Monday, November 1, 2010

City Archives

This week I thought I would do some meta research by visiting the city archives. The city auditor's office is responsible for storing and preserving records from all kinds of activities including (but definitely not limited to) historical documents, Commission meetings, arrest records, maps, and architectural plans.

Last year the archives started the process of moving their offices and storage facility from their North Portland location near Chimney Park to the new Student Rec Center building on Portland State's campus. The office closed for six months to while they inventoried materials dating back to 1851, the year Portland became incorporated as a city and the year that they began keeping records. Adrianne, a recent MLS grad, said that the number of weekly visitors has doubled since the move. The staff is mostly happy with the change. The only exception is that the "records people" are "hermits" and dislike all the attention that their new space has brought.

Mary Hansen, one of the archivists, is responsible for much of the recent activity such as the Archives Crawl, the archive's blog and twitter pages, and other outreach efforts. She says that the reasons people visit the archives are as numerous as their visitors but that some of the most frequent researhers are students and authors.

Brian told me about several authors who had been in for extended research projects recently. Peter Boag came in to research his book about 19th and 20th century "same sex affairs". I asked Brian to show me an example of one of the texts that Peter may have used and he brought out a grey cardboard box with the words:

"Police Historical/Archival, Subject Files, Mug Book
Prostitutes, Queers, Pimps, Bunco"
handwritten on the side.

Inside was a dilapidated, old book with small photos pasted next to names and reasons for their arrests. Peter had been using records like this one to look into arrests of Portlanders for perceived or actually homosexual behavior. The most interesting thing about this record was the terminology used. Most commonly these were euphemisms that were coded so that police knew what the real reason for the arrest was.
For example, the description of arrest for a woman arrested for prostitution would be listed as "immoral woman" or "soliciting." A pimp might be arrested for "bringing 2 together - immoral." A gay person might have been aressted for "immoral disorderly conduct." Some of the reasons such as "illigal sale of alcohol", were a guise for arresting "gypsies," prostitutes, madams, or pimps when they didn't have direct evidence of any other misconduct. I was interested to see that the word "immoral" was used in relation to the law. Obviously police still have these sorts of blanket violations, like disorderly conduct, that can be abused to arrest anyone. It is telling that they come from a place where morals were a legal matter.

I love the woman laughing in the last image.

No comments:

Post a Comment