Summer at the Library of Congress

Greetings from Washington, D.C! I feel fortunate to be spending my summer in the nation’s capitol as a Junior Fellow at the Library of Congress. My internship is in the technical services section of the Prints and Photographs Division, working with a team on an ongoing rehousing and inventory project. The goal of the project is to consolidate thousands of boxes of unprocessed collections from two storage locations into a new storage facility in Maryland. Our job is to rehouse the material, organize it if needed (which is usually the case), create folder-level container lists, and update the catalog and finding aids used by the reference staff so that the collections are more accessible to researchers.

Admittedly, processing archival collections is not the most exhilarating way to spend a day, but I find photographs and printed material much more compelling than textual records, so I very much enjoy my work. One of the best parts is that I have the opportunity to work with a variety of collections and materials, and I get to choose the collections that I process. After processing eight different collections, I have a new appreciation for all that you can learn just by paying attention to visual evidence. Let me tell you a little bit about two of my favorite collections and what I’ve learned from the visual evidence (and a little bit of contextual research).

The American Humane Association

Horse ambulance
Horse ambulance operated by the Erie County SPCA, c. 1910

The American Humane Association served as “a voice for the voiceless” – advocating for the humane treatment of animals and children beginning in the late nineteenth century. The photograph collection illustrates the activities and interests of the AHA beginning around 1910 through about 1960. One of the most interesting aspects of the collection is that, taken as a whole, it shows how people’s notions of animals evolved over the first half of the twentieth century. Most of the early photographs deal with horses – either working in the city, on ranches, or being used in wartime. Early education campaign posters photographed in the collection urged people: “be kind to dumb animals,” “you can’t starve and beat your horse and have him haul the load,” and “don’t skip his meals.” By the 1930s and 1940s, these basic reminders of how to treat animals were replaced by charming photographs of children with puppies and kittens, and a special series called “Touring with Towser,” that demonstrated the best way to road trip with your dog, including having the proper equipment such as a dog bed, thermos, food, collar and leash, and even raincoat. By looking at the content of the photographs used by the AHA in their publications, one can see how animals changed from being generally utilitarian creatures to members of the family.

Charles E. Bohlen

Charles Bohlen
Charles Bohlen (far left) served as FDR’s translator at the Tehran conference, 1943.

Charles “Chip” Bohlen titled his memoir “Witness to History,” a very appropriate title that his photograph collection clearly demonstrates. Bohlen began his career in the State Department in 1929 and retired in 1969, playing an important role in keeping the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union cold. After stumbling into a diplomatic career and somewhat arbitrarily choosing to become a Russian specialist, Bohlen worked as a translator at the World War II conferences in Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam. After the war, he became a trusted foreign policy advisor for presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. He served as American Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1953-1957, the Philippines from 1957-1959, and France from 1962-1969. The photograph collection illustrates his stops throughout the world and gives you a glimpse behind-the-scenes of Cold War diplomacy, including barbeques at the American ambassador’s residence in Moscow attended by Khrushchev, Molotov, and Bulganin.

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One thought on “Summer at the Library of Congress

  1. Anonymous

    I enjoy all of the delightful pictures you’ve been able to share via Facebook. Keep up the good work, Katie!

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