Many of our readers here likely follow the American Antiquarian Society’s blog, Past is Present, and many more have likely visited AAS at one point or another in their research careers. With that in mind, it’s worth noting some of the recent posts there to honor the retirements of three longtime AAS staff members: Georgia Barnhill, John Keenum, and Caroline Sloat.
Yesterday, AAS Preseident Ellen Dunlap posted some reflections on Keenum, the Vice President for Development, and Caroline Sloat, Director of Publications, and longtime head of the AAS fellowships program, in which capacity she served as the captain of a frequently unwieldy and ever-changing band of scholars who made their way to Salisbury Street.
Dunlap praises in particular Caroline’s work in shepherding projects through the publishing process, both those sanctioned by AAS and those of fellows:
The work that Caroline has always excelled at is the hardest kind of editing – one that must consider what the author was trying to say, whether or not it should be said or is worth saying, and then figure out – often with great diplomacy – how to help the author make their arguments more cogent, their language more clear, their writing more functional. And Caroline is legendary for offering this kind of substantive editorial assistance, not just on projects where she was assigned the task – such as AAS Proceedings, the History of the Book in America series, and the Gura book, she has offered the same sort of assistance to fellows working on their dissertations, journal articles, and books, just out of the goodness of her editorial heart. Caroline has devoted herself to making friends at the AAS and for the AAS, and the goodwill that she has engendered – evident in so many fellows reports over the years – is a debt that we could not easily repay except with our thanks for her years of service and devotion.
John Keenum’s efforts, as Dunlap notes, have often been out of public view, appearing to us in the coming to fruition of projects for which he secured funding:
A consummate professional, John took every challenge we faced in his stride… and there HAVE been challenges. When he came we were still wrapping up the Mellon challenge for core operations, then we got an NEH challenge for acquisitions endowment. Next was the Kresge challenge for the building addition, then we needed to raise endowment to maintain things like the artists’ and writers’ fellowships that the Wallace grant once paid for, then there was the Mellon challenge for academic fellowships, and then yet another NEH challenge, this one for CHAViC. And thanks to his steadfast commitment to this institution, his dogged perseverance, his ability to finagle a budget (always on the up-and-up), and his ability to write beautifully cogent prose, under his leadership, AAS has met every one of those challenge propositions, securing the full amount offered as a challenge, often long before the deadline. John did all this, plus running the annual fund and being our federal grants officer, with precious little assistance. But John has done more than merely raise money for AAS. He has invested himself in the life of this institution, making friends with staff, fellows, and members alike, buying books for the collection, participating in volunteer projects, just to help out. He has been a simply wonderful colleague, greatly admired by all. He will also be greatly missed, but he leaves us a much richer organization for his having been here.
This morning, Paul Erickson honors Gigi Barnhill, the recently retired Curator of Graphic Arts who, as Paul notes, has been an AAS staff member for more than 40% of its existence. AAS recently held a colloquium in Gigi’s honor, identifying four keep characteristics to her curatorial work:
- “Advance scholarship through publication and research.”
- “Acquire materials for their collections and build collections of secondary and reference resources at AAS”
- “Serving as an advocate for her own collections, advising on collection development, preservation, and access, while considering the needs of the rest of the Society’s collections”
- “Serve as ambassadors of the Society to the communities of Americana collectors and dealers, and maintain active communication and visitation with these important constituencies”
All three will be missed, even as they are succeeded ably by new staff. If you have the time, be sure to click over to Past is Present and read the full tributes.