Category Archives: Archive of Interest

A Plea For Peace From The Archive


In theory, archives preserve the stories of history’s winners and losers without forwarding an ideology or serving a fight for power. Over the last few months, the archive stories that struck me most related to the aftermath of misdirected political decisions and times of social turmoil. The first story, about volunteers who relay the trauma of Hiroshima survivors, made me think about the long term impacts of war. The second, a look inside remnants of Cold War era East Germany, seemed poignant given the current fears of a growing police state in the U.S. Both stories brought to mind the importance of archives in military and political history.

Summer 2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the only two nuclear weapons ever used in war. Coverage in the New York Times introduced me to a special oral history project in Japan that involves denshoshas – volunteers who tell the stories of aging Hiroshima survivors. Before telling stories on their behalf, denshoshas spend at least three years shadowing the survivor. Giving the past a messenger keeps memories alive and human. The same way families pass down stories from generation to generation.

Japan’s Shinzo Abe is their first Prime Minister born after World War II. It is one thing to read about war in history books and another to have experienced war first hand. The Pacifist movement that came from the traumatic events of the war may be threatened by Abe’s reach for more military action with allies. In the U.S. I’m seeing a lot of politicians talk flippantly about the use of military force and weapons. In an Iowa stump speech, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz spoke brutally about bombing ISIS. “We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.” This draconian tone underlines the need to consider history, and the repercussions of military action on civilians.

Wars leave behind stories of people and survivors. Wars also leave behind stories about governments. The Cold War archive at the Wende collects these messages together and preserves them. While others were leaving the old German Democratic Republic, Justinian Jampol went deep inside, collecting remnants of the old Socialist Unity Party in East Germany. Jampol crept into abandoned nuclear bunkers and found propaganda and secret police materials. The Cold War archive now lives in Los Angeles. L.A. is an unlikely home for European spyware but many donations came from perpetrators who fear being outed in Europe.

“People don’t like to think about our past and sometimes how we behaved,” said Jampol. “But we need to because it’s only by that process of discovery can we understand ourselves and remember why we did the things we did.” The survival of these stories could serve as cautionary tales; proof that oppression and war have long lasting effects. We like to think these stories are history, but the language and proposals of today’s powerful say otherwise. Archivists should collect stories of those persecuted around the world and collect the voices of governments as they try to sway the public and create their own versions of history.

Artwork by Natalie Pantoja based on pin archived at The Interference Archive.

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Weaving an online textile archive


This fall the Andrea Aranow Textile Design Collection launched Textile Hive, an interactive database and window into its digitized collection. The Andrea Aranow collection includes some 40,000 pieces from complete garments to fabric swatches, sourced from 50 different countries. Textile Hive was designed by Andrea Aranow’s son, Caleb Sayan, who started the project five years ago. With the application, Sayan hopes to broaden the audience of the archive to anyone with an internet connection. (You’ll also have to pay a membership fee.)

Aranow got her start in clothing in New York in 1967 when she opened Dakota Transit. There, her handmade leather and snakeskin garments gained the attention of high profile clients like Jimi Hendrix and Betty Davis. When Aranow lived in Peru, doing cultural research for a museum in the 1970s, she became interested in collecting handwoven and industrial fabrics. She traveled in South America, the Middle East, Europe and Asia, often with her two young sons, acquiring fabrics for museums and her own collection. That work grew into what is now one of the largest private textile archives in the world.


While Aranow is still consulting in New York, Sayan moved the collection to Portland, OR and started building Textile Hive.

When Sayan began digitizing the archives, he had little knowledge about building an online research tool of this scope and size. Sayan tried finding examples of archival terms and taxonomies to work from. He looked at the cataloging system used at The Textile Museum in Washington D.C., but it wasn’t a good match. Sayan and his team landed on a taxonomy with over 19 categories, like culture, era, embellishments, and luminescence, and over 2300 terms.



Sayan built custom software to create the experience he had in mind. “I view the application itself as an augmented tool for interacting with the collection,” Sayan said.

Users have different access points into the collection including by place of origin on a map or by cultural aesthetic. Another search tool pins textiles side by side for comparison (shown above). One cool feature brings researchers into the space, where they can browse virtual drawers and shelves that correspond to the physical archive.

Textile Hive was created for art historians and fabric lovers, but would delight anyone with an appreciation for beautiful objects. “I wanted to show how this collection is different from a museum collection, in that it had a point of view and was personal,” said Sayan.

The finished product is a multi-layered application, as unique as the archive it was born from.

Watch a short video about Andrea Aranow and the digital collection here.

Images courtesy of Andrea Aranow Collection/Textile Hive.

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Interference Archive Exhibition and Open House

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On a mild night this past December, the Interference Archive hosted an open house for their exhibition “Serve The People: The Asian American Movement in New York.”

The late ‘60s to early ‘80s were critical time in Asian-American history, when Asian-Americans were developing a new political and cultural identity. Bay Area activism had sent waves to New York City, empowering Asian-American activists there to take a stand on issues of labor, war, and police brutality.

On display are photographs of street demonstrations and strikes, albums of protest music, and activist posters and journals. Journals like “Bridge: Asian American Perspective” and “Amerasia Journal,” started by Yale students in the early ‘70s, proliferated artistic work and political commentary to a wider audience. Visitors are able to see one of Interference Archive’s newest acquisitions, the prints and music of Yellow Pearl, a band that released an album of folk music about the Asian-American experience in 1973.

Activists don’t always think about saving papers. Interference Archive in New York City aims to preserve the history of activism by being both an activist hub and an archive. The archive consists of ephemera and documents created by participants in different social movements.

“Serve The People: The Asian American Movement in New York” is on exhibit until February 23rd.

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Frankenstein and Fascicles Go Online

Illustration Library Manifesto

Last week, early November 2013, the archives of two dominant, western, female writers of the nineteenth century were made available online.

The collaborations are the latest examples of library-archive cooperation, making collections larger and more accessible to a greater number of people.

At the time of her death Dickinson’s family dispersed her writings to multiple institutions,  culls the various Dickinson collections into one place. The archives reside at the Beinecke Library at Yale, Amherst College (where her father was treasurer), Boston Public Library, Harvard University, Houghton Library, Library of Congress, Smith and Vassar College. Site visitors may search manuscripts by title, date, recipient, or institution. You can zoom in on hi-res images and, for hard to decipher text, type written transcriptions are available.

Emily Dickinson spent much of her life working in a room where she had a bed, a cast-iron stove, and a writing table. She only shared her poems -which she wrote on scrap paper, envelopes and old bills- with close friends and relatives. The online archive brings her handwritten work to a larger audience than ever before.


The Emily Dickinson Archive contains hi-resolution images of poetry written on envelopes and scrap papers.


Click “Text” to see transcriptions, metadata, and more about the history of each work.

Last week also saw the Halloween-day premiere of including the archives of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft. For the first time all of the manuscripts are online in the same place. Like the Emily Dickinson online archive, the Shelley-Godwin Archive is a collaborative effort from a number of libraries.


The homepage of the Shelley-Godwin archive displays the collaborative forces behind the project.

The site has a search option but browsing is limited. Some manuscripts are yet to be transcribed but images are tagged to indicate what state of the digital process they’re in. The Frankenstein manuscripts are vast and given their own link on the navigation bar. For each manuscript page a veiwer may choose to highlight the writing of Mary Shelley or the notations of Percy Shelley. The notes give us a unique window into their relationship.

From the NY Times:

“In particular, he pointed to two places in the manuscript where Percy drops his neutral editorial stance and addresses his wife intimately. In one, he corrects her spelling of [‘enigmatic,’] then addresses her using a favorite nickname: ‘Oh you pretty pecksie!’ (Mary, elsewhere, called her husband ‘Elf.’)”


Taken from the Frankenstein manuscripts, Mary Shelley’s writing is in bold red.


In this alternative view Percy Shelley’s notes are in bold red.

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Latest Obsession: British Pathé


Imagine a film archive that preserves some of the great accomplishments and most tragic and  notable events of Western civilization in the 20th century. The British Pathé Archive, a sprawling collection of news pieces from the early 20th century though the 1970s, made an extraordinary number of newsreels and Cinemazines (longer versions of their newsreels). All 90,000 of their films are available to view online for free.

