Preserving Your Peace Corps Memories
By Erica Burman on Tuesday, July 26th, 2011
Milestones are a time for reflection—and reunions. So one can safely assume that the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps is prompting many Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) to get reacquainted with those boxes of letters, photos and artifacts from their Peace Corps service tucked at the back of closets, attics and basements.
“The letters, journals, reports, photos and clippings that you generated or accumulated while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer form an historical record of a significant time in the relations between the U.S. and your host country,” says Patricia Wand (Colombia 63-65), a seasoned library professional and board member of both NPCA and Friends of Colombia. “Please do not let those documents deteriorate or get destroyed unknowingly. They need to be preserved so that scholars of the Peace Corps can access them in the future.”
The National Archives site offers some excellent suggestions on caring for personal archive materials: http://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives/index.htm. Wand advises RPCVs to include a codicil in their wills — a simple signed and dated statement — indicating where all Peace Corps-related documents and photos should be deposited.
While serving as the University Librarian at American University in Washington, D.C., Wand established the Friends of Colombia Archive there (AU also hosts the NPCA’s archive). In addition to accepting documents directly related to the Peace Corps in Colombia, Colombia RPCVs can donate items that promote the third goal of Peace Corps – to bring the world back home.
But what if you didn’t serve in Colombia? What are some other options?
Collections/Institutions Currently Accepting Peace Corps Materials
Peace Corps Digital Library
This resource provides a searchable collection of select electronic Peace Corps materials from 1961-present. Peace Corps invites current and returned Volunteers and Staff to share a story and photos from their Peace Corps service or employment, with the goal of collecting stories and photos from each country where Peace Corps has served, and from each decade of Peace Corps history.
RPCV Archival Project of the Peace Corps Collection at the John. F. Kennedy Presidential Library
Since 2001 Robert Klein (Ghana 61-63) has been the voluntary organizer of the RPCV Archival Project at the John F. Kennedy Library. The Oral History project is not a 501c3; it functions strictly according to guidelines established by the Kennedy Library. At present, the Collection will accept ONLY oral history interviews (of any era RPCV), conducted according to the Project Guide (audio-tape only, deed of gift to JFKL, set interview protocol, untranscribed, non-digital). In a recent policy change, restrictions have been placed on donated materials, such as letters and diaries. To quote the JFKL Policy:
“The objective of the RPCV collection policy is to ensure that original records are collected that document the personal experience and work of volunteers in the years of the Peace Corps directly relating to its inception and to the years it was active during the Kennedy Administration, 1961-1963. Materials created and gathered after 1963 will be accepted only subject to approval of the JFKL Director.”
Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Collection at the John F. Kennedy Library.
Noteworthy Peace Corps Collections
The National Archives maintains a collection of the Records of the Peace Corps:
Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives
The Papers of Peace Corps Volunteers: 1920-1994 collection includes contributions from 101 former volunteers or administrators involved in diverse assignments such as education, community development, agriculture, health work, and service through such special skills as art, surveying, mechanics, and photography. Two additional collections include materials of missionaries that were offered to the archives as the result of the program to collect Peace Corps materials. Included are diaries, correspondence, writings, printed and processed material, sound recordings, and administrative materials. There are also photographic materials that show such subjects as traditional and modern agriculture, architecture, body scarification, ceremonies, dance, dress, fishing, food preparation and other domestic activities, industry, medicine, and transportation.
University of New Mexico
The University of New Mexico maintains archives of Peace Corps training programs which took place in the state in the early days of the Peace Corps.
University of Kentucky
The Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky contains “interviews with returned Peace Corps volunteers and individuals associated with the Peace Corps with connections to Kentucky. Interviewees served in the Peace Corps from its inception in 1961 to the present. Volunteers discuss their experiences before, during, and after Peace Corps including their motivations for joining, the application process, training, living situations, difficulties, the job, relationships, coming home, and their impact on the host country and on their own lives.”
Finally, NPCA is aware of two initiatives to create a permanent museum-like presence for the Peace Corps:
Committee for a Museum of the Peace Corps Experience
The Committee for a Museum of the Peace Corps Experience (CMPCE) was started in 1999 by a group of returned Peace Corps Volunteers in Portland, Oregon and is devoted to sharing the Peace Corps story with the broader American public. The Committee for a Museum of the Peace Corps Experience (CMPCE) currently has no permanent storage or exhibit space but is building a constituency for its concept through quality temporary exhibits of items loaned by fellow RPCVs.
Peace Corps Experience Center and Archive
Spearheaded by Greg Polk (Mali 73-75), a small group of RPCVs and like-minded professionals have joined together on an ad hoc, pro-bono basis to develop the concept of a Peace Corps Experience Center and Archive. Center and Archive “is envisioned to be a dynamic, forward looking center drawing upon the vast experience of RPCVs as well as our overseas counterparts. It may include exhibit space, conference space, and archive space. Throughout the center we envision the organizing theme to be the 3 goals of Peace Corps with a particular emphasis on the underlying goal of peace and a shared development challenge.