From the Archives #45 — August 2019

Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

It is August, when students and faculty are beginning their return to Ann Arbor for the new academic year. Soon all these people will settle into the familiar routine of classes and meetings and deadlines. It will all be different, and yet still the same.

During their time away, these people were off scattered about the globe. They were studying, excavating, visiting with colleagues, and advancing their research. However, during their summer, they took the time to find moments for themselves. To vacation, to enjoy the various locations where they found themselves. To live where they had traveled.

Many of the archival photographs the Kelsey Museum possesses were taken by University of Michigan people, such as Easton Kelsey, E. E. Peterson, but primarily by George R. Swain. These photos show the work they were undertaking in locations such as Antioch, or Karanis, or Carthage. However, not all the photographs in the archives are of buildings, artifacts, or of U-M people at work.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a single roll of photographs taken in 1919 when George Swain was traveling for work. He turns his attention to the city he finds himself in, Istanbul. No longer simply photographing the work they are doing, he captures moments in the city, random events, interesting scenes. We see a train, the boats along the Golden Horn, people on the Galata Bridge, and an umbrella mender working on the street.

In those days, there were no digital cameras or cell phones to capture these views. Instead, Swain was using the equipment he brought with him. Most “professional” photographs were captured with a view camera using glass plates. These were heavy and cumbersome to carry. Swain also carried a smaller Kodak that used film. This was used for additional photographs, not the professional ones of artifacts and architecture, but everything or anything else. That choice is captured in the archival numbers given to these photographs (KS for Kodak Swain, KP for Kodak Peterson, KK for Kodak Kelsey, depending on who was using the camera at the time). For these, the “43” refers to the arbitrary film roll number assigned. At the time, rolls of film only had 12 frames. Swain knew he was limited in how many photographs he could take before he ran out of film.

The first frame of this roll, KS043.01, is, unfortunately, missing from the archives, so there is no image to show. However, we do have Swain’s notes, and thus know he captured the following: “Dining car with all the metal letters removed to get brass in the war presumably.”

Years from now, current students and researchers will go through their collection of photographs from their travels in the summer of 2019. Not everything was work-related, and memories will be rekindled of the adventures they went on this year.

KS043_12-web
“The Galata Bridge, looking toward Pera.” KS043.12.

From the Archives #41 — April 2019

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

On Monday, 15 April 2019, the world watched as the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris caught fire and burned. Thankfully, firefighters were able to stop the flames and keep the entire building from burning down. There was much damage, but over time repairs will be made.

As soon as news hit the world of this tragedy, social media was inundated with images of people’s experiences and visits to Notre Dame, bringing the world together. 

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we share the Kelsey Museum’s connection to Notre Dame. On 23 March 1924, U-M photographer George R. Swain was in Paris and had the opportunity to visit the church. The images he took nearly a century ago are now in the Kelsey Archives. In addition to the iconic exterior views of Notre Dame, we get a glimpse of happenings outside as Swain turned his camera around to show canaries for sale in the bird market. 

Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame, Paris. Photographed by George R. Swain (undated). Kelsey Museum Archives GL00677.
Notre Dame, Paris
“Views. Facade of Notre Dame.” Photographed by George R. Swain, 23 March 1924. Kelsey Museum Archives KS234.02.
Birdsellers outside Notre Dame Cathedral
“Views. Canaries for sale at the bird market near Notre Dame. Cité.” Photographed by George R. Swain, 23 March 1924. Kelsey Museum Archives KS234.01.

In time, Notre Dame will be rebuilt, and tourists and Parisians alike will continue to pose before it. There are many photographs to remind us of what this structure looked like at various stages in its long history. Archives around the world, including ours here at the Kelsey, will preserve these memories, and will continue to document this important history.

As a keepers of history and supporters of collections, museums, history, and culture, we here at the Kelsey are grateful that Notre Dame was saved and will survive for future generations to admire.

From the Archives 37 — January 2019

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

Recently, the University of Michigan announced it had made an offer to purchase the property currently owned and operated by the Fingerle Lumber Company. This expansion will increase U-M’s Ann Arbor land holdings by 6.54 acres. At this time, the university has not announced what it plans to do with the property.

Over the years, U-M’s presence in Ann Arbor has expanded well beyond central campus. As the needs of the university and its students, staff, and faculty continue to expand, so too does the need for space. The Bentley Historical Library owns original maps of the university showing a very modest beginning, with a few buildings on what is now central campus, including the President’s House and a few other structures.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present this gem showing the U-M campus from 1914: the Index to University of Michigan Property Maps. The map highlights U-M property in the darker blocks, from which we can see locations we recognize from U-M campus now in 2019. We see central campus, or just “Campus.” Other blocks are also named, such as the Botanical Gardens, General Hospital, Ferry Field, and Palmer Field.