Enter through the archive’s blog to view archive highlights and read writers remark on the historical films. What stole my heart were the human interest stories. These good humored exposés capture Britian’s sometimes quirky culture.

The progression of film type and quality -the earliest are silent- reflects the changing technology of the moving image. Clips are organized by categories like Lifestyle & Culture, Historical Figures & Celebrities, and War & Revolution. Rare footage includes digitized films and stills of archaeological digs, reporting from both World Wars, the women’s rights movement, and scientific and technological breakthroughs. The British Pathé Archive is on Pinterest too, where I know I’ll be spending many hours as I hibernate this winter.

Some selections from the library I’ve recently watched:

Amelia Earhart, aka “Lady Lindy,” landing in London to a crowd’s welcome.

A poodle spends her afternoon at the beauty salon.

The strange superstitions of the Isle of Man including the “Fairy Bridge” where visitors greet the secret fairies for good luck.

Tea time on a tight rope, this stunt never gets old.

Images from The British Pathé on Pinterest.

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An Archive Whose Subjects Are Permanent Residents

Green Wood Cemetery

Last week I spent an evening in a cemetery chapel crowded with archivists, genealogists, and Sunset Park locals. We were gathered at  Green-Wood Cemetery, where some of New York’s most infamous VIPs RIP, to hear cemetery staff highlight their collection of ephemera and records spanning their 175-year history.

Professor of archival management at Brooklyn College, Green-Wood Archivist, and boxer Anthony M. Cucchiara has dedicated some elbow grease toward making the archives at Green-Wood a usable and accessible resource. Cucchiara gave much credit to volunteers and interns who have -with Cucchiara at the helm- spent approximately 6,000 hours processing archival materials. Volunteers still meet some Saturdays to refine and continue their work.

Green Wood Box of Stereographs

Jeff Richman, Green-Wood Historian and writer, spoke about the collection and showed off some stereographs from the cemetery’s archives. Photographers, he said, were drawn to the cemetery as a peaceful break from the city scenes. Richman displayed some on tables for post-talk browsing.

Of the many types of archives housed at the cemetery, burial orders sparked my interest most. The documents can show family relationships and fill in gaps researchers might not find in U.S. census records. Burial orders are packed with useful information like official death dates and interestingly, signatures of relatives that might verify other signed documents. If you’re lucky they might also include renderings of monuments on site.

Green-Wood also introduced a program, “Green-Ealogy,” which allows you to submit research questions online. Mark Daly, Manager of Genealogical Research Services, said they receive an impressive 30 or so research inquiries a week.

Green Wood Cemetery

Brooklyn’s Green-Wood celebrates its 175th anniversary this year with an exhibit at The Museum of the City of New York.

Green-Wood has recently purchased a beautiful abandoned greenhouse that resides across the street on 5th Avenue. They plan to restore the lot into a welcome center. The cemetery offers creative programs, walking tours and trolley tours throughout the year. Check them out here.

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#NYFW: Textile Archive Inspiration

Blue Rider Design collection of Andrea Aranow

Continuing with the library fashion theme from Monday, today’s post is dedicated to collections of culturally rich and aesthetically diverse textiles.

If I had to wear the same thing everyday for the rest of the year, it might be an Aymaran poncho. These colorful textiles have a history dating back to 700 AD.

Andrea Aranow gathered Blue Rider Design’s large collection of unique and original textiles as a resource for designers. In 2011 she opened her extraordinary archive, in Portland Oregon, to filmmakers Aaron Rayburn and Ryan Bush. “They don’t change their mind,” Aranow says of her beloved fabrics.

Another short but captivating look into the lush Blue Rider Design archive.

The small city of Krefeld, Germany has been a silk fabric production center since the 17th century. The German Textile Museum (Deutsches Textilmuseum) explores this history through a large collection of fabrics made in Krefeld and throughout all of Germany.

A 900 year old sock.

P.S. CLOTHES: A Manifesto. What women want from the fashion industry as compiled by Rebecca Willis. “Women are deeply concerned about the behaviour of the fashion industry,” writes Willis. “Its impact on our wallets, our sanity and our planet.”

Image: Blue Rider Design

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A Place for Stray City Relics

City Reliquary photo:Comissar

I was delighted to find the City Reliquary featured on Brooklyn Spaces. The City Reliquary is a quirky little operation on one of the main drags of Williamsburg, Metropolitan Avenue. The museum is roughly the size of two rooms with a rotating exhibition space but there’s plenty to spy in glass cases and cluttered on the walls, from seltzer bottles to Pez dispensers, old subway tokens, and remains of city infrastructure like the aqueducts and railways.

My favorite things might be the sea of Statute of Liberty postcards, all with varying degrees of shadow and light, depending on the time and season they were captured. You can look at the same thing a thousand times and it will look different each time. Which sums up my feelings about Brooklyn, living here my whole life I never get bored and always peer out on the familiar scenes from the elevated trains I’ve seen countless times.

City Reliquary photo:Comissar

Brooklyn Spaces interviewed the President of the Reliquary, read it here.

Images: Maximus Comissar

P.S. Another micro museum delight: The Lunchbox Museum from Cool Hunting.

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Wanderlist #2: Cinémathèque de Tanger

Wanderlist #2 CdT

Years ago, I clipped an article about Cinémathèque de Tanger in Morocco and sent it to a film archivist friend and pen pal, Taz. Many months later, Taz took a trip to Tangiers and, to my surprise, my next care package from her included a pin from the Cinémathèque! She had been able to go to the film center and get a behind-the-scenes tour in which she saw old movie posters and heard about the types of acquisitions the center hoped to grow with. Her tip: “We were lucky to get in on the fly, but I’m sure they’d be able to make it even more special with advanced notice.”

 Cinematheque Tanger

Cinémathèque de Tanger is exemplary both as a focal point for discussing, viewing, and sharing film treasures and as an archive (films from Gabriel Veyre, Ahmed Bouanani, Hicham Falah, Mohamed Chrif Tribak, and many more). Cinémathèque de Tanger has been a pioneer in offering screenings for films rarely seen in Morocco and preserving and promoting North African and Arabian cinema. They have set the groundwork for other film organizations to work with Moroccan authorities, censors, and film vendors and have built collaborations with cultural institutions around the world.

Cinémathèque de Tanger

The Cinémathèque is housed in a beautiful, old movie theater that is a natural gathering point and welcomes people to the archive. If you happen to be in Morocco, stop by the cinema and visit their cafe, which co-founder and director Yto Barrada says has taken on it’s own local importance, “Something we didn’t anticipate is the way our café has been taken over by the local teenagers and young adults who seem to spend all of their free time there flirting, playing the guitar, singing, using the free Internet, nursing a Coca Cola, hitting on our interns and very occasionally going to see a movie.”

Images from Pete, Cinémathèque de Tanger, and Frieze.

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Merce Cunningham’s Time Capsules

Merce Cunningham Black Mountain

The archives of the Merce Cunningham Trust were recently featured in the literary journal n+1. Cunningham, who died in 2009, was one of the most prominent choreographers and dancers of the 20th century. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company and their archivist David Vaughan faced some interesting challenges in preserving Cunningham’s work. Cunningham’s style kept people guessing. He would try rolling a dice to determine which direction dancers would move their heads or limbs, or map movements giving only sparing instructions to dancers. Cunningham rarely explained or interpreted his work, not even to the dancers with whom he developed the pieces. And, although many dances were documented through photography and film, Cunningham did not make any authoritative choreographic scores.

After Cunningham turned 90 the foundation announced that the Merce Cunningham Trust would establish a “Living Legacy Plan” which included the creation of “Dance Capsules” online, where the trust would have overviews, music from the performance, videos, and any other information available about the performance reported directly from those involved. Interested parties are able to license the “Dance Capsules” to perform with the goal that performances be as close to the intention of the artist as possible. It’s an interesting model for non-profit archives because of the possibility to attract funds while building a legacy around the work. I also think calling these packages “Capsules” is a clever idea.

The archives live at the New York Public Library and The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The NYPL finding aid can be viewed here. Images by Hazel Larsen Archer from the archives at NYPL were taken at Black Mountain College.

Merce Cunningham Black Mountain

Merce Cunningham Black Mountain

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