Rock star interviews, ‘raw, complete and unedited’– The Katz Tapes

Northeastern Global News Magazine recently published an article about one of the coolest collections we have in the archives, The Katz Tapes. The tapes are the result of reporter Larry Katz’ 30+ years of arts and music reporting for Boston-based newspapers such as the Real Paper and the Boston Herald. Larry would record an interview, usually on a cassette, write his article, and then throw the tape in a box. When he retired, he took the tapes home and decided to do something with them.

I started talking with Larry in 2019 about what his goals for the collection were, and we agreed to take a modular, one project at a time, approach to making sense of, and providing access to, the collection. First, Northeastern’s Digital Production Services (DPS) team digitized the tapes, identified the speakers and interview dates, spliced and split the files (sometimes there were two interviews on one tape and sometimes interviews were on Side A and B).

Then, Larry took this massive spreadsheet and added bits of information from his memories about the interviews– where they were held, the tone of the interview, etc.. He also added citations to the resulting articles to the spreadsheet.

Along the way, Archives staff built a portal to the collection, scraped and included blog post content from Larry’s original web site, and even created a Spotify playlist of sample songs referenced in the interviews. It is here:

To get to this point, this project has required thousands of hours of detailed work by DPS, Archives staff, and Larry himself. We met over zoom dozens of times in order to get all of the details right, and to make sure that the project has continued momentum. The DPS department, led by Sarah Sweeney, are the true heroes of this project. Although only alluded to briefly in this article, they deserve all of the praise in the world for making this project happen.

Are we done? Definitely not. Larry kept “tear sheets” of all of the articles he produced. We intend to digitize these articles (and have gotten permission from the Herald to do so). Larry also partially transcribed some of the interviews. We would like to include these transcriptions, but will need to analyze how useful they would be for researchers, if a software/ bot transcription will be more useful, or both!

The article content follows:

Rock star interviews, ‘raw, complete and unedited’

Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Miles Davis, Lou Reed, Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono all spoke to Larry Katz during his music journalism career, and all of their interviews are now a part of Northeastern Library’s digital archive known as the Katz Tapes

Jessica Taylor Price – Contributor, Northeastern Global News April 28, 2023

Larry Katz remembers the time he met Prince backstage after a show.

It was March 17, 1981, and the musician had just performed a full set at the Boston Metro, the sixth stop of the second leg of his Dirty Mind Tour. Katz remembers the “mind-boggling guitar solos,” and that, by the end of the show, Prince was wearing next to nothing.

But when Katz met Prince as he lounged in a sound booth after the gig, it was like he was talking to a different person entirely. For one thing, he was wearing a bathrobe (Prince, not Katz); for another, Katz remembers him as “quiet and shy.” In the audio of another recorded interview between Katz and Prince, the singer can barely be heard.

Katz, a newbie music journalist, taped his first interaction with the singer, and wrote an article about the show for the now-defunct alternative newspaper The Real Paper. When he retired 30 years later, he brought the cassette home and put it in a box with nearly a thousand others like it. There it sat, gathering dust.

That is, until Katz decided he needed to do “something” with them before they started to deteriorate.

Now, for the first time, Katz’s interviews with some of the most famous musicians and other cultural figures in history—many of them now deceased—are available for the public to peruse. Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Miles Davis, Lou Reed, Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono all spoke to Katz during his career, and all of their interviews are now a part of Northeastern University Library’s digital archive of what’s known as the Katz Tapes.

The archive is the result of years of work sorting through hundreds of hours of interviews. According to Giordana Mecagni, Northeastern’s head of special collections, some interviews were split over multiple tapes; sometimes, more than one interview was on one tape. After Katz decided to donate the collection to Northeastern University Library in 2020, she says, the library’s digital production team listened to every second. They identified the speakers, and pieced the interviews together and stored them in a browsable archive.

