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Processing the Diana Kennedy Papers

October 28, 2019

Ealier this year, UTSA Special Collections was honored when renowned cookbook author Diana Kennedy chose us as the home for her archival papers and personal library. Since then, the books have been placed in our rare books vault and are currently being cataloged. As for Diana’s personal papers, yours truly (the Manuscripts Archivist) has been hard at work getting things ready for researchers to use. In the archives world, we call this “processing.” When archivists initially receive collections, we often don’t know the full extent of what we’ve been given. It’s also common for materials to present preservation problems. Processing typically involves identifying and resolving preservation concerns, and rehousing materials in to archival grade acid-free folders and boxes. It also involves organizing the papers in a way that is logical, and creating an inventory (called a finding aid), which is published online for researchers to see.

The Diana Kennedy papers are not yet open for research, but will be made available as soon as processing is complete. It is often very difficult to gauge the length of time it will take to process a collection; quantity of records, formats present in the collection, and condition of the materials all play a role. Until then, here’s an update on the work that has been done with the collection thus far.

The materials arrived packed in an assortment of luggage, but were immediately re-boxed into archival boxes upon receipt.

35 mm Slide photographs in labeled slide boxes.
Research files, notebooks, and a VHS tape.
Manila envelopes and Ziploc bags containing correspondence and research notes inside an archival box.

After the materials had been reboxed, I began surveying the collection and conducting background research on Diana Kennedy and her career. I made detailed notes about the contents of the collection. Here’s a quick summary of what I found:

  • Dates: 1949-2017 (bulk 1970s-1990s)
  • Numerous slide and print photographs, mostly of her land, work, travels, and friends.
  • Draft pages, outline notes, research files, and contracts for her cookbooks.
  • Correspondence, including letters with other renowned chefs and letters from fans.
  • Four large scrapbooks dating 1969-1986 which document her early career, including her receipt of the Order of the Aztec Eagle award.
  • Press clippings from magazines, news articles, etc.
  • A journal from when she moved into her home in Zitacuaro
  • Photos and handwritten research notes from her visits all over Mexico, organized by Mexican state. The bulk of recipes are located in these folders since she collected these recipes from locals throughout her travels.
  • A visitor’s sign-in book for her home.
  • Materials documenting the visit of HRH Prince Charles, including two signed letters and a telegram from Prince Charles, and a menu she created for him.
  • Project documentation for “Documentation of the Biodiversity of Mexican Gastronomy: Rescue of the Culinary Archives of Diana Kennedy” (in Spanish). This is a project which UNAM folks did for CONABIO, and there is a detailed photographic catalog of all the plants on Diana’s estate, (especially indigenous plants), as well as reports that analyze the recipes in her books, breaking them down by ingredients and identifying the source of the ingredients, noting whether ingredients are indigenous or not. Fascinating!

As I surveyed the collection, I looked for patterns and themes that would allow a logical organization of the materials to emerge. Eventually I was able to establish the arrangement of materials and began to place things in order.

Putting everything in order: it may look like a mess, but each one of those piles means something!
Research notes are being filed into archival folders, which are hand-labeled in pencil with the collection name, folder title, and date. Diana’s original folders are being kept inside the archival folders so that researchers can see how she organized her research. Folders containing materials in need of preservation work are temporarily flagged with post-its. After the organization and refoldering is complete, we’ll tackle this additional preservation work.
Slide photographs, previously stored in plastic boxes, are being rehoused in archival grade slide sheets. This will allow for greater protection of the slides while also allowing researchers to easily see several slides at once.

Stay tuned for further updates as we continue working with this collection! Access to the collection is currently closed while processing is ongoing, but Special Collections will make an announcement as soon as the collection is open for research. If you would like to be notified directly when the collection becomes available, please let us know:

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