Meet Martha Kapelewski, Bilingual Processing Archivist

Photo of Martha Kapelewski.

I began working as the bilingual Processing Archivist at the University of Florida’s Special and Area Studies Collections (SASC) Department at the end of October 2022. The University of Florida’s Latin American and Caribbean Collection (LACC), located in the historic Smathers Library, is dedicated to collecting Latin American and Caribbean materials. Part of my job responsibilities include processing collections and creating finding aids for both, new items being added to our collection, and for additions to existing collections. Translations are created for the guides, so they are available in both English and Spanish. Guides are sometimes not fully translated into Spanish, and it is one of my goals to eventually have all existing guides fully translated. I am also a member of the Bilingual Metadata Working Group, a University of Florida group dedicated to creating a Spanish-language authority file that is comprehensive and showcases the diversity and cultures of Spanish-speaking people from the world-over.

Since I began my job, I have had the opportunity to process great new LACC collections, as well as add some very interesting additions to existing collections. There are three new photography albums to our collection, The Twentieth-Century Cuban Documents Collection. These albums are: “The San Juan de Los Remedios Ciudad Monumento Photo Album, Villa Clara, Cuba”, the “Photograph Album and Scrapbook Concerning Sears Stores in Cuba”, and the “SS Statendam West Indies Photograph Album”.  The albums reflect the comprehensiveness of the collection: The San Juan de Los Remedios album contains beautiful photographs of the city, people, and preparations and festivities of one of its main festivals, the “Parrandas”. The album was dedicated to Alberto Fujimori. The “Photograph Album and Scrapbook Concerning Sears Stores in Cuba” documents the early years of Sears stores in Cuba, from 1947 to 1953. The “SS Statendam West Indies Photograph Album” was a promotional album from the Holland-America cruise line that documented its West Indies cruise, with photographs taken by photographer Robert Mathews and descriptive text written by his brother, Richard Mathews. All three albums contain one-of-a-kind, beautiful, and fascinating photographs.

One of my personal interests is the printing history and the graphic image of early printed Spanish books and their migration to the New World. We have in our collection documents that date from the 1500’s, and I am researching and studying some of these documents with the goal to create guides to showcase these items in our collection. I am currently working on a research project that I undertook after I read the El libro de los escribanos Cubanos de los siglos XVI, XXII y XVIII in our collection. The research project is titled “Los Signos de los Escribanos Coloniales de México, Cuba, y Sur América”, (Signs of Scribes from Colonial Mexico, Cuba, and South America) in which I am gathering the rubric signatures (signs) of scribes found within documents in our collections to create a catalog and digital archive of individual scribes, their distinctive signature signs, and their location across the colonies. One of the goals for this database is to collaborate with other institutions as well, to have a global outreach on scribal movement. I am also interested in early printed maps. As a student, I did a virtual practicum with the Biblioteca General Histórica of the University of Salamanca where I described the Atlas facticio of Gabriel de Toledo y Ávalos, a unique atlas that is now available in their digital repository. Rare maps are as beautiful as they are rare.

Madame C. Maine article.

I love my work and working with the collections and rare materials. One never knows what gems one will find when going through a collection. I call these “regalitos” or “little gifts” because they are things that you were not necessarily looking for but catch your eye from a fleeting glimpse. One of these “little gifts” I’ve recently discovered, is from one of our featured LACC digital collections, the “Diarios de Eusebio Guiteras, 1842-1868: Álbum de Viaje”. Here is the page on the diary where I found my “gem”:

Not only was Madame C. Maine able to “while magnetised go to any part of the world and answer any proper questions that may be put to her”, but she was also a “Philosophress”. That’s my hidden gem, the word “philosophress”. Working as a processing archivist enables me to “go to any part of the world”, and be like philosophress Madame C. Maine, metaphorically speaking. Archives are like deep-sea creatures: unknown and mysterious, they shine when discovered and described. 

The following is but a small sample from items in some of our collections that reflect the many places you can go and discover when visiting our archives. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Digital images from the Libro de recetas del siglo XX de la farmacia "La Reunion" en Habana, Cuba.
From Libro de recetas del siglo XX de la farmacia ‘La Reunion’ en Habana, Cuba