Recently I inventoried a collection of objects and papers that belonged to a Tenakee old-timer named Gladys Seeds. For me the process of cataloging her collection raised all kinds of questions about the possibilities and limitations of archives.
Gladys was born in 1906 (or 1904, the records don’t all agree) and raised in the Seattle area. After high school she led an adventurous life, working in drug stores to finance summer prospecting trips in Alaska. She wrote poetry, painted landscapes, married a bush pilot, and moved between Alaskan towns before settling in Tenakee. She passed away in 2004.
When I first opened the boxes of Gladys’ things, the contents were more or less a heap of undifferentiated clutter. I cataloged, cleaned, and rehoused most of these objects, transforming the stuff of her life into artifacts that will be preserved. As I did so, I was hyper-aware of the fact that I was shaping the evidence available to other historians and researchers: filtering the material itself, organizing it according to themes I perceived, and writing biographical information. All of these actions may influence how Gladys’ life is understood in the future, and I felt a heavy responsibility as I went about the work. Continue reading