How often have you stopped to think about the wonder that is the copy machine? If you were like me, not often at all—as students, interns, and young professionals most of us probably spent more time being warmed by the light of the copy machine than we would like to think about. Not until I began processing papers regarding Chester Carlson, the inventor of the copy machine, did I think about the enduring significance of this decidedly unglamorous invention. Carlson invented xerography in 1938, which combined electrostatic printing with photography. Although most copy machines have incorporated digital technology, most still employ Carlson’s original xerographic process, and laser printers are based on the same technology. Compared to other pieces of office equipment, the copy machine after decades remains a centerpiece of office life. So why does William and Mary have Chester Carlson’s papers? Carlson was a major donor to the Sarah Bonwell Hudgins Center in Hampton, Virginia, which serves developmentally disabled children and adults. About half of the papers in the Sarah Bonwell Hudgins Foundation Records relate to Carlson, demonstrating the Center’s pride of their association with the inventor.
Often when I tell people that I’m working on making a database of all the scrapbooks in the Special Collections Research Center, I get a reaction something like, “Oh, that’s nice,” a reaction with subtext that seems to say “oh-that’s-nice-but-not-something-actually-significant-like-Thomas-Jefferson’s-letters.” And while the correspondence of our illustrious college alumnus certainly holds the utmost importance for the historical narrative of our country, the value of the everyday person’s point of view can sometimes be lost in the search for those of history’s best and brightest.
I’m a junior at the College of William and Mary, and I started cataloging blueprints in the Special Collections Research Center in the Fall of 2009. Most of the blueprints are of buildings on the campus, but many other places are represented too; I have cataloged dozens of blueprints from Eastern State Hospital, some off campus houses that have become administrative buildings, and a few surveys of the College’s ownings as a whole.
I came to the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) in the Fall, excited yet a little nervous about beginning my Graduate Assistantship. I had heard wonderful things from other graduate students about their time as Graduate Assistants in the SCRC, and so I was enthused about beginning my assistantship here. Additionally, even though my plan was to become a professor after completing my PhD program in American Studies here at W&M, I wanted to open my mind up to other possible career trajectories. My nervousness came from not knowing much about what archivists do, and hoping that I could pick up the necessary skills quickly.