Reprocessing the William D. Workman Jr. Papers Photographs: First Steps

Exterior shot of a restaurant that occupied a narrow, three-story, light-colored brick building and an adjacent two-story, dark-colored brick building.

“Henry’s—For years on end one of the best-known (probably the best-known) of Charleston eating places.” (Workman’s caption)
Photo taken c. 1937 or 1938.

Last fall, I gathered information about the photographic materials in William D. Workman Jr.’s Papers for use in SCPC’s NHPRC grant application. Born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, I felt sure that my grasp on local history was sufficient for the task of identifying photographs from my home state. However, as I began to work with the collection, I was confronted with how little I knew about my own city—much less the entire state. I also encountered how little of our recent past is readily accessible on the open web.

While some aspects of the project could be tedious—like comparing prints, slides, and negatives to identify duplicates—I immediately realized the significance of improving access to these images and preserving the originals. I fell in love with the Workman project then, so when a position opened up this fall to help reprocess and digitize his collection, I applied immediately.

As Laura mentioned in her last post, the first step of this project is to “change the way [the images] are arranged and described in the finding aid. This will help people find relevant images more easily.” Before actually touching anything, I had to create a processing plan to show how I thought the images should be organized—essentially creating a new finding aid for the photographic materials in Workman’s collection. The existing finding aid retains the slides, negatives, and prints in the order in which Workman kept them. He primarily divided the photographic material by location, but overlapping locations and a lack of folder-level description led to confusion. As a result, many significant people, places, and events hide in general files.

Graduate Assistant Mae Howe working with photographic materials.

Mae hard at work reprocessing the Workman photos.

To highlight the wealth of photographic materials represented in Workman’s collection, I tried to identify as many people, places, and events as I possibly could. I spent hours with the images, a magnifying glass, and a light box. Then, after days spent writing notes and conducting research, I decided to keep Workman’s separation by locality. To be consistent, I used county as the primary heading, city as the secondary heading (when applicable), and information such as landmarks and events as tertiary headings. Also, I added a “topical” section for photographed subjects that spanned multiple counties, including the military, politics, and the Savannah River Plant.

At first, I thought this process would be relatively straightforward and that I would surely finish my processing plan by the end of my first work week. However, four drafts and fifty-four hours later, my plan was officially approved, and I have begun the physical reprocessing of this collection. Although the project will take about a year to complete, we look forward to sharing some of our findings along the way.

By Mae Howe

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