Public History

Labbe and Miller Transcribe the Kimball Diaries

Psychology major and History minor Lisette Labbé ’18 (left) and History major Dena Miller ’20 (right) spent part of their semester in the Saint Anselm College Archives transcribing the 1891-1892 diary of Edwin C.H. Kimball.  One Thing After Another caught up with them to learn more about this campus history project.

Q: Can you tell us a little more about the project and how you got involved?

Dena and Lisette:  We are working on producing a literal transcription of the Edwin C.H. Kimball Diaries. Kimball recorded his day-to-day activities from January 1891 to December 1894. For our class project, we are focusing on the 1891-1892 diary. The ultimate goal of the project is to transcribe and digitally scan both diaries to have original pages of the dairies aligned with their transcriptions for viewing on the web.  We were both interested in being involved with the history of Saint Anselm College. So we chose this project as the final project in our History 363: Public History course.

Q: So, what did you know about Edwin C.H. Kimball when you started, or what have you learned about him?

Lisette: I did not even know he was a young farmer of 23 until about 20 pages into the diary. I assumed that he was much older and a parent based on how serious he was and his involvement in local and national politics. After reading further into the diary, it appears that he had a mother, a father, and a sister named Ethel. He was also unmarried. He was very interested in politics and would report voting rankings of political candidates from local and national elections. He would also report events that happened nationally which made me wonder if this was information he learned from his visitors who would stay at his family’s inn. He did not seem to deal much with the inn, focusing most of his efforts on the farm. It was interesting to see him interact with the Monks of the college as he was not Catholic but perhaps Baptist.

Dena:  I get the impression that Kimball was a very intelligent man. So much so that I did not even realize how young he was when I started reading his diary. I would have sworn that the diary was written by someone in his 40’s until he mentioned celebrating his 23rd birthday. Despite this initial confusion, I feel that as the project progressed I got a clear picture of who Kimball was. Kimball seemed to be a very family-oriented young man, judging by the amount of work he did for his family on their farm and in their house. Along that same line, he also seemed to care deeply about his community and his neighbors, since he spent hours a day working on their behalf, especially for Rev. Fr. Hugo Paff, O.S.B. Kimball also seemed to be very interested in politics, both local and national. Overall, my impression of Kimball is positive and I think that, judging by his political interests and community sensibilities, he would fit right in on the Saint Anselm College campus today.

Q: So, no juicy details in these diaries?

Lisette:  The psychology major in me wants to know more about the man behind the diary. But I have learned from this project that his diary was more of a journal or a records book than what we view as a diary in the 21st century.

Dena:  The Kimball family owned the property on Shirley Hill Road that was once used as an entrance to the College. Kimball recorded in his diaries the comings and goings of friends, family, and guests at his family’s inn and boarding house, the Maplewood Farm. Kimball also recorded his economic exchanges with the Monks of the college, usually days spent plowing or haying the monastic fields.  These diaries are essential to the school’s history because they are the only primary documents that recorded the fire that burned down the only college building where Alumni Hall is located in 1892.  But we only got through 1891, so we did not get to read that part!

Q: What does an average day of transcription look like?

Dena and Lisette:  So one of us will go into the Archives and typically Keith has printed out the other person’s transcriptions for us to edit. We will edit them by looking at the original document to check for errors, like a missed or an accidently capitalized letter. Afterwards, there may be edits on our own transcriptions for us to review and fix in the transcription document. So we would have to look at our partner’s edits and the diary to cross-compare before fixing the errors on the transcription document. There is also a working log where we post comments, questions and concerns for our partner, such as “what do you think this word is on page 54 line 4?” After all these steps are done we start transcribing again. If we have any questions, we typically ask Keith, or just text each other.

Q:  That is a lot of detail work! What skills do you think you have acquired through this work?

Dena and Lisette:  We learned how to transcribe exactly from a handwritten source to a digital file, which requires careful detail orientation, an understanding of cursive, and specialized knowledge of Microsoft Word. We also learned many other work-flow and project management skills. The diaries needed to stay in the College Archives, and digital pictures and copies could not be made. Hence, we had to go into the archives to do the transcriptions with the College Archivist, Keith Chevalier. Unfortunately, we could not go in at the same time because we were both working on the same diary and the same transcription document. As a result, we had to learn to schedule shifts around our three different schedules. Because of this problem, we learned how to collaborate as a team, even when the team was never in the same place at the same time. We also learned how to create a transcription and editing log to track our work as well as a style and process guide to help those who come after us maintain a consistent transcribing process.

Q:  You make it sound pretty easy. What obstacles did you encounter?

Dena and Lisette:  One of the major obstacle we have is his handwriting. Kimball forms his letters in very confusing way, where letters could look very different on different pages or pieces of the letters could look like punctuation. For example, when he writes an “a”, it often looks like “,a” because he connects the beginning of the letter to the line on the paper. This has caused confusion and in some cases has made punctuation a judgement call. Other obstacles that we’ve found is that he misspells words and we often find ourselves writing the correct word instead of the literal transcription of his misspelled word.

