From the Archives – The Kelsey Blog

From the Archives

From the Archives #70

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

There are many skills that come in handy when one decides to be an archivist. An understanding of subject matter is beneficial, as it allows the archivist to understand the collection they care for, how to best organize it, and how researchers will access and use the information. Having a good memory is also a benefit to the archivist, as questions often come years apart. On top of all this, an archivist should be well organized.

One aspect of being a good archivist is often not taught or discussed: the ability to decipher handwriting. Archives are composed of a wide variety of materials: typed letters, drawn maps, photographs, and, of course, handwritten letters. They are written in a number of languages, using regional vocabularies, and often not written very neatly. Archivists spend a good amount of time trying to understand what word someone was using or distinguishing a cursive ‘l’ from a cursive ‘e’ and still not fully understand what the person has written.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a selection of letters written by George Robert Swain in 1926 as he traveled to Europe and Egypt. Swain is writing to his family, affectionately referred to as “My Dear People.” On the first page, Swain speaks about heading out, traveling with U-M President C.C. Little, and securing visas to enter France, Italy, and Egypt (at $10 per). In these letters, Swain also speaks of Ned, Swain’s son Edwin L. Swain, who accompanied the elder Swain on these travels. On the first day in New York City, George and Ned meandered through the aquarium and took in the feature film Ben Hur after dinner (“I am inclined to think is the most amazing film I ever saw” [sic]). On the second day, they visited the Museum of Natural History. Through his letters, which almost act as a journal, Swain recounts nearly every aspect of their trip. At the close of letter 2, Swain adds the postscript, “I suppose my next letter will be from France,” indicating that they are off to Europe. Swain signs each letter as “Daddy.”

The letters begin Friday, March 5, 1926, and continue through Sunday, August 15, 1926. There are close to 200 pages of letters with information bursting out the seams. It takes a while to become accustomed to a particular person’s handwriting, but it doesn’t make it easier to read. However, once the words become legible, we see the affection Swain had for his family, and we learn about the adventures he and Ned were able to enjoy. We see how Swain’s travels correspond with the excavations, where they were each day, and what was happening on those days. We learn not only aspects of the archaeological trip, but also about life in the 1920s. What was happening in the world that was affecting them and those they were surrounded by?

There is so much to learn from the materials found within an archive if only we are able to read them. Over time, archivists become familiar with the people they read about, the vocabulary they use, and their penmanship. It can take a long time to eventually breeze through a letter as if it was one’s own handwriting, but once we can, it opens up a whole new world for us to encounter.

A selection of letters from George R. Swain to his family, March 1926.

From the Archives #69

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

This summer we celebrated the birthdays of three figures who played a crucial role in the early days of what would become the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. In May we celebrated Francis W. Kelsey, namesake of the museum. June gave us the birthday of his son, Easton T. Kelsey, who accompanied Francis on his expeditions and has a collection of photographs in the archives. And in July we observed the birthday of George R. Swain, primary photographer for the University of Michigan in the early 1900s. These three provided a great deal of materials and inspiration for the Kelsey Museum, and their work is often cited to this day.

We want to continue the summer birthday theme, and turn our attention to another important individual in the history of the Kelsey Museum. On 6 August 1862, the world was introduced to Mary Isabelle Badger. Twenty-four years later, on 22 December 1886 in Niles, Michigan, Isabelle married Francis Willey Kelsey. They went on to have a long marriage that saw the birth of three children—Ruth, Charlotte, and Easton. 

Much of what we know about Isabelle Kelsey comes to us from John Pedley’s 2012 book, The Life and Work of Francis Willey Kelsey: Archaeology, Antiquity, and the Arts. We know she was born to a family in Niles, Michigan, and that her father was a businessman in the area. She enrolled in Lake Forest University, where she met young Francis Kelsey, who had just joined the faculty. Isabelle was interested in antiquities, writing about Livy and Roman art. She contributed to the Lake Forest Review on her studies, but also on topics such as Chinese immigration.

We know that throughout his career, busy as he was, Francis Kelsey remained a devoted family man. The archives are littered with his daily letters to Isabelle while he was traveling. And he made time for his children as well. Isabelle and Francis encouraged the children to read (Pedley lists examples such as the Bible, Iliad, Odyssey, and popular current books such as Little Women and Black Beauty), enjoy music, and take part in theater productions. 

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a selection of photographs from the Kelsey archives showing Isabelle Kelsey on her voyages with Francis and team. Francis did not travel alone, as we have seen him travel with family and friends, particularly on the voyage to Europe, Asia, and Africa following the conclusion of the Great War in 1919. In this collection of photographs, we see Isabelle in a variety of locations. She is seen taking in the Great Pyramids in Egypt, traveling by mule and donkey, and taking in the sights of the sites they visited. We have already seen many stops along this journey, from England to France to Belgium to Turkey to Palestine to Egypt. And then they returned back to England after a long year of travel.

It is not hard to imagine that on these trips Francis relied on Isabelle and had a great many conversations about what they saw, what they were planning, and future work. Though the Kelsey Museum does not currently contain any of Isabelle’s work, we do know that she was a curious, intelligent, and engaged person. 

Mary Isabelle Kelsey died on 3 July 1944, 17 years after the passing of her husband. She left behind her three children and several grandchildren. The Kelsey Museum owes much to her and her presence, as she was a champion of Francis and his work. Happy birthday, Mary Isabelle.

Studio portrait of Mary Isabelle Kelsey. Detroit, Michigan, 1919. Photo by Frank Scott Clark. KAP00472.

“A bit of the old city wall, cathedral towers in the distance. Professor and Mrs. Kelsey on the wall, but not very clear.” York, England. September 18, 1919. Photo by George Swain. KS010.02.

