Archivist as Gatekeeper: Liisa Freeh (’13) on the MAPH Internship at the Newberry Library

From the Newberry’s CB&Q Collection

My experience in MAPH taught me the relevance of archival work and the way it breathes life into the arguments I want to make in my field. My MAPH internship made me a participant, a gatekeeper, in that archival work. As an intern in the Department of Special Collections at the Newberry Library, I have been working on the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad Collection. My internship coincided with the last few months of the multi-year project of processing this large collection. My primary responsibility was the processing and arrangement of correspondence between land agents, and various parties involved in land transactions. CB&Q land agents wrote to businessmen, firms that sold land to other individuals, lawyers, small businesses, and countless hopeful farmers. These thousands of letters all deal with land transactions, but they also track a living history. In reading and processing these letters, I have been able to form a picture of CB&Q’s part in American corporate growth, as well as the development of countless small towns across the United States.

The Newberry has a welcoming atmosphere. Working in the library setting is a fantastic opportunity for scholars in MAPH, especially because of the people there. Working with the team of archivists on a single project made me feel connected – something of a new experience after the primarily solitary activities of close reading and writing papers. This setting provides a new way to participate in academic conversations, and also empowers workers to be gatekeepers. Managing primary source materials means that archivists effectively decide what is seen, and how. That kind of responsibility was, for me, an invigorating aspect of this position.







Liisa graduated from MAPH in June 2013.



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