I’ve written about my jobs before, both at the Reading/Writing Center and at Special Collections. But I’ve never actually talked much about what I do.
My life’s work (well, my life at Augie, at least) in Special Collections is (hopefully) drawing to an end soon. For two years, three when I graduate at the end of this year, I have been working on John Henry Hauberg’s collection of glass plate negatives.
Who is John Henry Hauberg, you ask, and what are glass plate negatives? John Henry Hauberg was a very interesting man. Born into a family of German immigrants, he became a lawyer, traveled extensively, was involved in the temperance movement in Rock Island County, started the United Sunday School Band and the Black Hawk Hiking Club, was active in the Lutheran Church, did more than I could hope to do in three lifetimes and married Susanne Denkmann, the youngest daughter of Frederick Denkmann, the lumber baron. In 1909, two years before Hauberg married Susanne Denkmann, she and Frederick Denkmann’s six other children gave a gift of $100,000 to Augustana College to fund the construction of a library as a memorial to their parents. That library is now Denkmann Hall, home to Augustana’s world language departments and the Swenson Center. John Henry Hauberg did a lot of things, but he was also an avid, very avid, photographer.
That’s where I and the glass plate negatives come in. Hauberg began taking photographs in 1889, before film and much before digital cameras. How did he do it, then? I’m not too sure of the mechanics, but his negatives were imprinted on glass slides. He also made plenty of lantern slides, the things that old style projectors used. Hauberg made about 4,000 glass negatives and 3,000 lantern slides according to the bio linked above. Special Collections has all of them. They were probably organized at some point, but after various moves into various storage formats, all the glass negatives and lantern slides are now jumbled together in no order whatsoever.
I’ve been working on wrestling those 7,000 or so images into some form of order and labeling them so that, at some point in the future, you can find a specific one if you want to. I can now tell Hauberg’s two children apart in their baby pictures. I can pick his wife out of a crowd. I don’t profess to know half of his very large family, but there are certain members that I can tell on sight. In recent days, I’ve learned to recognize three of Susanne Denkmann’s sisters too.
And while the project has sometimes been frustrating beyond belief, it’s been extremely rewarding. Hauberg stuck his fingers in every part of Quad Cities history he could reach and I wouldn’t know half as much as I do about why Tama, Iowa is important (Google it!) if not for him. And though I’ve had to slog through pictures of single cows and empty fields without the remotest inkling where they’re from, though I’ve had to slog through boxes and boxes of baby pictures (you haven’t met a proud father until you’ve met Hauberg), I’ve also seen beautiful pictures of temples in Mexico, of the good old Mississippi and of Augustana itself.
There’s still a long way to go. I still can’t even say with certainty that I’ll be done at the end of this year. But I hope to be, I really have to be, because I doubt if there are many people on this campus who now know more about Hauberg and his negatives than I do.
Posted on September 5th, 2014 by Rukmini Girish
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