“In the square in front of the cathedral. Mrs. Kelsey and Rediger, our chauffeur and the army Cadillac.” Rheims, France, October 17, 1919. Photo by George Swain. KS.019.10.

“Another view, seniors of the school, at the left. Mrs. Christie, Mrs. Kelsey and Dr. Christie. Professor Kelsey at
the right.” St. Paul’s School at Tarsus, Turkey, Tarsus. January 2 1920. Photo by George Swain. KS066.07.

“General entrance to Propylaea and present entrance to ruins. Mrs. Kelsey and Mrs. Norton near top of steps. Ancient steps to Propylaea missing.” Baalbek, Lebanon. January 13, 1920. Photo by George Swain. 7.0212.

“Our party starting for the Mount of Olives. Beginning at the left; Easton Kelsey, Mrs. E.M. Norton, G.R. Swain, Mrs. Kelsey, the guide and Professor Kelsey.” Jerusalem. January 21, 1920. Photo by George Swain. KS111.01.

“Mrs. Kelsey on donkey, with guide, under olive tree, Mt. of Olives.” Jerusalem, January 21, 1920. Photo by George Swain. KS111.06.

“Lunch by the Inn. At the left, Dr. Worrel, Professor Kelsey, Mrs. Norton, Mrs. Kelsey, Easton Kelsey. Crusaders’ castle in the distance.” Inn of the Good Samaritan, near Jericho, January 22, 1920. Photo by George Swain. KS113.04.

“Mrs. Kelsey and Mrs. Norton by the flooded Jordan, near Al Kantara.” January 23, 1920. Photo by George Swain. KS114.06.

“Pyramids. Mrs. Kelsey on donkey with guide in foreground, Kephren and Cheops in the distance.” Cairo, Egypt, March 25, 1920. Photo by George Swain. KS155.08.

“Pyramids. Mrs. F.W. Kelsey in the desert. Cheops and Kephren in the distance.” Cairo, Egypt. March 26, 1920. Photo by Easton Kelsey. KK089.

“Sakkara trip. Guide with Mrs. Kelsey on a donkey, ruined pyramid in the background.” Saqqara, Egypt, March 30, 1920. Photo by Easton Kelsey. KK118.

“Sakkara trip. Mrs. Kelsey, Easton Kelsey, and G.R. Swain on mules, Sakkara trip; guides by road, palms back.” March 30, 1920. Photo by Easton Kelsey. KK119.

From the Archives #68

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

We have had many reasons to celebrate this summer in this blog. In May, we celebrated the birthday of Francis Kelsey, born in 1858. Kelsey was an important person in the history of classical studies and archaeology at the University of Michigan, and an instrumental member of the community. His influence can be seen throughout campus.

In June, we celebrated the birthday of Kelsey’s son, Easton. Easton played a part in Kelsey Museum history, though his influence was not as strong as his father’s. Still, Easton was present on numerous U-M projects and excavations. He worked closely with George Swain, and his photographs give us glimpses into the life of this party in the 1920s, along with additional photography of sites, people, and archaeological artifacts.

We are grateful to Easton for what he did for the Kelsey Museum, but it is George Swain who provided the bulk of the photographs in the Kelsey Archives. He was the primary photographer on these voyages, and it was his responsibility to document the trips, photograph artifacts, and show life as it was during this time. For this month’s “From the Archives,” we celebrate George Robert Swain, born 15 July 1866. Over the course of years, we have presented much of Swain’s work on this blog.

George Swain as a young man.

Swain was born in Meredith, New Hampshire. In 1888 he moved to California, where he passed the teacher’s examination. This began a career in teaching, one he continued throughout his life. In 1897 and 1900, Swain earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, respectively, at the University of Michigan. Over the years, Swain lived in Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan, working as an educator and principal.

In 1899, Swain embarked on a bicycle trip across Europe. During this 2,000-mile trip, he photographed Caesar’s battlefields as he visited France, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. Swain sold these photographs to educators via a catalogue he produced (the Kelsey Museum has copies of this catalogue). The catalogue caught the eye of Francis Kelsey, who in 1913 hired Swain to be the University of Michigan’s principal photographer.

As U-M photographer, Swain accompanied Kelsey on his various trips, spent time in Karanis documenting the excavation, and photographed artifacts and papyri held in various collections across Europe. Following Kelsey’s death in 1927, Swain focused his efforts on the creation of photographs for use in U-M classes. He had an office in the U-M Library, though he developed many of his photographs in the darkroom in his own home on Packard Avenue. Swain held this position until his death on 8 April 1947.

We owe much to George Swain and what he accomplished as a U-M photographer. This month we highlight Swain as he traveled across Europe, Southwest Asia, and North Africa. In this selection of photographs, we see him in Cairo, having tea atop a pyramid, in Palestine, France, England, Turkey, and Sicily. And we end with image KS153.06, showing a photograph taken at the site of the Great Pyramids in Egypt, which Swain titled, “Footprints in the sands of time.”


“Pyramids. ‘Footprints in the sands of Time’ — of G.R. Swain in the edge of the desert, Kephren in the distance.” Cairo, Egypt, March 25, 1920. KS153.06. Photo by George Swain.

From the Archives #67

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

For our last “From the Archives,” we celebrated the birthday of Francis W. Kelsey, professor of Latin at the University of Michigan from 1893 to 1927, and namesake of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. We know a lot about Professor Kelsey through his letters, his writings, and his work (beautifully distilled in John Griffiths Pedley’s biography, The Life and Work of Francis Willey Kelsey: Archaeology, Antiquity, and the Arts). Kelsey’s body of work is quite impressive, and it is no wonder why he was regarded as an expert during his time.

