An Introduction to the Edward C. Britton Collection
By Kurt Kuss, Special Collection & University Archives Department

In the last few months, with the help of volunteer Bill Wiedner, I have been processing the Edward C. Britton Collection, one of several collections of faculty papers here in the archives. While we are still discovering new things about the collection, there is a considerable amount we know already. And we have also recovered a significant body of Britton’s work that had not been part of the original donation to the archives.

The initial stage of processing was to survey the entire collection in order to familiarize ourselves with the contents and to get an better idea of the scope of the collection. The survey revealed a number of things. As we expected, it appeared to be substantial collection. There was significant documentation on Vietnam from the early to the mid-1960s. There was an extensive amount of information related to something identified as SYP (more on this later.) And while much of the collection was in English, there were also many documents in Vietnamese and French. There were also many publications – newsletters and magazines. And there were dozens and dozens of reports. Many of these were published by the Southeast Asia Development Advisory Group, (SEADAG), but there were numerous reports by the Rand Corporation and others by the State Department. There was material related to refugee work in the Bay Area. And there was some material related to CSUS.

The survey also revealed a singly interesting 60-page document, a detailed inventory and description of photographic materials – 52,298 linear feet of 16mm film footage; 4,669 color slides; 838 still photographs; and 7 photo albums. Further documentation revealed that that the bulk of these materials were produced between 1959 and 1970 and that most of this was also Britton’s work – film footage he shot, slides he took – while in Vietnam.

But where were these materials?

Using the documentation in our collection files I was able to track the provenance of the Britton materials.

In August 1988, Dr. Edward C. Britton, professor emeritus of Education, CSUS, donated a collection of papers related to his work in Vietnam to the CSUS Archives. The papers occupied 43 records cartons or approximately 54 linear feet.

The following year, in December 1989, Dr. Britton donated additional Vietnam related material – 52, 298 feet of 16mm film, 4,669 slides, 838 still photographs, and 7 photo albums – to the Center for Pacific Asian Studies.

In May 1992, Britton approached the CSUS library about transferring the photographic materials to the Archives. However, the library was reluctant to accept the collection because the film had begun to deteriorate – a process called ‘vinegar syndrome.’ This is a chemical reaction that, once begun, cannot be stopped. The library did not accept the collection but offered Dr. Britton a work space, use of equipment, and supplies to transfer the damaged film to ¾” U-matic videocassette. Assisting Dr. Britton was Harry Sweet.
In a summary of the film transfer project, dated September 16, 1992, Harry Sweet described how the photographic materials had been stored in Britton’s office in the Goethe House “for several years,” so it appears that the collection was never physically transferred to the Center for Pacific Asian Studies. (It is likely that the Center had no physical space.) In this letter Sweet also included an inventory of film footage that, due to deteriorated condition, was destroyed after being transferred to video.

In April 1996 a communication mentions that Harry Sweet had checked on the condition of the film, then stored in EDUC 113. (Edward Britton had passed away on March 3.) Sweet indicated that the film seemed to be fine but that the 7 photo albums were missing. (see some pictures from collection)

Provenance Postscript
Last fall I was able to piece together the above information by going through the documentation in Britton’s collection files. But that’s where the documentation left off. Having identified some of the people involved ,I began to make phone calls, eventually contacting professor Jeffery Dym in the History Department who was, and is, the current director of the Center for Asian Pacific Studies. When professor Dym answered the phone I introduced myself and asked him if he had ever heard about the Britton photographic materials. He said they were right there in his office! Consequently, we were able to fill in some of the remaining details of the collection’s provenance.

In 2001, professor Dym retrieved what remained of Britton’s photographic materials from Teri Castaneda, Director of the Anthropology Museum, located in Mendocino Hall, where the materials were being housed. Dym transferred 15 cases of 35mm color slides and 42 reels of film to his office in Tahoe Hall. At that point the 838 still photographs and the 7 photo albums were missing.

