On October 5-7, 2017, the BU Center for the Humanities hosted its inaugural forum, Recording Lives: Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age, cosponsored by the Boston Public Library and the Boston Athenæum.
The role of archives and libraries in the digital age is one of the most pressing concerns of humanists, scholars, and citizens worldwide. Questions of what to record and how to record it touch the very core of who we are as individuals, cultures, and nations. Now, more than ever, the accessibility of curated historical information, the sharing of resources, and the uses of digitization raise questions central to democratic society. This forum brought together specialists from academia, public libraries, governmental agencies, and philanthropic and commercial archives to pursue common questions about value across the institutional boundaries that typically separate us.
The forum was launched with an event at the Boston Athenæum, Recording Lives at Lightning Speed, featuring panelists from the Athenæum, the Congressional Library & Archives, the Handel and Haydn Society, Historic Newton, Mount Auburn Cemetery, and the Mellon Sawyer Seminars at BU, to discuss how local cultural and academic organizations are deploying digital technologies to provide or expand access to their collections and engage more diverse audiences. On Thursday evening, October 5, Robert Darnton delivered a public lecture, Libraries, Books, and the Digital Future, in the newly renovated Rabb Hall at the Boston Public Library and Christopher Ricks provided commentary. This was followed by two days of panels in the Law School Auditorium on BU’s Charles River Campus, which included scholars and practitioners in the fields of archives and libraries such as Alberto Manguel, Director of the National Library of Argentina, David Ferriero, the 10th National Archivist of the U.S., and Jeannette Bastian of Simmons School of Library and Information Sciences.
Our fall forums are continuous intellectual enterprises that will shape and contribute to programming and scholarship for years to come. In keeping with this, the Center is at work on a book collection of essays from the 2017 forum, and also hosted two follow-up events this year: a screening of Fredrick Wiseman’s newest film, Ex Libris, followed by a Q&A with Wiseman himself, and a roundtable discussion of archival work, “A Report from the Archives,” featuring speakers from The HistoryMakers®, the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, and BU Faculty from CAS and COM.
In 2020, BUCH will return to the theme of Libraries and Archives for the annual fall forum, when the three-year cycle recommences.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2017. BU SCHOOL OF LAW AUDITORIUM, 767 COMMONWEALTH AVENUE
9:00-1:00 Panel I: Setting Directions for Libraries and Archives in the Digital AgeIntroduced by Robert Hudson, University Librarian, Boston University and moderated by Jack Ammerman, Associate University Librarian for Digital Initiatives and Open Access, Boston University.
Featured quotations from this panel:
Jack Ammerman, describing “The New Information Superhighway,” noted the epistemological differences between “the old commercial model,” which involved “finding authorities and experts” and the new model, exemplified by Wikipedia, “which says that knowledge can be created through a social process.”
Jeannette Bastian: “We may need to be expanding our ideas of what documents are.”
David Ferriero: “The creation of a library is an act of faith. The society creating the library must believe in the past and the future and the value of preserving them.”
Alberto Manguel on becoming Head of The National Library of Argentina: “I felt like someone who has been writing recipes for decades and suddenly finds himself in the kitchen.”
Jeannette Bastian, Simmons School of Library and Information Sciences
Radical Recordkeeping: How Community Archives Are Changing How
We Think About Records
Dan Cohen, Northeastern University
From Open Access to Maximal Access
David Ferriero, National Archives of the United States
Creating a Digital Future for Federal Records
Alberto Manguel, National Library of Argentina
A National Library in the Digital Age
Vita Paladino, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University
Crossing Oceans to Present Recorded Lives to the Future
Q&A Panel I, moderated by Jack Ammerman
2:00-5:30 Panel II: Digital Scholarship and PracticeIntroduced by Peter Schwartz, World Languages & Literatures, Boston University and moderated by Vika Zafrin, Digital Scholarship Librarian, Boston University.
Featured quotations from this panel:
Ellen Cushman: “How do people use tools of literacy to persevere in unequal relationships? Western Archives teach epistemological obedience. Indigenous languages are key means of decolonizing the Archive.”
Tom Mullaney, commenting on his Digitization Project, “No Room For The Dead: On Grave Relocation In Contemporary China”: “A mirror image of the One-Child Policy–the overpopulation of the living–the corpse relocation project is meant to deal with the overpopulation of the dead…my mind had no fighting chance to wrap itself around this phenomenon” hence the project’s platform, designed for “Elegance and simplicity, moving in and out among different scales, micro and macro.”
Ellen Cushman, Northeastern University
Supporting Manuscript Translation in Library and Archival Collections: Toward Decolonial Translation Methods
Harriett Green, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Building From the Inside Out: Facilitating Digital Scholarship Collaboratories in the Library
Tom Mullaney, Stanford University
A War Between the Living and the Dead: On Grave Relocation in Contemporary China
Fallou Ngom, Boston University
Ajami Digital Scholarship: Challenges and Opportunities
Q&A Panel II, moderated by Vika Zafrin
5:30-7:30 Public Reception at Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center
771 Commonwealth Avenue, First Floor
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2017. BU SCHOOL OF LAW AUDITORIUM, 767 COMMONWEALTH AVENUE
9:00-12:30 Panel III: Preservation Spaces, Open and ClosedIntroduced by Christopher Maurer, Romance Studies, Boston University and moderated by Jeffrey Henderson, Classical Studies, Boston University.
