“Storytelling, Archives, and Resilience”: reflecting on the role of community archives in the Boston Marathon bombing

Posted by: Caroline Klibanoff


On Monday, April 23 – five years and a week after tragedy struck Boston in the form of the Boston Marathon bombing – faculty, staff, students and members of the community gathered in Alumni Center to share reflections on remembering traumatic events and processing grief through collections and digital archives. The event commemorated five years of collecting objects and memories in “Our Marathon: the Boston Bombing Digital Archive,” a project that originated at Northeastern through efforts in the NULab for Texts, Maps and Networks, the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, and the Northeastern University Libraries. This year, faculty, staff and graduate students worked to migrate the site’s contents and metadata onto a new digital space under library management, giving it a long-term home where the collection can be preserved. Megan Barney, Lauren Bergnes Sell and David Heilbrun will reflect on their experience completing this migration in future blog posts.

The event featured a panel of scholars whose work has been grounded in collecting and preserving so-called “grief archives,” including:

  • Dan Cohen, Vice Provost for Information Collaboration and Dean of University Libraries and co-director of the 9/11 Digital Archive
  • Ashley Maynor, award-winning filmmaker behind The Story of the Stuff and currently Digital Scholarship Librarian at New York University
  • Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Our Marathon Principal Investigator and currently Professor of English at Northeastern University
  • Kristi Girdharry, the Our Marathon Oral History Project Manager and currently Assistant Professor of English at Johnson and Wales University
  • Jim McGrath, Co-director of the Our Marathon project and currently post-doctoral Fellow in Digital Public Humanities at Brown University.

Amanda Rust introduces panelists

Amanda Rust, Assistant Director of the Digital Scholarship Group, introduced the panelists to a packed crowd including university professors, graduate students, library staff, community members and project partners from outside Northeastern.

As moderator, Cohen discussed findings and recollections from his experience as co-director of the 9/11 Digital Archive. He noted the emotional intelligence required to do this kind of work, especially in regards to community engagement.

Maynor, the filmmaker behind The Story of the Stuff, set the stage by discussing the therapeutic effect of saving and organizing objects across various circumstances like family archives and spontaneous shrines. She noted that the value of such archives can be that they protect objects, put away for safekeeping; we know they are there, but we don’t have to look at them anymore.

Ashley Maynor

Girdharry and McGrath joined Maddock Dillon in a discussion of the process and outcome of the Our Marathon digital archive. Girdharry spoke to her work as Oral History Project Manager, where she discovered the clusters of stories that emerged from a wide range of personal experiences. She pointed out the different angles of narrative involved to tell a more complete story of the events of that day. Maddock Dillon, the project’s principal investigator, also highlighted the collective nature of the archive, drawn from crowdsourced objects and memories, and the collective labor that went into producing and maintaining it. These aspects, she said, along with the desire to enable the community to reclaim the narrative, drove the project’s name, “Our Marathon.”

From left: Jim McGrath; Kristi Girdharry; Elizabeth Maddock Dillon; Dan Cohen

As co-director of the project, McGrath has been highly involved in the archive from conception to its move to a new home in the library. McGrath initiated the collection’s move to a more permanent web space, and it is thanks to his persistence and care that the Our Marathon digital archive will continue to be accessible. During the panel, he pointed out the critical importance of community engagement in doing this kind of work, and how listening to the needs and values of multiple communities can correct our assumptions. He has written more about his long-term experience on the project at the National Council on Public History blog History@Work.

After listening to the panel presentation, the audience asked questions about the labor and process of managing such collections and the role of the digital in future work.

The Our Marathon: Boston Bombing Digital Archive is viewable at https://marathon.library.northeastern.edu/about/.

Posted in: Digital Humanities, Library News and Events


Northeastern receives Mellon Foundation grant to launch center for study of Boston

Posted by: Jon Reed


by Northeastern News

Northeastern University has received a $200,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest funder of the humanities in the United States, to launch a new center dedicated to the study of Boston, enabling researchers from around the world to shed light on the city’s past, present, and future.

“Boston is a global city grounded in the past, thriving in the present and innovating for the future,” said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University. “The work of Northeastern researchers and scholars across the humanities, data sciences, and other fields will create unprecedented entry into more than a hundred years of legacy for many generations to come.”

Based in the Northeastern University library, the center will leverage Northeastern’s expertise at the cross-section of data-driven disciplines, including journalism, network science, and the digital humanities, and will draw on unique archival resources and data sets.

