Before anything else, I should clarify that the William Sidney Mount work that I’ve recently been doing is not related to the “Mapping Long Island” project. It’s actually just a way to help my supervisor prepare for her class on Mount, local history, and local archives this Spring semester. Her plan is to introduce her students to various topics that were of local import in the 1830s-60s, bring them to a handful of local archives to see what kind of relevant primary materials are out there (i.e., right down the road), and give each student a chance to choose for him/herself what path to pursue for a term project. I wish I’d had a course that was this hands-on when I was an undergraduate student.
So this past Thursday, 1/15, I spent an hour and a half at the Long Island Museum archive with two of its archivists and my supervisor. The first half of the meeting consisted of general planning to figure out the logistics of class visits, what boxes and materials to pull for class visits, etc. The second half was far more exciting. The archivists took us into the vault in the back of the basement archive. Literally: a vault behind a large, heavy, metal door with a giant combination dial on it. The humidity controlled inside was like a treasure chest of art, personal objects, writings, and a hodgepodge of antiques. We browsed through two of Mount’s diaries (one of which was his “Diary of Spirits,” which was particularly interesting for its detailed thoughts on mesmerism, animal magnetism, and similar topics), read through some of his letters with leading NYC artists of his period, and received a personal tour of his painting archive. What a one of a kind experience! I wish I could have taken pictures to share here, but instead I’ll just encourage you to visit the Long Island Museum yourself one day.
That was the end of my day on Thursday, but the first half of the day was spent scrolling through and scanning Microfilm records of the 1820, 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 Manufactures Censuses as well as the 1870 Agricultural Census.
Just to watch the changes in record keeping from 1820 to 1880 is fascinating in itself. The 1820 book (aside from being terribly damaged by mold) was mostly handwritten, disorganized notes without a grid for data-keeping.
By 1850, a standard grid is formed with a methodical breakdown of location and data types, and by 1880 that grid becomes even more specific and detailed
Right now I’m waiting to receive instructions on how to deal with pages on these Censuses that represent geographically distant villages (for example, Setauket, NY and Patchogue, NY) on the same page without specifying which data belongs to which village. That’s all for me this week. Thanks for reading!