MARAC Spring 2014: Destination Rochester!

At the end of April, nearly 300 archivists gathered in Rochester, NY for the Spring 2014 Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference. Organized around the theme “Film, Freedom, and Feminism,” the conference featured a diverse line-up of presentations and speakers, including sessions on web archiving, electronic record-keeping, documenting social movements, and women in both the archival profession and popular culture. (This last session, the coyly named “Pop Tarts,” was by far the most entertaining one I attended, if only for presenter Jennifer McDaid’s lively account of Norfolk’s famed burlesque theater!).

At Friday’s plenary session, Kathleen Roe (Vice-President/President-Elect of the Society of American Archivists) officially opened the conference with a lively and engaging discussion of the state of the profession, invoking the example of Katniss Everdeen to encourage attendees to catch the fire of archival advocacy. Following her remarks, Roe opened the floor to comments and discussion, which touched on topics ranging from archival education and training to internships, salaries, and collaboration with library and museum professionals. In addition to some delicious carrot cake, lunch featured a presentation by Kathy Connor (Curator of the George Eastman House and the George Eastman Legacy Collection), who provided an illustrative history of George Eastman and the Eastman Kodak Company and previewed the evening reception at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.

George Eastman house
Exterior view of the house and gardens


George Eastman House
View from the second floor


By far, the reception at the Eastman House was the highlight of the conference, giving attendees the opportunity to tour George Eastman’s historic home, as well as the film vault and photo archives. Perhaps most impressive (besides the massive elephant head displayed in Eastman’s living room, of course!) was the film vault, which houses original films by Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, and Spike Lee, among other motion-picture luminaries.

Film Reels
View of the film vault at the George Eastman House.

The film vault is kept at a crisp 40 degrees Fahrenheit and notably features a small anteroom where films are stored for 48 hours in order to acclimate to the changing environmental conditions when moving between the vault and the workstation. The tour also included a peak at the archives’ paper-based film collections, which encompass scrapbooks, lobby cards, publicity photos, and other ephemera featuring many familiar faces from Hollywood’s golden age. Among the most interesting items on display were research notebooks complied by Louise Brooks, the famed silent film star who relocated to Rochester at the behest of Eastman film curator James Card following her retirement from show business. With Card’s help, Brooks’ research at Eastman House served as a foundation for her 1982 collection Lulu in Hollywood and helped her to build a second career as a noted film writer.

Images of Bette Davis from the Eastman House collections
Images of Bette Davis from the Eastman House collections

All in all, MARAC Rochester was an entertaining and informative peak at some unique collections and projects happening around the Mid-Atlantic region. Next stop? Mark your calendars for MARAC Fall 2014 in Baltimore (October 16th through 18th). After all, there’s no one better to celebrate Archives Month with than your fellow archivists, right?

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