Look What I Discovered: Life as a Mary Wolfskill Trust Fund Intern

Today’s post has been written by Logan Tapscott, one of 36 college students participating in the Library of Congress 2015 Junior Fellows Summer Intern Program. Tapscott is completing a modified dual degree through the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education: a master of arts degree in public history from Shippensburg University and a masters in library and information science from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. Interning in the Library’s Manuscript Division, Tapscott is interested in important archival and library skills such as processing, describing and referencing, as well as the Library’s African-American history collections with emphasis on the Civil War era and the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the Manuscript Division Reading Room, every day is an adventure. Through the Junior Fellows Program and the generosity of the Mary Wolfskill Trust Fund Internship, I have an opportunity to work in the Manuscript Division this summer.

Established in 1897, the Manuscript Division holds approximately 60 million items in 11,500 separate collections that relate to American political, military and cultural history; yet, you never truly comprehend the value of the contents of each collection. Yes, finding aids assist both researchers and reference archivists to locate items, but examining the actual items in the folders or on the microfilm reels is an amazing feeling that never goes way. Each time that I receive a call slip or an online reference inquiry, I discover new collections and learn about interesting people or organizations. When answering reference inquiries, researchers ask a variety of questions, even about well-known historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Ralph Ellison.

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1850-1860. Prints and Photographs Division.

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1850-1860. Prints and Photographs Division.

One example is when a patron asked whether Frederick Douglass delivered any speeches in Newark, N.J. The tireless Douglass delivered speeches throughout the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States about the evils of slavery, but I was unaware of any speeches he may have given in New Jersey.

The first method I used to answer this question was to discover the division’s collection of Douglass’ papers, which contains correspondence, speeches and articles. After reviewing the finding aid, I was unable to find any speeches listed as given in Newark. Then, after realizing that his papers were digitized, I searched the digital Speech, Article and Book File series. Like the finding aid, the digital collection did not include any speeches from New Jersey.

Finally, I reviewed the published copies of the “Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates and Interviews,” volumes 1-5. This compilation of Douglass’ writings was edited by John W. Blassingame – an esteemed and influential African-American historian – and published by Yale University Press in 1979. (Blassingame was the former chairman of the African American Studies Program at Yale University).

In these volumes, Blassingame chronicled Douglass’ speaking itinerary from 1847 until his death in 1895. In Volume 2, I discovered Douglass spoke in Newark, N.J. on back-to-back days on April 17 and 18 in 1849. By looking into this question, I discovered something different about the famous orator, abolitionist and vice presidential candidate.

Each day, I learn something new while working in the reading room, such as finding the location of a particular collection or how to assist readers accessing collections. So far, I don’t have a favorite collection, but I enjoy finding collections through the simple but large online catalog entries, published shelf lists and walking through the individual doors of the stacks. This is my adventure!

Sources: Nick Ravo, “John Blassingame, 59, Historian; Led Yale Black Studies,” New York Times, February 29, 2000, accessed June 30, 2015

Letters About Literature: Dear Mary Oliver

In this final installment of our Letters About Literature spotlight, we feature the Level 3 National Prize-winning letter of Aidan Kingwell of Illinois, who wrote to Mary Oliver about her poem “When Death Comes.” Kingwell’s poem also recently made the news. Letters About Literature, a national reading and writing program that asks young people in grades […]

Inquiring Minds: Anna Coleman Ladd and WWI Veterans

(The following is a story written by Megan Harris of the Veterans History Project and featured in the Library of Congress staff newsletter, The Gazette.  )  Last month, eighth-graders Benjamin King, Maria Ellsworth and Cristina Escajadillo – all students at the Singapore American School – performed an original 10-minute play at the Library of Congress inspired […]

Letters About Literature: Dear Walter Isaacson

We continue our spotlight of letters from the Letters About Literature initiative, a national reading and writing program that asks young people in grades 4 through 12 to write to an author (living or deceased) about how his or her book affected their lives. Winners were announced last week. In this next installment, we highlight the […]

Library in the News: June 2015 Edition

  In June, the Library of Congress issued two major announcements that made headlines nationwide: the appointment of a new Poet Laureate and the retirement of the current Librarian of Congress. After nearly three decades of service, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced his retirement effective January 2016. Speaker of the House John Boehner, Democrat […]

Letters About Literature: Dear Wendelin Van Draanen

Letters About Literature, a national reading and writing program that asks young people in grades 4 through 12 to write to an author (living or deceased) about how his or her book affected their lives, announced its 2015 winners today. More than 50,000 young readers from across the country participated in this year’s initiative funded by […]

Happy 215th Anniversary Library of Congress!

A Message from the Librarian Today, on the Library of Congress’s 215th anniversary, I want especially to congratulate the Library’s extraordinary staff for their work in building this amazing, one-of-a-kind institution. I am, and always will be, deeply grateful for all they do. The heart and soul of this great library always has been its […]

Celebrating Women: Women’s History on Pinterest

(The following blog post is by Jennifer Harbster, a science research specialist and blogger for the Library’s Science, Technology, and Busines blog, “Inside Adams.” Harbster also helped create the Library of Congress Women’s History Month board on Pinterest.) March is designated as Women’s History Month and this year the National Women’s History Project has selected […]

Wild Irish Foes

Today we’re going to add a new term to your broad vocabulary: Fenian. It’s a noun that describes a member of an Irish or Irish-American brotherhood dedicated to freeing Ireland from British dominion. The name was taken from the “Fianna,” a group of kings’ guards led by the legendary Irish leader of yore, Finn MacCool. […]

Here Comes the Sun: Seeing Omens in the Weather at Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inauguration

(The following is a guest post by Michelle Krowl, Civil War and Reconstruction Specialist in the Manuscript Division. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, for a limited time [March 4-7, 2015] the Library of Congress will display both the four-page manuscript copy and the reading copy of the address in the Great Hall […]