Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Six Degrees of Separation

Unless one is an expert on the politics and economics of East Africa, one’s not likely to recognize the name William X. Scheinman.

Unless one followed developments in postcolonial Africa, one’s not likely to recognize the name Tom Mboya.

Every American and most people throughout the world, however, recognize the name Barack Obama.

What’s the connection?

In the late 1950s, Scheinman, an American businessman, and Mboya, a politician, an advocate for democratic development, and a leader of labor and independence movements in Africa, became fast friends. Mboya, knowing education was the key to independence and a vibrant democracy, was looking for a way to get young Africans (mainly Kenyans) a university education in the United States and Canada. With Scheinman’s help, connections, and financial support, Mboya created the African American Students Foundation: the vehicle that helped thousands of Africans to come to America.

One of those young students who came to the United States under the umbrella of the African American Students Foundation was none other than Barack Obama Senior.

Both Scheinman’s and Mboya’s papers are housed in the Hoover Institution Archives. In processing those papers, we ran across thank-you letters from the senior Obama to Mboya. Here are several excerpts from one of those letters:

Barack Obama Sr. to Tom Mboya, May 29, 1962,
Tom Mboya Papers,
Box 41, Hoover Institution Archives.

Mboya went on to become a minister in the cabinet of Kenya’s first independent government in 1963, and many believe the history of Kenya would have been very different had Mboya not been assassinated in 1969.

Despite the important role Mboya played in the African independence and labor movements, it is sometimes the other things in collections that catch one’s eye, the Obama letters being a case in point.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Speaking of Labels…

Lisa brings up a good point in her post, labeling materials is quite often a major challenge. Not only are we at the mercy of whatever labeling systems creators use to describe their items, but we sometimes don’t get much in the way of labels. These recordings, for example, which are part of our largest collections, came to us lacking both individual “clamshell” boxes and any sense of order whatsoever. (And yes, that’s a Christmas tape in there.)

Our first move was to untangle the tapes and put each reel in its own clamshell box. Because there are 260 reels in this collection, we separated them and organized them by date range (1997, 1998, 1999, etc.).

From there, making do with what little descriptive information we had (at least they all had dates), we created labels with the date of each recording. (Hint: Don’t buy cheap labels. Get foil-backed labels from an archival supplier. They employ a much stronger adhesive than your standard Avery/office labels, meaning that they’re less likely to end up on the floor of your stacks in a few years.)

Here’s a shot of the tapes as they appear now:

Want to hear them? Give me a holler!