Copyright and Community-Driven Archives

When it comes to protecting intellectual property that is part of your or your community’s history, it helps to understand what legal rights apply to your materials. 

Community-based archives are a pathway for groups of people to exercise self-determination over the collection and interpretation of their histories. Historically marginalized communities draw on community-archival methods to preserve and share stories that are often missing from institutional archives and dominant historical narratives.

It is especially important to many of our partner history keepers through our Community-Driven Archives initiative to know what rights they and their community collaborators have over their stories and historical records. This requires an understanding of copyright and how it works.

What is copyright?

According to Anne Gilliland, Scholarly Communications Officer with UNC Libraries, copyright is your legal right to determine the permitted uses of your tangible expressions of creative work. What does that mean and what kinds of things amount to “tangible expressions of creative work”?

This is not an exhaustive list, but it does give you a sense of what kinds of things are legally under copyright:

    • Musical compositions
    • Films
    • Artwork/media
    • Oral histories
    • Photographs

One big takeaway is that copyright does not cover non-recorded stories and ideas.

Many of our collaborators are rightfully concerned about their control over future uses of their shared stories and materials. Many have heard about or know of an example of someone’s story making its way to Hollywood or on the radio or even featured on a city-sponsored project without the knowledge of that person or their descendants.

While acknowledging on one hand the gaps, omissions, and injustices of U.S. laws, our goal as a Community-Driven Archives Team is to help history keepers get familiar with a few best practices for making use of the legal protections that are available. We also want to help groups and institutions who work with oral histories and other people’s historical materials take the proper steps before making use of someone’s story or creative work.

Copyright Best Practices

Best Practice #1: Assume that every creative work is under copyright until you know that it is not.

the Old Well at UNC-Chapel Hill surrounded by Spring flowers
An example of an image in the public domain featuring UNC-Chapel Hill. Credit: Jack a lanier, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Most creative works are automatically under copyright unless the copyright holder (the creator or their designated heirs) explicitly gives away their copyright or the record goes into the public domain, which usually takes about a century.

Just because you found it online does not mean that you are free to share it. Most online materials are under copyright.

Look for ways to seek permission to share or reuse the item in question. Sometimes, a simple web search will clue you in on permission requirements; other times, you may need to take the time to track down heirs and make phone calls to descendants for consent. If you are working with an institutional archive, staff members can help you track down creators for permission. If you cannot find someone to provide consent, then you can investigate fair use, which is a framework to help you assess whether you can fairly justify the use of copyrighted materials without the permission of the creator or someone authorized to provide consent.

The item may also be free to use because it is in the public domain. This applies to many items, including those created by the federal government and those that date back to the early 20th century or earlier. To learn what groups of historical and cultural materials have passed into the public domain, you can check out this chart updated each year by Cornell University.

A black and white image of four white male-presenting people in front of the Old Well at UNC
This 19th-century photograph of the Old Well at UNC-Chapel Hill is another example of an image in the public domain, this time because it is over a century old. From the North Carolina Collection at the Wilson Special Collections Library at UNC-Chapel Hill

Best Practice #2: For oral histories, interviewers should always ask their interviewees for their consent and their terms of reuse.

According to our lawyer-in-residence, Anne Gilliland, oral histories are considered a joint creation between the interviewer and the interviewee.

For interviewers:

Bernetiae leans over a group of seated African American women to assist them during a training
CDA Team member Bernetiae Reed leads an oral history training in San Antonio, TX, November 2017. Courtesy UNC CDAT

If you are a community archivist wanting to preserve and/or share oral histories you have collected, you should create a consent form where your interviewee gives you permission to record their story. This form should outline the allowed uses for the recorded interview. Consent forms also ask about additional restrictions, if any, that interviewees require for the sharing of their interview. If it applies, interviewees should also be informed about the institutional repository (i.e. archive, library, museum, etc.) to which their materials will be donated.

A license is a way of communicating the terms for allowed uses of creative works (such uses include: display, distribution, performance, reproduction, derivative works, and audio transmission). For example, a license can state that someone’s interview should be used only for educational and/or nonprofit purposes, or only if the original format is not altered (i.e. no derivative works can be adapted from the interview). Creative Commons licenses are popular and give creators standardized language for their terms of reuse.

For interviewees:

Unless the form you sign says so explicitly, signing a consent form does not mean that you are giving away your copyright. Creators maintain their copyright for at least the duration of their lifetime, unless they formally agree to end their copyright. If you are being interviewed, it is important that you feel comfortable with the terms of the interview. Take the time to read through the consent form to make sure you agree with the license laid out there. Read the section above for more information about creating a license.

Best Practice #3: Be upfront about your mission and goals with your audience and your collaborators.

Why are you making your works or materials available to members of the public? Make it clear to potential audiences. For example, if you want to share your creative works with public audiences for educational purposes, that tells you something about your mission. Perhaps your mission is to inspire people in Chapel Hill, NC to take action for environmental justice through sharing nature photographs from the 1970s and 80s with web users. Write up that mission and share it on your website. If you are concerned that people might use your photographs for purposes outside the scope of your mission, make sure your license for reuse is somewhere prominent and easy to find on your site.

If you are asking someone to sign a consent form that would allow you to share their digitized image, oral history, or creative work with public audiences, be upfront with them about the mission and goals of your project. This helps build trust. If your collaborator likes your project and appreciates your intended use of their materials, they will be less likely to require additional restrictions be placed on the material, which will make it easier for you and others to use and share it over time. Again, it is important to make sure you and your collaborator agree on the terms of use for their materials, and that the related license is easily accessible with the terms of use clearly presented to public audiences.

Best Practice #4: For sensitive materials, consider alternative ways of sharing them with selected audiences.

If you are concerned with how members of the public will share or use your materials, think about limiting your terms of use.

