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End of Semester Wrap-up from the Archival Project Assistant

A devil and his brew

This semester, I worked with Judit Ward on several projects within the Alcohol Studies Archive. These collections are the product of the Center of Alcohol Studies, established over eighty years ago as “the first interdisciplinary research center devoted to alcohol use and alcohol-related problems and treatment.” The Center’s original incarnation was established at Yale in the late 1930s and early 1940s, out of work done at the university’s Laboratory of Applied Physiology and Biodynamics and its Section on Alcohol Studies. The Center moved to Rutgers in 1962. Currently located in Smithers Hall on Busch Campus, where it continues to support research and training in psychology, neuropharmacology, public health, and substance abuse prevention.

The Alcohol Studies Archives, now housed in the Rutgers University Annex, contain a variety of materials pertaining to the Center’s work, and to the histories of alcohol and alcohol research. We have everything from a collection of over 2,000 ads for different alcoholic beverages to the papers of notable scholars in the field of alcohol studies to research materials stretching back decades. Some of the materials are already up online, in the form of mini-exhibitions. There are a range of different types of materials on display, including portraits of notable people, illustrations, and book covers of relevant publications.

Much of my work with the Alcohol Studies Archive this semester involved adding more records to our online repositories, mainly RUCore. RUCore is an institutional database that hosts a number of different resources, from digitized library materials to research data to theses and dissertations. Each record we upload has its own number and entry in RUCore, and thus its own webpage. The records contain pertinent information about the individual item, and its source. You can see on this example page that the names and subjects are clickable, allowing you to sort for all records tagged with the same keywords.

The materials I focused on this semester mostly had to do with the history of the temperance movement in the United States. This social movement, which really took off in the 19th century and led to the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment–Prohibition–in 1919. Temperance advocates expressed their opposition to alcohol consumption in writing and through some interesting imagery. Our Temperance images collection on RUCore displays a number of these illustrations. Many of them have a rather sinister tone, depicting devils, skeletons, and Grim Reaper-like figures coming to collect the souls of those who drink. There are also portraits of prominent figures in the Temperance movement, including Frances Willard, the president of the influential Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).

Getting all of these up online required a great deal of meticulous detail work. Each information field–personal names, dates, subjects, and so on–had to be filled out exactly right, or the record would look wrong on the user end. This work was time consuming. We made some mistakes, but we fixed them all (we think). It was worth it in the end, because this work helped make another part of the vast Alcohol Studies Archives more accessible to researchers. That’s a big part of our job as archivists. Stewardship does not only look like taking good care of the physical stuff, but building connections between people and materials. RUCore is one way of doing that, and hopefully, it will encourage research and engagement with the Alcohol Studies collections.

Project Leader’s Note: Kate has been instrumental in pulling together items related to Temperance from the Special Collections of the Center of Alcohol Studies and making them available for the public. These are rare resources collected, preserved, and digitized by previous scholars, librarians, and lay people. Their work was not in vain. Hopefully, the collection will be useful and inspirational to many researchers in the future, just as we benefit from all we learn through the process of providing access to diverse formats in various condition on multiple platforms, an incredibly complex and marketable skill for any librarian and archivist.

To illustrate the scope and volume of work Kate has accomplished, here are the two sections she worked on (with some overlaps in the “canned” searches).



— Judit H. Ward