Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembrance of Things Past

As far as research value goes, I would say that the NYCC meeting minutes are pretty much the star of the show. There are two main groups of meeting minutes for the Chamber--the committees meeting minutes and the regular meeting minutes.

First, there are the committees meeting minute books. We've come across 14 volumes of committee meeting minute bound volumes so far, a complete set from 1864 to 1973. Though the majority of the volumes are dedicated to the meetings of the Executive Committee, there are some other standing committees minutes interspersed in several of the volumes. Even without the minutes of the standing committees, the minutes of the Executive Committee should prove to be a research gem. The Executive Committee was made up of an elected Chairman and the Chairmen of each standing committee; the Chamber President, the Executive Secretary, the Senior Vice President, the Treasurer, the Assistant Treasurer, and 9 members-at-large. These gentlemen were entrusted with managing the affairs of the NYCC; they were the movers and shakers of the organization. A researcher may wish to consult them in hope of getting a clearer understanding of the Chamber's overarching vision and goals. Most of the meeting minutes contain reports from each of the chairmen of the standing committees--of which there were quite a few over the years--which were formed in order to address specific issues of particular concern to the chamber.

The second main group of minute books record the minutes of the "regular" meetings (yes, that's how they are referred to by the Chamber). Supposedly, this collection holds a complete run of the regular meeting minutes from the very first meeting in 1768 up until 1979 when the Chamber merged with the Partnership for New York City. Since we still have about 40 boxes to comb through, I have yet to determine if that is actually true, but so far we have found a complete set from 1768 to 1933. These are recorded in 18 leather bound volumes, all of which are . . . large . . . heavy . . . dusty . . . and occasionally experiencing cases of proverbial red rot. I suspect minutes from the remaining years may be tucked away in folders or binders, rather than bound volumes, but as I said, that remains to be seen.

At this point, you may be wondering what a bound volume of meeting minutes from 1768 looks like, so here's a visual for you:

Yeah, I know, it seems like it has been through a lot. The inside is beautiful though:

You have here every detail of every monthly meeting AND annual meeting AND special meeting held by the Chamber of Commerce. The Who, What, When, and Where of it all, painstakingly handwritten in a lovely ink scrawl. Year to year, these books manage to maintain their great size, weight, and dusty accumulation, but the insides reveal a gradual change in style. Compare the above 1768 volume to this one which begins in 1868, one hundred years later:

Now, take a look at this one from 1968, another hundred years later:

Kind of boring in comparison, right? I think this is an interesting point to bring up because now that we are in the age of the personal computer (and beyond actually--these days, its more like the age of the personal hand-held device), typewriters have become romanticized icons of the past, one of those things people think of as they long for the way the world used to be--a time of simpler things, a slower pace, more focus, less noise (except for the sound of those keys clacking, I guess). But I am willing to bet that in 1968 someone was sitting around thinking the same thing about pen and ink. And I have to say, I agree with you, fictionalized person from 1968. I, too, long for those simple times of quill and blotter, those days of high marks for good penmanship, those stylized flourishes on the page that evince extra effort and dedication and care and pride. I am by no means a Luddite . . . I enjoy my laptop and streaming video and mp3 player as much as any NYC subway rider, but I do tend towards a romantic vision of the past. I do own a vintage typewriter, a 30 pound behemoth which I lugged from Texas to New York because it is the best gift I've ever been given and I like the look of it and the idea of it and its significance of things old and forgotten and world weary. Signifying slowness. Deliberateness. Confidence. (Those keys require more than a gentle tap.)

Anyway, this is turning into a rambling tangent, but I bring it up because I think its something interesting to consider as we in the present continually create our own body of documentation. I wonder if in the future the art of writing will only be considered in terms of its intellectual content, without noting the visual and physical aspect of writing, simply because that won't exist any more--corrections, additions, notes in the margins, explanatory drawings, impromptu diagrams, color coding, hand drawn decorative borders, tangible enclosures--when you are typing an email, embellishments come in the form of digital attachments, hyperlinks, and maybe an emoticon or two, but that's about it. If you were to donate your papers to an archival institution, what would they look like? And does that even matter?


No comments: