In the Archives: Preserving Memory through Oral Histories

Author: Jack Ott, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the American Studies MA Program at UMass Boston

Oral histories and recollections can provide priceless and often otherwise transitory narratives about the politics and emotional labor invested in belonging to a community. Organizations such as the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Cumann na Gaeilge i mBoston (The Irish Language Society of Boston), and The South End Seniors recognize and celebrate the importance of personal interaction while conducting historical research, and UMass Boston is proud to include oral history projects sponsored by these groups, as well as many others, in its digital archives.

UMass Boston’s University Archives and Special Collection is fortunate to hold a range of oral history projects and collections, and a full list and brief descriptions of each collection can be found here. Through video and audio interviews, as well as written transcripts, researchers can explore personal histories shared by members of the UMass Boston community, the greater Boston community, and beyond. In these personal histories, we can learn not only about the Cape Verdean community in Roxbury and North Dorchester in the post WWII years from the Neighbor Voices project, for example, but also about how that past has been internalized, remembered, and shared with future generations.

Adalberto Teixeira wearing a cap and jacket with buildings in the background
Adalberto Teixeira, November 21, 2016. Teixeira was born in Fogo, Cape Verde and moved to Roxbury in 1976 where he got a job as a welder at the Quincy shipyard and as a teaching aide at the Madison Park Public School before becoming a community organizer and constituent services worker for the city.

From humorous anecdotes such as Inishbarra, Ireland native Johnny Chóilín Choilmín’s first taste of a hot dog on his 1955 transatlantic voyage to America (he was expecting a breakfast sausage…and was unimpressed), to the resilience and ingenuity of Alice Inamoto Takemoto crafting homemade buttons from peach pits as a 15-year-old interned in the Santa Anita assembly center in 1942, the oral histories in this collection transform historical records into vivid and deeply personal narratives. In so doing, oral histories testify to the epistemological value of reflection and challenge dominant standards of who controls how history is recorded and preserved. State records may tell us how many Japanese Americans were relocated to assembly centers and then moved on to internment camps, but oral histories such as Alice Inamoto Takemoto’s ensure that memories like lying in an army cot as it sinks into freshly poured tar melting in the California summer heat are not lost to posterity.

Alice Setsuko Inamoto Takemoto sitting at a piano, smiling with her hands folded in her lap
Alice Setsuko Inamoto Takemoto, June 24, 2011. Takemoto was born in Garden Grove, California. A lifelong musician, she attended Oberlin College on a full scholarship after being released from the Jerome interment camp.

Launching the Boston Teachers Union Collection

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

The Boston Teachers Union (BTU) has an essential place in Boston’s history. It was formed in 1945 and today has over 10,000 members. With this long history comes a lot to explore, especially when considering that the BTU had an important role in school desegregation and fought against affirmative action after the firing of 710 teachers. The BTU does not shy away from its history, both positive and negative. UMass Boston graduate students getting their Masters in Public History explored this legacy with Professor Nick Juravich in his spring 2022 course HIST 682: Digital Public History.

Screenshot showing 12 separate BTU contract booklets
Screenshot of HIST 682’s digital exhibit on the Boston Teachers Union contract timeline

Over the course of the semester this class (this author being a member of it) met with numerous digital public historians from across the country, studied the ethics and best practices of digital public history projects, and met with BTU members to gain insight about what these members wanted to learn more about. Students then jumped into creating digital exhibits using the recently donated materials in the Boston Teachers Union collection to look at various aspects of the BTU’s history. Digital exhibits range from looking at the year 1981, Kathy Kelley vs. Kevin White, the changes in the BTU contract, and more. My own exhibit looking at solidarity within the BTU also draws from other archival collections from UMass Boston like the Tess Ewing collection and its run of Hazard Lights, the school bus drivers union (USWA Local 8744) newsletter. 

The Boston Teachers Union collection is made up of three parts: digitized copies of The Boston Union Teacher from its 1963 through 2010 run, an oral history project run by Professor Juravich and retired BTU Secretary-Treasurer Betsy Drinan, and items collected from the Boston Teachers Union Digitizing Day in 2018 which kicked off the beginning of this relationship and hinted at what was to come. This collection also contains a complete run of the BTU contracts which have not yet been digitized.

Image of 1970 Issue of the Boston Union Teacher that includes a headline reading "School Committee Tactics Leading to Crisis"
The Boston Union Teacher, March 1970

This collection was launched on May 3, 2022. Students from HIST 682, leadership from the BTU, many active and retired BTU members, and families gathered to have a celebration of this monumental collection. This celebration included speeches from the BTU leadership, Professor Juravich, and Betsy Drinan commemorating the work that went into this project and the significance of interrogating one’s own legacy, including the good and the bad. Students presented their exhibits, discussing their inspiration and personal connections. This also allowed students a chance to meet the people we had been writing about, as many people who had been interviewed in the oral histories attended the launch event, and former president of the BTU Richard Stutman paid a virtual visit as well. 

The author Maci Mark stands at a podium in front of a screen projecting an exhibit about the BTU
HIST 682 student Maci Mark presenting at the BTU collection launch event, May 3, 2022

Overall as a student it was an incredible experience to get to be one of the first people to have hands-on experience working with these materials and to do so alongside the BTU. The type of partnership that is created here is a unique one that will hopefully benefit many students and the BTU down the line.


Explore the Boston Teachers Union digital collection. Contact library.archives@umb.edu for research assistance.

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.

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.

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.