One other fact about Kelsey we learn through his letters is how devoted a father he was. In this blog and in Pedley’s book we learn more about Kelsey’s personal life, his background, and his family. He wrote to his wife, Mary Isabelle, on a seemingly daily basis when traveling, and often corresponded with his three children, Ruth, Charlotte, and Easton. In a previous blog post, we dedicated Father’s Day to Francis Kelsey, and highlighted his relationship with his offspring.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we take time to shine the spotlight on the youngest Kelsey, Easton. Easton Trowbridge Kelsey (named after his great-grandmother on his father’s side) was born 22 June 1904 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a full decade after eldest sibling Ruth (born 1894), and seven years after Charlotte (born 1897). He attended Phillips Exeter Academy and received his AB from the University of Michigan.

From the Kelsey archives:

“During the 1920s Easton Kelsey traveled extensively with his father in Europe and the Near East, as photographer’s assistant and chauffeur. Mr. Kelsey entered the U.S. Foreign Service in 1930 and was initially posted to the Foreign Service School of the Dept. of State, followed by assignment to Cairo. Subsequent assignments included Beirut, Oslo, Fort William, Port Arthur, Toronto, Lisbon, and Sao Paulo.

After his retirement from the U.S. Consular Service, Easton Kelsey settled in the Toronto area, where he served as secretary of the Quetico Foundation. He and his wife, the former Vida Kennedy McClure, made a number of gifts to the Kelsey Museum, for the most part, ancient coins which they had collected in Europe and the Near East. Mr. Kelsey passed away on December 18, 1975 in Toronto Canada.”

We have had a chance to see Easton often through these blog posts, as he traveled with his father and his colleagues in Europe, southwest Asia, and northern Africa. 

This month, we highlight not only photographs of Easton during his travels (George Swain often placed him next to the monuments he was photographing, for scale), but also his own contributions to the archives. Easton had his own Kodak which he used to capture the sights and sites he visited on his travels. His 500+ photographs are indicated in the archives by the prefix “KK” (Kodak Kelsey). In the sample below, we see photographs of Easton standing next to the pyramids in Giza, with his family in Jerusalem, in Istanbul (then Constantinople), in a wrecked vehicle in France at the end of WWI, standing in a wheat field in England, in Greece. And we also get a glimpse of what he was seeing: views of Dimé (ancient Soknopaiou Nesos) and Cairo, the Parthenon, his mother taking in the pyramids at Giza and Sakkara, his bunk on a ship crossing the Mediterranean. He even captured Swain at work in Patmos, Greece. 

This June, we wish the youngest Kelsey child a very happy birthday. He was much loved by his father and was able to enjoy some amazing adventures with him. The archives are a testament to that relationship, and his photographs attest to the excitement they shared together. Happy birthday.

“Wrecked armored car, camouflaged, probably French, on the Miette side of the slope of the ridge. Easton Kelsey inside for scale.” Berry-au-Bac and vicinity, France. October 18, 1919. KS021.05.

“Part of train and Easton Kelsey at Agram.” Zagreb. November 16, 1919. KS024.01.

“Nearer view of Easton Kelsey and the side of the sleeping car, at Agram.” Zagreb. November 16, 1919. KS024.02.

“Easton Kelsey by the parapet of one of the Seven Towers.” Constantinople, Turkey. December 24, 1919. KS053.12.

“Easton Kelsey by the flag in the stern of the launch.” Constantinople, Turkey. December 24, 1919. KS054.08.

“Our party starting for the Mount of Olives. Beginning at the left; Easton Kelsey, Mrs. E. M. Norton, G. R. Swain, Mrs. Kelsey, the guide and Professor Kelsey.” Jerusalem. January 21, 1920. KS111.01.

“Easton Kelsey by the base of one of colossi.” Karnak. February 13 or 14, 1920. KS140.24.

“Statues in the second court.” Karnak. February 13, 1920. KK010.

“Ruined colossus of Rameses II, Easton Kelsey on top.” Karnak. February 13 or 14, 1920. KK012.

“Two of the statues in the Temple of Ammon. Easton Kelsey for scale.” Karnak. February 13 or 14, 1920. KK025.

“Guide, with Mrs. Ellen M. Norton (veiled) on a donkey.” February 13 or 14, 1920. KK033.

“Statues of Thotmes III, 7th pylon, temple of Ammon.” Karnak. February 13 or 14, 1920. KK034.

“Easton Kelsey standing in front of painted reliefs.” Deir el-Bahri, February 13 or 14, 1920.

“Sakkara trip. Easton Kelsey on a donkey near the site of Memphis.” Near Memphis, Egypt, February 17, 1920. KK041

“Shepheard’s. Easton Kelsey on an upper balcony of the hotel.” Cairo. March 1, 1920. KK071.

“Pyramids. The Sphinx and Cheops, with sundry tourists and other animals.” Cairo. March 3, 1920. KK073.

“Pyramids. Mrs. F. W. Kelsey in the desert. Cheops and Kephren in the distance.” Cairo. March 26, 1920. KK089.

“Pyramids. Easton Kelsey by the base of the first pyramid, Cheops. Shows size of stones.” Cairo. March 26, 1920. KS156.10.

“Sakkara trip. Mrs. Kelsey, Easton Kelsey, and G. R. Swain on mules, Sakkara trip; guides by road, palms back.” March 30, 1920. KK119.

“Sakkara trip. Guide with Mrs. Kelsey on a donkey, ruined pyramid in the background.” Cairo. March 30, 1920. KK118.

“Mosque of Ibn Tuloun, looking from the minaret toward the Citadel and Mosque of Ali.” Cairo. April 19, 1920. KK137.

“Mosque of Ibn Tuloun, view from the minaret; somewhat similar to KK 135.” Cairo. April 19, 1920. KK138.

“Dimay. Ruins of the temple enclosure, Dimay.” Dimé, Egypt. April 27, 1920. KK156.

