In this post, Bridgewater College senior Emily Thomas describes microfilm research tips, including a very unusual method to get your library a brand-new microfilm reader!
An Internship “Upgrade”
I first heard of History Unfolded from my professor, Dr. Martin Kalb, who was the cooperating professor for my museum collections internship at the time. He knew I had another internship coming up for the fall semester for my Public History concentration with the special collections in our library under the advising of another professor from the history department here at Bridgewater College. He emailed me as my summer internship was wrapping up and proposed the idea of switching my internship from the special collections position to working with History Unfolded. It sounded like an interesting project within a period of history that I am particularly interested in, so I agreed.
All About Microfilm Machines
Dr. Kalb and I met up in the beginning of the fall semester of 2016 to go over the project in more detail and so I could learn about the microfilm reader. This would be my first time using a microfilm reader and our school library only had an older one. It was actually pretty easy once I got the hang of it. I eventually even came to enjoy sitting alone in the basement of our library, listening to my music, and searching through the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record (DNR).
To Submit Or Not To Submit?
At first I was not finding much, but it eventually picked up. I was able to find a number of articles about Hitler and Germany, and with quite a few of them referencing antisemitism. However, some of these articles did not seem like they exactly fit in with the pre-selected events for research outlined by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) and the descriptions that went along with them. So I was unsure whether or not they could be submitted and accepted, especially since we were still unsure of the whole submission and acceptance process.
Eventually, though, I was able to figure that all out and realized that there is definitely no harm in submitting what one finds. I just made the case for why I believe it to be relevant in the notes about the article section during the submitting process. Overall, and throughout my internship I was able to submit a total of fifteen articles…which in the grand scheme of things is not a lot, especially when you take into consideration that I worked on this project for about four months. But this is due to a little hiccup I encountered.
A Little Too Much Love?
This little hiccup happened to be that the microfilm reader, which I came to love, broke. The HVAC system in the basement went through a rough patch and it got a little too humid in the main section of that floor. As a result, the little wax rollers on the machine sort of got too soft and broke off. These could not be replaced without sending the entire machine out for repairs because it is too old. Since such a repair seemed to be too expensive, the library asked for approval for a new and fancy digital microfilm reader! But sadly that new machine did not come until near the end of my internship. So I had to find alternative means until then.
Simple is Superior
I first looked through old school newspaper publications as hard copies, but had no luck there. Then we decided to give online news archives a try. Now I think I must add here that even though I am twenty-two years old and a college student who does use a computer and the internet avidly, I am still somewhat not technologically inclined. This caused quite the struggle. I was not able to find many articles, mostly because these online archives and I did not work well together; additionally, online materials were unorganized and took very long to load.
Finally, after dealing with that struggle for almost a month and a half, the new microfilm machine arrived! After learning how to use this fancy new machine, I quickly found that it had a lot of benefits. However, I absolutely hated it. I found that I preferred the old microfilm machine as it was much more straightforward with less bells and whistles. That, of course, works better for the history major that does not work well with technologically advanced machines.
In Real Life
I also had the wonderful opportunity to meet with the History Unfolded Community Manager Eric Schmalz during a visit to the USHMM in Washington D.C. over my fall break in October. We discussed the project and my experience with it. At this time I was transferring from the broken microfilm machine to finding an online option. But I was still able to provide some of the troubles I ran into with the project, mostly about being unsure of what to post when the articles did not seem like they would fit; I also commented on the different posting methods. He was able to smooth over all the questions I had about the project and even guided me into new directions. And, he made me aware of potential opportunities when it comes to public history at the museum. In that sense, the meeting was helpful when it comes to thinking about future career opportunities.