For my sixty-hour internship, I processed and created a finding aid for a collection of records from the Congregational Conference of Illinois and its member associations. Because this was my first hands-on experience in the archival field, many aspects of processing surprised me. For example, the importance of preserving original order has been drilled into my mind in class. However, I discovered on my first day at the CLA that I would be imposing an artificial order onto a collection.
Not only did the records have no meaningful original order, the different associations' documents making up the collection had never been intentionally grouped together before. I discovered that because a perfectly preserved original order is not a given outside of the classroom, the archivist's role in creating access and order for researchers is even more crucial. My internship was also an opportunity to learn a new kind of language, as I was completely ignorant about the structure and vocabulary of Congregationalism. For instance, the waves of letters of dismissal I kept bumping into were not evidence of a Great Church Recession that resulted in mass firings. Instead, these documents often signified a minister's transfer between churches. Similarly, I had no idea that an "In Care Association" kept records about future ministers. One of my favorite aspects of the internship was the ability to learn about history through a different perspective. I had no idea that Congregational ministers in Illinois were heavily involved in abolitionist efforts, or that they frequently participated in the Underground Railroad. While doing background research, I even discovered that one Congregational minister lost his life while trying to defend a member of the press speaking against slavery in Illinois in 1837. It was also fascinating to learn the large role the denomination played in developing the Republican Party during its earliest stage. After completing my internship, I am even more excited to enter the archival field and peek into the lives and work of many different people and groups.