“Smith-Thompson No. 212 (U.S. Destroyer). Easton Kelsey’s bunk.” Mediterranean, Alexandria to Patmos. May 3, 1920. KK176.

“Monastery. G.R. Swain photographing manuscripts on the roof of the monastery.” Patmos, Greece. May 7, 1920. KK195.

“Views. Easton Kelsey on a rock in the foreground. Looking toward the harbor and monastery, from north of La Scala.” Patmos, Greece. May 8, 1920. KK204.

“General views. Splendid wall of squared stone at the Acropolis, bevelled down the exposed corner. Easton Kelsey for scale. This is the finest masonry on the Acropolis.” On verso of photo: “Patmos. Some of the masonry on the summit of the acropolis. No one knows when or by whom the stone work (of excellent technique) was constructed.” May 15, 1920. 7.0386

“Bosporus. Roumeli Hissar. Detail of the stairway inside with Easton Kelsey carrying a camera case.” Constantinople, Turkey. June 14, 1920. KS203.06.

“Acropolis. Parthenon, first view as you come up through the Propylaea.” Athens, Greece. June 22, 1920. KK271.

“Cookham. An English wheat field, with Easton Kelsey standing in the grain.” Cookham, England. July 18, 1920. KK311.

“Easton Kelsey, Swain, guard and the truck.” Ak Shehir Chaussée, Turkey. September 2, 1924. KR098.06.

From the Archives #66

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

A lot of wonderful events take place in the month of May. The University of Michigan often holds its commencement ceremony toward the beginning of the month. The peony gardens at Nichols Arboretum are ready to bloom. The weather warms up, and Ann Arborites are going outside to enjoy the sun and warmth. Families gather at parks, people start floating down the cascades of the Huron River.

May is also the month we get to celebrate the birthday of our museum’s namesake, Francis Willey Kelsey. Francis Kelsey was born in Ogden, New York, on 23 May 1858. Francis studied at the University of Rochester, where he received his BA in 1880. Rochester also awarded him a PhD in 1886, and an honorary LLD in 1910. Professor Kelsey taught at Lake Forest University from 1880 to 1889, when he was hired at the University of Michigan. Kelsey would remain here until his death in 1927, coincidentally also in May (14 May 1927)

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we celebrate Francis Kelsey with a selection of photographs during his time at Michigan. The photographs are primarily from Europe and Southwest Asia and North Africa. For more on Francis Kelsey, we encourage our readers to read John Pedley’s fantastic book, The Life and Work of Francis Willey Kelsey: Archaeology, Antiquity, and the Arts (2011). Professor Pedley scoured the Archives to find details about Kelsey’s life that informed his choices as a scholar and professor.

Professor Kelsey was a pioneer in his field and a highly respected scholar. His presence at the University of Michigan is still felt 163 years after his birth. How he changed campus is felt outside of the Kelsey Museum and Classics Department, as he had served as president of the University Musical Society as well. During his tenure, he collaborated with Albert Kahn to build Hill Auditorium. His frequent communication with University presidents showed the level of influence he had on campus.

Many readers know him best through his involvement in archaeological projects. As a young scholar, he worked with German archaeologist August Mau to publish on Pompeii. He visited Carthage, where in 1893 he purchased the first artifact that would become the collection of the Kelsey Museum. Through his efforts, funds were raised for the excavations at Karanis, Carthage, and Pisidian Antioch. Karanis, as many know, went on to be the most important of these projects, and a significant portion of the Kelsey’s collection is derived from this site.

To celebrate the life of Kelsey, we share here several photographs from the archives. Image 5.7963 is an official portrait of Kelsey, taken in Ann Arbor. We also see him throughout the Old World, as he rides a donkey in Palestine (KS111.01), in the company of his wife and son. In KS094.04 and KS071.06 Kelsey is speaking with locals at Baalbek and in Turkey, respectively. We see him throughout Turkey in KS066.07, KS056.08, and KR098.08, where he was involved with relief efforts and orphanages. Kelsey and his wife are captured in York where they pose on the old city wall (KS010.02) and among tourists in Edinburgh (KS008.02). While in Egypt, Kelsey was in search of a location for future excavations (he found three: Karanis, Dimé, and Terenouthis). In KK061, we see Kelsey touring Theadelphia, Egypt. Finally, we return to Carthage in 1925, where Kelsey worked with Père Delattre on the excavations of the site (7.2055).

The University and Kelsey Museum specifically owe a great deal to Francis Kelsey. His presence in Ann Arbor had lasting effects on campus. His work is still being studied today. Thanks to Kelsey, there are several lifetimes worth of material to study and research. All of that is then shared with the student body, which was one of his goals. Happy birthday, Francis W. Kelsey. Thank you for all your efforts and work.

black and white portrait
5.7963. Portrait of Professor Francis W. Kelsey.

black and white photo of tourists in Jerusalem on donkeys.
KS111.01. “Our party starting for the Mount of Olives. Beginning at the left: Easton Kelsey, Mrs. E.M. Norton, G.R. Swain, Mrs. Kelsey, the guide and Professor (Francis W.) Kelsey.” Jerusalem, January 21, 1920.

group of people
KS094.04. “Professor (Francis W.) Kelsey buys some knucklebones.” Baalbek, Lebanon. January 14, 1920.

black and white photo of group of people.
KS071.06. “Professor (Francis W.) Kelsey in the road talking with a number of natives. Wheel of Reo car (Speed Wagon) at right.” Turkey, January 4, 1920.

black and white group photo.
KS066.07. “Another view, seniors of the school, at the left. Mrs. Christie, Mrs. Kelsey and Dr. Christie. Professor (Francis W.) Kelsey at the right. (St. Paul’s School at Tarsus.).” Tarsus, Turkey. January 2, 1920.

black and white photo of three people outside a train station.
KS056.08. “Just a snap shot on a station platform. Professor (Francis W.) Kelsey at the left. Well built station. Turkey, between Derindje and Konia.” December 28, 1919.

