From the Archives #29

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager

Digital photography has made documenting our lives a much easier endeavor. Now, anyone with a cell phone can capture almost any moment with photos and even movies. Digital photography has become ubiquitous, and sharing these files becomes increasingly more feasible.

Archaeologists are using this tool more and more on their excavations, and even the Kelsey Museum has gone fully digital. The Kelsey used to insist on film photography when documenting its collections, but greater access to storage space and proper archival methods for digital photography has paved the way for this change.

The same option was not available, obviously, to those who came before us. George R. Swain, University of Michigan photographer from 1913 to 1947, had to use the methods available to him at the time. This meant taking his wood view camera with him on his travels through the Mediterranean, along with hundreds of glass plates. These plates were heavy, and he often needed help carrying them (often his son provided this service).

His view camera was not Swain’s only tool in the field. In the 1920s, easier means of photography were available, though they were of lesser quality. Thanks to the innovations of George Eastman, film photography had become popular. Film rolls were small and easy to carry, but one was limited by the number of frames on each roll, and the photographer couldn’t see what they captured until later, when the film was developed. Swain carried a film camera, likely a Kodak (the model is lost to us), and often he had others do the same. He would take meticulous notes about who shot what, when, and where. These notes are reflected in our current records.

The Kodak shots often captured scenes that are less formal but equally as important. The glass slides were reserved for artifacts and excavations; the Kodak captured everything else, including people, humorous moments, animals, and anything else happening during the excavations and travels.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present one roll of Swain’s film that reflects this. In April 1920, only 98 years ago, Swain and company traveled to Dimé, in the Fayum region of Egypt, likely on a reconnaissance mission to see where Michigan could excavate in years to come. Dimé was eventually excavated, but was not one of the original projects of the 1924 season. In this roll, we see what Swain encountered during this trip. People holding fish. The train and the train station. Farmers working the fields. A village scene. Dr. Askren posing. Hiking over the sands.

Fortunately for us, making this kind of trip is easier now without having to haul so much photography equipment (though we are lost without an energy source). Swain did not have the luxury, but we are thankful for the work he did to capture these moments.

From the Archives #28 March 2018

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager

As many of our friends have noticed, there is a lot of construction happening around the Kelsey Museum. To the north, the Trotter Multicultural Center is creating a new home for itself. To the south, LSA is expanding in order to house the Opportunity Hub. Both of these are exciting projects that will pay dividends for the Kelsey, with new guests and neighbors we can partner with, bring to the Museum, and be friends with.

The construction around us speaks to the long and constantly changing history of the U-M campus. For years, we have become accustomed to our neighbors: the trees to our north and LSA to our south. But as we have seen around campus, nothing remains the same for too long.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present two photographs showing how  Newberry Hall appeared in the early 1900s, when it was still the future home of the Kelsey Museum (the Kelsey occupied Newberry Hall in 1928). In these photographs, taken by George R. Swain, Newberry Hall had different neighbors. To the north, trees and the Helen Newberry Residence, which still stands. To the south, a house — though not much in the photos gives us any clues about it, or indeed if it was a house at all.

For people who have been working at or visiting the Kelsey for years, the surprise lies to the west. Where Upjohn is now there used to be a parking lot, big enough for 20 cars. However, in these photos, particularly M8.1087, we see the structure that the parking lot replaced. It  looks like a house, though no further information accompanies these images.

Through word of mouth, there have been suggestions that gas stations also used to be near the Kelsey, but we do not see that in these images.

Spend enough time on the U-M campus and you will notice much construction throughout the area. It seems the University is constantly expanding and changing. Going through the archives and photographs, we begin to understand  that this is not new. Changes have been happening since U-M arrived in Ann Arbor. And it is safe to say changes will continue for many years to come.

M8_1087
M8.1087: View of Newberry Hall, future home of the Kelsey Museum, ca. 1900. Photo by George R. Swain.
M8_1088
M8.1088: View of Newberry Hall, ca. 1915–1920. Photo by George R. Swain.