For digitized items (physical papers or photographs that are scanned and made into a digital file), consider creating a private space online to share them only with select members of your community. Or share them widely but upload a version of the file that is stamped with a watermark to prevent unintended uses. Signing a consent form to share your digitized materials with any history keeper or institutional partner does not mean you are giving away your copyright.

If you are sending items to a repository (e.g. institutional archive, library, museum, etc.), make sure you are also clear with that institution on your terms of use. Review all forms they ask you to sign to ensure that you retain your copyright and ask that your preferred license be included (a.k.a. your terms of use). Let the institution know if you intend for your materials to be a loan or a permanent gift. If it is a loan, indicate when and under which conditions materials should be returned to their owner.

If you are worried about any unintended uses of digitized materials shared with a repository, consider asking your institutional partner to keep your materials off the internet or to share them selectively, as outlined above.

Additional Resources

For more about community-based archives and considerations for project partnership on the Southern Sources blog:

What’s In an Archive? Deciding Where Your Historical Materials Will Live

The Community-Driven Archives Project at UNC-Chapel Hill is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Follow us on Twitter: @SoHistColl_1930 #CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC

All Hands on Deck at Hobson City’s Museum: Interview with Pauline Cunningham

In August 1899, the determined leaders of Mooree Quarters, the Black neighborhood of Oxford, Alabama, formed a separate town: Hobson City. It would be the first incorporated Black municipality in Alabama and the second in the nation.

Black and white images of road signs, with one priminent sign reading: Welcome to the Historic Hobson City
Still image from Hobson City: From Peril to Promise by Hiztorical Vision Productions, www.hiztoricalvp.org, Courtesy Theo Moore

Over the next several decades, Hobson City developed into a magnet for Black excellence and entertainment in the South. Today, Mayor Alberta McCrory wants to share the remarkable history of Hobson City and other historic Black towns in Alabama at the Hobson City Museum.

Group of femme-presenting Black people wearing white gloves around a table covered with historical objects, which they are wrapping in white paper
Left, front to back: Pauline Cunningham; Michelle Robinson (Spelman College). Right, front to back: Bobbie Jean Wright; Dories Jennings; Mayor Alberta McCrory. Packing museum collections at Hobson City Museum at Town Hall. Courtesy UNC CDAT

Through a partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries’ Community Driven Archives (CDA) project, Hobson City Museum hosted a workshop in March 2020 that focused on caring for museum collections. Three UNC Libraries staff members provided training to residents of Hobson City and nearby Anniston on how to clean, handle, store, and inventory plaques, textiles, trophies, and photographs that document the contributions of local leaders such as James “Pappy” Dunn. Town Hall Clerk Pauline Cunningham was the Hobson City coordinator for the workshop and also participates in another CDA archival training program called Archival Seedlings.  I met with Pauline over Zoom to reflect on our collaboration in March and the future of the Hobson City Museum.

Room filled with museum cases and an array of plaques, trophies and other historical items
Trophies, plaques, and other museum items at the Hobson City Museum at Town Hall. Courtesy UNC CDAT

Conversation with Hobson City, Alabama Collaborator Pauline Cunningham

Q: What is the purpose of Hobson City Museum?

Pauline Cunningham: To be educational and show the history of Hobson City and who was all involved in making a change in Hobson City.  We started with [James] “Pappy” Dunn because he invested so much time, money, and energy in making a change for Hobson City.

Q: Who do you see as the visitors, and what kind of information do you hope they get out of it?

PC: We want people from all over—all over the United states, all over the world—to be able to come, see, learn, and understand the struggle that Hobson City has had in the past; and maybe in due time we’ll also show the struggle that’s happening right now.  Not because of COVID-19, just because of the economy.

Q: What was the museum’s goal for the workshop in March, and was it met?

Group of femme-presenting Black people around a table with computers and putting photographs and papers into folders.
Left: Dories Jennings. Right, front to back: Gina Young; Pauline Cunningham. Describing museum collections. Hobson City Museum at Town Hall. Courtesy UNC CDAT

PC: Not knowing anything, I feel like we learned so much. We learned how to archive, how to clean with the right agents.  We learned how to do so many things. How to preserve. It was so educational. I think my downfall is going to be, the people [who] were there this year to learn, [they] might not be there when [COVID-19] is over. I plan to try to write everything down and to make what we call a SOP [Standard Operating Procedures] for the military—how to do each step. I would love to add a DVD to it with all the videos that we had when learning from the different presenters [our series of how-to webinars through the Archival Seedlings program].

Q: The workshop happened as COVID-19 cases started to spread nationally. How did COVID-19 affect the museum in March?  How has it continued to affect the museum?

PC: It really went to a standstill. I’m older. I’m in that population that you don’t need to be out there unless you have to be, so it really went to a standstill; that’s the bad thing. The good news, I guess, will be once I start doing the SOP [manual], maybe somebody else can pick it up and keep doing some things; but right now, we’re at a standstill because of COVID-19.

Q: What do you think is the number one challenge going forward with skills gained through the workshop?

Two femme-presenting Black people, one seated cleaning a trophy, the other person, standing, looking on.
Sitting: Pauline Cunningham. Standing: Bobbie Jean Wright. Cleaning museum collections. Hobson City Museum at Town Hall. Courtesy UNC CDAT

PC: The memory that I won’t have if I don’t write it down. And the challenge is going to be getting the right people to continue to help with the museum, even though it doesn’t seem like a large project to some people. But it’s getting that volunteerism to come out and help—to work for the City, to get the City up and running—and I believe those that decide to do it, they’ll do it from the heart. So that’s going to be my challenge: to find the right people to make it continue to go.

Q: Should those people be in the community or people outside?

PC: Both really. Reality: when you guys were down in March, everybody there except for two people were from outside [Hobson City]…including myself [Pauline is a resident of nearby Anniston, AL.].

Q: What is the number one challenge of the museum?

