Why would you wanna be here? What do you see here? Simple but provocative questions. After the Schomburg Center visit I’ve been mulling over these questions. I took some notes during the course of the visit but those observe what was said. What struck me were some of the things the archivists said: before you visit an archive, search their online catalogs. Familiarize yourself with the collections. Think about what it is you’re looking for when you’re looking through these collections. Once you visit the archivist they’ll have a better an easier time guiding you meaningfully to collections and works that you’re searching for. Cite your sources properly.
What motivates a collection might not be so simple and clear-cut. As we’ve learned during the visit, items get divided up according to the logic of said-archive. The Schomburg has five divisions: a research and reference division, a manuscripts and rare books division, an art and artifacts division, and photographs division. According to this logic, a letter and photograph would not end up in the same division. As we’ve learned a donor’s wishes would supersede the archives organizational logic. A letter may be paired with a photograph in the instance that a donor wishes for it. Keeping these in mind, the Schomburg visit is another reminder that we as researchers working within the archives must think not only about the organizational logic of the curator and institution but the logic of the donor. These instances raise more questions: what motivates donors and archivists to organize their materials in particular ways?
Archivists wants to help. They’re clearly amazing resources. In class we’ve discussed the notion of serendipity in relation to the archives. When searching the Schomburg Center’s online catalog I had no clear-cut goal—I serendipitously wandered the collections that emerged within the homepage. I couldn’t find everything I wanted. The visit reminded me—and taught me—that the archivist is an invaluable resource. Their knowledge and experience navigating the archives can aid us in our own projects.
Reflecting on the Schomburg Center visit, I realize there’s a need to understand the history and objective of said archives. The Schomburg Center collects and preserves materials focused on African American, African diaspora, and African experiences. It goes back to my initial question on why anyone would want to explore materials housed at the Schomburg Center. Scholars and researchers interested in the African American experience and cultural history would definitely find a reason to study materials here.