Joining a Meeting of Historians

This is a guest blog post by Nathaniel Lee Rush Bentz, a graduating Senior at Mount St. Mary’s University, class of 2020. He has been an intern with the Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives for the last year.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic caused lockdowns and major distancing between everyone, there was one activity that I was honored to be a part of at the Seton Shrine Provincial Archives. I was invited to attend the Frederick Historic Sites Consortium Meeting of March 11, 2020. The attendees were historians who helped run historical organizations across Frederick County, Maryland.  These organizations included historical societies, churches, heritage organizations, and museums. They were all incredibly nice and welcoming to everyone in the meeting and tried to keep things positive during the troubling times.

The meeting itself went smoothly with avid participation from everybody. There were discussions about how to handle COVID-19 concerns. One important fact that I took away that dealt with the pandemic was allowing artifacts and documents used by researchers to stay out “to allow virus to dissipate.” To the tiniest detail, these historians worked together so they can still care for both the artifacts and its researchers due to a global pandemic, which made me realize how important these meetings are in general. Moreover, from this meeting of historical institution leaders, I learned that they truly act as a team. A family. They make sure everything is okay with each other’s events and exhibits, want to gain insight on what the exhibits and events are about, and offer their constructive criticism and positive feedback about the events they were able to visit.

What I was surprised at was how many different factors were involved in running successful exhibits and hosting events around the site of their historical organizations. Some of the fascinating events I heard about include: the Frederick City 275 Anniversary events, where there was going to be a decade-by-decade showcasing about the development and history of Frederick City, and there would have been a presentation to go along with the program; there was also the event known as, History Day, and there was going to be a theme “Breaking Barriers” on March 14, 2020. To handle this, there were discussions on safety, staff, gathering applicable materials to showcase for the exhibit, and even how the other organizations can contribute to help improve the exhibit or event. This made a fellow history scholar like myself excited, because I got to see what kinds of collaborative environments and friendships I hope to gain as I continue my pathway in the archive and history fields.

What happened after the meeting was an amazing learning experience. I was able to join a long tour of the Seton Shrine’s historical sites, this incorporated historic houses where St. Elizabeth Ann Seton resided and began her school, as well as the Courtyard of the old Provincial House, and, lastly, the beautiful Basilica. The tour was conducted by guides from the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton; everyone was nice and teaching me how great it is to have these meetings in the sites where other members work. Members can learn more about what their peers are preserving for the benefit of others. Another reason why the tour was grand was that I got to explore a wider scope of the historical sites on campus beyond the Archives. Learning more history about the person which the Seton Shrine is revolved around is enlightening. Overall, I gained insight on how well-organized historical societies are and how much they support one another by choosing to get together through these meetings about any updates with their organizations and societies. The people were fun to talk to and listen to when they discussed pertinent matters. Also, I gained another opportunity to be with people who have the same history-based interests as myself. This meeting and tour were rare opportunities that I am grateful to have been invited to before the COVID-19 pandemic became too strenuous for everyone.

Courtyard of the Emmitsburg campus, the former St. Joseph’s Provincial House
Basilica of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
Daughters of Charity Archives Entrance

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An Update from the Archives during the COVID-19 Pandemic

For the safety of our staff and visitors, the Archives is currently closed to the public. And although a reopening date remains unknown, we look forward to welcoming visitors and researchers to our campus soon.

Meanwhile, Archives has been keeping busy! Requests have continued to come in from researchers, and while lay staff has been working remotely, the Sisters who live on campus have served as wonderful facilitators with the ability to scan a file or a folder in response to a request. Materials already digitized are easily accessible, and we can quickly forward on this material. For the more complicated request, we have compiled a running list that we will address and answer once back on campus. You may send requests to archives@doc.org

Under normal circumstances, archivists need access to the physical materials to do their work, which are safely kept in our lower level repository. Without access to these documents, we are somewhat hampered in addressing all needs. But Sisters still working in Archives on campus are adding materials to the digital collections, which in turn have become usable to researchers. Lay staff have also made the rare decision to allow a few materials, in good condition, to travel home with them, with the promise that they be kept safe from archival scourges such as wandering cats or open mugs of coffee that are prone to spill.

Other special projects currently underway include, 1) a staff member is creating an index for the newsletters and literary journals taken from Marillac College in St. Louis, the former college run by the Daughters of Charity exclusively for members of women’s religious communities. These newsletters serve as both campus newspaper and a place for commentary on the events of the world in the 1960s and 1970s as related by the women religious at the time.

2) Staff members have been transcribing valuable historical materials, such as Sister Mary Raphael Smith’s scrapbook; a book that contains the writings of sisters and students of St. Joseph’s Academy and information on 50 years of community and school life during the 1800s.

3) We have also been busy creating indexes and transcriptions of some of our legacy oral history collections; the fascinating stories of the lives of Sisters and the times in which they lived and served.  Many of these histories were recorded on cassette tapes, and we have been working diligently in digitizing them to ensure their preservation. These stories provide a fuller picture of both the ministries of the Sisters and the society in which they lived.

We remain available and committed to assisting you and fulfilling requests as best as we can for now, and we are looking forward to serving you and seeing you in the near future on Emmitsburg campus!

Be safe and well.

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New Materials Back from Conservator: U-Matic Tapes

Shortly before the COVID-19 crisis brought so much of the world to a halt, some good news came to the Daughters of Charity Archive.  We can now make available – at least when everyone gets back to the office and we are completely available to researchers again – three pieces of audio-visual material in digital format which we have never been able to before.  Thanks to our work with ColorLab in Rockville, Maryland, we can provide access to some of our U-matic tapes, one of the earliest versions of videotape which did not require the complicated equipment of open-reel film.  Effectively, U-matics were a giant VHS with a tightly wound reel of film inside.

In addition to no longer having equipment to play these tapes, these tapes had fallen victim to sticky-shed syndrome, or “shredding.”  The glues meant to hold the magnetic tape to the plastic base attract moisture, which makes the tape sticky and causes it to deteriorate as it crosses the mechanical portions of the cassette.

The solution to this condition is “baking,” which is exactly what it sounds like.  By baking the tape to a high temperature, it can be made dry enough for long enough that it can be converted into a digital format.

The tapes cover three different subjects:

  • The first is an episode of United States Catholic from November 1928, featuring a ten minute segment on the United State Public Health Service Hospital in Carville, Louisiana, staffed by the Daughters of Charity, better known as the National Hansen’s Disease Center – the treatment center for the disease colloquially known as leprosy.
  • The second is a program on Mother Seton, which ran in the half-hour on Buffalo local television before her canonization aired live.
  • The third is a celebratory Mass at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Chicago celebrating the recent canonization of Mother Seton, featuring Father Edward Riley, CM; Father Thomas Burn; and Father Phillip Dion, CM.
Blurry still from the stationary camera at the celebratory mass at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Chicago

For more information on preservation and conservation of U-matic tapes, see http://www.audio-restoration.com/baking.php

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