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

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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

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