Come Together?

I am not going to post my final paper in a blog post, but I do want to take a moment to end my semester of blogging for Archival Management with a short sub-discussion spurred by my paper.  I decided to write about the challenges in archiving activist and ephemeral art collective/movements in New York City (either a group or archives based in NYC).  The four feature groups I wrote about were Occupy Wall Street, the Riot GRRRL collection, the Lesbian HERstory Archives, and Interference Archives.  In a separate paper I am writing for my research seminar, I am reconsidering Philadelphia-based activist histories of the 80s in curatorial terms… so there are a lot of activists swimming in my brain, and each and every group is being considered in terms of how they attempted to save their own ephemera.

What I have found is that there is no specific way of working among these somewhat similar groups– similar in that these organizations or groups fit somewhere outside mainstream culture, and all of which exuded a type of “do-it-yourself” aesthetic.

I have wondered for a long time what it would be like if Philadelphia had one archives dedicated to arts and culture history of the city so that places and diverse organizations like the Painted Bride Art Center, the Mural Arts Program, Little Berlin, and PhilaDanco could all be located in one place so that researchers could consider the history of Philadelphia-based creatives in context of one another.  My research this semester has made me wonder if all of the collections I considered from New York City to Philadelphia could somehow be stronger if they were together.  For instance, in my research seminar, my writing on ACT UP Philadelphia and ACT UP New York is based on my findings at William Way where Philly’s papers are located; ACT UP NY’s papers live at the NYPL on Fifth Avenue.

Most of this post is just thinking out loud, but I feel myself leaving this class simply wondering how archivists and public historians can band together to create some sort of unified resource that simplifies research for all scholars.  Is this a digitial massive index?  Is this a program much like the Hidden Collections initiative based out of HSP only nationwide?  Or is it a mediation program where archives who have similar materials are offered a free mediator to attempt to combine collections in one place?  I am not quite sure, but I do wonder if we can imagine together to take steps to be as accessible as possible.  A little out there with big dreams for a last post, I know, but thoughts nonetheless.

In the meantime, I will be celebrating the end of my semester listening to Bikini Kill.


Archiving Acoustics and WBAI

Among things I may not have considered unless I discovered them in Archival Management class came a story in the Archives in the News google group about a current literary scholar exploring acoustic space from radio to spoken word recording.  Focusing on the 50s-70s, Lisa Hollenbach is spending her time listening to the zeitgeist of the recorded geniuses of yesteryear.  Her description of her research experience is both haunting and gorgeous.

She wrote on her experience tuning into a WBAI recording in 1961, ” Listening through the layers of mediation that stand in for Blackburn’s own listening ear, I catch an interview with Allen Ginsberg, a broadcast of Blackburn reading translations of medieval Provençal poetry, a Mozart piano concerto, and a BBC production of King Lear. At one point Blackburn reads directly into the tape recorder from Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems before the next recorded broadcast cuts in. During the Mozart, I can hear a typewriter in the background, and suddenly I’m placed in a room with dimensions. I wonder, though there’s no way to know, if he’s working on a poem.”

Well, can I have what she is having, please?

In all sincerity, her exploration was a strong reminder of the treasures we have in past formats waiting to be moved from one technological format to the next.  Whether we move from technology to technology as a scheme of planned obsolescence or because of sheer engineering ingenuity, I do not much care.  I do care, however, about the massive amounts of history we have stored in formats past.  And unlike the Ghost of Christmas Past, these formats will not be visiting us magically in our bedrooms on Christmas Eve ready to show us what has been as part of a dream.  Instead, archivists have to put in hard work, earn grant funding, and then assign studious and determined upperclassmen or graduate student interns and maybe a trained archivist to the task of appraising radio collections and then moving them from tape to mp3.

How exhausting.

But so worth it, I think, especially in reading Hollenbach’s description of the recordings she explored.  She did not just hear the voices of the past, she also explored the ambiance based on sound.  This is something I rarely consider as something captured by radio, but I suppose it is so true.  The sensory memory of times gone (for a great read on sensory memory, check out Mark Smith) are captured acoustically on radio tapes.

