The Archivists Apprentice: Louie Miller, Pt. 1

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Louie Miller is a second year MSI student specializing in Archives and Records Management. He is the latest participant in The Archivists Apprentice series, which follows School of Information students as they complete their internships.

My 17-week summer internship is at the William L. Clements Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The primary goal of the project is to arrange and describe the papers of Henry Burbeck (1754-1848), a career United States Artillery officer whose military service spanned from the early days of the American Revolution to the end of the War of 1812.  My position was made possible by a generous grant from the Delmas Foundation, which provided funds for the arrangement and detailed processing of Colonel Burbeck’s four linear foot collection of letters, documents, and printed items.  The project consists of the following activities:

  1. Arrange and describe the collection, and house the papers in archival folders and boxes
  2. Construct an EAD-format finding aid (available through the Clements Library’s website)
  3. Write a MARC cataloging record (available through the University’s online catalog and OCLC WorldCat)
  4. Compile a brief report on outstanding preservation concerns
  5. Create a supplemental index to the writers and geographical locations represented in the collection (available as a .pdf document attached to the EAD record)
  6. Create additional supplementary research and reference materials

The Burbeck papers consist of approximately 2,300 items, mostly correspondence, but also maps, and other military documentation.  The majority of the manuscripts date from 1805 to 1812, with around 150 undated letters and drafts.  The letters are predominantly incoming messages from Burbeck’s subordinate Captains and Majors (approximately 1,500 items), with a smaller number of copies and drafts of letters written by Burbeck.

The bulk of the correspondence was part of routine military reporting processes, though many letters illustrate the experiences of individuals involved with military service.  A few weeks ago I discovered a letter from a woman, Margret Dowland, in which she asked for the Secretary of War to reimburse her for services provided to the garrison at Fort Trumbull as Matron of the Hospital.  Another letter relayed intelligence of a possible joint British and Native American attack on Detroit in 1807, suggesting the tensions and paranoia of persons situated along the Northern border in the aftermath of the Chesapeake-Leopard affair. Part of what makes this job so exciting is that you never know what you might come across in the next folder or box.  This is especially true as the Burbeck papers were in private hands–not able to be consulted by researchers–until the Clements Library acquired them in 2014.

Henry Burbeck’s complete archive is divided among multiple institutions.  The three primary non-Clements Library groups are at the Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City, New London County Historical Society in Connecticut, and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  According to Cheney J. Schopieray, Curator of Manuscripts, the Burbeck papers at the Clements Library comprise about sixty percent of the known surviving Burbeck manuscripts. Tracing the provenance of large bodies of papers from their original state to their future home(s) is a difficult task and the details can rarely be determined in their entirety.  The story of how the Burbeck materials became divided, reunited, and divided again is a complex and fascinating one.  This draft of a chart shows our current knowledge of the movement of Burbeck’s archive from the 19th century to the present day.

Burbeck Provenance
Burbeck Provenance

 

The original order of Burbeck’s papers did not survive. They are currently arranged as they were when acquired by the Clements Library, which is roughly geographical and topical.  For example, all the letters from Fort Constitution are within a series of folders.  Although this arrangement makes a timeline of events more difficult to discern, I am able to gain a better understanding of the personalities of individual writers and the activities and issues associated with each garrison.  In consultation with the Curator, we have decided on a final arrangement of four series — Correspondence and Documents, Orderly Books, Maps, and Printed Items.

Thus far, I am still on the first step of my assignment—and not behind schedule! I have taken detailed notes on about 90% of the collection.  A later blog post will relate some of the methods I am using during this portion of the project.  I will offer a little hint:  this processing is far more detailed and involved than I ever expected I would have the opportunity to do.  Another future blog post will focus on my experiences trying to date undated drafts and other materials within the collection.  This experience has been incredible so far and I highly encourage any incoming first year UMSI student to try to get a job or volunteer at this institution.

Talk to you all soon!

-Louie

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