Archives and Special Collections

15
Apr16

BPS Desegregation Project: Wading through 87 linear feet of documents.

Posted by: Corinne Bermon

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The following is a series written by archivists, academics, activists, and educators making available primary source material, providing pedagogical support, and furthering the understanding of Boston Public School’s Desegregation history.

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With more than 207 archival boxes spread out over six collections to pull from the shelves and vet for digitizing for the online repository, my collaborator Northeastern Ph.D. student Meghan Doran and I needed a strategy. We wanted to select items that would not overlap with the other participating repositories in the Boston Library Consortium project. As we diligently began this process, two main methods of approach emerged as Meghan wrote the directive for our selection process: digitize unique materials and difficult materials.

We began to curate materials that highlighted the struggle in Boston Public Schools in the records of Citywide Educational Coalition (CWEC), and Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO), as well as the papers of Phyllis M. Ryan, Carmen A. Pola, Frieda Garcia, and Frank J. Miranda. Through the summer, the two of us digitized documents, photos, and printed ephemera relating to the lead-up to court ordered busing proclamation issued by Judge Garrity in 1974 and the allocation of funding for projects aimed at reducing minority isolation in the schools under Chapter 636.  Materials that were of particular interest as well were the parent councils of each organization, who were incredibly active and integral to the process of desegregation and monitoring the schools.

20150310_122659_zpshavqgy13Each collection has proven to be unique in completing the picture of the structures that were put in place before, during, and after the court ordered busing. Through the correspondence in the collections of CWEC and METCO, we aimed to highlight the different approaches to and the debates that surrounded the desegregation case and also show the personal side of how it affected parents and children.  There was so much strife that surrounded this process that it was easy to overlook the fact that much of Boston area was in favor of racially balancing the schools.  It felt important to include the supportive letters from parents as well as the letters protesting the court orders.

My personal favorite collection to digitize has been the Phyllis M. Ryan papers. Ryan did extraordinary work with James Breeden, the Episcopalian priest who helped orchestrate the Freedom Stay Out Days and the Freedom Schools, as well as with the Massachusetts Advocacy Center and the planning of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s visit to Boston that ended in the two and a half-mile march from the South End to the Boston Common. Because she had her hands in so many organizations, it was especially important to stick to our devised set of criteria.  Many fascinating documents were relegated to the second or third tier of scanning because they only tangentially connected to the desegregation of the schools, but connected to the civil rights fight overall more.

As we keep forging ahead with this project, I look forward to uncovering the treasures in the Roxbury Multi-Service Center and other collections that are found in Northeastern University’s social justice collections.

Posted in: Archives and Special Collections, Online Collections

8
Apr16

BPS Desegregation Project: Q+A with Marilyn Morgan and Omeka.net

Posted by: Giordana Mecagni

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The following is a series written by archivists, academics, activists, and educators making available primary source material, providing pedagogical support, and furthering the understanding of Boston Public School’s Desegregation history.

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This Q and A was reprinted from  http://info.omeka.net/2016/03/site-highlight-stark-and-subtle-divisions/  with permission

Dr Morgan seated at a desk holding a vintage swimsuit.Archivist, historian, educator, and baker of all things chocolate, Marilyn Morgan (@mare_morgan), investigates—and encourages students to explore—social trends, cultural stereotypes, and discrimination throughout American history. Her class site, Stark & Subtle Divisions: A Collaborative History of Segregation in Boston, showcases letters, photographs, legal documents, artifacts, and interviews that explore the federally-mandated desegregation of Boston public schools. Unearthing materials from various Boston-area archives, students selected a representative sampling and used Omeka.net to present them together in new collaborative context. The site runs on an Omeka.net Platinum plan

1. Briefly explain how you came to the project.

Last year, I became the Director of the Archives Program (History MA) at UMass Boston and created a new course “Transforming Archives and History in a Digital Age.” My goals for this course involved having students: conduct primary research in local collections, select and scan materials, create metadata for digitized items, build a collaborative digital archive, develop subject-area expertise, and design an online exhibit. Because I teach history and archives, I focused the class on a historical topic—the desegregation of Boston Public Schools (BPS). Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the federally-mandated integration of BPS; various separate archives in the area hold collections that document that complex history.

As I was developing my course, Giordana Mecagni, Head of Archives and Special Collections at Northeastern University initiated a comprehensive cross-institutional scanning project to make archival materials related to the desegregation of BPS available in a large digital library. Boston Library Consortium funded the project that is supported by the technical infrastructure of the DPLA and Digital Commonwealth. This year, work my students are completing for their Omeka site—scanning and creating metadata for Boston City Archives—is feeding into the larger BLC initiative.

