By Bradley Harjehausen, Graduate Assistant
As a graduate assistant at the Albert Gore Research Center, I practice archival management skills every day. Last month, I took advantage of an opportunity to improve these skills by interacting with and learning from other archivists at the meeting of the Society of Tennessee Archivists. Held appropriately during American Archives Month, the meeting, from October 21-23, was enjoyable for me for a couple of reasons. First, the group in attendance was intimate enough to talk and network with everyone. Second, the location, Pickwick Landing State Park, was very scenic and close to Shiloh National Military Park. Since I lived in California prior to coming to MTSU for school, I welcomed the opportunity to leave Middle Tennessee for a few days and visit a different part of the state.
I attended many sessions, but a few were particularly enjoyable to me. All of them had a focus on the conference theme “Information Central: Archives, Education, and Outreach.” In the sessions I took particular interest in the last item in the subheading, outreach, because it is an important aspect of archival work. One session regarded the Tennessee State Library and Archives’ use of the GIS platform to document Tennessee’s Civil War engagements and African Americans’ involvement in that conflict. Archival documents and maps mark the location of various landmarks on current maps, including monuments, structures borders of battlefield sites, railroads and even engaged military units. The interactive online maps possess a high accessibility factor that is fitting for outreach and education purposes.
Another session focused on the Tennessee State Library and Archives’ Education Outreach division with a special focus on primary and secondary school students. These programs come in two different forms, one being TSLA staff members traveling to school sites and hosting workshops to inform teachers how to incorporate primary source documents on the TSLA’s website in their lesson plans. The other form is school groups visiting the TSLA in Nashville and learning how to handle and research with primary documents. These education outreach programs aim to instill in children and teenagers knowledge of how to use archives, who will hopefully utilize this knowledge in their schoolwork and beyond.
All MTSU student attendees standing around the poster used in the presentation. From left to right: Dallas Hanbury, Evan Spencer, myself, Bradley Boshers (SAA chapter member and M.A. in Public History student) and Mona Brittingham (leaning on the right side of the poster).
A final session I will mention regarded the activities of the Society of American Archivists student chapter here at MTSU, one of three in the state. Members and officers of the chapter, who are also my peers in the public history program at MTSU, presented the session: Evan Spencer, Dallas Hanbury, who both work at the Albert Gore Research Center, and Mona Brittingham. They told of the chapter’s involvement in the community and the skill-building workshops and visits to archive sites it provides for its members.
A subject matter with a high presence at the STA conference was the Battle of Shiloh, which is less than 30 minutes driving distance from the conference site. I toured the battlefield for the first time and listened to the keynote speaker discuss the land use of the military park before, during and after the battle and its preservation as well. Through both experiences, I obtained a broad knowledge of the battle that I would not have been possible with only one of the experiences.
By the last day of the last day of the conference, I had amassed many business cards from and made connections with archival professionals in this state. As one of the few students in attendance, meeting these professionals made me look forward to a career of my own in archival management. Another benefit of the conference was learning of various options to conduct outreach and educational practices to promote archives. Promoting the Albert Gore Research Center with these tactics is now a higher priority for the remainder of my time as a graduate assistant. I look forward to attending more conferences based on my uplifting experience at this Society of Tennessee Archivists meeting.