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.
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.
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.”
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
December 3–4: Train ride from Sofia to Istanbul (“Constantinople”)
December 5–25: Istanbul (“Constantinople” / “Stamboul”)
December 27–28: Train ride from Derince (“Derindje”) to Konya (“Konia”)
Over the past few months, we have been recounting Francis Kelsey’s, George Swain’s, and the rest of the team’s year-long trip to Europe, Southwest Asia, and North Africa. Back in September of 1919, the team made their way from Ann Arbor to Detroit and then to New York City in order to cross the Atlantic so they could visit those areas affected by the Great War (World War I). The trip lasted through August 1920, when they returned to Michigan.
At the onset of the trip, the team landed in the United Kingdom and made their way south, visiting several towns and taking stock of the land which had been ravaged by war for years. They also were able to connect with colleagues and friends. Over the course of months, they made their way across Europe, heading toward Greece, Turkey, and Egypt.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present the continuation of this trip. In November 1919, the team found themselves primarily in Romania (“Roumania”), Bulgaria, and Serbia (“Servia”). They began the month in Paris (KS023.02, mandatory Eiffel Tower view), then made their way east through Switzerland and arrived in Serbia. In Serbia, we mostly see the surrounding landscapes, the train station, and some soldiers. We also catch a glimpse of Easton Kelsey, Francis Kelsey’s son. It was not just the University of Michigan faculty and staff on this trip, but some family members as well.
The team continued their voyage to Romania, staying in Bucharest. Swain captures life there, from the view from their hotel room to the procession of the royal carriage. We also see children (bootblacks) waiting for work, various buildings they came across, the market and all its wares for sale (soap, sausages, rugs, books, etc.), and an interesting ad for Ford automobiles. Outside of Bucharest, in Adam Klissi (modern Adamclisi), we see a selection of photos for the Tropaeum Traiani, which was originally constructed in 109 CE.
Swain and the rest visit other regions of Romania, where they see the effects of the war, before they arrive in Bulgaria. Once in Sofia, they visit the museum, observe the locals, and admire the buildings. And here is where they ended in late November 1919. Though already in Europe for three months, their journey is still just beginning. Kelsey and crew will soon arrive in Turkey, where they will ring in 1920. Be sure to return next month to see the amazing views they will treat us to.
November 9, 1919: Paris, France
November 15: Brigue, Switzerland
November 16: Train ride heading east, with stops at Zagreb (“Agram”) and Timisoara (“Temesvan”)
November 18–25: Bucharest, Romania
November 26: Giurgiu, Romania
November 27–28: Bulgaria: Ruse (“Roustchouk”) and train trip to Sofia
1919–1920 proved an adventurous year for Francis Kelsey and his team, and we have been sharing those adventures over the past few months through this blog. Last month, we saw how the adventure began, with a train ride from Detroit to New York City, followed by a sea voyage to England. For the month of September, the team stayed in those locations, wandering from Edinburgh to London.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we continue this journey. In early October 1919, the team was still in England, finishing up some travels there. On October 10, they are in London, and they move south to Folkestone, near Dover. From there, Kelsey, Swain, and others board ships to cross the Channel. They arrive in Boulogne, France, and quickly make their way to Paris. While in Paris, we get glimpses of the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, the Arc de Triomphe, and of life on the streets. Swain captured a garbage wagon, a woman sweeping, a fish stand on the street, and a flower pushcart. Daily life as it happened in Paris 1919. And time for sightseeing.
After a few days in Paris, they move on to Meaux, Chateau-Thierry, Rheims. They see through cathedrals, bridges, and various structures along the way. And they get reminders of the recent past. Ruined houses and debris. Homes “pitted with bullets.” Wrecked towns, wrecked factories, a wrecked armored car, wrecked forests and trees. Swain sees French soldiers, German prisoners eating soup and clearing rubbish, a war cemetery, a German prisoner’s camp, a shell dump, German headquarters.