PC: Space…availability for the museum. The challenge is going to be to utilize the space the best way to display or to show what we want to. Part of it [is] going to be the videos of people talking about the history, and some of the pictures, and some of the stuff we’ll just scan to make the rotating [slideshow] and voice behind it—where it came from, who donated it, and why it’s important—that sort of thing. That’s the challenge—putting [in] the right mix for such a small space.

Q: What was your favorite part of the workshop?

A peek inside a box filled with items wrapped in paper
Plaques in the museum collection labeled and stored. Hobson City Museum in Town Hall. Courtesy UNC CDAT

PC: I have two: One was archiving and learning how to do it right, so you can go back and find it on your archive list and where you stored it. And two was the cleaning of the artifacts. That to me was very critical because I would have messed it up! Because I would have used some regular cleaning detergent type stuff. So that—those two—how to store and clean and archive, that was tremendous. I loved it. I loved it.

Q: What question do you wish I asked you? Is there more you’d like to say?

PC: Just that I want to make sure I’m able to put the SOP [manual] together on how to do each thing. If I die tomorrow, somebody else can pick up the ball and run with it and know how to do it right. If I can pull all that together, I would love it. It’s a win-win for the City and for the education provided to us.

Want to learn more about Hobson City?  Visit the town website and watch the documentary Hobson City: From Peril to Progress, 27 min, by Hiztorical Vision Productions.

Read more about our work in collaboration with Hobson City, AL and other members of the Historically Black Towns and Settlements Allliance (HBTSA) on the Southern Sources blog:

Next Stop: The Great State of Alabama

The Community-Driven Archives Project at UNC-Chapel Hill is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Follow us on Twitter @SoHistColl_1930 #CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC

Storytelling through Community-Driven Archives

Our unique approach to archival workflows is one thing that sets community-driven archives approaches apart from mainstream archival methods. Traditionally, archivists stick to access and preservation and leave interpretation and storytelling to the researchers. But what happens when we listen to what our audiences want? We find ways to help them tell meaningful stories about their communities’ history.

Our Core Audiences and Understanding What Matters to Them

Within our community-driven archives (CDA) project, audience means a lot to us. This has been true since the beginning of our grant project, and it is getting clearer as we head towards wrapping it up and sharing what we have learned.

Our project strives to support and amplify historical projects by and for communities underrepresented in institutional archives. Our priority audience is community-based archive projects: groups of people who are interested in creating an archival project documenting their own community. We also work with individual history keepers: people, like family genealogists and community organizers, wanting to document and share histories currently missing from dominant archives and narratives due to legacies of injustice.

While brainstorming for what will go on our new project website (coming soon), our team looked at all the tools and resources that we have created with our project partners since the start of the grant. We asked ourselves, what kinds of resources are most useful to our core audiences?

Title page of Storytelling webinar with UNC logo
Learn about documentary storytelling in this CDA webinar with Theo Moore of Hiztorical Vision Productions.

We noticed that one of the most common resource requests that we receive from our community collaborators is for more tools about storytelling. In response, we have created new resources on topics like “the art of storytelling” and “how to create an exhibition.”

But what do we mean by storytelling and why should archives professionals care?

Making a Case for Storytelling in Community Archives Projects

Archives have historically prioritized the access and preservation of historical records over the interpretation of history, leaving the latter to researchers. For community archives projects, we believe it must be different.

Community archives projects address gaps in the dominant historical record and complicate mainstream historical narratives. Communities want their stories told on their own terms. Through building an archive, the collecting of history supports the (re)telling of it.

In many cases, the stories uncovered through community-based collections are not otherwise known. Due to legacies of racism, settler colonialism, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression, histories by and for Black, Indigenous, people of color, women, and LGBTIQ people have been hidden or silenced. As a result, beyond building their collection, many history keepers also want to broadcast the stories they’ve researched and curated through their archive. Many history keepers want to control how their community’s stories get told, rightfully questioning outside researchers’ and institutions’ motivations.

a museum exhibit with a backdrop of a church featuring men's and women's clothing on two mannequins near a table of historical artifacts
One section of the EKAAMP, one of our pilot partners, exhibition on the Eastern KY Social Club, 2018.

Our collaborators and partners share their communities’ stories through a variety of methods: exhibitions, public programs, websites, social media and blog posts, documentaries, short videos, and more.
We believe that archival professionals like ourselves working with community archives projects must consider the importance of storytelling. Through community collaboration, we have the opportunity to support both the safeguarding and sharing of stories.

Ideas for Archival Institutions

Since the beginning of our community-driven archives project, our work has extended to train and resource history keepers to share stories they uncover through developing a collection.

Oral histories easily lend themselves to exhibitions and other vehicles for sharing stories with visitors. Members of our team have trained local history keepers to conduct oral histories as a path to preserving memories. From there, we have worked with our community partners to incorporate oral history clips and collections materials into physical and digital exhibitions and short documentary videos that narrate important stories. One of our pilot partners, the Appalachian Student Health Coalition, created a web-based storytelling project that draws on video interviews and data visualizations to share its members’ contributions to rural healthcare in Appalachia.

Through our Archival Seedlings program, we help our ten resident Seedlings develop an archival collection and share their historical project with chosen audiences. For some Seedlings, the websites, videos, blog posts, and exhibits they create to highlight their collection are the only places their audiences can find those histories. While some Seedlings are working with traditional institutions and repositories to preserve and share their finished projects, others are choosing to keep their collections with history keepers in their own communities and to take on project promotion and outreach themselves.

A Black person seated in from of a sign in the background reading "Swift Memorial Jr. College Reunion"
Stella Gudger, Founder of the Swift Museum in Rogerville, TN, from Archival Seedling William Isom II’s interview with her.

