Globe article about METCO– B.E.A.T.

March 13, 2021 Boston Globe

In March, I got an email from the director of communications at METCO that said:

A bit more than a year ago, you played a crucial part in METCO’s pilot youth leadership program, B.E.A.T. You helped to shape the curriculum, you hosted a few high schoolers as they spelunked into your institutions’ treasures, and you met the students to share your stories and wisdom (in person or via Zoom).

The project that resulted has just been celebrated in the Sunday Boston Globe, and I wanted to make sure you saw it. You were a crucial part of their journey, which is now reaching a wider audience.

METCO (the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity), is a uniquely Boston institution. It started as a desegregation program in the 1960s whose aim was to invite predominantly white suburban schools to host Boston’s children of color– voluntarily. 55 years later, METCO’s programs still vibrant, largely because the 1974 decision only desegregated Boston _proper_, not the region, a fact often lamented by Boston’s education activists.

We love supporting youth programs including METCO and their aim to empower teens by promoting a better understanding of our City’s past.

The Katz Tapes

Photograph depicting audiotapes of interviews with Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, Allen Toussaint, Tom Petty, Seal, Ike Turner, Nancy Wilson

One of the more fun projects I have been working on is a collection of audiotaped interviews of local and national musicians recorded by Real Paper and Boston Herald reporter Larry Katz.

We have been working with Larry, Tom Blake and co. at the Boston Public Library, expert audio reformatting studio George Blood Audio LP, the Internet Archive and various Library teams to make these tapes available to the public. Our short-term goal is to upload the files to our digital repository and apply accurate metadata to each record. Our medium-term goal is to transcribe the interviews (crowdsourcing this may be an option), so as to provide deep access to the collection and its contents. Loftier goals may include using Wikidata to interoperate with with the Arthur Freedman collection at Harvard and the other private (David Bieber Archives) and institutional collectors interesting in celebrating Boston’s music and arts history. This lofty goal makes my 1990s and 2000s-era music nerd heart sing.

Larry and his collection was recently featured in a Boston Globe article. You can click on the image above to read a .pdf of the article which includes a couple of quotes from me, one of which is what my former Lexicographer better half calls a “colorful colloquialism.” Those who know me IRL know that this isn’t an unusual occurence, it’s just odd to see one appear in a national newspaper.

Larry was also interviewed by Dan Cohen for his “What’s New” podcast. It’s a great listen.

Black Lives Matter

News at Northeatern ArticleNews at Northeastern profiled our work in the University Archives and Special Collections.  The following is the text of the article, but you can always read it directly here: https://news.northeastern.edu/2020/08/06/you-see-how-activism-is-done/


How did the Black Lives Matter movement get to where it is today?

The Northeastern archives renew stories that have been forgotten to history—including many that resonate today.

In 1970, Frank Lynch, a 24-year-old singer, was a patient at Boston City Hospital when he and another man in his room, Edward Crowley, were shot and killed by a white police officer. In spite of protests in Boston and an investigation by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the officer did not face charges.

The Lower Roxbury Black History Project blends compelling narratives with everyday efforts that were made by many people to bring justice to American society on the local level.

“You see how activism is done—the meetings of nonprofit community groups, the pamphlets, the internal conversations, the letters that they wrote to other civic institutions in the city,” Cohen says. “This kind of history shows that community efforts, and individual people brought together in a collaborative spirit, have made changes to American society.”

A secret to building upon the current momentum of Black Lives Matter can be found in these records, says Molly Brown, a reference and outreach archivist at Northeastern.

“It starts with meetings,” Brown says. “It continues with conversations. And it asks us to look at all of the institutions that we participate in.”

The Lower Roxbury Black History Project was funded in 2006 by Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, based on a suggestion by Reverend Michael E. Haynes, a local leader who died in 2019. Haynes’s interview is a featured treasure among the archives.

“Today we can’t talk to Rev. Haynes in person, but we can go to his interview and keep learning from his wisdom,” says Giordana Mecagni, who heads the archives and special collections at Northeastern. “He was involved in almost every Black activist cause in Boston for many years.”

“People think about the civil rights movement as being exemplified by Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks,” says Mecagni, who also notes renowned Boston-based activists like Melnea Cass, Muriel Snowden, and Ruth Batson. “But it was also millions of individual people with jobs and families doing their part to make sure that there was change happening. We want the people out in the streets right now to understand that there were people like them in Boston whose efforts sparked real change.”The project includes references to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the 1965 civil rights march to the Boston Common from the William E. Carter Playground a decade after he had attended Boston University. His presence in the archives gives power to the actions that have been taken by people who weren’t so well known.