From Rheims (or Reims), they move to Berry-au-Bac and onto Soissons. In Berry-au-Bac, Swain captures Kelsey and a French officer standing by a German trench. The photo appears odd, as Swain accidentally double-exposed the frame. We see trees superimposed on the photo, and Kelsey’s face is distorted. The hat, the build, and the beard are definitely Kelsey, even without being able to see the face.
Once they have seen the vicinity, the team returns to Paris, where they visit the Louvre and see other monuments throughout the city. While outside Paris, Swain used the Cirkut camera to capture Berry-au-Bac. The Cirkut camera was designed to use special film, and had a spring mechanism that would render panoramic photographs. An earlier “From the Archives” blog entry highlighted a number of these panoramics, as it was used throughout North Africa, Turkey, and Europe.
Throughout it all, Swain took notes on his photographs so he could remember and document them later. He was using several cameras: the Cirkut, a handheld Kodak camera, and a view camera. He had to keep track of all these images somehow. And it is those notes that led to our archival photographs database.
It must have been shocking to see the remains of war and the destruction from the Great War. Due to the ongoing conflict, it was difficult for Americans to visit Europe. And when they did, they found a very different Europe from what they remembered. As noted numerous times in previous blog entries, Swain captured life returning to a new normal. People in the streets making a living. Clearing up the debris. Getting on to new business.
From France, the team would carry on to other parts of Europe. The last entry for October is the 20th, so our next photos will be from November 1919. Those will be presented next month, so be sure to return to see where our adventurers rode off to next!
October 10: London and passage to France via the English Channel
October 11–14: Paris, France
October 15: Meaux, Chateau Thierry, and Reims, France
The August 2020 “From the Archives” blog entry recounted the final days of Francis W. Kelsey and team’s year-long trip as they traversed Europe, southwest Asia, and northern Africa. One hundred years ago, in August of 1920, Kelsey, his wife Mary, their son Easton, the photographer George Swain, and several others were in England, France, Belgium, and Germany before they departed on their return voyage to the US. Through George Swain’s eyes (and cameras), we saw what Europe looked like only a century ago. We saw a Europe still recovering from a devastating war, returning to their new normal. And much of the world was also recovering from the pandemic of 1918.
On this year-long adventure, Kelsey and his team saw many countries, documented numerous sites, connected with friends and colleagues, and started making plans to initiate archaeological excavations. The voyage home must have been a relief for the team, after spending so long on the road. They saw much, but such a trip can be exhausting. And a century later, it is interesting for us to see their trip and the fruits of their labors. They had no idea how the next decade or so would turn out, but we see the seeds being planted during this venture. Though some of the groundwork for those excavations were laid prior to the 1919/1920 trip, it was around this time that Kelsey founded the Institute of Archaeological Research (IAR) for the purpose of running archaeological excavations. In 1924, they returned to commence archaeological work at Carthage, Antioch, and Karanis.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we look back 101 years and share where it all began. In September 1919, Francis Kelsey and his team boarded a train in Detroit that was bound for New York City. In New York, they boarded the Columbia, a steamer that would sail across the Atlantic to England (seeing Ireland and Scotland along the way). From there, they would begin their journey across Europe.
Swain seems to have always had his camera at the ready. He captured views of the train station in Detroit, the docks in New York City, life aboard the Columbia, and nine days later, Ireland and Scotland. While on the isle of Britain, the team visited Glasgow, Edinburgh, Berwick, York, and London. We see some of the usual stops along the way, including the river Thames, the Tower of London, the British Museum, Parliament, Westminster Abbey. We also see the people along the street: a fruit vendor, a newspaper boy, a man wearing a sandwich board advertising a play, and an artist on his knees creating art. We see the cars, buses, and attire that were in style at the time. Kelsey and Swain posing before the sites, calling out tourists but acting the tourists themselves.
