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

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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

Project Showcase: Newruskinarchives

group of men 1906

The back of this postcard reads “Engineers at Ruskin College Oxford, 1906, sent and supported by their fellow trade unionists at a cost of 1d each.” Photo source: Hilda Kean

The newruskinarchives database website has recently been launched in response to the destruction last year of most of the archive of student records at Ruskin College, the historic trade union and labour movement college in Oxford.

There was much press coverage of the scandal and widespread criticism of the actions of the (now former) Principal, Audrey Mullender. The international petition drew over 7,500 signatories including those of many public historians. However the vast bulk of the student records, as well as dissertations, were unnecessarily destroyed. Continue reading

Bridging the new digital divide: Open records in the age of digital reproduction

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Deed books line the walls of the DeKalb County, Ga., land records research room. Photo credit: David S. Rotenstein.

The depression of 1893 hit the Atlanta Suburban Land Company hard.  The Georgia firm, founded in 1890 to develop residential subdivisions along a new six-mile streetcar line linking downtown Atlanta with Decatur to the east, had bought nearly 2,000 acres in its first two years in business. But by 1896, it was more than $100,000 in debt, and a receiver held its assets. In its fall 1896 term, the Fulton County Superior Court ordered the receiver to sell the remaining real estate to settle the debts.

More than a century later, I requested the case files. The Fulton County Clerk employee who handed them to me once they had been retrieved from offsite storage told me that if I wanted copies of the tri-folded documents, I would have to request them from the service counter, and another staff member would photocopy them on a Xerox-type machine for fifty cents apiece.

My request to take flash-free digital photos was rebuffed despite my explanation that it would be better for the aging documents than forcing them flat against a copier’s glass platen and then closing the machine’s cover. I also questioned whether mandatory third-party intervention for copying records was consistent with Georgia’s Open Records Act (O.C.G.A. §50-18-70), and I was invited to speak with the county clerk. Continue reading

Reading the artifact: From inquiry to interpretation

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2.

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A Nash Motor Home, one of the artifacts “read” in the RASI class.  Photo credit: Canada Science and Technology Museum, Nash Motor Car Company, 1983.0258, 2012

On the final day of Reading Artifacts Summer Institute (RASI), each group was required to present its artifact to an audience of other participants, museum staff, and volunteers. Throughout the morning, artifacts that had initially seemed ambiguous and daunting at the start of the week were slowly separated into layers of meaning and their hidden histories were recounted. A small piano was revealed to be a portable ecclesiastical device used in religious sermons; a Gestetner printing press was exposed as a post-war business venture for a Japanese immigrant; a cannon-shaped lens viewer proved to be one of the first novelty cameras; a radiography device turned out to be one of the earliest home service x-ray machines; and a Nash Motor Home was an intact summer retreat, complete with additions such as a wooden arm that came down to signal a turn.

In our presentations, we were challenged to consider various methods suitable for presenting research on artifacts, from traditional slide show presentations to performances. Continue reading

Project Showcase: The Colonel Clark Library at the Kentucky Derby Museum

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Kentucky Derby Museum’s Web page.

The Kentucky Derby Museum, a non-profit organization located in Louisville, Kentucky, announces the opening of its Colonel Clark Library. With collections dating back to the mid-19th century, the Colonel Clark Library is an outstanding resource for historians, especially those interested in agricultural, sporting, and local history. The centerpiece of the Colonel Clark Library is the collection of Jim Bolus, long-time sports writer, historian, and renowned expert on the Kentucky Derby. The Bolus Collection consists of thousands of research files, printed materials, and recorded interviews covering the sport of Thoroughbred racing from 1875 to 1995. The Library also houses primary documents on the history of Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby since its inaugural running in 1875, and approximately 3,000 published volumes which include noted Thoroughbred industry publications such as The Blood-Horse, Thoroughbred Times, and the Daily Racing Form.

The Colonel Clark Library is open to the public on Tuesdays during the Museum’s normal operating hours and also by appointment. Access to the Library is free of charge. For general information on the Kentucky Derby Museum click here. To search the library holdings click here. For phone and email inquiries, contact Chris Goodlett at 502-637-1111, ext. 259 or by email.

Reading the artifact: The story in the archives

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The brochure that accompanied the mystery stove. (Source: Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation, No. L11201)

Read Part I of this series here.

On the second day of the Reading Artifacts Summer Institute (RASI), we received the artifact accession files. Although our physical examination of the stove had proven effective, artifacts need some help to speak. Material cultural historians have shown the benefits of (re)connecting objects to their historical contexts by undertaking a process of “thick description,” combining the use of written sources with material ones.[1] We eagerly anticipated what the accession file could tell us about the stove’s origins, manufacture, and targeted audience. Continue reading

Collecting Guantánamo Public Memory

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 and foster dialogue on its future.  For an introduction to the series, please see this piece by the Project’s director, Liz Ševčenko.

Soccer Ball

Outdoor cages at the detention center, 2006, courtesy of Christopher Sims

When I began working as a researcher with the Guantánamo Public Memory Project (GPMP) in 2011, I knew very little about the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO) and its uses prior to 9/11. Tasked with compiling resources for university teams across the country to use in the production of their exhibit panels, I commenced an unconventional “tour” of GTMO’s long history through the countless images, manuscripts, and other objects donated by individuals with experience on the base.

Today, as we work to build GPMP’s archives on the Digital Library of the Caribbean and at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library through its Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research, information about new sides of the base continues to emerge.  In contrast, the GTMO I first learned about from the evening news remains mysterious and impenetrable, and many personal possessions are considered classified intelligence; they are certainly not yet public records of the past. But because the snapshot photographs, letters, and other personal artifacts included in the archives uniquely document the expansive range of lived experiences GTMO cultivated prior to 9/11, they play an important role in our efforts to understand it today and to envision its future. Continue reading