Another trove of perspective can be discovered at the Beyond Busing: Boston Public School Desegregation project, which provides thousands of digitized resources on desegregation, starting with Brown v. Board of Education, the unanimous 1954 Supreme Court ruling that found the segregation of public schools in Topeka, Kansas, to be unconstitutional.

In 1974, Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. issued a U.S. District Court ruling in Massachusetts that called for busing to desegregate Boston’s public schools, which set off a series of protests and riots.

“What was missing from this public narrative was the 40 years of Black activism in Boston that predated the Garrity decision,” Mecagni says. “There was a reason why the court had to intervene. It was because for years Black activists were saying, ‘Schools are not equal. This is not fair.’ And finally, Boston was forced to do something about it. But this didn’t happen in a vacuum. It took a lot of mostly unpaid volunteer work.”

“Boston’s civil rights movement is mostly remembered as being education-focused. But  Boston’s activists weren’t just looking at Boston schools,” Brown says. “They are protesting racial imbalance. They’re looking at housing. They’re looking at the ways that our political constructions affect and enact white supremacy.”

The Archives and Special Collections staff is also building the archives of Northeastern’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, which was founded by Margaret Burnham, a lifelong civil rights activist and university distinguished professor of law at Northeastern. The justice project’s staff of Northeastern students investigates acts of racially motivated crimes that took place in the Jim Crow South from 1930 to 1970.

“What happened to George Floyd tragically happened to thousands of other African Americans,” Cohen says of Burnham’s efforts to tell those stories. “And so this goes back a long way and that makes it even more infuriating that it’s still going on in 2020. But it also shows the broader historical context of some of the economic, social, and cultural problems that have persisted in American society.”

Additionally, the library’s Teaching with Archives Program offers an array of opportunities for experiential learning with archival records, such as documents, photographs, local newspapers, and architectural plans related to the history of Boston’s social justice organizing as well as Northeastern’s history.  The program encourages reflection about the participants’ own role in history, and how their neighborhood, school, and beyond are part of the story of Boston’s past and present. Teachers may access a variety of digitized community collections, including:

Northeastern’s archivists have used the Boston Public School Desegregation collection to teach hundreds of Boston Public School students about the education history of their city.

The library’s archives are an important resource for understanding racial injustice during this polarized time, says Cohen. Northeastern’s library is home to the Boston Research Center, a digital community history and archive lab that aims to bring Boston’s deep neighborhood and community histories to light through the creation and use of new technologies.

“The key service that we provide is knitting all of this together,” Cohen says. “Obviously, there are people who are interested in history. There are researchers who work with maps and data. There are social justice activists; there are community historical societies.

“The library is the institution that can synthesize the wide variety of materials that are created by human beings in a city like Boston, and present that in a coherent way so that audiences can come to understand their world better.”

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu

New Boston Research Center Grant!

The Boston Research Center got a new grant!  After a successful prototyping phase of faculty-led data projects, this phase (led by the incredible Amanda Rust), will look at neighborhood histories and archives and figure out ways in which data and technical infrastructure can support a community’s understanding of itself. I’m truly excited about this grant, and think it reflects current thinking in the field– ethical community partnerships combined with real-world pedagogical research opportunities, undergirded by sustainable tech.  My official role is “BRC Community Liaison,” and I’ll be spending some (undetermined, but probably too much) time working on this project.

My hands
My new career as a hand model starts today

Info follows from the Library’s blog:

The Library is pleased to announce that it has received a $650,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to implement the next phase of the Boston Research Center (BRC). The Boston Research Center is based in the Northeastern University Library and is dedicated to the study of Boston, enabling researchers from around the world to shed light on the city’s past, present, and future. The BRC serves as a place for students and scholars, Boston residents, and anyone interested in the history and culture of Boston to work together to combine special collections and contemporary data in an effort to better understand the past and envision the future.

This next phase of the BRC’s growth will, through partnerships with Boston community organizations, focus on the development of new digital collections and technological systems to empower these organizations to tell the story of their work and their neighborhoods. This builds on the strengths of the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections, a frequent partner with organizations in Boston and a trusted steward of local community archives, and will allow the BRC to serve as a digital community history lab where the creation of new collections and technology is driven by the needs of the people whose histories are represented in those collections. It also serves as a further iteration of the Library’s work to build inclusive information systems for cultural heritage.

