The Koreshan Unity Collection: An Inside Look into Processing a Large Archival Collection (Part Five)
Our first few posts have mostly focused on the Koreshan Unity collection as a whole. But now that we have an initial sort of the boxes, we’d like to talk about processing efforts at the box level. Here’s where archivists really get their hands dirty – often literally!
As discussed in previous posts, with the general absence of original order or any obvious organizational scheme, each box proves to be different from the last. Even after we completed our initial sort of the boxes, we knew that we had an enormous arrangement challenge in front of us. However, we had no idea of the extent of the problem until we started closely examining the contents of each box. Typically the records had been placed in envelopes of various sizes. Many of the envelopes bear handwritten content listings and an alpha-numeric code, a remnant of one of many rearrangements imposed upon the collection since its birth in the late 19th century.
Here is an example:
However, due to continued handling and rearranging of the records, the individual items we found inside each envelope often bore no relation to each other or to the envelope’s content listing.
Administrative records tend to have a standardized form with their context readily available and are more easily identified and arranged despite their initial disorder. This owes to their main function of documenting the daily operations of the Unity, quite often for financial and legal purposes. For example, the box pictured below houses financial records that were relatively easy for us to identify and organize once we removed them from the envelopes or other enclosures in which they had been stored.
On the other hand, tackling a poorly organized box of correspondence or personal records proves much more challenging when properly identifying and arranging the records relies on a context that is not readily discernible. More about this soon!