Asking the Right Questions

As promised, here I am, ready to talk about the process of creating an exhibit. With the exciting and very daunting task of taking overwhelming amounts of exciting material and finding about 100 pieces total to fit in 8 glass cases, the most important thing to do is to take the process one step at a time. This meant, for me, making a general timeline of my 4 months ahead of me, and what stage I should be at by each point. For example, I knew that the exhibit would be installed in early April, which meant that I should have all of my captions written in the week previous, and working backwards from there, that meant I should have all of my items chosen and organized by the third week in March. This left me with about 8 weeks of research. But where to begin with that?

My first step in any research project, whether exhibit or thesis, is to start with the broader picture. Starting research can often feel like diving into a pool, being thrown into unfamiliar waters with no sense of perspective until you come up for air and look around. While diving in can certainly be exciting, it often gets me off-track very quickly. With this project, I had the massive pool of the Philbrick Collection of Letters and Theatre to swim in. The collection accounts for a quarter of the first floor of the Special Collections Library at Honnold/Mudd, not including the materials in the Philbrick Art Collection, which has boxes upon boxes of costume designs, posters and other mixed media. While I was going through the boxes that were given to me to catalog – namely boxes full of materials on Victorian actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry – I began to get a sense of what kind of focus this collection had.

In general, I recognized that the Philbrick Collection centers around people, and networks of people particularly in the 19th and 20th century. Irving and Terry in particular were an epicenter of connections to many other famous British figures of the time, including Bram Stoker, who wrote Dracula. Theatre really served as the center of entertainment and creativity, and was a physical place in which people could gather and meet, and eventually form friendships and partnerships. It was these networks of people, I came to realize, that were responsible for continuing to produce Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s name would appear amongst the playbills and programs for other works, and in articles about Victorian actors including Charles Kean, Terry and Irving. I knew that I could continue to look for materials about Terry and Irving’s roles in producing and performing Victorian Shakespeare, but the question remained for the rest of my research: who was responsible for producing and performing Shakespeare in the 18th and 20th centuries, and were these people present in the Philbrick Collection? Who were they, and what kind of influence did they have on British, and as it would turn out, American theatre?

Tune in soon to find out!

There’ll be Singing in the Library (Eventually)

Hello again, dear readers,

What a week! Finals loom around the corner, which is typically fine, but as a grad student it means term paper deadlines draw near. Ah, how I miss simply studying for a final, but enough about me…

Scratch that: I’m going to keep talking about me.

The Powers That Be and I have been talking about how to celebrate and publicize the fruits of my labor with CCEPS (above and beyond my heartfelt blogging with you, that is). Amy’s magnificent exhibition has been quite the success and I had a mind to undertake something similar until I realized how best to present my work with my collection. My music collection.

I don’t talk about it much, but I actually have two degrees in music. My background in music is the very reason that the Powers That Be and I agreed the Joseph Clokey Papers would be a fitting collection for me to process. So, when the time comes next semester for me to discuss my work at CCEPS, I’ll actually be performing some of the music in the collection as well. I had thought my classical singing days were behind me, but it seems I’ve been mistaken…!

I haven’t worked out the entirety of the program, but I know for certain that I will be singing an aria from one of Joseph Clokey’s operettas: a musical setting of Our American Cousin. Now, Clokey’s work is not to be confused with the opera by Eric Sawyer of the same title, as that work is about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at a performance of the original play of the same title at the Ford Theatre in 1865. Confused yet? Good, didn’t think so.

I don’t know much else yet about the recital, but I can tell you this: the aria in question requires a small display of yodeling. Exciting, no?

Alright, I have to sign off for now, but I’m sure I’ll have more exciting finds in the archives next week.

Till then!



Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

After all of those long hours of research and preparation, the day of the launch of the exhibit, “Shakespeare at 450: Keeping the Name Alive” arrived! And without a glitch! I’m very used to the day of performance being bubbling over with stress and anticipation – making sure everyone knows where to go, that the location and staff are on board, that I’ve done my part thoroughly, and of course, that the event itself is enjoyable. The event was to start at 7pm on April 14, so of course I arrived at 6pm, anticipating last-minute frenzy. Instead, I was met with the delightful sight of my exhibit, as I had installed it the week previous, seeming to beam and shine in its cases, Lisa, Carrie and Kate Crocker ready to introduce me, the student performers warming up for their sonnet recitations, and the Founder’s Room all arranged. Everything was in order!