KR098.08. “Woodbridge, guard and Professor (Francis W.) Kelsey, with the sedan. Turkey, Ak Shehir Chaussée.” September 2, 1924.

black and white photo of the old city wall at York.
KS010.02. “A bit of the old city wall, cathedral towers in the distance. Professor (Francis W.) and Mrs. Kelsey on the wall, but not very clear.” York, England. September 18, 1919.

black and white group shot at Edinburgh Castle.
KS008.02. “A group of tourists in the Castle. Professor (Francis W.) Kelsey near the center.” Edinburgh, Scotland. September 17,

black and white photo of two men walking among ruins.
KK061. “Theadelphia. General view in the ruins. Professor (Francis W.) Kelsey walking across the foreground.” Theadelphia, Egypt. February 28, 1920.

black and white photo of a group of men.
7.2055. “People. Staff group at Precinct of Tanit. (Beginning at the left, Peterson, French, Count de Prorok, Père Hugenot, Washington, Abbé Chabot, Professor (Francis W.) Kelsey and Père Delattre.)” May 1925.

From the Archives #65

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

Recent “From the Archives” blog posts have focused on Francis Kelsey and his team as they traveled through Europe, southwest Asia, and North Africa. The trip commenced in 1919 and concluded in 1920, during which time the group traveled from Michigan to New York City, to Scotland and London, France, and through Europe until they reached Turkey. They continued through to Egypt on this trip as well. Posts from 2019 and 2020 show these adventures, and their subsequent return to London and America.

A blog post from April 2018 also showcased some of these travels, and how far the team managed to get on this trip. On April 27, 1920, the Michigan team visited the site of Dimé (Dimay; ancient Soknopaiou Nesos) in the Egyptian Fayum. The blog post highlighted a single roll of film, KS175, which showed the remains of the city, and the team’s approach and quick visit. 

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we revisit this trip to Dimé by showcasing more photographs from this day. Though Kelsey had other goals for this year-long trip, he was keen on finding potential excavation sites for Michigan. The team wouldn’t return to excavate nearby Karanis until 1924, and to Dimé until 1931 (after Kelsey’s death in 1927), but he was already laying the groundwork for these excavations back in 1920. The 2018 post showed but a few images George Swain took. This month we show even more photos he took using other equipment, including a Cirkut camera in order to capture a panoramic view of the site. We also have several photographs taken by Easton Kelsey.

Kelsey and his team were able to see all this in a single day; Swain’s photographs from the next day show they were back on the road visiting other sites in Fayum. Even today it takes a long while to reach the site of Dimé; it would have been an even longer trip in the 1920s. This is one reason why the Michigan team spent only one season excavating there. 

While Michigan spent only one season at Dimé, Kelsey Museum friends from Italy have spent a number of years studying the site. Amazingly, many of the walls seen here remain standing. Still, in the course of over 100 years since Kelsey’s visit, much has changed, which is why these archival photographs remain such an important resource for ongoing scholarship.

From the Archives #64

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

The “From the Archives” blog post from this past January featured the Kelsey Museum’s first method to track newly acquired materials. The ledger, very similar to ones used at other museums, is a line-by-line book of every item the museum accessioned, whether the item came via donation, excavation, or purchase. The ledger, though limited, provided a wealth of information. Each item was given its own unique inventory number, under which was listed as much information as was known: collection date, acquisition date, source, and any other relevant information. In some cases, ledgers would include drawings of the item, or drawings of special features.

As useful as a ledger is, there are several downsides in using this as the primary means of tracking objects. For one, the information captured is based on the time someone has to enter the information by hand. Second, it does not afford a researcher a way to search the collections. Since everything is entered as it was acquired, there is no way to search across or see a grouping of similar items. In time, a card catalogue was created at the Kelsey to help with searching and grouping, but these functions were limited.

These days, museums employ many tools to track their collections. At the heart of this for most museums is a database. There are many options, and a museum can choose a system depending on its own set of needs. Even these evolve over time; the systems available in the early days are not as powerful or sophisticated as newer systems.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present an early version of the Kelsey Museum database. Though not the first database used here, this FileMaker Pro database from 1996 still represents an early foray into the digitization of our collections. At this time, much of the database was text-based. Interns, volunteers, and staff would enter basic information from the ledgers or card catalogues into the database. As computers back then were so limited in space, it was difficult to include more information, let alone images. The pages of the Registry Database Manual presented here show how limited the database was in terms of information and presentation. Reports had to be written into the system, as customization was not possible. 

Though databases now are faster, more powerful, and capable of so much more, it is important to acknowledge where we started and how we used to work with our information. In much the same way that excavation records dictate future research, so too does the way a museum captures information inform future research. Non-standardized text fields meant similar information was captured in a variety of ways (ceramics vs pottery, fragment vs sherd), causing incomplete searches.

It is important for museums to not only track the history of their collections, but also the way they work. Museum staff spend a lot of time decoding past actions and decisions, often with very little information to begin with. Being able to go back and find old records such as these database files inform us why certain artifacts are catalogued in certain ways. Having that history represents a full picture of the care of collections, how they have been handled and used. Knowing where we have come from at all levels will make for better-informed decisions in the future.

From the Archives #63

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

Friends of the Kelsey Museum are quite familiar with the excavations of Karanis and how that project makes up a significant portion of our artifacts and archival collections. The Kelsey has published numerous books and articles about Karanis and the artifacts found there, and we have mounted various exhibitions related to the site and its interpretation.

