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The Accidental Archivist

Issues involved with the handling and preservation of ephemera—campaign buttons, stickers, scrapbooks, photo albums, brochures and pamphlets and such—have been an ongoing concern among curators and archivists, as many of our procedures and best practices concern materials commonly recognized as “important artifacts” such as art, works of prominent photographers, rare manuscripts and books. Many modern manuscript collections pose an additional challenge when they include files of clippings, the two-sided nature of which inadvertently creates an “accidental archive” of items of potential research interest. Many of the Hartman Center’s advertising collections suffer from this wealth of excess. Magazine and newspaper pages containing ads for one product frequently have an equally (if not more) useful ad on the reverse, or a provocative news article. In the example here, taken from the Doris Bryn Papers, the reverse side of a department store ad contains an article “Are Women Persons? Educators Disagree” that appeared in the Oct. 15, 1950 edition of the Sunday Herald.

The backside of a 1950 advertisement for a department store wonders, “Are Women Persons?”

As indicative of the kinds of debates taking place during the postwar re-integration of women into domestic life and the slow march toward women’s rights and gender equality, the article poses potential research utility; at the least, great fodder for an undergraduate paper. The big challenge is: how to remember where to find these little gems the second time around?

Post contributed by Rick Collier, Technical Services Archivist for the John W. Hartman Center.