UMass Boston launches online roadmap for planning participatory archiving events

The Joseph P. Healey Library at the University of Massachusetts Boston is pleased to announce the availability of RoPA, the Roadmap for Participatory Archiving, at ropa.umb.edu. Supported in part by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), RoPA is an online resource designed to guide libraries and cultural organizations through the process of collaborating with community members to plan engaging and inclusive participatory archiving events and to create digital collections. 

RoPA homepage screen shot

Screenshot of the newly-launched RoPA website

RoPA is a response to an increasing interest in public digitization events, which are part of the emerging phenomenon of participatory archiving. At these events—commonly called “scanning days” or “digitization days”—individuals connected with a theme, topic, event, or community come together to share personal and family photographs and stories, which are copied and added to a digital collection. More and more, librarians and museum curators recognize the potential for these types of projects to break down hierarchies and enrich local, regional, and national histories. By playing an active role in selecting and describing what should be preserved in an archival collection, community members can transform our collective understanding of the past. Through participatory archiving, these groups come together to build a more inclusive archival record.

“We created RoPA to answer calls from colleagues around the country for guidance on how to undertake participatory archiving projects in their own communities,” explains Carolyn Goldstein, the coordinator of the Healey Library’s Mass. Memories Road Show program. The Mass. Memories Road Show is a statewide, event-based participatory archiving program pioneered by UMass Boston that documents people, places, and events in Massachusetts history through family photographs and stories. For this program, archivists and public historians in the Healey Library at UMass Boston work in partnership with local planning teams and volunteers to organize free public events where individuals bring photographs to be copied and included in a digital archive. Since its launch in 2004, the Mass. Memories Road Show has digitized more than 12,000 photographs and stories from across the Commonwealth, creating an educational resource of primary sources for future generations. “RoPA is an opportunity to enhance the impact of our Massachusetts-based program,” adds Goldstein.

The development of RoPA was led by IMLS grant Co-Principal Investigators Goldstein and Andrew Elder, together with Sarah Collins, who served as Project Manager. They worked closely with a Core Team of leaders in the participatory archiving field to inform development and best practices on all aspects of the resource. RoPA’s Core Team included: Kathy Bolduc Amoroso, Maine Historical Society; Anne Karle-Zenith, Metropolitan New York Library Council; Yesenia Lopez, Newark Public Library; Veronica Martzahl, formerly of Massachusetts Archives and now La Mesa History Center; Danny Pucci, Boston Public Library; Joanne Riley, Interim Dean of University Libraries at UMass Boston; and Michele A. L. Villagran, San Jose State University

“I was thrilled when I was asked to work on the RoPA project team with several professionals from libraries and cultural institutions across the country. The collaboration and the sharing of ideas and knowledge helped strengthen the final project deliverable which will be an excellent guide for institutions and organizations as they collect and document personal and local stories and histories for future generations to enjoy or use for research,” notes Kathy Amoroso of the Maine Historical Society.

RoPA is aimed at libraries and cultural organizations of all kinds and sizes, offering a series of modules covering the important aspects of planning a participatory archiving event, including community partnerships and outreach, event logistics, metadata and archival description, and the preservation of digital materials. 

“To understand clearly what our colleagues throughout the country needed to know, our first step was to conduct a nationwide survey to capture the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of libraries and other cultural organizations,” Project Manager Sarah Collins explains. Libraries, cultural heritage organizations, and government agencies from more than thirty states responded to the UMass Boston survey.

“The survey results revealed that different users had different needs for an online resource of this type,” said Collins. Therefore, the team designed RoPA to be an accessible and adaptable resource that would guide both specialized professionals and novice volunteers through all of the steps of the participatory archiving process. While some users might already have experience with certain aspects of the work, they might need help with other dimensions. RoPA is organized by module to allow users to find the guidance they need and connect it to their own expertise and experience.

“We hope that RoPA will strengthen collaborations between libraries and their communities, and enable them to together build unique archival collections that document historically marginalized perspectives,” said Andrew Elder, Interim University Archivist and Curator of Special Collections. “Ultimately, we anticipate that RoPA will help connect people around the country who are doing this important participatory archiving work so they can learn from and support each other.”

