Course on Archival Practices Draws Budding Archivists from Eight Countries

In September 2012, 45 people from 8 countries enrolled in an introductory archives course taught by Roger Dahl, the archivist of the National Bahá’í Archives in the United States. The learners studied practices in archival preservation, collections, and storage and participated in busy forums filled with practical information and support. Several weeks of the course were devoted to working on individual projects, where Roger and the other faculty members (both archivists)—Lois Walker and Susan Rishworth—were available for consultation, information, and support. Accounts submitted by learners from Australia, Rhode Island, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon, provide insights into Bahá’í archival holdings around the world.

Ahmad Aniss, New South Wales, Australia

John Henry Hyde Dunn and Clara Dunn (who came to be known to Australian Bahá’ís as Father and Mother Dunn) went to Australia in 1920 in response to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s call for the worldwide expansion of the Bahá’í Faith and firmly established it in the antipodes. Shoghi Effendi designated both of them Hands of the Cause of God—Clara among the second contingent in February 1952, and Hyde in a posthumous appointment announced in April 1952.

During this course I planned to undertake a project that the Australian National Archives Committee thought to be important. In recent years the Australian community held a memorial function on the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of the Hand of the Cause of God Clara Dunn and also celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the construction of the House of Worship in Sydney. Before these two events the Archives Committee gathered some photographs and items of interest for an exhibition of the lives of  Father Dunn and Mother Dunn. For the events I scanned many items of interest, and others on the Committee prepared their presentations to the community.

An early assessment at that time showed us that the Australian National Archives has about seven archival boxes of paper material from Father and Mother Dunn’s time. These items have been gathered by early Bahá’ís and previous archive committees. A lot of the items were worked on or collected by the Hand of the Cause of God Collis Featherstone and later were put into some order by Collin Forest, a former member of our Archives Committee. It became very clear after the celebration, that it would be a good idea to digitize all these documents for two reasons: First, for preservation reasons, because the papers are old (sixty to ninety years of age) and have deteriorated to some extent, and, second, a digitized version of these documents would afford future researchers better access to this resource.

Pat Gorman, Providence, Rhode Island

Teaching of the Bahá’í Faith began in Rhode Island in 1917 and the first community was founded in 1939, with the first local spiritual assembly elected in 1943.

I have attached my final report of the survey of the Providence, Rhode Island, holdings. You were right to encourage me to focus first on Providence before surveying the state holdings, as we now know that not all of the Providence Local Spiritual Assembly files were lost, as some had feared. I was very happy to find files that go back to the 1940s.

Taking this course was valuable as I had a better sense of the types of record series that I was looking at while doing the inventory, and, most important, I did not try to rearrange files into what I thought might be a better system. I kept the files as they were (which actually were in very good order due to the diligence of the early secretaries) and simply recorded the label folders.

Many of the labels have fallen off due to age, and I tried not to touch the folders, as any movement caused them to start falling off. Preserving these folders will be a recommendation to the Local Spiritual Assembly, but that needs to be another project. The files that I inventoried were between 1940s and 2000.

Another project will be to work with the current Secretary of the Spiritual Assembly to see what he has from the last ten years or so and to assist him with the organizing of the files going forward.  As I am not a member of the Assembly or even of the Providence community, I need to first help the Spiritual Assembly to recognize the value of such a project.

During the course, I also visited the Rhode Island Historical Society Archives to see if they had any Bahá’í papers (they did not) and searched the online Providence Journal (state newspaper) for articles and obituaries, which I am keeping in my own Rhode Island file. I still need to visit the Providence Public Library to search the early indexing of the paper for older articles. And I started gathering old Rhode Island State Bulletins and have now have some from the 1970s and the 1990s.  These are wonderful overviews of our small Rhode Island community.

Thank you for your support and guidance during this course. This Rhode Island inventory has been a goal of mine, and I am grateful for the course as it gave me the focus and the stimulus to actually start. The guidelines were very helpful, and I will be referring to them as I continue. 

Paulette Pappas, Los Angeles, California

The Los Angeles Bahá’í community dates back to the first decade of the twentieth century. Thornton Chase, the first American Bahá’í moved there in 1910. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited his grave in 1912. The Quigleys, long-time friends of the Hand of the Cause of God William Sears, lived in Los Angeles for many years.

My work took place in the Los Angeles Bahá’í Archives. The first portion of the final project was to complete an inventory of the Robert and Keith Quigley Family Papers. The papers were found in three 12 x 5 x 10.5 inch archival boxes, with each box containing a number of archival file folders. A few of the folders were marked, but most were not. More folders were required. My first objective was to pull out all newspaper clippings, articles, and press releases that were interspersed with correspondence and other documents.

Box 3 of the inventory now houses all of the clippings in archival file folders. The recommendation to copy the articles at a future date with the proper equipment has been noted. The articles are important as they trace the growth of the Faith in the 1960s and the travels of not only the Quigley family but also of the Hand of the Cause of God William Sears and his family.

The second portion of the final project was to begin work on the donated Quigley collection of slides, which number approximately 9,000–12,000 and which were stored in Kodak carousel trays, some identified, some not. The slides were accessioned in 1991. Archival boxes were ordered and received. Approximately 1,600 slides have been removed from the carousel trays and placed in the small archival boxes. Of those 1,600 photographs, with some extensive research, I was able to identify individuals and locations of approximately 1,500 slides. Small labels are affixed to the smaller archival slide boxes to include identification information. Having known the Quigley family personally, I was gratified to be able to identify individuals, which others might not know.

Arlene Foster, Portland, Oregon

Helen Bishop was a prominent early American Bahá’í who lived out her later years in Portland, Oregon. Marion Jack, a Canadian and an artist, was one of the first Bahá’ís to respond to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Tablets of the Divine Plan; He called her “General Jack.” She pioneered to Bulgaria for twenty-four years, including the difficult years of World War II. On her death in 1954 Shoghi Effendi called her an “immortal heroine.”

The Helen Bishop collection was my project for the class. The collection includes correspondence, unpublished documents, artwork, photographs, and other materials.  After receiving the approval of the Local Spiritual Assembly, I acquired archival quality materials to begin processing the correspondence in this collection.

I have focused on accessioning, inventorying, and processing the correspondence. The materials were found haphazardly arranged in cardboard boxes. Through research, I determined to arrange them by correspondent rather than by the original order. The original order was roughly chronological but was not consistent. I developed and have begun populating a Microsoft table with the name of the correspondent, signature, keywords, and notes.  There are 548 correspondents sorted into folders. The next step is to re-folder into archival-quality folders using tissue to separate sheets of high-acid content, such as telegrams, and to re-box into archival quality boxes. During this process I will inventory the contents of each folder and arrange them in chronological order.

Four pen and ink drawings by Marion Jack were identified earlier and framed in archival quality materials. They are displayed in the Portland Bahá’í Center. I have documented them as separate from the collection and included photographs of the drawings. I plan to add a label to the back of each drawing, identifying them as a part of the Helen Bishop Collection, thereby cross-referencing the connection in the archive records and on the items themselves.