2. Why did you decide to build on Omeka.net, as opposed to a standalone Omeka site or some other platform?

Omeka provides a wonderful teaching tool for archivists and historians. It gives students hands-on experience implementing archival theory; it permits them to showcase historical research; and, ultimately, it enables them to create digital history for a public audience.

Before I created my course, I searched for platforms that would meet my teaching goals. I wanted students to learn technical skills and acquire hands-on experience implementing practices used by digital archivists. But I also wanted students to immerse themselves in scholarly historical research and to create engaging and educational exhibits for a general audience. There aren’t many platforms that allow one to accomplish all of that.

While other exhibit-building platforms exist, Omeka allows students to create a digital archive from start to finish. This entails selecting and scanning documents then creating metadata for digitized images. That back-end work teaches essential technical skills that aspiring archivists and digital historians need to hone. Equally important, when constructing Omeka exhibits, students must think critically about the items collectively and weave together narratives that form cohesive exhibits.

To be honest, circumstances beyond my control affected my decision to use Omeka.net instead of creating a standalone site. My university did not have the technical infrastructure to support the standalone Omeka site. With Omeka.net there’s no need to have IT support or server space. I was pleased to discover that Omeka.net doesn’t limit one’s creativity in building a site.

3. What piece of advice would you offer to someone planning to use Omeka.net with a class of graduate students?

Build in plenty of time to learn and experiment, don’t be afraid to take risks, collaborate, and don’t get discouraged!

When I decided to use Omeka.net in my course, I had absolutely zero experience using the platform. I confessed to my students in the first class that I had no idea if we’d be able to build the robust site we envisioned; but, even if we failed, we would have learned a great deal. I encouraged them not to obsess over individual grades and to approach this as a truly collaborative project—by the nature of the project, either we all succeeded or we all failed, to some degree.

Collaboration proved key to building a successful site in many ways. I’d advise anyone beginning to teach with Omeka to identify local resources—both people and collections at local archives or libraries—that you can incorporate into your site’s construction. When beginning this project, I blindly reached out to Marta Crilly, Archivist for Reference and Outreach at Boston City Archives—I knew they housed ample material related to our topic. Over the past year and a half, Marta and I developed a mutually beneficial collaboration. I reached out to librarians, archivists, an audio engineer, and even a copyright attorney, at local institutions; the input of each helped me to create a robust site.

4. How did using Omeka change your and/or your students’ thinking about the content?

Our project’s topic—de facto segregation and the federally-mandated desegregation of Boston Public Schools—provoked deep controversy in Boston. In the mid-1970s, the issue of desegregation provoked violent confrontations and pitted white neighborhood against black neighborhood. Over forty years later, the topic continues to ignite heated reactions locally.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises was learning that the heated reactions to desegregation of Boston Public Schools reached far beyond Boston. Using Omeka’s map tool, students could demonstrate that individuals from around the nation and the globe watched the media report on this issue. In the sampling of letters students selected, they discussed letters sent from as far away as Mexico, Germany, and Australia.

Using Omeka, I realized quickly that creating an interactive digital exhibit on this controversial topic posed unique challenges that writing a traditional paper did not. If we proceeded incorrectly, instead of educating, we could provoke anger or alienate.

Many complex circumstances surrounded the intense reactions to desegregation including racism, class disparity, ethnic antagonism, political maneuverings, and contests for authority between local, state and federal agencies. As students dug into the archives and shaped exhibits in Omeka, we learned that race alone could not predict whether one supported or opposed desegregation of BPS. For instance, violent opposition to the decision to desegregate schools didn’t necessarily indicate opposition to school integration. Some citizens (black and white) championed school integration but vehemently protested the plan’s implementation—“forced busing” of their young children to schools far away from their neighborhoods.

Omeka helps us to convey the complexity of this emotionally-charged issue by showcasing the documents individually and allowing us to group them collectively to tell a narrative. In this way, exhibits can capture the raw fears, violence, and racist behaviors alongside of the hopefulness, compassion, and peaceful approaches.

5. What is one of your favorite items from the site to share (when talking about it)?

Letters written by third and sixth grade students to Mayor Kevin H. White constitute my favorite group of items. Some of the young letter-writers expressed fears while others boldly proposed no
nviolent solutions to school integration. While it’s difficult to pick one favorite, the letter below stands within my top three.

Writing on colorful stationary, the eleven-year-old student poignantly pleads that the mayor bus the teachers, not the students, “then maybe there wouldn’t be anymore stabbings and fights.”starksubtle2

 

 

 

 

The letter below, written by a third-grade student, writes “this is what I want” above a crayon drawing of a white child and a black child shaking hands.
starksubtle3

Omeka makes it possible to view the handwritten letters—complete with misspellings and mistakes—and freehand drawings that children used to convey sentiments more clearly than words. These personal details add immeasurably to the content of the letters. They also convey the extent to which concerns about desegregation of BPS permeated the physical and emotional well-being of many Boston’s residents—even children.

