Revealing slavery’s legacy at a public university in the South (Part 1)

This 1820 watercolor shows an early view of the campus.  Image:  South Caroliniana Library

This 1820 watercolor shows an early view of the campus. Photo credit: South Caroliniana Library of the University of South Carolina

Written on the landscape of the University of South Carolina is an untold yet well-documented story of slavery. Enslaved people constructed the buildings of the university’s antebellum predecessor, South Carolina College, attended to the wants of white students and faculty, and performed countless tasks essential to running the college. This story is not unique in the history of American colleges and universities. Even in places where slavery was not widespread, the profits from slavery helped fund institutions of higher learning. Scholars have been slow to examine American universities’ historical association with slavery, and universities have been even slower to acknowledge it. The current momentum, however, favors expanding the discussion of these complicated topics.  Continue reading

All that is solid? The politics of digitization

Digitized collections unsettle the role of tangible objects, like these antique duck decoys.  Photo credit:  Marcus Jeffrey

Digitized collections unsettle the role of tangible objects, like these antique duck decoys. Photo credit: Marcus Jeffrey

I’d never held a duck decoy in my hands before and certainly not one that was important enough to be in a museum’s collection. It was my first day as education curator at the Tuckerton Seaport Museum in Tuckerton, New Jersey, and along with Jackie Stewart, the director of the folklife center (it was her first day, too), I was organizing a small exhibit for the nature center. We arranged objects into a narrative about cultural experiences of nature, wrote labels, and tried to tell a story–albeit a short one–in that one vitrine. Even though this was the mid-2000s, it never occurred to either of us to go back to our desks and scour the Internet for photos of decoy carvers or ducks. We were focused on the physical objects housed at the museum.

What a difference a decade makes. Theresa Koenigsknecht’s recent posts on this blog, ”Surfing with purpose: Online collections as exhibit resources,” discuss how the availability of digital historical resources, particularly from the Internet Archive, shape how exhibits are created at the Indiana Historical Society. That digitization is the way of the future seems incontrovertible. In the ten years since that decoy exhibit, the amount of cultural heritage material that has become available on the Internet has exploded, giving small public history institutions access to resources that were previously unimaginable and helping museums make better use of their own collections. According to the New York Times, only two percent of a museum’s collections are on exhibit at any time (“The Good Stuff in the Back Room,” March 12, 2009), mostly because of issues of space. There’s just not enough room to put out all the interesting stuff. In that case, digitization seems like a godsend: take photos of it all and upload them to the museum’s website and, voilà, instantaneous access!

Or is it? Physical objects have a different aura than their digital counterparts. And despite the sense of ease that “plug and play” technologies often give us, serious digitization projects are neither easy nor cheap. Continue reading

Surfing with purpose: Online collections as exhibit resources (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

Creative Commons logos

Creative Commons offers several levels of easily-applied licenses to facilitate digital publishing of images while offering some protections to owners and creators.

Navigating copyright for images is tricky and presents one of the biggest challenges in my work as an Exhibitions Researcher at the Indiana Historical Society. Although I admit to only a rudimentary understanding of copyright, this is where open access comes in very handy. While it is certainly important to support other cultural institutions and individuals by purchasing images, the back and forth involved in determining copyright, ensuring a file is a high enough resolution, or waiting for a physical copy to be delivered doesn’t always fit into a production schedule. That is why I increasingly rely on sites with hassle-free permissions and files I can download immediately. We still always credit the source of photos used in our exhibits even if they are open access.

Issues of copyright become even more complex with online materials, and new legal conventions are emerging along with digital collections. Continue reading

Surfing with purpose: Online collections as exhibit resources (Part 1)

city directory

Digital collections like those of the Internet Archive have drastically expanded the resources available to exhibit creators. Photo credit: Internet Archive

Thanks to the exponential increase in availability of digitized collections, possibilities in exhibit research have drastically expanded. Digital collections have become essential tools that help ensure the success of projects with limited budgets and tight deadlines, which most public historians might agree is just about every project. At the same time, it is often overwhelming to sift through the wide range of options. How can researchers, curators, and designers best utilize and understand the many resources provided through digital repositories and open access collections?

I recently responded to a tweet by Mary Rizzo asking for examples of people using the Internet Archive, an open access digital collection, in their public history work, and she suggested I write a blog post about using tools like this. As an Exhibitions Researcher at the Indiana Historical Society, my initial reaction was to think “I don’t know much about open access collections, I just use them.” Considering again, however, I realized that even though I was trained during the era of digitization and I use these resources as second nature in my work, I’ve still gone through a learning process in my job. Continue reading

Ask a Consulting Archivist: Maija Anderson

Editor’s note: We are beginning a new series on the Consultants Corner, Ask a Consulting Archivist. In the series, we will interview archivists about their careers, including how they first got started in consulting work, challenges they face, and current projects. We will soon begin similar series with consulting preservationists and curators/museum professionals. Adina Langer leads our first interview, which is with Maija Anderson who, in addition to consulting, works as Head of Historical Collections & Archives at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

SOD_maija_books_20130326

Maija Anderson surveying an archival collection on-site. Photo credit: Max Johnson

How did you get involved in consulting?
I value the idea that everyone’s history is valid and important and that everyone should have power over their histories. As a university archivist, I’ve always been encouraged to contribute professional service by teaching what I know. I’ve always done mini-consults with anyone who has questions or needs a sounding board, just as a professional courtesy.