Featured quotations from this panel:
David Wexler: “Ethic of best archives and platforms: thinking of everything.”
Tom Blake, Boston Public Library
Extending our Reach: Scaling Local Digitization Services at the BPL for Global Research and Enjoyment — Free to All
Stephanie Frampton, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Libraries and the Future of the Past
Julieanna Richardson, The HistoryMakers®
Preservation: The HistoryMakers® Story
David Wexler, Hollywood Vaults
Boldly Go Where Few Archives Have Gone: Creating Hollywood Vaults
Q&A Panel III, moderated by Jeffrey Henderson
1:30-5:00 Panel IV: The Global Politics of Archives
Featured quotations from this panel:
Alex Gil declared the subject of his talk at the outset to be “All cultural artifacts today in existence on the planet,” and drew implicit comparison between his intellectual ambition and the greed of publishing monopolies such as Gale, ProQuest, and Taylor and Francis in the U.S. and Canada, which are regarded as “too big to fail” and give rise to various global pirating operations in places like India.
Beatriz Jaguaribe raised a question about “the relationship between digitization and the dematerialization of experience,” in emphasizing “the political consequences of archives.” She noted how “photographs can be called upon to testify” in situations where “interpretation is urgent and political.”
Kirsten Weld quoted Eduardo Galeano, that “every act of destruction meets its match in an act of creation,” to show that “records can be used for regaining human rights,” and that “archival cascades” become “justice cascades,” leading to the trials of perpetrators.
Alex Gil, Columbia University
The Minimal Computing Gambit and Global South Archives
Beatriz Jaguaribe, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
Nambiquaras in Paris: Archival Images, Appearances and Disappearances
Rudolf G. Wagner, Heidelberg University; Harvard University
Future Memory: Preserving Diverse Voices From and About China From a Time of Unification of Thought
Kirsten Weld, Harvard University Cold War Archives and Democratic Aspirations in Latin America
Q&A Panel IV, moderated by Maurice Lee
After a brief introduction, each panelist will speak for approximately 20 minutes, and the session will close with a panel discussion led by the moderator that also includes time for questions from the audience. On both days, refreshments will be available during mid-panel breaks and lunch will be available between the panels for those who have registered to attend. The buffet lunch will be in Barristers Hall, across from the BU School of Law Auditorium.
The Boston University Center for the Humanities is grateful to our co-sponsors for hosting receptions: Boston Public Library on Thursday, October 5, 2017 at 7:30 PM and Howard Gotlieb Center for Archival Research on Friday, October 6, 2017 at 5:30 PM.
THE BOSTON ATHENÆUM HOSTS RECORDING LIVES AT LIGHTNING SPEED
Thursday, October 5, 2017, at noon. 10 ½ Beacon Street
In conjunction with the Boston University Center for the Humanities’ fall forum, Recording Lives: Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age, the Boston Athenæum is hosting a conversation about how local cultural organizations are deploying digital technologies to provide or expand access to their collections and engage audiences. This public program will look at a range of digital projects across the spectrum of Boston-area cultural organizations to investigate how the institutions charged with preserving the material past are embracing the digital present and planning for the future.
Each representative from the six cultural organizations listed below will have five minutes to present. Following the “lightning round” of presentations, the presenters will invite members of the audience to join the conversation.
The Boston Athenæum first opened its doors in 1807 with aspirations of “combining the advantages of a public library [and] containing the great works of learning and science in all languages.” Today it remains a vibrant humanities library that serves a wide variety of members and visitors with distinguished circulating and reference collections, rich and varied special collections, and as a place for the exchange of ideas.
The Congregational Library & Archives began in 1853 when a small group of Boston clergymen donated 56 books from their personal collections. It has since become an internationally recognized resource for scholars, religious leaders, and local churches. It is a thriving center for anyone wanting to understand more about a religious tradition that has deeply informed American culture.
The Handel and Haydn Society (H+H) is a Boston-based internationally acclaimed period instrument orchestra and chorus. Founded in 1815, H+H is the oldest continuously performing arts organization in the United States and is unique among American ensembles for its longevity, capacity for reinvention, and distinguished history of premieres. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Harry Christophers, the ensemble embraces historically informed performance bringing classical music to life with the same immediacy it had the day it was written.
Historic Newton is a public/private partnership between the Newton Historical Society and the City of Newton that inspires discovery and engagement by illuminating the stories of the Newton community with the context of American history. Historic Newton operates the Jackson Homestead and the Durant-Kenrick House and Grounds, maintains an archive related to the history of Newton, and cares for three historic burying grounds.
