The Digital Sixties: Bridging Generations and Scholarship in Online Archives – Part 2

Continuation of a three-part series! The social movements of the 1960s are increasingly documented in digital collections, providing teachers, students, scholars and everyday people new insights into the tensions, conflicts and transformations of those turbulent times. This three-part series explores archiving projects housed at Midwestern universities and consider their value inside and beyond academia, and their relevance for current racial justice efforts, particularly Black Lives Matter. Each digital collection documents different dimensions of 1960s social movements and cultural transformation and considers their value to both scholarly and popular audiences. The first installment of this series is from the University of Iowa; the next two will feature holdings from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Part 2: March on Milwaukee
By: Abigail Nye, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Archives

Early in the evening of Monday, August 28, 1967, over one hundred members of the Milwaukee Youth Council of the NAACP gathered at their headquarters at 1316 North 15th Street, picked up signs hand-lettered with slogans like “We Need Fair Housing,” and, led by Father James E. Groppi, a white Roman Catholic priest who served as their adviser, headed toward the 16th Street viaduct. At about 6:30 p.m. they were greeted at the north end of the viaduct by almost another one hundred supporters and crossed over the viaduct to the nearly all-white south side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There the marchers met resistance.
-Margaret Rozga

It was 2007. Jasmine Allender, a UWM faculty member, was attending funerals for activists who led those efforts in 1967. Worried that younger generations might lose their connection to that history, she approached the UWM Archives with the idea of creating a digital archive about Milwaukee’s civil rights movement.  The resulting project was a collaborative effort between archivists, history faculty, digital collections librarians, and many talented graduate students.

The March on Milwaukee digital collection was launched in 2010 and included selections from selected papers of individuals representing a variety of positions on the civil rights issue, photographs, unedited footage from the WTMJ-TV news film archives, and oral history interviews. The site also includes contextual materials, including “Key Terms” to describe significant people, places, events, and organizations; a timeline; a bibliography of relevant published sources; and a map highlighting important locations.

In 2016, the collection underwent a major refresh as we added new materials recently acquired collections. We made significant improvements to all of our streaming media, which includes film footage and oral history interviews. We added some additional film footage that had been digitized for use in a documentary about Vel Phillips produced by Wisconsin Public Television.  We moved all streaming media to a mobile-friendly platform because the native streaming application in CONTENTdm failed to work on mobile devices and some operating systems.  We continue to add oral histories and other content as it becomes available.

While Milwaukee celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Fair Housing Marches in 2018, the documentary evidence around the 200 consecutive nights of marching has become even more relevant in 2020.  2020 brought two significant and interrelated issues to Milwaukee: the pandemic and the fight for racial justice.

When educational institutions switched to virtual learning in March 2020, the UWM Archives quickly pivoted to online instruction, leaning heavily on our digital collections.  Our most popular digital resource is our March on Milwaukee collection; over the years we’ve built up a wide array of sources and contextual timelines, maps, and key terms.  While scholars from around the globe consult the collection in their study of the northern civil rights movement, March on Milwaukee is ultimately a teaching resource.  Both K-12 and university students access the primary sources for class assignments and personal projects.

It’s not just students who are learning from the collection, however.  The protests that erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s death were informed by the lessons from activists that are documented in March on Milwaukee. When reporters interviewed Milwaukee activist leaders like Khalil Coleman, they emphasize that Milwaukee’s history of protesting injustice set the groundwork for this latest, long-term movement. “This isn’t by accident that this movement popped off in Milwaukee,” Coleman said to a Milwaukee Magazine reporter. “This is not a fly-by-night thing. This wasn’t a situation where we all woke up one morning and George Floyd was dead, and everybody just took to the streets. These were strategically planned and executed to be sustainable.”

This spring, Milwaukee 9th graders are engaging the March on Milwaukee digital collection in a project to democratize local history-telling.  Through the hard work of archivists and historians, younger generations are connecting to their city’s past and drawing inspiration for the future.

Free Webinar Series: Spring 2021

The College and University Archives Section is excited to announce a spring webinar series! This series of four virtual learning opportunities will feature archivists discussing their approaches to a variety of prevailing topics in our work today, including documenting current events, the archives role in institutional commemorations, collecting the student experience, and instruction. Below is the schedule, basic information about each webinar, and how to join via Zoom. Participants can register at no cost via the Zoom link anytime before the session begins. We hope you can join us!