Though not named, we can also see a small block across from Campus, between State Street and Maynard, the future home of the Kelsey Museum. At this point, the property was not yet a museum.

map of university of michigan
“Index to University of Michigan Property Maps, Ann Arbor Mich., Sept. 1914.” Glass slide, photograph by George R. Swain. Kelsey Museum GL00788.

Around this same time, in 1914, Francis Kelsey hired a photographer named George R. Swain to photograph archaeological sites and artifacts in Europe and North Africa. Swain remained with the university until his death in 1947. After his visits to places such as Karanis, Carthage, and Pisidian Antioch, Swain dedicated his time at the university working for the Library, making copy prints and slides for use by professors and students. This glass slide was likely produced by Swain well after 1914. The reason is unknown; perhaps it was presented as an interesting find from the archives, much the same way we present it today.

Over 100 years after this map was created, the campus of U-M is vastly different, and it continues to change with each passing year. By 2114, a map of campus will undoubtedly look even more foreign to us. Students and archivists looking back on our current maps will see spots familiar to them, but still so foreign. Even a map produced today would would look very different from one produced in just a few months, given the news of Fingerle.

The archives provide for us a snapshot at a certain time period in both the Kelsey’s history as well as that of the university. Though constantly changing, we can see the progression of both, and how nothing remains static. In 100 years, a future Kelsey archivist may present this same image in the same manner we do now, showcasing the humble beginnings of the university and how much progress has been made since.

From the Archives 30 — May 2018

By SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Collections Manager

Spring has finally arrived in Ann Arbor, and with it our heavy parkas and snow boots have at last been stored away, not to be thought of for many months. Instead, we bring out the t-shirts and shorts and we venture outside to enjoy the sun and cool breeze.

During this time, we look to spend more time in nature, observing that which was covered in snow for so long. George Swain, back when he worked for the University, would do this as well. Of course, he would go outside with his camera, capturing whatever scenes he could.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present two Swain images saved in the Kelsey archives. Though the great majority of our archival photographic collections are of excavations overseas, we do find the occasional non-archaeology image as well. The two images highlighted this month depict a squirrel caught climbing up a tree and an owl peering down on Swain, perhaps posing for the photograph.

These two photographs are glass slides. These were often used in lanterns for teaching purposes. Swain spent a great deal of time after the excavations in the 1920s reproducing images for U-M faculty and staff to use in their classrooms. One means of this, prior to digitization and PowerPoint, was to replicate images on glass so that they could be projected on the wall using a lantern slide projector (sometimes known as a magic lantern).

Why he chose an owl and a squirrel is unknown. No caption accompanies these two. However, they seem to be posing for the camera, so what is a photographer supposed to do? We are unsure if these hail from Ann Arbor, but we think the squirrel would appreciate the attention and extra food squirrels receive on campus these days.

As you wander outside, be sure to appreciate the animals that are enjoying the same sunshine you are. Listen to the wisdom of the owl as it stares down at you, trying to pass along a message. She may have some sage words for you, such as “Enjoy Spring!”

From the Archives 29 — April 2018

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 — March 2017

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager

The name George R. Swain is one that is familiar to many in the Kelsey community. His photographs dominate the archives, and they make the bulk of those from excavations such as Karanis. He was also instrumental in the photography of collections from overseas, and capturing people in the countries he visited. Through his lens, we see life as it was in Egypt and Turkey/Syria in the 1910s and 1920s.

Swain’s is not the only name that played an important role in the history of Kelsey photography, though. Starting in the 1950s, Fred Anderegg worked with the Museum on a number of excavations, including the project at St. Catherine’s on the Sinai Peninsula. In the following years, Mr. Anderegg spent time photographing the Kelsey artifacts in order to document them. What ensued was thousands of photographs, all done in black-and-white on 35mm rolls. Thanks to Fred, the Kelsey now has thousands upon thousands of these 35mm images cut up into strips, organized by year they were photographed, the roll number within that year, and frame within roll. Each 35mm strip envelope includes a key for which artifact was photographed, and which frame it can be found in.

Many of these photographs were then contact printed, where a similar size print was made in the positive. These were adhered to the accession cards that acted as the database before computers became such an integral part of our daily work.

