Helen Keller Archive Launches

We’re pleased to celebrate the launch of the Helen Keller Archive, a groundbreaking digital collection of materials illuminating the life and work of Helen Keller. A project of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and directed by APH alumna Helen Selsdon, it has been designed to be fully accessible to blind, deaf, deafblind, sighted and hearing audiences alike. 

Start perusing this incredible collection with a blog post about one of its thousands of items penned by our own APH director, Ellen Noonan. 

Capstone Presentations 2018

On Monday, May 14th, 2018 our graduating MA students in Archives and Public History presented their final capstone projects. The capstone is a yearlong project where students put what they’ve learned in their coursework to use on a project that they design, shape, and carry out. This year’s event featured projects by Jennifer Ann Gargiulo and Danielle Nista in Archives and Tracy McFarlan and Alison Katherine Kelly Burke in Public History.

Jennifer Ann Gargiulo
Archives student Jennifer Gargiulo presents her capstone project on May 14th

Jennifer Gargiulo presents on her work with the Department of Sanitation.

What began as an internship at the  New York City Department of Sanitation‘s Bureau of Recycling blossomed into Jennifer’s capstone project when NYU Archives and Public History alumna Maggie Lee asked her to create a records retention schedule for the organization.

Not only was the project a testament to all Jennifer had learned as an archives student, it also required her to educate staff on the new protocol. Jennifer had to be able to explain to employees what records to keep and why in a manner that was clear and convincing, with enough detail to be understood, but not so much as to overwhelm. Her skill in making the information easy to understand was put to use during her presentation, as she explained to the audience how a records retention schedule benefits the department and the city (and does not include citizens’ trash and recycling!)

Tracy McFarlan

Tracy’s capstone project in public history was a collaboration with International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, a membership organization of historic sites and museums whose mission is to create connections between historical memory and contemporary issues of rights and power. Tracy’s goal was to help design a program that would counter myths about the founding of the United States, and saw the Coalition as a natural partner in carrying that out.

Public history student Tracy McFarlan presents her capstone project on May 14th

Tracy McFarlan presents her public history capstone project,

Tracy worked with several U.S. historic sites related to prominent founders or otherwise connected to the American Revolution era, surveying their needs and interests in developing new programming to help complicate their visitors’ understanding of American history. She also read historical scholarship on the period to gain a clear sense of how historians view the founding and drafted the humanities themes sections of a National Endowment for the Humanities funding proposal for the project. For Tracy and her collaborators, graphic art seemed like the perfect way to engage a wider audience in dealing with more difficult aspects of the founding of America and they designed a program that incorporated the nascent genre of graphic history. She was inspired by the work of historian Ari Kelman, who collaborated with illustrator Jonathan Fetter-Vorm on Battle Lines, a graphic history on the Civil War, particularly in the potential of graphic art to unlock an emotional response to historical content. 

Danielle Nista 

Danielle, a dual-degree student in library science and archives, conducted her capstone project at the New York City Municipal Archives, processing the WNYC TV moving images collection.

Archives student Danielle Nista presents her capstone project on May 14th

Danielle Nista presents her capstone project on the WNYC moving image collection at the Municipal Archives

Danielle began working with the largely unprocessed collection of film and tape generated by WNYC TV (New York City’s municipal television station in operation from 1949-1996) during an internship the spring semester of her first year. She continued working with the collection as a capstone project. 

As she processed the collection, she was forced to confront the challenges and benefits of the “legacy description” already attached to the collection from previous attempts to process it. Her work included getting physical and intellectual control over the collection, creating metadata, and eventually, a finding aid. She was also responsible for transitioning the project to the next team who would be working with it. She explained to the crowd how much she learned about the importance of working with legacy descriptions, and paying close attention to make sure the usefulness of the project outlasts your involvement. “The past should not be a weight to drag us down,” she concluded, “but a force to push us forward.”

Alison Burke

Public history student Alison Burke, who created a podcast on the history of menstrual management products, made the evening’s final presentation.  One of the inspirations for her choice of topic was the lack of scholarly attention it has received, but she soon found that this would also make the project much more difficult to research.

Public history student Alison Burke presents her capstone project on May 14th

Public history student Alison Burke shares the podcast she created on menstruation during the Victorian Era.

She initially wanted to create an exhibition, but realized that she wouldn’t be able to find objects for it and turned to audio forms of presentation instead. This not only allowed her to stick with her topic, but also to experiment with narrative form. She decided to frame the podcast on the myth that ancient Egyptian women used softened papyrus tampons. 

By interviewing experts, creating dramatic readings of historical documents, and adding music and sound cues for effect, Alison created an audio documentary that fulfilled her mission of using the tools of public history to tell a compelling story.

The 2018 cohort of graduates in the master’s program in Archives and Public History used a variety of methods, topics, and styles to demonstrate all that they have learned and accomplished in this program. The variety of projects and clear display of skills were a testament to the exciting contributions they are poised to make in the field. We congratulate this year’s graduates!