One Seedlings participant, William Isom II, is compiling a collection of video interviews with alumni from the historically Black Swift Memorial Institute in Rogersville, TN into a video that will be on view in the museum located on Swift’s historic campus. In addition, one of our pilot partners, the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project (EKAAMP) has recently launched an exhibition sharing the oral histories and archival materials it collected through community-based research. These are great examples of how a collection can be “put to work” to share stories.

Storytelling Resources

Storytelling resources are available along with other related tools and trainings on our website.

For more about community-based archives on the Southern Sources blog:

What’s in an Archive? Deciding Where Your Historical Materials Will Live

The Community-Driven Archives Project at UNC-Chapel Hill is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Follow us on Twitter @SoHistColl_1930 #CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC

What’s in an Archive? Deciding Where Your Historical Materials Will Live

Many home archivists and community-based researchers face a tough set of questions when deciding where their personal or organizational collections will live longer term. Not everyone is able to or wants to be responsible for the long-term care of archival materials, but many still wonder, “Who can I trust to be the steward of my important historical records?”

The answer is different for everyone, depending on what you are looking for in an archival steward. Stories from our Archival Seedlings program may offer insights and inform the questions you might want to ask to help guide your decision.

Since January, our Community-Driven Archives Team (CDAT) has been working with a group of ten researchers and budding archivists connected to our four community partners. We are supporting each researcher to learn new skills in working with historical resources. The skills they learn range from conducting oral histories to creating digital archives, and each researcher is developing a project of their choosing. Together, these researchers and their projects are the focus of a new initiative, the Archival Seedlings program. Participants in the program are known as “Seedlings.”

One Seedling, D.L., based in San Antonio, TX, is starting an archival collection on the life of Prudence Curry, the first director of the George Washington Carver Branch Library in San Antonio, the city’s Black library during Jim Crow. D.L. currently serves as the manager of Carver Library. Though Curry was a pathbreaking African American leader, very little has been formally documented about her life. Most of the stories about Prudence Curry live on in the memories of people in her community.

D.L. wants to make sure that Curry’s legacy will live on beyond individual memories through building an archival collection to benefit her wider community. He wants this collection to strengthen the preservation of Black history in San Antonio.

Library room with book shelves and tables and chairs with seated patrons and staff at the front
Inside the George Washington Carver Branch Library, ca. 1930.

Luckily, D.L. is a member and researcher with the San Antonio African American Archive and Museum (SAAACAM), an independent community archive that has spent the past few years building up a staff and volunteer base in order to collect, preserve, and interpret San Antonio’s African American history. D.L. plans to send the beginnings of the Prudence Curry collection to SAAACAM, which he feels will be its perfect home.

Group of SAAACAM leaders with SHC staff members on their visit to San Antonio, TX.

But what if you don’t live somewhere with an independent community archive that is the perfect fit for your project?

Maybe you have decided that you want to preserve treasured historical materials for future generations, but also want to keep those collections in your community. How should you decide whom to reach out to?

This is a question that some Seedlings program participants have asked themselves. It is also an important question in community-driven archives work; a central tenet of our approach lies in acknowledging that, for history keepers, sending collections to an academic archive, museum, or institution like UNC is only one option among many.

Another Seedling, Sylvia, based in Greensboro, NC, is creating an archival collection centered on local African American history during the Civil Rights era sit-in movement of the 1960’s. Specifically, she is conducting oral history interviews with a group of her former classmates and teachers at Dudley High School and North Carolina A&T State University who hold these stories in their memories.

Rather than donate her oral history collection to an institution that has been historically disconnected from her community, Sylvia has decided to pursue a partnership with a local Black-led community organization. She has decided that her collection will best live on under the care of an organization that has long been working directly for the betterment of her community.

When making a decision about where to preserve your cherished historic materials, considering asking yourself:

  • What are my long-term preservation goals?
  • How do they fit with the long-term interest and capacity of this potential partner?
  • How long will this potential partner be able to retain the materials?
  • How does this potential partner’s goals, values, and attitudes fit with my own and/or those of my community?
  • How will community members be able to access collections materials in the future through this potential partner?

Then, consider how the answers to these questions affect your decision about where and with whom to partner. Remember, it is your and your community’s choice to decide on the best steward for your historical records.

Check out the short videos on the Resources page of our website to learn more about working with institutional and community-based archives to meet your needs.

For more about community-based archives on the Southern Sources blog:

Partnering with The San Antonio African American Community Archives and Museum (SAAACAM)

The Community-Driven Archives Project at UNC-Chapel Hill is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Follow us on Twitter @SoHistColl_1930 #CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC

Transforming Knowledge, Transforming Libraries Reportback

On May 1, the University of California-Irvine Libraries hosted a unique conference on Community-Driven Archives (via Vimeo): Transforming Knowledge, Transforming Libraries. This virtual summit featured a group of professional leaders in the field. Most of them, like us with the SHC’s Community-Driven Archives Team (CDAT), work with community groups as institutional collaborators within an academic archive.

What were some of our highlights?

Transforming Knowledge

Archivist Nancy Godoy presented on Arizona State University’s Community-Driven Archives Mellon Grant project (2017-20), which scaled up an initiative that she had led since 2012. The ASU Library’s project has focused primarily on collaborations with Latinx, LGBTQ, and BIPOC communities to support historically underrepresented groups of people in deepening their sense of ownership over their collective histories. It collaborates with participants to help them learn how to preserve and share their stories and archives with their community.

For the SHC’s Community-Driven Archives Team, one of the core tenets of our community-driven archives model is an ethos of community control. This requires us as archives professionals and institutional collaborators to release any need for control over how our community partners choose to organize and interpret their own histories. It means thinking about what our community partners need before considering institutional pressures and community outsiders’ research interests.

Under Godoy’s leadership, ASU’s Community-Driven Archives (CDA) initiative does this. For example, the CDA project has chosen to move all community-focused events off-campus, because, otherwise, “it wasn’t welcoming for the community.” Instead, Godoy and her colleagues host these bilingual Spanish-English events at local community centers, POC-owned bookstores, and public libraries. Participants in ASU’s community archives and preservation workshops come to work on their own collections or those of fellow community members, utilizing archival tools resourced through grant funds with ASU staff support.

A Powerpoint slide featuring photos of Black and Latinx community members reviewing archival materials
Nancy Godoy presenting on ASU’s Community-Driven Archives Project.

In Godoy’s words, her goal for this work is to create intergenerational spaces of healing for individuals, “driven by justice and a deep love for their themselves and their communities, to learn and transform archival knowledge as they dismantle the power structures that have dehumanized them.”

Transforming Libraries

Shift Design Director of Equity Initiatives, Bergis Jules, presented on the Architecting Sustainable Futures gathering that he helped to organize and host in New Orleans in 2018. This gathering convened a cross-section of people working with community archives: leaders of community-based archives, archives professionals, and current and potential funders. Together, they brainstormed ideas for sustainable funding models to support communities in collecting, preserving, and sharing their own histories with support from outside institutions.

Jules presented from the report on the gathering, focusing on the report’s recommendations for university library partners of community-based archives, including us with the CDAT at UNC.

Bergis Jules presenting on the Architecting Sustainable Futures report (pictured).

The recommendations are straightforward and give those of us working in university library archives much to consider:

  • Don’t be extractive, which asks universities to acknowledge the power and privilege they hold while in collaboration with community-based archives and to ensure that community partners benefit first and foremost from collaboration.
  • Practice equity, which requires that archives professionals honor the wisdom of community archivists and treat them as they would their peers in the field, with regard to working relationships and fair compensation.
  • Be transparent, which means providing clear information about goals, resources, timeline, and deliverables during joint project planning as well as grant applications and grant management.
  • Honor the wisdom of the community, which asks institutional partners to recognize that community history keepers may have their own ways of preserving their histories that have been working for them, and that we have much to learn through any partnership.

Similarly, Michelle Caswell, Assistant Professor of Archival Studies and Director of the Community Archives Lab at UCLA, spoke on her approach to teaching community archives as part of an MLIS program. Caswell shared an overview of her current course on community archives, which uses a justice-based archival framework that draws participants in as co-creators of “politically generative,” transformative spaces.

Caswell underscored the task facing those of us working within academic institutions in support of community archives: We have a responsibility to pass on traditional archival methods so that our students can learn existing practices and get a job, while simultaneously calling those practices into question and demanding innovation. Caswell calls this “Critical Archival Pedagogy.”

Powerpoint slide featuring a cyclical model for the three stages of Critical Archival Pedagogy: "Critique oppressive practices, Imagine liberatory practices, and Enact practices"
Michelle Caswell presenting on her model for Critical Archival Pedagogy.

We with the CDAT are incorporating these reflections into our ongoing work to strengthen relationships with our community partners, the diversity of users of SHC collections, and MLIS students hungry to learn more about justice-based approaches to archives. We also hope that our fellow libraries and archives professionals will join us in making the time to learn more about these lessons and taking them to heart.

The Community-Driven Archives Project at UNC-Chapel Hill is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Follow us on Twitter @SoHistColl_1930

#CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC

Why are Oral Histories Important for Community-Driven Archives?

According to the former Oral Historian and Project Documentarian for the Community-Driven Archives Team (CDAT), Bernetiae Reed,

“There is so much that you can’t capture with a book, but [rather] with an oral history.”

From the beginning, the Community-Driven Archives Team has prioritized oral history training and the collection of oral histories as a key part of our work. Why?

For one, we know that preserving written and print records alone limits whose histories get told and shared. Passing down written family records from generation to generation is often based on access to time and resources: the ability to create the record and the space and living conditions necessary to preserve it. Second, reliance on the written word is based on a dominant cultural value (read: white, Western), rather than one shared by all families, communities, and peoples.

In addition, for historians, archivists, researchers, historic interpreters, artists, and curators, oral histories literally have a voice of their own, which can helpfully guide our storytelling. When someone shares their story through an oral tradition, we hear their interpretation of their life in their own voice and words. Public Historian Michael Frisch talks about the collection of oral history interviews in terms of “shared authority,” the idea that archivists and historians collect stories in negotiation with those willing to share them. As oral history interviewers, we learn what community members want to share with us.

Alabama-based documentary filmmaker Theo Moore reminds us that the most important part of telling a story is first listening carefully to what others who lived it are saying. Oral histories can be a guidepost for storytelling, anchoring us in community voices rather than our own narrative. For many researchers and documentarians, collecting oral history interviews is a starting point for new research, given the gaps and silences in many archives when it comes to the histories of marginalized communities.

According to Bernetiae, oral histories help lend “an accurate voice” to a story. During her time as on staff at the Wilson Special Collections Library, Bernetiae edited oral histories for use in a number of exhibits, as well as for websites and digital storytelling. In March, the CDAT said a fond farewell (for now) to our friend and colleague, who left our grant team to continue to pursue her passions as an oral historian and documentarian of the US South.

Bernetiae Reed

During her time with the CDAT and the Southern Historical Collection (SHC), Bernetiae collected dozens of oral histories with our project partners in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Florida. She remembers a road trip with women leaders of the Appalachian Student Health Coalition (ASHC), a group of Vanderbilt University medical and nursing students and rural community leaders who self-organized in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s to deliver needed medical care to Appalachia. Bernetiae sat in the backseat and filmed their reminiscences of their days traveling through the mountains to provide care.

Listen to Bernetiae talk about why oral histories have been so important to our Community-Driven Archives project:

Bernetiae leans over a group of seated African American women to assist them during a training
Bernetiae Reed leading an oral history training in San Antonio, TX, November 2017

She remembers the spiral staircase in the home of famed Greensboro, NC Civil Rights movement lawyer J. Kenneth Lee during her and SHC Curator Biff Hollingsworth’s interview with him, one of the few recorded interviews that he agreed to before he passed in 2018. Lee represented the majority of 1,700 court cases with defendants who participated in civil disobedience as part of the sit-in movement.

