ICFA is proud to announce that The Byzantine Institute and Dumbarton Oaks Fieldwork Records and Papers, ca. late 1920s-2000s finding aid has been awarded the 2014 Frederic M. Miller Finding Aid Award by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC). On April 26, 2014, during the Spring 2014 MARAC conference in Rochester, NY, ICFA’s Archivist Rona Razon received the 2014 MARAC Finding Aid Award on behalf of the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.
The MARAC Finding Aid Award Committee evaluates submissions based on:
- Outstanding content
- Innovative elements that represent a departure for the institution or for descriptive practice more generally
- Useful elements that enable researchers to more effectively access and use the collection
- Design capabilities inherent in their medium of publication
Previous winners of the award include: Princeton University Library, Delaware Public Archives, New York Public Library, Archives of American Art (Smithsonian Institution), and the Museum of Modern Art Archives.
After reviewing the submissions early this year, the award committee selected ICFA’s finding aid, available in both PDF format and in AtoM@DO, because it “did an excellent job of providing more granular access to a very large collection” (from Laurel Macondray, Chair of the Finding Aid Award Committee).
As described in our previous blog posts, the collection contains more than 150 linear feet of administrative and fieldwork papers and audiovisual material produced by the Byzantine Institute and Dumbarton Oaks between the 1920s and 2000s. The bulk of the collection relates to fieldwork projects conducted at Hagia Sophia and Kariye Camii in Istanbul from the 1930s to the 1960s, as well as later projects in Southeastern Europe. The Byzantine Institute is most famous for uncovering and conserving the monumental mosaics at Hagia Sophia starting in 1931, which eventually led to the conversion of the mosque into a museum in 1934.
In developing the finding aid, ICFA used Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS) and Resource Description & Access (RDA) as content standards. While DACS offered the requisite descriptive elements, RDA’s “Take What You See and Accept What You Get” principle guided the construction of formal or supplied titles. All original titles have been transcribed as they appear on the items. This strategy proved most effective for coordinating description among multiple processors for a collection of this size. This approach also highlighted creators’ intent and writing convention, adding another layer of context to the items.
For example, in Folder 80 of Subgroup II (as seen in AtoM@DO below), fieldworker Richard Gregory labeled his notebook, “Rough Observation Book I: OBSERVATIONS MADE AT JOHN PANEL, DEISES, AND VESTIBULE PANEL.” Instead of normalizing the text, we transcribed the title as it appears on the notebook (i.e., maintaining the words in all caps) to show the author’s emphasis on the project as something monumental and significant.
Since the finding aid’s publication, there has been unprecedented interest in the collection from new and varied researchers. In addition to Byzantinists, ICFA has received reference requests from unexpected sources, on topics as diverse as cultural history, philanthropy, conservation, and historic preservation. For example, George T. Kosar, a Harvard University Extension School instructor consulted the archive to explore Thomas Whittemore’s humanitarian efforts, work not described in the previous finding aid.
In addition, more granular description in the scope and content of each record level has enabled more efficient navigation, for researchers and staff alike, but especially for researchers with limited time to consult the collections. A researcher from Japan currently engaged in conservation work at Hagia Sophia, Hitoshi Takanezawa, was able to identify and request specific files in advance, rather than having to browse the 100+ boxes in the collection during his short visit to DC.
In conclusion, the new finding aid gives researchers a greater degree of autonomy, a departure from the concept of the archivist as “finding aid.”
Researchers are more informed about the collection and can more effectively articulate their needs. Therefore, a collection that was previously difficult to manage due to its size and multiplicity of formats has become a case study in the potential of finding aids, not only to enhance access to archival collections for external researchers, but also to improve the ability of archives staff to serve our users and preserve the materials under our stewardship.
The award-winning finding aid, as well as ICFA’s other finding aids, can be accessed here :