Library News

Archives and Special Collections Teams with Zooniverse to Crowdsource Boston Phoenix Index

For nearly 50 years, The Boston Phoenix was Boston’s alternative newspaper of record, the first word on social justice, politics, and the arts and music scene. Its intrepid journalists tackled issues from safe sex and AIDS awareness to gay rights, marriage equality, and the legalization of marijuana. Ads for roommates, romantic mates, and band mates—one could find all these and more in the newspaper’s probing, irreverent, entertaining pages. It ceased publication in March 2013, but in 2015 was preserved for posterity thanks to owner Stephen Mindich’s decision in September to donate the paper’s archives to the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections (NUASC).

Screenshot of the Boston Phoenix 1974! Zooniverse Project pageToday, NUASC launches Boston Phoenix, 1974!, a new project that aims to make The Boston Phoenix’s content more accessible to researchers. Using Zooniverse, Boston Phoenix 1974! (left) will recruit an army of volunteers to create an index to The Boston Phoenix. Participants will be re-typing a large set of index cards that once helped Phoenix reporters find past articles. Volunteers will have the opportunity to take a deep dive into the arts, culture, politics, and topics of vital importance to Bostonians in 1974 by encountering articles such as “The Winning Ways of Mike Dukakis,” “Kissinger: Financing the Death of a Government,” “Lifestyles: Conversing with Lesbian Mothers,” “Changes ahead for Cambridge Rent Control,” or “Garrity on Busing: No Delaying Tactics." The nonprofit Zooniverse offers this platform to connect professional researchers with 1 million+ volunteers in order to enable research that would not be possible, or practical, otherwise.

Index card from a 1974 issue of the Boston PhoenixFor any researcher visiting NUASC to research Boston’s political, cultural, and social history between the 1970s through the early 2000s, The Boston Phoenix is always recommended as a primary resource, and it is widely used both for research and teaching. Pre-COVID, NUASC staff had previously digitized January-June 1974 of The Boston Phoenix for preservation purposes (right). These issues are now available, and provide a prime opportunity for revisiting this year—one filled with civil unrest, racial violence, and ubiquitous activism.

NUASC is offering this free (and fun!) activity for use in homes and classrooms across greater Boston (and nationally through the Zooniverse’s already-established volunteer network) in order to build a community of support—people who will be inspired to read articles they have transcribed and write about them on their favorite social media platform. When complete, the index will become a way for researchers to quickly pinpoint articles without having to browse whole issues. Ultimately, NUASC hopes to raise $250,000 to digitize the entire collection.

For information about the complete contents of NUASC’s collection of the Phoenix and some brief background information, please go to our portal page.

The Boston Phoenix masthead

Little Buttons, Big Movements: Processing the Mary M. Leno Button Collection

[caption id="attachment_275540" align="alignleft" width="398"]Mary M. Leno Button Collection NUASC estimates the collection contains about 5,000 buttons documenting a number of political and social movements, mostly since the 1960s. Original label for this box: “Peace Now; Bombs and Guns; Native Americans.”[/caption]

Northeastern Archives and Special Collections holds the Mary M. Leno button collection (Z09-016 and Z19-011), a personal collection of about 5,000 items collected by Leno which document a range of social issues and political activism from the second half of the 20th century and early 21st century. The materials in this collection complement other special collections in the repository, and give voice to local, national, and international solidarity movements. The Archives has recently developed a plan to organize and inventory the collection, and is also considering digitization.

The collection consists mostly of pinback buttons featuring text and graphics, as well as enamel buttons, patches, and ribbons. Most buttons with text are in English, but we have also found items in Spanish, Russian, and Japanese. The topics the buttons cover include women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, African-American rights, Native American rights, prisoners' rights, immigrant rights, civil rights, ecology and environmentalism, health issues, nuclear power, housing and development, war and imperialism, labor issues and unions, media power, consumer rights, and ageism, among other subjects. A large part of the collection consists of American political campaign and political party buttons, spanning back to at least 1916.

Despite spanning such a diverse range of topics, the majority of buttons are undated and typically provide little provenance information beyond manufacturing details. Text or graphics usually give some indication of context, but often we cannot place the buttons in a particular time and place, and know little about their background prior to donation. Because of this lack of context, we have decided to organize buttons by topic to the best of our ability. Most buttons were grouped into loose topics when they were donated. Apart from adding some additional topics and changing some language, we have decided to in large part retain Leno’s original organization of the materials.

One of the most interesting aspects of this collection is how many of the buttons address intersectional issues and activism. Buttons about eco-feminism, housework labor, environmental racism, consumer divestment, AIDS prevention, and political prisoners are just some examples of overlapping movements and topics. To accommodate this, we intend to inventory and record basic information about each button, to help users find specific items they may be looking for across topics. The hope is that this will support the discovery and research of intersectional issues and social movements.

