Some 10,000 pounds of documents and artifacts arrived at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s American Geographical Society Library (AGSL) this February, delivered from New York City.
The archives include stacks of hand-written letters that pre-date typewriters and a leather-bound notebook long ago abandoned in the Arctic. There is a 13-star flag that just might have been waving on-board Charles Wilkes’ ship, when the American explorer first laid eyes on the ice of Antarctica between 1838-1841.
There are photographs—one picturing Charles Lindbergh, possibly taken in Wisconsin. “Though more research is needed,” says AGSL curator Chris Baruth.
The archives include medals commemorating some of America’s greatest expeditions and explorers. One memorializes the first crossing of the Polar Sea in 1926; another honors Richard Byrd as the first man to fly over both the North and South Poles.
Also unpacked and dusted off are several diaries from Robert Peary’s return to the North Pole after his claim to be the first to reach it in 1909 and a piece of wood from the keel of Peary’s ship, the S.S. Roosevelt.
Baruth describes these as just a few of the many treasures offering a glimpse into the American Geographical Society (AGS) archives that now are reunited with the full AGS library after more than three decades apart.
“This is definitely a bonus for the university as it really completes the AGS Library,” says Baruth.
Archives make for “one stop shopping”
When UWM was chosen to house the AGS library in 1978 after a nationwide selection process by the Society, it came with more than one million items—half of which are maps and charts. The archives had remained in New York up until this point, at times proving a difficult arrangement for researchers.
“What we’ve been finding out through the years is that so much of what’s in the archives relates to what we have in our library here,” Baruth says.
For example, Inuit sketches from the early 1900s are part of the archives. But, they also go hand in hand with an Inuit map of the Belcher Islands in Hudson Bay that was already at the AGS Library. Baruth says all were drawn by memory for Robert Flaherty, who created the 1922 silent documentary “Nanook of the North.”
Yet, with such prizes comes at least a little pain: Senior academic librarian Susan Peschel expects to spend years organizing the archives. Dozens of file cabinets, boxes and shelves currently hold the invaluable resources.
“I think the size and the scope (is the most overwhelming part); there’s a lot of material here,” says Peschel. “People who have research interests in things that we can only imagine will find this material and use it. That’s why it needs to be processed well.”
Ultimately, the AGS archives will be cataloged, scanned and accessible. Right now, they’re a new point of pride for UWM’s AGS Library.
“People come here (from around the world) because of what we have. We expect now that we have this, there’ll be even more people coming and wanting to visit us,” Baruth says.
You can visit the AGS Library on the third floor, east wing of the UWM Golda Meir Library.
You can also visit www4.uwm.edu/libraries/AGSL/ for more information and to browse online digital photography and historical map collections.