Q:  What do you think is important about your project? 

Dena and Lisette:  This project is important to the college’s history because we are preserving essential parts of the early life of the college. We are also working towards having the diaries online for the public to view. This initial process is to have the metadata of each page image. Metadata is data that describes and gives information about other data. We have created a catalogue record of each page. Ultimately, when each page of the diary is uploaded, typing keywords will cause all relevant pages and items to appear. These transcriptions are just the first step towards this major archival project.

Q:  So what are possible next steps for continuing this project?

Dena and Lisette: There are many ways in which future students could expand upon the work we have done. First they could continue the transcription—there are three more years to go!  After that, they could create annotations within the text of the diary. Annotations could be used to give context for the people and the situations that he describes in the diary. For example, annotations could shine a light on the political importance of James G. Blaine [a congressman and senator from Maine who was the Republican nominee for president in 1884; he served as secretary of state under President Benjamin Harrison from 1889 to 1892], who was mentioned many times. Another way that the project could be expanded upon would be the creation of a searchable index. If a future researcher wants to find all the times that a name or a term is mentioned in the diary (for example, Ethel), the index would refer the researcher to every mention of her name. This index could be expanded even further to include the misspelled versions of common words that would typically be left out of a common search because it was misspelled.

Furthermore, I consider that the myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.


Van Uden Walks Us through Manchester’s Past

Kristen van Uden and Benedict

Those of you who read the Union Leader might have seen the following article:

Kristen Van Uden ’16 is a History major and Russian Area Studies minor from Manchester, NH. Recently, while working with the Manchester Historic Association (MHA), Van Uden produced a booklet entitled “Manchester Remembers” that maps out a walking tour of 20 sites in the city that are associated with public commemoration. The MHA will be selling the booklet at the Millyard Museum. One Thing after Another had some questions for Kristen who is spending the summer working at the Office of Admission.

Q: One Thing after Another understands that this booklet originated in your public history course at Saint Anselm College, but where did you get the idea for this particular project?

A: Having grown up in Manchester, I had always walked by these historic sites without much background information concerning their significance.  I had always wanted to learn more but was unsure of where to start.  I imagine that many Manchester natives are faced with the same problem.  My project is designed to provide a quick and interesting introduction to these sites, with the ultimate hope of prompting further research.  With so many demands on our time, I knew that not many people would put forth a great deal of effort toward educating themselves about seemingly obscure sites throughout the city.  Therefore, I developed something that can be read in less than an hour that will hopefully give people finding themselves in Manchester a better understanding of their surroundings.

Q: How did you go about finding these historic sites?

A: I started with sites I knew of already, such as the John Stark House and Pulaski Monument.  The Manchester Historic Association then suggested that I focus on monuments.  This is when I really developed my criteria for including sites in the booklet.  I chose to focus on remembrance and commemoration.  The booklet is not designed to give a comprehensive history of Manchester, but rather to highlight those sites or events that citizens have made efforts to preserve and honor. I then researched sites that would fit the theme of commemoration.  The Manchester Historic Association allowed me to use a comprehensive survey of Manchester’s monuments as a starting point.  Much of the important logistical information can be found on the monuments themselves.

Q: Did you have to leave anything off? What was it? Why did you leave it out?

A: I left out many historic buildings that are privately owned or still functioning, such as the Palace Theatre or historic homes.  These structures are certainly interesting and possess historic and cultural importance, but they did not fit the overall theme of public commemoration.  I also did not include historic churches for the same reasons.  However, this would be a great subject for another tour/booklet.

Q: Surely you must have encountered some interesting stories as you did research on all of these sites. Which site had the most interesting story?

A: The Merci Train Boxcar was the most unique item I featured.  I had never known about the story of this distinctive gift from France to the U.S. until I explored it for the project.  I also really liked learning about the monument dedication ceremonies of the first half of the twentieth century. The dedication of Victory Park’s WWI Memorial on Memorial Day in 1929 was quite a celebration, including an entire day of parades and festivities. There was even a flyover by a small plane dropping bouquets of roses.  That fascinating post-WWI culture is not preserved so much in the monument itself, but the patriotic spirit it resembles is present in the monument’s timeless message.

Q: One Thing after Another hates to sound like your parents, but what are your plans after graduation? Do you plan to go into public history at all?

A: I’ve always loved public history as I have experienced it, mostly through living history sites such as Colonial Williamsburg.  It was great to be able to study the many aspects of public history, especially material culture and its connection to archaeology.  I’m not quite sure what my plans are after graduation.  I know I would enjoy a job in public history.  I am definitely planning on attending grad school in Russian Studies if I can afford it!

Professor Salerno and Putting the Public Back in History

Several days ago, Professor Salerno published a short essay entitled “Recasting History: The Public Option” on the web site of The New England Journal of Higher Education:

This piece provides a nice summary of what public history is about, describes what kinds of graduate programs are available in public history, refers to public history on the undergraduate level, and mentions Professor Salerno’s own course in public history. Check it out!