Archives & Museum Journey
For as long as I can remember, I have always been passionate about preserving history and cultural legacies, but my journey into the museum, library and archives world began as a graduate student in the History and Museum Studies program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE). At the time, I was in the early stage of thesis research on the intellectual life of anthropologist and dancer Katherine Dunham when I informed by one of my professors that the Katherine Dunham Museum was seeking a museum intern.
As a museum intern, one of my primary projects was to catalog Dunham’s personal library. With no prior cataloging coursework or experience, it was an opportunity for me to be hands on with the materials and design my own course of action. Throughout the process, I was able to couple historical research with museum practice and interpret the collection based on my research on Dunham. By the end of my internship, I had developed a descriptive catalog of the library collection, which contained more than 500 titles on various subjects ranging from anthropology, African history and politics, black literature, art, religion and more.
The following year, I became a graduate assistant in the university library where I was responsible for pre-processing materials in the Eugene B. Redmond Collection. For more than four decades, Redmond has documented through photographs, writings and other media black literary and cultural history on the local, national and international scene as well as East St. Louis history. Working with the Redmond collection was the critical point that shifted my interests towards the archival profession. In the archive, I was not only responsible for organizing the materials, but I recognized that I was a living and breathing extension of the archive itself.
In one folder, I had come across a flyer with one of my most influential high school teachers who had run for a school board president. It was a great feeling to see that decades before I became one of his students he was a well-respected leader and educator within the community. I also held letters signed by prominent black poets and writers such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou and even Toni Morrison, when she was an editor at Random House. I also recall coming across a DoubleDay envelope with the typed initial “MDB” in the corner, which I soon discovered were the initials of Marie Dutton Brown, who was then a literary agent for DoubleDay in the late 1960s. On the surface, that information may not seem like much, but in the context of black literary and intellectual history post-Civil Rights, both Morrison and Brown played a critical role in bringing black literature into the mainstream through the editing and publishing of books by black authors for black audiences.
Since that time, my journey has led me west where I have volunteered at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, which has been called the “Schomburg of the West,” processing, re-housing, and inventorying their periodical collections. Mayme Clayton was a black librarian, historian and collector who independently amassed what is described as “one of the most academically substantial collections of African American literature, manuscripts, film and ephemera independently maintained.” The collection documents the black experience in America as well as African Americans in California. Currently, I am pursing my master’s in Library and Information Science, with a focus on archives and historic preservation at San Jose State University.
Danielle Hall is an poet, independent historian, and cultural worker. In addition to completing graduate work in History and Museum Studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), she has served as a archival research assistant for the Eugene B. Redmond collection at SIUE and museum intern for the Katherine Dunham Museum in East. Louis, IL. She has volunteered at the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum in Culver City, CA and organizes independent cultural arts programming. Danielle currently lives in Oakland, CA and works in membership services with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.