Bernetiae herself has played key role in documenting Black history in the US South and beyond. She grew up in Greensboro, where her mother was the founder of the Mattye Reed African Heritage Collection, named in her honor, at North Carolina A&T State University. Starting out researching her own genealogy, Bernetiae went on to publish a book about some of her ancestors and their ties to the family of enslaver and former US President, Thomas Jefferson.

Listen to Bernetiae talk about how she got her start as an oral historian and genealogist:

Bernetiae has donated collections from her family archives as well as her research to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, and also here at the Southern Historical Collection at Wilson Special Collections Library.

A smiling Bernetiae Reed as part of a crowd of primarily African Americans at the opening of the museum, among a series of related photos on the front page of the Washington Post newspaper
Bernetiae Reed (photo at bottom left, pictured center left) as part of the crowd at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, September 2016

We miss you, Bernetiae!

Check out Bernetiae’s webinar recording on conducting oral histories to learn about her perspective on best practices:

For more about oral histories on the Southern Sources blog:

Oral History Resources

The Community-Drive Archives Project at UNC-Chapel Hill is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Follow us on Twitter @SoHistColl_1930
#CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC

Using Records about Slavery in the Southern Historical Collection: A Tutorial

This post follows up on the status of the project, Untangling the Roots: Surfacing the Lived Experience of Enslaved People in the Archives. Lydia Neuroth is a graduate student in the School of Information and Library Science and a 2018-2020 Carolina Academic Library Associate (CALA) for the Southern Historical Collection and Archival Technical Services.  

In the last year of my position in the Southern Historical Collection, we built an online tutorial with three major components: the Southern Historical Collection’s origin story, links to some of the more popular items and collections about slavery, and a step by step research methodology for beginners.   

In January 2019wrote about a new project in the SHC designed to investigate barriers to accessing our records about slavery. Back in early 2019, we had just begun to define our audiencenovice researchers, principally undergraduate students, but also community members seeking documents to research their family history. We spent our first year conducting an environmental scan to better understand how other institutions provided access through digital databases and research portals. This exercise was useful, but ultimately, it was our meetings with research librarians and archivists here at Wilson Library that helped us to see that we needed a different type of tool, one that built confidence in users to effectively utilize these collections for their research 

screenshot of shc intro page of tutorial
The second page of our tutorial explains how the SHC was created to preserve the legacy of white elite families of the American South. This legacy continues to impact researching people of color.
graphic representing research process
Our five-step research process follows an intuitive “high to low” formula demonstrating how the nature of research becomes more granular as one moves through the archival process.

 When we completed the tutorial in the Summer of 2019, we made plans to solicit feedback from one of the tutorial’s target audiences, undergraduate students. We built a 12-question survey using Qualtrics and during the last two weeks of October, we visited five different undergraduate classes that were listed as a part of UNC’s new learning initiative Reckoning: Race, Memory and Reimagining the Public University We thought these students would have a particular interest in our tutorial because learning about legacies of racism were embedded in their curriculum. In total, we probably spoke in front of about 175 students. As incentive, we offered $40 Amazon gift cards to a random selection of students who completed our survey and agreed to a follow up in person interview.   

Survey results in the form of colored bar graph
Our survey results revealed that students found many of the tutorial pages useful, in particular, the info page about the history of the SHC, and the pages that listed suggested collections for research.

Results from both the survey and the interview indicated a consistent level of confusion about the nature of primary sources and how UNC Libraries, Wilson Special Collections Library, and the Southern Historical Collection come together to make them accessible.  This was not surprising to us – several members of the R&IS team have shared that students struggle to make sense of primary sources. This speaks to larger issues about how our databases, collection guides, buildings, and general messaging can inhibit access in our Libraries. I hope we will continue to innovate in this area. 

From Spring 2019 to Spring 2020, we shared this project at several conferencesWe also developed a series of in-person supplementary workshops designed to introduce audiences to the tutorial and use the research proofs (research journeys utilizing sample research questions and SHC materials) to work through primary source materials as a group.  

I submitted this poster proposal for the National Council for Public History Annual Meeting held in Atlanta, Georgia in March 2020. It was accepted, however due to the global health pandemic was cancelled and many sessions were moved online.

As this project evolved from a focus on our materials to a focus on our audiences, we had to grapple with how the structures that define our profession can function as walls that keep people out. Examples include the components of a finding aid (abstract, series, etc.), and the workflows (processing, appraisal, etc.) that archivists utilize every day. The nature of records about slavery add another layer of historical erasure that is replicated in the archive, and we (along with others across the Libraries) felt the need to address this in the discussion of the Southern Historical Collection’s founding. I am proud of the way we engaged our Wilson Library peers, local genealogists, and UNC students in these critical conversations. The archives possess even more power when they are opened to broader audiences. That, for me, is the beauty of the archives: old records are interpreted with fresh eyes resulting in untold stories. I’m grateful that this project has allowed us to contribute to that tapestry. 

Collection’s Correspondence Unearths Valuable Information about Early 20th Century Apache Students

The Stephen Beauregard Weeks Papers, 1746-1941 (collection #00762) is composed of correspondence, diaries, notebooks/logs, and other volumes related primarily to the history of southern education and religion. Documents cover a wide array of subjects, such as southern Quakers and slavery, the Methodist church in North Carolina and the South, 18th century Moravians in North Carolina, and the formation of the Southern Historical Association.

