Funding Source: CCPA’s Kevin R. Jones ’94 Career Development Internship
My name is Maria Reyes Pacheco (she/her) and I am excited to share about my first few weeks at Heritage Frederick! Frederick is a city and county in Maryland just about two hours away from Haverford and an hour away from DC. Having grown up in Frederick, I have really come to appreciate all the history and community it has to offer. This is one of the reasons I was excited to be interning at Heritage Frederick’s archive center, located right at the heart of Downtown Frederick.
Heritage Frederick, formally known as the Historical Society of Frederick County, has two main parts: an on-site museum and an archive research center. Due to the pandemic and changes in management, the museum portion has remained closed since the winter. Coming into the internship, I was interested in growing my archiving experience.
As an intern at the archive center, I help with cataloging and research requests. Research requests are probably my favorite part because I am able to explore our various collections. For genealogy requests, I typically trace through many marriage licenses, newspaper clippings, and family trees, which allow us to give clients information about their ancestors and other descendants. For land research requests, I look through land deeds on a state and county level to trace back to earlier owners and learn about the history of properties in Frederick.
As I complete research requests or look through our collections to transfer them to our new online catalog, I learn more about Frederick’s history while also noticing firsthand the failures of archives as a whole. In all of my history classes in the Bi-Co, we have discussed the inequality that archives sustain since they typically rely on written or preserved documents that have been passed down through families from generation to generation. The reality is that this favors history and narratives from white families. The same is true at Heritage Frederick. Over the past 10 years, I can see local efforts to uncover history that focuses on BIPOC communities in Frederick, but it makes me wonder how much of this history should be taught in schools to children who grow up in Frederick. While national history is absolutely important as part of curriculums, I also think teaching local history would empower children being raised in Frederick so they can claim and learn the significance of the place they call home.
Another thing I have learned about archiving is that in some ways it feels like “academic hoarding” (for lack of a better term). Many times, I will go through files and files of notes or documents that are completely illegible for anyone to use and have been untouched for a long time. My question is, why do we keep them? Why do we prioritize them instead of replacing them with documents that might enrich our collection and actually interest the public? I feel like the response I normally receive is that it might be used later on. I was chatting with another history major about this the other day and we both shared similar experiences. I am sure there are various takes out there on this question, and I am definitely still learning, but these questions have continued to make me think about how history is used in communities and the ways archives could change to be more engaging and useful to all.