The MSA Archive: What, When, Where?

Published by Cori VanGalder on

The MSA Archive: What, When, Where?

Submitted by: Meredith Blackwell and Ronald H. Petersen

The Mycological Society of America (MSA) archive languishes, piled on top of cabinets in a climate-controlled room at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG). The archive is a collection of memorabilia: portraits, written records of the Society establishment and adoption of the journal, and documentation of the history of the Society. The archive is contained in 45 boxes that have accumulated since the beginning of the MSA in 1932. The records are safe for now, stored in a climate-controlled room at NYBG, but uncurated and undigitized. Consulting the archive for a specific item is impossible; first one would need to search through the 45 boxes, but since no one knows exactly what the archive contains what would one look for? We actually do not know the last time the collections have been examined by a Society member except to determine the amount of material present (e.g., 45 boxes).

Ron Petersen, previous MSA Historian and Memorialist appeared before Council a few years ago, bringing an estimate provided by a NYBG archivist for materials for proper storage of the collection and organizing it (i.e., itemizing, documenting, etc.).

Estimated materials costs about six years ago included:

28 acid-free Paige boxes           $9 apiece                                                              $252.00

5 Hollinger boxes sized 5 x7    $39.95 for batch of 10                                        $39.95

Acid-free file folders                  $26.30 per package of 100 x19                         $499.70

Acid-free photo envelopes        $50.10                                                                   $50.10

Shipping and handling                                                                                             $100.00

Total cost of supplies                                                                                                $1,193.75

Estimate for processing: 

Project archivist            370 hours @ $24 per hour =                                          $8880.00

Fringe                           @ 10% (this does not include full benefits)                   $888.00

Total wages and fringe =                                                                             $9768.00

Total cost of the project   $10,961.75

The Council reaction at that time? There were other things which were of higher priority.

Few new materials have been contributed to the archive recently. In the last 20 years, we know of only one box of items donated by Petersen. In addition to his personal donations, he added a thumb drive with group photos of “faculty” at the New England annual foray over many years, donated by Susan Hopkins. The earlier materials (since the beginning of MSA in 1932) constitute a treasure trove of North American mycological history. Sarah Bergemann, previous Executive Vice President, visited the NYBG in March 2019 and saw many of the archived materials. She saw an astounding array of our MSA history in photos, including the first participants in MSA meetings and forays (see below) and presidential photos.

First Summer Foray of MSA in 1933. Highlands, North Carolina. Left to right: J.H. Miller, A.F. Grassmeyer (kneeling), L.R. Hesler, W.W. Diehl, L.A. Overholts, Nell Henry, C.L. Shear, Caroline A. Lander, G.W. Martin, Alma Holland, Edith K. Cash, Vera K. Charles, J.P. Porter, T.G. Harbison. (Photo: L.R. Helser, MSA Archive). Note that the women are collectively distinctive in hats, jodhpurs, long bloomers, and use of first names rather than initials in the listing.

Alternative housing of the MSA Archive to make it more accessible may exist. The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation (HIBD) at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh [see “John Cage wrote music, but he also wrote about fungi!” Inoculum 66(5):5, September 2015], is willing to accept the materials and archive them. Regardless of the historical name, the HIBD, happily for mycology, includes fungi within their historical botanical concept. Meredith Blackwell, current archivist, first learned about the archive when she was contacted for identification of a photograph taken at the Seattle International Congress in 1969. Much later (when Power Point was first available), she needed a photograph of C.W. Hesseltine for teaching, and the only photo found in an Internet search at the time was at HIBD. She has donated most of her own letters and photographs and those of C.J. Alexopoulos to HIBD, where they were quickly acknowledged with an itemized list of donated materials, and soon thereafter digitized so they can be accessible. Alexopoulos had intended to publish a memoir of several episodes in his life, which included accounts of his work with the Rubber Development Corporation deep in the Brazilian Amazon during the second world war. The history of the Rubber Development Corporation in the war effort is documented in its own archive .

Some digital materials from MSA office holders have already been deposited at HIBD, including annual reports of the Executive Vice President and Treasurer and backup copies of the Oral History for Mycology project with interviews from the San Juan Puerto Rico IMC 11 and MSA at Minneapolis that are on YouTube. Of course, this minimal amount of material is far from the huge number of items that would need to be archived if the full archive were to be moved.

When she saw the archive at NYBG in March 2019, Bergemann realized that the quantity of archival material was going to require a significant source of funding from the MSA and more serious investment in person(s) to pack this up! A move to HIBD would have to be a priority, rather than the response, “OK, you do this and we can give you some money.” As Bergemann reported, “It’s going to require a moving truck and many people”.

Three concerns persist: apparently some of the MSA history is entangled with that of the NYBG, so would NYBG relinquish the materials? Would MSA, with a currently much-improved bank account, be willing to foot the bill for the move? Would the HIBD still be willing to accept the 45 boxes of archival materials after three years since the first discussion? This is an item for discussion by the next Executive Council Meeting in August 2020. Should this be an action item?

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