Small Archiving Project [Pt 1]

As many of you know, last year I inherited a small archiving project of and relating to New Orleans opera in the mid-1900’s. As of two days ago, this “project”, which has consisted of a giant box of mildew-scented newspaper clippings, has come to life. (Immediately I feel a rush of “GAH!” as I realize I have no clue where to start.) I have yet to take an archiving course, although I hope to at some point, even if it has to be a DIS. Regardless, I need to invest in some texts or friendly conversation with those “in the know” regarding the methodology.  So… I have a giant box of old newspaper clippings. Now what?

I suppose I should talk about the clippings for a moment. I inherited the box from a music library in New Orleans which didn’t harbor the means/resources to give it the time of day. It had been given to the library as part of an estate and I can only assume this is because the owner was getting on in years or perhaps passed away. So here I am.

…no clue who the “owner” was (i.e. who assembled the box of clippings), or their relationship to the articles they clipped. The articles themselves range from 1930-1984, and they discuss two particular opera stars from New Orleans who rose through the ranks toward the Met, then came back home  [to New Orleans] during their final years (from what I can see thus far). It’s not simply a survey of opera in New Orleans via media clips. It’s an intimate portrait of two particular people, as if a mother was saving every newspaper clipping of her rising star children.

This is going be like the board game “Clue” for the next few weeks.  Step one was to pull them out of the box and glance them over. I’m about halfway done with this step (there’s a few hundred articles and they’re frail – give me a break!), and I have been taking notes as I peruse them: particular questions I’ll need to answer, people/places/dates that keep popping up, etc. Once I’m done with this, I suppose I’ll continue picking through and asking questions as I put them together chronologically.  Then it gets tricky. I can further split them up via location, musician, opera, role, or even critic. After that I’m not quite sure which direction to take. I know there’s a story to tell here. I just have to unravel it.

Of course these clippings can likely all be found in digital  [or other] archives, and perhaps I won’t come to any conclusions at all with this small project of mine, but it gives me something to do for the next month and I need to brush up on the 20th century opera scene in New Orleans anyway. For now, back to playing Clue


  1. (Just noticed I’m logged in under my wordpress ID).

    This is just the auditor in me making a suggestion. I’m sure a competent archivist will provide the ‘real’ answer at some stage. First you have to sort out exactly what you have, and I suggest that your first task should be to arrange them physically BY DATE as best you can. Then within each date range identify the SOURCE. Then scan the whole thing for common threads of subject matter – a particular opera house, a particular opera, a particular company, a particular singer, and so on.

    A handy tool for doing this is the simple Microsoft Excel spreadsheet – a column for date, a column for source, and three or four columns for categories of subject matter. This might not end up as your finished archive, but it is a simple tool for a simple process.

    You might also consider making decent digital photographs of the clippings.

    By the way, I have come across a blog item today on ‘Ethnopoetics’ which might interest you peripherally.

  2. I have had further thoughts. Firstly make the spreadsheet in landscape in order to have a larger range of columns visible on a single page. Secondly make the entries in each column a single keyword and keep a more detailed note elsewhere (a doc file?). For the moment this rudimentary ‘archive’ is/are your working document/s and the single keyword approach makes it possible to use minimum column width and thus include more columns on the page.

    Just kicking ideas around.

    I guarantee you’ll be amazed how far you have got within the first day of doing this.


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