Today I spent the day learning how to create metadata for
all the documents I’ve scanned in the past month. Like the assessment I made last week when I discussed digitizing
the Frankish copy book, I’ll never look at metadata the same! It’s surprisingly
difficult to whittle down a pamphlet or document to the right key words and
subjects that will lead researches to the materials they seek. I hope my first attempt at creating metadata (which I probably spent way too much time overthinking it)
proves fruitful for future researches hoping to learn more about the Etiwanda
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I’m finishing my second week of scanning the 500-page
Charles Frankish copy book. At 150 pages per week, I expect to be working on
the book for the remainder of my fellowship. That’s right! It will likely be seven
to eight weeks before I finish scanning the book in its entirety because once I
scan through the whole right-side of the book, I’ll begin on the left. Now that
I know how much time goes into digitizing whole books, I will read them with a
Right now this process simply involves the scanning
of each delicate page. My attempts at producing meaning out of the handwritten letters
have mostly been futile as the ink is blurred due to the copying process and is
often quite faint. However, in the coming weeks we will receive printed
transcripts of the letters produced by a handwriting expert. The metadata that
I will create when I finish scanning the copy book will come from these
transcripts, which I now look forward to having just read Alfonso’s post on how
the letters from the Chaffey brothers reveal their contrasting personalities.
For now however the contents of what I’m scanning will remain a mystery.
I’ve had a chance to work on other materials as well.
In between scans of the Frankish book, I’ve begun scanning a pamphlet published
by The Ontario Land & Improvement Company in 1909. Falling under what Kiera
describes as ephemeral materials in her latest post, the pamphlet serves as an
advertisement seeking to persuade Americans to come west and live and invest in
the newly established “City That Charms” – Ontario, California.
Before the photocopier, companies and businesses had to handwrite copies for their records. By the end of the 19th century, businesses
were using a “copy book” or “wet letter book” which consisted of sometimes a
1000 pages of razor thin tissue paper bound in a hard cover.
How the copy book worked is that the letter to be copied would
be placed under the right-hand page, while the left-hand page would be dampened
with water in order to make the copy. The
book was then closed and squeezed in a copy or letter press. When the book was
opened, the letter would be taken out to dry and its copy would remain on the
right-hand side of the book. When the Ontario Land & Improvement Co. was
conducting business in the 1880s, the use of such copy books would have been
standard practice in their offices.
This week, I’ve been scanning the pages of a copy book
consisting of letters written by the Manager of the Ontario Land &
Improvement Co., Charles Frankish. The dates in the copy book range from April
4, 1886 to June 11, 1888, ranging in legibility due to age and perhaps even the quality of the print made by the
individual making the copies. The ink in some letters is prominent and clear, while
in others it is faded due to natural age or blurred during the copying process.
It’s interesting to think about how the technology used to
make the copies in the copy book were made with technology that was just as
innovative as the book scanner I’m using to make digital copies of that 19th
century wet letter copy book. How will
we be making copies of our digital copies 150 years from now?
Below are photographs of individual letters from the
Frankish wet letter book.
My name is Marissa Hicks-Alcaraz and I’m the final fellow
assigned to the CLIR CCEPS water archival project for the Fall semester. I
thought I’d begin my first entry by briefly introducing myself and my interest
in the project.
I’m a second-year PhD student in Claremont Graduate
University’s Cultural Studies program with a focus on the representation of Chicanx/Latinx
cultural identity in film and moving image art, as well as its curation by
cultural institutions such as film festivals, cinematecs, and museums. I’m also
the Programming Director at the Latin American Cinemeteca of Los Angeles, and teach
undergraduate courses on Chicanx/Latinx and Middle Eastern cinemas at Cal Poly,
Pomona in the Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department as an adjunct lecturer.
What initially attracted me to the CLIR project was an
opportunity to learn about the collaborative process among various Southern
California libraries to digitize a mass collection of archival materials. I’m
currently working on a grant to obtain funding for a similar project that would
digitize materials across various personal and library collections in Southern California
related to Chicanx film and filmmaking. A week in and I’ve already gained a lot
of valuable insights regarding this process, such as the kind of equipment used
to digitize archival material and the resources needed to execute such a large
I’ve also come upon some unexpected surprises as well. While
reading through the beautifully handwritten notes (nearly a lost art in the 21st
century as suggested by Alfonso in his last entry) within a minutes log book
from a meeting of the board of directors of the Etiwanda Water Company held in October
1890, I was surprised to come across some juicy drama. While the entry was vague
on details, it described what was referred to as a “grave and unprovoked assault”
(fist fight perhaps?) committed by a father and son team against the board’s Secretary
of the Treasury, and also the author of the minutes log book. The board
resolved to “take action thereon to vindicate its own respectability as well as
to protect its officers in the discharge of their duties.” It’s fascinating to
see how the motivations for taking the issue to court was just as much about
defending the company’s honor as it was about defending its officer…
I’m looking forward to filling you in on more water drama in
the coming weeks!