As noted, this trip afforded the team the opportunity to see so much, take stock of the situation, and plot future work. The photos shared this month show the beginning of the trip; last month we saw its conclusion. In between the two points in time, Kelsey added many miles to his personal odometer, and Swain’s work resulted in a large portion of the Kelsey Museum’s current archives. These are a great resource for scholarly endeavors, but also for the curious who are interested in life one hundred years ago. Thus far, we have presented only a portion of what they saw. In the coming months, we may see a bit more. For this month, we revel in the onset of the journey, wishing the team a healthy trip, already knowing well how successful it will be.
In 1919 and 1920, just after the end of the Great War, Francis Kelsey took a long journey, from England to continental Europe, to Turkey and Syria, through to Egypt. He brought with him a group of people to assist in these travels, including photographer George R. Swain and his own son, Easton Kelsey. This was their first opportunity in a long time to visit this side of the world. They had quite a lot of work to accomplish on this trip, for its purpose was twofold. They were there on humanitarian grounds, visiting Red Cross refugee camps in Turkey and Syria following the Armenian genocide. They were also there to visit colleagues, collections, and historical and archaeological sites. In Egypt, they began planning future archaeological expeditions.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a selection of twenty-five photographs showcasing the group’s travels exactly 100 years ago. In August of 1920, they found themselves in England, France, Belgium, and Germany. The photographs from this leg of the trip, taken by George Swain and Easton Kelsey, show the range of their adventures and activities. We see Windsor Castle in England, with tourists milling about outside. The team connects with Herr and Frau Reindjes and her sister, as they rent a car in Germany. We also see them dealing with their vehicles, extracting them from ditches and changing their tires.
We also get a chance to see post-war life in the respective countries. A man with plow and oxen in Tongeren, Belgium. Another man in Koblenz, Germany, with his dog-pulled cart. An amorous couple (“Local color,” according to the photo label), also in Koblenz, Germany. In Dijon, France, we see a view of one of the castles of the Dukes of Burgundy, and in Paris, we get a glimpse of the Place de l’Opera. Swain and Kelsey provide us with views of other structures, both natural and human-made. In some captions, they include the words “Good,” or “Excellent,” attesting to the quality of the photograph.
Along with these images of resilience, we find ourselves looking at the devastation brought about by the Great War. In La Fere, France, we see “piles of war wreckage” where buildings, including homes, once stood. In Alsace, we see barbed wire entanglements scattered through a field and a shell-hole with wrecked woods in the background. Throughout the war, Kelsey was in frequent communication with his friends and colleagues in Europe and Southwest Asia. The plight of people and areas affected by the war was on his mind, as it was for many Americans.
By the end of August 1920, Swain’s and Kelsey’s photographic documentation of this trip seems to have come to an end. Thanks to their work, we get to see how Europe was one hundred years ago. People were getting back to their lives after years of war, trying to find their new normal. After almost an entire year traveling through Europe, Southwest Asia, and Egypt, it was time for these Americans to return to their normal as well.
This year has proven to be a difficult one for many people. COVID-19 has affected the health of a great number of people throughout the world. Through it all, the people at the frontline have proven how essential they have been and still are. Nurses and doctors have been stretched thin, and we thank them for their dedication.
Acknowledging the work of health professionals is not limited only to emergencies and times of crisis. Hospital workers face dire situations day after day. And still, they show up to help people.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present this picture taken 100 years ago by George Swain. In 1919 and 1920, Swain and Francis Kelsey traveled through Turkey and Syria. They had several goals during this trip, including some archaeological ones. In addition to this work, Kelsey was intent on visiting humanitarian efforts in Turkey and Syria, including orphanages and hospitals, and the refugees who were there.
