It’s the beginning of August as I write this piece—the time between when summer interns leave and when students return for the fall semester. It’s also just over two years since I began as the curator of the Quaker Collections at Haverford College, and ten years since I started to love archives and Quaker history as a student worker at the Earlham College Friends Collection and College Archives. I’m one of three curators at Haverford, who spend our time building our collections, maintaining them, making them available for use, and working with students, classes, and researchers.
As Quakers, we often look upon our history, our founders, and the changes in our theology and practice over time to help us inform our current theology and practice. As an archivist, I’m always working to make sure the collections reflect who we have been, who we are, and who we might be in the future. Working with Quaker materials—preserving them, helping people use them, and talking about them in their larger worldly contexts—gives a place for Quaker history not just within the religious body, but also in the academic realm, where the work that Quakers have done, and are doing, with all its strengths and weaknesses, is illuminated alongside the work of other people. In the United States, Haverford is one of four main Quaker archives where in-depth research into personal papers, journals and serials, organizational records, and genealogical materials can happen.
Dorothy Steere’s journal, check. Letter from Martin Luther King Jr. to Dorothy Steere, check. Martin Luther King and the History of the Civil Rights Movement comic book, check. It’s a Tuesday morning, and I’m getting ready to teach a first-year writing seminar class using archival materials related to Quaker involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Students will each sit in front of a book, letters, and other pieces, and evaluate it for about 5 minutes. Then they’ll move counterclockwise around the tables until they’ve looked at everything. This is one of my favorite activities—“speed-dating” the materials. It’s a way for the students to explore the various physical materials, talk about their similarities and differences, experience what changes in learning when they look at documents in person rather than in digital copy, and to dynamically recreate more of the history together.
In a Quaker history class, professor Emma Lapsansky brings the class to the Collections to look at tracts from the 1650s and 1660s. We get to talk with the class about the text of the tracts, about the theology that was brought forth in them. They learn in One Sheet Against the Quakers (Richard Baxter) that Quakers were not universally loved. In Susanna Bateman’s I matter not how I appear to man, the class engages with questions of gender equality in Quakerism. And, in Richard Farnworth’s A VVoman Forbidden to Speak in Church, students learn about the expense and process of printmaking in the seventeenth century—sometimes it takes two V’s to make a W, after all.
In the 2016-2017 academic year, the Quaker and Special Collections worked with over 80 classes, collaborating with professors on bringing primary source materials into the classroom. As an archivist, I love to see students engaging with archival materials, whether for the first time or hundredth time. Their insights are different than mine, and I appreciate learning from them as much as I enjoy teaching them.
One of the great things about Haverford is being able to have students engage critically with materials in ways they are passionate about…
Where is the Penn Treaty Elm? What was the relationship between Quakers and Indigenous people in the 1700s? How have Quakers treated people who are mentally ill? These are some of the many questions with which our student workers engage. Students work in the archives year-round on a variety of projects, including curating exhibits, arranging and describing manuscript materials, and working with researchers.
Even though there is no museum studies program at Haverford (and at 1,300 students, it is a relatively small institution), there are many opportunities for students from across the disciplines to curate large-scale exhibits. Most of these exhibits have Quaker connections. In February, to celebrate the American Friends Service Committee’s centennial, we collaborated on an exhibit, curated by Sophie McGlynn ‘18: “Waging Peace: 100 Years of Quakers, Moral Quandaries, and a Quest for Justice.” AFSC provided banners for the exhibit, while Haverford provided archival material and shaped the overarching storyline. Later in April, “Expanding the Universe: Astronomy and the Telescope,” curated by Victor Medina del Toro ‘17, explored the history of astronomy at Haverford.
