This post was written by Colleen Gerrity, Reading Room Coordinator. She is starting her Master’s degree at Mason this year.
Last summer, I took on the gargantuan task of sorting, organizing, and arranging 30+ years of my family’s photographs into photo albums. I took the heavy boxes home from my mom’s house, stuffed them into my tiny car, and began the journey of reliving my family’s history. I’ve always envied families who had neat photo albums and scrapbooks of notable events and celebrations. Ever since I was a child, I’ve found it fascinating to look back and see how people and the world have changed (or, in some ways, remained the same). Thus, it was finally time to get my own family in check and make some photo albums – and let me tell you, it was a lot of work!
Spending so many hours last summer going through old photos and reliving near-forgotten memories meant that two items in SCRC’s collection caught my eye: the Vacation trip in the new Chevrolet scrapbook and the American voyage photograph albums. I was eager to see what these individuals documented and determined was significant enough to put into albums. What excited me, even more, were the ages of these items. The Vacation trip in the new Chevrolet scrapbook dates to 1958 and the American voyage photograph albums dates to 1904. That’s 63 and 114 years ago!
I first set my eyes on the Vacation trip in the new Chevrolet scrapbook. I was welcomed by the smiling faces of a family before journeying with them across New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. Their adventure began in Arlington, V.A., with their choice of travel being a brand-new Chevrolet. This car and mode of transportation was increasingly popular in the 1950s and was well on its way to becoming a staple of American culture. The items in this scrapbook include tourist brochures and pamphlets, as well as black-and-white photographs of statues and buildings. The scrapbook gives a glimpse into American life in 1958, as cars, fashion, and technology of the time are documented through the photos. Even working conditions during tours of factories located in New York are photographed. It is intriguing to see how much has changed since 1958, but the desire to visit iconic buildings and see a show on Broadway has stayed very much the same.
Finally, I flipped through the American voyage photograph albums – two delicate photo albums bursting with black-and-white photographs taken by French-speaking people sailing from Le Havre in Normandy, France. Making the photo albums possible were the improvements in photography and long-distance transportation via train travel. These individuals had quite the adventure, as they voyaged across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada in the span of two months. Some notable U.S. destinations included N.Y.C., Philadelphia, D.C., Jacksonville, San Antonio, Sacramento, Seattle, Minneapolis, Rochester, Chicago, and Brooklyn. In Mexico, photos of people, statues, churches, and landscapes were taken. Victoria, Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Niagara Falls were photographed during the trip through Canada. It was incredible to see many of the cities and buildings recorded as they were a hundred years ago, many of which I have visited myself. Once more, it was captivating to see what has changed, notably the fashion and technology, while landmarks and tourist destinations have remained the same.
I am appreciative that SCRC has acquired these items for our collection so that these memories can be shared with the world. From my experience with albums last summer, I value the time and effort it takes to create a scrapbook or photo album. However, it may not always be easy to preserve these types of collections. Here’s some quick archival education! At SCRC, we keep scrapbooks and photo albums such as these in acid-free boxes and cold storage with the rest of our collections. If the photos are especially delicate, we remove them from the album, place them in photograph sleeves, and then in acid-free folders (all in their original order, of course). So, make sure you take care when creating and storing your own scrapbooks and photo albums. This was something I hadn’t thought about before.
It was a joy to go through these photo albums, and I hope it inspires people to make their own. To make memories is one thing, but to document and share those memories with the world is another thing – it’s documenting and sharing history. While the scrapbooks and photo albums we have here at SCRC share the theme of traveling across the country, your photo album can be whatever you want it to be. It’s the magic of preserving your memories and sharing your stories with the future. You never know, in a hundred years from now, someone may still be flipping through those pages.
Vacation trip in the new Chevrolet scrapbook, C0253, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.
American voyage photograph albums, C0256, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.
Follow SCRC on Social Media on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions.