Hannah Gill at #NEHPlayback

Hannah Gill at #NEHPlayback


good morning my name is jesse johnston and i’m a program officer here at NEH we’re thrilled to see everybody here this morning and it’s my privilege to moderate this morning’s plenary panel let me begin by telling you just a little bit more about the spirit and ideas that frame this session we’re all here because we care about addressing the many hurdles that remain in our race to steward and ensure meaningful access to audio-visual cultural heritage resources I’m sure that many of you are familiar with some of the major challenges reports and statements from the cultural heritage sector have focused attention on the physical degradation of legacy audio and moving image recordings much playback equipment may be nearing the end of its usable life and replacement parts are hard to come by and the need to convey the knowledge of the current generation of engineers and those with skills to use machines and educate new professionals remains great in addition the large amount of recorded material on at-risk analog formats and the growing amounts are created and preserved digitally may exceed the resources available to manage this content for the long term which suggests that we face pressing issues about selecting content for preservation at the international association of sand and audio-visual archivists meeting held at the Library of Congress earlier this week Will Prentiss from the British Library voiced this issue when he asked if we carry on with business as usual will we be able to save our audio and moving image collections our answers to these questions will carry critical consequences for the cultural heritage Community in some ways it came to the brittle books crisis in which NEH played a major part in the nineteen nineties the challenge of preserving audio-visual materials as complex many items are in unknown condition and are scattered among institutions some are held by public and private institutions others by individual collectors and the combination of physical degradation in the absence of playback equipment has led some to declare that these materials may may not last much longer perhaps we only have a 10 to 15 times year time horizon before they may be permanently lost or inaccessible in the nineteen nineties as the preservation community feared the last of millions of volumes to the slow fires of acidic paper Patricia Baton who received a 1999 humanities medal suggested that humanists and others have an obligation to be part of the conversation and inform the difficult choices and selection for preservation rather than leaving the issue to benign neglect or survival of the fittest these were the types of issues that motivated NEH to sponsor this symposium but our hope in this event is to look forward to the meaningful actions that we are taking now to spark collaborative work and to spur across domain conversation to bring together archivists scholars educators and other humanists who have a stake in using audio-visual materials but may we remain isolated from the work day-to-day work of preservation oral historians anthropologists musicologists linguists folklorists educators students and cultural producers and other humanists are sometimes unaware of the technical challenges involved in preserving audio-visual materials and as more content is turned or created digital that means for effectively analyzing it discovering it and making use of it remain under developed yet humanists can articulate the value of audio-visual content for research teaching and other cultural heritage work and as a whole humanities scholars need to become more fully engaged with the serious threat facing our audio-visual heritage so we hope that what you learn today and the connections that you make here will see these new conversations and faster further collaboration in this spirit of dialogue where structuring our first panel session as a prepared conversation which we hope leads to further discussions later this morning in the breakout sessions this session titled appraising audio-visual heritage was designed around ideas theorized by archivists about what to choose to preserve and why items and collections and resources should be sustained for the long term we hope that the ideas in this session serve as a starter for this kind of conversation and as it has come together i see that the panel will discuss different ways of identifying the sorts of activities that audio and moving image material support in humanities how they may be accessed and repurposed and we hope articulate the value of preserving content for these engaging modes in which we communicate these human stories our first speaker on the panel is Hannah Gill director of the NEH funded new routes Latino oral histories project Hannah in your oral history work you’ve helped to create many audio-visual documentary materials this seems to complement occurring interest in community archiving and documenting local history can you share with us a bit about your work with the new routes project and more specifically can you tell us about how some of the questions of today’s conversation connected communities whose perspectives may be missing from institutional archives and dominant narratives in US history alright thank you Jesse good morning everyone I’m really delighted to be here today and I thank the NEH for your kind invitation to come and i look forward to talking to all of you throughout the day so the questions from today’s conversation that I wanted to focus on more specifically are what will people want to see and hear in 20 years let alone a century from now and what areas of society and culture may be documented only in audio-visual media and who benefits so I’d like to draw a little upon my work as an anthropologist directing the new routes Latino oral history project and this is a this initiative engages latin american immigrants in an effort to document the current demographic and cultural transformation of america and i’m going to share a little bit about why audio media and specifically oral history is an important documentary tool for new migrant and Refugee communities in the United States and I’ll reflect upon the challenges and opportunities of providing global public access to audio recordings and documentary materials so we are currently living in an era of historic demographic and cultural transformation in the United States 25 years ago one out of every 20 people living in the United States identified as Latino today one in five Americans are Latino that’s more than 55 million people and much of this growth has been and from the immigration of Latin Americans to the United States and North Carolina where I’m from is has been at the center of these demographic changes as a state with one of the fastest growing Latino populations in the nation the new routes program has been working with immigrant communities to chronicle the changing composition and character of the American people by collecting stories of migration settlement and integration in the nuevo South it was started in 2007 as a community-based participatory research project and archival initiative that has so far generated over 200 audio recorded interviews with abstracts transcriptions field notes in a tableau and tap logs in Spanish and English and produces about 40 new interviews annually see if i can get our i’ll just keep going so the interviews are conducted by trained bilingual staff and students at the university is part of a course that I teach and they’re processed and archived with the southern oral history program and university libraries at UNC-Chapel Hill most of our staff and students are Latin American immigrants or the US-born children of immigrants and they span many disciplines of expertise or are studying to be professionals in many disciplines that include we have anthropologists archivists librarians software developers public health practitioners historians and on and on now the voices in new routes are many and diverse and they consist of people from all parts of Latin America who have settled in North Carolina and other southern states second-generation youth Latino college students teachers public figures business owners and professionals because of the migratory nature of Latino communities many contributors have lived and worked throughout