled up and secured in the back with a small chignon in the front. The figurine also has inset bits of glass for eyes, rounded metal teeth, metal earrings, and beads around the waist. The Flach's found no comparable figures in the reference books and surmised that this figure was made for ritualistic purposes. African Art Collection. Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries.

We are currently working on an online finding aid in order to increase awareness and use of this fascinating and unique collection.