Bostonians founded Mount Auburn Cemetery in 1831 to solve an urban land use problem created by an increasing number of burials in the city and to create a tranquil and beautiful place where families could commemorate their loved ones. Mount Auburn quickly became the model for the American “rural” cemetery movement. Today Mount Auburn continues its dual role, serving as both an active cemetery and a “museum” preserving nearly two centuries of changing attitudes about death and changing tastes in architecture and landscape design.
The Mellon Sawyer Seminars at Boston University, organized by professors Juliet Floyd (BU Philosophy), James E. Katz (BU Division of Emerging Media), and Russell Powell (BU Philosophy) and titled “The Philosophy of Emerging Computational Technologies: Humans, Values and Society in Transition,” focuses on ethical, social, legal, and epistemological issues arising out of emerging computational technologies. Experts from other universities will visit Boston University (BU) to discuss their newest ideas, joined by up-and-coming faculty in the Boston area and members of dedicated graduate seminars in philosophy and emerging media. The aim is to foster an inclusive, reflective conversation in the Boston area about how best to thematize, research, and reason about philosophical, social, and ethical understandings of everyday life in an age of rapid technological transformation.
REPORT FROM THE ARCHIVES
Report from the Archives, a round table discussion of archival work featuring speakers from The HistoryMakers, the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, and BU faculty, took place on February 6, 2018. Cosponsored by the BU Center for the Humanities and the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, the event was attended by BU students, BU staff, and professionals from local libraries and institutions.
Louis Chude-Sokei, Professor of English, George and Joyce Wein Chair in African American Studies, and Director of the African American Studies Program moderated. Panelists highlighted apsects of archival work ranging from research to management. Christine D’Auria (PhD Candidate, American and New England Studies) discussed recovering otherwise suppressed materials from the McCarthy era in the archives; Walter Fluker (Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Ethical Leadership) described a sense of awe researching in the archives; Dick Lehr (Professor of Journalism) noted his experience using the archives as part of writing a nonfiction narrative story and made the point that the archival work by others can be re-mined for new purposes; Vita Paladino (Director & Curator, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center) informed us about developing and managing a contemporary archive with progressive cultural goals; and Julieanna Richardson (Founder & Executive Director, The HistoryMakers) shared her experience at the intersection between public and digital humanities, illustrating modern archival capabilities (including mixtapes) by showing clips from The HistoryMakers website.
The panel concluded with a vibrant Q&A session concerning the nature of archives — “a place of law and authority that can conceal, elude, elide or a place of wonderment” — and the relevance of archives in contemporary society. The audience also asked about problems associated with acquiring and cataloging archives. One persistent theme emerged concerning the question of archival collection acquisition and the motivation toward a sense of a larger purpose in collecting minority culture. The panelists talked about how archives prevent marginalize cultures from being erased. Finally, all panelists agreed that direct experience with archival work is the best way to create converts, and Professor Chude-Sokei suggested that people are often doing archival work without knowing it. He raised the question of redefining the term archive, leading the discussion towards thinking about what an archive is when the world is going digital. Professor Fluker noted, however, that some peoples with histories of hiding may be afraid of the archival process.
Panelists left the audience thinking about the relationship of technology and the archives, and the topic flowed over into the reception where guests were surrounded by an array of objects from the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center.
EX LIBRIS: THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY SCREENING
On Wednesday, February 7th, the Center for the Humanities hosted a screening of Frederick Wiseman’s newest film, Ex Libris, followed by a Q&A with Wiseman himself. The audience appreciated Wiseman’s detailed, descriptive portrait of the New York Public Library; the film showcases nearly every aspect of library programming and operations, from board meetings to cultural events to book groups to career fairs.
The lively Q&A touched on:
Wiseman’s process of getting access to the institutions he films. He will not film what he is asked not to, but no institution gets to preview the final movie.
People’s reactions to being filmed. He related an incident that happened during the filming of Law and Order (1969) when a cop began to choke a woman. Wiseman does not think the cop would have behaved differently if he had not been on camera and challenges the suggestion that the cop would have killed her if there no camera had been around. He claims that the majority of people are not good actors and he always stops filming if he thinks someone is acting for the camera.
The construction of the film. He says, “I could go through and tell you why every shot is there and why each shot is connected to the next.” Wiseman shoots with only one camera and then edits to give the impression of events happening simultaneously. He openly acknowledges that his works are to some degree constructed and “fictional.” After all, he remarks, “meetings can be boring sometimes.”
The process of research. “The shooting is my research” he says and explains that he does not look into the institution extensively before the period of filming begins.
Boston University Center for the Humanities
Boston University College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
Boston University Libraries
Boston University Office of the Provost
Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University
Boston Public Library
Forum Planning Committee:
Christopher Maurer, Romance Studies
Vita Paladino, Gotlieb Archival Research Center
Kim Sichel, History of Art and Architecture
Catherine Yeh, World Languages & Literatures
James Uden, Classical Studies
Vika Zafrin, BU Libraries