From the Archives #27 February 2018

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA

The exhibition Excavating Archaeology presents a look back at the history of archaeological explorations undertaken by the University of Michigan. It was guided by the work of Carla Sinopoli, who co-edited the book Object Lessons & the Formation of Knowledge (with Kerstin Barndt; University of Michigan Press, 2017). This book presents the fabulous history of how the materials that came to make up the various libraries, archives, and museums at U-M —  including the Kelsey Museum — arrived here in the first place.

The collections at the Kelsey have had their own books detailing their histories. Artifacts from excavations are thoroughly discussed in the book In the Field (Talalay and Alcock; Kelsey Museum Publication 4. Kelsey Museum, 2006), while Passionate Curiosities (Talalay and Root; Kelsey Museum Publication 13. Kelsey Museum, 2015) gives us the background of the objects that were collected by individuals.

Books like Object Lessons, Passionate Curiosities, and In the Field owe much to the many people who have, in their own way, written about the collections at Michigan. One of these is the focus for this month’s “From the Archives.”

For this month, we present a report written by Museum of Classical Archaeology curator Orma Fitch Butler. Butler, a native of Fitchburg, Michigan, and high school student in Mason and Lansing, received her bachelor of arts in 1897 from the University of Michigan. In 1901, she earned her master of arts, and then her doctor of philosophy in 1907, both also from U-M. After some time away, she returned to Michigan in 1912 as Francis Kelsey’s assistant in Latin and Roman Archaeology. In 1928, after several other promotions, Butler was named Curator of the Archaeological Collections, a position she held until her death in 1938.

As part of her duties, she wrote a report on the collections that was presented to the University president. This particular report is from 1930, and covers the time period when the Museum first opened (not yet named the Kelsey Museum). Dr. Butler writes about the collections and how they came to be in Ann Arbor. She tells us about the various people involved in procuring the artifacts, starting with Francis Kelsey. From there, she speaks about other U-M professors, friends from Ypsilanti, and friends from Tunisia, Italy, and elsewhere in Europe, Africa, and Asia. What she writes gives us greater insight into the objects we admire in the galleries every day.

Butler writes more than just about the history of the collections in her report. She speaks about the aftermath of Kelsey’s death (in 1927), and how the collections and Museum owe much to him and his legacy. She writes that, with little to no publicity, the Museum still received over 100 people in its third and fourth months. This interest that the public has in classical archaeological materials, Butler notes, is a great sign for the future of the collections. She stresses that the University has a duty to maintain and care for the collections.

Elsewhere, Butler writes about Newberry Hall, and how, even so early on, it is acknowledged that it is not adequate for a museum. However, the museum staff are using the space as best they can, with certain rooms dedicated to different exhibition themes (the long room in the back what is now the gift shop and classroom, long before the elevator was installed).

Ultimately, the collections are in good and sound condition. The future seems bright. The University needs to invest in the collections and care for them. By doing so, they will ensure they can continue being used for two important purposes: exhibitions and instruction. Butler would be heartened to know that, nearly 90 years later, this vision remains true.

Read more about Orma Fitch Butler here: https://www.lib.umich.edu/faculty-history/faculty/orma-fitch-butler

View the report as a PDF here: OrmaButlerReport.

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From the Archives #26 January 2018

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager

Excavating Archaeology continues here at the Kelsey Museum. The exhibition showcases numerous, but not all, archaeological projects the University of Michigan has been involved with since 1817. With this exhibition, curators Terry Wilfong and Carla Sinopoli show how U-M has sent researchers all  around the world, highlight important discoveries made by Michigan staff, faculty, and students, and discuss what these discoveries  meant  for the future of archaeology at Michigan.

