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Offbook: The Archives Project

By Hannah Sturm

Hello CP! This week I (Hannah Sturm, Deputy Operations Director and guest blogger) will be taking you on a journey to the past! However, it will not include any time travel machines or magic, flashing lights, or extraterrestrial sounds. Just some old pieces of paper in a bunch of cardboard boxes - some very exciting old pieces of paper.

That CP has a collection of records at the Maryland State Archives was unknown to me until I worked at MSA last year. For my first real life job post-graduation, I interned in MSA’s Special Collections department. Some glamorous highlights were rehousing original printings of the Maryland Gazette from July of 1776 (!) and helping to catalog objects in Governor O’Malley’s office near the end of his term (!). These were wonderful once in a lifetime opportunities, and don’t get me wrong - I enjoyed them and learned a lot. But, I was a theater major in college. I get my kicks from doing things like hanging lights, making three headed alien costumes, and helping Wes keep the Operations Team organized.

After getting permission from my supervisors, I spent some time tucked away in MSA’s stacks rooting through CP’s twenty six boxes to verify and update their catalog records. It was really fun for me to see pictures from past productions, telegrams sent backstage, and tickets from CP’s first production, “The Male Animal.” We are very, very lucky that so much was safely packed away and sent to the climate controlled rooms at MSA by CP volunteers, and everyone who contributed deserves a massive thank you.

Seeing all of these things made me happy and excited (who needs to handle Civil War era flags when you can look at a stack of 80’s headshots?) but at the same time a little sad. These wonderful objects are not very accessible as-is. Currently, you need to be one of a handful of people on a list to be able to have the records pulled at MSA, and then you need to have the time to root through them to find what you want.

Enter CP’s Archive Team. Since October, myself, Wes Bedsworth, Chris Haley, Scott Nichols, Theresa Riffle, and Charlotte Robinson have been working on the painstaking process of identifying, re-filing, and cataloging all of these documents in a fancy spreadsheet. While the main motivating factor is making all of these documents accessible to all of you, some things need to come first: basic organization, recording what we have, and making sure that everything is stored safely (taking off rusty paper clips and dried rubber bands, unfolding paper before it gets too brittle to unfold without breaking, etc).

With a good amount of hand-holding from MSA’s Special Collections department, the Archive Team feels capable of taking on this huge and sensitive task. We have already cataloged several boxes of materials and are working on fleshing out a mission statement and long-term plan.

And before anyone asks about digitization - the answer is yes! But just not yet and not everything. Twenty some filled boxes are a lot of documents and the long term safety of everything has to come first, especially when a lot of our documents are photographs and newsprint. When everything is organized and we have a complete idea of what we have - then we will work on deciding what needs to be digitized and how to go about doing it the right way.

In the meantime, here are some teasers from the boxes the Archive Team is working through right now. Do you recognize any faces?

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