Campus News

March 2, 2011

MARBL to preserve African American scrapbooks, including Alice Walker's

A scrapbook created by African American vaudeville performer Johnny Hudgins.

By Maureen McGavin

Rare African American scrapbooks at at Emory's Manuscript, Archives and Rare Books Library (MARBL) can be saved from the perils of disintegration thanks to a $170,000 three-year matching Save America's Treasures grant.

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. The Emory Libraries will provide the matching amount.

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.

"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 K. Burkett, MARBL's curator of African American collections.

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

MARBL and the Emory Libraries' preservation department and Digital Curation Center  will collaborate on the project, says Laura Carroll, manuscript archivist and principal investigator for the grant.

The scrapbooks contain items that disintegrate quickly or are easily damaged, such as folded newspaper clippings, pressed flowers and single-use paper items such as ticket stubs, napkins and telegram paper. The objects usually were attached with adhesives such as cheap tape, pastes or cement glue, also harmful to the archival materials.

The project is urgent because the scrapbooks are deteriorating rapidly, Carroll says. "We're losing original information. People annotate their photographs." Walker, for example, wrote original poems in her scrapbook. "The clock is ticking."

Once the project begins, the scrapbooks first will be sent to preservation to be stabilized to prevent further damage. Digital surrogates will be created, which will be used in classrooms and MARBL's reading room, unless researchers request the originals.

"The originals will still be available," Carroll says. "Nothing replaces the original." The work is expected to begin when funds arrive mid-year and will take place over the next three years.

The Save America's Treasures grant is awarded through the Department of Interior and the National Park Service, in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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