the United States New Routes has stories of courage and perseverance that Chronicle journeys by foot car train and bus over thousands of miles from mexican and central American homelands these stories also described the experiences of settling in rural and urban places unfamiliar with spanish-speaking cultures and raising children who became the next generations of North Carolinians youth voices in new routes reflect upon coming of age in an era of deportations border enforcement and economic recession a crucible from which many have emerged to become national leaders in the movement for comprehensive immigration reform and access to higher education so these perspectives are particularly valuable to document because they represent a transitionary time when many Latinos living in the South still have personal memories and knowledge about their country of origin and settlement in new communities in the United States so much like the WPA Federal Writers Project in the nineteen thirties that that David mentioned and we’re collecting as much information as possible to preserve as much as possible because 10 to 40 years from now that this collection will be an invaluable source of historical information about what it means to be American we envision the New Routes initiative as the sources of new American Heritages particularly in the southeastern part of the United States or in the words of historian Lupitez quote we are curators of the present for the future past end quote migrant stories are important to document because they are under-represented in the contemporary public record and their counterpoint to english language media that is missing perspectives of newcomers that are still learning English in North Carolina many of our local papers which are important registers of events and experiences rarely include the perspectives of immigrants and in an era of historic deportations and policies of attrition at federal state and local levels many immigrants live in a climate in which they are marginalized and silenced which also contributes to their under-representation of migrant perspectives in mainstream public spheres audio-visual media is particularly important for the documentation of experiences of migratory communities many migrants depart a country of origin with few belongings and many have to discard everything that they own in order to survive this physical journey to the United States people seeking asylum have little time to collect belongings and official documents and often live in a state of transition once they reach the United States so the physical stuff of our institutional archives letters documents photos ephemera is often missing for migratory communities both presenting a challenge for documentarians as well as migrants’ descendants who encounter gaps in knowledge and family history audio-visual documentary methods on the other hand are more accessible and familiar to many new immigrants who’ve embraced the new communications technology and social media tools to connect with their families in a country of origin recording photos videos and stories with mobile devices that document their journeys and experiences in a new place and so because these oral traditions and audio recording are accessible and familiar activities for many new migrant communities in the south we use it as a primary method of documentation for the new routes initiative we can’t answer the question what would people want to see in here in 40 years because we have no idea what will be of interest in the future but we can seek out in document perspectives that they’re being excluded and from contemporary conversations and dominant media narratives and other public registers and we can employ methods of documentation now that enable groups that have been the objects of history to become the subjects of history by facilitating the preservation of first-person narratives from people who understand the powerful process of demographic transformation from the inside not the outside in oral histories when done correctly position the interviewer and her research agenda in the background and enable a narrator to to articulate what matters to her we can also follow the advice of archivists Kate Stilton and Ramesh Shrinavon in engaging participants in the process of arranging and describing the materials that we archive new routes has many constituencies and audiences but the people in our own labor communities are perhaps one of our most important constituencies and they play an important role in determining how and what we should preserve in the future our challenge has been to create meaningful ways of engaging our constituencies and decision-making in accessing in accessing materials part of this work is taking into consideration that our constituencies are transnational and oral histories have value not only in the United States but throughout the northern southern hemispheres where Latin Americans have settled fortunately the digital age offers exciting new possibilities for global accessibility and the preservation and access of migrant stories and family history the internet is widely available and free in public places throughout the United States and Latin America making it an important medium for mobile populations so in order to engage in with and provide access to these global constituencies both north and south of the us-mexico border we launched a project in 2014 with the support of the NEH to create a bilingual digital information system in a website to connect spanish-speaking public audiences to new routes audio recordings oral history transcripts and other materials in the collection new routes staff created new routes staff created the digital information system by innovating the open-source software and web publishing plat web publishing platform omeka enabling it to draw content from a larger repository at UNC libraries we designed a web interface in Spanish and created an easy-to-use management tool that integrates the university’s login system with Omeka website administration we also we also created interactive maps that document the migrations of contributors and the counties in which they have settled in North Carolina as well as a short documentary and a catalog in English and Spanish and in designing the site the new routes team consulted with latino nonprofit organizations in North Carolina k-16 educators and scholars migrants and students in Mexico and other Latin American countries to understand how they can best access the oral history and then we implemented their recommendations into the project and we’re really excited that we’ve been able to attract scholars from all around the world now that we’ve made it globally accessible we have scholars coming from Italy to study that study the perspectives in the collection we have scholars coming from Mexico to help us improve our interview methodologies so we are happy about the the the binational dialogues that have been created through the the project so addressing in as I wrap-up addressing the questions of how and what we must preserve today for tomorrow’s generations not only necessitates meaningful engagement with diverse latina constituencies it also requires that we take a critical look at who we are as researchers technicians curators and stewards of content the growth and community archives in recent years as a reflection of efforts to quote rebalance a pattern of privileging and marginalizing and institutional archives to provide the words of James Schwartz and Terry Cook we must join larger efforts to diversify our leaders and students at institutions of Education and heritage and hire bilingual and bicultural people who bring personal commitment experience and expertise to documentary efforts and we should also support community archiving and we also must think of diversity in discipline disciplinary terms and create teams of people who are not afraid of learning different academic languages in order to collaborate on projects and really the NEH has been on the forefront of all of this important work and we are so appreciative of their support so we’re going to be continuing this conversation in the breakout session to follow the filling knowledge gaps so I look forward to talking more with you about these issues then thank you so much

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