In 1931, the University of Michigan was quite busy with archaeological endeavors. There were projects at Seleucia (Iraq), Dimé (Soknapaiou Nesos), Karanis (both Egypt),, and Sepphoris (Israel). By this time, teams had already been to Carthage (Tunisia) and Pisidian Antioch (Turkey), and were a few years from excavating Terenouthis (Egypt).

The excavation at Sepphoris was a short one, lasting only two months. According to Susan Alcock and Lauren Talalay in their book In the Field: The Archaeological Expeditions of the Kelsey Museum (Ann Arbor, 2006), the finds from the site were impressive, though found in so little time. They cite a water system, a theater, and a villa as some of the results of Leroy Waterman’s work at the site.

Today, 40 artifacts excavated by the University of Michigan at Sepphoris are   on long-term loan to the museum at Zippori National Park, the national preserve currently found at the  site. Because of Michigan’s time there, albeit brief, researchers who study Sepphoris continue to visit the Kelsey, physically and virtually, to study our collections and archives. For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a few photographs taken during that 1931 season. These images are quite special. Glass plate negatives from early projects are often no longer with us, but the Sepphoris archive still contains all the original glass negatives. . . They  have all been printed, and some of the prints, as can be seen, were mounted into an album.

In the photographs, we see the site under excavation. We see the staff and workers. We see a site that has undergone  great changes in nearly 90 years. Our archives continue to educate all the people still working at and visiting the site, and will continue to do so for the next 200 years.

 

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Photos and a photo album from the excavations at Sepphoris, 1931. Some are mounted in a photo album.

 

From the Archives — November 2017

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Collections Manager

Excavating Archaeology, the Kelsey Museum’s latest exhibition, is still open and available for viewing in the Ed and Mary Meader Gallery now through the end of the academic year (May 27, 2018). On display are two centuries worth of artifacts and archival materials associated with both the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology (UMMAA). This assemblage of diverse historical items was acquired from 19th-century collecting expeditions as well as from rigorous scientific excavations of the 20th and 21st centuries, and highlights the University of Michigan’s strong presence in the emerging field of archaeology since its founding in 1817. Visitors to Excavating Archaeology will see artifacts from the Philippines, United States, North Africa, South America, and Asia. And this is just a taste! There is so much more, but we did not have space to show everything.

Francis W. Kelsey played a significant role in a number of excavations associated with the Kelsey Museum. In the early 1920s, Kelsey acquired funding to initiate Michigan-sponsored excavations at three ancient sites: Karanis, Egypt; Antioch, Turkey; and Carthage, Tunisia. Kelsey already had experience at Carthage; on a visit to that site in 1893 as part of a voyage through the Mediterranean region, he made his first purchase of ancient artifacts. These would become the seeds of the Kelsey Museum collection (the very first object registered, KM 1, a lamp fragment, was among those purchased). It was to Carthage that he returned in 1924 to further his studies of the ancient world.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present archival materials associated with the excavations at Carthage. We have some telegrams Kelsey sent and received concerning the excavation of the site. With our modern cellular phones and emails and instant chatting capabilities, the telegram may seem very antiquated, but in Kelsey’s time it was the fastest way to communicate with people far away. We also have some drawings of the site, and a letter to Kelsey from the associate general director of excavations, Byron Khun de Prorok. We present only the first page here as a teaser, but it serves to show how part of an archivist’s work is to decipher handwriting. With practice, we may become familiar with a certain individual’s penmanship, but that doesn’t always make reading the letters any easier.

The University of Michigan has had much experience conducting excavations around the world, and will continue to have a presence for years to come. It is on us, we who work with the archives, to excavate that archaeology in order to inform future projects.

 

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Kelsey Museum archival collections associated with the excavations at Carthage, 1924

From the Archives #24

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum

This year, the University of Michigan is celebrating its bicentennial. Founded originally in Detroit in 1817, the University has enjoyed a tremendous history. In that time, the staff, faculty, and students have achieved a great deal, with much to be proud of and to showcase.