The result is a raw, complete and unedited archive, something Dan Cohen, dean of libraries at Northeastern, says is incredibly rare. Archives are usually curated in some way, or parts are missing. These tapes, meanwhile, are long—Katz estimates that he used about 25% of the material in his articles for the Herald—and capture everything, from the everyday to the outlandish. Katz catches artists, usually over the phone, in an itinerant state, in the middle of a tour, living out of a suitcase in a hotel room, or, as Cohen puts it, “midstream.”

Indeed, one thing Cohen noticed when listening to the tapes is not the speakers themselves, but the noises they make. A phone rings, a musician coughs or takes a bite off their plate. People walk in and out of the room as Katz chats with Bob Marley. Technological challenges—Katz used an old mechanism for recording phone interviews, with varied results—make some of the recordings staticky. Some are nearly indecipherable.

Katz, for his part, takes pride in his role as someone who was able to create this unfiltered material. “I always looked at myself as a conduit for the people I was talking to,” he says. “I wasn’t looking to insert myself in there; I was looking to convey the truth of what the person had to say.”

But Cohen implies that, actually, he hears a lot of Katz in the tapes. Each tape is a look at the artist, but it also provides a window into a music journalist at work, he says. A former musician himself, Katz did his homework, going to the library and reading on his subjects to prepare for interviews. He worked hard, he says, to develop rapport as a professional whom the artists could trust not to sensationalize them.

Then, of course, there’s his ability to put people at ease, to allow them to open up and maybe even shed some of that rock star persona. “However you can create empathy, you try to do so,” he says. Artists would talk to him, and, Katz says, that means you might hear some Easter eggs.

“My concern was there might be stuff in the tapes that was off the record or revealed some personal information that maybe the person wouldn’t want out there,” he says.

He has no idea if that’s the case. It was Katz’s policy to turn off the tape recorder when someone wanted to go off the record. “Did I turn off the tape recorder 100% of the time? Maybe not, I don’t remember,” he says. “Who knows what’s in there.” (Singer Jimmy Merchant’s home address, for one.)

Now retired and focused on being a grandfather, Katz is working on adding blog posts to the website to help provide context and personal reflections for the interviews. He hopes the tapes will be of public use. Cohen certainly thinks they will be—as he points out, the tapes provide a window into the history of the music industry, as well as the country as a whole, over the course of a quarter century.

The tapes do something else, too: they bring the ones who have left us back from the dead.

“If you listen to the tape, there they are; they’re alive again,” Katz says. “And that’s kind of a wonderful thing.”

Katz amassed nearly 1,000 tapes of interviews over a 30-year career. The full collection is housed at the Northeastern University Library. Here are some of his favorites:

Paul McCartney moves on from loss
For the first few minutes of his 2002 interview with Paul McCartney, Katz sits in silence. Paul is late.

When the former Beatle finally shows up, he’s in good spirits.

“We’re having a great time,” he says.

It would seem like a strange way for McCartney to start an interview, at least at the time. Just a few months prior, McCartney and his band had watched from their parked plane as the Twin Towers fell; a national mourning period was ongoing.

On top of that, McCartney had just faced two of the biggest personal losses of his life—the death of his wife of 30 years, Linda, to cancer in 1998, and the death of Beatles bandmate George Harrison in November 2001.

McCartney, who was in Boston in the middle of his Driving World Tour, speaks openly about both losses, saying of Linda, “We just expected to carry on and grow old together, but that wasn’t to be.” With regards to Harrison, “I miss him a lot,” McCartney says.

But for the most part, in his interview with Katz, he isn’t raw with grief; instead, he’s hopeful, having emerged from what he describes as a “tunnel of sadness.” “I’ve been able to get over the sadness or some of the sadness of losing Linda,” he says. “I’m entering into a new, much happier period in my life.”

The Driving World Tour would be his first since his wife’s death. That meant he had to dust off his old records, listen to his own music, and relearn how to play songs he had written decades ago. People assume he’d remember how to play his own songs, he says. He doesn’t.

He isn’t one of those musicians who need to keep things fresh, either. He’ll play the old stuff, and he’ll play it as he always has. “I’m a bit of a believer that audiences in the main like to hear things as they know them,” he says. “I change them a little bit occasionally, but not mainly. Mainly I stick to the arrangement.”

