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Summers of Scanning and Finding Silences in the Archive: Part Two 

 

The Western Development Museum (WDM) is pleased to be an institutional partner on the Building London with Canadian Resources: An Immersive History for Learning the Limits of the Earth’s Carrying Capacity Partnership Development Grant, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada (2021-2024). The project brings together historians, museum professionals, educators, students and augmented reality developers to create new historical resources and digital experiences that will help visitors explore the transnational history of London’s extraordinary growth in the 19th and early 20th centuries, revealing the city’s reliance on Canadian timber and wheat. As part of this project, parts of the WDM’s photographic collections are being digitized. Photographs that depict early settlement, grain production, cultivation, livestock production and rural and urban growth are being digitized and recatalogued for use in the project and to improve their preservation status and records at the WDM. Ray Morstad has recently completed a BA in History at the University of Saskatchewan and has been digitizing these photographs for two summers in the Digital Research Centre at the U of S Murray Library. Ray shares his reflections on this work in a two-part blog series here, on Museum Stories.

Two oxen pulling a sleigh through Prince Albert business station, c.1880-90. WDM Collection, 5-A(b)-53. Click on image to enlarge.

 What’s it like to scan almost 1,000 archival photographs? The process of this project is only sometimes exciting. It really is ‘grunt work,’ as some would say, in that, I am just sitting down and doing one task repetitively. It has moments where it’s boring, but that happens with every job. Not everything is filled with adrenaline and excitement; monotonous work must be done, and a project like this is no exception. Scanning photos takes time, especially when I can only do one photograph. For reference, it took me most of last summer to scan almost 800 photos.

Family playing Crokinole in the parlor, undated. WDM Collection, 5-B-5. Click on image to enlarge.

My process is quite simple: take the photo out of the sleeve, put it on the scanner, preview the scan, adjust the DPI, adjust the framing, double-check the file formatting, enter the metadata and finally scan it. It takes little time since the software is very user-friendly; with everything considered, it takes about six minutes per photo. I can do about 40 or so photos daily at the Digital Research Centre in the Murray Library of the U of S. While I work, I like to listen to music or sometimes a podcast if I’m in the mood for it. It can sometimes be relaxing, especially when I get into a scanning rhythm.

There are times when I am scanning things that remind me of my family, and I wonder if I will come across some photos of them. It is unlikely since we have those photos in albums, though I wish I could see them. In moments like that, I realize that part of this project lends itself to the families that donated them. They may not be able to hold the photo or feel the cracks from age, but they will be able to see them one day through the database and experience them that way. They benefit from their ancestors having donated them to the WDM and from the existence of a museum and archive that had a mandate for a place to preserve them – not all families had that. I’ve been thinking about how there may be debates on the authenticity of the experiences depicted in these photos. However, regardless of how one shares, handles, or consumes these photos, they still connect on various levels. While scanning these photos, I, too, experience them and contemplate the lives lived and the families out there that will enjoy seeing these no matter where they are. They also prompt me to ask historical questions about primary sources and how we preserve them, who is missing in the archive and the kinds of resources that get directed to projects like this one. I’m happy to have a small part in helping to preserve this collection for future Saskatchewanians. 

Three women holding snowshoes. Taken outside in front of fir trees, undated. WDM Collection, 5-E-13. Click on image to enlarge.

By: Ray Morstad
University of Saskatchewan

CLICK HERE to read Part 1.

 

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