Cataloging became a game: hunting down all the information scribbled on cards and making it into a logical, orderly, beautiful compilation

Historic Dress scholar Nancy Rexford (center) instructs students on how to examine a lace shawl.

Megan Yeo, student participant, Smith College, says:
The fascinating part about this project actually came as a surprise for me, in my enjoyment of the work processes. To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was getting into before the first day and, quite frankly, I was confused about a lot of things for a while. The first days consisted an attack of information by Nancy Rexford, a literal crash course on how to date shawl borders from 1790 to the 1890s. Armed with this overwhelming, but completely transfixing, knowledge, we proceed to learn everything we needed to know about the computerized side of the project over the next few days, from spreadsheet layouts to the definition of metadata. To make things worse for me, I was away on vacation for the last days of this crash course, and missed a huge chunk of the practical lessons for the project. You can imagine my fright on the first day back faced with four computers loaded with spreadsheet after spreadsheet, scanners in full swing, and a huge box full of hand-written cards to attend to.

To my relief, the project grew on me the wetter my feet got. The daunting maze of procedures and data entry quickly turned into an oddly satisfying routine. I found that I actually enjoyed  the scanning process: taking hand cut scraps of paper taped to countless notebook pages into organized, uniform files. The cataloging became a game: hunting down all the information scribbled on Nancy’s cards and making it into a logical, orderly, and if I may go so far, beautiful compilation.  I got better and better at identifying and recording details with historical accuracy, and found it extremely fun to boot. What is more, I could now clearly see the value of this project, with my insiders’ perspective. Nancy’s collection of photographs and xeroxes are just the tip of an iceburg of information just waiting to be shared with the world. That I could be part making valuable information accessible to interested parties, today and for a long time in the future, is extremely personally satisfying. I will be continuing to work on this project with Lydia as Kiki Smith’s intern this semester, and I cannot wait to watch this project transform Nancy’s notes into a beautiful and useful resource on Historic Dress. Basically,  I think Nancy is brilliant, and I love helping share her knowledge of historical dress and general brilliance with the world.

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