Come for the JDC Archives Blog, stay for Eddie Cantor on Sound Cloud

Eddie Cantor SOS Script, JDC Archives

I’m honored to be featured on the JDC Archives Blog today. I have explored the depths of their collection for many years and am thrilled that they invested so heavily in digitizing the whole of their archival materials. It’s a public assertion of the need for thoughtful engagement with digital objects and I’m thrilled that they see my work as a model for employing digital archives in the classroom and in research.

It’s rewarding for me to think about the many strings of my work – including historical research, Digital Humanities projects, and the daily work of building a DH community and Digital Scholarship center at UCSC – as interconnected. I feel very lucky to build space for Digital Jewish Studies at UC Santa Cruz – work that is made possible because Jewish communal groups and archives have recognized the value of digitization. Engaging students and the Jewish community at large in the practice of working with primary sources invites them into the process of writing history.

But, mostly, I’m excited to hear the Eddie Cantor ad for SOS from 1948 linked in the article. I vividly remember the day I found a set of ad scripts for SOS in the JDC archive. Before the collection was digitized, I sat for days with a pile of microfilm reels reading reports, memos, and newsletters from the SOS project. Supplies for Overseas Survivors (SOS) collected canned food, clothing, and other goods for three years and sent them directly to Jews in Displaced Persons camps across Europe. The project activated Jews and non-Jews around the country in direct support for the surviving Jews of Europe and the extensive public campaign supported my argument that American Jews learned about the Holocaust through their participation in American Jewish philanthropy. The scripts written for Eddie Cantor, Dick Powell, and Henry Fonda were a particularly rich find as they revealed how JDC transformed the needs of survivors in Europe into appeal narratives for American donors.

Hearing Eddie Cantor, as we can do now, is a thrill. Cantor was a passionate advocate for survivors after the war. He led campaigns for JDC, Hadassah, and UJA. He lent his name and his voice to numerous radio broadcasts and brought his famous friends along.

As I listen to this appeal, I wonder where I can send cans of milk today and how the history of refugee aid – so strongly documented in the JDC archive – should inform our response to today’s refugee crisis.

 

When CLIR Fellows Meet: A report from the HASTAC 2015 Conference

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Interactive twitter visualization at HASTAC 2015

The HASTAC 2015 conference, held at Michigan State University, was an apt place for a mini-CLIR Fellows reunion. The conference (and HASTAC in general) is a welcoming space for non-traditional scholars, creating opportunities for librarians, postdocs, instructors, graduate students and technologists to lead alongside tenured faculty. HASTAC’s commitment to recognizing new modes of doing scholarship is evident in the invitation of two early career scholars to give the Keynote addresses. (It’s worth reading and revisiting both Scott Weingart’s “Knowledge Uprooted” and Roopika Risam’s “Across Two (Imperial) Cultures: A Ballad of Digital Humanities and the Global South” to see where Digital Humanities is as a field RIGHT NOW and where it will be going.)

Thanks to support from the UCSC Library and CLIR, I was able to attend the conference and present on a panel with fellow first year CLIR fellows Emily McGinn, Charlotte Nunes, and Alicia Peaker. Our panel, “Tales from the Library Basement: Doing Digital Humanities as CLIR Fellows,” was designed to explore the role of CLIR fellows in libraries and on campuses focused on building Digital Humanities communities. To keep it all in the family, Daniel Chamberlain, a former CLIR Fellow and Director of the Center for Digital Liberal Arts at Occidental College, served as our moderator and framed our discussion as a series of productive tensions. The goal in presenting together at HASTAC was to explore these tensions, as well as the challenges we each faced in different settings, serving as bridges between library, faculty, and administrative interests.

We each offered a case study of this kind of work, based on our own experiences over the past year. There were, not surprisingly, overlaps in the stories we told about our work lives – we took on numerous roles, offering support, translation, and digital consultation for faculty members on our campuses; we served as community builders, event planners, and “collaborator-in-chief”s. We struggled to navigate between the appeal of experimental, unique digital work and the need for scalable, sustainable support models. But, there were unexpected overlaps as well; for example, we each mentioned working with Omeka (an online publishing platform), suggesting an interesting role this particular tool has in integrating Digital Humanities methods into college classes.

But, what struck me most was the local particularity of the jobs we did. Emily, at Lafayette College, is part of a Digital Scholarship Services team, where her work is well supported by a team of programmers and developers. As a part of this team, she worked with faculty to create new – and very successful – digital assignments for a range of classes and initiated an internship in the library that is giving 7 students the opportunity to develop their own digital research project over the course of six weeks. Charlotte, the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Scholarship at Southwestern University, described a range of projects she coordinated – both class based and grant supported – that connected Digital Humanities work with the archive and allowed students to create public facing scholarly products.

Discussing my work as the Digital Humanities Specialist at UC Santa Cruz, I focused on the hidden nature of digital work in the library and the challenges in connecting faculty with the kinds of expertise hidden away behind locked doors in the basement. At the same time, Alicia discussed the challenges she faced in working in such an open space that she had a hard time focusing on the intellectual work of scholarship – both digital and otherwise.

The opportunity to discuss the day-to-day tasks and larger goals of my work alongside those navigating similar paths was exciting and provocative, but the biggest takeaway for me was Alicia’s paper that sharply articulated the challenge of identity that perhaps all CLIR fellows face: how can we integrate, combine, and understand our personal research ambitions and our fellowship goals? How can we resolve the diversity of responsibilities that come with these kinds of positions and in a short period of time meant only to spark interest or community? And, how can we better express and formalize the value we bring to the kind of mixed cultural work that successful DH projects demand?

These questions – of identity, labor, responsibility – also sparked a lively Q&A session in which the very nature of libraries as a place where books are held, the role of librarians and the digital in the future of scholarship, and the sustainability of temporary positions were raised. It seems that CLIR fellows cannot gather without inciting a debate about the changes in library cultures that speak to the future of digital scholarship.

Thank you to Daniel, Emily, Charlotte, and Alicia for this opportunity to interrogate and explore what we all do every day. And, to CLIR for making this kind of work possible and for supporting us as we find our way through the often uncharted terrain.

For more about the conference and the panel, read Charlotte’s killer write up about her HASTAC experience.

Digital Humanities & Jewish Studies

I’m thrilled that Memories/Motifs has been featured in the AJS News: Digital Humanities Issue. It’s an honor for the project to be listed as a Resource for Jewish Studies and I hope that scholars explore the site, offer comments, criticism, and suggestions for improvement.

I also hope that Jewish Studies folks will see the project and feel inspired to take up more digitally inflected work – not because it’s the trendy thing to do, but because using digital tools can help us articulate and visualize new forms of connections and arguments which can lead to new questions about the pasts we study.

Of course, I also hope that more attention on Memories/Motifs will help scholars recognize the postwar period as a moment of intense Holocaust memory construction and spark continued conversation about the longer history of Holocaust memory in America.

Originally posted on memoriesmotifs.tumblr.com >

A View from McHenry

When I started documenting my first month as a CLIR Fellow at UCSC, I used the hashtag #30SantaCruzFirsts because I anticipated taking pictures of things that would be new and exciting, as well as confusing and challenging. I thought working in the library would challenge the kind of things I had learned as a graduate student and as a historian. And, to some extent, this happens everyday at work. Not only am I amazed by the amount of things that happen in one day when you’re not just writing your dissertation, but the world of the library is so extensive. I never realized how much work went on behind the scenes at academic libraries – they have secret lives behind locked doors and in collections rooms where books get rebound, manuscript collections get processed, and maps get digitized.

However, the real surprise of documenting this first 30 days has been the deer. This is not a metaphor. I see deer EVERY DAY on my way to work. I take the bus up the hill – going from the ocean to the mountains on a short 15 minute journey. And, once up the hill, I get off the bus and walk through a forest path, across a foot bridge, and under a larger wooden bridge. Along the way, I see, alternatively, a doe, a family of deers, or a male deer WITH antlers. At the end of this walk, I end up at McHenry Library, which is surrounded by Redwoods, and where, most days, an entirely different family of deer are munching the grass on the library lawn.

I think the people who have gone to school at UCSC or have worked here for a while are no longer dumb founded by the persistent presence of deer. But, I spent 7 years living in LA, where the best view on a hike is the Hollywood sign and the vistas are largely scanned for celebrity sightings. To me, seeing deer everyday is magical. And some mornings, the fog weighs down on the hill, covers the library, and I really feel like I might wander into a fantasy land.

If you’ve been following my #30SantaCruzFirsts, you’ll know that I have not posted a picture of deer everyday. Mostly, because I thought it would be excessive. And, it would also be unfair – because most people do not get to go to work in the redwood forests. They do not get to watch deer chew grass as they walk to a job that is challenging and exciting in all the best ways. Nonetheless, these 30 days have not been all deer. They have also not been as contemplative or emotional as my last 30 days in LA. I no longer feel like I’m dwelling in multiple past lives or crafting a memory of my life. Rather, I feel like I’m celebrating the unbelievable setting that I get to work in everyday.