Even now, almost 100 years since the start of the University of Michigan excavations at the site, materials from Karanis continue to draw researchers who are posing new questions. The existing literature is of course still useful, but new pairs of eyes are looking at the excavation data in different ways and asking new questions. This is exciting for us; new scholarship enlivens the collection.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we highlight the work of one of those new sets of eyes. This year, the Kelsey is honored to welcome a new assistant curator of numismatics, Irene Soto Marín. Many of you may already have read some posts on her new blog, The Social Lives of Coins. Since she arrived in September, Soto Marín has been working through the Kelsey’s numismatic collection, paying specific attention to the nearly 30,000 coins from Karanis (about three-quarters of the entire coin collection).

As artifacts were excavated at the site, the Karanis team would work with officials from the Egyptian Department of Antiquities to decide which items could return to Ann Arbor and which were to stay in Egypt. This system of partage was common throughout foreign excavations in the early part of the 20th century; most of the objects in the Kelsey Museum are here as a result of partage. We also hold the Division Albums from Karanis—photographs of similar items of all kinds (wood, stone, pottery, textiles, etc.) that the Antiquities officials would consult to decide how to divide the finds. The album pages showing the excavated coins are what we present here. These photographs were taken in February 1935.

The Karanis coins were published by Rolfe Haatvedt and E.E. Peterson in 1964, yet they still offer much to discover and learn. Soto Marín and other researchers will continue to study them and produce new publications that will give us greater glimpses into life in Roman Egypt. The Kelsey Museum holds only a portion of the coins that were excavated at Karanis; the photographs from the Division Albums show us those that remain in Egypt. From these photographs and the coins in Ann Arbor, Soto Marín can teach us so much about the site, the times, and the people of Karanis.

We are excited to work with new researchers, and even more excited that one is now at the Kelsey Museum. There is still so much to learn about Karanis. As we make the collections more accessible, we will be able to get more voices, eyes, and minds on the materials and generate new scholarship. Photographs like these are just one way we can ensure such research continues.

From the Archives #62

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

These days, museums have many tools at their disposal that allow us to do our work efficiently. Chief among them is the database, a way to organize our collections so we can find items easily using any number of search terms and tricks. A database can be a spreadsheet, a custom-made software solution, or a large entity that spans institutions. There are many answers to the database question, and no one system is correct. Each has its own set of features that museum staff can’t do without, just as each has its drawbacks.

Of course, many museums were founded decades, even centuries ago, before the advent of computers. How did museum staff track their collections before there was a computer on every desk? How did they keep track of the objects in their care and provide support for ongoing research?

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present the Kelsey’s earliest form of collections-tracking: the accession ledger. The ledger is an item-by-item catalogue of objects, logged as they were acquired by the museum. These ledgers predate by decades any electronic collections management system and for a long time were the only way to track collections. Even Francis Kelsey contributed to the ledger; his handwriting is found throughout the documents.

Four sample images from the Kelsey’s accession ledgers, showing early accessions into the Kelsey, including those of Francis Kelsey.

These early ledgers provide much useful information to researchers and museum staff. We see not only what materials were collected but also where they came from and when they arrived at the museum. In some cases, we even see when they were collected in the field, as that date may differ from the museum’s acquisition date. On rare occasions, someone included a hand drawing of an artifact. This is more common among some ledgers than others, but it is time-consuming and not all items were afforded this luxury. We see how an item was subsequently deaccessioned, the process where an object is officially removed from the collection. In some cases, information is provided about where the item ended up. In most cases, we do not have that information.

The Kelsey Museum created its first database in the 1980s. At that time, the information in the ledgers was transferred to a card catalogue, and those cards became the basis for the database. The cards did not include all the information found in the ledgers, however. Transcribing everything would have taken a lot of time, and in addition, early databases had limited capacity. In the decades since, we have attempted to add the missing information to our database. It is not always easy. We cannot transfer drawings, for example, and some of the handwriting is difficult to decipher. Fortunately, the longer we work with these documents, the more familiar we become with the handwriting of specific people, and thus more adept at deciphering their notes. And by recognizing handwriting, we can also see how many people were involved in supplying information to each object.

Despite our ongoing efforts, the Kelsey accession ledgers remain full of vital information not found in our database. As we continuously research our collections, we often refer to these ledgers and find new insights. Regardless of how indispensable our databases are, we will continue to preserve our ledgers, for we still have so much to learn from their pages.

From the Archives #61

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

Over the course of 2020, we have been following the travels of Francis Kelsey and his team as they made their way across Europe. They arrived in 1919 and stayed through August 1920. The past few months here on “From the Archives,” we went back to the start of their journey, recounting the team’s arrival in Europe in 1919. We have watched them land in England, travel about, and make their way to the mainland.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we join the team as they end 1919. In early December, they were still in Bulgaria, where we left them last month. By December 3, they started their train trip from Sofia to Istanbul. In this series of photographs, we see the train and the sights along the way. It seems that Swain was fond of capturing their entire adventure, which so often meant their modes of transportation. Thus far on this trip, we have seen trains, and ships, cars, and more trains.

Swain also made sure to capture life as they saw it. People working, people milling about, people living their lives. We have seen his attention to architecture, or the remains of it after the ravages of war. On their way to Turkey, we see the same. Men at the station, the landscapes, and buildings along the way.

Once in Istanbul, Swain continued his relentless capture, giving us glimpses of the sites of the city, such as the Hagia Sophia, the bazaar, the Galata Bridge and Tower, the Blue Mosque (Mosque of Ahmed), and the “Bosporus” (Bosphorus). Along the waters, we see numerous ships and boats, including military ships from Italy, the US, and Greece.

