A Paul Whiteman Collection Tangent

I will spend a year working on the Paul Whiteman collection, and during that year, I will process many parts of the 582 linear foot collection. I will process everything from photographs and personal files to scrapbooks and artifacts. But the boundaries of this wide-ranging collection are not clear-cut. Some materials came from Whiteman and his family, some from other sources. At this point, I will take a step to the side and address what began as a separate collection in the archives–the Carl Johnson records.

Carl Johnson (Williams, 1932) was at one time the curator of the Paul Whiteman collection at Williams, and he was the author of the publication “Paul Whiteman: A Chronology .” Johnson’s knowledge of Whiteman was extensive, and his dedication to the project was evident in the files he kept relating to it. Surveying the Carl Johnson records feels like working with a Mobius strip. Within the files, there are binders containing inventories of the Paul Whiteman collection and folders detailing collection expenses. At the same time, there are files containing correspondence addressed to Whiteman himself as well as letters addressed to Whiteman’s wife, Margaret, following his death. So the Carl Johnson records exist as something that is both of and around Whiteman, something that is part Whiteman collection, and part Whiteman collection records.

Researchers studying the Paul Whiteman Collection finding aid may notice that sympathy letters written to Margaret Livingston Whiteman following her husband’s death exist in two places in the collection–in the Business and Personal Files series and in the Carl Johnson records. We have no way of knowing now why some letters were stored as part of the Whiteman collection and others were stored in the Carl Johnson records, but in order to maintain the integrity and context of the Carl Johnson records and to avoid making a patchwork of the Paul Whiteman collection, we have elected to process the Carl Johnson records as a self-contained series and not interfile material found there with the Paul Whiteman collection.  

Ideally, collection materials (correspondence, photographs, scrapbooks, etc.) would be separate from collection records (donor biographies, gift agreements, expense reports, etc.). In this case, however, because the Paul Whiteman collection was assembled by several people over many decades, boundaries have become muddled. If there is no way to guarantee a clean and accurate division of materials, we must do our best to be faithful to the collection and present it to the world with as much context as possible.

Written by Laurel Rhame, Project Archivist