In December 2002, professor Dym arranged for Britton’s widow Ly Pham Mitten, to formally transfer custody of these materials to the CSUS.

In February 2004, professor Dym transferred the Britton photographic materials to the CSUS Archives, thereby uniting Britton’s photo documentation with his paper documentation.

Preliminary Biographical Note
Edward Britton was a professor in the Education Department, CSUS, from 1950 until 1987. From 1959 to 1961 he served as a teacher education advisor to the government of South Vietnam, helping to form their secondary educational system. Between 1961 and 1964, Britton made four documentary films in Vietnam, including The Village That Refused to Die (made with Stan Atkinson of channel 13) that recorded life in the village of Binh Hung, in the southern tip of Vietnam, and the work of Father Bien Hoa, a Chinese Catholic priest. Other films included The Other Vietnam; Vietnam Today; and Partners in Progress, which documented the work of the International Voluntary Service (IVS), a group that inspired the establishment of the Peace Corps. In addition to these documentary film projects, Britton also took thousands of feet of film footage and hundreds of slides documenting Vietnamese life from 1959 to 1980.

In 1964, Britton’s work came to the attention of George Tanham who was working with the U.S. Overseas Mission (USOM), the AID activity in Vietnam. After the fall of the Ngo Dinh Diem regime in 1963, Tanham had grown increasingly interested in the potential role of students and student organizations in the reconstruction efforts underway. At Tanham’s recommendation, Britton was hired by the Rand Corporation in 1964 to survey student organizations. His reports convinced AID to support the first systematic nationwide reconstruction effort – the Summer Youth Program (SYP) in 1965. Britton stayed on to help organize this effort, along with Charles Sweet, Youth Advisor to IVS.

Just before the fall of Saigon in 1975, Britton carried out a rescue operation for students with whom he had worked. He helped establish a Vietnamese resettlement center on the CSUS campus. Britton also worked in refugee camps in Thailand for Cambodian refuges who were fleeing from the Khmer Rouge.

Preliminary Scope and Content Note
The Summer Youth Program of 1965 was actually an umbrella organization that included a number of distinct voluntary youth programs planned and organized by student leaders. “The SYP initiated some 200 work camps in Vietnam. Twenty-two of these work camps were sponsored by the SYP but carried out by already established organizations such as the Boy Scouts, Buddhist Student Association, etc., 138 work camps by province SYP committees; and 36 work camps by the Saigon and Hue centers.”

Ultimately more than 8,000 students participated in a variety of two week work camps, month long urban refugee programs, or two-month programs in the hamlets. Work included a variety of public works projects – building roads, refugee housing, orphanages, schools, bridges, etc. The SYP ’65 was a landmark in the development of further voluntary youth programs. In addition to the role they played in reconstruction efforts, these programs also continued for a number of years to produce trained leadership, many of whom went on to play important roles in the South Vietnamese government.

Britton described the value of his collection as documenting “a little known but very important element of Vietnamese life in the 1960’s – a national youth social service movement.”

There is still considerable work that needs to be done with the Britton Collection. The paper documentation is in the early stages of processing. After separating out publications and duplicates, the remaining records occupy about 20 records cartons. We have identified several areas of activities documented by these materials (see the biographical note below) and have begun the more detailed task of arranging and describing the records.

As for the photo documentation, the primary concern is preservation. As for describing the materials, it turns out the 60-page inventory of the photographic materials (mentioned above) was written by Edward Britton. So, we are fortunate to have substantial information about the photo documentation that we would not otherwise be able to recover – names of people and places, the activities documented, dates, etc. This information alone will enhance the quality of the finding aid immensely.

It is likely that processing will be completed and a finding aid written by the end of the summer.

Thanks to Bill Wiedner for his tireless work on the Britton Collection and to Pam Macas for scanning a sampling of slides before she left us for the idyllic land of Port Angeles. And a special thanks to professor Jeffrey Dym who recognized the value of Britton’s photographic materials and saved them.