March Webinar

Title: Collecting the Present in University Archives

Date: Wednesday, March 10, 1 pm ET/12 noon CT/10 am PT

Description: Archivists are afforded technologies that can facilitate digital documentation projects that document current events. However, these projects present a number of challenges and may put those represented in the records in vulnerable positions. This panel will discuss the history of University of Illinois Archives’ contemporary collecting efforts and how these initiatives fit within the Archives’ overall collecting policies and approaches. Panelists will discuss challenges of these projects and learning outcomes for collecting the present. 

Speaker Information:

Bethany Anderson is the Natural and Applied Sciences Archivist at the University of Illinois Archives. In this role, Bethany works with units across the University of Illinois campus to document the scientific enterprise. She is also Reviews Editor for American Archivist and co-editor of the Archival Futures Series, which is co-published by ALA and SAA.

Jessica Ballard is the Archivist of Multicultural Collections and Services at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She holds a joint Masters in History and Library Science from Indiana University Bloomington. Jessica’s work focuses on collection development, policies, and research pertaining to underrepresented groups. She is an advisory board member for Project STAND.

Webinar recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAtruKi4GIQ

April Webinar

Title: Those Were the Days: Making College and University Milestones Matter Today

Date: Thursday, April 15, 1 pm ET/12 noon CT/10 am PT

Description: All colleges and universities have a history. College archives are charged with preserving their histories through the institutional historical records in their care. What are some unique, interesting, and innovative ways that we can leverage the records at times of institution commemoration, celebration, and remembrance? Join your colleagues from the leadership of the College and University Archives section of SAA to learn how peer archivists have done just that.

Speaker Information:

April K. Anderson-Zorn is the university archivist for Illinois State University.  Anderson-Zorn holds a master’s degree in History from the University of Central Florida, an MLIS from Florida State University, maintains a Digital Archives Specialist certificate through the Society of American Archivists, and is a certified archivist.  Anderson-Zorn is active in SAA and the Midwest Archives Conference, presenting topics and authoring articles related to university archives outreach projects and tools.

Karen Trivette is an Associate Professor and Head of Special Collections and College Archives for the Fashion Institute of Technology-State University of New York. She holds a Master of Library Science degree from the University at Albany-SUNY and is pursuing her Doctorate of Archival Sciences at the Alma Mater Europaea University in Maribor, Slovenia. Trivette is active in SAA, especially the College & University Archives and Design Records sections, and presents regularly both nationally and internationally.

Webinar recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwpmSkajCYs

May Webinar

Title: Archiving Student Life on Campus

Date: Wednesday, May 5, 1 pm ET/12 noon CT/10 am PT

Description: An integral component of college and university histories is student experience. Archivists interested in documenting a more inclusive record of student experiences on their campus will look to student organizations, alumni accounts, social and cultural activities, political activism, and other key events. Creating meaningful relationships with students can lead to impactful archival collections and resources for future scholarly research and for students looking to understand their legacies. Join three archivists in a discussion about their approaches to collecting student life, including their goals, specific projects, and successes and challenges faced while doing this work. 

Speaker Information:

Jessica Ballard is the Archivist of Multicultural Collections and Services at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She holds a joint Masters in History and Library Science from Indiana University Bloomington. Jessica’s work focuses on collection development, policies, and research pertaining to underrepresented groups. She is an advisory board member for Project STAND, and served on STAND’s student engagement committee.

Lae’l Hughes-Watkins is the University Archivist for the University of Maryland. As the University Archivist, she is responsible for the University of Maryland collection area within Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) and oversees reference services, collection development, donor outreach, and stewardship and instruction activities. She is the founder of Project STAND, and research areas focus on outreach to marginalized communities, documenting student activism within disenfranchised populations, and utilizing narrative of oppressed voices within the curricula of post-secondary education spaces.

Valencia L. Johnson is the Archivist for Student Life at Princeton University. In addition to being a certified archivist, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies and History from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Museum Studies from Baylor University. She engages with student organizations on managing and preserving their records, in analog and born-digital formats. As the creator of Amp Up Your Archives program, she works to create records management and archival initiatives to inspire students to view their records and materials as important documentation that is an equal to the administrative record of the university.

