Archives in the News: The Digitization of the Nuremberg Trails

In keeping with the theme of this week’s class, I found myself getting lost in story after story of archives in the news until one piece in particular caught my attention.

One week ago, archivists at the Shoah Memorial in Paris announced the completion of a two-year long project to digitize the audio recordings of the Nuremberg Trials. The announcement came just days after a shooting in Germany, outside of a synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. The timing of this anti-semitic incident coinciding with the increasing accessibility of these records,  emphasizes the pressing importance of making this history more accessible to a broader public.

While transcripts of the court trials have long been available, the audio recordings give new life to this history. The head archivist of the project, Karen Taieb, argues that hearing the actual voices of the people on trial adds new emotion and weight to understanding the power of the history.

In addition to digitizing hours of auido files — previously stored on “2,000 large discs housed in wooden boxes” for the past fifty years — the files will now be accessible in three different institutions: the Shoah Memorial in Paris, the International Court of Justice library in the Hague, Netherlands, and the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Herein lies one of the primary advantages of digitization and the power of this particular project. Sending the files to three different institutions further increases accessability and also places the materials within different insitutional and historical contexts. Hopefully, more people are able to interact with this moment of history, connect with it emotionally, and learn from it more effectively.

 

 

Parker, Claire. “Public to get access to Nuremberg trails digital recordings.” Associated Press. October, 12, 2019. https://wapo.st/2OWMiip.

#AskAnArchivist Day

As part of American Archives Month, the SAA christened October 2nd “#AskAnArchivist Day”. The purpose of the day, according to the SAA website, is to “break down the barriers that make archivists seem inaccessible.”* Last Wednesday, archivists took to social media to responsed to questions, post creative content, and interact with other archives around the country.

I spent the day following along and marveling at all of the delightful ideas archivsts used to engage followers and make the archive both more accessible and more fun. I found the hashtag a really successful method to draw focus, not just on the materials within the archive, but how the archive itself functions.

One of the most common approaches archives took was to highlight unique archival materials. The Newberry Library answered the question, “What’s the strangest thing you’ve processed in a collection?” Their answer was a book of intricately braided human hair from the 1840s. There’s a common misconception that archives mainly hold traditional “papers”. Answers like this expand public perception of the types of materials that they would find in an archive.

The University of Minnesota took us on a ride. They placed a camera on an archive box so we could follow it on its journey from storage to the reading room and back.

The Utah State Archives showed off the cousin of our very own book bot.

But one of my favorite posts shined a light on a small, yet very hazardous threat to every collection — the paperclip, or as the Smithsonian Archive called them, the “Artifacts of Paper Torture”.

#AskAnArchivist Day was a creative and engaging way to make the archive more accessible. These tweets merely offered a glimpse into all the fun that lies behind archival doors and within document boxes.

 

*”#AskAnArchivist Day – October 2, 2019″, Society of American Archivists, updated September 11, 2019. https://www2.archivists.org/initiatives/askanarchivist-day. Accessed October 7, 2019.

Chaos & Order

Last week we did an accessioning exercise where we looked at an unprocessed box from a new collection and thought about ways to establish order. It was a fun exercise to dig through the contents of the box, and think about ways to organize the chaos. Ultimately however, it was overwhelming and intimidating to see the sheer volume of work ahead for the archivists who will make the collection accessible.

Fastforward to today, where I spent the day in the Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland. When I arrived, the archivist wheeled out a cart of boxes I had reserved and we chatted about the collection. Ten minutes later I was diving in to a tidy box of viewer mail, roughly organized by year.

While I was excited to see the sources and each one felt like a fun discovery, I was continually reminded of the number of hours of work and care that went into establshing the order of each folder and each box.

Not only can I imagine the chaos that this collection may have arrived in, and marveled at how much sense each box made. But I also thought about the detailed work done on each folder. Metal paperclips were replaced with plastic ones. Photos are sandwhiched with acid-free. Some fragile materials had duplicated photocopies.

In the course of the day, I only made it through four boxes. There are seventeen more just on Sesame Street, and about 300 more in the entire collection. Sitting here, processing my day of research, I cannot help but be awed and incredibly thankful for both the work that went into making this collection accessible, but also for being more informed about this otherwise invisible process so I could truly appreciate it.