May 25th, 2020
Blog post by Abbi Smithmyer, Graduate Student Assistant, WVRHC.
My name is Abbi Smithmyer and this May I will graduate with a master’s degree in Nineteenth Century United States History with a minor field in Public History from West Virginia University. This past year, while pursuing my degree, I had the privilege to work as a Graduate Assistant at the West Virginia and Regional History Center Archives. As a historian in training, working at an archive has been an interesting and rewarding experience. Throughout my assistantship, I worked on the congressional archives of former United States Congressman and West Virginia Governor, Arch A. Moore Jr.
The majority of my work throughout this past year dealt with the Arch Moore collection. I mainly focused on the correspondence with his constituents during his time as Governor of West Virginia—1969-1977, and 1985-1989. This work was sometimes challenging because of the wide range of topics within the correspondence collections. Arch Moore’s correspondence also had a diverse group of constituents, ranging from the President of the United States to the average West Virginia citizen. It was interesting to identify the creators of these sources and then synthesize the vital information within the source so that future researchers will be able to access this material. Through this process, I learned how to write clear and concise descriptions of the creators and contents of this collection, produce finding aids, and enter them into ArchivesSpace.
As someone who mainly focuses on the American Civil War, sources dealing with the state of West Virginia from the late twentieth century did not deal with my research interests. However, my work as a graduate assistant has still been beneficial to me as a historian. Learning how an archive works was really interesting to me. I was also amazed to learn how large collections are organized and archived, and working with the Arch Moore papers taught me how this is done. Even though I do not research this time period, as a historian, knowledge of how archives work is very important. I have learned how archives and collections are organized and how important scope and content notes are, especially for large collections. This graduate assistantship has given me a deeper appreciation for archival work and how many employees it takes to open up collections to the general public. It was amazing to see firsthand how much work goes into collections before the public even knows about them. This has been the most rewarding part of my experience and was the most interesting thing I learned while working on the Arch Moore collection.