The Brown Company Photographic Collection documents the history of the Brown Company paper mill of Berlin, NH from the late 19th century through the mid-1960s. Much of the collection chronicles the social, cultural, and recreational lives of the workers, their families, and the place of these people in the life of the city of Berlin.
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Beyond Brown Paper is an ongoing project that involves three collaborative departments at Plymouth State University — Lamson Library’s Michael J. Spinelli Jr. Center for University Archives and Special Collections, Karl Drerup Art Gallery, and the Center for Rural Partnerships.
History of the Collection
Bill Taylor, Associate Professor of History, was responsible for appreciating the archival value of the Brown Company photographs and arranged to bring the collection to Plymouth State College in the 1970s. The collection remained in the Lamson Library Special Collections but had direct oversight by the Institute of New Hampshire Studies (INHS) faculty. A visitor who wanted to view the collection arranged a meeting time with the Director of INHS. David Switzer, Professor of History, replaced Professor Taylor on an interim basis and in 1997, Mark Okrant, Professor of Geography and Tourism Development, assumed the directorship. Following 1997, collection viewings were arranged through Professor Okrant and Professor Switzer and Okrant or Katherine Donahue, Professor of Anthropology, remained in the room with every researcher. Photographs could be photocopied and, in some instances, removed from Special Collections by completing an INHS borrowing form.
In 2002, Professor Okrant obtained funding through President Donald Wharton’s office to have the collection scanned. It was Professor Okrant’s contention that the collection’s value would be dramatically enhanced if the photographs could be viewed and annotated by the remaining Brown Company workers and elderly residents of Berlin who may have a direct and personal connection with the subject matter. Fortuitously, David A. Beronä was hired as the Library Director at this time and had experience digitizing historical collections. The scanning project was taken over by Dr. Charles Brown, Academic Technology Fellow, who used accepted digitization standards. The images were uploaded into an open source software product called Scriblio, which was created by Casey Bisson a PSU employee at that time that resulted in the website Beyond Brown Paper that exists today.
Funded by a grant in 2006 from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, 250 of the 11,000 photographs were scanned with preservation quality resolution. A computer workstation was purchased and set up in Berlin which provided internet access to these images and the capacity for users to provide information on the images either by phone or computer. The Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire worked as a partner in making connections with Berlin-area community organizations and volunteers and in linking this project to a variety of local cultural initiatives through the hard work of a VISTA volunteer. Scanning these images with preservation quality resolution ensures all subsequent work is done with digital images rather than manipulation of the fragile photographs. The scanned images, totaling over 45,000 to date, are accessible from this website and allow users to input written content related to the photographs.
The Brown Company Photographic Collection, which is located in Lamson Library’s Michael J. Spinelli Jr. Center for University Archives and Special Collections, documents much of the history of the Brown Company of Berlin, New Hampshire from the late nineteenth century through the mid-1960s. Among the subjects depicted in considerable detail are the varieties of work activity from the felling of trees to the final manufacture of pulp and paper in Berlin and Gorham. Also shown in detail are engineering projects, the construction of mills, and the installation of new equipment and machinery. A significant portion of the collection chronicles the social, cultural, and recreational lives of the workers, their families, and the place of these people in the life of Berlin itself.
Film Screening at Plymouth State University September 27, 2010 Life “At the River’s Edge” rivers edge film archives
The LLC is pleased to announce a screening of the award-winning film At The River’s Edge: An Oral History of Berlin, New Hampshire, on September 27th at 6:00p.m. in Hyde 120. This film drew heavily on the Beyond Brown Paper collection at Plymouth State University and has recently won both the AASLH National Award of Merit and Honorable Mention at the ACM Film Festival in Pittsburgh. It is also up for consideration by the New Hampshire International Film Festival and for broadcast on NHPTV. Director Scott Strainge will also be in attendance along with some of the members from the Timberlane Regional School District, Berlin & Coos County Historical Society, and Historic New England. This event is free and open to the public. Berlin Historical Society has DVDs available for purchase if you missed the screenings.
On October 15, 2008, the Beyond Brown Paper exhibition opened at Plymouth State University in the Silver Center for the Arts, and ran through December 15, 2008. The exhibition, containing roughly 35 enlarged photos, allowed for more interaction from visitors. St. Kieran Arts Center in Berlin, NH hosted the exhibit from April through June 2009. Along with its opening reception, an evening of Brown Company memories was shared by local folks whose lives were impacted by the presence of the company for many years. It is hoped that the exhibition will travel to other locations in the North Country and beyond.
Hear New Hampshire Public Radio’s report on the Beyond Brown Paper project: http://www.nhpr.org/node/17569