The BRC is also now entering into a new partnership with the Boston Public Library. The Boston Public Library will play a key role in community outreach and technology development by drawing upon its extensive history of technological innovation and active partnerships with neighborhood communities served by its library branches. David Leonard, President of the Boston Public Library, said, “We are thrilled to take our relationship with Northeastern to a whole new level and collaborate on preserving and extending the reach of local neighborhood history and culture across Boston.”

“We deeply appreciate The Mellon Foundation’s generous support for this critical next phase of the Boston Research Center and how it forges strong connections with communities around Boston and with the Boston Public Library,” said Dan Cohen, the Dean of the Library at Northeastern. “And we look forward to helping to reveal new insights about our city through the BRC’s network of individuals and institutions.”

Radical Empathy in New England Archivists Newsletter

NEAART_Spring2018_Meeting_graphicFINAL-full

Sam Strain interviewed me about Radical Empathy for an article in New England Archivists Newsletter 45:2, Spring 2018. She did a great job making me sound smart!

This is the text of the article.

____________

At the Spring 2018 NEA / A.R.T. Joint Meeting in New Haven, one session focused on exploring personal and professional responses to Michelle Caswell and Marika Cifor’s foundational text “From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical Empathy in the Archives.” As a member of Inclusion & Diversity Committee, I met with panelist Giordana Mecagni of Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections to unpack some of the session’s content. We discussed radical empathy and its role in providing framework to center affective responsibilities in our work, and to help bring new voices to the table.

Sam Strain : How would you define radical empathy to someone unfamiliar with the concept?
Giordana Mecagni: Caswell and Cifor explain four affective responsibilities:

  • Archivist to the creator
  • Archivist to the subject of records
  • Archivist to the user
  • Archivist to the community

We came up with this fifth affective responsibility, archivist to archivist – a focus on accountability and mutual support of our colleagues.

Radical empathy means a shift in thinking from a legalistic, rights-based framework to an approach more aligned with feminist ethics of care and an understanding of the web of mutual affective responsibility. [It means] shifting from ‘what are we legally allowed to do with these records?’ to ‘we care for these records, these records affect us, and our work affects those who are their subject or creators.’

Radical empathy provides a framework to look at power dynamics, rather than relying on ad hoc experiences and ‘gut feelings.’ Panels like this provide a space to talk about how radical empathy can be enacted in many diverse real-world archival settings.

SS: What impact does the concept of radical empathy have on your day to day archival work? Does it have any ramifications for specific workflows, such as description and access, acquisitions and collections management, or supervisory techniques?

GM: In a way, it’s easy for me to think about radical empathy in my daily work, coming from an archive where we collect and make available the history of underrepresented communities. [I operate in] a context in which all of my work – from acquisition to community outreach – are based on continued relationships. [For example], even if this set of records was collected twenty years ago, we are still beholden as the keepers of those records, and the history of that community. With that comes a large amount of responsibility.

[In recent years], we’ve been shifting into the model of a community archive, emphasizing [community] partnerships. That started with simple things, like not charging partners a fee for scans. If it’s their history [we’re collecting], then we should be able to provide access to that history, for free. We’ve also streamlined entry into the building, and focused on providing ready-reference services; simple things to do in a feminist ethics of care. There’s also a need to understand power dynamics, and to start having conversations about how specifically we can help racial justice and equity happen in Boston. According to community partners, there’s a giant gap between what general folks in the community understand about Boston’s history and the way it’s talked about. Archives are meant to problematize by providing nuance and varying perspectives.

There are things we can do tangibly, practically, and immediately, to shift the conversation towards celebrating people of color and activists who have done amazing work in the past – voices [which] are oftentimes erased. [We can also] work to provide activists, people who are on the ground and in the community right now, with the kind of tools that can actually help them.

SS : What does archival work based on a feminist ethics of care look like our field now? Who’s doing that kind of work?

GM : It’s interesting – there’s what’s going on now, and there’s all the work that started this idea. [People like] my predecessor, Joan Krizack – who got the diversity award from SAA – was doing radical work. People who were doing new documentation strategies back in the day built these wonderful collections of the people’s history. They may not have been talking about radical empathy, but they were talking about relationships, they were talking about community, they were talking about not cherry-picking, they were talking about looking at a community from all aspects. Those folks are acknowledged by Caswell and Cifor as laying the groundwork for this kind of work.

SS : Do you think there’s any stigma on this kind of approach to archival work? Do you think centering a more empathetic and care-focused ethic in our work will meet push-back in our profession?

