The following post is written by University of Iowa senior, Jack Kamp.
When I started my internship at the Iowa Women’s Archives (IWA), I knew I was interested in working with Black women’s history. As a student interested in the history of civil rights and social justice, I knew that this collection would give me the chance to gain some archival skills while also being immersed in a field that fascinated me. What I learned in the archives has added a layer of complexity to how I conceptualize historical research. My time at the IWA has allowed me to develop the skills that aid in analysis and organization regarding a wide range of materials in and contexts surrounding archival collections. Originally, I predominantly looked at research from the perspective of a student historian. My main concern was simply finding that certain document or photograph or piece of correspondence that would aid me in my research or simply out of interest. After first-hand experience with processing a set of papers, I can see that there are so many more connections to be made, even within one single set of papers.
There are many decisions to make regarding the organization of a set of papers. How should I order the folders? Which folders should I make? How will each series fit into the larger collection? Should it be chronological? How should the original organization of the creator be preserved? Each of these decisions has the capacity to impact future researchers looking at those papers and how they are presented to the public through such means as written papers and presentations. My experience at the IWA has led me to pay attention to how materials are grouped and to consider why they may be organized the way that they are within the collection.
During my time as an intern, I processed the personal papers of Madgetta Thornton Dungy, a professional Black woman who found success in education administration at college campuses across the United States. She was the first Black woman to graduate from Cornell College in Iowa and went on to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. in higher education administration. When I began to process her collection, much of my interest was in the older materials: old family photos from the 1940’s, old church programs from 1955, and a teaching certificate from 1968. As a history student, and a historian interested in the postwar era Black Freedom Struggle, I was most interested in these materials out of the whole collection. However, as I began the processing procedure and began sorting the materials into the established series’, I started to find more interest in the materials I might have passed over had I not been involved in the processing of Dungy’s papers.
Through processing Madgetta Dungy’s personal papers, I began to see how the singular pieces that I was most drawn to were related to the greater collection. As I placed the Dungy family photos next to the materials relating to Dungy’s involvement with The Links, Incorporated, a Black women’s national organization, I began to see the political and personal sides of Dungy come together. As I placed the 1955 church program next to the church program that Dungy produced herself in 1978, I was able to see some of the impact that religion had on Dungy’s life and the way in which she understood and considered her own religion. As I placed her teaching certificate from 1968 next to her CVs and academic transcripts, I saw the hard work and dedication Dungy put in her education and professional life. As I continued placing the materials I had initially found interest in next to other materials, I began to see more dimensions and more complexity within the person whose papers I was processing. Madgetta Dungy became more than a name on a file. She became a dynamic, complicated, and multifaceted person with interests, goals, and relationships.
Dungy’s educational, personal, and professional achievements and experiences play a crucial role in the story of Black Iowa women’s history. As a successful professional, her papers illustrate what it is like to be a Black woman in the professional sphere during the mid to late 20th century. It is because of this that I hope Madgetta Dungy’s papers are researched and utilized by many historians in a range of areas. Additionally, the experience of processing Dungy’s papers has allowed me to expand my skill set and has exposed me to more ways of viewing and understanding archival collections and papers. My time at the IWA has certainly set me up for success, as it has allowed me to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes in an archives, what archivists have to consider when processing various collections, and allowed me to develop new skills in research and navigating archival spaces as a historian.
I would specifically like to thank Janet Weaver and Anna Holland for their guidance and assistance in the archives. Additionally, I really valued the support I received from Erik and Heather over the course of my internship in the archives and regarding prospective graduate study. I have greatly appreciated my time in the IWA over the summer and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to an archives so crucial to the University and the Iowa City community.