American Philosophical Society is one of the foremost archives in the country. This institution specializes in the collection of scientific works and ensures their preservation for researchers. My class had the pleasure of touring this organization with Bayard Miller, who is the Digital Projects and Metadata Librarian, and Cynthia Heider, who is the Digital Project Specialist. I had the pleasure of meeting Cynthia previously in a different class, but this was the first time I was meeting Bayard. Both Cynthia and Bayard were Temple University graduates who participate in Temple’s public history program. At the Philosophical Society, they work to digitalize archive material to both give researchers greater access to materials as well as to down on wear and tear. Frequently used materials have a higher risk of rips and other damage. They also use materials gleaned from historical works to create online representations of the source material. They most recently worked on a project that took prison admission books from Eastern State Penitentiary and created an application that allowed for easy access to the source material through visual depictions and graphs. This kind of work allows for a new way to access historical information in a new and visually interesting way thanks to the manipulation of the source material.
On our tour of the American Philosophical Society, we got a special look at the behind the scenes of the processing that collections go to before they are available for researchers. Bayard and Cynthia not only talked us through the processes that documents have to go through but also walked us through the spaces that each part of the process would be taking place in. It was an incredible opportunity to be able to see a side of archives that one will never achieve in the reading room. While we were there Cynthia introduced us to her baby, aka Ben Franklin’s mail records, these records show incoming mail to Philadelphia and who it is too. This allows historians and researchers to gain a greater understanding of the use of the mail system, from where and by whom, at the time. The most incredible part of the document to me, however, is the doodles that Franklin made in the margins that said, patriot. This humanizing aspect that is as simple as a doodle reminds me of the humanity of the historical figures that we at times idolize.