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From the Archives

The excavators attached to the Karanis expedition to Egypt during the 1920s were interested in the artifacts of childhood from more than a purely academic viewpoint. Many were parents themselves, and several brought their children to the excavation to act as their assistants. Such was the case with Francis Kelsey’s son, Easton, as well as with the sons of the photographer George Swain—Robert and Edwin (Ned). These teenaged boys participated in expedition activities under the supervision of their fathers and their fathers’ colleagues.

The practice of having U-M children along as expedition assistants seems to have begun with Easton Kelsey, who first appears on the expedition team in the 1919–20 season, when he was 16 years old. His responsibilities for that campaign are not clear, but in the spring of 1924 he returned with the expedition team as a driver. In addition, he watched over the baggage to ensure it all traveled safely with the group. On both trips, he used a Kodak camera to make a series of 500 small photographs documenting the excursion. These images are surprisingly good. While many are the standard scenes any tourist might try to capture, others convey a more sophisticated eye than a 16-year-old might be expected to have. By the time Easton returned for one final season in 1927–28, he was a man on his way to graduation from the University of Michigan and into foreign service with the State Department.

The two sons of George Swain followed Easton Kelsey into the field. The older, Robert, traveled with the expedition group from winter through fall 1925, most notably serving as a driver at the Carthage excavations. Edwin, or Ned as he was called, replaced Robert in the spring and summer of 1926. Ned accompanied his father to Karanis, as well as on a return trip to the monastery at Mount Athos. George Swain had also taken Robert on an earlier assignment to photograph some manuscripts in the monastery’s collection. Although both served as drivers for the expedition cars, their primary role seems to have been to help carry the heavy photographic supplies that early photography demanded—large view cameras and tripods, as well as cases of glass plate negatives.

—Robin Meador-Woodruff