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A REVOLUTION IN ARCHIVES

WWW.ARCHIVESOFMARYLAND.NET

It isn't very often, if ever, that Archives are thought of as revolutionary, although when
our children were young, I did overhear our elder son explaining to a playmate that his
father was an anarchist. Yet every once in a while an idea comes along that allows the
custodian of the collective memory to contribute something radical, even revolutionary,
to the preservation and access of the historical record. George Eastman gave us the
camera and safety film. Religion in the form of the Mormons, and the fear of
destruction of vital records, especially during the Second World War, led to the
massive capturing of the historical record on a medium that is reasonably permanent,
reduces the bulk ot the record to be preserved, and is relatively easy to use. Perhaps one
of the finest examples of such efforts of benefit to Early American historians, outside of
the mountain in Utah, is the often neglected undertaking of William Sumner Jenkins
in the Early State Records Project of the Library of Congress. Summarized in two high
acid, now usually crumbling, mimeographed volumes, the Early State Records
microfilm is a tour de force. Taking his microfilm camera to every major repository in
the United States and its territories, Jenkins filmed in logical categories every printed
volume he'could find that documented the constitutional and legal history of the states.
Contained on his film are sources now lost or which have deteriorated so badly in the
fifty years or so since he and his staff filmed them, that the only useable record is that
which he provides. Today, most of the master negatives of Jenkins's work are stored at
the Library of Congress, where copies can be purchased for a modest fee. I say most,
because in the intervening years some of the negatives for the Maryland reels have been
lost, as we discovered when we attempted to acquire them for scanning for our own
modest attempt at an archival revolution, the Archives of Maryland Online.

When I was working on my dissertation I had the good fortune, with Ron Hoffman, to
be given free access to the stacks of the Maryland Historical Society. There we both
worked our way through a vast collection of unorganized archival material relating to
Maryland that a former Commissioner of the Land Office had stolen from the
basement and stairwells of the State House. We quickly discovered that the
Commissioner had not gotten everything, and in fact for every two documents -he had
taken, one had been left behind, ultimately to be carefully catalogued, preserved, and
microfilmed in what today at the Maryland State Archives is known as the Rainbow
Series of Maryland State Papers. I vowed then that if I were ever in the position to do
something about it, I would save future scholars, from having to traipse between
Annapolis and Baltimore to use both collections. By a twist of fate (and lack of
teaching jobs) I ultimately did reach a point in my career as Archivist where I could do
something about it. With the help of William Filby, former director of the Maryland
Historical Society, and the threat of replevin of what were obviously public records, I
was able to bring the two parts of the collection back together in Annapolis, providing
a comprehensive and integrated catalogue, now online, but then on paper, entitled An
Inventory of Maryland State Papers (1976). For those who still like hard copy, it is still in
print and available from the Maryland State Archives online at www.mdsa.net.

At about the same time we were attempting to bring the public records of Maryland
back together and present them in some accessible and useable fashion, the Maryland
Historical Society was growing weary of maintaining the inventory of the distinguished
Archives of Maryland series. Each year since the late 1880s, the State of Maryland had
provided an annual subsidy for the transcription and editing of the earliest records of
the state. By 1972 it was thought that almost everything of value had been placed in
print and the basement of the Society was crowded with unsold volumes printed on

Continued on page 7

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