Category: Getting to Know You

Getting to Know Mattie Clear

Mattie Clear is the Reference Archives Assistant in the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections and began graduate studies at Simmons College this semester (Fall 2018).

Portrait of Mattie

It’s Mattie!

When did you first think that studying archives management/history was for you?

It’s hard to point to an exact moment as my broad love of libraries and history has always been prevalent. I come from a long line of teachers (my mother is a kindergarten teacher with an affinity for children’s books and my grandfather was a high school US history teacher), so it’s no surprise that a love of reading and history was instilled from birth.

During the months leading up to my freshman year at William & Mary I hadn’t considered being a history major, though looking back the conversion seems inevitable. It was through my position as a Student Assistant at the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at William & Mary that I came to fall in love with history again. I would remain in SCRC for 4 and a half years, first as a student assistant and later as an Archives Assistant processing collections, answering reference questions, helping teach classes, and curating an exhibit. My love of the previously untold histories, like those of enslaved women, began to blossom thanks to the collections I worked with and the classes I took. Within my first year, I declared History and Sociology as my majors and was enrolled in the National Institute of American History and Democracy’s Collegiate Program (NIAHD). NIAHD’s focus is on Early American History, Material Culture, and Museum Studies which allowed me to experience museums and the idea of public history in a way that I had not previously considered. The intertwined nature of my love of archives and history, resulted in my inability to choose which passion I would pursue in graduate school. Lucky for me, Simmons had a program that would allow me to continue learning in both disciplines… and well, the rest is history.

You’re not from here are you?

How’d you know? My accent? The terrified look in my eye at the mention of New England winters? I grew up in Chilhowie, VA, a small town in the Appalachian Mountains located at the base of Mt. Rogers (aka the highest point in Virginia and home to some of the prettiest views on the Appalachian Trail). This childhood explains my slight southern twang and my love of the outdoors.

Photograph from White Top Mountain on the Appalachian Trail (the peak beside Mt. Rogers), Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, taken by Mattie.

I spent my last four years in Williamsburg, VA where I received my undergraduate degree from the College of William & Mary. With this in mind, home loosely refers to Virginia as a whole.

MattieClearVirginiaMountains

Photograph from White Top Mountain on the Appalachian Trail (the peak beside Mt. Rogers), Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, taken by Mattie.

What has your first year at Simmons been like? Favorite classes? Surprises?

My first few months at Simmons have been an adjustment, but I am beyond excited to study there. In addition to the full course load, trying to navigate a new city/city living in general has resulted in a rather large learning curve. Prior to moving here, I had previously lived in Washington, DC for a summer while I worked at the Library of Congress, so thankfully I gained some public transportation navigation experience there. I am slowly but surely learning my way around and establishing a routine. With regards to classes, I’m realizing that I know more than I thought I did, but that I also have so much more to learn. I look forward to seeing where the next three years take me.

What was the last book that you read and what did you think of it?

I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t really have much time for pleasure reading these days. With this in mind, I have found myself re-reading old favorites. The most recent in this trend is Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This book describes a feminist utopia composed entirely of women that is “discovered” by three European men representing the spectrum of male personalities. It is an easy and relatively quick read (~100), so if you’re a fan of utopias or Gilman I would definitely recommend it.

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

This question is so hard because I love so many different types of foods. However, if I had to choose one thing, it would probably be some form of a burrito/burrito bowl accompanied by chips and salsa. This meal would allow for variation as a result of the wide array of toppings that can be put in a burrito. Additionally, burritos have everything you need to survive because of the protein, veggies, and dairy products present.

Mattie Clear

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Getting to Know Rebecca Roper

Rebecca Roper was an alternative spring break placement during the week of  March 12-16 in the Institute Archives and Special Collections. She attends Wayne State University in the MLIS program.

When did you first think that studying archives management/history was for you?

I initially went into my bachelor’s degree intending to study biology or chemistry, but in my first semester I took an archaeology class for my humanities credit and it was all downhill from there. I ended up double majoring in history and art history, and from my first days in archaeology I realized I enjoyed working with objects and materials related to history. As I prepared to graduate from my bachelor’s, library and information science was a natural progression after my volunteer and work experience in archives and museums throughout my degree. I ended up moving to Scotland to pursue a master’s in art history first, so there was a pause in my path to librarianship, but once I returned to the States, I decided to get my MLIS as well.

What has your time in the program at Wayne State been like? 

I’m completing my MLIS degree and certificate in archival administration online, which has been a different experience than more traditional, face-to-face college classes. I have enjoyed the flexibility this affords me, since I have worked full time the majority of my degree. I really appreciate how hands-on and practical the class assignments have been, which has allowed me to develop skills in both library and archival settings. It’s still a little weird to adjust to not having that classroom camaraderie with your classmates, however. That’s why I enjoy experiences like this internship where I get to work with others in the field and learn from them.

