An average of about one email a day comes to us from ArchiveGrid users asking us for access to items in a collection they learned about while using our database, or for help finding materials. Each request offers a chance to explain what ArchiveGrid is (not a library or archive, but a database of archival collection descriptions) and who we are (not librarians or archivists, but employees of a research department that helps librarians and archivists do their work). Sometimes our users explain their research in detail to us, and a message I received Thursday particularly piqued my interest. An attorney constructing a memorial about Judge Learned Hand seeks something unique beyond photographs and other historical bits to anchor the project. I searched “learned hand” in ArchiveGrid to find out what materials pertaining to him exist, while at the same time hoping our system would have truly unique leads to offer.
A papers collection at Haverford College that the college received as a gift includes an autograph collection, “including letters of Henry Clay, Calvin Coolidge, Judge Learned Hand, Warren Harding, Theodore Roosevelt, John Greenleaf Whittier, Woodrow Wilson and others.” If Hand’s signature is available among these materials and it can be digitized, this might be a powerful element for a memorial.
Billings Learned Hand (note the link to Hand’s Wikipedia page: Because it’s biographical, it links to OCLC, VIAF, and Library of Congress data about him) lived from 1872-1961 and graduated from Harvard Law School. In his career, Hand was appointed by Presidents Coolidge and Taft during their administrations to serve as a federal judge. Narrowing a search to Harvard’s law school archives reveals reminiscences called “My year with Judge Learned Hand” by one of Hand’s law clerks. This primary source would paint the most intimate picture of the judicial role model Hand was and that our researcher admires. Tapping it may reveal new knowledge, and that needed focal point for a Hand memorial. Other papers of Hand are at the Library of Congress, which would detail more about his career.
According to Mapquest, driving between Santa Cruz and San Jose in California takes 42 minutes. A color film produced by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and stored in the Internet Archive’s Moving Image Archive shows the 32-mile trip in eight minutes and 51 seconds. Filmed in the 1980s as a driving simulator and sped up, according to comments on the clip, the front-seat vantage point winds through towns and up and down hills, passes oncoming traffic, and stops at red lights. It’s a pretty and nostalgic capture of a slice of rural California road travel.
What led me to this video? A link to it appeared near the top of a Google search for “Caltrans archives,” to find out if the agency has its organizational archives anywhere online. Academic institutions around California house some Caltrans history, according to my search in ArchiveGrid, but valuable materials for researchers contained in Caltrans’s historical record – in the state that lead the way in automobile transportation infrastructure – seem hard to access.
My inquiry was brought on by a Nov. 12 online article in SFGate about an archives room in a Caltrans office in Oakland, where the detailed history of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is stored. What makes this archive unique is how heavily engineers use the materials, but it’s not in a library or museum. I imagine a high number of other archives are in a similar situation. Oh, but its research value, perhaps to costume designers: “Photos taken in the bridge’s early days show (toll) collectors outfitted in dapper uniforms, including billed hats like those worn by police with the letters SFOBB (for San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge) across the front – and wearing guns.”
An ArchiveGrid search for “Bay bridge” also pulled up other research ideas, such as Warren B. James, a bridge engineer for whom there is a collection at University of California, Berkeley. James worked on the construction of the Bay Bridge between 1933 and 1936, but his career spanned into the 19050s with other bridges in California. The finding aid says his collection has reports, plans, drawings, photographs, and slides relating to his work, which perhaps California’s modern bridge system can credit.