Among that storied history are all the archaeological projects the University has undertaken in the last 200 years. The University of Michigan, through its archaeological programs, has been around the world multiple times, visiting fantastic sites in far off countries. It is these projects that are now the focus of our most recent exhibition, Excavating Archaeology @ U-M: 1817-2017. The exhibition is now open to the public, here at the Kelsey Museum. Through this exhibition, we display artifacts gathered together by University of Michigan archaeologists. Some of those objects are from the Kelsey Museum collections, while others are on loan from the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology.

The University still has excavations in some of the countries exhibited in the galleries, but these days, countries like Egypt do not permit artifacts to leave the country.  Instead, researchers must visit these countries in order to study artifacts in local or national museums and storage magazines. But this was not always the case. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, when Michigan first went to places such as Karanis, these countries often permitted scholars to bring artifacts back to Michigan. This is how the Kelsey Museum formed much of its collections.

For this month’s From the Archives, we present records of how the decision was made about which objects would be kept in Egypt and which would be sent to Michigan. The Egyptian government had antiquities staff working with Michigan staff on the excavations. When artifacts were accumulated, they were brought together and arranged according to type (coins, wood objects, ceramics, papyri, etc.). They were then photographed.  Looking over the photographs, the antiquities staff member marked with red Xs which ones were to be kept in the country, leaving the rest to be sent to Michigan. Look closely at some of these photographs and you can still see a red “X” on some of the objects.

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These black and white photographs were later bound into thick books and stored in our archives.  Recently, an intern and I carefully took these books apart and made color scans of the photographs to preserve this valuable information.  In addition to information about what objects went where, these photographs are often the only image we have of certain artifacts.

The Kelsey Museum possesses a long history of archaeological excavations, many of which have been highlighted in this blog. Now, thanks to Professors Terry Wilfong and Carla Sinopoli, these and many other excavations are now available for viewing in our latest exhibition.

From the Archives #23

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum

In the coming months, the Kelsey Museum is going to be seeing some changes to our neighborhood. The new Trotter Multicultural building as well as the expansion of LSA for their Opportunity Hub will both be commencing shortly. Normally, any construction is nerve-wracking for museums, as vibrations can cause deterioration to artifacts. With this activity being so close to the Kelsey, we will be seeing even more potential movement in the galleries and storage. Throw on top of all this the fact that there will be construction on two fronts, so vibrations will be steady and ongoing for a long period of time.

Small and big vibrations will cause artifacts to move, but the shaking can cause flaking and other breaking to occur. If you wander the galleries and see something amiss, please inform security or notify museum staff if they are in the galleries at the time.  Fortunately, the Kelsey is staffed by high caliber professionals who are already on top of this, and have a plan to mitigate the situation. Thanks to them, we expect to see no damage during this construction period.

For this month’s From the Archives, we look back when the opposite situation was taking place. Back in 2007, the Kelsey was undergoing its own construction. This project affected our neighbors, the students living in Newberry and Barbour Residences, as well as our colleagues in LSA. For the Kelsey, this was a long time coming, as calls for a new building for the collections had been written decades before. Finally, in 2009, the doors at Upjohn Exhibition Wing opened to the public, the culmination of several years’ worth of work.

Those who have been with the Kelsey Museum for a long time will remember that the space where Upjohn is now was a parking lot. About 20-25 cars could fit here, often for staff of the residences and the Kelsey. Much to the chagrin of several people who enjoyed parking close to work, the lot was removed and the new wing went up instead.

Images shared here show the construction at different phases. While construction was underway, Collections Manager Sebastian Encina went around photographing the progress from various angles, including the roof of LSA, the Student Activities Building, the former Kelsey archives room, even street views. We are now fortunate to have this collection of images that encapsulate a portion of our own history. It reminds us how much work goes into the planning and actualization of a construction project. At the time, it was difficult to imagine what the end result was going to look like. Now, 10 years later, we have a whole history in this building already, many stories shared, many names and voices passing through.

 

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