GM : I don’t think anyone is against empathy. [However],I think when we shift [the conversation] from ‘we’re all going to be nice to each other’ and move on to looking at interactions between people as being professionally problematic, that’s where the push-back is going to be. There’s so much of our field that needs to be looked at hyper-critically. Through this lens, it’s easy to start seeing all of the places where our field is really complacent, in allowing racial stereotypes to continue, and in [perpetuating] white supremacy.

We talk a lot about diversity and inclusion, but the way we value collections needs to be looked at critically. The way some large institutions value archival collections both monetarily and in prestige – really does favor the overrepresented. If you’re not reflected in the archives, that’s problematic. The idea of neutrality has been a giant flash-bang in our profession; if you’re dealing with people, there is no neutral. Archives are people.

SS : How do you feel understanding of radical empathy can be integrated into graduate level archival education?

GM : [As a graduate student], I don’t remember learning anything about donor relations, or even how to acquire, which was a challenge [in the workplace]. I never, ever got a lesson [that taught me] what to do when the widow of the person whose papers you’re collecting starts crying, and that happens all the time. These are people, people with lives – and that’s something we don’t address in library school; the people aspect of things.

Thinking about graduate education, what does a change in the field look like? What would it take to center people in the equation? I think that most neoliberal institutions – including universities – see the ability to maintain and develop relationships to care for the community as valuable skills. I think that’s what it would take – to see those sorts of skills valued [in graduate archival education], rather than the ability to do nice, pretty EAD encoding.

Closing:
Having recently graduated with an MLIS from Simmons College, I am hopeful that our field can continue to grow and change, and that frameworks like Caswell and Cifor’s can be used to open new dialogues in archival education, while interrogating traditional methods. I look to the work of my classmates – especially student presenters and organizers of the DERAIL Forum – as an example of the potential to shift paradigms in our profession as we enter the field.

As a member of the Inclusion & Diversity Committee, I feel that it’s necessary to continue to make space to have professional conversations about our affective obligations to the creators, subjects, and users of records, as well as our wider communities. In our ongoing work to make NEA a more inclusive and welcoming organization, I hope that we can help strengthen mutually supportive archivist to archivist relationships among our members.

For further reading:
Brown, M. (2017). Confronting the Curriculum: Incorporating Radical Empathy into Archival Training. Presented at the Diversity, Equity, Race, Accessibility, and Identity in LIS (DERAIL) Forum.
Caswell, M., & Cifor, M. (2016). From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical Empathy in the Archives. Archivaria, 82 , 23-43.
Jimerson, R. C. (2007). Archives for All: Professional Responsibility and Social Justice. The
American Archivist, 70 (2), 252-281.

Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Northeastern, community leaders unveil Lower Roxbury Black History Project

Northeastern, community leaders unveil Lower Roxbury Black History Project

Community and university leaders, Roxbury residents, and elected officials joined together on Tuesday to unveil the Lower Roxbury Black History Project.

The project, which features oral histories and artifacts collected to tell the powerful stories of Lower Roxbury’s residents, started as an idea at a meeting between university leaders and members of the Black Ministerial Alliance in 2006. It was there that Rev. Michael E. Haynes suggested the university create a living history of the African American community in Lower Roxbury. That history is preserved in the University Libraries Archives and Special Collections and the full collection is available online.

Tuesday’s celebration featured remarks from some of the project’s biggest supporters throughout the years—delivered in person and in video clips to a standing-room-only crowd at the Cabral Center—in recognition of the documentary’s newfound availability online. Though it marked a major milestone in the process of capturing the neighborhood’s rich history, President Joseph E. Aoun noted that the work is far from finished.

“What you have started here has no end,” he said, “because we have to keep looking at what’s happening now and what will happen in the future. What you’ve unleashed with us is something that has no end, and you have my commitment that we will continue this legacy.”

There’s gold in the hills

Aoun invited Haynes to the podium during his remarks to ask him a question about the meeting that started the project more than a decade ago.

“Something I didn’t ask you during our meeting (in 2006): Of all the things we could have worked on, why did you want to focus on this one?” Aoun asked.

After a thoughtful pause, Haynes, the child of Caribbean immigrants and the first family from the West Indies to buy a house on their Lower Roxbury street, replied that it was witnessing the changes to his neighborhood that impassioned him.

“The things that happened on this turf in Lower Roxbury could fill books,” he said, likening the as-yet unmined stories from Vernon Street and Massachusetts Avenue to the World War II cartoon captioned, “Boys, there’s gold in them thar hills.”

“I’m thrilled that this project has gotten a big boost, but I know the best is yet to come,” Haynes said. “There’s gold out there in Lower Roxbury.”

‘The antidote is the neighborhood’

Still, finding that gold in a city of more than 600,000 people can be daunting.

