Drew McGehrin outside of the Alabama Department of Archives, a photo by LAUSatPSU on Flickr.
But first, a few surrounding details.
The topic of my thesis may help in describing this whole experience! I am writing on the 1985 Supreme Court decision, Wallace v. Jaffree, and the religious, racial, and political impact it made on its time and on the future. One of the major figures in the decision, and a key player in my paper, is Governor George Wallace of Alabama--the Wallace of Wallace v. Jaffree. The Governor's papers are housed in the Alabama Department of Archives in Montgomery, where I spent my time conducting the research.
The first day of my research was a huge success. I can confidently say that "Southern Hospitality" is much more than just a cliché. The people there were extremely helpful and engaging and really made the first day memorable.
Well that, and the hot, sticky, Alabama weather.
After registering with the Alabama Department of Archives, I requested the specific boxes that I decided to work on that day, those that I previously chose to view before my trip down.
Before I go into the detail of my research, I do want to pass along the most important piece of information my thesis advisor gave to me before I left: Go into the archive with a plan. Know what you are looking for, and use this as a foundation for your plan of attack. Keeping this in the back of my head as I began my research kept me grounded, especially as I opened my first box.
The first box released a musty, stagnant smell, leading me to believe I was the first to view these in a very long time. At first glance, I was extremely overwhelmed. Papers upon folders upon newspaper clippings were all strewn about with no sense of order.
It seemed as though I was in for a very long day. Very quickly, however, I began to separate what I needed from any extraneous documents. If you take on a project like this, you will probably know what I mean by getting into a groove with the research. After this first box, I began to fall into my groove and really began a focused route of attack through my documents.
Towards the end of the day, I had my first breakthrough. Almost by chance, I stumbled upon information telling me that the original and copied legal filings for Wallace v. Jaffree, and the cases that led up to the ruling, all were housed in the archive.
This box was a gold mine in itself.
My strictly planned out research on George Wallace's stances on segregation led me to this almost unrelated box of pivotal information. This instance really shows that no matter how much you plan, you may still get the best information by simply stumbling through almost unrelated documents.
So be flexible!
Be sure to check back for my next post that will have some final thoughts (and some cultural notes) on my summer research experience!