Webinar recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84Xp1tt5AlA

June Webinar

Title Using Primary Sources for Instruction

Date Wednesday, June 2, 1 pm ET/12 noon CT/10 am PT

Description: This 60-minute presentation will focus on online instruction tools and activities, with an emphasis on the instruction process from start to finish. Presenters will also discuss self-care for instructors and students. 

Speaker Information:

Rachel Seale is the Outreach Archivist at Iowa State University (ISU) Special Collections & University Archives (SCUA). Rachel has been a member of the SAA Committee on Public Awareness since 2017 and is currently serving as vice-chair. In 2018, she presented at the Midwestern Archives Conference Fall Symposium with Anna Trammell and Cara Stone on instruction and assessment in special collections and archives. In 2020, Rachel was elected to serve on the Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) Nominating Committee.

Cara B. Stone is an Instruction Librarian at Iowa State University. She is active in Iowa’s library associations, having served on both the Iowa Library Association (ILA) and the ILA Association of College & Research Libraries executive boards. In 2016 Cara founded the ILA Committee for Diversity & Inclusion and served as Chair through 2019. She also co-leads the Iowa Private Academic Libraries Information Literacy Interest Group annual workshops. Cara has presented at several conferences, including the Annual Conference on the First-Year Experience, the Council of Independent Colleges Information Fluency in the Disciplines Workshop, LOEX, and the Midwest Archives Conference Fall Symposium.

Webinar recording: https://youtu.be/lpFdQmi8KlA

Slides: http://bit.ly/saajune

Padlet: https://padlet.com/cstone62/saajune

Fashioning a College’s Celebrations and Milestones: The Fashion Institute of Technology Turns 75!

Karen Trivette, Head of Special Collections and College Archives for the Gladys Marcus Library at the Fashion Institute of Technology-SUNY, provides an overview of the Institute’s 75 year history.

Seventy-five years ago this past September, the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), a community college within the State University of New York (SUNY) system, was founded by fashion industry visionaries and innovators, Mortimer Ritter and Max Meyer. These two men were instrumental in establishing fashion-centric education first at the high school level. However, after World War II, they soon realized that the American fashion industry needed an even more sophisticated trained and skilled workforce. This was due in part to the fact that veterans returned from the war with a need for skill-building opportunities. Also, the children of fashion industry leaders desired to go into other professions rather than continuing family legacies in the fashion trades; this left a sizable vacuum in the workforce. Meyer and Ritter set out to fill this training need as Ritter declared, “What is needed is an MIT for the fashion industries!” Thus, the idea of the College of FIT was born.

FIT Students Holding “Picket” Signs Displaying the Majors Offered, circa 1969

The College began in rather humble infrastructural circumstances, consuming the top two floors of the Central High School of the Needle Trades, now the High School of the Fashion Industries, located on Twenty-fourth Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues in Manhattan. In its beginning, the College supported approximately one hundred students, ten faculty, and four majors: fashion design, millenary, textile design, and scientific management. This last major offering encompassed engineering courses as related to the development of better equipment for the fashion industries.

Prestige followed FIT all along its developmental path; in 1951, FIT became a college of the State University of New York, which itself only began in 1948. In 1957, FIT was accredited by the Middles States Commission on Higher Education Accreditation and then in 1984, it was accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Growth has always been a part of FIT’s master plan; by 1959, the student body had quadrupled to four hundred and the campus, having outgrown its original location, moved to its current address of Seventh Avenue at Twenty-seventh Street. The campus was strategically well-placed, adjacent to New York City’s famed Garment District just north of FIT. The first, and still the main building, now named the Marvin Feldman Center, was designed to support 1200 students across all aspects of student life; within another five years, it was supporting more than 4000 students.

Growth again forced FIT to take on a new and expanded physical plant in 1972 when FIT added six more buildings, all of which helped to define the campus between Seventh and Eighth Avenues and across Twenty-sixth Street to Twenty-eighth Street. At its peak, FIT would ultimately support nearly 12,000 students and more than 1000 faculty, all within a city block.

