Field Trip: National Archives II, at the U of Maryland

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Anyone else notice that Tricky Dick, Emmett, and Testudo all have the same expression?

Anyone else notice that Tricky Dick, Emmett, and Testudo all have the same expression?

So, what do Emmett Wilson, Richard Nixon, and a bronze terrapin named Testudo all have in common?

You can find all of three (in some format or the other!) at the National Archives II, located at the University of Maryland, College Park!

I spent the afternoon on campus, and met with another legislative archivist, Celina, who is also working on a politically related project from the Progressive Era. I had a great time just talking about doing research on a topic more than 100 years old with someone else who completely understood the agony and the ecstasy of the research process — the joy of discovering ‘missing’ documents, the effort involved in tracking down obscure texts. We not only commiserated, but could advise each other about different search strategies. That’s a great feeling: I don’t want to be all “take, take, take” in this project. It makes me feel good to offer a workable solution to someone else deep in their own research.

While there is a second National Archives facility on the edge of U of Maryland campus, Celina had me meet her at McKeldin Library, located at the heart of the University of Maryland campus. She has an office here; also, it is a lot easier (i.e. less restrictive) in terms of getting in to visit and talk shop. I always like to hang out at the library, anyway. The staff is excellent; always ready to help even if you are a visitor, and computer stations are plentiful.

Also: The Congressional Records Serial Set (the exact same books you’d find at the downtown National Archives) is physically at McKeldin. Who knew?

McKeldin LIbrary, in the heart of the University of Maryland campus, College Park.

McKeldin LIbrary, in the heart of the University of Maryland campus, College Park.

After my colleague Celina got me settled in at a terminal at the library, I scouted around the ProQuest Congressional database to my heart’s content. She also showed me a time-saving search strategy, which resulted in a trove of information — new to me — about Emmett’s years in Congress.


So, why a second Archives facility? Storage, or rather, the lack thereof.

The trip into the stacks this week gave me a very good understanding about how difficult it is to care for original historic documents of a certain age, as well as which documents or artifacts are best kept easily available for public scrutiny, and which ones are better kept off site, where they can be better protected.

One thing Celina asked while we were talking: Where are Emmett’s papers? Did he have any?

Congressmen back during Emmett’s time did not turn over office records, or correspondence to the National Archives (that is where modern congressmen turn their records over today). Emmett just packed up his papers and had them sent to Pensacola when his term was up. They probably were just trashed after he died, I told her; nothing has turned up, not in local libraries or archives in Pensacola that I’ve explored thus far. I did tell her about the scrapbooks, though; although the odds are against my finding them, I am not giving up. 🙂


I’ll be back up at McKeldin this week to continue reading the Congressional Record holdings. I’ll report back in a few days on what I’ve found. Stay tuned!

 

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