For questions and more information, email ropa@umb.edu

RoPA logo in orange, blue, and greenIMLS logo

University Archives and Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston was established in 1981 as a repository to collect archival material in subject areas of interest to the university, as well as the records of the university itself. The mission and history of UMass Boston guide the collection policies of University Archives and Special Collections, with the university’s urban mission and strong support of community service reflected in the records of and related to urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, war and social consequence, and local history related to neighboring communities. To learn more, visit blogs.umb.edu/archives.

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Black History Month: Black History at UMass Boston

Author: Maci Mark, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the Public History MA Program at UMass Boston

Happy Black History Month! Black History Month is celebrated during the month of February every year as a way of celebrating important people and events from across the African diaspora. Here at UMass Boston, we have many collections about the Black history of Boston and our campus. Over the course of the month, we will be highlighting some of these collections and stories.

Students sitting in classroom desks listening to a lecture

Students listening to a lecture in a classroom on the Park Square campus, circa 1965-1974

First founded in 1964, the University of Massachusetts Boston was created to serve the urban population of the City of Boston. UMass Boston was envisioned as a place of education for underserved communities, and to support working class students, first generation students, and those that could not afford the elite private schools which made up the educational offerings in Boston. UMass Boston has served these communities for more than fifty years, including the Black community of Boston. Black students have always been a core part of the campus community and have fought to make change and feel represented on campus. 

Only three years after the university’s establishment, by the 1967-1968 academic year, UMass Boston had 100 Black students out of its 2,600 student population. While 26 Black students out of every 100 is not a lot, especially with the university’s goal of supporting urban students (which at the time meant thousands of Black students), this actually made UMass Boston one of the most racially diverse schools in the country at the time.

Black students on campus quickly formed the Afro-American Student Association to find community and advocate for their needs on campus. The students in this organization, led by Alvin Johnson, led protests and staged a sit-in at the 1970 summer class registration to demand the hiring of more Black tenure-track faculty and more Black students admitted to the university. At this time there was only one Black tenured professor on campus, James Blackwell.

James Blackwell sitting in front of a chalkboard


Professor James Blackwell teaching a class at the Columbia Point campus, circa 1974-1978

Despite being the first and only Black tenured professor on campus, Professor Blackwell had a big impact. He was an early advocate for a Black Studies department on campus, which was established as the Afro-American Studies Department in 1973 (currently the Africana Studies Department). 

The advocacy did not stop in the 1970s. The William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture was founded in 1984. This institute allowed for further research and study into Black life and culture. 

Portrait of Harold Horton

Dr. Harold Horton, the first Associate Director of the William Monroe Trotter Institute, circa 1984-1989

The work that Alvin Johnson started with the Afro-American Student Association in the 1970s continues with the many cultural community groups for Black students that exist on campus today to help students find community and advocate for themselves, including the Black Student Center, Haitian American Society, African Students Union, Ghanaian Student Association, and the UMB NAACP Campus Chapter.

University Archives and Special Collections works to have engaging collections that reflect the history of Black Bostonians and Black students at UMass Boston, including (but not limited to) the recently-donated Mel King papers, the Theresa-India Young papers, the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive, the Reverend Edward B. Blackman papers, and the Robert C. Hayden: Transcripts of oral history interviews with Boston African American railroad workers. Check out these collections to learn more about the Black history of Boston. To learn more about the history of UMass Boston, check out UMass Boston at 50: A Fiftieth-Anniversary History of the University of Massachusetts Boston by Michael Feldberg.

References

Feldberg, Michael. UMass Boston at 50: A Fiftieth-Anniversary History of the University of Massachusetts Boston. Boston: UMass Boston, 2015.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston was established in 1981 as a repository to collect archival material in subject areas of interest to the university, as well as the records of the university itself. The mission and history of UMass Boston guide the collection policies of University Archives & Special Collections, with the university’s urban mission and strong support of community service reflected in the records of and related to urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, war and social consequence, and local history related to neighboring communities. To learn more, visit blogs.umb.edu/archives.

