During the 2010 summer session, the Architecture and Planning Library has initiated a number of projects that will provide greater access to the content located in the library’s special collections. Supported by the John Green Taylor Endowment and through the generous service of volunteers, these projects will promote special collections use by enhancing collection records and marketing its contents.
Graduate students from a number of disciplines are currently working to index individual collections, generate more comprehensive provenance notes, and develop web content that facilitates collection navigation. These projects are part of an ongoing effort to expose the rich and diverse materials held in the library’s special collections.
With over 20,000 volumes, special collections comprise almost 1/5th of the library’s holdings and function as an invaluable resource for scholars in the disciplines of architecture, art and architectural history, landscape architecture, community and regional planning, building technology and construction science.
Many people shy away from group projects. After all, teamwork frequently suffers when clashing personalities and working methods meet. But when it is successful, collaboration can yield a better outcome than working alone and serve as a learning experience. While much of the work that goes into planning an exhibition is not visible in the final product, the process itself is often very exciting, particularly when dealing with an archive. I wanted to take a moment to share my experience co-curating Maya Architecture.
It was only a few months ago that I discovered the George F. and Geraldine Andrews collection tucked away in the Alexander Architectural Archive. A classmate of mine was looking for a rare photograph of a Maya structure taken before it collapsed. [He found it.] I was trying to get a sense of the Andrews’ documentation of Puuc architecture for my own research. At the time of our visit Beth Dodd and Donna Coates had already started organizing an exhibition for the Architecture and Planning Library reading room to call attention to this unprocessed collection. Aware of the importance of this resource I offered to help, and they gladly accepted.
A collection of didactic materials from an earlier exhibition on George Andrews’ work on Maya architecture acted as the framework for the show. The panels emphasized George Andrews’ photographs and final drawings, but we also wanted to reflect the depth and variety of the Andrews archive.
The three of us met on several occasions to sort through prints, photographs and drawings for the wall cases, moving and adding some, vetoing others. The large glass cases in the library also allowed us to curate objects. One of the perks of assisting on this exhibition was that I had the opportunity to search through the collection with the explicit order to pull some of the most interesting, and obscure, materials housed in the stacks.
Though it was difficult to choose from the thousands of objects, books, drawings (some in progress), negatives and photographs available, we tried to provide a representative example. The exhibition even includes photographs of the collection while it was still in George and Geraldine’s home in Oregon!
The text for the exhibit is a mix of old and new writing. Some of the text came directly from the earlier exhibition, other text was pulled from George Andrews’ publications and artist statement. A number of panels were written specifically for this display.
The organic working process provided plenty of opportunities to talk through ideas and make changes when necessary. The exhibition was truly a team effort. Donna, Beth and I worked closely together, but also had the help of staff members from the Architecture and Planning Library and the Alexander Architectural Archive. Many people assisted in compiling information, hanging and arranging work, editing, printing labels and posters, and building on the concept of the show.
It was a great opportunity for me to get to know the collection and work closely with the staff in the Alexander Architectural Archive…and a chance to promote a significant Maya resource at UT!
Think of historic preservation in Texas and you think of Wayne Bell. So when my Introduction to Archival Enterprise group was assigned to process the papers Bell donated to the Alexander Architectural Archive, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to interview the UT professor emeritus who was instrumental in founding the historic preservation master’s degree program.
When organizing an individual’s papers, you hope that they left enough reports, notes, photographs, and more to be able to piece together a story, to understand the person and his or her work. Bell had—for projects like the Inge-Stoneham House (1982-1987) and its relocation as part of the Winedale Historical Center program, we discovered day-to-day memoranda of contractor decisions, in addition to numerous photographs and other documentation. However, there also were many unlabeled contact sheets, research files without a clear project affiliation, and other records that only Bell could explain to us.
What we learned in chatting with Bell was even more revealing—while he showed remarkable powers of recollection about 40-year-old photos, there were a few photos and documents in the Wayne Bell papers that even Wayne Bell couldn’t explain. Sometimes an archivist just has to make an educated guess about a record and how it fits into the narrative—and hope that researchers will be able to complete the story.
iSchool students digitally archive George and Geraldine Andrews materials
In the Spring 2010 semester, School of Information students completed a project to digitally archive materials in the George F. and Geraldine D. Andrews collection. The project team includes Tim Arnold, Matthew McKinley, Lisa Rivoir, and Kathryn Pierce, who were School of Information students in Dr. Patricia Galloway’s Problems in the Permanent Retention of Electronic Records course.
The team accessed files on 3.5 inch and 5.25 inch floppy disks used by George and Geraldine Andrews in the course of their extensive documentation of Maya architectural sites. Andrews’ field work documenting Maya architecture began in the 1950s. He, along with his wife, Gerrie, conducted architectural surveys at field sites from 1958 through 1997. The two compiled a rich collection of records, including measurements, architectural drawings, sketches, photographs, and descriptive text, documenting sites in the Puuc, Chenes-Puuc, Chenes, and Río Bec regions of the central Yucatán Peninsula. The pair documented approximately 800 buildings at 224 archaeological sites.
The iSchool students used resources in the newly established Digital Archeology Lab in the School of Information to access the older media. The goals of the project were to inventory the floppy disks, take disk images, access the files,and ingest these materials into Pacer, the DSpace digital repository hosted by the School of Information.
The project is the Alexander Architectural Archive’s first foray into digital archeology. One remaining goal of this project is to add the recovered files to the set of digital materials from the George and Geraldine Andrews collection that are being deposited into the University of Texas Digital Repository.
Blog from the University of Texas Architecture and Planning Library