In June 1920, Swain snapped a photo of nurses and staff in front of a hospital in Istanbul (Swain refers to it as Stamboul, as it was still Constantinople at the time). The nurses worked at the Canadian Hospital for Tubercular Children. On the reverse side of the photo, someone wrote the following:
The personnel of the Canadian Hosp for Tubercular Children Yédi Koulé consists of
A Greek cook and housemaid, husband and wife
A Greek guard and pantry maid, husband and wife
Two Turkish chauffeurs
Two Armenian orderlies
One Armenian kitchen boy
One Armenian gardener
One Armenian Housekeeper
Five Armenian nurses
Three Russian nurses
All natives seen in the photo are Armenians, others not being on the place the day the photo was taken. The Hospital’s (formal opening) will take place on Canada’s Dominion Day July 1st.
Tubercular children to be admitted June 21st.
A mix of people of different origins and nationalities came together in order to help children. Kelsey was invested in these efforts and worked with the Red Cross to help provide resources to those in need in the region.
It is evident that nurses and doctors have consistently been doing what they can for the sick. And have been for a long time. The events of 2020 are just another example of this effort. We are grateful to the people putting themselves in positions to help us when we need them most.
Each year around May, people in and around Ann Arbor start heading to Nichols Arboretum to see the blooming flowers and trees, the signs of spring returning to our area. This year, Nichols will not be planting their regular peony gardens, but people will still be making their way to the arboretum to see what other colorful flowers are growing.
And as the weather continues getting warmer, more people will venture out to their gardens and start planting their own flowers and plants. Soon our neighborhoods will be full of brilliant, beautiful colors and amazing smells. (Sorry, allergy sufferers!)
Flowers and natural beauty have been a source of joy and happiness for thousands of years. The natural world decorated the walls, pottery, and other items of the ancient world. Stroll through the galleries of the Kelsey Museum and you will see many examples of nature-inspired motifs on a wide range of objects.
So, too, did our predecessors at the University of Michigan appreciate the beauty of flowers. For this month’s “From the Archives,” we bring their flowers to you. Though not as brilliant and vibrant as the flowers you can see and smell in the gardens of Matthaei and Nichols, they evoke the beauty that people share no matter where they are. George R. Swain captured the beauty of flowers in England, France, Greece, Egypt, Belgium, Palestine, and Turkey, in gardens, placed near monuments, growing in the wild, and for sale. In his photographs presented here, we see a funeral procession, a decorated cenotaph, flower vendors in Brussels, someone’s private home garden. Swain was sure to point his camera everywhere while traveling with the U-M teams.
Soon, Ann Arbor will be full of flowers and beauty. We will wander the parks and gardens appreciating what we see, often stopping to snap our own photos to share. We are continuing a practice so many people have enjoyed for so long.
In December, many of us spend a lot of time at local stores perusing goods that we think would make great gifts for our loved ones. We spend hours trying to find the perfect gift, the item that shows how we think about those we care about, whether they are close to us or far away.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we go one hundred years back in time, to December 1919, to find a University of Michigan staff member far from home but doing the same thing — going to shops and markets, perhaps to find souvenirs to send back home to Michigan. In 1919 and 1920, U-M photographer George R. Swain accompanied Francis Kelsey on an expedition through Europe and the Mediterranean region. Their goal was to document classical sites as well as to identify sites that might have potential for future excavations.
Here we present seven images taken by Swain in Istanbul — or Constantinople, as it was referred to then (some photo captions refer to the area of “Stamboul”). While traveling, Swain photographed not only archaeological artifacts, sites, and structures, nor did he focus solely on collections at other museums. Almost everywhere he went, Swain turned the camera around to his surroundings, to the people in the area, offering us a glimpse into life in those countries at that time.
The photos shown here cover a time period of 20 days, from 5 December to 24 December 1919. Swain captures life at several shops and businesses in Istanbul. We see a person fixing umbrellas. A cobbler’s shop. A busy corner at the bazaar. Bread and fruit for sale. All the shopping Swain chose to capture.
These photographs allow us to see what the city was like one hundred years ago. People who visit Istanbul now will notice many similarities, but also many differences. The bazaar, though altered, remains. Maybe some of those same shops are still there! And the sentiment is the same. People going about doing their shopping, purchasing items they need, or gifts for friends and family. Now in 2019, we continue doing the same.