Once again, by the mid-1970s, growth affected the College as FIT began conferring Bachelors degrees. Today, there are about forty majors available to undergraduates; these are offered by the schools of Art and Design, Business and Technology, and Liberal Arts. Some programs were ground-breaking, such as Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing while others were the world’s first, such as Toy Design. By the early 1980s, FIT was also conferring Master of Arts degrees – quite unconventional for a community college! Today, in its School of Graduate Studies, FIT confers the Master of Arts degree across three programs; the Master of Fine Arts degree across two programs; and the Master of Professional Studies degree across two programs.

The College is, and always has been, a welcoming institution, especially for the unconventional student, as is evident by a student body that is, and always has been, diverse and inclusive. Matters of import not only include diversity and inclusivity, but also sustainability and innovation all the while nurturing unconventional minds across an equally diverse array of curricula.

One aspect of the College that has not changed much over time is the strength of its relationship with the creative industries. From conception to inception and certainly today, industry leaders have played a critical role in FIT’s founding and continued success. As we plan for various modes of celebration for our 75th anniversary, which will extend well beyond September 2020, the College is undertaking such projects as:

  • An annual report commemorating the unconventional past, present, and future of FIT 
  • A series of historical timeline panels, modularly designed in eight segments, one for each decade, to be exhibited either together or separately across the campus
  • A large-scale exhibition of fashion sketches (and associated garments) representative of Max Meyer’s work in the women’s coat and suit industry for A. Beller and  Company

The FIT Library unit of Special Collections and College Archives (SPARC) and its holdings have been tapped extensively in the preparation of and for these projects. Historical photographs, such as those included in this post, are being placed throughout the annual report as they highlight important historical milestones across the history of the College. Various archival records and photographs have been exhaustively culled and curated to populate the timeline panels, which collectively measure seven feet by thirty-eight feet; each panel is seven feet by roughly four feet. The A. Beller and Company fashion sketch collection (1915-1929), one of the nearly 500 manuscript collections in SPARC, is the main source for content for the large-scale exhibition. Materials will be featured in a large, newly-renovated, glass enclosed campus space, which faces the heavily populated Seventh Avenue. This placement is particularly fitting as Seventh Avenue is also known as Fashion Avenue given its prominence in the nationally landmarked Garment District.

In an effort to mirror the College’s original innovative and forward-looking spirit, SPARC is embarking on twenty-first century endeavors such as archiving the College’s website and is planning to collect, preserve, and make accessible fashion designers’ websites, too. SPARC is also about to make its first foray into augmented reality as it experiments with technology that will further breakdown barriers and allow for greater and more meaningful access to materials and for as many constituents as possible.

Today, in its diamond anniversary year, FIT is led by Dr. Joyce F. Brown; with her influence, FIT is poised for more growth, prestige, and innovation. New curricula are regularly being added to the program offerings, attracting an even more innovative faculty and diverse student body. As recently as November 2019, FIT was rated the number one school for Fashion Design and Fashion Merchandising from Fashion-Schools.org in its rankings of the top 50 Fashion Design and its top 50 Fashion Merchandising programs in the country. An influential element in the ranking was most probably the very recent accreditation of the FIT Jay and Patty Baker School of Business and Technology by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. Also, under Dr. Brown’s leadership, FIT is planning to build yet another new academic building on the existing campus block, specifically on Twenty-eighth Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. It will host a myriad of functions, not the least of which is providing much-needed additional classroom space.

As earlier stated, innovation is and has always been an important aspect of the College’s founding ethos and ongoing spirit. To further innovative efforts, and drive home the point that innovation is part of FIT’s DNA, in 2016, the FIT/INFOR Design and Technology Lab was established to reflect the original mission of the College and to help fashion various future endeavors. “The FIT/Infor DTech Lab is FIT’s on-campus innovation lab where students, faculty, and industry partners collaborate to advance new ideas, solve real-world problems, and inspire interdisciplinary research” (https://dtech.fitnyc.edu/#about1). The FIT/Infor DTech Lab’s goals are to:

  • enhance learning 
  • engage industry 
  • envision the future 
  • empower entrepreneurs

These goals, indeed the broader acts of enhancing, engaging, envisioning, and empowering closely mirror the College’s original objectives established by its founders 75 years ago. All members of the Fashion Institute of Technology-State University of New York community are excited to celebrate this important year for the College. We hope to share the celebration as much as possible with those outside the immediate FIT community as well.