The McCartney we hear from in this tape has taken a beating, but he’s come out the other side with new music, some hope, and fresh wisdom.

“I think the only regret in life is you don’t get to know people as much as you want to,” he says. “And that shows up when you lose them.”

Aretha Franklin keeps her cards close to her chest
Katz’s voice takes precedence in his staticky recording of a 1991 interview with Aretha Franklin.

On tape, Franklin is forthright but guarded, answering questions in clipped responses that don’t invite further conversation, something Katz says she was known for.

“She was very self protective with everyone who ever interviewed her it seems, not just me,” he says. “I worked hard to get her to loosen up and she never did,” he wrote in his blog.

At the time of the interview, Franklin was preparing to go on a bus tour to promote her album “What You See is What You Sweat,” which ultimately flopped. Traveling with a 17-piece orchestra, Franklin planned to perform her new material as well as the hits that made her legendary.

But the conversation doesn’t flow. Instead, Katz moves from question to question as if reading from a list. When she finishes a sentence, he sits silently to give her space to say more, but she rarely does. A phone rings in the background, and thunderstorms are raging in Katz’s Boston office.

“Every time it rains, it blows all my TVs out,” says Franklin.

But talking about the weather with Aretha Franklin is still talking with Aretha Franklin. Here, we get snippets of who the singer was behind the scenes: she crocheted, cooked, and golfed, but only on driving ranges. She loved all kinds of music, including the new stuff (“I’m a contemporary lady,” she says). And she loved Detroit.

“We’re very metropolitan,” she says, correcting Katz’s assessment that it isn’t much of a tourist destination. “I think you just have to know the best and finest places to go to.” She calls the Renaissance Center the “ninth wonder of the world.”

She doesn’t seem too disappointed that the Detroit Pistons didn’t make it to the championships that year, though. Instead, she lights up over Michael Jordan. “I really wanted to see Michael Jordan get that ring this year, because the Pistons, they’re great players, they’re great guys, but they already have two rings,” she says. “Michael has worked so hard.”

When Katz asks Franklin to name someone she admires musically, she doesn’t give him anything. She does ask him a favor, though: when he brings up that time she played on TV with Levi Stubbs, she asks him to send her a copy of his tape.

Katz says he’ll get the tape to her through her agent. While his memory is fuzzy, he’s pretty sure he never did.

Stevie Nicks goes it alone
Stevie Nicks was at her house in Los Angeles getting ready to go to rehearsal, her hair done up in braids, when she got a call from Larry Katz.

The year was 1994, and Nicks was about to kick off a tour to promote her solo album “Street Angel.” It wasn’t the first time she would be performing solo, she explains, but it would be the first time she was performing solo after her well-publicized split with Fleetwood Mac.

Now on her own, the guilt of having to split her time between the two endeavors was gone, she tells Katz. And, she had the opportunity to move forward with her life.

“This is the first time that I’ve ever gotten to completely concentrate on my show,” she says, “and really put my whole heart into it. It is kind of like when you get a divorce, and the divorce is final, then you have to go on with your life. You have to. And going on with your life is really good, it’s amazing. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Nicks was a seminal talent as one of the lead singers of Fleetwood Mac. It started, she says, when she got a guitar on her 16th birthday. Before she was ready, she was in a band with guitarist Lindsey Buckingham opening for acts like Janis Joplin at the Santa Clara Fairgrounds in front of 75,000 people.

“I didn’t have any preparation for that,” she says. “It was the most frightening moment of my entire life.”

It did prepare her for the superstardom that came with headlining one of the biggest bands of the 70s, and the attention that she refers to as “that whole machinery.” Unfortunately, that meant giving up parts of herself for the sake of the band. Having children, for one thing, was set aside, something she regrets.

“It was just never the right time,” she says. “It was never that I didn’t want to have them. It was that everybody else around me, [their] life would be completely screwed up.”

She tells Katz all this as if she’s talking to an old friend, or, perhaps, as someone who’s used to keeping parts of herself secret. On stage, “There is this kind of being that I turn into,” she says, someone ethereal, mystical. There’s another part of her, she says, who’s down to earth.

