Against Our Vanishing– Jackson Davidow in the _Baffler_

Jackson Davidow was a 2020-2021 New England Regional Fellowship Consortium awardee, working in our University Archives and Special Collections and several other member archives He recently published an article in the Baffler that draws from his archival research on Gay art and politics in 1970s Boston including the newly publicly available Gay Community News. It is a wonderful read.

https://thebaffler.com/latest/against-our-vanishing-davidow

When I had been dancing for hours, hugging briefly one woman then another, jumping up and down, music blasting—Patti LaBelle, “Voulez-vous couchez avec moi / ce soir”—a moment would come when I would feel ecstatic with love for everyone, every single one of us, all of us lesbians together, even if I didn’t have anyone to go home with.

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.

Logs and Lists during COVID-19

This is the rough outline of a presentation I gave at a recent staff meeting, lightly edited and linked. I am in awe of how quickly my team was able to identify and prepare these projects, and how our part-time staff have just plugged away at these logs and lists for so many months. My team are a hard-working, resilient, and brilliant bunch.

FayFoto2We have a full complement of activities in the University Archives and Special Collections.  Hopefully you’ve all seen the teaching with archives Molly, Regina, and other R+I colleagues have been putting together, and have been highlighted in the last CATLR newsletter as “something they are currently reading”. We continue to provide reference services, work on blogs, oral history transcription editing projects, remote classes, webinars, and upgrading our CERES sites.  

But today I’d like to highlight some of the back-end work that COVID has given us the opportunity to work on:

Lists and Logs. 

Most very very large collections need to have some kind of list, log, or indexing system to make them usable to the originating organization.  Our 3 outsized collections, FayFoto, The Globe, and the Phoenix are no exception (although the quality of them vary widely). We are spending our work from home time developing strategies to upgrade those logs.

[NB. Embarrassingly, I did neglect to call out the work Gina Nortonsmith is doing with her massive Civil Rights and Restorative Justice spreadsheet work, but she will be given another time to shine in a staff meeting] 

FayFoto1FayFoto:

Information about the collection and acquisition is here:

https://librarynews.northeastern.edu/?p=274573

  • 80 years of commercial photography business
  • 7.5 million negatives
  • Index is contained in 29 log books, from 1968-1999, 310 pages each, mostly handwritten

Example of a log book:

https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/files/neu:cj82rg717

Part-time staff are hand-transcribing these logs, which will ultimately become an index to the ‘who, what, where’ of what was going on in Boston over those years.

Boston Globe box list

The Globe collection did come in with a subject log, one that is easily follow-able.  

And when packing the collection, Daniel developed a list of the boxes that make them much more easily retrievable.  And created this wonderful finding aid: https://archivesspace.library.northeastern.edu/repositories/2/resources/984

However, we only know what folder sits at the beginning of the box and at the end. After retrieving the same 25 Kennedy boxes a few times, we started box listing all of the Globe clippings boxes we retrieve. 

In addition to the folder list, staff included disambiguation based on the subjects of the clippings file, determining which John Buchannan is an Escaped convict, a lynn machinist, or a professor at Penn.

102 boxes later, we have a list, but it needs some editing before we are able to load it into archivesspace. 

Phoenix crowdsourced pilot

The Phoenix is one of our more heavily  used teaching collections.  But apart from browsing, there really isn’t a way to easily delve into the articles of the phoenix unless you knew what you were looking for. 

However, the Phoenix did produce two typed card file indices to its paper. These indices have been scanned, OCRed and made available online here:

18 Author Indexes, 1973- 1990 

13 Index Subjects, 1974-1986, (bulk 1974-1982)

Filed by year, each author index usually includes >1000 cards. 

Because we are so busy working on FayFoto, we have started exploring the idea of a crowdsourced project.  Let me know if you’d like to be a volunteer tester of the zooniverse instance we have started to put together.

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.”

Our Home: An Eastie Community Archiving Project

I love Archives, and I love the neighborhoood I’ve lived in for the past 14 years, East Boston.  At the moment, I’m working on a project that marries them– Our Home: An Eastie Community Archiving Project.

