Like many archives, we rely on volunteers and interns to make our repository a more exciting and productive place. This week, we took a little bit of time to capture Donovan Wood on camera, and chat with him about how he found his way to the Archives, what he’s been up to, and where he hopes to take his history background in the future. Thank you, Donovan!!
- Tell us a little about yourself
I had the privilege to grow up among the redwoods and vineyards of California’s Russian River wine country. As beautiful as the area is, when I first visited Arizona in 1988, I resolved that one day I would make it my home. After time spent in El Paso, Texas, and Lafayette, Louisiana, in 2005, I was accepted to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where I remained until I moved to Phoenix in 2011. I have two grown sons. My oldest, Zack, is a police officer in Arnaudville, Louisiana. My youngest, Eric, is a chef at Brix restaurant in Flagstaff. I have a passion for classic automobiles and am always on the lookout for an unexplored highway.
- What is your educational background? What was your research focus?
I hold a B.A. and M.A. in History from NAU. My graduate research focused on the emerging field of U.S. Borderlands history, 20th century cultural and labor history, and gender studies. What brought me to NAU in the first place was their Department of Applied Indigenous Studies. I especially wanted to be at an institution that offered a solid cross-disciplinary perspective of Native American topics. That, coupled with explorations of Chicano/a history, have provided me with a rich understanding of the region across time, space, and place.
- How did you become interested in history?
I’ve been interested in History since I was old enough to be interested in anything! In the third grade, I was fascinated (some family members might have thought obsessed) with the history of the U.S. Presidency. I could name them all in order, memorized the years they served and their birth and death years. After a visit to Ellis Island some years ago, I considered compiling a history of passenger steamship service full of arcane statistical data on age, gender, ethnicity, country of origin, etc. Pretty nerdy stuff! I’ve also been known to geek out on the history of regional urban development — roads, highways, neighborhoods, ethnic enclaves, etc. In addition to exploring broad, macrohistorical historical themes, I can also get downright microhistorical about investigating, say, the history of the eight-unit apartment complex I live in.
- Why did you want to come volunteer at the Archives?
My first visit to the archives was while I was still in grad school researching my thesis. While there, it began to occur to me that what I seemed to most enjoy about “doing history” was the hunt for evidence, while I found the actual production of history (the analysis and writing) quite frustrating. When I decided that I would forgo a Ph.D, I began to consider applying my education in the area of historical inquiry that I knew I had an interest in. To have marketable skills as an archivist, however, would mean more education. Before making that commitment, I wanted to spend more time in the professional environment of archivists to see if it really was a path I wanted to pursue.
- What is your favorite part of working with archival materials?
Archival materials are the tangible evidence of our past. They take my imagination places it can’t otherwise go. Like bibliophiles love the smell of an old book, I feel a very real connection to the past by handling these materials. It’s very similar to what so many find fascinating about coin or stamp collecting — that question of what an object might have been “witness” to. I also feel a great sense of satisfaction from being part of a process that makes the past accessible to future generations by providing a context for interpretation as well as an environment conducive to responsible preservation.
- What are you currently working on?
Currently, I am working on inventorying an engaging collection of materials that scratches my itch for urban history. These materials were donated by the family of a woman who was in high demand as a commercial artist producing architectural renderings for several major real estate developers in the Valley. Once the material is processed, patrons and researchers will have a rich resource from which to learn about the mid-century development of the metro area. It’s also a chance to appreciate some first rate technical drawings purely for their artistic merit!
- What is your dream job?
I’ve come to value the role of a support player — someone who works behind the scenes on details that make others shine. As someone with significant research experience, I understand the value of having accessible archival materials. In this field, my dream job would surely involve the continuing development and population of virtual repositories that enable the broadest access possible. Of course, with my appreciation for strong historical analysis and interpretation, this would certainly include digital curation of exhibits. Or I could drive a truck.