Revisiting archives, making new connections

I’m leaving tomorrow for my fellowship at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, funded by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. The Lemelson Center also funded my trip to DC in February to take a first look at some of the collections there on assistive technologies. On that trip, I also did a lot of work on an unprocessed personal collection of Universal Design stuff, and talked to the SI’s accessibility coordinator. I’m really lucky to get to go back again, after having had a few months to process what I collected in February and use a lot of it in formulating the main arguments of the dissertation.

 

This time, I’ll be revisiting materials in the Archives Center at NMAH (with focus on multimedia materials I did not have time to view last time, like VHS tapes), hopefully looking at some more assistive technology trade literature, visiting the Smithsonian Anthropology library (which houses a lot of key texts from the history of physical anthropology and anthropometry), and also visiting the Smithsonian institutional archives to look at how accessibility and universal design have manifested themselves at the SI. Other than that, I am hoping to get some writing done and stay in the AC as much as possible.

 

As a geospatially-oriented humanities scholar, I am always thinking about the places and spaces I inhabit, how I got there, and how the materials I am viewing came to be there. Shortly after my last trip to NMAH, I went to Raleigh to do some research on the late Ron Mace. An unprocessed personal collection I viewed at NMAH had a lot of his stuff, which had been given to the archivist by Mace’s surviving partner. In Raleigh, I thought about how far those documents, books, images, and ephemera had traveled to get to DC. The networks that were created around research on Mace are fascinating because my trip back to the “source” (that is, the local archive, and Mace’s home) was facilitated by the archivist and my advisor, who knows both the archivist and Mace’s partner, Joy. When I arrived in Raleigh, I was already a part of this web of scholars and friends who were connected for reasons that were not all about Ron.

 

Going back to DC (this time in the extreme summer heat rather than the frigid winter), I wonder what networks and flows I am once again participating in. What knowledge am I taking back with me? How will I interact with these materials one more time? How will I interact with the museum space differently now that I will have an office, an SI pass, and about twice as much time to spend there? How will I spend time in the city now that I know it a little bit better, and the days are slightly longer? Perhaps most importantly, how will this trip measure how much progress I have made since the last?

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