“Somewhere between the two, I guess, is me. The real me.”

David Bowie chooses chaos
“Good morning, it’s David Bowie calling.”

When David Bowie called Larry Katz, he was sitting in a hotel room in Hartford, Connecticut. It was the early hours of Sept. 14, 1995, and the glam rock star was about to embark on a 99-show, three-leg, worldwide tour to promote his latest album, “Outside.”

Katz catches Bowie, then, in the calm just before the storm.

If Bowie is anxious about what’s to come, he certainly doesn’t show it. Instead, he speaks clearly and carefully, telling Katz how much he likes the art museum in Hartford, how he’s creating a series of paintings of everyone on tour with him, and how extreme performance art came to inspire his latest album, for which he collaborated with Brian Eno.

Bowie’s calmness, his sheer normalcy when talking to Katz, can be seen as irrational as the potential for a disastrous tour looms. Bowie won’t play his old hits on the new tour, saying “they’re too worn for me,” but will start touring before “Outside” is even released. And as Katz notes, Bowie is touring with Nine Inch Nails, a strange choice considering their contrasting musical styles. At the time, Katz notes, some were saying that concert goers would walk out once Nine Inch Nails finished their set and Bowie made his appearance.

“That’s extremely likely, isn’t it?” Bowie replies. He embraces the opportunity to perform with Trent Reznor, he says, with whom he would share the stage for about 20 minutes. In fact, Bowie had personally asked Reznor to join him on the tour. “At one point we have both bands playing.”

Bowie doesn’t need certainty, he says, and actually, he thrives on chaos. “It’s what I have to do to maintain my momentum as an artist,” he says. “I have to put myself in rather adventurous or hazardous situations.” He says letting go of others’ expectations is essential for creativity.

Becoming comfortable with chaos transcends the art world; he calls absolutism “almost an anachronism in this particular era,” and something that breeds intolerance. “I think the idea of becoming comfortable with the idea of chaos is how we are progressing,” he says, “that life and the universe is extremely untidy.”

In short, Bowie knows he’s taking a risk on this tour. He just doesn’t seem to care.

“I don’t really want a safety net,” he says. “That produces nothing.”

Bob Marley nears the end
When Katz interviewed Bob Marley, it was at the beginning of his career.

Sadly, it was at the end of Marley’s. Just days after Katz interviewed the reggae legend in advance of his performance at Hynes Auditorium in Boston in September 1980, Marley would collapse in New York due to melanoma that had spread to his brain.

But when Katz talked to Marley, he would have no way of knowing he was speaking to a dying man. In fact, what stuck with Katz most following the interview was Marley’s laugh, which Katz described as “high-pitched and boyish, the innocent laugh of a child who knows only happiness.”

Katz did understand the privilege he had been given. Katz had only been writing for nine months, and was enraptured by Marley, whom he calls “one of my heroes.” As Marley lounged in a hotel room chair, other journalists gathered and sat on the floor around him like a kindergarten class.

What they heard was a disjointed and at times nonsensical conversation. Katz jumps from topic to topic, and the self-assured Marley abides. He jokes that he has “a few” children (he had at least 10). He says he isn’t interested in playing solo (“It’s good to have community. It’s the greatest feeling,” Marley says). He says he had only taken up guitar eight years prior, and played soccer to build up stamina for shows. He doesn’t support anyone in the upcoming Jamaican election, because none of the candidates are Rasta.

When asked what kind of music he likes, Marley says he listens to everything. “You see, the ears is never tired of hearing nor the eyes tired of seeing,” he says.

As cameras click in the background, Katz asks one of the more mundane questions of the interview: do Marley’s children go to school?

Of course, Marley says. “School is important,” for teaching children things like math and history. At the same time, “They know the truth already,” he says. “There’s only one thing can corrupt them—when you don’t know God.”

Marley died in May 1981 at age 36.

