February 17, 2006

Viking raid on Georgia archives

With a family and Florida's odd school year (end in late May, teachers return in late July), I don't get to archives that often and schedule them in negotiations with my wonderful spouse. So after consulting our schedules, our kids' schedules, and the phases of Venus, I figured out about 2 years ago that I might just get away this weekend to the Georgia state archives. Okay, it was more like a month ago that we negotiated this, but here I am.

Completely, absolutely, totally exhausted. And satisfied...

Because of my reluctance to just spirit myself away for weeks at a time, I view visits to archives similar to Viking raids: get in, get stuff, and get out quickly (or you'll settle there). When I was in grad school and had a five-ton Toshiba T1000 with me, I spent every possible minute in the archives, squeezing every drop of concentration from my brain while the reading room was open. It was thrilling, and I have a cabinet-drawer full of notes from my dissertation with everything I took notes on. But the emphasis was on concentrated time in an archive.

About 13 months ago, I began the process again with a new project and a focused set of records, in the Georgia archives. every few months or so, I've come back, getting a few more snippets of the necessary records. (Brief explanation: I'm collecting annual enrollment and graduation data for four clusters of counties in Georgia from the late 1930s through the mid-1960s: coastal lowlands, Black Belt near the Alabama border, northeastern hills, and urban counties. From this, I hope to get a better picture of how and where the attainment and secondary-ed experience gap between Whites and African-Americans shrank in the middle of the 20th century.) This was scheduled to be my last trip funded by a mini-grant from my college, with the promise that it'll turn into several grant proposals (which it already has, in combination with a few other items). I knew I had to scarf down four years' worth of data on 23 counties (plus 3 city systems inside those counties), and then catch up with four years in one county I had missed my last time here (ouch!).

A day and a half, I figured. Fly up late on a Friday morning, hope that the archives staff will pull the boxes I start on, and then work madly through Friday afternoon and all Saturday. Sleep over in Atlanta Saturday night and hop a plane back Sunday. That's enough time for if things don't break my way.

Well, things broke my way. One of the archivists familiar with my work answered the phone this morning when I was at the rental-car counter (yes, I had called earlier in the week, but no one had answered), and he agreed to have the first five boxes pulled. Then the formats for these years are more amenable to photocopying than in the mid- to late 1950s. Then there were precious few examples of reports with paper clips I pointed out to staff to replace. (Rusting paper clips are evil things for records with archival value.) And I had a bit more energy for working efficiently.

The result is that I got a boatload of work done today. With any luck, I can finish the job early enough tomorrow that I can spend a few hours consulting with a colleague who lives and works in Atlanta. That's the good part. The frustrating bit is that because I went all-out at the end of the day to get through one last box, I'm completely exhausted right now. I can type brainlessly (witness this entry), but do anything that requires concentration? Not a chance!

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Posted in Research on February 17, 2006 8:11 PM |