Save the Scrapbooks

Grant will preserve singular slices of history

By Maureen McGavin

Page from scrapbook

ephemera: The scrapbooks in MARBL contain items that disintegrate or are easily damaged, such as newspaper clippings, pressed flowers, and ticket stubs.

Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library

Scrapbooking has become a popular pastime of late, practiced often by groups of women who gather with abundant craft supplies to create a physical repository of family memories more artistically ambitious than an ordinary photo album or diary.

The craft has a rich legacy that’s easily overlooked by historians and archivists, perhaps because of the whimsical nature and limited reach of most scrapbooks. But a new project at Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) aims to give some particularly notable examples the attention they deserve.

A collection of rare African American scrapbooks will be saved from the danger of disintegration thanks to a $170,000 three-year Save America’s Treasures grant, matched by the Emory Libraries. The grant will be used to conserve African American scrapbooks and create digital surrogates to enhance access to the historical materials—the scrapbooks of artists, writers, students, vaudeville performers, preachers, and former slaves.

“Scrapbooks have often been treated as the unwanted children or the neglected orphans of the archives. They are difficult to handle, they are often in fragile physical condition, and they are a mix of memorabilia of every description and taste,” says Randall Burkett, MARBL’s curator of African American collections.

Thirty-four scrapbooks have been selected, with dates ranging from 1883 to 1975. They include the scrapbooks of author Alice Walker, vaudeville performers “Jolly” John Larkin and Johnny Hudgins, entertainer and playwright Flourney Miller, Spelman College graduate Virginia Hannon, and former slave and author W. S. Scarborough, who became a professor of classics at Wilberforce University and eventually its president.

“These scrapbooks give us a glimpse into how these artists and students and former slaves thought about themselves, their families, their work,” Burkett says. “The funding for this project will allow us to preserve these important memory books.”

The project is urgent because the scrapbooks are deteriorating rapidly, says Laura Carroll, manuscript archivist and principal investigator for the grant. “The clock is ticking,” she says.

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