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At the Dance Archives

For a few hours every Thursday I have started to go to the archives of Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre (JMBT), which has its facilities in the Old Cambridge Baptist Church, a beautiful field stone building in the American Gothic Revival style just off of Harvard Square. There, two other SLIS students and I are taking an inventory before processing the collections, as part of a grant-funded project to process the archives of many of Cambridge's dance companies.

Two weeks ago, my first time seeing the JMBT archives, I knew our goal was ambitious. The collections comprise everything from institutional records, to costumes and props, to old promotional material and performance recordings. They are crammed into four large rooms in different parts of the church, much like I imagine industrial-sized, hastily packed storage lockers to be (if such things exist).

Battling through the dust and teetering piles of boxes, we have to move records around Tetris style to wind our way from item to item before noting it in our spreadsheet.

Admittedly, this style of inventory is challenging and not always fun, but it's getting easier as we continue to work. At the same time, it's very exciting to be involved with this kind of project. There isn't a lot of money for dance heritage, so dance archives are in a grey area where standards are still evolving. Also, companies in Boston and Cambridge have largely been overlooked and overshadowed by those in larger cities. Given these challenges, it's a great feeling to learn alongside more experienced archivists and to be able to contribute to the profession while best practice guidelines are still elastic and being developed.

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Above: A corner in the "Nutcracker Room" of the JMBT Archives. 
Photo by Samantha Quiñon, 2015, all rights reserved.

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Love in (or Lovin') the Archives

I've been thinking about the phrase "I have a lot on my plate" lately.  It seems like if my schedule were this figurative plate, it would look like I just left an all-you-can-eat buffet.  In the last week I have ended a job, started a new job, worked a shift of my internship, and set up an interview for a possible second part-time job at an academic library... All while trying to keep up with my school work. In addition to all of this, I'm trying to make time for my friends, family, and (lastly) sleep.  Sometimes when one's schedule is so packed, it's hard to remember what exactly one is working toward.

But thankfully I've been utterly caught up in the romance that can happen with archival work. Previously, I mentioned the series of love letters between a young couple in the 1940s that is a large part of the collection in which I'm working, but recently I found several other letters written to the young woman of the aforementioned couple from a completely different man, a young soldier, during the same time. There were so many letters between the original young couple that I've been skimming them for notable places, peoples, or dates, but I can't help but read each of the young soldier's letters word for word. He's an amazing writer, definitely someone who believed in the lost art of letter-writing. He writes about the unnamed places he's been, the horror of war. In one letter, he poignantly makes the observation that he often hears the sound of faraway planes and bombs and thinks that he is dreaming of an imaginary place, only to realize that home is the imaginary place, and these war sounds are his frightening reality. From what I gather, it seems that the young woman wrote to him out of the blue and they had been paramours before college. He knows she's dating someone else, and yet he asks her several times, "Why did you write me? Why won't you tell me?"

The story for me is irresistible. I know I'm incredibly lucky to find such a plot jumbled with 19th century stock shares and probate documents (which are interesting but in a completely different way). I hope I have some time while creating this finding aid to research this young soldier and see if he survived the war. Perhaps he and the young woman met again, later in life, after she had married her college sweetheart. Perhaps he died, and that's why she married in the middle of the war so suddenly. It's quite a mystery to me how archivists can resist being great novelists!

This was just a little note, in the whirlwind of school and work and life, to appreciate the little romantic moments in your studies. It can be romantic in the literal sense like mine or Romantic in the literary sense, but I hope that you find and love what it is you are pursuing here at Simmons.  Until next time, enjoy Spring Break!

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