My first independent client was a collector of fine-press books. She had purchased some production files from one of her favorite book artists and wanted to make them presentable within her book collection. I think I was really lucky that my first client was a woman entrepreneur.

Continue reading

Uncovering the hidden paradise of Guantánamo

Editor’s Note: This piece continues a series of posts related to the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, a collaboration of public history programs across the country to raise awareness of the long history of the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO) and foster dialogue on its future.  For an introduction to the series, please see this piece by the Project’s director, Liz Ševčenko.

My most vivid memories of Guantánamo was everything just being free down there and the closeness of all the people. There was no crime, none whatsoever. It was summer all year round.”

Johnson - H@W image 1

The Guantanamo Public Memory Project online stories collection.  Photo Credit: Guantanamo Public Memory Project

Anita Lewis Isom first arrived at Guantánamo Bay forty years before the orange-suited detainees that would make the US base infamous around the world. Her description of an idyllic life at the base seems far removed from the images of leg shackles and barbed wire typically associated with Gitmo in its current function as a “black site,” an extra-legal and extra-territorial space. Images of Gitmo as prison and military base and as island paradise are not, however, mutually exclusive. Indeed, it is in part its isolation that makes Gitmo such an effective black site and its tropical location that has long made it an attractive destination for military families. Continue reading

Project Showcase: Israel State Archives publication on 1979 Egypt/Israel peace treaty

ISA-screenshotThe Israel State Archives in Jerusalem is Israel’s national archives. It holds the records of the state of Israel, founded in 1948, and some material from Turkish and Mandatory Palestine. Most of the documents in the Israel archives are from government bodies, but the repository also has a rich collection of private archives, maps, postage stamps, photographs and other audio-visual material. Continue reading

Projects in the print-digital pipeline

sketch of well

Sketch for a key element of the “Slavery in New York” exhibit, found in the Public History Commons collection relating to the exhibit.

Regular visitors to the Public History Commons may have noticed that we’ve undergone a slight facelift recently.  The History@Work blog, initially the sole occupant of this site, has gradually been joined by other projects:  the News Feed, The Public Historian’s digital space, and now our new Library. To try to keep our interface clear and easy to navigate, we’ve bumped the blog down a little bit on the page and simplified the navigation bar.  We hope readers are finding their way around without too much trouble.

We’re also excited to introduce the Library to you.  Although still in its very early stages, it represents an important step in a larger project of creating flexible platforms for publication and communication and ways for our print and digital projects to cross-pollinate more easily.  We’re starting to get a sense of the possibilities through two recent collaborations, one of which revolves around Richard Rabinowitz’s award-winning article “Eavesdropping at the Well: Interpretive Media in the ‘Slavery in New York’ Exhibition.” Continue reading

Project Showcase: From Chautauqua to Ricketts

ricketts-1939


Edward F. Ricketts in 1939. Photo credit: The Pat Hathaway Photo Collection, California Views Historical Photo Collection, via Wikimedia

Donald Kohrs is Branch Library Specialist at the Miller Library of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove. For his  presentation at the National Council on Public History conference last week in Monterey, California, Don shared his recent findings associated with summer gatherings of the Pacific Coast Assembly of the Chautauqua Literary and Science Circle (1880-1926) in Pacific Grove. The founders of the assembly placed strong emphasis on instruction in the natural sciences, romantic literature, and the arts.  During the Digital Project Showcase, Don also told the story of finding the original books that composed the scientific library of Edward F. Ricketts (a collection that the marine biologist had left to the seaside laboratory upon his untimely death in 1948) and his efforts to identify the original contents of Ricketts’ library.

Don has degrees in biology and library science.  In addition to his Chautauqua project, he is exploring the history of the Hopkins Seaside Laboratory (1892-1925), and the early years of the Hopkins Marine Station (1917-1950).

Archiving the GTMO experience: an ongoing public collaboration

Editor’s Note: This piece continues a series of posts related to the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, a collaboration of public history programs across the country to raise awareness of the long history of the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO) and foster dialogue on its future.  For an introduction to the series, please see this piece by the Project’s director, Liz Ševčenko.

"Now we are free, my child" crayon on paper by Sergio Lastres, created while held in Guantánamo camps, 1994, photo credit Siro del Castillo from Caribbean Sea Migration Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

“Now we are free, my child” crayon on paper by Sergio Lastres, created while held in Guantánamo camps, 1994. Photo credit:  Siro del Castillo from Caribbean Sea Migration Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

In 1992 I moved to Miami to enroll in a PhD program at the University of Miami’s Graduate School of International Studies.  In general I wanted to focus my studies on Cuban migration and the Cuban exile community in Miami.  The specific topic that would occupy me for the next five years was stimulated by small articles that appeared in the local newspapers announcing the rescue of groups of Cuban balseros–people who had set out in homemade rafts trying to reach the United States.  The rafters seemed to provide a case example that could address an intriguing question–why do people who have been politically and socially quiescent suddenly take bold, dangerous political and social actions?  At the time, it was illegal to leave Cuba without government permission, and many people served 1-5 years in prison when caught making rafts or setting out to sea. Those who succeeded in their clandestine exit were labeled as escoria (scum), and their homes and possessions were confiscated by the state. The sea crossing was also extremely dangerous, and many rafters died or witnessed the death of others in their party. Continue reading