The event was everything I could have hoped for and more. The energy was lively and joyous, the food labeled with Shakespearean puns (“O Oreo, Oreo, wherefore art thou Oreo?”), and me, the curator, exuberant. My family drove out from Los Angeles to be part of the audience, as well as close friends, but there was also an entire class, and members of the Claremont Shakespeare community who had heard about the exhibit and performance and wanted to come out. It’s always thrilling to see faces that I don’t recognize, because it shows the scope and breadth of the outreach of my project, as well as just how many people do indeed love Shakespeare.

Olivia Buntaine’s directed performance of Shakespearean sonnets was the icing on the birthday cake. Olivia, a junior at Scripps College, has aspirations of being a Shakespearean actor, and after having seen her in her directed production of “Twelfth Night” last semester, I knew that if I was going to have a performance element to the launch of my exhibit, that I wanted her to direct it. The performance, entitled, “Who Will Believe My Verse in Time To Come?”, after the eponymous sonnet, wove seven romantic Shakespearean sonnets together into one narrative, following the arc of love through infatuation, deep passion, fading connections, and letting go. The performance was a perfect union of passion and sharp, witty Shakespearean language, and as the actors followed one after the other, occasionally falling over each other to get their passionate thoughts out, the audience was clearly enraptured. When the performance ended, it was as though a spell had broken, and as people filed out into the lobby to view the exhibit, I felt as though the performance had achieved something very important for the exhibit: it had drawn everyone together to experience Shakespeare as he is meant to be – performed in front of an audience, and then remembered and celebrated as a community.

The Victory Notebook

Hello Again!

I promised last week that, as I continue to process the Joseph Clokey Papers, I would share any treasures I discovered along the way. Well, it just so happens that I’ve already found something that I consider to be a pretty neat little piece of American history. And in a music collection no less!

Part of the joy of working with archival materials is
that you really never know what you’re going to find. I encounter this all the
time, both as an end-user researcher who works with archival materials and as
an archival fellow getting hands-on experience at CCEPS. The thrill of
discovery came no later for me than in the initial phase of digging into a collection:
the survey. During an archival survey, archivists sort through the entirety of
the collection to get a sense of its scope, content, and condition, making
notes to themselves as they go and, in general, just sort of “feeling out” the
materials. When a repository acquires a collection,
the archivists have a general sense of what it contains, but the specific items can sometimes be unexpected, and often in very delightful ways.

Jospeh Clokey worked as a music educator at a time when
our country was at war. The repercussions of World War II on American students
and teachers is reflected even in their classroom materials and something as innocuous
as a notebook shows us the extent of the war effort. This page was
included in the back of a string-bound notebook that contained a portion of Clokey’s
lecture notes:

 Thumbnail image for Honor Notebook Page.jpg

Something that we take for granted today, metal-ringed
binders, were untenable during World War II, as the metal was essential to the
manufacturing of military weapons, artillery, war machines, and supplies. I didn’t expect to
learn about the effects of war on American education in a collection dominated
by sacred choral music and opera scores, but there you have it! This is the
stuff of history, people!

I also took a scan of the notebook’s inside cover . . . notice anything missing from the Pledge of Allegiance? (Here’s a clue: The
missing phrase was not added to the pledge until June 14, 1954.)

Honor Notebook Interior.jpg

Until next time!


Starting at the End

These last few weeks have been particularly action-packed and exciting for me. As a Scripps senior, I’m getting down to the wire on my senior thesis, not to mention thinking about my future, and managing my extra-curricular activities. But in the whirl of editing papers and reading all of A Passage to India for class on time, I’ve been most eagerly anticipating and preparing for the premiere of my first ever archive exhibit this Monday, April 14 all about Shakespeare in honor of his 450th birthday.

To be perfectly honest, being a CCEPS archival fellow has been a dream come true. I’ve been an archival fellow before – twice before, in fact – but both projects were in digital humanities, and about the process of creating a virtual space that eases the archiving process and organizes old information in new, exciting ways (such as being able to search for the concept of illness in a text instead of just the word “influenza”). Going back to basics, as it were, by designing a physical exhibit with display cases and objects viewed side by side by side was something I’d never done before and had always wanted to do. And with Shakespeare as my case study?! Perfect.