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Black History Month: Massachusetts Hip-Hop, Lecco’s Lemma, and Dance Slam

Author: Kayla Allen, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the History MA Program at UMass Boston

Happy Black History Month! Black History Month is celebrated during the month of February every year as a way of celebrating important people and events from across the African diaspora. Here at UMass Boston, we have many collections about the Black history of Boston and our campus. Over the course of the month, we will be highlighting some of these collections and stories.

Photograph of cassette tape with Lecco's Lemma written on it in marker

Cassette recording of Magnus Johnstone’s Lecco’s Lemma radio show from August 8, 1987

One of our most significant digital collections is the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive. This archive is mostly made up of digitized audiocassettes from the Magnus Johnstone and Willie Alexander: Lecco’s Lemma collection, though there are a number of materials currently being processed, including recordings, photographs, videos, and interviews. The first set of audiocassettes in the Lecco’s Lemma collection, originally held by Magnus Johnstone, was donated to us by UMass Boston professor Pacey Foster in 2015. The second set was donated by Willie Alexander in 2016. These audiocassettes feature mixtapes and recordings of the Lecco’s Lemma radio program, a show that ran from 1985-1988 first on MIT’s WMBR (88.1 FM) and later on Boston College’s WZBC (90.3 FM).

Image of the side of a cassette tape with writing in marker

Cassette recording of Magnus Johnstone’s Lecco’s Lemma radio show from March 8, 1986

Lecco’s Lemma was hosted by Magnus Johnstone and featured music that wasn’t usually played by mainstream radio stations at the time. This included new, interesting, and undiscovered artists, rap music, and local groups. Johnstone would accept demos from Boston-area artists and play them on air. He would even ask these groups to play live performances on his show.

Over the three years he taped, Johnstone collected about 300 mixtapes from local artists, which are now part of our collection. The rest of the audiocassettes in the collection are recordings of the actual Lecco’s Lemma shows, taped by Boston’s “Godfather of Punk,” Willie “Loco” Alexander, on his home boombox. These tapes include ephemera like j-cards, notes, photographs, and lists of artists and songs.

The online collection of the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive also includes a video recording of “Boston’s first black dance-music-video television show,” Dance Slam, from the Tony Rose and Yvonne Rose collection. We are currently building the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive and welcome donations from graffiti artists, producers, promoters, musicians, DJs, break-dancers, and fans so we can further document and preserve the vibrant hip-hop culture of our area. If you have original and unique materials related to hip-hop in Boston and Massachusetts that you think should become part of the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive, you can contact one of our archivists by emailing library.archives@umb.edu.

To see more from our Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive and listen to Johnstone’s and Alexander’s tapes, check out our digital collection. If you’d like to learn more about Magnus Johnstone, Willie Alexander, and Lecco’s Lemma, be sure to look at their collection’s finding aid.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston was established in 1981 as a repository to collect archival material in subject areas of interest to the university, as well as the records of the university itself. The mission and history of UMass Boston guide the collection policies of University Archives & Special Collections, with the university’s urban mission and strong support of community service reflected in the records of and related to urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, war and social consequence, and local history related to neighboring communities. To learn more, visit blogs.umb.edu/archives.

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Black History Month: Robert C. Hayden Oral History Collection

Author: Maci Mark, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the Public History MA Program at UMass Boston

Happy Black History Month! Black History Month is celebrated during the month of February every year as a way of celebrating important people and events from across the African diaspora. Here at UMass Boston, we have many collections about the Black history of Boston and our campus. Over the course of the month, we will be highlighting some of these collections and stories.

Image of a white sheet of paper with typed text on it. It is a transcription of Robert C Hayden’s interview with Adolphus Bollock.