6. What is the benefit to using Omeka as a teaching tool?

Traditional research papers function as a dialogue between student and professor; creating a project in Omeka expands the discourse and fosters a collaborative working environment. The tasks of learning new technology, conducting historical research, applying archival theory, acquiring subject-area expertise, clearing permissions, and presenting findings in a public forum can be overwhelming when undertaken by one individual. As a result, when using Omeka, students quickly learn to actively collaborate with one another, sharing discoveries that might benefit a classmate’s exhibit or teaching technical tips. I’m so pleased that my decision to teach with Omeka allows graduate students to simultaneously learn new skills, apply theory to practice, and contribute to public education in a practical way.

 

Posted in: Archives and Special Collections, Collections, Data Curation, Serendipity

31
Mar16

A Room Full of Sisters: The Boston Coalition of Black Women and Female Empowerment from the Ground Up

Posted by: Jessica Bennett

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A Room Full of Sisters, 1993

A Room Full of Sisters, 1993
By Paul Goodnight
4’x5′ Mixed Media
Commissioned by the Boston Coalition Of Black Women
Inspired by Mona Lake Jones’s poem of the same name.

The celebration of Women’s History Month in America has only been around since 1987 (between 1981 and 1986, there was a Women’s History Week, before that…well it’s History). Despite this, women have been making history long before the 1980s and will continue to do so. Some in ways that garner national or international attention, and some that are closer to home but no less amazing.

The Boston Coalition of Black Women began in 1991 as the Boston Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women and became formally independent in 1998 with a mission to “provide leadership and resources that empower our members to advance our community through education, social, economic and civic action.”

The Coalition achieved this goal through its various sponsored programs, talks and events. Its mentoring program “Sister-to-Sister” saw itself as a networking group to help Black women at every stage of the job market, from helping a woman get her GED to connecting them to the all-too-few black female c-level executives.  “Succeeding Sisters” was a program designed to help acclimate women returning to the workforce after a long absence.

When those Sisters did succeed there was always a place and community for them to celebrate with. The Coalition’s “Rites of Passage” program celebrated those in the “Sister-to-Sister” program who graduated and events like the “Salute to Boston Police Women of Color.”

The list of members reads like a who’s who of Female Black Excellence in Boston — Vivian Beard, a Massachusetts policy maker for 20 years; Joan Wallace Benjamin, CEO of The Home for Little Wanderers; Callie Crossley, journalist; Carolyn Golden Hebsgaard, Executive Director of Boston Lawyers Group; Karen Holmes Ward, WCVB Director of Public Affairs and Producer of CityLine; Deborah Jackson, Former CEO of Red Cross of Massachusetts and Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries; and Sarah Ann Shaw, the first African-American TV journalist in Boston — and that is just to name a few.

The Boston Coalition of Black Women provided the kind of networking important for women in the workplace, not just for employment success, but for the community. As Roxane Gay says, “If you and your friend(s) are in the same field and you can collaborate or help each other, do this, without shame. It’s not your fault your friends are awesome.” While the Coalition is no longer active, the women who were involved are still out there changing the world, one life at a time creating a chain that cannot be broken.

The Boston Coalition of Black Women Collection is just one of several archival collections Northeastern University holds that preserve the history of small organizations in the Boston area that made a huge impact in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. As the quote from Margaret Mead, that appears on the Coalition’s annual reports, reminds us, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Posted in: Archives and Special Collections, Serendipity

31
Mar16

BPS Desegregation Project: Busing and Beyond: Creating a Holistic Approach to Undergraduate Teaching and Learning with Archival Collections

Posted by: Giordana Mecagni

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The following is a series written by archivists, academics, activists, and educators making available primary source material, providing pedagogical support, and furthering the understanding of Boston Public Schools’ (BPS) Desegregation history.

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Maokley pictureProject Overview

Suffolk University faculty, archivists, and librarians formed a collaborative team in 2015 to develop and disseminate open educational resources (OERS) based on the research collections held by Suffolk University.  Archivists and librarians provided reference assistance, bibliographic instruction, research guides, technological support, and digitization services. The curricula were designed to develop students’ information literacy skills and allow them to take advantage of – and navigate the challenges of — a complex and sometimes overwhelming information landscape. In the next phase of the project, the team will develop and test additional OERs, evaluate the effects of student and faculty engagement with OERs, and create guidelines and recommendations for further OER use, expansion, and development at Suffolk and beyond.

Sample OERS (Open Educational Resources)

Using historical documents from Congressman Joe Moakley’s papers related to court-ordered busing in Boston,  Professor Reeve created a variety of assignments and classroom exercises for her undergraduate history methods course, “Gateway to the Past: The Historian’s Practice.” Supplemented by lectures, readings, and discussion, Reeve used the assignments sequentially to ensure that students mastered historical thinking skills and then directly applied them to a capstone project. (See the course’s developmental sequence chart below.)

