All posts by jblair

Archival Instruction:The Working Man

Today I led an archival instruction session for Michigan Tech Instructor and doctoral student Gary Kaunonen’s Revisions class. Kaunonen encourages his students to incorporate primary sources into their research, and we’ve introduced several of his classes in the past to working with archival material. This semester the class research project emphasizes “the working man.”

When we conduct instruction sessions for undergraduates, along with the ins and outs of what to do when you come to the Archives, we select samples of archival material that demonstrate the inter-relatedness of different records. Being able to touch and read actual historical material often sparks interest in students that weren’t particularly interested in history before (hard to believe, I know!). It also gives us a chance to talk about inherent bias of manuscript records and critical evaluation of sources.

I approached this particular session with an eye toward revealing the lives of ordinary people, and I thought I’d share some of the resources I presented to Kaunonen’s Revisions class. I focused on four broad themes: Worker Housing, Copper Miners, Communities, and Non-mining Activity. What follows is a very cursory overview of material selected.

Copper Range Companies Collection

CR 212, 10-9

Record of House Repairs, Painesdale

c. 1943-1950

This document includes photos and blueprints of company housing in Painesdale, Michigan. It shows the range and variety of housing provided by Copper Range to its workers, from a simple 4-room dwelling to the more well-appointed physician’s residence.

Browne, Mary Jo Rowell. A Comparative Study between Miner’s Homes in Cornwall, England and the Miner’s Homes of the Cornish in Michigan. University of Minnesota, unpublished thesis, 1986.

Mine Worker Housing in Calumet, Michigan: 1864-1950; Historic and Architectural Survey. Keweenaw National Historic Park, Calumet, Michigan. 2000.

From the Copper Country Vertical Files:

Agriculture – Losses and Troubles: (Although the topic is a serious one, I had to smile at the grim-sounding subject heading for this file.)  In it are such things as a newspaper article entitled “Grasshoppers gobbling up U.P. crops,” and coverage of unusual periods of drought in the Keweenaw. A photocopy of the table of contents for the March/April 1984 issue of Michigan History magazine indicates that it was devoted to Michigan farming, including the Upper Peninsula.

Cities & Towns – Company Towns

Copper Miners – Accidents

Lumbering

From the Copper County Photo Files:

Agriculture

Building – Houses – Exterior

Cities & Towns – Calumet

Copper Mines & Mining – Underground Scenes

Lumbering – Camps Scenes

Social Life & Customs

Social Life & Customs – Celebrations

Social Life & Customs – Picnics

Mining Company Employment Cards

Houghton County Mine Inspector Reports

I selected a few representative samples of employment cards from both the Quincy Mining Company and the Calumet & Hecla Minnig Company. In particular, I used the C&H employment card of John Lakner, who was unfortunately killed on the job, because the Mine Inspector’s Report for Houghton County includes the incident in which Lakner met his demise on November 13, 1905. I wanted to illustrate to the students that with some sleuthing, a researcher can sometimes find documentation of an event or person in more than a single source. It is often the piecing together of different primary accounts that creates a more complete picture of a person, place, or event from the past.

Quincy Mining Company, Spy Reports

Box 341

There is a set of correspondence in the Quincy Collection that reveals how the mining company planted company spies among their workers in order to find out about any seditious activity brewing. Spies were obtained through several detective agencies, among them the famed Pinkerton Agency. Such men worked as miners and laborers, living like the men they observed. They reported back to the agency, who sent anonymous reports to the mining companies. They reports provide a glimpse into the daily activity of the working man, on and off-duty. Quincy wasn’t alone in this practice; C&H also employed company spies.

Houghton County Jail Records

Circuit Court Chancery Journals

These two volumes journal all matters that came before a judge of the court for a particular period of time, and document jail activity. It is possible to see evidence of labor unrest during periods of mass arrests for disorderly conduct, or to find out what kinds of behavior were considered socially disruptive. Some things don’t change much; assault and battery are still a crime. “Insanity” and “bastardy,” however, are dealt with in entirely different ways today than spending a night in the slammer. Some things change for the better.

A series of reports on Congressional Hearings on Conditions in the Copper Mines of Michigan were convened in response to the 1913 copper miners’ strike. These reports contain eyewitness testimony of life in and out of the Keweenaw copper mines, and are a real treasure trove of information about the lives of mine workers and their families almost 100 years ago.

These are just some of the sources found in the Archives that yield information about “The Working Man.” If you’d like to find out more, our reading room is open to the public Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Or feel free to drop us a line at copper@mtu.edu.