Transcript of an interview with Adolphus G. Bullock, circa 1988-1989

The Robert C. Hayden: Transcripts of Oral History Interviews with Boston African American Railroad Workers collection highlights some unique Boston history. This collection is made up of 27 oral histories that Robert C. Hayden conducted with retired Boston African American railroad workers. These oral histories show the livelihoods of these men and women who worked on the railroads, the opportunities the work gave them, and what their lives looked like in the 1920s/1930s as Black people in Boston.

In the 1920s/1930s Boston was an important destination for African Americans moving northward from the South. This move was part of the Great Migration and spanned from just after the Civil War all the way through the 1970s. Boston provided employment opportunities, one of them being working on the railroads. The railroad positions were good jobs at the time, as Adolphus Bollock, one of the interviewed railroad workers, discussed how they paid more than the Post Office.

These oral histories were originally conducted as research to support an exhibit being done by Robert C. Hayden and James Green for the Back Bay MBTA Station about A. Philip Randolph and Boston’s African-American Railroad Workers: A Public History Commemoration, Knights of the Rail. The interviews capture the lived experiences of Boston’s African American railroad workers that extend beyond just the railway.

Image of the “Knights of the Rail” exhibit program which depicts photos of railway workers, Phillip Pullman, and more overlaid over text.

A guide to “Knights of the Rail,” an exhibit about A. Philip Randolph and Boston’s African-American railroad workers, 1991

Robert C. Hayden (who recently passed away on January 23, 2022) was one of the most prominent scholars of his time, focusing on the history of Black Bostonians. He worked with UMass Boston professor James Green to develop a permanent exhibit for the Back Bay MBTA Station featuring the African American railroad workers who started the Pullman Union, the first Black union of its kind. These interviews were conducted by Hayden over a two-year time period. James Green was the Head of the History Department at UMass Boston and donated this collection to University Archives and Special Collections in 1992.

To read the transcripts of these oral histories the best place to start is with the finding aid, or you may search for the collection within our Oral History Collections. All the oral histories within the collection have been transcribed and are available as PDFs. 

For more information, please email library.archives@umb.edu.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston was established in 1981 as a repository to collect archival material in subject areas of interest to the university, as well as the records of the university itself. The mission and history of UMass Boston guide the collection policies of University Archives & Special Collections, with the university’s urban mission and strong support of community service reflected in the records of and related to urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, war and social consequence, and local history related to neighboring communities. To learn more, visit blogs.umb.edu/archives.

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In the Archives: William A. Cowles and the Civil War

Author: Kayla Allen, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the History MA Program at UMass Boston

Daguerreotype portrait in a gold frame of William Cowles in uniform from the waist up

William A. Cowles in uniform. Sitting recorded in Cowles’ diary: 06/02/1863, New Orleans

If you want to learn more about the Civil War or see some handwritten sheet music from the 1800s, you need look no further than our William A. Cowles papers, 1834-1905. William Cowles was a young man during the Civil War and he served in the Union Army twice with the 42nd Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers. On his first tour, Private Cowles played the French horn in the band of the 42nd Regiment while they were stationed in New Orleans. Later, Cowles served as a corporal in the same regiment. During both of his tours, Cowles had to leave behind his young wife, Josephine Lewis. Luckily, Cowles survived the war and was able to return home to Josephine and father two children.

After Cowles’s and Josephine’s deaths, his papers made their way into the possession of author and historian Anthony Mitchell Sammarco, who donated them to the Healey Library’s University Archives and Special Collections. The digitized part of this collection includes images (such as daguerreotypes and tintypes) of Cowles, Josephine, and at least one of their two daughters. It also consists of war-time documentation like Cowles’s furlough card, discharge papers, and a muster call. In addition, there are obituaries and funeral information for both Cowles and Josephine, Cowles’s medals and ribbons, and his tuning fork. Some of the larger objects in the collection are Cowles’s sewing kit and portable writing desk (which he would have had with him on his tours), his journals documenting his experiences during the war, and his small book of music containing all of the pieces he played while on active duty.

Please feel free to take a moment and “thumb” through the pages of Cowles’s journals and music book. We also have a typed transcript of some of his writing that might be helpful. When you’re ready, you can check out the digital collection and the physical collection’s finding aid.

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