Notizie da Anna: Six Months in the AFS Archives

Note from the Archivist: This is the fourth and final post by Anna Beltrami, the Fondazione CRT Intern in the AFS Archives.  Anna will shared her perspective on her internship, AFS, and the archival collections through these "Notizie da Anna" ("News from Anna") posts.

Six months have passed from the day I arrived in New York and from the beginning of my internship in the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs (AFS Archives), thanks to a scholarship sponsored by the Fondazione CRT, a bank foundation based in Turin, Italy. Now that my internship is almost over, it’s really not easy to summarize all the things I have learned during my time in the city both from a personal and a professional point of view.

For six months, I have lived a true intercultural experience that has a lot in common with the intercultural exchanges experienced by AFS Participants around the world every year. For the first time I worked for a non-profit organization, in a completely new work environment, with different values, habits and of course a different language. Just like an AFSer, I had to adjust myself to new contexts and situations, refining my ability to interpret the new world surrounding me and even learning new things about my own culture. I not only had the chance of getting a better understanding of the American way of life, but also of working and meeting with people from the AFS staff who come from other countries.

New York, a city regarded as the quintessence of multiculturalism, is also known for the large number of museums, libraries, cultural institutions and archives. Thanks to my supervisor, Nicole Milano, I had three tours to other historical archives based in the city:the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the New York University Archives, and the New York City Design Commission Archives. Through those visits, made possible by the kind availability of the archivists (Assistant Director for Records Management & ArchivesDennis Riley, Adjunct Archivist Katie Ehrlich, and Manager of Archives & Special Collections Julianna Monjeau, respectively) who work in these institutions, I learned how every archive is really a “world of its own” with its own “personality” and a story to tell and, above all, its specific needs in terms of preservation, accessibility and promotion of the collections.

Professionally, I got a much deeper knowledge about the history of AFS, by working on the arrangement and description of the photographs related to the AFS student exchange programs from the late 40’s until the beginning of the 90’s, and answering research requests coming to the AFS Archives  from all over the world. As a History graduate, who always had access to archives only as a researcher, I really value the opportunity I had of learning how an archive really functions, from the preservation of the collections to the digitization of photographs and other records in order to improve the accessibility for researchers and users. I preserved and digitized a number of exciting photographs over the last few months; two of my favorites included AFSers forming the shape of a New Zealand Maori canoe at the 1971 Convention and another depicting a group of AFS Americans Abroad Participants during a bus trip in Denmark in 1967.   I also wrote several articles, including one on former staff member Dorothy “Dot” Field, the 1971 Convention, and the visiting teachers program in China. Working in the AFS Archives, I saw how history can become an essential tool for the present of a worldwide non-profit organization, helping promote the history of AFS and keeping alive the interest for the spirit on which the organization has been built.

Photograph caption: Anna Beltrami on the top floor of the Brooklyn Navy Yard's Museum.  This image cannot be reproduced outside the guidelines of United States Fair Use (17 U.S.C., Section 107) without advance permission from the AFS Archives.

Posted July 29, 2014, by Nicole Milano