Sound of the Archives

a podcast dedicated to archives


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Transcript (First Podcast: 734 papers)

Our lovely friend and colleague Meagan Schiebel wrote up this transcript for us. It’s still a rough one and will be edited through, but we wanted to get it up here for accessibility’s sake. Enjoy!

Dana
Hi everyone, this is Dana for the first episode of Sound of the Archives, a podcast all about archives. I’m here with Prairie and Laura. We are three grad students who attend the School of Library and Information Studies at UW Madison and we are all happy to be here tonight!  So, last semester we all took LIS 734, which is basically Intro to Archives and for it our professor Michelle Caswell gave us a long paper to write mostly on — well I guess we all took different options didn’t we? So we will go through what our papers are about … Prairie do you want to start?
Prairie
Yes, well the title of my paper is The Healing Power of Archives: Memorilization and Reconciliation in an Unusually Divided Community.  I initially started my research on this actually in undergrad; I did a research paper for a historiography class and we had to use only primary documents to create a paper and I did it on execution, like the history of executions in Minnesota or the death penalty in Minnesota.  And one of my main topics was the Duluth lynchings: a lynching that took place in Duluth, Minnesota in 1920 and 3 black circus workers were lynched by a mob of 5-10 thousand people and it was kind of swept under the rug and it wasn’t talked about in the history of the town until like 50 years later and I did my initial research paper on that and then wanted to look more into the role that the archival documents played in the reintroduction of this event to the communities collective social memory because it had been forgotten, selectively, intentionally for so long [right] and I wanted to look more into the roll that specific documents played or specific records played in that rediscovering of history and how that played a role in the African American community being empowered in Duluth to kind of reclaim their history [that is so cool].
Laura
This is Laura, my paper is called Wisconsin School for Girls Inmate Record Books: Trust and Custodianship through Redacted Digitization of Records and User Agreement Forms.  For my paper I started first with a collection.  As an undergrad I was a history major and I was always really interested in woman’s studies, woman’s history, issues surrounding the experiences of being a woman and so I found this great collection at the Wisconsin historical society, it was the collection of the Wisconsin school for girls the inmate record books and I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to about with this collection when I began.  As I started looking at the collection I needed to get special permission to look at it because the contents are protected by the Wisconsin state laws because the records were created about juvenile inmates to have no control over their records.  So, to even look at these records you have to go through a lot of hoops, you have to sign a lot of forms and I started thinking about how it would be interesting to come up with a way to digitize these records responsibly.  So basically what this paper is looking at is how the Wisconsin Historical Society can take these restricted records and redact the information that is questioned, the personal information, birthdates, cities, locations, that sort of thing, and still make it a record that their patrons can access online.  One of the ways to do that is like I said, redacting the information.  The other way is user agreement forms so this paper looks at all the different ways that the Wisconsin historical society can do that and still be responsible custodians of those records.
Dana
Okay so that’s two brief intros I’ll talk about mine.  This is Dana.  My paper is named The Biological Archive of Srebrenica and I actually did also start in undergrad with an interest in Eastern Europe.  It first was in Russia and then it migrated into Eastern Europe. Before this I had never even heard of Srebrenica it was doing a lot of poking around looking for something that would be part of my interests and trying to look also for archives in eastern Europeans.  What could I work on this?  But somehow I came upon a Wikipedia article of the Srebrenica massacre and found it really interesting and there’s a memorial of it.  The massacre that happened in 1995, there is a memorial.  And I kind of started thinking about how the memorial and the cemetery were a stand in archive for this massacre that didn’t have any records, it didn’t have any papers, it didn’t have any glasses to save like the Nazi’s did (?).  The memorial was kind of the place that the memory happened and my paper was about proving that.  That even graves can be records even if they’re not in the building or on paper.  So Srebrenica happened during the Bosnia war in 1995 and it was the Serbian army came into what was… Srebrenica was named a safe haven by the U.N. but the Serbian army just came in and started to attack and take over the Dutchbat soldiers that were there from the U.N. and no one really knew what was going on.  It was all a super surprise attack and they told everyone that everything was okay and they separated the men and the women.  The women went somewhere else and the men, the executed, behind, like at night, or behind closed doors. And no one really knew about it.  When the Dutchbat told the U.N. about it they would talk to the Serbian army and the Serbian army would say “I don’t know what you’re talking about, nothing’s going on”.  So, what I was trying to say in my paper is that there aren’t any records and this is the way that the culture of denial could be proved, could be disproved actually.  Because after they killed 80 thousand men they put them all into a mass grave and then slowly after the war there was a few different organizations most notably the International Commission on Missing Persons so INCMP they would come in and identify bones and then rebury them into individual graves and then each graves is marked with a white headstone and it’s kind of says “hey look, we’re here and this is evidence that there was a genocide here” and I think it’s kind of interesting if you apply the archival theory of authenticity, or archival principle of authenticity to it because it’s literally a DNA test to say these are the bones of these men, so it’s kind of the most authentic you can get in that way and it’s like where they came from is right here and how else would they have gotten there besides the Serbian army.  So if you apply theories of evidence and reimagining a document of authenticity and you could even say interrelatedness [laughs] because it’s not original order it was this big shamble of a huge mass grave that got separated out and put into its own archive.  That’s my paper, I just went through it, so let’s talk about someone else’s now.
Laura
So Prairie, what were the biggest challenges that you faced while writing your paper?
Prairie
I think, I come from such a history background that it was really hard for me to not just to write a history paper and I still think that my paper ended up being more history focused rather than real archival theory.  I tried to incorporate it but I kept pulling me back to the history field.  And another thing was it’s a topic that it really interests me.  I did a lot of research on it before, I touched the historical documents, I feel personally related to it and so it was hard to keep on track and to keep from trying to find everything I wanted.  I kept coming up with more and more, and I kept researching more and more and I think it ended up taking away from my research because my focus ended up, I needed to be more focused, like a narrower focus and I just kept expanding and kept trying to fit everything in. It was hard.
Dana
I had that problem too, it wasn’t just the history aspect of it, but writing a history paper which was a problem but there are things like I kinda wanted to talk about the religious implications of it because there were mostly Muslims.  And they have different, like what were their burial practices and I wanted to talk about that or what was the act for them of memorializing.  And I also kept expanding trying to prove there weren’t any documents.  I was really concerned about it because I started reading more and found that there was a videotape of it and I was like “Oh god, does this completely disprove my entire paper?”.  But the video tape had been, was its own weird suspect, so I just reading that.  I spent hours and hours on it before it even was time to write.  It was a big challenge for me too.
Laura
I also found it challenging, I was so interested in records that these girls left behind and wanted to write solely about the records instead of giving it a really archivally-faced issue.  But then, you know, it kind of clicked for me when I considered that while the records are so interesting to me other people wouldn’t be able to see them and that’s how I kind of got down the road of digitize them so more people can see them.  [oh I like that]. So I was really lucky that I had a physical collection that I could touch and I could go easily go look at those every day and really connect with them.  Was it really challenging for you to not have an actual collection that you could sit down with?
Dana
Yea, it was.  When I first proposed it to Michelle, who if I didn’t introduce her before is our professor, she said “well, how are you going to use this, like if you’re arguing that ?, which is a cemetery, is an archive how are you going to argue that if you can’t go check it out?” So then I was trying to argue that the blood samples of the surviving members were the archive.  But, that was harder for me because I felt like the act was in the cemetery more than in the International Commission of Missing Persons.  I felt like it was more in the cemetery.  It was really hard to not be able to look at it and there is a website from the memorial but it’s all in a language I can’t speak [laughs] and I guess it would be Serbian.  But it’s all in a language I can’t speak in and it was really hard to navigate and all I could do was try and get some pictures of it. There’s actually a summer research thing going on for it but they haven’t updated any of their information.  But I would love to apply for there and work on some more and really get to interview people and talk to people.  The thing that actually helped me was there was a book, that I think it was called To Know Where He Lies that was just extremely good anthropological study on it and that was just, it was fantastically written and that was another problem was that I just wanted to keep reading it. And I tore it up with a ton of notes, “proof proof proof!” [laughs] , and then it was hard when I sat down and wrote the paper, “I know I read it, where did I read it?”.  So, yea I would’ve loved to actually been able to touch something but I guess the interesting part of the paper is what would I actually touch?  I would touch the dirt, or I would just have a picture of it, so that’s what made it a little more difficult.  And I had a lot of issues just questioning myself, “am I just full of it right now?”, “Is this really working?”.  But I felt like it was, I felt like it was a way of citing history.  And Michelle actually was really supportive because she’s doing her work on Cambodia and she was talking to me about the killing fields where the (?) actually would, it was also a mass grave, and in Cambodian culture they’re mostly Buddhist and in Buddhist religion you are supposed to cremate your loved ones remains and there’s a Japanese company in Cambodia that own that site and they made it into a tourism site.  Kind of like Potocari (?), it’s basically a tourist site because where the men were actually killed.  And there has been people who come who try to light, there are skulls on display, and people come to try and light the skulls on fire to cremate them, to honor them.  But there’s this one very strange tension there where they’re trying to have this memorial there to have people remember and to say “don’t do it again” and it also says “we were here” , “we did that here”.  But it doesn’t mesh with the culture. And that’s one of the reasons I kept going with it, because Michelle was so supportive and had this other example of it where we could actually use human remains when we don’t really have the same documents.
Prairie
But we did a lot of readings about the Nunno (?) traditional archive [right, yea] and the Plaima (?) (?) readings and I tried to incorporate stuff like that in my paper to do.  I read a lot about memorilization and monuments and how monuments can be used as a record in themselves and I tried to kind of force that into my paper.  I think that was a huge challenge for me too, like just trying to, because they built a memorial to the 3 men that were lynched in Duluth and I did some, like some of the readings I found were really great and they talked about the role that memorials played and in memory, in collective memory, in a sense of accountability and remembrance and [yea] the community itself witnessing and publicly witnessing that the event happened and that an injustice happened.  But, at the same not using that monument, or that memorial as kind of a fixed point, “okay we made this memorial to this, that’s all we have to do.  Justice is served, the healing is done, the memorial is built”.  [Right, you don’t have to uncover any of the other documents related to it]  Yea, or even just, like the feelings that surrounded.  And I really  wanted to talk about that more in my paper because that was the thing that was most interesting to me was the way that the memorial, the physical space of the memorial, the way that it’s treated and the way that that effects the people’s remembering of the event, or the perception of the event.  Like if a memorial is let go, they don’t take care of it, and that signifies them not really caring about what the memorial represents either and I wanted to go into more about that and about what other things could come from the memorial and have, you know like, public outreach and education and just a kind of a continuing conversation about it in the community rather than just [a dialogue] yea.  Rather than building a structure and then saying “this is how we’re remembering it and you can go there and visit it”.  But actually having that is kind of an impetus for community engagement and actually healing.
Dana
So, Laura, do you think that the solutions that you came up with in your paper, do you think it’s something that the archival field could really use in a lot of archives? To change the way people access records?
Laura
I do, I used two specific case studies and kind of melded them together. I looked at The Stanley Milgram Papers, the (?) of that [oh, interesting].  How they redacted the records there to make them more accessible and the process that they went through to do that as one patron would request a record, they would pay for that to be redacted and then from that point on, any patron could access that record that had been redacted.  So that was kind of where the redacted bit of the research records came from for me.  And then, the Eugenics archive, I looked at that as a way of using user agreement forms before anybody can access the photographs and records on Eugenics website.  They first have to click a user-agreement, say that they will, basically that they will respect the records and understand what their uses are for.  So combining those two things I think that it’s a really good way for an institution to be able to cover their responsibility to their state laws and their state statues as well as the records themselves and still make them accessible whether they have the funds to be able to redact a large chunk of records at one time or to do it patron by patron way. [laughs].
Dana
Doing the thing where a patron would come in and pay for it and then they would redact it.
Laura
Right, right, then it would be available online anytime after that.  So I do think it’s a very feasible thing it’s just do you have the resources in time, staff, and money to be able to do that?  That’s not always a reality.  With certainly following those steps it could be a way to put some of those really, really rich documents online.  I mean, some of the records that I was looking at, they give, you know, what kind of physical and mental condition the girls came into the institution, why they were there, what their family life was like, these are really invaluable book from 19th (?) century Wisconsin that you’re not going to get anywhere else.  It would be really interesting to a lot of people so I think that it’s definitely at least worth a try.
Dana
And researchers could use that information in so many different ways.  Like if you are looking at women, if you’re looking at juveniles, or if you are looking at mental illness. [yea].  You know, so many different, it’s definitely a rich resource.
Laura
Yea, absolutely, you k now, even genealogists, it would take a little more, you would probably have to at least make your first visit into the historical society to see the original record to see the name but you can then access it remotely, which is a very valuable thing if you are a researcher.
Dana
Oh I see, so the name is not redacted, not blacked out on the original record or anything [correct], it’s just an online privacy issue.
Laura
Yes, that’s correct. So, when I physically went and looked at the records I had to sign a form and meet with the reference archivists so I understood what I could use the records and what I couldn’t and obviously names, birth dates, that sort of thing, [oh] are things that need to be redacted to protect the privacy of that inmate.  Some of them could still be alive certainly they have family that are still alive.
Prairie
You said, if the user agreement, if it was and online accessible collection, the user agreement would just be kind of similar to you going in and talking to reference librarian in person and signing something there that you understand the privacy issues and you would just be basically doing that online for the user agreement?
Laura
Yea, that’s correct.  It’s kind of an extra safe guard because any of our records online will already be redacted so any identifying information will already be gone, this is just an extra way for an institution to really you know, cover their tracks, make sure their being responsible.  But, also, it’s an opportunity to give contact records too.  It’s an opportunity to say “this is a brief history of the institution, this is how the records were created, what they were used for”.  So, this is you need that text to understand the record.
Dana
we read that article about the Eugenics website and part of it being up was that it was, there was a lot of tension there. Putting it up, does this mean people can use this, does this mean that we’re endorsing Eugenics in some way that we’re trying to get this out. But, if you  have a user agreement you can say no, this is, here’s the context of it, and-
Laura
and if the records redacted it may be a bit redundant to also have that user agreement form but I think that, I think it’s necessary this day in age to really-
Dana
I think it is too. I think it in fores (??) a certain respect towards the records. On the Eugenics website, on a website where you would digitize these photos, from the admission records would the website have the capability, you know where you couldn’t save as and save any old picture to your desktop.  Or pinterest, could you just, does the website itself have a certain protection to keep it within the context of the institution?
Laura
Well, these particular records there’s no photos so I’m not sure, that would be really good and for this, you could of course do scans of the actually document or you could do a transcript.  A scan I think would be ideal, although difficult to redact the information.  But you lose a little something in a transcript, but yes that’s an excellent point that certainly you would want to disable any ability to misuse the records
Dana
or if anybody wanted to share it, sharing it would go straight back to the collection.  It wouldn’t be taken out of context. I’m also thinking of, there’s a website called Listsofnote, and it just has really interesting lists from people in history that, like there was one of Madonna’s list of 1980s. But, they usually do a formal credit there, they say these are from the Thomas Edison’s paper, or something like that.  It’s something that could be as personal as admission records.
Laura
It’s interesting to me because so many of these girls didn’t really do too much, especially by today’s standards.  Didn’t really do things that we would consider wrong [right], so you know, definitely you’d want to share that context that it can’t be misused, that things that are in the records aren’t going to be misused to harm families of these girls.
Prairie
Especially if there are people that are still alive today or there [right] relatives are still alive today
Dana
What about in your paper, are there people still alive today?
Prairie
It’s interesting, um, no.  [laughs].  But, the descendants, one of the books I read actually, was written by the great-great-grandson of Lewis Dondeno (?), who was one of the three people that ended up being convicted of rioting.  The three men that were lynched, turns out one of them were being held as a witness and the two others were found to be innocent after the fact.  And, three people ended up being convicted.  Three white men were convicted of rioting.  No one was really held accountable for the actual murders and [oh].  So the whole town, the whole community, it was a mob, so it was one of those mob mentality, everyone was kind of absolved of guilt because everyone was kind of guilty and everyone was kind of not guilty, you know, in their eyes [yea, yea].  So there were three people that actually, like their names were released and they were held accountable [but only for rioting] yea-
Dana
Do you know why they were chosen?
Prairie
I think, I’m not sure, I think it was, it may have been in a picture or implicated by other people, no one wanted to talk because they knew that they might be implicating themselves as well.  I think that was a huge reason why it was forgotten, because kind of everyone in the city of Duluth was involved in some way.  Whether they were there or it was their uncle or grandpa or whatever was involved.  I mean everyone was kind of, at least, complicit in the event so, it just kind of was forgotten.  It wasn’t in the history books, no one talk about it, no one passed it on to their generations.  That’s not something you tell in the context of a story to your kid. [laughs].  And, this Warren Reed, it’s kind of a personal memoir I guess.  He’s the great grandson of one of the three.  He kind of goes into the story of how he found out about it, his family, and he knew nothing about it.  He talks about the effect that it had on his ancestors, like him kind of going through, retrospectively.  Now, realizing that that’s why they were a certain way or that’s why certain things, like the hint on things a certain way.  But he didn’t know at the time that all this had happened.  It kind of made him understand his family more.  He took it upon himself to apologize for his grandfather and the rest of the community and what they did, to the families of the three black men.  And, basically, there were three young men from, well, one was from Missouri, the one that I know the most about, he ended up, this is the coolest part of the story, I think anyway.  He was doing research at the historical society, Warren Reed was, and he was looking for the families of these men.  He was trying to put a human, like humanize them.  Because they were just victims, they were represented as kind of animals and not humans in the fact that they had lives outside of just being lynched by a mob.  You know? [yea].  And he went kind of on this search for anything he could find about them. And he went to the historical society and he found the coroner’s report from, from one of the three men. I think Elmer Jackson, I want to say, and, I actually brought it because I think it’s cool, well it’s not cool [oh wow] but it shows how a little bit of detail. Like some of the stuff we talked about in class was like looking for the voices of the silence, the voices of the oppressed by the oppressor [yea].   And like searching for their voices in their record.  And in this record he found that the, the three other coroner’s reports, or the two other coroner’s reports from the other men that were lynched were basically the same as this except for his.  His father came back in search of him. [oh and crossed out-].  Crossed out his, wrote his name and his wife’s name.  And then crossed out the place of his wife’s birth as Kansas.  Or wrote in Kansas.  It was like this tiny little clue that this man had followed and ended up finding Elmer Jackson’s relatives. [oh wow].  And he reunited with them and he apologized.  And he, you know just kind of talked to them and let them know who he was and let them know that it was like his great great grandfather.
Dana
So before that, they all said unknown, right?
Prairie
And that’s what it said in the other coroner’s reports, from the other-
Dana
So it was only the father coming back and, he almost was like asserting a sense of self and saying, no my son was more than just unknown.
Prairie
He’s more than just this paper and more than just this record.  He came up to Duluth and identified his son’s body and he was going to, he started a case against the city.  And he ended up having to drop it because it just wasn’t going to happen.  But, that was like his mark that he left.  He was kind of bringing a sense of his son, the human part of his son.[wow]  And the Warren Reed book, which is a really good book if you want to read it, or if anyone wants to read it, but it talks about the different clues that he follows.  And it’s like this really amazing kind of trail that it seems like someone lefts.  Just the little tiny voices, the silences he found in different records that led him to this reconciliation.
Laura
I think that is what makes being an archivist so rewarding and so interesting, a lot of times you spend your day doing very mundane things but finding one little thing like that you could almost feel like you could reach out and touch that person because somebody made one small mark and I think that’s what’s really special about this profession.
Dana
And if had had never done that the book wouldn’t have been written.
Prairie
He would have never found the family and now they’re, I wouldn’t say that they are healed by any means, but you know there is a sense of apologizing and admitting a sense of guilt and a little bit of justice.
Dana
And he put so much effort into it. [mhmm].  Like it was a very sincere, I want to find the family, and I want some sort of reconciliation. So thank you two, I think we should give a cheer because that is the first podcast.

All:  [clings glasses]  First podcast, woo!

Dana: Thank you all for joining us and we will see you in the archives. Next time.