Saturday, June 18, 2016

Agnes Czeblakow, special collections, and foreshadowing

Agnes Czeblakow presents information on special collections to AALCI Fellows.

Foreshadow vb to show, indicate, or suggest in advance; presage
We should've known Agnieszka (Agnes) Czeblakow, Rare Books Librarian at UTSA, had something special in store for us.

Early on during our library visit on June 14, Anges asked our Fellows were they totally committed to the projects that they had described. Would you, she asked, be willing to shift if an opportunity emerged? Or, if another, more exciting topic presented itself to you?  She was foreshadowing.

As she gave a presentation about special collections and university archives, she gave subtle hints that she had spent time working with really wonderful holdings. She mentioned in passing, for instance, the Alice Walker Papers at Emory, offering details that only a first-hand observer would know. In retrospect, when she was noting the special feeling of engaging a special collection like the Walker papers, Agnes was again, indicating in advance what the students would experience. 

Later still, she took requests from the Fellows for a topic to insert into ArchiveGrid, which she had pulled up on the large screens. The Fellows said "rap music." Many of the returns identified Cornell, because of the university's Hip Hop Collection. As we discussed the entries, Agnes spoke about the collection of hip hop materials at Cornell beyond what we were seeing on the screen. Unlike everyone else in the room, this was not the first time that she was thinking seriously about that special collection.

The Alice Walker Papers at Emory, the Hip Hop Collection at Cornell, and other collections seemed so far away. Before students could dwell on that distance, Agnes, on cue, interrupted to note that really special collections are closer than you might think. A suggestion of things to come.

Unprocessed materials on Peyton Colony

After the presentation, Agnes walked us to the Special Collections at UTSA, and introduced us to a "mysterious" unprocessed collection from a resident or residents of Peyton Colony, a town founded by formerly enslaved people immediately after the Civil War.   

Agnes Czeblakow looks as Fellows investigate Peyton Colony box.

Fellows studying materials from Peyton Colony box

A group of the Fellows excitedly investigated the contents of that one box on Peyton Colony, as they tried to address its unanswered mysteries. Who had compiled the scrapbooks and photo albums? Who was this woman on the tiny photo I.D. who was born in 1918? Was the player on the baseball card in the folder a resident of the town, as the envelope containing the card said? Who wrote the note? What was the relationship between the white and black people in the old photographs? What had become of the colony and its inhabitants? 

AALCI Fellows Miela Fetaw and Courtney Harris share and exchange notes on the Peyton Colony.

I was surprised by how excited they were about the contents of that single box. This is what Agnes Czeblakow had been foreshadowing all along.

AALCI 2016
Visiting the John Peace Library

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