Adriana Flores is one of our participants in our Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position. We will be following Adriana for a year. You can read her previous posts here.
In our office, education and outreach programming is a huge priority. Serving our student population is always at the forefront of our minds and we are constantly brainstorming new ways to reach them. Although planning and executing education and outreach projects is not one of my primary job responsibilities, each archivist in our office is expected and encouraged to help plan these events. March was a busy month for outreach and I was lucky enough to have a hand in two exciting programs: a student discovery seminar on ‘Old Hollywood’ and a specialized classroom session focused on the theme of adaptations.
Participating in and planning student discovery seminars is one of my favorite job responsibilities. These seminars are one-time events that are designed to hook student interest by presenting an assortment of archival materials and rare books based on a common theme. For these events we pull materials from an assortment of relevant collections, arrange them in our reading room, give a quick overview and history of the materials to the students, and then we welcome the students to explore the items for themselves. We also invite a faculty member or local expert who can provide another perspective on the materials. These events allow us to explore our collections further, connect with the student body and their interests, and form connections with faculty members who often bring their classes back or return for their own research. Although I was not in charge of this month’s ‘Old Hollywood’ seminar, I thoroughly enjoyed helping my co-worker Jane set it up.
Our archival repository has a wealth of ‘Old Hollywood’ collections, so we were excited to dig into some of the amazing materials. Some of the most recognizable collections involved were the Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart collections, the Bette Davis collection, the Fred and Adele Astaire collection, and the Gene Kelly collection. As the lead archivist for this event, Jane selected an exciting range of materials; a few of my favorite items were a pair of Fred Astaire’s tap shoes, Lauren Bacall’s honorary Oscar, and personal scrapbooks assembled by Bette Davis. At the event, I helped check in students at our front desk and then circulated the reading room after the presentation in case anyone had questions. Personally, I love these events because they give me the chance to learn more about our collections, learn some new facts from our campus faculty, and interact with students who do not often come to the Center. Jane’s event went incredibly well and overall it was a very glamorous night for all of us.
The other educational event that I participated in this month was a custom class session focused on the theme of adaptations. The class is an introductory writing course and one of the main examples of adaptations they’ve studied this semester is the adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes to the BBC television version. The professor and I discussed some of the different directions the class session could go, what her main objectives were, and the major themes we would cover in the class. After the meeting, I began looking through finding aids and started selecting materials.
To work with the adaptations theme, I decided to pull some Sir Arthur Conan Doyle/Sherlock materials as well as two other examples of adaptations we have within the archive. For Doyle, we have some personal correspondence and photographs of his in our collection of James Wedgwood Drawbell, a British writer, playwright, and journalist. We also have multiple editions of Sherlock Holmes across many years; our earliest edition was published in 1892. Although I could not directly illustrate the theme of adaptations with the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle materials, I thought the students would enjoy seeing letters that he wrote and signed, photographs of him and his friend, and different versions of his now-famous text. All of these materials provide a greater context for the conversations they were having in the classroom and add another layer to their understanding of the famous author.
For the other adaptations examples, I selected materials regarding Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and A Streetcar Named Desire. For Wonka, we have the collection of Anthony Newley, an English actor, singer, and songwriter. He was hired to write all of the music for Wonka and within his collection we have his Wonka lyric notebooks, a draft of the screenplay, promotional materials for the soundtrack, and even a sheet of music titled “Oompa Loompa Doompa Dee Doo.” With Wonka, the class and I discussed that the original book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was considered too dark to be turned into a movie so there were major changes made to the script. Roald Dahl, the author of the book and screenplay, considered the movie version so different from the original that he completely disowned the movie. Despite Dahl’s disappointment, the students and I discussed that adaptations can be a source of great imagination and creativity; without changes to the plot it is highly unlikely that Willy Wonka would have become the classic children’s musical that it is today.
The next example of adaptation we explored was A Streetcar Named Desire found in our Irene Mayer Selznick collection. Irene Mayer Selznick was the daughter of Louis B. Mayer, an American socialite, and theatrical producer. In 1947, Selznick worked closely with playwright Tennessee Williams to produce A Streetcar Named Desire, which was a huge success. In 1951, the play was turned into a feature film, but not without some major editing. In order for the film to pass the Motion Picture Production Code, a lot of the more graphic and upsetting content of the play had to be altered or deleted. The Irene Mayer Selznick collection includes telegrams and letters from movie industry professionals specifically outlining the scenes in the play and exact wording that needed to be altered in order for the movie to be made. The students loved seeing a behind-the-scenes look at movie production of the past as well as photos of Marlon Brando in one of his first breakout roles. Overall, we discussed how Streetcar is a great example of how censorship can sometimes play into adaptations.
Our goals for both student discovery seminars and custom classroom sessions are to educate students on what archives are and encourage them to visit us. We hope to demystify our office and make the process of performing archival research easier. As a young archivist, I am very lucky that my position allows me to explore new responsibilities such as education and outreach programming. I have not been limited to only processing or only reference work; I get to experience a little bit of everything. That being said, before this semester I had never been assigned to a custom classroom session. Since I’ve been in my job for a year and a half and have a handle on my job responsibilities and other education event planning, I decided to express interest in taking on more education work to our Associate Director. He agreed that I was ready and has since assigned me multiple classroom sessions to work on. So far I have loved my experiences with education and outreach and am so excited to explore more possibilities for programming in the future.