Something For Everyone: Creative Utilization of Archival Collections
Posted On: 07/24/2017 - 11:47am, Posted By: Christine Engels, Archives Manager, Manuscripts Department
The Cincinnati History Library and Archives’ manuscript collection is primarily a research collection. Our users include historians, genealogists, scientists, students, documentary filmmakers and even the local news media. One of the more delightful aspects of working in an archives is seeing the many ways that people use the collections. Sometimes it’s straight-forward but some researchers utilize a more creative viewpoint and use records in ways that aren’t immediately obvious. It’s even more fun to watch several researchers using the same collection for completely different reasons.
The Ida S. Schulze Collection is a good example to illustrate the variety of ways to use records. Ida was a real estate agent and in 1965 started her own company, Schulze Realty. At first glance the uses of this collection seem readily apparent. Most of the collection consists of cards that list the building for sale, its design details and sometimes an image or map of the property. People often ask us to assist them in researching their home so our realty collections are often utilized. While these cards don’t have every detail of a house’s history they would be a great help to someone doing that sort of research.
This collection is arranged by neighborhood, city, or county and the records all date from the 1950s through the mid-1970s. These dates coincide with the extreme growth of suburbs across the US and also a move away from the city’s original suburbs, the first ring of neighborhoods outside of the urban limits. I could easily see a researcher using these records to track which neighborhoods were growing the fastest and which were emptying out. With a few other resources in the library and online (State Auditor and State Recorder webpages) you could track the homes’ buyers and learn more information about the house and property.
The 1950s-1970s was an important period for large urban projects. Interstate highways were built and, while good for commerce on a grander scale, they often tore neighborhoods apart when they cut through cities. As these neighborhoods became less desirable to live in because of their truncated nature they simultaneously became more affordable and attracted new potential residents. The Civil Rights movement was also burgeoning at this time and zoning and housing ordinances were being challenged, most notably those that maintained segregation and forbade African Americans from residency. Though certainly not the only reason - upward mobility and the desire for bigger, better and newer is ingrained in the American psyche - the movement of African Americans into traditionally white neighborhoods compelled some white residents to move farther away from the urban core of the city. The Schulze collection could provide raw data for a researcher to verify instances of this phenomenon.
Just as you cannot judge a book by its cover you cannot always see every way a collection may be used. The Schulze collection could be used to discover which styles and sizes of homes came and went out of style. You could also use them to track new neighborhoods that were being platted out. Building off of that you could then research how those new developments affected the animals and natural habitat of that area and reduced available farmland.
I’m sure there’s more ways to utilize this collection than I’ve listed here. This is the wonderful nature of records in archives and their intersections with not only history, but also social sciences, natural sciences, economics, art and design.