Our Home, a collaboration between East Boston residents, the ICA, Artist Anthony Romero, Northeastern’s NULawLab, and area nonprofits, aims to activate East Boston’s activist past by hosting history capturing and storytelling events for residents and making the material available for research as part of Northeastern University’s University Archives and Special Collections.

Here is some information from some of the working documents the collaborators and I have put together.  As you can see, it’s a loosely-knit collaboration focused on experimentation, community building and care, and includes (in my mind) a hefty dose of Punk/DIY “let’s just try and see what happens” idealism.  I’ll have more to say about this project later, but thought I would introduce it here, partway through the project.

______________________________

Early history of East Boston:

Long a fishing site for the native peoples of the area, the five islands that make up East Boston (Bird, Noddle’s, Apple, Governor’s, and Hog) were first settled by Europeans in 1633.  After a notable shipbuilding period in the 1800s, the area later welcomed wave after wave of immigrants to the immigration station located in the neighborhood, often referred to as Boston’s “Ellis Island.” Many recent arrivals stayed and made their homes in the neighborhood– mingling with already established groups with different languages, religions and cultures.  Because immigration and integration are challenging processes, East Boston has developed a longstanding tradition of welcoming and supporting recent immigrants. This history started in the 1880s with the establishment of settlement houses, the predecessors of today’s East Boston Social Centers.  

More on East Boston Immigration: https://globalboston.bc.edu/index.php/home/immigrant-places/east-boston/ 

History of Activism in East Boston:

Along with the history of welcoming newcomers, East Boston also has a long history of standing up for the rights of its residents.  When “Jeffery Field” opened in 1923, no one could have imagined that the subsequently named Logan International Airport would serve 40 Million passengers in 2018.  Along the way, Olmstead-designed parks, historic buildings, and entire neighborhoods have been bulldozed to make room for runways and airport-related buildings and parking lots.  The proximity to Logan has also brought fuel tank farms, cargo/transportation businesses, to dot and highways to criss-cross the historically working-class neighborhood. East Boston activists have worked for clean air and water, lobbied for green space, bike paths and parks in the shadow of the ever-expanding airport and the Commonwealth’s ever-growing transportation needs. The neighborhood constantly fights, and occasionally wins battles between what the state needs and the neighborhood wants.  

Goal 1: History Capture

Our Home hopes to bring together the various pieces of this historical puzzle and members of the community that hold this history into conversation.  The goal is to provide a space and time for folks busy with their lives and families and volunteer work to share the knowledge of the community they hold with others in the neighborhood.  Additionally, a goal is to capture these objects and stories and make them available publicly for community understanding as part of the growing body of East Boston history collections housed and curated in the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections.

The history-capture events will consist of:

  • [AUGUST 25, 11-2, ICA WATERSHED] An afternoon of ‘community scanning and sharing’ at the ICA’s Watershed.  Hosted by Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections, this is a free public event where residents are invited to bring family photos to be scanned and included in a permanent digital archive of East Boston History, creating an educational resource of primary sources for future generations.  
  • [SEPTEMBER 26, 6-8 PM, GRACE CHURCH FEDERATED]  Evening event capturing the records and stories resulting from No Eastie Casino– a volunteer group who fought to prevent a casino from being built at Suffolk Downs.
  • [September 29, 2-5, ZUMIX ] Eastie History Fest Community storytelling at  Zumix. A Sunday afternoon Mass Memories Road Show-style event. University Archives staff will work with a local planning team to organize a free public event where residents are invited to bring family photos to be scanned and included in this digital archive. 

Goal 2: ICA Boston/Romero Project integration:

These stories and objects will be featured in Anthony Romero’s contribution to the ICA Boston’s upcoming exhibition “When Home Won’t Let You Stay,” which focuses on the subject of contemporary migration, immigration, and the displacement of peoples across the world.  This inclusion is particularly profound as the ICA’s waterfront view features the Jeffries Point neighborhood of East Boston; the historic buildings recently almost completely obscured by newly-built apartment buildings along the waterfront.