What did you work on while on alternative spring break at IASC?

I was at IASC for my alternate spring break through Wayne State. The main project I worked on was continuing an inventory for an accession from the MIT Office of Digital Learning. This collection has a bunch of different media formats, from U-Matic and VHS tapes, open reel tapes, videodiscs, and  floppy discs. These were all from previous offices and programs for media instruction and learning, dating to the mid 1980s to early 2000s. I also spent time with Nancy McGovern, Kari Smith, and Joe Carrano discussing digital preservation and digital forensics, as well as meeting with various other members of the library and archive staff to learn about their roles in the archive. This was a great experience to gain practical experience with audio-visual materials and archival practice, and learn about different roles within a larger academic library.

What was the last book that you read and what did you think of it?

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. This was a fun book about a secret government department studying time travel and magic, and a Harvard professor who gets sucked into things and trapped in time (and bureaucracy). It’s a long book, but a good read and I would recommend it!

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

Quesadillas and smoothies, my two favorite foods! It’s also easy to change up what goes into them so I wouldn’t get bored.

Getting to Know Joe Carrano

Picture of Joe Carrano

Picture of Joe Carrano, Digital Archivist at MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections. Photograph by Mike Matason.

What lead you to work in archives?

It started when I was a history major in college and I was trying to figure out what to do after I graduated. I wanted to do something other than become a teacher or do something that was not related to my degree entirely. One summer, I decided to take an archival internship at a local historical society to see if this type of work was for me. I spent the summer processing a collection of Civil War correspondence. I liked it enough that when I was back on campus at the University of Connecticut I got a position working in their archives. While there, I was involved in more aspects of archival work and really enjoyed making collections accessible to researchers and facilitating use. After a while I began thinking about archives as a career path. This was also when I became curious about electronic records. Instructions while processing collections (to a student worker like myself) generally were to note them in the finding aid and someone else would deal with them later (with “later” being undefined). Once reading up on the current state of the field and the challenges born-digital records pose, I decided to focus on that while in grad school. Now I’m the digital archivist here and that’s pretty much all I think about!

Is this the first time you worked in the Boston area?

Yes! But I’m originally from Connecticut which has kept the culture shock of moving to New England from being too extreme. In the past few years I have worked in the DC Metro area and lived in Maryland.

What was the last book that you read and what did you think of it?

I’ve read two books recently, one is Shantytown, USA: Forgotten Landscapes of the Working Poor by Lisa Goff and The Stone Sky, the third and final book in the Broken Earth Series, by N. K. Jemisin. I enjoyed both of them for different reasons. Shantytown is a traditional academic monograph that chronicles the place of the shantytown in the nineteenth and twentieth century culture of the United States. It hits most of the buttons for me of my historical interests including urban, environmental, and landscape history. Even if those subjects aren’t your particular interest, I think it would still be fascinating to many people and it’s fairly accessible for an academic book. One fun fact from the book: Henry David Thoreau lived in a reconstructed shanty during his time at Walden Pond but described it as a “cabin” for classist reasons.

The Stone Sky is a great continuation of the rest of the series. It’s a science fiction and fantasy book centered on the aftermath of apocalyptic earthquakes and the legacy and impact of things that happened thousands of years in that world’s past. It has a lot of powerful writing on family, race, prejudice, and the environment along with being a generally enjoyable story. Plus some characters in the story have the power to move the earth with their mind, if that’s something you’re into. The rights to the series have been bought by TNT, so read them now if you want to be one of those people that can say “the books were better” or just avoid reading altogether and watch once it reaches TV.

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

This is a tough question because I love so many different types of food. If I had to choose, I think it would be something simple like pasta dish with some combo of olive oil, garlic, cheese, veggie, and protein. It tastes great and it has everything that you need to survive. And it has garlic in it, which is one of the best things in in the world.

Getting to Know Katherine Crowe

Katherine Crowe, as viewed from table 4 in the reading room

Katherine, as viewed from the reading room.

When did you first think that studying archives management/history was for you?

When I first started college, I resisted the idea of being an English major (partly because everyone assumed that’s what I would do). But after an initial semester as a Psych major, I succumbed to the inevitable. I knew that as an English major I needed to have a plan for after graduation, especially with the Speech Communication minor that I chose for the useful life skills. I knew I didn’t want to be a high school English teacher. I had a brief internship in fundraising and event planning, but that didn’t appeal to me long term. I worked in marketing and strategic communications for a while in college and I enjoyed it, but didn’t want to do that long term either. I briefly flirted with the idea of continuing through to a PhD and becoming an English professor, but the realities of working in higher education and the constant pressure to publish seemed too grim.