William Fowler, Distinguished Professor of History and a former advisory board member of the Lower Roxbury Black History Project, said that the antidote to that “vague,” “anonymous” quality that can appear with a large city is its neighborhoods.

“However drawn, the faces and lives of neighborhoods are not fixed; new people arrive, weaving their stories into the fabric of the neighborhood,” he said. “To grasp the history of this city, we must peer into its neighborhoods. That’s what we’re about here: preserving memories.”

Those memories that comprise the Lower Roxbury Black History Project represent the “historic and deep relationship between Northeastern University and the Roxbury community,” said Margaret Burnham, University Distinguished Professor of law and founder of the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project.

“We’re here to acknowledge this project and the voices and the struggles it preserves,” she said. “We’re preserving it for future generations in our archives.”

‘The center of incredible amounts of talent and creativity’

Other attendees acknowledged the importance of archiving that rich history and making it widely available for generations to come. State Rep. Byron Rushing was among them.

“The work that we’re commemorating and celebrating today is some of the most important historic work that anyone can engage in,” he said. “Not only are we talking about a key community in the history of black people in Boston, in Massachusetts, and in New England at large, we’re talking about a community that was the center of incredible amounts of talent and creativity and that was destroyed.” Rushing continued, describing the destruction of swaths of Boston neighborhoods, including the West End and parts of Lower Roxbury, over the years.

But while the buildings in Lower Roxbury had been destroyed, he said, “the people were not wiped out.”

“That history of the people is what is so essential here,” he said. “It exists in the memories of the people who lived here, and we have to collect all this material so that this community will never be forgotten.”

For state Rep. Chynah Tyler, herself a 2011 graduate of Northeastern and a fifth-generation resident of Lower Roxbury, the project has a special significance.

“I’m determined to change Boston forever, starting right here at home, right here in Roxbury,” she said. “Growing up in Roxbury was truly instrumental in creating a solid foundation for my success, and I’m prideful that I’m a product of my community. It’s so important that we document the rich history of Roxbury so future generations can have that historical context.”

Tyler’s young daughter, also in attendance Tuesday, is among those future generations.

Archivist sees bright future in collections of past — Northeastern News

GiordanaNortheasternNortheastern News, September 13, 2013 by Joe O’Connell

In the basement of Snell Library, new university archivist and head of special collections Giordana Mecagni is settling in among thousands of papers, photos, and films that document the past of both Northeastern and the city of Boston. Mecagni started working at Northeastern about three months ago and is excited to grow the University Archives and Special Collections (within the Northeastern University Libraries), which collects, preserves, and describes a vast array of historical documents. She comes to Northeastern after working at Har­vard University’s Archives and Special Collections for 11 years. “There is so much to do,” Mecagni said. “There is still quite a lot of material to collect, and we are actively collecting.” The extensive collections include correspondence from former university presidents, 1,667 reels of film from athletic events, and scrapbooks from camps at the YMCA where Northeastern was founded as a night school in 1898. Pieces are available to students, faculty, and staff for research. The archives boast both online collections and physical materials housed in two secure stacks at Snell Library. The second area was recently built, and Mecagni said it is her job to fill it. In addition to Northeastern history, the archives’ collections house a broad collection of Boston’s social justice history, including the history of the city’s African-​​American, Asian, Latino, and LBGTQ communities. Mecagni said the library would soon embark on a project to accumulate pieces related to the relationship between built environments and natural environments throughout Boston’s history. One of Mecagni’s roles as an archivist is to make people and groups comfortable with contributing something to her department. “We need to spend a lot of time convincing people we will keep it, take care of it, and preserve it,” Mecagni explained. “Once it is here, people are so proud and that is really a great thing. It gives it some stature.” As the world continues to evolve in the digital age, Mecagni said the archives will soon follow suit. The infrastructure is set for the library’s new digital repository to collect pieces electronically on a grander scale, some­thing that was not available to previous archivists. To get familiar with history between Northeastern and the surrounding community, Mecagni has embarked on a listening tour in which she has met with various cultural organizations. She has also met with faculty to learn how pieces from the archives are being used in classrooms. Mecagni said her goal is to incorporate the archives across all facets of Northeastern’s campus. “I think the archives could be used in every aspect,” she said. “There are data sets that should be in the archives and available for research. For the arts, there are posters from past Northeastern activities. It’s just a matter of knowing it’s here.”

See more at: http://www.northeastern.edu/news/2013/09/archivist-sees-bright-future/#sthash.MJ0o5POA.dpuf