Archives Premieres New Exhibit: “A Sense of Place”

The Michigan Tech Archives announces the opening of a new exhibit highlighting images from archival collections. “A Sense of Place,” is a photographic essay of the Michigan Tech campus, community life, and of the Copper Country. Historic images selected from the Archives’ collections create a story of the Keweenaw and its people from the earliest days of European settlement to the present. The photos are grouped into four themes: early life on the Keweenaw Peninsula; copper miners and the mines in which they labored; the changing face of the Michigan Tech campus; and the communities that are home to long-time residents and thousands of students through the years. The story told is one that gives the viewer a sense of the special character of the Copper Country, a place that so many people are proud to claim a connection to, no matter where they may live.

Funded in part by the Friends of the Van Pelt Library, the new exhibit was conceived as a tribute to Jonathon DeCleene, a student assistant in the Archives for many years. Although Jonathan’s life ended at a young age, it was his zest for life and adopted love of the Copper Country which shaped the themes of this exhibit. Additional financial support for the exhibit came from Jonathan’s family, Gloria Kennedy and Valerie DeCleene, and members of the Archives staff.

The exhibit is a permanent installation in the halls of the Library’s Garden Level, outside the Michigan Tech Archives’ reading room and can be viewed at any time during the Library’s open hours. Images were selected by the staff of the Michigan Tech Archives, caption text was written by Julia Blair, and graphic design for the exhibit was completed by Mike Stockwell of Cranking Graphics.

The content of this photograph exhibit is also available as the “Sense of Place” web exhibit on the archives’ website.

Update: Here are some photographs from the exhibit opening event on Thursday, February 4, 2010:

p1010005

 Members of the public view the exhibited photographs near the entrance to the Michigan Tech Archives on the ground floor of the J.R. Van Pelt and Opie Library. 

p1010003

From left to right: Mike Stockwell, exhibit graphic designer with Cranking Graphics, Ellen Seidel, interim library director, Julia Blair, assistant archivist and exhibit writer, Terry Reynolds and Dana Richter, Friends of the Van Pelt Library.

p1010001

Erik Nordberg, university archivist, shares appreciation to the family of Jonathan DeCleene, members of the archives’ staff, and the Friends of the Van Pelt Library for their financial support of the exhibit.

archivesexhibit1

img_0107


Meet the Staff

I recently gave an instruction session to a class of undergraduate student researchers on using archival resources in their writing assignments. As I led the class through the Archives work room, it occurred to me how much goes on behind the scenes in the Archives that most people never realize, and how vital each person is to our operation.

The Archives is committed to making historic records accessible to users. We’ve earned a reputation for bringing history to the campus and community through events and speakers whose research delves deeply into our collections. But the Archives would be a much different place without the hard work of our great staff. Over the next few months, I’d like to introduce you to the members of our staff, from energetic student workers to erudite archivists.

The Keweenaw Digital Archives is just one of the great things that make the Michigan Tech Archives special. Without the diligent and discerning work of Christine Holland, it wouldn’t be what it is today, a database of over 7000 cataloged digital images from the photographic collections at the Archives.

Christine has been on the staff of the Archives for ten years. Along with her regular job responsibilities of keeping the rest of us in check, she does a lioness’s share of digitizing and cataloging the thousands of historic photos you’ll find at the Digital Archives (http://digarch.lib.mtu.edu/).

She has an eye for the unusual, and that particular talent has brought to light some of the more obscure and interesting elements of historic photographs that the casual observer might easily overlook. It’s not unusual to see her at the digital workstation zooming into a newly digitized image, working out the letters in a storefront sign or marquis in the background of a street scene from 1930s Houghton or some such. She’s managed to date images by noting small details like a movie advertised on a broadside in a shop window, or has called our attention to a careworn face and rough hands of a person whose name has been lost to posterity, imbuing unknown people from the past with dignity and authenticity.

Image #:ACC03-1990-6-28-04-01-01
Image #:ACC03-1990-6-28-04-01-01

One of the more interesting things she’s found captured in film was a man wearing a long woman’s dress sweeping a broom on the porch of a log cabin. Her pithy comments are a treat, and anyone familiar with our reading room knows that she’s never one to mince words. (Check out the cataloger’s comments for this image by clicking on the link below for the full record!)

http://digarch.lib.mtu.edu/showbib.aspx?bib_id=681418#

I’ve learned a lot about the Archives’ collection from Christine, and I’ve come to value and appreciate her particular perspective on historic images.

The inscrutable Sara Lee
The inscrutable Sara Lee

Christine is also a passionate advocate for the humane treatment of animals. She didn’t want me to post a photo of her hard at work, so here’s her special friend, Sara Lee.