For more information, please visit https://news.fitnyc.edu/2020/03/15/celebrating-fit-at-75/

COVID-19 Work Continues: A Behind-the-Scenes Perspective

undefinedAs the COVID-19 pandemic continues to effect people across the world, archivists continue to find ways to collect stories and document this unprecedented and historical event. For the past few months, there’s been a lot of public facing outreach work happening at many archival repositories and other cultural heritage organizations and institutions. This public facing work and development of projects would not be possible without all the efforts of many who work tirelessly behind-the-scenes to create and implement documentation, questionnaires, web pages, and collection tools to ensure this pandemic is part of the historical narrative. For this blog post we interviewed Cat Phan, Digital and Media Archivist at the UW-Madison, to learn more about her work related to the UW-Madison Archives’ Documenting COVID-19 Project.

Cat Phan (she/her) has been the Digital and Media Archivist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison University Archives since December 2016. She is responsible for caring for and managing the image and audiovisual collections of the Archives and leading the development of the born-digital archiving program.

How has COVID-19 affected your work and lifestyle?

Like many others, I’ve been at home these several weeks and fortunately, have been able to work from home. It’s been an adjustment for sure, setting up a home office where there is none, creating new routines to manage work and home life in the same space, trying to focus on work while so much uncertainty looms. Lots of my work continues remotely although a lot of projects and general work have been put on pause without access to our physical collections. But I’m grateful for a supportive workplace and colleagues.

Are you able to maintain any level of normalcy related to work or home? If so, what does that look like for you?

One of the best new routines of my “normal” work day is checking in with my co-workers daily at the beginning of the day. It’s been nice to see their faces and chatting — about work or otherwise — to maintain some of that social work environment even if it’s not quite the same as seeing each other face to face.

Can you tell us about what role you see archivists, specifically digital and media archivists/electronic records archivists, etc., playing during this global pandemic?

It’s so unusual to have this shared upending experience that continues on for such a long time and archivists are seeing this opportunity to capture these experiences in the moment. Outside of those with whom we are at home, our interactions with each other are primarily digital. In addition, many of the ways in which we document ourselves, the artifacts we leave behind that say something about us are now digital – video chats, text messaging, social media, digital photographs and videos, etc. The skills that digital archivists have developed to understand and capture digital information and records are definitely being put to use as we work to document the pandemic.

In early April, UW-Madison Archives launched the Documenting COVID-19 Project. What was your role in the early stages of the project?

We were fortunate to have good models out of the gate ahead of us to follow. I can’t give enough credit to Katie Howell at UNC Charlotte and the other archivists who worked quickly to start documenting the COVID-19 experiences in their communities. After reviewing other similar projects, I set up a web page and a Google form to collect submissions, heavily based on models from other institutions. Working with my Archives colleagues and the UW-Madison Libraries communications staff, we then created an outreach plan to announce and continue to spread the word about the project to our university community.

Walk us through the documentation you created, the tools you used, other examples you consulted, and how long everything took to prepare to publicize the project.

In addition to UNC Charlotte’s project website, we did a quick search to see what other institutions — including which of our Big Ten Academic Alliance colleagues — had also launched a project. Along with UNC Charlotte, we also ended up modeling ours on Michigan State University’s project as well. After consulting these early projects, we followed their lead and set up a web page as a home base for the project explaining the goals and how to participate. We then also set up a simple Google Form to collect the submissions. Google has a question option that allows users to upload files as long as they log in with a Google account — a fine option for us as the UW-Madison is a Google Apps campus. The Google Form can create a Google spreadsheet with all responses and the uploaded files get saved to a separate directory that Google creates. I have a student who is downloading submissions to our local network drive on a regular schedule. It took us about two weeks from initial discussion to launch, working on this maybe a couple times a week. Most of this was working through the various options and decision points (e.g. copyright implications, tools to use, etc.). Once we decided on our plan, it was very quick to implement.

What challenges and support did you receive during the creation and development process?

Our entire archives team helped advise on various decision points, for example our Head of the Oral History Program, Troy Reeves, and the University Records Officer, Sarah Grimm, aided in crafting the release form and putting together our questionnaire prompts. I relied heavily on Katie Nash, our University Archivist, and our Libraries’ communication team, Natasha Veeser and Jari Xiong, to advise and work out the outreach plan and we continue to do so as the pandemic continues to affect our community. Many others across the UW-Madison Libraries and across campus — liaison librarians, our partners in the multicultural centers and more — have been key to helping us spread the word.

