Introducing Erin Berry, CA’s New Archivist
It’s no secret that we’re living through history. Columbia Association (CA) is incredibly fortunate to have our new archivist, Erin Berry, collecting the voices in our community to help future generations understand the significance of this moment in time.
Berry stepped into the role of archivist at Columbia Maryland Archives in February 2021. Previous manager of the Columbia Archives, Lela Sewell-Williams, has moved on to a new role as Curator of Manuscripts at Moorland Spingarn Research Center at Howard University after four years with CA.
“I’m so honored to continue the incredible work that the previous Archives team members started. I look forward to getting to know the community better and reopening the reading room in June,” said Berry. “We will continue to make information accessible to residents and visitors, and collect past and current perspectives.”
To learn more about Berry, check out our Q&A below!
Where did you grow up?
When did you know you wanted to be an archivist?
I first learned about archives when I was attending Millersville University for my history degree. One of my professors wanted to start an archives in a local historical society, and I thought it sounded like fun. I fell in love with it during that time.
How did you find your way to CA?
When I was in grad school at University of Maryland, my old boss sent me the listing for the Archives Assistant role. I grew up coming to the Columbia Mall and walking the pathways, so I knew the area and applied for the job. I officially started with CA in 2018.
What’s a fact that people are always surprised to learn about Columbia?
I think people are surprised by the idea of a whole community being planned. The concept came from Europe after World War II, because so many places were destroyed that they decided to start doing planned communities in the aftermath. Then, it came to America, but there’s really not that many planned communities here. Columbia is the best example because it’s not just the roads and buildings, its the community as a whole. The recreation centers and activities, and even the the concept of CA itself, was all planned.
What’s more, Columbia was being designed in the 60s and 70s, right after the Civil Rights movement. The fact that James Rouse was creating an integrated community was a huge deal during that time. One cool fact is that the first residents of Columbia who bought their homes were able to customize the amenities. That’s why the homes look similar, but have little differences. Each resident was able to work with the builder to add their own personal touch.
What’s your favorite thing about Columbia?
Even though it’s a large place with so many people, there’s so much greenery. I love the pathways. It’s so nice to have so many places to be outside.
What are you most excited for in this new role?
To continue what Lela started, gathering as many voices and perspectives in the community as I can. There isn’t just one voice, there’s truly a multitude and all need to be represented. I’m excited to work more with students and volunteers, and to open exhibits showcasing different aspects of history around the community. Also, I’m excited to continue creating more digital exhibits that people can access at home any time they’d like.
How can people get involved with archives?
Starting in June, the reading room will re-open by appointment only, so I’m so thrilled to be back “in person” again. More details will come soon on the website. You can still request scans or photo copies of any material. I’m accessible through email or phone, so feel free to reach out with any questions or just to say hi. Down the line, we will have more projects for students and volunteers too. And don’t forget to check out the new digital archives library!
What’s something that not many people know about you?
I have heterochromia iridium…aka, two different colored eyes! It runs in my family.
Learn More About Columbia Maryland Archives
Columbia Maryland Archives – a service of Columbia Association – continues to be the primary resource on the history of the planned community of Columbia, as well as the life and career of its visionary founder, James Rouse. Columbia, Maryland Archives serves researchers at every level and welcomes residents and visitors who wish to learn more about Columbia’s past, present, and future. Learn more on their website.