So I eventually turned to Google and stumbled upon (was reminded of?) the wonderful world of library science and archives. I almost enrolled in Simmons’ dual degree program for the MSLIS and MFA in Children’s Literature, but after working with small children in the after-school program and summer day camp at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, I realized how emotionally draining working with kids full time can be. In retrospect, it makes sense that I ended up here: my kindergarten best friend’s mom was the local librarian so I spent a lot of time in the library growing up and I have always had an interest in history but never the motivation to be a historian.

You’re not from around here are you?

No! I grew up in a small town in South Carolina, right in the middle of the state: the midlands or alternatively the Mustard Belt if you’re talking about barbecue. My mom is from Connecticut and my dad is from Wisconsin/Maryland depending on when you ask him, so I had a unique adolescence that was at once very southern and very not southern. I got my undergraduate degree at the University of South Carolina and moved here in 2014 when I started at Simmons.

Any exciting plans for summer?

No big, exciting plans for the rest of the summer. My only plans are to go to the beach as often as I can, go to restaurants with roof decks and patio seating, and enjoy the warmth as much as possible before winter comes.

What was the last book that you read and what did you think of it?

It’s not the last book I read, but whenever book recommendations come up I always take the chance to plug it — You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman. It is, without a doubt, the weirdest book I have ever read and is one of my favorites. It’s hard to describe it in a way that would adequately convey the experience that is reading this book. It’s about empathy, consumerism, consumption, fame, bodies, and questioning the concept of ‘self.’ This review from Marie Claire says it well, “Don’t be fooled by the sassy title — the cravings that lurk beneath the surface in this completely original debut will haunt what a body means to you indefinitely.” Everyone should read it. [And after you read it, give yourself a week to decide whether you liked it or not.]

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

If I could only eat one meal for the rest of my life I would re-live a particular meal I had while on vacation in 2013. In college I studied abroad in Ireland and had the opportunity to travel to Crete, the largest of the Greek islands. My friend and I were staying in Agii Apostoli, a small beach town right outside of Chania. It was a couple of weeks before the main tourism season started, so our hotel was mostly empty and we ended up making friends with the brothers who ran it. One evening we asked them for a dinner recommendation and instead ‘they were on their way out to dinner anyways and why don’t we just come with them’. They were going to a vegan slow food restaurant where they knew the owner/chef and promised that we would get the authentic Greek experience and it would be the best meal we’d ever had.

On the way there we were subject to a sermon about what a meal should be. Apparently everyone (except the Greeks) does it wrong — we eat too quickly and don’t take time to properly experience it. A meal is not merely food it is an event. A meal should be eaten leisurely over the course of several hours with multiple courses, lively conversation, and plenty of wine. The purpose of a meal is spending time with friends and family; it is supposed to be enjoyed.

“To Stachi” Bio Slow Food is a small cafe on the waterfront in downtown Chania and the owner, Stelios, is one of the warmest and friendliest people you will ever meet. He took us back into the kitchen and showed us what he was making that day, how it was prepared, and talked at length about the slow food movement and the importance of traditional cuisine and utilizing local ingredients. Everything in the constant stream of dishes that Stelios brought out to us was delicious. There was freshly baked bread, Kalamata olives from the tree in the backyard, 20 different dishes that I can unfortunately only remember in the abstract, and a golden raisin cake for dessert that remains the only dish with raisins in it that I have ever enjoyed in my life. We philosophized, learned some Greek — yàmas (cheers) and efcharistó (thank you), sampled a variety of local wines, and ate an excess of wonderful food with new and old friends. By far the best meal I’ve ever had.

Photograph of "To Stachi" Bio Slow Food, Chania, Crete, Greece.

Photograph of “To Stachi” Bio Slow Food, Chania, Crete, Greece, taken by Katherine.

– Katherine Crowe

Getting to Know Alexandra Bush

Alexandra is a 130-hour intern from Simmons GSLIS who has been working in the Institute Archives and Special Collections since early June, conducting research on the men who supported the founding of MIT. Her internship ends at the end of July.

Photograph of Alexandra Bush, Reference Intern at MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections, Summer 2017.

Photograph of Alexandra Bush, Reference Intern at MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections, Summer 2017.

When did you first think that studying archives management/history was for you?

History has been my true love since first grade, after I developed an obsession with the Revolutionary War during our unit on Independence Day. I was an American Studies major at Smith College, but I discovered early on that I don’t have nearly enough charisma to be a history professor or enough patience to be a history writer. I still wanted to do something history-related, and when I discovered archives through a short intro class, I fell in love. From there I spent as much time in the Smith College Archives as possible, somehow landed an internship at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and finished undergrad with a concentration in archives. I’ve been working in various libraries and archives ever since, and I hope to keep my passion for history alive throughout my career.

