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Follow the Trail of Letters

Oct 04, 2012

Jessica from Seattle describes her experience working as a summer intern for the Theodore Roosevelt Center.

I am currently a graduate student at the University of Texas’ School of Information. I became interested in this field because I discovered that I loved engaging with history through primary source documents while I was an undergraduate student studying history. My internship with the Theodore Roosevelt Center let me do exactly that, while giving me practical experience in cataloging, writing, metadata creation as well as editing and review.

Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 Progressive Campaign was a part of history with which I had only a passing familiarity when I first began cataloging my assignment for the summer, a reel from the Theodore Roosevelt Papers at the Library of Congress that dealt with this period. Equipped ahead of time with a broad overview, I was delighted each time that the research to provide each letter with detailed metadata made me familiar with a new piece of the world that surrounded Roosevelt’s Progressive campaign, such as individual issues comprising his platform, or a peek into his relationship with one of the various other political figures with whom he corresponded.

One part of the internship that I found gratifying was when I was able to identify letters that were related. For example, in a letter to Charles S. Thompson, Theodore Roosevelt asks Thompson to look at an enclosed letter from “Mr. Ladd” and wishes that Thompson could visit Rhode Island.

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Charles S. Thompson

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Charles S. Thompson, August 3, 1912. From the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

In a letter to Walter J. Ladd of Rhode Island, Roosevelt says that he has taken the liberty of sending Ladd’s letter to “Mr. Thompson in Vermont”. Making this connection meant that I could provide metadata about Thompson and Ladd as subjects of the letters Roosevelt sent to the other.

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Walter J. Ladd

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Walter J. Ladd, August 3, 1912. From the Library of Congress Manuscript Division. 

Later in the internship, while doing metadata review, I came across a letter from Frank Harper, Roosevelt’s secretary, to William L. Ward, about W. L. Wyckoff of Jamaica.

Letter from Frank Harper to William L. Ward

Letter from Frank Harper to William L. Ward, May 10, 1912. From the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

This stuck in my mind since the bit in the letter about Jamaica confused me until I realized there is a Jamaica, New York. The next day, I came across a letter from Roosevelt to William LeRoy Wyckoff in Jamaica, New York.

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to William LeRoy Wyckoff

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to William LeRoy Wyckoff, May 10, 1912. From the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

 Since I cataloged or reviewed these connected items in the same week, making these pieces come together was not tough, but nonetheless fun and satisfying in a really geeky way. It also shone light into obscure corners of history I probably would not read about in a book, or if I did, certainly would not remember. These are the moments that tell me that I have picked the right field.

Jessica Gauthier is from Seattle, Washington and is a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. She is studying Archival Science and plans to become a Digital Archivist. She received her undergraduate degree in History and Anthropology from Tulane University in New Orleans.
Posted by Jessica Gauthier on Oct 04, 2012 in Digital Library  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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