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Reflections of a Graduate Assistant for Congressional Papers

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
April 27th, 2020

By Lydia Strickling, WVRHC Graduate Assistant

Portrait of Lydia Strickling

My name is Lydia Strickling and I am a second year student in WVU’s Public History program. I’ve been a graduate assistant with the West Virginia and Regional History Center for the entirety of my time at WVU. During my assistantship, I’ve worked with the papers of former West Virginia Congressman and Governor, Arch A. Moore, Jr., whose political career spanned from the mid 1950s to 1989. My work with the Moore Papers has included processing collections related to both Moore’s Congressional and Gubernatorial service. This involves making sure the collection is stored in appropriate folders and boxes and that it is well-organized to aid future researchers. Other tasks I’ve completed include digitizing documents in the Moore Papers and writing scope and content notes to describe subsections of this collection. I’ve also written text for an upcoming exhibit that will be in the Downtown Library.

As a Civil War historian and a Seasonal Ranger with the National Park Service, my work with the Moore Papers was certainly a change of pace. I had never worked in an archive prior to starting this job, so this kind of work was entirely new to me. As a result, I’ve gained many insights from my time as a graduate assistant with the WVHRC. I’ve learned how archives function and that a great deal of work is needed to organize and maintain the collections that researchers access every day. I’ve also seen the challenges that archivists must face when a collection is entrusted to their care. For example, much of my work this academic year has been writing more detailed descriptions of Moore’s correspondence in his second term as Governor. This was necessary because this subset of Moore’s papers was organized alphabetically by last name of correspondent or topic, an arrangement that makes these documents less accessible to researchers. From this project, I’ve seen first hand how archivists have to overcome issues of provenance to make collections more usable. My additional descriptions will hopefully make up for the peculiar arrangement of this part of the collection. Furthermore, I’ve also learned a bit about West Virginia history, geography, and politics from reading the documents in the collection.

But perhaps my favorite aspect of this job has been the family connections I’ve found within the Moore Papers. I grew up near Pittsburgh, but my dad’s family has lived in West Virginia for many generations and some familiar names have appeared while processing the collection. I’ve come across letters to Moore from a family friend of my grandfather and even one addressed to one of my aunts. It’s been fun to discover these personal connections to my work. Though archives aren’t my desired career path, my work with the Moore Papers has been valuable nonetheless. This assistantship has allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone and experience a different side to the field of public history.

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