September Spotlight on the Archives presents a blog about exciting finds in the Archives. To support the Archives, please donate below!
by Caroline Donadio
At a recent virtual alumni event, I was asked what material I was most excited about in the International House New York Archives. It was a great question, and I was surprised that I couldn’t answer it easily. In truth, I am excited about so much!
But this got me thinking about how the Archives at I-House is unique in both scope and size. It is not only that we hold impressive historical documents, but there is an abundance of them! And while it is impossible to know which records will be of the most interest to future researchers, I keep users at the front of my mind when I am processing material and I am always trying to identify exciting access points in our collections. As I have been the Lead Archivist at I-House for over one year and very recently was able to begin physically processing work, here are a few examples of what I have found exciting and am working to make accessible to you.
Harry Edmonds, the founder of International House, was both a conscientious correspondent and a diligent recordkeeper. With every letter received, Harry retained a carbon copy of his original correspondence. The result is a rare and complete set of communication that spans the better part of 75 years. This set includes early letters to and from John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Cleveland Dodge concerning the beginnings of the International House idea, letters to and from various dignitaries while Harry worked tirelessly to establish other I-Houses around the world, and letters with professional friends and acquaintances that is maintained for decades. Besides the sheer volume of material, what is striking is this correspondence is the warmth and passion that is undeniable in Harry’s voice. After reading through countless letters, it is clear that Harry was a thoughtful, earnest man who cared deeply about a great many people.
Harry Edmonds correspondence, 1921 / I-House Archives
Harry Edmonds correspondence, 1965 / I-House Archives
With over 65,000 thousand alumni and counting, the Archives contains admission applications that date to the early 20th century and the Intercollegiate Club. While specific privacy laws restrict access to many of these, due to age, a percentage of the records are available to review. Besides the standard data and the accompanying photograph, many of these applications feature questions asking candidates to explain why they want to live at I-House. Krishan K. Bhasin (’48, India) answered, “To understand and know people from different countries for peace and progress.” Artie Bell (’42, USA) wrote, “I am interested in the usual recreational facilities and programs and the cultivation of an international understanding and fellowship.” These remarkable records provide visible insight into the individual mentalities of residents who have lived at I-House through the years.
Resident Registration form, 1948 / I-House Archives
Resident Registration form, 1942 / I-House Archives
In addition to a large amount of photographic material that provides rich visual representations of I-House history, the Archives also holds an extensive collection of audiovisual material comprised of over 30 reel to reel audio tapes, 100 audio cassettes, and 50 videos and films. The collection includes an audio recording of Henry Kissinger’s speech at Sunday Supper in 1977, a reel to reel audiotape of a 1956 forum discussion on race, and a film reel of an NBC segment featuring Herman “HR” Rottenberg speaking about All Nations at I- House.
Audiovisual material / I-House Archives
Unfortunately, preserving these materials is a race against time. In 2012, the Library of Congress stated in its National Recording Preservation Plan:
“any analog audio recordings must be digitized within the next 15 to 20 years—before sound carrier degradation, and the challenges of acquiring and maintaining playback equipment make the success of these efforts too expensive or unattainable.”
In the case of some media (e.g., lacquer disks and Digital Audio Tape), experts predict an even shorter timeframe. With these estimates, the Archives has seven years in which to reformat priority audiovisual collections. If we don’t act to digitize this material now, this content could be lost forever. While the Archives is exploring various grant opportunities, if you’d like to support the project, please donate below.
Again, these are just a few of the things that have piqued my interest. Given the historical legacy of I-House, the Archives holds a potential well of important documents and material. As I process the collections, I look forward to sharing my exciting finds with you.
Thank you again for following along with the September Spotlight on the Archives! With your help, we have raised much needed funds for the Archives. Moving forward, I plan to post at least one Archives-related blog post a month, share Throwback Thursday images on social media, and upload ‘mysteries’ that need the I-House’s community help identifying. Please stay tuned!
Want to support the Archives? Click below! Have a question? Please email me at Archives@ihouse-nyc.org