Graduate student Jami Wilson spent the summer working as an intern at the U. S. Olympic Committee Archives in downtown Colorado Springs. Here, she reflects on some of the gems she found in those archives, and why History research so rocks!
Upon my admittance to the History MA program at UCCS, I immediately sought to gain hands-on experience within a public history institution. My ultimate goal was to receive a PhD in Chinese History. With this goal in mind I recognized the prevalence of public history sites for professional researchers. Without archives, for example, many up and coming manuscripts within the field of history would be impossible. Historians often thank many of the institutions that provided them with research materials on the acknowledgments page of their work—archives, museums, libraries, etc.—and thus I wanted to know how these institutions worked on a deeper level than simply visiting an archive for sources.
After meeting with Dr. Jimenez, we both agreed that volunteering at the Crawford Family U.S. Olympic Archives would be most relevant to my pursuit of Chinese history. This institution hosts records, artifacts, photographs, and books detailing every Olympic Games held in East Asia (Tokyo 1964, Sapporo 1972, Seoul 1988, Beijing 2008). In short, although Colorado Springs is not a “hub” for research on China, I found a way to gain experience within public history as well as work with records and objects specifically relevant to my area of study. I am fortunate to now be in a position where I have access to Beijing 2008 Olympic Games records for an upcoming research paper.
While at the Olympic Archives, I have completed a number of projects. I volunteered from September 2015-June 2016. Within that time I processed, organized, and inputted all Olympic Games manuscripts into the archival system of Past Perfect Museum Software. Past Perfect is a database that allows one to fully articulate what an object is, where it was made, what it was made for, how it was relevant, and so on. In the case of the Olympic Games records, each Olympic Games had between 1 and 17 boxes each to sort through and input. Considering the Olympic Archives hosts manuscripts from over 45 Olympic Games, this is quite the number of boxes to organize. I sorted records ranging from 1906 to 2014. After the completion of this project I had individually archived such manuscripts as programs, rules and regulations, results, newspapers, and media guides with folder-level descriptions for the purpose of creating a clear finding tool and digitally preserving historical documents. My supervisor Teri Hedgpeth has repeatedly mentioned the importance of the completion of this project because now when academics and researchers request information on a particular Olympic Games, such as Beijing 2008, she can pull up the Past Perfect container list I created and send the list to researchers. Researchers can then tell her the title of the exact manuscripts they want. Any researcher knows how valuable it is to have a list of available records that are clearly defined.
Teri asked me to take on an internship with her starting in June 2016 and I have since been at the archive. Within this time I have completed a number of projects. I have processed and accessioned various Olympic Games-related manuscripts and artifacts including records, pins, clothing, and art into Past Perfect Museum Software with vivid description and photographs in order to digitize materials for easy access. I created a coin collection by using Past Perfect Museum Software to locate, retrieve, and rehouse all coins from the processed collection for the purpose of more accurately placing items in the system and archives. I have researched significant figures, events, artifacts, and manuscripts to better contextualize the items being processed. I assisted Teri in creating displays as well as prepared displays for travel. I followed Teri during archive tours as well as gave archives tours which required content knowledge on materials. I have also answered questions and inquiries from other departments within the United States Olympic Committee as well as questions from individual researchers for the benefit of making information accessible to the corporation and academia. Cleaning artifacts and displays were also activities I completed that contributed to a successful archive environment. I have most definitely gained the experience I initially sought for.
I would highly recommend that anyone pursuing the field of history, and especially those wanting to pursue their PhD, should volunteer or intern at a public history institution. Being able to experience how the archival process works allows for more understanding when requesting one’s own research materials. Combing through the Olympic Games records took me almost one year alone. Acknowledging that archivists and others within public history have thousands of materials to archive with an often small staff puts one’s own research requests into perspective. I have gained more confidence in terms of how I will navigate other archives and how I will ask for information from public historians in the future. I also feel that if/when I do someday thank public history institutions in the acknowledgments section of my own text, I will fully understand the amount of work public historians completed to make my research contribution to the field.