Goal 3: NULawLab collaboration

Through Northeastern Law School Laboratory Seminar in Applied Design and Legal Empowerment, a six week legal seminar starting June 10th, students and East Boston residents will co-create a series of legal empowerment tools that respond to the following question:  What might we learn from the rich history of successful East Boston activism that can be deployed to empower current residents to assert their legal rights in proactive defense against displacement by redevelopment?

Students will spend  time researching organizing and activism strategies through the East Boston-related archives in the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections.  They will distill those learnings into discrete actionable takeaways that can be applied to East Boston’s current housing and displacement crisis. They will research legal rights and strategies for the neighborhood, and distill these learnings into a series of tools/toolkits/materials/tangible things that manifest the East Boston approach in response. They will test those ideas/tangible things with East Boston organizers, activists, and residents, and then present the final product as a tool to distributed this fall as part of Anthony’s exhibit at the ICA/Watershed.

Boston, Race, and Resilience

Mel King, Harry Dow, Jean McGuire, Tent City

For the past nearly two years, I have been a member of the Race Equity Working Group of the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Race Equity. The MORRE Office’s primary mission is to help build resilience for all Bostonians by addressing and and challenging social and racial inequities.  The Racial Equity working group (an advisory group for the office) consisted of incredible warriors– smart, experienced, passionate people who do battle every day but still are able to laugh, breathe, and do it all over again the next day.  Although I felt like I really belonged at the #kidstable instead of in this group, it was a brain-expanding experience and I am thankful I was able to participate.

The Chief Resilience Officer leading the charge to create Boston’s Resiliency Plan, Atyia Martin, and her staff allowed me to assist the effort by convening a group of historians and archivists  (‘history holders’ she called us) and Race Equity Working Group members to strategize how we could showcase the lesser known/understood aspects of Boston’s history across race and ethnicity, including immigrants, from a personal and policy perspective. As Donna Bivens and co. write in the Boston Busing/Desegregation Project’s 7 Lessons “Access to a more complete picture of this history is access to knowledge about how power works to enable and limit us. That access allows us to focus our individual and collective efforts to make real social change.”

One of the results of this convening was POLICY, PLACE, and POWER in an evolving city: BOSTON’S RACIAL EQUITY HISTORY PROJECT, a map and timeline that describes flashpoints, battlegrounds, and structures of inequity in the City of Boston. You can view that timeline at http://socialjustice.library.northeastern.edu/

From the website:

History is everywhere in Boston. Every neighborhood, street corner, and building embodies the people, communities that have occupied those spaces previously. The history of Boston’s systemic racism and communities’ acts of community building, activism and resistance are baked into both our understanding of our city, as well as its physical geography.

This timeline represents policies, events, and projects to the map and timeline that describe flashpoints, battlegrounds, and structures of inequity in the City of Boston.

  • BATTLEGROUNDS: Places where communities and institutions collide over resources, spaces, and neighborhood visions. ie. Tent City, The Southwest Corridor, Villa Victoria, The West End.
  • FLASHPOINTS: Trigger events that exposes inequity and leads the city to a better understanding of itself. ie. School Desegregation, the Henry
    Louis Gates arrest, the Charles Stuart Case.
  • STRUCTURES OF INEQUITY: Government and private sector policies and practices that are racially biased. ie. Chinese Exclusion Act, Redlining, Urban Renewal.

PROJECT GOALS

  • Our goal is to illustrate. To identify histories of racial injustice and celebrate communities’ acts of social resilience through community involvement and activism that moved spaces and institutions and policies toward justice and equity.
  • Our goal is also to learn. The combination of policies and citizen actions over time define our city and our current state equity/inequality. What are the key elements in each campaign or event that have made forward momentum toward racial equity successful?
  • Our goal is also to apply. What are the equity projects you are involved in that define Boston’s current social resilience? Are there elements missing in your current constellation of support? Help create a foundation for new insight as we assess current and future projects.