1,000 Racial Homicides Investigated in Unprecedented Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive

Screen capture from Northeastern School of Law website Sept 27, 2022

In 2016, I had a meeting with Rose Zoltek-Jick from the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at the Northeastern School of Law. Paraphrased and simplified*, she said “I just heard that Northeastern had an archive. We’re building an archive. We need you!”

6 years and a cast of thousands lending their skills to its creation later, today CRRJ launched the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive. It’s been one of the most meaningful and impactful projects I’ve ever worked on, and I’m so happy that Rose reached out that day.

I’m also so proud of the team in the Library who worked so hard and carefully to make this all happen (see credits for the full list), but most importantly Project Archivist Gina Nortonsmith, who held us all together and moving forward with grace and humor.

Check it out:

And come to the launch event October 7 2022

*law scholars have a tendency to be a little verbose.

Content of the press release follows:

09.27.22 — Today, the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) at Northeastern University School of Law released the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive, one of the most comprehensive digital archives of racial homicides collected to date. The Archive brings together evidence demonstrating the extensive scale and scope of killings between 1930 and 1954 in the Jim Crow South. Many of the 1,000 cases of anti-Black killings were mishandled by local police and prosecutors or went unreported until investigated by Northeastern students in law and journalism and their faculty. Built on open-source architecture, the Archive offers users the opportunity to learn about how violence affected people’s lives, defined legal rights and shaped politics during the Jim Crow era. The Archive can be found at

“I think I am joined by the hundreds of people who worked on this project in hoping it will deepen our understanding of the function and impact of anti-Black violence in our country’s history, and concomitantly, the character of the resistance movements that fought against it. This Archive is not a closed file drawer. We hope it will invite further scholarship and academic discourse, and, importantly, provide communities with the resources they need to create memory, acknowledge trauma, and support demands for a more just future,” said Professor Margaret Burnham, founder and director of CRRJ. She is also the author of the related, highly acclaimed new book, By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow’s Legal Executioners.

Over the past 15 years, more than 400 students in Northeastern Law’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Clinic have scoured historical newspapers, archival collections, federal records and genealogical databases. Joined by scholars in history, political science, sociology and media studies, and by pro bono attorneys, these students have carefully preserved and logged 20,000 pieces of evidence for 1,000 cases of anti-Black killings in 11 former Confederate states from 1930 to 1954. Over time, they have amassed records for each case such as death certificates, press clippings, federal, state and local law enforcement files, reports from civil rights groups, state and federal courts, images and recorded personal stories.

The Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive puts the underlying, hidden narratives from this era on display, and brings justice to families and communities so that they may better understand their context and begin to repair intergenerational damage. CRRJ fosters opportunities for public dialogue between representatives of the state entities that committed the wrongs and representatives of the wronged. In many of these cases, CRRJ has worked with families and communities to find restorative justice responses, such as public community acknowledgments, markers and street re-namings in memory of victims, and museum exhibits documenting the murders. CRRJ has also brought cases to court, including a landmark settlement with Franklin County, Mississippi. CRRJ also serves as a resource for scholars, policymakers and organizers involved in various initiatives examining these crimes.

Thanks to generous support from the Mellon Foundation and the Ford Foundation, CRRJ partnered with the Northeastern University Library’s Archives and Special Collections, Digital Production Services and Digital Scholarship Group to review the collection, organize it, describe it and make it available to the public.

About Northeastern University School of Law

The nation’s leader in experiential legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law offers the longest-running, most extensive experience-based legal education program in the country. Northeastern guarantees its students unparalleled practical legal work experiences through its signature Cooperative Legal Education Program. More than 1,000 employers worldwide in a wide range of legal, government, nonprofit and business organizations participate in the program. With a focus on social justice and innovation, Northeastern University School of Law blends theory and practice, providing students with a unique set of skills and experiences to successfully practice law.

Boston Globe coverage of our Latinx community portal

Rarely seen snapshots of Latino Boston

Boston Globe article Sept 15, 2022

By Omar Vega Globe Staff, Updated September 15, 2022, 3:00 a.m.