Over the years, the Registry has worked to digitize some of these when we needed good, quality photographs of our collections. However, with tens of thousands of these strips waiting to be digitized, it has been a daunting task, to say the least. A few have been digitized as needed, but only a handful and quite sporadically.

Recently, the Kelsey Museum partnered with the History of Art’s Visual Resources Collection (VRC) to pilot test a project where these photographs will be digitized en masse, with the proper metadata and filenames attached to each file. This will save the Kelsey many person-hours, and will allow for a greater inclusion of photographs in our database and for other uses. Though they are still in black-and-white, they provide great photographs where we can easily distinguish each item from another. These are used for publications, but also serve as record shots of our collection.

The entire process will take some time to complete, if it does go forward (we started with about 100 rolls to test out and see if we can continue it). However, it is a much quicker process than what we could do internally, and will result in higher-quality scans. In due time, these will be available to Kelsey staff, as well as researchers and students looking to get a glimpse of items often kept hidden out of view.

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From the Archives — August 2016

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

The Kelsey Museum Archives are quite an expansive collection. Though small in size, there are plenty of deep wormholes found throughout that will lead the researcher and archivist down a path they will be lost in for hours and hours. Every time a box is opened, a piece of the Kelsey’s history flows out and exposes the reader to new insight. Names only known through vague and incomplete notes are fleshed out, made into a more composite person. An occurrence in the past makes itself known to a group of people who would otherwise not know about it. Sites visited by Kelsey and Swain and others are exposed, informing us we have information from a location that had never been highlighted previously. The Kelsey universe expands, allowing us to share more stories about our past that will be of interest, both for research and for personal purposes.

With such a vast collection, on top of an already full collection of artifacts to care for, it becomes daunting trying to handle the archives and get it to a state where we would like. Better organization, greater knowledge of what the archives contain, more efficient access, are all goals we have. And as archival materials don’t have the same restrictions on them that artifacts do, the archives grow at a greater rate, meaning even more materials to parse through and organize.

Fortunately, the Kelsey has had a great team of interns and volunteers who have helped manage the archives over the years. Without them, much of the work would never have been completed. The archives are in a greater state today because of this team, focused and committed people who have taken their time to assist us in the day-to-day handling of materials, and the greater planning and organization of what we find within.

This page is not long enough to list all those people, but we can take the opportunity to thank one particular person who has worked with us since 2011. In that time, Randall McCombs has assisted the Registry and Kelsey Museum on a number of various projects. His work can be seen in nearly every exhibition we have hosted since 2012. His efforts have made their way to numerous publications. His assistance has led to greater organization of our digital assets, particularly those made as we have been scanning our photographic collections. It has been Randall all these years who has scanned photographs from Turkey, Egypt, Italy, in the various formats we find: glass, prints, negatives, slides, and others.

Sadly for the Kelsey, but a great step for him, Randall left the Museum in August to pursue his Master’s at the School of Information here at Michigan. We know that decision will pay off and will supply Randall with the skills and experience he will need moving forward. However, his presence will be missed.

Randall’s hands have touched a number of different collections, material types, projects, and themes. It would be difficult to limit our showing here to what he has done. Instead, this month’s “From the Archives” will highlight his most recent project. We’ve known for years we had a collection of panorama photos taken by George Swain in the 1920s with the use of a Cirkut camera. All this time those photographs sat in several drawers with barely a glance. One print, of the Athenian acropolis, hung in Kelsey director Christopher Ratté’s office. This daily viewing led Dr. Ratté to inquire into this collection, what else we had, and how could we get it on display. We tasked Randall with the project, for he is quite adept at many things digital. That and he had the skills to stitch together these images, as our scanners are not large enough to capture the image in one scan. Instead, each photo had to be scanned in sections, pieced together in the editing process. Randall was able to do this seamlessly and quickly. A selection of these photographs are now on display in Newberry hallway (Athens, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Giza). But the project exposed us to the greater collection of panoramas, well over 100 photographs, and all the sites and views Swain captured.

For your pleasure, we present a selection of these panoramas here. You will see images from throughout the Mediterranean, from Libya and Tunisia to Greece and elsewhere. The views show landscapes/seascapes, archaeological remains, current city views, even people as they gathered in a town square.

We owe a great deal of thanks to Randall for his years of service. We wish him the best in this new chapter of his life. Someday, a future archivist will read and learn about Randall and his contributions to the Museum. And they, like us, will be appreciative of what Randall did.

 

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