Voted Most Smartest

December is almost over and I am sitting here surrounded by a mound of collections that I would love to finish before January 2nd, but realistically will not have finished until the end of next year.  I am a little nostalgic this year, because of everything that has happened, and because I just finished the most awesome collection that can be found in almost every historical society across the country.  This collection is the most under-utilized and never thought of primary resource.  Do I have your attention yet?  Are you wondering what collection could possibly be THAT interesting?

One of the most interesting primary resources that goes virtually unnoticed are yearbooks.  That’s right….yearbooks.  Now, in Berks County, we have a ton of schools, including the Boy’s High School, Girl’s High School and Standard Evening High School which all became Reading Senior High School.  Some Townships had their own, like Shillington and Sinking Spring, until they merged into Wilson.  Then, like in the case of Oley, after a while started printing separate yearbooks for their Elementary School and Middle School.  These are just a few examples.  I still wonder how they came up with their names like Colophon (Wyomissing High School) and Muhltohi (Muhlenberg Township High School).  Maybe if I had the opportunity to read the inside it would be explained.

PLEASE NOTE:  when requesting yearbooks in the HJL, researchers should request by Township, except for Reading.  We all know the Arxalma is for Reading High School.

Now, why are they over-looked as primary resources?  Go, grab your senior yearbook.  Go ahead.  Open it up.  Now, when your done laughing at your hairstyle, clothes or what your friend wrote over her picture, really take a look.  Yearbooks, especially a full run, whether it’s yours from Kindergarten till graduation, or a 50 year run for a school district are a treasure trove of information.  While they “attempt” to document a school year, they actually chronicle clothing and hair styles, changes in attitudes and societal influences.  Often, they document “current” events for a particular year all under the auspices of “Memories”. Best of all, they have photographs.  So, if you can remember your grandmother’s maiden name and what year she graduated, you can see a picture of her, when she was 16, 17 or 18 and just starting to make her way in the world.

While they are a reminder of your past and 18 years of your life that some people want to forget, or in my case can’t really remember, they document a society.  Currently, my yearbooks are at my parents house in New York.  But I did happen upon one or two while processing for 1995.  I am a graduate of Newfane Senior High, Class of 1995.  In looking through those yearbooks, they reminded me of mine.  Even though there is (what seems like) a gazillion miles distance between Berks County and Newfane, NY, we all had the same hair styles, clothes, and un-stylish glasses.  We all acted the same, thought about the same things; all had the same hopes and dreams that were rudely dashed upon entering college.  We all struck out into this world wanting to contribute and make something of ourselves, just like our parents (Class of 1960-something) and our grandparents (class of 1930-something).  And lets face it…we all thought we had style back then!

So, while your home visiting family this Holiday Season, break out those yearbooks.  Whether they are yours or your parents, take a look.  You might be surprised at what you’ll learn or uncover within those pages that can add to a family discussion, or your research!

From all of us at the Henry Janssen Library have a very MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HANUKKAH and a very safe and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Awkward Middle School Years

First Impressions

From the Collection of the Henry Janssen Library, Historical Society of Berks County

 

When I first started at the Historical Society, the curator was working on the World War I & World War II exhibit.  Even though the archives was not asked to participate, curiosity got the best of me and I went in search of images that could have been used for the exhibit.  The one above has been and still remains today to be one of my favorite images in our collection.

The Henry Janssen Library has over 20,000 images in its collection (probably more) and we have started the monumental task of digitizing all of the images for preservation and accessibility.  This project, like most of our inventorying projects, will take years to do because we can only work on the photographs when time, volunteers and money for supplies permit it.  There are other rare gems in our collection and I cannot wait to see them.

Regardless, choosing this picture is not why I am blogging about it.  In a few weeks, the library will be hosting a Senior Seminar from Albright College.  During their time here, I have to teach Seniors in the History Department the difference between primary and secondary resources.  When I first hosted this professor and she explained the premiss of the visit, I asked myself…”Shouldn’t they already know the difference?”  Apparently not.  Instead of concentrating on the differences, I focus on their uses.  It’s the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of History.  How would you use a letter, map, deed, a newspaper or a photograph to interpret or enhance your history?  Better yet…what is the story these items tell you?

Every time I look at this image, which up until six months ago was hanging on my door, I keep getting different answers.  I originally hung the copy up to try and scare people off from constantly parading through my office.  During World War I, this image probably did illicit fear, fear of poison gas, death in the trenches, or about war in general.  It mostly gave people a chuckle as the entered or left my office.  Today, looking at this image, I imagine what those men were thinking.  “This is the only photograph I’ve ever had and no one is going to see my face.”  “You want us to do what, pose with our gear on?  Why?”  “UGH!  This is so hot when will this be done?”  I like the soldier on the far left, who seems to be slouched like “maybe if I make myself smaller, no one will notice?”

Photographs tell stories as well as document a moment in time.  Looking back through your photographs, what do those images tell you?  What stories can you see, envision, or relate?  Most importantly, how does that image tell your history?

Note: The US National Archives Facebook pages host a weekly caption contest.  They post a unique image from their collection and ask their “friends” to come up with the best caption to describe that image.  My personal favorite was a group on men kneeling by beavers, that were on leashes.  Look for it, they might have it archived on their site.  It is a fun and interesting way to look at the photographs.  If you had to pick a caption for the above image, what would it be?