Excerpted from the UD Research Magazine article by Beth Miller:
The box was labeled “moldy photos”–a warning that its fragile contents would require special handling.
Something truly special emerged from that box, too, something no one
expected until Julie McGee, associate professor of Africana Studies and
Art History, and her University of Delaware students got their hands on
the 53 photographs inside.
The work they did during McGee’s one-semester class in the fall of
2017— “Curating Hidden Collections and the Black Archive”—is a
fascinating study in how to research, conserve and catalog a piece of
history with few available guiding landmarks. And it laid the groundwork
for future classes to do likewise.
The photographs—mostly images of African Americans in the late 19th
and early 20th century—brought much more than the technical challenges a
conservator accepts when working with historic images and objects that
need attention, as these surely did. They also raised questions of
justice and pointed to systematic obfuscation of the stories and
identities and truths of marginalized people. The “Baltimore Collection,” as the photos now are called, doesn’t speak for itself but it has much to say to us.
“I work with and am often drawn to objects that exist in the realm of
the unknown with the premise that they matter deeply, but for various
reasons this meaning, and even their visibility, has been obscured. Part
of the work is enabling them to be seen and providing context for ways
of knowing,” McGee said. . . . The photographs came to the University from an art history alumna,
Jessica Porter, in 2001. Her late father had found them abandoned in
Maryland, McGee said, and they arrived at UD with little or no
explanation. A variety of photograph types were in the box, including
tintypes, albumen prints, matte collodion prints, silver gelatin
printing-out prints (POP), silver gelatin developing-out prints (DOP)
and one halftone. Almost half of them were made in Baltimore, the others in Philadelphia, Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. . . .