Among my many interests, Shakespeare and English theatre is high on my list, and the volumes of materials relating to him are many, especially in Claremont’s Special Collections. The processes of digging through the archives, researching the materials I’ve found, finding a theme or narrative to use to have the exhibit tell a story, and narrowing down my topic, designing the exhibit, providing captions, organizing PR and publicity, and finally, installing the exhibit have each presented fun and challenging conundrums, and cool finds. Given that I’ve just completed the installation process, I’ll start at the very end, and talk about what that has been like. Each week’s new post will be a reflection on each step of this process.

Installing an exhibit is possibly the dirtiest and most chaotic part of the process. This is where trial and error has come most into play; seeing how the items fit together in their cases, what works visually and what does not, which cases might need more items after all, and remembering that bibliographic and contextual captions do indeed take up space. It has required me to dust off my aesthetic side and think about how the way things are organized and arranged influence what information viewers will take away from the exhibit. The items need to be visible, obviously, and lead the eye from one point to another, all the while presenting an underlying idea or concept.

I actually revised an entire case because of this. The case now entitled “Jubilees” was originally called “Places of Performance”, and would have been filled with photographs and illustrations of all of the theatres in the United States and England that I’ve compiled, in order to provide a comparison and contrast across the pond. However, that left items for celebrating Shakespeare completely homeless. And more importantly, these places of performance would be in the case next to the door, making it the first case people would notice. I needed something that was not only more eye-catching, but that provided the thesis of the exhibit while tempting the viewer to look further. Given that this exhibit is celebrating Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, as well as the celebrations in his honor throughout the centuries, jubilees was a much more appropriate theme. The places of performance went to other cases, and sure enough, the lovely illustration of the Shakespeare Jubilee in 1769 has already made passersby stop to look at what’s new in the cases.

I’m thrilled to host the launch for this exhibit this upcoming Monday, and look forward to receiving feedback from people once the exhibit goes live. I’ll be wearing yellow stockings for the occasion!

Welcome, Welcome!

Welcome Archivists, Archive Enthusiasts, and the Archival Curious! 

My name is Mikael Sebag and I am a master’s student in Claremont Graduate University’s History and Archival Studies program. I also just so happen to be one of the two inaugural fellows for the Claremont Center for Engagement with Primary Sources (but let’s just call it CCEPS, shall we?). Here at Out of the Box, my esteemed colleague Amy and I will be updating you (and other fine readers) on the exciting work we’re undertaking here at CCEPS. It’s hard to fully articulate just how thrilling it is to not only work with rare and historical collections, but to know that what we’re doing at CCEPS will have a lasting impact on how future researchers will study these materials.

Currently, I am working on processing the papers of Joseph W. Clokey (1890-1960), a beloved organist, educator, and composer who taught for a time at Pomona College. The father of Gumby creator Art Clokey, Joseph Clokey’s musical output included symphonies, operas, operettas, chamber music, and choral music, both sacred and secular. His papers include published and unpublished scores, letters, concert programs, newspaper clippings, and countless other odds and ends from Clokey’s extraordinary life–and it’s all here in the archives of the Claremont Colleges Library.

My project at CCEPS is to take the enormity of this collection (all 162 boxes, yikes!) and distill it into a body of materials that researchers will find both valuable and easy to navigate. In fact, this is the same kind of work that archivists at major research libraries and institutions undertake the world over. As an aspiring archivist myself, to be entrusted with this degree of professional responsibility is both a deep honor and a humbling experience. It is a Petrarchan oxymoron of sorts, but then, the best things in life usually are. 

In the coming weeks, I will share with you my struggles and successes as I continue to process the Joseph Clokey Papers. Together we’ll explore the ins and outs of archival survey, arrangement, and description, and I’ll be sure to let you in on any treasures I find along the way.

In the meantime, let’s hear one of Clokey’s pieces, “The Snow Legend,” given musical life by three tremendously talented (high school!) singers. Also, what happens after the first 27 seconds is priceless.

Click Here to Watch “The Snow Legend” on YouTube

Until next time!