What has your first year at Simmons been like? Favorite classes? Surprises?

My first year at Simmons was stressful, but also very rewarding. Over the course of the year I encountered html and xml coding for the first time, became fixated on the “correct” way to organize things, and learned more than I ever wanted to know about the twisted logic of the Library of Congress subject heading system. Even though it was a hard-won skill, my ability to explain the twisted logic of the Library of Congress subject heading system is now one of my favorite things to inflict on people. Why can’t “Spontaneous human” be a valid subdivision for “Combustion?” Count on the Library of Congress to have a reason. Although balancing full-time grad school, a job, and sporadic internships can be challenging and at times very stressful, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at Simmons and am excited to begin my second year. I am especially excited for my class on photographic archives this coming September.

Any exciting plans for summer?

This is a busy summer for me. In addition to my internship at MIT IASC, I am continuing my job in the Reader Services department of the Massachusetts Historical Society (which grew from the aforementioned internship! That’s networking, kids!). I’m also taking a summer class on preservation at Simmons. In my elusive spare time this summer I plan to spend time riding my bike, baking, getting horrible sunburns at the beach, and sitting in front of my A/C unit.

What was the last book that you read and what did you think of it?

It’s very hard for me to find time to read for pleasure these days, so the embarrassing truth is that the last book I read was actually written by one of the subjects of my project for this internship. Robert Morris Copeland, a signer of the “Act of Association” and a landscape gardener, was extremely opinionated about his field. He wrote a book entitled Country Life: A Handbook of Agriculture, Horticulture, and Landscape Gardening in which he explains everything from how to raise Merino sheep to what types of trees to plant in a park. He also spends a few chapters absolutely ripping apart the Boston Common, which he thought was a massive waste of aesthetic opportunity. I had to read the foreword for some biographical fact-checking, but I ended up emailing the PDF copy to myself to read at home. I read the entire book in a day and a half and I have no regrets.

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

One of my “weekday” meal shortcuts is to sauté peppers and onions, marinate some steak strips with lime juice and spices, and lay everything gently over a bed of black beans and saffron rice. I could very easily eat it every day.

-Alexandra Bush

Getting to know Allison Blanning

As the new Collections Assistant, Allison Blanning will be diving deep into many aspects of collections work including arranging and housing materials in folders and boxes, describing materials using ArchivesSpace, and transferring records from offices to the IASC. Allison is currently finishing up her first year at Simmons where she is studying for a dual degree in Archives Management and History. She graciously said she would be the first person featured in a “getting to know you” blog post for the IASC blog!

When did you first think that studying archives management/history was for you?

Hi everyone! I am so excited to be working here in the IASC at MIT. I have known that I wanted to study both archives and history for a while now. I entered my undergraduate career at Connecticut College as a declared anthropology/archaeology major but soon realized that history and the study of the documents and other items that people leave behind is what truly interested me. The summer before my junior year of college, I began an Archival Internship at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, California to see if archives and museums were something that I wanted to pursue; I loved my internship there and have not stopped since.

What has your first year at Simmons been like? Favorite classes? Surprises?

My first year at Simmons has been great, all around. In particular, I really enjoyed the Introductory Archives Course that I took this spring, which paired me with an internship at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. Additionally, after so many years of being “the archives” girl at my college, it has been really nice to be surrounded by other students from diverse backgrounds and geographical areas who share the same academic interest. I am also excited for a course next fall, which will be examining Indian history and its archival practices, and concluding with a two-week long trip to India!

Any exciting plans for summer?

This summer, I will be enrolled in one summer history course as Simmons as well as working here at MIT, continuing my internship at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, and completing a Cataloging Internship at the Chilton Club here in Boston. I hope to visit the beach somewhere in there as well!

What was the last book that you read and what did you think of it?

Forward by Abby Wambach

I recently finished reading Abby Wambach’s memoir Forward, which outlines her rise to soccer stardom, struggle to come to terms with her sexuality, and attempts to become sober after years of alcoholism and prescription drug abuse. I played soccer all the way through college at the club level and I found her writing to be captivating and honest. Her book was a welcome respite from my mountains of assigned readings for my graduate program.

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

This food question is a difficult one because to be honest, I love all types of food, except for vegetables. Those close to me know that I survive on one food staple: peanut butter. When I lived in Italy, I made sacrifices so that I could afford the imported Skippy peanut butter that was an outrageous $7.00 a jar. When I am feeling lazy and not wanting to cook, a classic PB & J sandwich never lets me down.

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