Scanning Pictures for a Curatorial Project

During our time of isolation at Fort Frederica National Monument, I have been scanning pictures for a curatorial project.  A year ago, the Margaret Davis Cate collection was returned to Fort Frederica.  The University of Georgia had been keeping it ever since Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Margaret Davis Cate was a historian and story-teller on St. Simons Island.  Collecting the stories and telling the history of the island was her specialty.  She was especially interested in the history of Frederica.  The collection consists of 57 boxes of archived papers and photographs.

Boxes of the collection

Although the collection has been microfilmed, it has not been digitized, and that is my project.  I collect the boxes, a stack at a time, and take them to the scanner in the Administration building.  I put on black nitrile gloves and lift the file folders out of the boxes.  Then, one at a time, I lift the pictures out of the file folder, slide off their archival covering, gently place them on the scanner and hit scan.  Then each scan has to be labeled, edited, and placed in a digital folder.  After scanning, I put the photograph or document back in its protective covering, file folder, and box.

Nitrile gloves

It takes me about an hour to scan each box full of documents, so you would think I could finish the project in a couple of weeks.  But there are two problems.  One is the gloves.  My hands sweat so much in the nitrile gloves that they are dripping wet after an hour.

The second problem is my ability to focus on the minutiae of the project.  After an hour or so I am tempted to take shortcuts with labeling the files or editing them.  I get irritated when the scanner shuts off because it has taken me so long to get a picture out of its protective covering.  I decide that we don’t need 101 photographs of Charles Wilson.  And none of that is what I want to do with these precious archives.

Sibley Kelly, born a slave, picture from 1944

So far I am limiting myself to scanning three boxes of the collection per day.  When I take a break after each box, I don’t get irritated or try to take shortcuts.  And I am willing to resume again later in the day.  I figure I will be at Fort Frederica through June, so I might as well take my time.

Scanning pictures might not be some people’s idea of a good time, but I enjoy seeing these snippets of the past.  Margaret Davis Cate was meticulous in labeling her pictures and I want to be just as careful in preserving these records for the future.  I am excited about the possibilities of these historical records being available to the public online.