We hope that by processing and enhancing access to the Mary M. Leno button collection, we can help patrons research and discover histories of social and political activism through archival objects. The collection is open for research, and we encourage you to come take a look when the reading room reopens. For more information, please contact us at archives@northeastern.edu.

[caption id="attachment_275541" align="alignleft" width="306"]Mary M. Leno Button Collection Buttons arrived at the Archives in several boxes, with multiple topics represented in each box. Original label for this box: “Multi-Cultural; African-Americans; Native-Americans, Prisoners’ Rights; Imperialism.”[/caption] [caption id="attachment_275545" align="alignright" width="373"]Mary M. Leno Button Collection A box of buttons documenting LGBTQ- and AIDS-related activism.[/caption]

Using PIVOT to Find Funding and Publishing Homes for Your Research

When it comes to finding research funding and publishing opportunities, PIVOT is a valuable resource to make the search a little easier. Interdisciplinary and current, PIVOT provides a variety of ways to access information about grants and calls for papers, and to identify potential research collaborators. The red bar at the top of the page allows users to search by Profiles of successfully funded research; browse and keyword search functions for publishing opportunities is under Papers Invited; and the Awards link provides details about awarded grants, researchers, and sponsors.

[caption id="attachment_275530" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The main page of the PIVOT database guides users on how to search for the latest funding and publishing opportunities for researchers.[/caption]

For new users to PIVOT, a good place to start would be to check out the menu options under Funding Discovery.

The tabs to the right of Funding Discovery allow you to search by text, sponsor, or keyword, and the latter provides a broad alphabetical listing of research topics.

For those that would rather see available resources in their particular research interest and check other related research subjects, users can explore an interactive feature that displays the scope of all available funding within the database. Click on the Funding Discovery link, then Take a Tour and browse by keyword to see how much money is available by research topic.

[caption id="attachment_275531" align="aligncenter" width="300"] This interactive tool breaks down how much funding is available for various fields or topics.[/caption]

As always, if you have any questions about using PIVOT, or any other library resources, contact your subject librarian.

Discovering Roxbury

Northeastern University has the advantage of being surrounded by many different and distinct Boston neighborhoods. The Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections works to preserve the voices from these communities by collecting from different organizations. One of the newest collections available is from the non-profit organization Discover Roxbury.

As its name implies, Discover Roxbury aims to help people, both locals and tourists, to discover all of the things Roxbury has to offer. Originally named the Bridges Program, this organization was started by Marcia Butman in 1995 in order to introduce urban neighborhoods to suburban parents and students in the METCO program. The organization offers foot, trolley, and bike tours that include visits to historic sites, art galleries, and restaurants. These themed tours are lead by trained Roxbury residents passionate about sharing their knowledge on the history of the neighborhood and its current vibrant arts and culture scene.

Butman’s vision for the organization has always been collaboration, which has led to partnerships with organizations such as the Roxbury Cultural Network, The First Church in Roxbury, Roxbury Heritage State Park, and the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. Through these partnerships Discover Roxbury has been able to hold events supporting local artists such as Roxbury Open Studios and ArtRox, events supporting local restaurants and cuisines like Roxtoberfest, as well as holiday pop ups and their annual fundraiser Heart of the Hub held at the historic Hibernian Hall located in Dudley Square. 

The collection includes marketing materials for events and programs, administrative materials, and research used for teaching resources and tour scripts. The collection is currently unprocessed, but if researchers are interested in using the materials, please contact archive staff at archives@northeastern.edu.

Beyond the Reading Room: Access the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections Online

It’s easy to think of an archives as being bound to one space: a reading room. However the organizational, descriptive, and educational work of the archivists at the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections goes well beyond the reading room. There are many resources available so that your archival goals can be met no matter where you are.

Even though we cannot take you through a physical tour of the Archives, we have a series of webinars that introduce you to the Archives and how to work with us, highlight our Asian American and African American digital collections, and teach you how to navigate a finding aid. Find our recorded webinars here and watch the library calendar for more webinars coming this summer!

Experiential learning with the Archives and Special Collections doesn’t stop when you can’t visit the reading room. Instead it shifts to engaged digital pedagogy with our over 64,000 digitized archival records. We are able to hold remote class sessions introducing you to Latinx history in Boston, using archival visual resources, telling stories informed by archival material, and more. Learn how to schedule a class session or workshop and view some of our class examples on our newly published Teaching with Archives Program page.

Want to learn more about our variety of digitized collections? Visit some of our CERES exhibit portals where you can view online exhibits and browse collections’ records in context. Find our collection sites with exhibits and contextual resources below: 

Have a question about Boston history or using Archives? Our reference services are still open and available by contacting archives@northeastern.edu or filling out this form to contact us here.

We look forward to working with you beyond the reading room to continue activating the history of Greater Boston and Northeastern through the use of our records.