Intern Reflection: Working with the Chanute Collection

Greetings from Chanute postcard image with an airplane in clack and white

Greetings from Chanute Field postcard

Hi, I'm Rosemary Froeliger 2019-2020 Archives intern, and I have been asked by the Director of the Champaign County Historical Archive (CCHA) to reflect on my time working on the Chanute Collection. I have enjoyed reviewing all the work that my fellow intern Kevin and I have accomplished in what feels like a very short school year.

I believe we were able to provide a foundation for future interns to continue the work of the four previous hard-working interns. With the support of the Archive's staff and new Director, we were encouraged to highlight the preservation needs and champion for the Chanute Collection through procedure development and quality documentation. It was refreshing to have interns' voices heard and valued so much, as we were given the opportunity to apply our education and skills in such a way that a real difference was hopefully made. When I first started, I was very passionate about continuing the work of  the past interns to make the collection available to the community while ensuring that quality preservation standards were being met. This involved going beyond the initial scope of the project, and I feel like I have learned so much. I believe that archival collections are for the public, and I am so excited that Kevin was able (during a global pandemic) to take our finalized work and create a web page where our Chanute Collection finding aids are finally accessible!

Female mechanic inspects car engine, automotive maintenance 1976

Automotive maintenance, 1976

The history of Chanute Air Force Base spans over seventy years of national and local history showing themes of nationalism, technology development, racism, scientific advancement, a strong sense of community, a variety of conflict, sexism, and more. There is much to learn about how our country trained and supported men and women in the Air Force, engaged with communities across the globe, and choose to document its history. I learned so much about how the base's closure impacted Champaign County, from small business to religious leaders, to school children. I have also learned about the importance of archivists and how their actions and collected materials play a role in our communities.

Octave Chanute and two others test his prototype glider

Octave Chanute Glider

As I worked with this collection and applied my growing skills from the Library and Information Profession, I also considered my experiences as a historian who values the untold stories within our histories. I strived to find and highlight the stories of people of color, Black Americans, women, and other marginalized voices within the many hundreds of linear feet that make up the Chanute Collection. It wasn't easy to see these stories among the many boxes of white male-dominated voices, but that does not mean they weren't present at Chanute. While I flipped through newsletters from base organizations, I saw the first black women join the Officer Wives Club. I saw the work that Major General Norma E. Brown accomplished as the first female commander of Chanute Technical Training Center and how she was honored by the Order of the Sword. I also learned more about the Tuskegee Airmen. They originated at Chanute Air Force Base and would play a key role during and after World War II in demanding recognition of African American service people decades after the war when their achievements continued to be undervalued. These individual narratives may seem small compared to the hundreds of linear feet of the majority; they certainly weren't always highlighted or treated with the respect they deserved by those who originally documented these historic moments. But that does not make them any less powerful or important.

 

Lucy Goff and an airman read together

Lucy Goff, Chanute's Program Director

To the future interns and community users, I encourage you to look at what is documented, but also to notice who and what is missing. Look at these sources, be curious, ask questions, and be critical of those who document our history. And then seek out those answers! Now more then ever, asking questions and encouraging awareness of other people's accounts and experiences is so important. As the collection continues to be processed, I hope that more stories of diverse backgrounds and perspectives are discovered, highlighted, and appreciated through blog posts, exhibits, and Chanute Day events. Again, I am so proud of the work we have been able to accomplish, even if it didn't end the way we anticipated, and I am excited to see what CCHA staff accomplish next. Thank you for the opportunity to learn and have an impact on Champaign County's history and preservation.

Rosemary Froeliger
Archives Intern