Did any past experience prepare you for this moment and type of work involved?

I’ve never put together an open online submission form like this so that’s been exciting. I can see various other ways to use this for archives donations. My work on our standard born-digital acquisitions was helpful in thinking through the agreements we would need to require and the types of files likely to be received. My colleagues’ work for the Oral History Program (release forms!), electronic records management, and working with our copyright expert in our campus legal department on various forms in the past really gave us good grounding for putting this together as well.

Do you have any ideas for other types of documentation archives can create (besides forms, surveys, questionnaires, etc.) to capture COVID-19 experiences and stories?

I’ve been seeing lots of really creative prompts to help people engage in reflection and documentation which doesn’t come too easy for everyone. Two of my recent favorites are from cartoonists with links to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 2017 UW-Madison PhD in Curriculum and Instruction graduate Ebony Flowers’s “My Last Encounter with Pandemic Parenting,” and Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Creativity in the Art Department Lynda Barry’s “Documenting All the Small Things That Are Easily Lost” both appear in the New York Times Diary Project series, “An assignment for all of us to help capture an extraordinary time.” Not that archives should start hiring cartoonists (though wouldn’t that be wonderful) but this type of thing could be useful in archives outreach work that’s about helping the community start to think of themselves as historical subjects and creating documentation about their experiences.

What are some lessons you’ve learned so far? Is there anything you would do differently or recommend for other Archivists/repositories when trying to do something similar?

One of the things I keep thinking about as this experience continues on for all of us is if, how, and when to remind people of the project and encourage participation.  When is it good to say here is a way you have to make your voice heard and your story remembered and when do people just need the space to experience what they’re experiencing?

Anything else you’d like to say? 

Hope everyone takes care and stays well!

Piloting a Student Historian in Residence Program at the University of Wisconsin: Reflections and Lessons Learned

By Cat Phan

The University Archives at the University of Wisconsin-Madison just completed the pilot year of its Student Historian in Residence program this summer. This program is designed to provide the opportunity for one undergraduate student to join the staff of University Archives for an academic year and undertake a significant research project related to university history focusing on under-researched and underrepresented stories and communities on campus. As part of their responsibilities, the Student Historian is also expected to engage in outreach activities, promoting their discoveries and the collections and sharing the outcome of their research in one or more ways.

The program started as a simple idea conceived to take advantage of a funding opportunity. The UW-Madison General Library System was inviting all library units to submit proposals for the new Innovation Fund, a program “to financially support the most promising innovative ideas proposed by library staff across the General Library System.” So, we in the University Archives proposed and were awarded pilot funding for a new student staff position, the Student Historian in Residence. The idea was straightforward: provide a paid opportunity to a student to undertake research in our archives collections on a topic related to campus history, focusing on underrepresented campus stories. We modeled the position after similar programs at other institutions as an intense weeks-long limited term research project, and our goals were simple: bring students into the archives to do research and learn more about previously overlooked aspects of campus history.

We posted for the position, leaving it open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Out of a healthy applicant pool, we hired Rena Yehuda Newman, an undergraduate history major entering their junior year. We structured Rena’s work first by onboarding them to the University Archives and archives in general, selecting readings and pulling targeted collections around their interest area, student activism. We set up one-on-one meetings for Rena to meet and get to know the rest of the University Archives staff and also set up a weekly check-in meeting for Rena and me, as their direct supervisor. As we got to laying out a tentative plan and target milestone deadlines for their project, we quickly realized that the original idea of several intense weeks was not suited for an undergraduate student. Rena had a packed class schedule, among other obligations. We had to readjust the work to be fewer hours per week, over a longer period of time. It was something we would have to do all year long: adjust, pivot, and accelerate in a different direction.

tumblr_inline_ppr48uM8PF1qk18xq_500
“Student Memory: Then and Now” Poster by Rena Yehuda Newman (They/Them), presented at MAC 2019 in Detroit

Rena’s list of accomplishments during the year is long and impressive. They regularly contributed to our UW-Madison Archives Tumblr feed, notching ten blog entries; they wrote a research paper; presented on their work and their research at least five times across campus, including a guest lecture to their undergraduate peers in a Civil Society and Community Studies class; produced a primary resource teaching guide around the UW-Madison Black Student Strike of 1969 (a version of which will soon be submitted as a resource to Wisconsin OER Commons); presented a poster at the Midwest Archives Conference (and was selected as one of the top three scoring posters!); created a zine “What is an Archive?”; and undertook collecting some oral histories of contemporary student activism on campus. The position and Rena have been, without a doubt, an amazing success.

Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 2.50.22 PM
Screen shot of Tumblr post by inaugural Student Historian in Residence, Rena Yehuda Newman.

As we take the time to reflect now, there are many things that we learned over the past year that will help us structure the program moving forward. First and foremost, we realize this should be defined as an undergraduate position. Although left undefined in the pilot year, having hired an undergraduate student as our inaugural Student Historian, we witnessed the impact of empowering and trusting undergraduate students to play an integral role in researching and telling university stories. Moreover, few opportunities for archival and secondary source research exist for undergraduates. This position will likely be their first opportunity to engage in primary source research and to conceive of and complete a public history project. In this way, we contribute to introducing undergraduates to the archives and helping them understand their place in university history.

As mentioned above, we modified the structure of the position on the fly, changing it from a weeks-long project position to an academic year position, with Rena working many fewer hours per week than we had originally envisioned. This works best for undergraduates during the academic year, who often have limited hours per week to balance with a busy class schedule. In addition, we found it best to give the student more time to orient themselves and learn about the University Archives and archives in general. The longer time period also allows the student to get to know both full-time and student staff at the archives, an integral aspect of the experience. Moving forward, the general framework for the year will be 1) onboarding and orientation, 2) research, likely over the first semester, and 3) a writing/presenting and outreach focus during semester two.

We now know how important it is to devote a significant amount of time to properly onboard. While Rena had some familiarity with the archives, having had a class assignment that brought them into a reading room, they still needed time to learn more deeply about archives, what they are, and what they can mean to students in order to understand the goals of the position. It would also be worth spending time integrating the student into the other work of the archives, meeting the other student staff. Moreover, Rena unexpectedly launched into many outreach activities over the course of the year and effectively became a University Archives student ambassador to their peers. In thinking back, how would we want to prepare the student to be an archives ambassador? What should they know about archives, specifically about the University Archives collections, about what and how we accept and collect materials-(Rena brought donation ideas many times!)? Could we make our collection development and donation procedures easier for undergraduate students to understand? Moreover, Rena’s outreach work made us re-think what this position could and should be. We witnessed the impact of peer-to-peer outreach and education. In their final reflection piece, Rena wrote that they believed the position should be thought of more as a “public office” rather than strictly a research position. The position’s platform and power, they felt, gave them a responsibility to serve the student body by engaging in community outreach and educational activities.

There are also many challenges that we will continue to think through as we develop the program. For example, how do we provide a consistent framework, structure, and expectations for a position that will necessarily be defined by the individual who occupies it, with their own interests, experiences, and abilities? Also, we had many, many conversations with Rena on how their own identity impacted the work and research they were doing and can’t emphasize enough how important it is to hire students with perspectives from underrepresented communities on campus. We have not previously reached out to the black, indigenous, and students of color of campus. How do we reach out to these communities responsibly and respectfully to ensure they are a part of defining the program? There’s a lot to think about as we move forward.

Finally, I’m happy to report that we applied for and were awarded a Kemper Knapp Bequest grant, a UW-Madison campus grant supporting projects that “have an impact on the educational and cultural life of the university community, particularly projects that benefit undergraduate students” to continue the program for another year. Moreover, we are working with the budget powers that be to develop what the funding would look like to support the program permanently through the General Library System budget.

We are excited to continue growing the Student Historian program and recognize that it is still in its early years. We’re grateful for the opportunity to share our experience and invite others to share their thoughts or experiences with similar programs.

Stay tuned as our next post will feature Rena’s perspective on their experience as the inaugural Student Historian in Residence.


Cat Phan has been the Digital and Media Archivist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison University Archives since December 2016, caring for and managing the image and audiovisual collections of the Archives and leading the development of the born-digital archiving program.

