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Find it in the Archives!

NEH celebrates National Archives Month

October 23, 2012 | By Ann Sneesby-Koch

October is American Archives Month, a national effort to raise awareness of the value of archives and archivists. The theme--I Found It In The Archives!--underpins the mission of the Division of Preservation and Access to support the long-term preservation and the wide availability of the primary sources of our cultural history and intellectual legacy.   The division, through a range of grant programs, ensures that archival collections remain vital in inspiring and promoting humanities research and that there are plenty of opportunities for discovery for future generations of researchers. 

Funded by a Humanities Collections and Reference Resources (HCRR) grant, The Hank Kaplan Boxing Archive is a total knockout.   Donated by Kaplan to Brooklyn College in 2007, it is the largest boxing archive in the United States, covering the period from 1817 to 2007. An archivist, interns, and student workers at the Brooklyn College Library organized and rehoused 2,600 book titles, 500,000 rare prints and negatives, 790 boxes of newspaper clippings from 1890 to 2007, 300 audio- and videotapes, 1,200 posters, scrapbooks, a profusion of correspondence, and 775 cubic feet of memorabilia--including a punching bag used by Cassius Clay before taking the name Muhammad Ali.  

The research value of the archive is indisputable; it contains information on every professional boxer and trainer in the 19th and 20th century and represents sub-topics such as bare-knuckle boxing, unorthodox training methods, boxing in the movies, and ethnic boxers.   The “World’s Greatest Boxing Collection” blog and Hank Kaplan Boxing Facebook page bring to the center ring highlights from Kaplan’s archive.   An online finding aid makes the whole collection accessible for researchers and fans of the “gentleman’s sport” alike.

NEH Preservation Assistance Grants for Smaller Institutions (PAG) play a large role in sustaining smaller--but no less culturally noteworthy--collections for the long term and making them accessible into the future.  The County of Tuolumne’s Carlo M. De Ferrari Archive in Sonora, California, conducted a general collection assessment with funds awarded by a PAG. 

The archive's collection, which includes the De Ferrari-Hartvig Tuolumne County and California History Library Collection of rare books, periodicals, and note cards, underscores Tuolumne County’s significant role in California’s history, particularly during the Gold Rush. The materials have facilitated the research and study of immigration and settlement, land ownership, the development of religion in the county, the use (or misappropriation) of land and natural resources, and the part played by African American Buffalo Soldiers’ in protecting Yosemite Valley.  

The assessment was an essential opportunity to examine the collection in order to determine its immediate preservation needs and to plan for long-term preservation and housing of the collection as it grows.  Acting on the recommendations of the preservation needs assessor, the archive put in place measures to protect its collection.  The grant supported the purchase of protective enclosures for fragile and vulnerable materials and the installation of dataloggers to monitor the temperature and relative humidity of the archival environment. Funds were also used to sustain the care of 19th-century court case records stored in the original customized shelving.  

Archives, of all sizes and sorts, are vital to the preservation of the past so it remains accessible in the future.   NEH grants support archivists in their work to properly care for, preserve, and make available unique materials that are documents of our personal and shared history alike.  Thanks to archives and the diligent work of archivists, “I found it” moments are possible.


Of further interest:

The Hank Kaplan YouTube channel features an interview with Hank Kaplan.   You can also watch as Kaplan pages through a Muhammad Ali scrapbook and the whole collection making its way from Florida to its new home in Brooklyn, New York.

The County of Tuolumne Carlo M. De Ferrari Archive provides transcripts and audio access to a number of recorded oral histories.

The CUNY Research Foundation, Brooklyn College received NEH support through grant PW-50556-10 in the Humanities Collections and Reference Resouces program.  The County of Tuolumne Carlo M. De Ferrari Archive received NEH support through grant PG-51529-12 in the Preservation Assistance Grants for Smaller Institutions program.