According to the Radio Preservation Task Force, an even more important reason to recover old radio recordings includes “intervening in today’s media policy debates” to help serve the “historically disenfranchised.”  I am not exactly sure how to interpret that statement, but I imagine that part of what they are getting at is the ability of independent radio to provide subversive acoustic space for marginalized voices to share creativity and ideas on social change, something WBAI has always been especially great at providing (I am late to discover this amazing radio station and lived in Queens/NYC for an entire year without knowing about it, but now it is my must-listen whenever I am circa NYC).  How wonderful that Hollenbach is working on WBAI’s archival recordings.  I cannot wait to hear more about what she discovers.

Everyone loves transparency.

I was shocked and delighted to read about the better transparency practices approved by the White House and Capitol Hill regarding record requests.

What does this new legislation do for researchers?

“The legislation will end the practice of White House lawyers repeatedly extending the review of records of prior presidents that the National Archives has designated for release. Under the new law, the current president and affected former president have 60 business days to review records the Archives declares an intention to make public. That period can be extended 30 business days, but only once.”

And it passed 420-0!  Within a government where it seems like not one soul can agree with itself, how did this legislation pass so easily?  I think it has to do with the fact that all people want access to information in a transparent, expedient way.  It helps everyone.

What else will this legislation do?

“The new law, sponsored by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), also increases the transparency of the process by requiring the Archives to make public notices of planned openings of presidential records at the same time they are sent to the White House and a former president’s representative. The law also includes a provision sought by Republicans making clear that emails government employees send on private accounts about government business must be incorporated into official records systems.”

And there it is: e-mails.  I spend a lot of time considering how e-mails can be and should be saved and archived.  What systems and processes are currently available for harvesting and organizing e-mail accounts and the content within them?  I am hoping to know more about that sooner than later.

P.S. Why are the Clintons reluctant for records to be open as compared to the Bush family?  Is it because Hilary is still hot within her career while the Bush fam, at least the immediate Bush fam of George W., and Bush, Sr., are certainly done with the White House.  Would other presidential families react as the Clintons are about record release if these other families were still potential White House leaders?

The Sendak Saga keeps on going…

The New York Times published an article yesterday on the continuing saga of Maurice Sendak’s stuff which shed light on this situation in a way I had not realized– that the $10,000 worth of items the foundation has requested back from the Rosenbach (i.e. Potter and Blake’s work) are to be part of a potential house museum in CT.

Considering the things we have learned and discussed in Archival Management this semester, I am shocked that the executor of Sendak’s estate would think that pulling his work out of a readily-accessible collection back to his home would be a good move.  How will this house museum be accessible to researchers?  Then again, I also wonder if this move to pull the collection back to his home makes sense if the full-fledged research center takes flight because it would keep all of his work in one place for researchers going through his things.

I am not especially happy about the political arguments happening about this saga– that the Rosenbach did not take him seriously as an artist, or that the executor of his estate has no formal training in interpretation or archives.  Why would the Rosenbach negate his place in the art world?  Why would an executor who so loved her employer take on a project which might jeopardize the preservation of his legacy?  Who is really thinking about preserving Sendak’s collection in the most accessible way possible?  Is this just a case of King Solomon?

What was especially interesting to consider in regard to the executor of his estate is her close relationship to Sendak.  She has insisted that she knows his collection intimately for what was important to him and therefore she would be right in interpreting that collection in the museum.  However, we have had very different discussions about the way collections are assessed and appraised in class.  While sentimental value is valid, objects and documents also have other values to researchers.  Something that this executor deems trivial or important might have an opposite inference with researchers.

Also, I find it disturbing that this executor has used the argument that Sendak was unhappy with how the Rosenbach did not take him seriously as an artist as reason to pull part of his collection.  Part of the collection being pulled raises the question as to whether Beatrix Potter can be both rare and a children’s book at once… is it not a tad bit hypocritical to negate Potter as a means to glorifying Sendak?  It seems counter intuitive to me.

I was glad to read that the Christie’s auction is postponed until further notice; I was also interested to read that the Sendak research center could open as early as late 2015.  I would surely like to visit… but does anyone really go to house museums?  This issue is the whole other arm to the conversation here.  Have the executors of Sendak’s estate considered that house museums are in crises?  Do they know?  All the more reason for all public history-archival-management-constituents-donors to work closely together.  It will be sad if the Sendak house museum is created only to fall very quickly.