A Hair-Raising Experience: The discovery of a lock of George Washington’s hair at Union College goes viral

By India Spartz

While surveying a shelf of materials in the archives in December 2017, project archivist Dan Michelson came across a small red leather-bound almanac perched alone on a shelf. The book, published in 1793, was out of place, so Dan promptly showed it to John Myers, catalog and metadata librarian at the Schaffer Library. Flipping through the first few pages, Myers noticed a small envelope tucked inside the title page with a handwritten note on the front. It read, “Washington’s hair, L.S.S. from James A. Hamilton given him by his mother, August 10, 1871.”

Inside the envelope were strands of whitish/brown hair, gathered together with an old piece of string. Myers would later describe it as an “OMG moment!” Unable to contain his enthusiasm, Myers immediately sent me an email about his discovery.

“It was one of those mind-blowing moments that happen every once in a while in a librarian’s life,” said John Myers, a catalog and metadata librarian at the college. “I thought, that doesn’t mean George Washington, does it?”                                                                                      – The Associated Press, 2018

 

We later learned that James A. Hamilton was the son of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton and Alexander Hamilton. According to Ron Chernow’s, Washington: A Life, “As a remembrance of her husband, she [Martha Washington] asked Tobias Lear to snip locks of hair from the corpse before it was deposited in the coffin.” The locks of hair were distributed to close family and friends of Washington; the Hamiltons were close friends of George and Martha Washington.

 

When Union College Librarian Frances Maloy became aware of the finding, she requested more information to include in a report to the campus. One month later, I was contacted by Phil Wajda, campus communications officer, who suggested that we write a press release about the discovery of the hair. Of course, we were delighted to share the story and jumped at the chance to highlight our collections. On February 13, 2018, we released a statement to the press and media outlets.

It would have been impossible to anticipate the ensuing media storm. Less than 24 hours after the release, the Archives and Special Collections department received a flurry of requests for interviews from national and international media outlets, including the Washington Post, CNN, ABC News, CBS Saturday Morning, USA Today, Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal. The story also appeared on the cover of the New York Times on Presidents Day. Social media channels included approximately 2,500 posts on Twitter and Facebook.

The College communications office tracked media coverage of the story as shown in the following graphics from a Media Coverage Report:

 

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Based on our experience, here are some tips, should you as an archivist find yourself in the midst of a media storm:

  • Work with your communications department (if you have one) to craft a standard  response. This will help you plan the two or three pieces of information that you want to convey in all your interviews.
  • Be concise. Your interview will be edited, so highlight short facts about your collection or employer/institution.
  • For video interviews (Skype/Zoom/FaceTime) have a “practice” session beforehand to ensure the connection.
  • Choose a “friendly” location for video interviews; avoid conference rooms or messy spaces (offices/processing rooms).
  • Promote! But be discreet. Media professionals are savvy, so they can spot a shameless plug. Still, this is a valuable (and free) opportunity to publicize your collection or institution.
  • Be prepared. Reporters work on tight deadlines, so some interviews get scheduled quickly. Keep a black blazer in your office to wear during television interviews. (This is also helpful should a donor arrive unannounced.)
  • Be friendly and upbeat. If you’re excited and engaged, the viewer will be excited and engaged.
  • Smile!

Next steps
During the news coverage, we were frequently asked, “What next?” and “When will the hair be on display for the public to see?” I am currently looking into preservation options that will allow the hair and the book to be stored together in a custom-made, acid-free container. This will make it possible to display the hair for the purposes of teaching and exhibition.

The Schaffer Library plans to mount an exhibition to highlight the hair discovery and other aspects of the story. Eliza Hamilton was the daughter of Philip J. Schuyler, a prominent resident of Albany, NY and Major General in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.  The exhibition will feature the hair and related objects around the Schuyler family of Albany, NY. This includes an original letter written in 1795 by General Schuyler promoting the establishment of Union College in the town of Schenectady rather than Albany, NY. It’s hoped the exhibition will coincide with a fall 2019 performance of the musical “Hamilton” at Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady, NY.


India Spartz is the Head of Special Collections and Archives at Union College in Schenectady, NY. She holds an B.A. from the University of Alaska (her home state), MLIS from UC Berkeley, and M.A. in Museum Studies from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. She’s a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists and serves on SAA’s College & University Archives Steering Committee.