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Farewell UH

Department News, Guest Posts

The following comes to us courtesy of Alison Clemens, exiting Houston and Texas Archives Fellow here at the University of Houston Special Collections.  This farewell is bittersweet as we will certainly miss Alison’s insight and expertise.  However, our loss is Yale University’s gain and we wish her all the best in her new position with the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

I joined the staff here in Special Collections in August 2012 as our Houston and Texas Archives Fellow. This was my first professional position as an archivist, as I’d graduated from the University of Texas’s School of Information (iSchool) in the summer of 2012. I was thrilled to join the staff here at UH, and I was excited to work with the outstanding materials in Special Collections and learn more about the vibrant history of Houston. My time here has been very rewarding, and before I leave UH to move on to my new, permanent archivist position, I wanted to have the opportunity to look back over my tenure and share and reflect upon some of my most memorable experiences.

I started my tenure by conducting a survey of our collections, which served two important purposes. First, such surveys allow us to figure out the best way to prioritize collections for projects like additional description and digitization. Second, the survey let me dive into our collections and get a real feel for the treasures we have here.

The focus of my fellowship has been “processing” archival collections, or organizing and describing them to make them available for use by the scholarly and local community. I love processing for a couple of reasons. First, I gain a deep satisfaction from handling primary source materials and seeing how history is embodied in artifactual remnants. Second, processing allows me to spend my time researching a broad variety of subject areas, depending on what collecting I’m working on.

I split my time at UH between processing materials in our Houston and Texas History Collections and our Houston Hip Hop Collections. This meant that I worked with materials ranging from early Texana, including land grants issued to the original Anglo settlers of Texas by Stephen F. Austin, to a gray tape created by DJ Screw. The end goal of this all of this work has been to properly care for the materials and ensure that they’re available for research and use for years to come.

Lightnin’ Hopkins from the Texas Music Collection

Lightnin’ Hopkins from the Texas Music Collection

I also greatly enjoyed working on departmental outreach projects, like piloting our Brown Bag Presentation Series, for which I presented on our Texas Music Collection. This presentation allowed me to share the riches found in our collections with library staff members, as well as online viewers.

My fellowship also afforded me excellent support in developing my knowledge of evolutions and trends in the library and archives fields. I attended classes on working with digital materials at Rare Book School at University of Virginia and through the Society of American Archivists, and I was able to bring my newfound knowledge back to UH to assist with managing digital hip hop album artwork in our Pen & Pixel Graphics, Inc. Records. I also gave a presentation entitled “From Flows to Finding Aids: Processing the Houston Hip Hop Collections at the University of Houston Libraries” at the Society of Southwest Archivists Annual Meeting.

Master P, "The Last Don," from the Houston Hip Hop Collection

Master P, “The Last Don,” from the Houston Hip Hop Collection

Overall, my fellowship has been beneficial in numerous ways. It provided Special Collections with professional level staffing to facilitate completion of departmental priorities like processing, collection management, and increasing digital library collections. It has also helped to promote the collections at UH to a wide range of audiences. Finally, the fellowship has provided me with the professional development support to educate myself on the library and archives field and bring back the knowledge I’ve gleaned to help further Special Collections’ mission of preserving and providing access to our cultural history.

To learn more about the collections we have, check out our website and search our finding aids database. Or, if you’d like to see some these archival materials in person, visit Special Collections!

Guest Post: African American Studies Intern Lanetta Dickens Reviews Hip Hop Conference

Events, Guest Posts, Houston Hip Hop

Lanetta Dickens is majoring in English and minoring in African American Studies. She served as an intern in Special Collections during Spring 2012, working on preservation of the DJ Screw Sound Recordings and assisting with the exhibition DJ Screw and the Rise of Houston Hip Hop.

Awready! The Houston Hip Hop Conference, presented by the University of Houston Libraries, the HERE Project at Rice University, African American Studies at UH, and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at UH, was a recent set of events honoring DJ Screw. I attended the Grafitti, B-Boy and B-Girl Exhibition opening, and the panels/presentations of A Screwed Up History. The art show showcased local Houston artists and their artwork in original display. The event was a success, with free food and fun entertainment.

The panelists involved in the conference were knowledgeably aware of DJ Screw and the Screwed Up Click (S.U.C.).  Participants on the panels included rappers, artists, writers and scholars who informed the audience about the history and culture of Hip Hop in Houston. One of the scholars, Dr. Ronald J. Peters, Associate Professor of Public Health at the University of Texas Health Science Center, managed a discussion on the effects of syrup with rapper ESG and DJ Lil’ Randy of the S.U.C. The topic was first introduced with a definition of the drug, how rappers and individuals were using it, and the results of using the drug.

“Syrup” is a recreational drink based on prescription cough syrup made with codeine promethazine. Both S.U.C. members considered syrup an addictive drug, the use of which was a secretive act initially. However, due to the spread and popularity of syrup, consequences soon emerged, and law enforcement began investigating the drug. Lil’ Randy and ESG expressed their feelings and reactions, saying that they were somewhat surprised by the spread of its popularity. This type of information about the evolving culture of hip hop is important for understanding the African American community and the individuals who have shaped that community.

The Hip Hop conference was an experience that I will remember for a lifetime. I was enlightened by the conversations and discussions that were associated with the growing music empire.  As a minor in African American Studies, I have learned to appreciate and acknowledge the Hip Hop culture that has extended throughout the world. Hip Hop has made a contribution to our society as a means of expressing and documenting the truth about ourselves.

Guest Post: Intern Applies Insights to Houston Hip Hop

Exhibits, Guest Posts, Houston Hip Hop

Janai Smith, today’s guest writer, was the first Special Collections intern in a new partnership with African American Studies. Throughout the Fall semester she worked on the exhibit DJ Screw and the Rise of Houston Hip Hop as well as contributing to other projects related to Houston Hip Hop. Janai will graduate from the University of Houston in 2012. 

For the past four months I have spent at least one day a week in the Special Collections department of the library. It has been an experience to say the least.  This internship is not a mere paper pushing job, as some may assume, but a chance to be a part of the process of collecting and disseminating the beauty of history and all it has to offer.  In the world of online searches and “remote controlled research”, the importance of the tangible parts of history often get overlooked and sometimes lost.

African American Studies intern Janai Smith spent the fall semester working on the upcoming exhibit, DJ Screw and the Rise of Houston Hip Hop.

One may read this and say to themselves that I am being “dramatic” or even just nostalgic but the truth is that DJ Screw was a major contributor to the hip hop culture of Houston, Texas. Historically, the contributions of African Americans to the “American” culture have been minimized to increases in crime rates, dangerous drug usage fads (i.e. sipping syrup), and other negative aspects that have been unfoundedly correlated with the hip hop culture. But this internship has allowed me to examine the hip hop culture, not only from the stand point of a fan but from an academic view.

As a psychology major I have learned that what appears on the outside is not necessarily a reflection of what is being felt on the inside and that a person’s life is affected by environment as much as it is by innate factors. Through this internship I have gotten a chance to get a more in-depth view of the lives of people who have influenced my life and the lives of my friends through their musical and lyrical expressions and will continue to do so for years to come; not just the commercialized part of their life that was formatted to be on display but also some of the private aspects that made them human.

This has been an enjoyable experience working with the staff of Special Collections as well as being able to be a contributing party to the preservation of a piece of my own culture and in a way being a part of the telling of my culture’s story.

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