Friday, July 27, 2012

NIGR: wrap-up

Well, NIGR is over and I did not meet my goal of blogging about it every day. The days were full!

We had a similar schedule each day. We started at 9 am on Monday, but thereafter at 10 am so that those who wished could do an hour of research before the first lecture. We always had fifteen minutes between lectures and an hour for lunch. There’s a small cafeteria in the basement; leaving NARA to get lunch was an option, but most of us tried to minimize the number of times that we had to go through the security process and so stayed inside the building. If there was an optional evening event such as our visit to the DAR Library, there was enough time to get dinner between the last lecture and the event. NARA is open until 9 pm Wednesday through Friday, so research was another option those evenings. There are some wonderful restaurants quite near the Archives, providing the opportunity to end the day with a very nice meal.

Our classroom was actually the Archivist’s Reception Room (which explains why it was so beautiful). We were allowed to leave our NIGR notebooks and any papers in the room overnight, so that we need not carry them back and forth. I opted to take my notebook back to the hotel and just brought the syllabus of the day with me each time, and I think a few others did the same. There was always a good variety of drinks and snacks available in the room, which was much appreciated. I was surprised at how cool the old building was kept in the heat; several of us kept sweaters and shawls handy.

I was so impressed with our lecturers’ knowledge and presentation skills; there was only one instance where I felt that the lecture’s take-aways were rather elementary and the discussion of records anecdotal rather than systematic.

Figuring out the NARA security rules of the day was always interesting: did they want my laptop in or out of bag going through the machine? could I use a clear plastic bag for carrying laptop, cellphone/camera, and mouse into the documents room or not? It could be frustrating.

As I think I mentioned in my first post, I was initially glad that I had brought the Genie Guide to Research at NARA with me; but honestly, once the course began I did not consult it again. It will remain an important reference book on my shelf, but I don’t think I’ll need to bring it on future research trips—the research guides and record experts in the Finding Aids Room are the on-site resources for figuring out which records are pertinent.

Speaking of the experts—Navy experts don’t like to be asked about Army records; Army experts don’t like to be asked about Navy records. You’ve been forewarned!

One thing that surprised me was that I didn’t need to know all that “record group-subgroup-series-file unit-record item” stuff in order to request a record. I was even more surprised to find that my requested record did not come neatly labeled with all that info! (Call me naïve.) It kind of made sense when I saw the pull slip returned to me—it notes the physical location (stack, shelf, etc.) rather than the original administrative categorization. But this meant that creating a citation for my requested record entailed, you know, work. Thank goodness for Elizabeth Shown Mills’s recent post on just this issue: [1]

Most of my research this trip was in Civil War records, although I also made use of the microfilmed newspaper collection at the Library of Congress for some non-military research. Since I had the luxury of some extra days in Washington, I took time to go through the records I’d ordered rather than just quickly scanning them and going on to the next set of records. I spent most of my research time one day in looking at a three volume set of the Regimental Descriptive Books (Civil War) of the Sixth Michigan Heavy Artillery. I knew that my guy would only appear at the end (I was right) and that I was unlikely to find new info about him (right again), but it was very interesting to see what all was contained in those three volumes, and the number of different places that individuals (including civilians) were named.

I’m so glad that I was able to get to NIGR this year. I learned a lot, met interesting people, and enjoyed being in Washington. I’m eager to use my new perspective on federal records at the nearby Boston branch of the National Archives, and look forward to some future trip to Washington to do more research.

[1] For some reason, my footnote didn't come through. It should be:
Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 4: NARA Citations & Finding Aids,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage ( : 24 July 2012).

1 comment:

  1. Julie,
    I need to go to Waltham NARA in the next couple of weeks - let me know if you want to try to arrange a trip together. -Seema