Written by Mary DePeder, Intern
It’s my last week as the Bart Gordon Papers intern this summer and that is certainly cause for a touch of melancholy. As MTSU revs up for another semester with students moving into dorms, milling around campus, and Halloween decorations slowly inching their way onto store aisles, I think it’s safe to bid summer and Gordon adieu. When I began in May as the Gordon Papers intern I had very limited hands-on archival experience and even less experience working with congressional collections. I was charged with two main objects: to continue the folder level inventory of the Bart Gordon collection and create a digital humanities project based on the collection. I could not have imagined at that point in time where these two seemingly straightforward directions would lead me. Whether stumbling upon unique archival finds or cruising east toward Oak Ridge, TN for exhibit research, this summer was certainly one for the books and one that has given me the opportunity to put my archival theory knowledge to work.
Sorting through stacks of constituent mail early on in my internship proved an exciting and memorable feat. While pausing occasionally to read over interesting snippets of letters I found two surprising items: letters to Congressman Gordon from members of my family. One dated from October 2008 was from my mother and her class of fourth graders. At the time, my mother was teaching her students about endangered animals and one of the solutions drummed up by her class to take action against this was notifying their local representative. So, attached to my mother’s initial letter to Congressman Bart Gordon were 30 musings of nine-year old Black Fox Elementary students on animal conservation.
Then, amazingly, I found a second letter from Gordon addressing my grandparents on their concerns of the raising gas prices in Murfreesboro, TN in 2009. Together, these letters, while reflective of so many constituent letters addressed to Gordon on issues relating to the daily comings and goings of Middle Tennessee life, were incredibly valuable to me as a beginning archivist.
When I wasn’t inventorying the Gordon Papers, a significant amount of my internship was spent researching and creating my digital humanities project. Already drawn in by the allure of Oak Ridge’s history as a secret city and passionate about environmental issues, the project slowly came into focus. And, as an added bonus to investigating a city close by this meant Project Archivist, Sarah Calise, University Archivist, Donna Baker, and I could ditch the brick and mortar for a day and road trip it to Oak Ridge to explore. Music playlists, historical research, and good company make for an eventful day adventure.
In tracking the history of Oak Ridge from 1942 up until today I was able to utilize several of the Albert Gore Research Center’s collections and create a larger narrative of the city’s history. Working primarily with congressional collections for this project has broadened my understanding of how political collections can be used for intersectional work. This concept was also crucial throughout every step of my inventorying process. As a whole, the internship proved to be both a challenging and a rewarding undertaking.
You can learn more about internship and volunteer opportunities at the Gore Center on our website: http://mtsu.edu/gorecenter/opportunities.php