Whether they are family photo albums or institutional records, photographic archives bring alive moments in time — individuals, families, and communities captured in joy, fellowship, daily life. Many of these repositories represent people at risk of being erased from history or inaccurately portrayed. Where the collective memory falters, photographs remind us.

That’s one of the pleasures of Boston’s Latinx Community History online archive. It contains more than 41,000 digital images that Northeastern University has made freely available as a resource to the community, students, and scholars. The items were drawn from two local organizations that donated their records to Northeastern, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción and La Alianza Hispana.

I wanted to look into the history of Latino and Hispanic photographers in Boston after reading “Latinx Photography in the United States — A Visual History,” a 2021 book by Elizabeth Ferrer. That book explores the civil rights struggles and daily life in the Chicano communities of Los Angeles and the Nuyorican and Boricua communities of New York City and Chicago during the 1960s and ’70s. Most of the photos in Ferrer’s book had not appeared in histories of photography in the United States.

A lot of the images were published in Spanish-language newspapers coming up at that time — especially in social justice papers such as La Raza and Palante. The Latino community of Boston was not as sizable as those in LA and New York, but still I wondered: Was something comparable happening in Boston back then?

I spent hours at the Boston Public Library straining my eyes, looking through poorly scanned microfilm of La Semana and El Planeta, Spanish-language newspapers in Boston that got their start in the 1970s, but not much came from it.When I made some more inquiries at the library and the Museum of Fine Arts, though, I heard about the Northeastern archives.

At first I was mostly focused on finding the names of photographers active in Hispanic communities in Boston during the ’60s and ’70s. But as I looked at the photos themselves, I started to see parts of the city coming to life. It was a visual diary of Christmas pageants, Puerto Rican festivals, and community outreach programs — including a successful grassroots effort to help save a Puerto Rican South End community from gentrification.

I’m not from this city, but in these images of strangers from decades ago I imagined my teenage mom with friends on a trip to the lake, a sassy glance at the camera that recalled my dear friend Natalie, and a babe in arms who could have been my cousin Dre. I saw myself in these photos too.

After more than eight years living here, I looked at these photographs and truly felt like a Bostonian.

Phoenix story on WBZ Radio

I talked to Matt Shearer, a reporter for WBZ Radio Boston this week for a story on how Northeastern Archives worked to put the Boston Phoenix free online this week. I missed listening to them live, but Matt sent me .mp3s. You can listen to them at the links below.

The first segment is on how people used to read the Phoenix while riding the T (Boston’s public transit system), and what it’s like for students to read the papers now:

The second is on the Phoenix classifieds section. It includes me talking about how I found many of my 1990s era roomates there:*

Enjoy! I think they’re cute.

*Shout out to 5 Malbert, the $303/month (which included toilet paper, but not utilities) 7 bedroom apartment I lived in for 4 years– It always had a band playing in the basement, someone sleeping on the couch, and a cockroach skeleton in the silverware drawer. Memories.

Overcoming the Paywall: Radical empathy and making the Gay Community News accessible to all

The August 2-8, 1987, issue of the Gay Community News. Its front page is an image of protesters standing in front of the U.S. Capitol with the headline "DC-Active! Coming out center stage to march on Washington"
The August 2-8, 1987, of the Gay Community News.

The Library (thanks, Kerri!) recently published a piece about the article I wrote for the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies (currently in preprint) that problematizes for-profit companies selling digitized collections that originate from under-documented comminities, and our attempt to un-paywall the Gay Community News. I’ve pasted the text below, but the article can be read directly on the Library’s blog here.

TL;DR? The main message is to archivists and digital collection builders: You can un-paywall your collections legally, too!


When Jackson Davidow was looking for information on Boston’s gay community in the 1970s, he knew where to go.

“I’ve long been interested in the relationship between queer politics and queer art, particularly in Boston in the 1970s, a point at which the city was a crucial hub of gay discourse, activism, nightlife, and sex,” said Davidow, a postdoctoral fellow in the “Translating Race” Lab at the Center for the Humanities at Tufts University. Gay Community News “was grounded in the political, cultural, and social environments of Boston. For that reason, it is an invaluable resource for researchers who study gay and lesbian life and liberation in Boston and beyond.”