This fall, with support from the Scattergood Foundation, “Deprived of the Use of Their Reason: Quakerism & the Curability of Mental Illness at Friends’ Asylum 1817-1867” will explore the records of the Friends Hospital (then Friends’ Asylum) and explore questions of morality, humanity, and ethics in treating people who are mentally ill. One of the great things about projects like these is that while they use Quaker materials, they also explore the context of the world outside Quaker communities. This is one of several projects done with Scattergood’s support. For three summers, in collaboration with the Digital Scholarship department, materials from this collection were digitized, and used to collect data to look at trends at the Hospital. These articles and data were put into a portal called “Quakers and Mental Health” where visitors can explore moral treatment of patients, learn about Quaker theology and mental health, look at patient profiles to see who was at the asylum in the 1800s and what their ailments were, and other information available.
Another example of collaborations between the Digital Scholarship and Quaker and Special Collections departments is “Beyond Penn’s Treaty: Quaker and American Indian Relations,” which is also a collaboration with Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College that explores the relationship between Quakers and American Indians from the 1740s to 1860s. Materials from these two collections were digitized. In this portal, visitors can explore journals through clickable maps, and help to transcribe letters from the Friendly Association, a precursor to the Indian Committee.
One of the great things about Haverford is being able to have students engage critically with materials in ways they are passionate about, whether it is a student interested in museum studies being able to design an exhibit, someone who is interested in library school getting to work with researchers and learn valuable skills, or a historian looking to interpret materials in a new way. All of these are valued and needed as part of a larger body of Quaker scholarship.
One of my favorite things is that we are still bringing in collections from families who have had materials at Haverford for generations.
I’ve had many people joke with me that I must have become an archivist to work alone in a basement doing research and not talking to other people. That perception couldn’t be further from the truth! I became an archivist to engage with people—students, researchers, scholars, peers—on topics that I’m passionate about, including archival theory, Quakerism, history, and more. In the 2016-2017 year, our department worked with almost 1,300 researchers, which included Quaker meeting members, academic researchers, genealogists, independent researchers, and students.
So far, in the past three years we have worked with five Friends in Residence, who come to Haverford with a program through the Quaker Affairs Office for approximately three weeks in the fall or spring. Each of them has come to the Quaker and Special Collections to talk about something associated with the topic of their visit with Haverford, and if possible, relating to Quaker history. For many of these presentations we have brought out archival material for attendees to explore. In one talk, “Know One Another in the Light: Quakers and Sexual Morality,” Kody Hersh presented on the history of Quakers and sexuality, based partially on research using primary and secondary sources from our collections. Benigno Sánchez-Eppler gave a talk about his project Raices Cuaqueras, a collaboration with Susan Furry to translate Quaker texts in English to Spanish, in “A Spanish Voice for Early Friends: A Quaker Legacy for Spanish Readers.” The department is excited to continue this collaboration throughout our library renovation and after we reopen in 2019.
One of my favorite things is that we are still bringing in collections from families who have had materials at Haverford for generations. As people my age, my parents’ age, and my grandparents’ age clean out attics, basements, and closets full of family albums, letters, letterbooks, diaries, and journals, I get to work with people to bring in collections from the 1700s to the present, engaging in the changing nature of family, theology, and Quakerism over time.
It is as important as ever to have places where stories both old and new are being gathered, accessible for many people to use and explore, representing the whole of Quakerism.
One of the major tasks, as we look toward our future in Haverford Special Collections and the archives field in general, is decolonizing collections. Our Quaker collections are dominated by white, upper class people in what appear to be heterosexual relationships, which is not representative of the body of the Religious Society of Friends. As a department we are also thinking about potential donors and researchers who are from different racial, cultural, socio-economic, gender and sexual orientation backgrounds, with whom we can develop relationships to understand how we can support them better.
This is an historic time in Quakerism, with splits in yearly meetings, new yearly meetings being created, new theology sprouting into life from around the world. It is as important as ever to have places where stories both old and new are being gathered, accessible for many people to use and explore, representing the whole of Quakerism. As I grow into this position, I’m grateful for the ways I get to collaborate with students, my coworkers, and the Quaker community as a whole.