  • What History Matters, and Who Decides? Introduction to Archival Research: students examined course catalogs at the Archives to document and explain changes in the history curriculum over time (.pdf)
  • Document Analysis Assignment: students analyzed a historical news clipping (.pdf)
  • Mapping Data: Creating and Interpreting Historical Maps: students studied population change over time in Boston and its effects on the school desegregation debates (.pdf)
  • Digital Exhibit Project: capstone project in which students developed and narrated a historical argument on the OMEKA exhibit platform, example Boston Massacre Exhibit
  • HST 200 LibGuide: compilation of relevant research resources (link)

Why OERs?

The team wanted to create open source tools that would be available for use or re-use by instructors within –and external to– Suffolk University. Ideally, the assignments could be adapted for use by faculty in other fields.

Some of the benefits of creating and using OERS:

  • Fosters innovations in teaching and learning, many of which are more collaborative & participatory;
  • Reduces overall cost of books and materials for students;
  • Provides access to education for students who otherwise could not afford or access learning materials.

Incorporating primary sources in the developmental instruction of historical literacy

Overview: The following charts illustrate the process of integrating primary sources into an undergraduate-level historical methods course. The overall goal is to teach and engage students in the “procedural and cognitive action relevant to the use of primary sources” so that they develop a predisposition to inquiry and can frame and “solve historical problems and elaborate their own narrative.”[1]  Foundational to the design and delivery of the course is the idea that students seeking to investigate and explain the past must be historically and information literate. Thus HST 200 integrates the instruction of competencies listed in charts 1 and 2.

[1] Stéphanie Demers, David Lefrançois, and Marc-André Ethier, “Understanding agency and developing historical thinking through labour history in elementary school: A local history learning experience,” Historical Encounters. Open Access Journal. http://hej.hermes-history.net/index.php/HEJ/ article/ download/42/30. Accessed March 11, 2016, 36.

chart2.1

chart2.3

 

 

–This post was written by Professor Pat Reeve, History Department and Julia Howington, Director, Moakley Archive and Institute, Suffolk University, http://moakleyarchive.omeka.net/hst200

 

 

 

[1] Historical Thinking Project. http://historicalthinking.ca/historical-thinking-concepts. Accessed December 31, 2014.

[2] Association of College and Research Libraries, “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.” (May 26, 2015) http://www.ala.org/ acrl/standards/informationliteracycompetency. Accessed March 1, 2016.

Posted in: Archives and Special Collections, Collections, Serendipity

28
Mar16

BPS Desegregation Project: Pedagogical Exhibits

Posted by: Giordana Mecagni

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The following is a series written by archivists, academics, activists, and educators making available primary source material, providing pedagogical support, and furthering the understanding of Boston Public Schools’ (BPS) Desegregation history.

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BPS Desegregation Project would like to highlight two wonderful exhibits built by students from Desegregation related collections.

Screen Shot of Stark and Subtle Divisions exhibit

Screen Shot of Stark and Subtle Divisions exhibit

Stark & Subtle Divisions: A Collaborative History of Segregation in Boston
http://bosdesca.omeka.net/

Created by graduate students in the History and American Studies departments at UMass Boston, this site showcases letters, photographs, legal documents, artifacts, and interviews that explore de facto segregation in Boston and the federally-mandated desegregation of Boston Public Schools. Students unearthed materials from various collections in separate Boston archives, selected a representative sampling, and presented them here, together, in new collaborative context.

 

 

Screen shot of Boston Before Bussing Exhibit

Screen shot of Boston Before Bussing Exhibit

Boston Before Busing
http://dsgsites.neu.edu/desegregation/

Activism for educational civil rights in Boston began well before 1974, when the “Garrity” decision mandated busing to fix de facto segregation in Boston schools. This exhibit introduces key people, groups, and events in Boston from 1964–1974, describing the community effort that led to the desegregation decision that still affect s Boston today.

This not a complete portrait—many narratives, including Latino and Chinese voices, are lacking. All exhibit materials are from the Northeastern Archives and Special Collections, supplemented by research at the Suffolk, UMass Boston, and Harvard Schlesinger Library Archives.

Common historical narrative has painted the busing crisis in Boston in the mid-1970s as an inevitable but spontaneous change in Northern race relations. After exploring this exhibit, think about whether that’s a true portrait of events.

This exhibit was created for Martha Pearson’s public history fieldwork for HIST 4901/4902 at Northeastern University in collaboration with adviser William Fowler.

— Giordana Mecagni is Head of Special Collections and University Archivist at Northeastern University

Posted in: Archives and Special Collections, Collections, Serendipity