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Precious Time

Learn how to preserve historical documents, images, and heirlooms as part of NSU's cultural and historical initiative that could be a combination of an antique roadshow and an Indiana Jones moment.

Jennifer Zehnder
August 28, 2019

Northeastern State University is opening its doors to more than just its annual homecoming crowds on Sept. 27-28. Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the university is joining forces with state, tribal and regional entities to reconnect people with Green Country’s rich heritage. The two-day event, which runs from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on the Tahlequah campus, will feature digital preservation and oral history stations, as well as presentations and workshops — all showcasing the region’s top resources for preserving, restoring, and sharing historical artifacts.

Brenda Bradford, NSU’s head of special collections and archives, points to a black and white image from the university digital archive. There on the computer screen, a group of young women from the Cherokee National Female Seminary Class of 1902 is gathered together and smiling for the camera. Behind them, Seminary Hall stands as a brick and mortar witness of the day in 1889 when the “Cherokees ignited the lamp of learning in the wilderness.’”

“We owe it to them, ourselves and those who will follow after,” Bradford explains when asked what prompted the grant application. “NSU’s mission is founded on the rich heritage of the Cherokee Female Seminary to provide its diverse communities with lifelong learning through faculty, staff, and programming that offer service-oriented, supportive learning environments.”

Bradford is understandably eager to see the fascinating history that could walk through her door during the event, and equally excited to capture it with the addition of much-needed, grant-funded archival equipment.

“Each discovery feels like a combination of an antique roadshow and an Indiana Jones moment,” she says. “I am hoping to generate excitement in our local history through our fantastic speakers. I want guests to walk away with digital copies of their material, an understanding of how to preserve their family history, and how to help safeguard and protect it. This is a great way to connect with the community, share a variety of services available in our area, and work toward future collaborative efforts.”

During the preservation event, guest speakers will cover a wide variety of topics such as local, NSU/Seminary and Cherokee history, preservation methods for family artifacts, as well as provide hands-on, basic emergency care training for material in case of a human-made or natural disaster.

Individuals are also invited to bring up to 10 historical artifacts — photographs, documents, letters, heirlooms, and treasured memorabilia — for members of the NSU archives team and Oklahoma Department of Libraries to scan/digitize at their preservation stations. Participants will be given a free flash drive loaded with their digitized items and the opportunity to share their respective and applicable “history” in forthcoming physical and digitally accessible collections that result from the effort.

Historical images, artifacts, and documents related to Tahlequah and the surrounding Green Country communities, NSU, Seminary Hall, and Native American-related items are of particular interest for the initiative, Bradford explains.

An oral history station will also be on-site to capture stories passed down through generations or lived firsthand.

“I feel like we [archivists] are the guardians and protectors of the past — safeguarding, preserving, and making material openly accessible to the public,” says Bradford. “Archives hold insights into thoughts, behaviors, decisions, trends, and actions from the past. Each time a person views an item, they have an opportunity to walk away with food for thought.”  

10 Preservation Do’s and Don’ts

  1. Do make digital copies of your photographs and historical papers. This is another step in preservation; you can put away the originals and display the copies. This will help extend the life span of your heirlooms and ensures that you have a copy in case something happens to the original.
  2. Do store photographs, papers, videos, and other heirlooms in a stable, consistent, and controlled environment. Keep family heirlooms away from air conditioners, windows, fireplaces, and heaters.
  3. Don’t store photographs, papers, video and other artifacts in attics, basements or garages. In these areas, the temperature and humidity continually fluctuate, leading to mold, chemical decay and accelerating the deterioration of your heirlooms.
  4. Do try to keep the temperature of the artifacts under 75 degrees. A good range is 68-72 degrees.
  5. Don’t expose old family photographs or documents — for long periods — to sunlight. Photos are sensitive and can be damaged by daylight, fluorescent, and UV lighting; they will fade and possibly discolor.
  6. Don’t store heirlooms in areas that have the potential of being damaged by water.
  7. Don’t use tape, glue, or laminate any precious heirloom. The damage is usually not reversible. Don’t use paper clips or rubber bands to hold material together. Both can and will damage the material.
  8. Don’t write on photographs, documents or videos with ink.
  9. Do use acid-free and alkaline-buffered archival material for storage. It is a good idea to invest in acid-free archival boxes. You can use polyester, polypropylene, or polyethylene enclosures for photographs.
  10. Do handle heirlooms with clean, lotion-free hands. Remove jewelry or be very mindful, as jewelry can snag, cut or otherwise damage the material.