Diversifying the Digital Historical Record

On Friday, October 20, NYU Archives and Public History was proud to host the fourth and final forum of the Diversifying the Digital Historical Record. Organized by the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, the forum series is intended to integrate community archives into the larger practice of archiving.Building on the themes and conversations of the first three forums, taking place at UCLA-Riverside, New Orleans, LA, and Northwestern University, the theme of last week’s two-day forum was “Integration: Why and How to Address Integration with National Digital Collections Initiatives.” The forum sought to highlight strategies and innovative practices for community archives, which typically function independently and service a local population, to integrate with more national initiatives, while attempting not to interrupt their individual character and autonomy. Audience members were encouraged to engage via dedicated Q&A sessions throughout the forum, as well as through the dedicated Twitter hashtag #DDHR4. The event was also livestreamed, and a full recording is available free here: 

After introductory remarks and a welcome by Tamar Dougherty, the forum’s first panel, moderated by Thai Jones, was dedicated to exploring community archives, civil rights, and social justice. Margo Schlanger, Director of the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse, presented her organization’s mission of making legal history accessible, including making all of the litigation in the proceedings from Ferguson, Missouri digitally accessible, for free. Julie A. Herrada, curator of the Joseph A. Labadie collection at the University of Michigan, spoke about broadening the definition of access, highlighting the barriers to access even when collections are made “free” and available to the public via institutions like the National Archives. Many in the audience were surprised to learn from Kimberly Springle that the entire archives of the Washington, D.C. public school system are housed within the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, and how the institution strives to bring the D.C. community into the site to engage with both the museum collections and the archival holdings. NYU Archives and Public History graduate Maggie Schreiner closed the panel with a presentation on how the Interference Archive works to collect, exhibit, and preserve the work of community tenant activists in Brooklyn, while also doing the work of organizing and advocacy as a volunteer-only organization.

The event’s second panel highlighted digital initiatives that support community archives. The differences between digital hosting and digital aggregators was discussed by John Voss of HistoryPin and Cecily Marcus, Director of Umbra Search African American History, who also addressed institutional inequity in the digital space.

Jon Voss of HistoryPin discusses the work of content aggregators. (via @HistoryQueer)

Kerri Willette shared a wealth of information about funding sources for digital projects, particularly through regional organization like Metropolitan New York Library Council and various state humanities councils.

One of the day’s liveliest panels was “When Town Meets Gown,” which highlighted collaborative efforts between community archives and academic libraries. Stacie Williams introduced attendees to Case Western Reserves’ attempts to make information and resources relevant to local communities, from pushing to release data on unprocessed rape kits and other public health records to digitization and education around public records. NYU Libraries’ own Aruna Magier presented on the challenges she faced trying to connect New York City’s working-class South Asian activist communities (like DRUM and South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association of NYC) to a archiving process at NYU Libraries, highlighting both the need for community history to be documented and preserved, and the legitimacy of community distrust for large university systems. “Community building needs to be an outcome” Magier insisted, to many nodding heads and affirming snaps from the audience. Dalena Hunter, of UCLA’s Ralph Bunche Center for Black History, brought attention to the way that Los Angeles’ legacy of residential segregation makes it difficult for her community archive on a college campus to reach its intended audience. Maureen Callahan presented on her work at Smith College Special Collections, declaring “Like many of you, I’m here for the radical redistribution of memory capital” to applause from the audience.

Dr. Michelle Caswell’s tools for identifying and dismantling white supremacy in the archive (via @HistoryQueer)

NYU Archives and Public History Director Ellen Noonan moderated the fourth panel on navigating the relationship between social justice and pedagogy in archives training. Dr. Michelle Caswell shared a teaching tool she uses with her students at UCLA to help them identify and dismantle white supremacy in the archives, available here. Dr. Anthony Cocciolo spoke about addressing unconscious bias with his students at the Pratt Institute, and Dr. Nicole Cooke brought to the audience her experiences with microaggressions that form barriers to her students, particularly students of color.


Dr. Anthony Cocciolo presents on how unconscious bias impacts his work in the classroom. (via @AliceLGriff)

The first day concluded with a final panel, moderated by NYU Archives and Public History alum Maggie Schreiner, on digital integration and community archives. Tamara Thompson of StoryCorps spoke to the organization’s success in accessibility to communities, but of the organization’s ongoing challenge to store and organize their thousands of interviews. Lanae Spruce, social media manager of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, spoke of how to craft a digital media strategy for a 21st century institution, and build an audience from scratch who is engaged with the institution. Lindsay Whittwer closed the panel with a presentation on how the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College endeavors to blend cultural knowledge and personal agency in its cataloging work.

Attendees discussed Day 1 over “mocktails” at the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, then returned the following morning for a day of more interactive workshops and “knowledge cafes.” Participants could choose among sessions devoted to unpacking “authenticity” and notions of how “expertise” is conferred, the politics of memory and choices in memory-keeping, making sense of the wide range of digital tools and platforms, and community archives role in larger power structures, and what a professional archives community can do about it. Attendees tweeted their takeaways and impressions, and steps forward will be discussed. Keep track via the Twitter hashtag #DDHR!

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