The collection’s creator, Stephen B. Weeks (1865-1918), was a white North Carolina educator and historian who at the beginning of the 20th century also worked as the superintendent of the San Carlos Boarding School for Apache Indians in Arizona. Coverage of his time and role there largely consists of correspondence between 1899 and 1907. These letters illuminate valuable biographical information about Apache students and their families, as well as provide contextual insight into the nature of other Native American boarding schools at the time.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, an agency of the Department of the Interior, first initiated their paternalistic campaign for assimilation-through-education in the 1870s. Boarding schools operated both on and off reservations, but each generally shaped its policies and practices from Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School’s (1879-1918) model. This institution’s guiding slogan was “To civilize the Indian, get him into civilization. To keep him civilized, let him stay” (Native Heritage Project, 2012). Government agents and educators believed it to be in the best interest of Indigenous peoples to “advance” through Americanization, and from this understanding developed an oppressive educational system which forcibly removed them from their families—sometimes as young as five-years-old. These schools then sought to strip Indigenous students of their native identities and culture. A framework as such did not tolerate students’ remnant adherence to Indigenous language, religion, and/or other customs. Failure to comply was often severely punished in the form of physical and emotional abuse. Beatings, labor, confinement, as well as sexual abuse, malnutrition, and disease were common experiences among students.

Below are two photos courtesy of the Cumberland County Historical Society. They capture Carlisle’s mission to replace Indigenous culture and their precedential setting for successive boarding schools with parallel ideologies. Visit the Cumberland Historical Society’s digital collection of more than 3,000 related images for larger views.

Of particular note regarding the series of letters uncovered from the Southern Historical Society’s collection is evidence of an imposed coding system used to identify students. These tag bands, as they were called, were placeholders in the forced transition from Apache to English names. They appear throughout Stephen B. Weeks’ correspondence in various combinations of letters and numbers, such as TE 18, SB 55, and CJ 18 (see Box 17). Government agents instigated this tag band system first by dividing the Apache population into bands—each allocated with a corresponding letter—and from there assigned individuals (married men first) an identifying number.

Seen in this 1903 letter from an agent of the U.S. Indian Service to Stephen B. Weeks is introduction of a new Apache student and her family. Her grandfather is referred to by tag band CJ 28 and her father by English name David Norton. The agent suggests the student be assigned the name of Tina Norton, illuminating the name replacement practices common among such boarding schools.
Another instance of referral to Apache students by their tag band, in this case TA 36.

It’s important to note that this arbitrary system not only undermined Indigenous practices, autonomy, and decision-making, but also inflicted profound emotional harm on students and other Apaches subjected to it.

Keith H. Basso (1940-2013), a notable linguistic anthropologist, focused his research on the Apache people and has many publications which discuss these findings. In his collection of essays Western Apache Language and Culture (1992), Basso frames language as “everywhere a symbolic form without parallel or peer” and posits that “the activity of speaking—of enacting and implementing language—is surely among the most-meaning filled of all” (p. xii). Language is core to one’s identity, both individually and collectively as a people. To remove and replace it with something foreign is to severely deconstruct the person.

Photo courtesy of Goodreads.

Basso goes on to explain that central to Apache language in particular is its significance of placenames—a value transferrable to the significance of more generalized proper nouns. Apaches intimately relate to their environmental landscape, geographic locations often holding noteworthy power in the exchange of stories and resulting sociocultural understandings about the world. These placenames facilitate tribal morality and standards of social interaction. Basso elaborates, “the character of these meanings—their steadier themes, their recurrent tonalities, and, above all, their conventionalized modes of expression—will bear the stamp of a common cast of mind. Constructions of reality that reflect conceptions of reality itself, the meanings of landscapes and acts of speech are personalized manifestations of a shared perspective on the human condition” (p. 140).

From this groundwork, Basso extrapolates that Apache placenames set precedent for the weight of other proper nouns, such as individuals’ names. Outsiders’ neglect of this Apache reality is rooted in an uninformed and over-simplified “view of language in which proper names are assumed to have meaning solely in their capacity to refer […] as agents of reference” (p. 143). Apache students with tag bands and, later, English names were primed for total loss of their native heritage with the initial loss of their native names.
Powerful insight from an Apache woman, known as Mrs. Annie Peaches and who was Basso’s first Apache teacher in 1959, further conveys this tragedy. She observes that “If we lose our language, we lose our breath. Then we will die and blow away like leaves” (p. xiii-xiv).

This collection’s listings of tag band identifiers, as well as Apache students’ English names, provide exciting new pathways into genealogical research and promote discussion about the detrimental effects of deracination practices imposed on Indigenous peoples nationwide. Note that findings listed from Box 17 (see above) may not be a comprehensive account, so we invite you to look through other boxes in the series for even more information on early 20th century Apache students at the San Carlos Boarding School. You can access the Finding Aid for the Stephen Beauregard Weeks Papers, 1746-1941 through this link https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/00762/ or visit the Research Room at Wilson Special Collections Library for in-person access to its abundant correspondence.

Additionally, listed below are several links to related collections from the National Archives and Records Administration which provide avenues to supplementary research, as well as resources for more contextual information about the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ boarding schools and Kevin H. Basso’s book on the Apache language. Finally, linked at the bottom is information about a Minneapolis based nonprofit working to collect and connect digitally dispersed Native American boarding school records. Please check out their website below for more information about how to help with this initiative.

Resources/references:

Last Chance to Explore On the Move: Stories of African American Migration and Mobility

On display at Wilson Special Collections Library since September, one powerful exhibit is nearing the end of its inspired look at the 400+ year history of the African American narrative and accompanying insight into ongoing implications for racial reconciliation today. On the Move: Stories of African American Migration and Mobility showcases personal accounts of several people across time in connection to various modes of transportation and, through this lens, invites patrons to examine the African American experience with physical and social mobility in the United States. Stories include those of enslaved Africans transported to the Americas by ship and escaping plantations on foot, African Americans migrating by train to new lives after the Civil War, traveling by car during the Jim Crow Era, and fighting for equality at Flight Schools and through Freedom Rides on the bus in the 1960s.

A segregated bus station in Durham, North Carolina, 1940

One of the exhibit’s highlighted narratives from the time of the Transatlantic Slave Trade is of special interest because his materials, like the exhibit itself, will soon be out of public circulation for a while. Omar Ibn Sa’id was an educated Muslim captured in 1807 from what today is Senegal. He was brought first to Charleston, South Carolina, but after an escape and later recapture in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was sold to plantation owner General James Owen in Wilmington. It was there he spent the rest of his life.

Portrait of Omar Ibn Sa’id with biographical annotations

Ibn Sa’id’s legacy is perpetuated today among scholars fascinated by his story. He’s merited the role as an impactful topic of discourse for thinkers belonging to a wide range of disciplines. Exhibit curator Chaitra Powell, African American Collections and Outreach Archivist at Wilson Special Collections Library, attributes the reason for Ibn Sa’id’s popularity to his influence in challenging “perceptions of the intellectual history of Black people, educational and language traditions in Africa, the role of religion, and the lived experience of an enslaved person in the United States” (Display Case 2). Ibn Sa’id’s influence is recorded predominantly by way of his writings, including his autobiography published in 1831. As many were scribed in the Arabic language, they further lend support to the debunking of commonly held misconceptions about African people.

Of particular interest to me about his story in relation to the exhibit’s theme, which looks at the (sometimes forcible) transfer and movement of ideas, culture, and people, is Omar Ibn Sa’id’s supposed conversion to Christianity. Records place him as a regular attendee of a Presbyterian Church in Wilmington and confirm that he’d professed having converted. There exist, however, many different interpretations of the motivations behind this decision. Some suggest it was a matter of survival, while others propose he assigned little weight to religious affiliation—perhaps because he interacted with Islam and Christianity on the basis of their vast similarities (rather than focusing on their differences) or because the label itself was inconsequential to his faith in God.

Surat al-Nasr, a verse from the Quran Ibn Sa’id scribed in Arabic, 1857. At the time of this writing, he was attending a Presbyterian Church and professing a conversion to Christianity.

The historical ambiguity of Omar Ibn Sa’id’s conversion creates space to address these uncertainties and ask questions. My own interpretation is that he approached this shift in religious affiliation as something independent of his worldview, a philosophy which strikes me as a powerful model relevant to our current climate of us-vs-them dispositions. It lends value to recognizing our shared humanity amidst a culture hyper-focused on differentiation. While the specificity of identity certainly matters, and labels can serve to communicate important truths about a person, they risk operating as tools for segregation when prioritized above commonalities between us. I believe Ibn Sa’id embraced this understanding in his forced encounter with a new culture, exhibiting strength of mind and character, goodness of heart, and self-autonomy while in bondage. In doing so, he rose above his captors.

This inspired story is but one of many featured throughout the exhibit, so we encourage you to visit On the Move: Stories of African American Migration and Mobility to explore, interpret, and learn even more! Its last day on display at Wilson Special Collections Library is Sunday, February 9th. Follow this link for more information: https://library.unc.edu/2019/09/on-the-move/.

Announcing the Availability of Newly Digitized Audio from the Howard N. Lee Papers

May of 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Howard Lee’s election as the first African American mayor of Chapel Hill. In commemoration of this historic event and in recognition of Lee‘s political legacy, we have digitized and made accessible a selection of audio content from the Howard N. Lee Papers in the Southern Historical Collection. These include recordings of speeches from Lee’s political campaigns for mayor of Chapel Hill and lieutenant governor of North Carolina; several political and community organizing events throughout the 1970s; campaign radio advertisements; family interviews; and even songs Lee performed with the Len Mack Trio while stationed with the United States Army in South Korea from 1959-1961.

Howard Lee is sworn into office as mayor of Chapel Hill, 1969
A mayoral portrait of Howard Lee from the 1970s

This week, as we commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we invite you to listen to Howard Lee’s 1980 speech which celebrates King’s monumental contributions to the Civil Rights movement. Lee’s message remains relevant today. Positioned at the start of a new decade, Lee frames the 1980s as a period during which “conservatism will sweep across the land like we have not experienced for many years […] a conservatism which will say ‘Let’s maintain the status quo. Let’s not rock the boat’” (Audiocassette 46, side 1). These words hold significant weight amidst our own current sociopolitical climate, especially as we, too, enter a new decade forty years later.

Lee adds, “There seems to be an attitude of hopelessness, a willingness to throw up hands in despair, a willingness to become slaves to pessimism and doubt. [But] this system can be saved […] It can be built, not so much on the melting pot form of like a soup, but more in the form of a stew, where people can come together and maintain their identities” (Audiocassette 46, side 1).

Howard Lee delivers a speech, circa 1970s

Related to these poignant considerations are observations made in his analysis of “The Black Experience in Politics” just a few months later. Lee suggests the two broad groups — majority white and minority black — generally share different political priorities and attitudes. The responsibility of the black politician thereby becomes a “dual leadership” in the “constant struggle of trying to communicate with the black community without alienating both the black community and the white community” (Audiocassette 48, side 1). “Politics,” Lee says, “is a game of exchange” (Audiocassette 48, side 1). He laments, however, that regarding the vote, “if somebody has to be sacrificed, […] you sacrifice the minority” (Audiocassette 48, side 1).

But Lee’s words call us to action, to a movement steeped in King’s legacy of racial reconciliation. And he reminds us that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day “must be more than just a celebration. It must be a commitment […] a renewed commitment to justice, to freedom, to equality, and above all, to human rights for all people” (Audiocassette 46, side 1).

This vast collection of now accessible digital materials from Howard Lee’s collection is an excellent resource available to you via the online finding aid at https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05609/. The materials that are not accessible online are available for use in the Wilson Library reading room. We are grateful for the generous support from our audiovisual preservation team for digitizing these materials. This work is a part of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded grant initiative, Extending the Reach of Southern Audiovisual Sources.