Up Next – EAD and a New Collection!

23 07 2012

Well, work on the Harper Theater Collection has finally closed out – I’ve finished the arrangement of the collection and, this past week, completed my very first EAD finding aid, which is now posted in Duke’s online catalog.  Now, since I’ve got a little time before I journey back to Chicago for the practicum portion of my Fellowship, it’s on to a small scrapbook collection from an alumnae of Bennington College’s famous dance program.  More about that in a sec, but first I just want to complain talk about some of the difficulties joy of working with EAD and XML.

Where to start…where to start.  Hmmm…for a first, this was definitely the first time that I’ve produced something completely in XML, beyond class assignments, where I used some of the EAD finding aid tools like Archivist’s Toolkit and Oxygen.  And…as we used a very basic template in NotePad Pro, I really had to learn the fundamentals, elements, and attributes of DACS and employ them properly in XML – here’s a look at how my day pretty much went for the last few days of last week.

XML fun time!

The thing that’s great about tools like Archivist’s Toolkit and Oxygen is that they pretty much do that for you, so all you need to have is an understanding of the structure and tags defined by DACS when inputting the finding aid information into the appropriate fields.  You don’t necessarily need to know the specifics about XML coding when using them – the beautifully formatted finding aid just gets generated for you.  Awesome, right?  Definitely – it makes our job as archivists much more efficient and, once you get the hang of their user interfaces, extremely intuitive.  However, the only downside that I can see is that it can be easy to lose sight of the actual coding and metadata required for developing an EAD finding aid…or, at least that was my experience.  Hand-coding is another game completely and I actually feel like it’s been a great weapon to add to my arsenal.  If something goes wrong when I’m using something like Archivist’s Toolkit or Oxygen in my next job, I now have the knowledge to dig into the XML and code by hand if necessary.  It also makes me incredibly grateful to have these tools since it takes so darn long to actually write everything out!

Ethel Tison Chaffin

But…enough about that.  Let’s talk about something FAR more fun – the new collection I get to work on, which is that of Ethel Tison Chaffin. Her collection is just fascinating.  Born in 1921, Ethel was a dancer from the very beginning – although she may not have known it.  She took dance classes with a variety of instructors and, as a college student, studied dance at Louisiana State University, New York University, the University of Maryland, and Bennington College.  Her instructors include John Martin (former dance critic at the New York Times), Charles Weidman (Humphrey-Weidman Technique), Ethel Butler (Martha Graham Technique), Nina Fornoff (Hanya Holm Technique).  Ethel also participated in master classes with Martha Graham and Katherine Manning.  The collection holds personal, dance-related memorabilia of Ms. Chaffin with materials dating from circa 1930-1993, which include photos,

One of Ethel’s favorite performances

newspaper clippings, programs, drafts of speeches given to college students, and correspondence are housed within a scrapbook and one Hollinger box.  Many of these materials are annotated by her,* providing even greater insight into the life and times of dancer during the 1940’s and 1950’s.  It’s a small collection, so I’ll be

able to finish it during this last week here at ADF and the finding aid will also soon be available to anyone who might be interested in checking it out.  I’ll post that link once it’s up!


*I LOVE annotated materials, the commentary from the subjects portrayed really brings everything to life and it’s almost like a voice speaking to the archivist as she processes the collection and to the researchers using the materials…whereas we, as archivists, are often the voice of the collection to researchers and the materials must speak on their own to researchers, I find that it can be a somewhat “dry” voice as the personality must be inferred.  It’s wonderful to have the person actually living the history providing commentary as we meander through their memories.




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