After Christmas, the team left Istanbul (“Constantinople”) and traveled some more. More trains, more train stations, more views of the countryside. And more people they met along the way. We see Francis and Easton Kelsey, as well as George Swain himself, posing throughout. We are also allowed to see some of the repercussions of recent events. Miss Cushman’s “relief” kindergarten and all the children there. In photo 7.0156, we see an Armenian refugee camp. Francis Kelsey was heavily involved in the relief effort following the Armenian genocide. Later on this trip, they would spend more time with Armenians and with refugees in Syria.

For their last day of 1919, Kelsey and team were in Adana, not far from the modern Syrian border (and near Aleppo). Here they got more views of the locals, the buildings, the station, and life in general. And more relief work.

Swain was quite prolific with his photo capture. For December 1919 alone, we have records for 376 Swain photographs. We are presenting only 99 this month, but even these show the range of his photographs.

By this point, we have covered the majority of their visit to Europe and beyond, recounting the start of the journey as well as the tail end of the trip. Since the majority of their trip occurred in 1920, and we have already accompanied them throughout 2020, we will take our leave of the team here in Turkey. For glimpses of how the journey continued, be sure to go back and view previous blog posts from 2020, where we present their visits to Turkey, Syria, and elsewhere.

Wherever you find yourself this coming new year’s eve, we wish you the best and a happy holiday. Thank you for following Kelsey and Swain’s adventures this year. In 2021, we will return with new series and memories from the archives. Happy new year!

December 2, 1919: Sofia, Bulgaria

“Residence of the Archibishop near the cathedral.” KS040.05.

“General view, from the steps of the new cathedral, across the square to the mountains beyond — latter clearly shown.” KS040.11.

“Interior of the new cathedral, toward one transept; Christ in the Temple.” KS040.07.

December 3–4: Train ride from Sofia to Istanbul (“Constantinople”)

“One of the three engines that pulled us up out of the Sofia plain. Made in Germany in 1917.” KS041.05.

“Dining and sleeping cars on the train — express.” KS041.07.

“Just over the divide — train, station, mountains.” KS041.09.

“The engine that pulled us into Constantinople. Had to stop to get its breath at the foot of one small grade.” KS042.02.

“Typical group at a station, men and women.” December 4. KS042.03.

December 5–25: Istanbul (“Constantinople” / “Stamboul”)

“The umbrella mender sitting on the sidewalk on a typical street.” December 5. KS043.04.

“Typical view on one of the modern streets. At this time, signs in French were allowed.” December 5. KS043.05.

“Up the Golden Horn from the Galata Bridge, ferry steamer in the foreground.” December 5. KS043.07.

“View toward Pera and the Galata Tower.” December 5. KS043.11.

“The Galata Bride, looking toward Pera.” December 5. KS043.12.

“From the Galata Tower, toward Stamboul, into the light. Mosques on sky line. Glint of Sea of Marmora in distance.” December 5. KS044.09.

“Pair of buffalo oxen with loaded cart, probably sacks of grain.” December 5. KS045.03.

“Men unloading a small boat.” December 5. KS045.06.

No caption. Group of men. December 5. KS045.08

“Sancta Sophia, from the square.” December 5. KS045.09.

“A view on Pera Street, the great tourist shopping district, and the modern part of Constantinople.” December 7. KS045.12.

“Another view of St. Sophia.” December 7. KS046.01.

“The mosque of Ahmed, near St. Sophia.” December 9. KS046.08.

“Turkish houses with wooden screens at the windows, in Stamboul.” December 9. KS046.09.

“Shop where they pressed the Turkish tabbooses or fezes.” (With the passing of the fez this must be a vanished industry in 1927). December 9. KS046.10.

“A tiny cobbler’s shop by the street in Stamboul.” December 9. KS046.11.

“Street view with Turkish women — little off focus.” December 9. KS046.11.

“Glimpse into courtyard in Stamboul.” December 9. KS047.02.

“Men washing their feet before entering a mosque.” December 9. KS047.03.

“Entrance to the shop of the antiquarian. Andronicos M. Kidaoglou, Imameli Han No. 10, (Merdjan), Stamboul.” December 9. KS047.07.

“A busy corner near the Egyptian bazaar.” December 9. KS047.09.

“Young man having a letter written by the old public letter writer. Near the Egyptian bazaar.” December 9. KS047.10.

“Crowd of people by the booths of the Egyptian bazaar.” December 9. KS047.11.

“A.C.R.N.E. (later “N.E.R.”) bakery, exterior. Formerly an Armenian bakery. Capacity 10,000 loaves a day, but could be doubled with full supply of flour. Bread furnished free to orphan establishments, balance of bread sold for 10 piastres a loaf — ‘about half the cost when stealing is deducted’ — Maj. Arnold.” December 18. 7.0096.

“N.E.R. bakery, sacks of flour in the storeroom up stairs.” December 18. 7.0099.

“Scutari. Bargaining for charcoal.” December 21. KS049.03.

“Scutari. Row of old wooden Turkish houses near the cemetery — of such are fire hazards made.” December 21. KS050.12.

“A pile of mine sweepers on the dock.” December 22. KS051A.01.

“An Italian destroyer at an anchor in the harbor.” December 22. KS051A.02.

“U.S.S. GALVESTON moored to the dock. Taken from the shore.” December 22. 7.0095.

“Looking up along the shores of the Bosporus from the U.S.S. Galveston.” December 22. KS051A.03.

“The old U.S.S. Mississippi, now Greek.” December 22. KS051A.04.

“Bosporus. Anatoli Hissar, Castle of Asia, from the water.” December 22. KS051B.01.

No caption. Bosphorus. December 22. KS051B.06.

“Bosporus. Roumeli Hissar at sunset, into the light.” December 22. KS051B.10.

“Two of the men servants at the Continental Hotel. Duplicate of KS052.02.” December 24. KS052.02.