Scan of the January 12, 1974 issue of the Gay Community News. It includes the headlines: New Gay Bills; UNH Saga Continues; and Maine Gays Attacked
The January 12, 1974, issue of the Gay Community News, one of its first published.

Gay Community News (GCN) was started in 1973 by eight Bostonians seeking to create a community voice for gays and lesbians in the Boston area. Originally published as a 2-page mimeographed sheet, the newspaper grew to have a national and international audience by the late 1970s and became one of the longest-running and most progressive national newspapers in the gay community. It was a natural place to start to gather the information Davidow needed. Issues of the GCN and records from its parent organization, the Bromfield Street Educational Foundation were subsequently donated to the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections (NUASC).  

While today’s researchers can contact many archives by email and receive scans of collections remotely, there was a time when physically visiting an Archives was only possible for those who lived in or could travel to the area. To provide more access to collections in the 1980s and 1990s, some Archives made arrangements to microfilm high use portions of their collections. In recent years those microfilms have been digitized and are offered via subscription to libraries — usually at a high cost — and then made available to the students and faculty affiliated with that university, a practice commonly described as “paywalling.”

Unfortunately, this means that the many of the volunteers who wrote and edited articles, turned the crank on the mimeograph machine, or paid to advertise a queer night at a local club no longer have access to the content they created. It’s a trend that Giordana Mecagni, Head of the NUASC, knows all too well. Troubled, she recently published “Tear Down This (Pay)wall!: Equality, Equity, and Liberation for Archivists” in the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies. The piece describes the negative effect paywalled archives have on institutions, archives, and researchers, and focuses on the GCN.

“Having the Gay Community News behind a paywall results in uneven access, where affiliates of universities can access the resource but members of marginalized groups within the queer community may not,” Mecagni wrote.

“Paywalls restrict who has access to archival materials. Many scholars are independent and unattached to academic institutions, or attached to academic institutions that do not have the money to subscribe to special historical resources,” Davidow added.

The NUASC recently completed an effort to made the Gay Community News freely available to anyone by re-scanning the GCN with help from the Boston Public Library’s “Library for the Commonwealth” program. This program provides free scanning services to Massachusetts libraries who have unique materials they want to share widely  and freely. Now researchers, students, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, writers, and anyone else can browse through 26 years of the GCN to get a glimpse of the gay community in Boston and around the world.

Researchers like Davidow are thrilled.

“The digitization of GCN helps scholars and community members learn about and revisit these important histories,” he said. “During my research for my recent essay in The Baffler, ‘Against Our Vanishing,’ I talked with many people involved in GCN, and everyone was thrilled to learn that the full run is available online.”

The GCN is available to access digitally through the NUASC’s LGBTQIA+ History Collection.

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.

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.

Boston Data Projects

haymarketHere is a scratch pad of mapping, data, history projects related to Boston.  I will continually update it as I come across additional projects




Tufts’ Boston Streets Project (2004)

Collection consists of 11 Boston City directories converted in to structured data, >3000 images from Bostonian Society photographic collections, and browse-able atlases from 1874, 1898, and 1928.  “Orthographic images of modern day boston, and vector data from the boston redevelopment authority and MassGIS are used to ground the Boston in its modern context:”

Mapping Boston at HistoryPin

Mapping Boston’s Religions, 1800-1880: Brandeis Omeka project

USGS Historical Coastal Topographic Map Image

City of Boston’s Enterprise GIS system   

It also has a great indexed property viewer.  Each parcel in the city has a number

Boston Redevelopment Authority’s links to available current maps:

Massachusetts Historical Society digitized maps, 1648 (depicted)- 1814

Boston Public Library’s Leventhal digitized map collection

Boston Area Research Initiative (via the Dataverse)

Metro Boston DataCommon: An interactive data portal and mapping tool with information about the region’s people, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and environmental resources.

Boston Public Library’s open data initiative


Boston Displacement mapping project

Citizen Noise sensing project