“Bread for sale.” December 24. KS052.07.

“Porter carrying a large bureau with mirror, on his shoulders.” December 24. KS052.08.

“Front of the Continental Hotel.” December 24. KS052.09.

“Scene in a fruit market.” December 24. KS052.11.

“Easton Kelsey by the parapet of one of the Seven Towers.” December 24. KS053.12.

“Bosporus. From the hill back, looking through between the two outer towers of Roumeli Hissar, across the Bosporus toward Anatoli Hissar and the surrounding country. Long focus lens — better view than the preceding — 70127.” On the verso of the photograph is written in Swain’s hand: “Roumeli Hissar where Mohammedans crossed into Europe. Bosphorus 1/2 mile (west?).” 7.0129.

“The crew of the U.S.N. launch that took us down to the Seven Towers.” December 24. KS054.01.

“Easton Kelsey by the flag in the stern of the launch.” December 24. KS054.08.

“G.R. Swain by the flag in the stern of the launch. Undertimed.” December 24. KS054.09.

“Mr. Perry, Mr. Bristol and Mr. Stevens, photographed in the yard of the Y.M.C.A.” (Last picture taken of Mr. Perry before he was shot on the Aintab road.) Second copy of photo has its own caption: “Left to right: James Perry, killed near Aintab, February 1; Secretary Bristol and Associate Secretary Stevens, of the Y.M.C.A. Association in Constantinople, photograph made December 25, 1919. Photograph by George R. Swain.” December 25. 7.0012.

December 27–28: Train ride from Derince (“Derindje”) to Konya (“Konia”)

“The A.C.R.N.E. restaurant at Derindje. Derindje was the landing point for stuff by steamer from the U.S.A. and other places at this time.” December 27. KS056.01.

“Approaching Affiun Kara Hissar, the junction point for the line from Smyrna. High bluffs near the line.” December 28. KS056.05.

“Just a crowd by the train at a station.” December 28. DKS056.06.

“Just a snap shot on a station platform. Professor (Francis W.) Kelsey at the left. Well built station.” December 28. KS056.08.

“Line of five Hindoo soldiers at a station.” December 28. KS056.09.

“Group of native men at one of the stations.” December 28. KS056.10.

“A native omnibus — araba. This is a four-wheeled vehicle.” December 28. KS056.11.

“Party that travelled down through Asia Minor in freight cars. Same as 7.147, except that in this one the Armenian cook is standing in the door of the Diner.” (Figure on left with hat and topcoat looks very much like F. Kelsey. DSB.) Ula Kushla, Turkey. December 28. 7.0148.

“Our four freight cars de luxe. The Armenian cook is standing in the door of the dining car.” December 28. KS057.05.

“Five of the party in the door of the dining car. The man is Major Arnold.” December 28. KS057.04.

December 29: Konya (“Konia”)

“A poverty stricken woman in the street.” KS057.09.

“A group of ‘relief’ kindergarten children. Miss Cushman’s work.” KS057.10.

“A new boy coming to the school. Miss Cushman’s work.” KS057.11.

“Miss Cushman talking to some boys.” KS057.12.

“Children doing kindergarten exercises.” KS058.01.

“Another kindergarten exercise — little out of focus.” KS058.03.

“General view of Miss Cushman’s ‘plant’, the American Polyclinic.” (Used as a hotel in September 1924). KS058.05.

“Some native women, veiled, going by the fountain in front of Miss Cushman’s.” KS058.07.

“The Reo Speed Wagon in front of the entrance to Miss Cushman’s – the American Polyclinic.” KS058.08.

“Street view — shutter too slow.” KS058.09.

“Women by a mosque — likely beggars.” KS058.10.

“General view of the approach to the Museum.” (Practically unchanged in 1924). KS059.02.

“Ruins of the Armenian church.” KS059.05.

December 30: Train ride from Konya to Adana

“A caravan encamped, somewhere south of Konia.” KS059.09.

“A near view of some camels.” KS059.10.

“Crowd on the station platform at Eregli.” KS059.11.

“Shepherd with wide coat — moved a little.” KS060.05.

“Group, most of the men of our party, in front of the A.C.R.N.E. house at Ula Kushla.” KS060.09.

“A glimpse into the heart of the Taurus range.” KS061.05.

“The station at Tchefte Khan.” KS062.01.

“Station and mountain, taken from top of train.” KS062.09.

December 31: Adana

“General view of part of Armenian refugee camp at Adana. Armenians were moved here from Aleppo. Tents were ditched and comfortably dry.” 7.0156.

“Demobilized Turkish soldiers at the Adana station.” KS062.12.

“Car with BAGDAD in metal letters on the side — railway car.” KS063.02.

“Camels by the station.” KS064.02.

“Group of fairly well dressed natives, probably mostly Turkish.” KS064.06.

“Exterior of the Adana station. Expanse of sloppy mud, woman with basket walking through it.” KS063.05.

“Woman (Armenian?) and child in street by wall.” KS063.07.

“Group of natives bolling cotton by hand, on the sidewalk just outside the hospital.” KS063.09.

“Gateway to the hospital, American.” KS063.08.

“Very similar to the preceding, KS063.10, but group in slightly different position.” KS063.11.

“General view along the corridor (arcade) of the Hospital.” KS063.12.

“An English industrial “plant” — relief work. Interior, time exposure, some moved.” KS064.08.

“Group of Miss Webb’s girls in the courtyard with looms, machines, etc. Three or four Armenian girl-mothers at the left in the foreground.” 7.0154.

“At Miss Webb’s school. Three Armenian girls and the rugs they had been weaving.” On the verso of the photograph is written in Swain’s hand: “Girls of Adana, weaving rugs.” 7.0153.

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