At the new center, Northeastern students, scholars, and outside collaborators will work together to combine historical material and contemporary data in an effort to better understand the past and envision the future. The heart of the center will be a data unit, which will provide a secure but open venue for the storage, management, analysis, and visualization of a critical mass of public and proprietary data.

Northeastern’s NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks, the university’s center for digital humanities and computational social science, and the Boston Area Research Initiative, a program aimed at spurring advanced research in the Greater Boston area that both advances scholarship and improves public policy, will also be part of the ongoing work of the center.

The solutions developed by the center will have global implications, as 54 percent of the world’s population currently lives in an urban environment.

“We deeply appreciate the Mellon Foundation’s generous support for this effort,” said Dan Cohen, dean of libraries and vice provost for information collaboration at Northeastern. “As a city that has been evolving over hundreds of years, Boston is incredibly rich in both history and data. We look forward to the insight that will come out of synthesizing the past and the present.”

Northeastern has a growing collection of valuable archives, including the collection of Boston-based resources, such as the complete archives of The Boston Phoenix, the Gay Community News, and the East Boston Community News. Housed in Northeastern’s library system, these resources solidify Northeastern’s position as the primary hub for researching the people, places, and institutions that have shaped Boston into one of the world’s most vibrant cities.

“The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supports libraries in developing community-based archives for the 21st century, particularly those seeking to better engage their vibrant—though at times underrepresented—surrounding communities in documenting their histories and cultures, ” noted Patricia Hswe, program officer for scholarly communications at the Mellon Foundation.

The city of Boston dates back nearly four centuries, to the earliest era of the European colonization of the Americas. For researchers looking to understand topics ranging from spiritual history to population shifts to social integration to climate change, Boston provides an unrivaled trove of historical events and lessons for the world.

The Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for Humanities also announced last week that Northeastern University is one of seven institutions awarded funds to convert out-of-print humanities texts into ebooks. The funding will allow Northeastern University Press to digitize and create freely accessible ebooks for 18 books focusing on humanities titles on the history of Boston.

Posted in: Serendipity


Northeastern’s Archives Featured in City of Boston’s Racial Equity History Project

Posted by: Jon Reed


For the past two years, Northeastern University Library’s Archives and Special Collections have been working with the Race Equity Working Group of the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Race Equity. The MORRE Office’s primary mission is to help build resilience for all Bostonians by addressing and challenging social and racial inequities.  The Racial Equity working group (an advisory group for the office) consisted of incredible warriors– smart, experienced, passionate people who do battle every day but still are able to laugh, breathe, and do it all over again the next day. 

The Chief Resilience Officer leading the charge to create Boston’s Resiliency Plan, Atyia Martin, and her staff allowed The Archives to assist the effort by convening a group of historians and archivists  (‘history holders’) and Race Equity Working Group members to strategize how lesser known/understood aspects of Boston’s history across race and ethnicity, including immigrants, could be showcased from a personal and policy perspective. As Donna Bivens and co. write in the Boston Busing/Desegregation Project’s 7 Lessons “Access to a more complete picture of this history is access to knowledge about how power works to enable and limit us. That access allows us to focus our individual and collective efforts to make real social change.”

One of the results of this convening was POLICY, PLACE, and POWER in an evolving city: BOSTON’S RACIAL EQUITY HISTORY PROJECT, a map and timeline that describes flashpoints, battlegrounds, and structures of inequity in the City of Boston. You can view that timeline at http://socialjustice.library.northeastern.edu/

Posted in: Archives and Special Collections, Library News and Events


Finals Week. It’s Here. We Can Help.

Posted by: Jon Reed


Finals. The most glorious time of the year. Your friends at Snell Library and at Curry Student Center know that it is an incredibly stressful time. That’s why we’ve got some Finals Week activities for you at Snell and Curry.

Firstly, we’ll have a coloring table beginning on Reading Day and all through finals week set up in Snell’s Lobby. Coloring is a fantastic, proven way to reduce stress and focus on something other than college. We’ll also have positive post-it notes for inspiration and some bubble wrap to pop your stress away!

On Reading Day, we’ll have massage chairs with professional masseuses as well as energy filled snacks to hand out from 12-4 PM. A big thanks to our friends at Fit University for making this happen. Feeling stressed about last minute citations, bibliographies, or research? We have Walk-In Research Help throughout finals and 24/7 chat service for any last minute help you may need.


We love that you love to study in Snell but we understand that sometimes more space is needed. So, our friends at Curry have reserved some rooms for you for finals week study. From 6PM to 2AM, rooms 342 and 342 will be open for quiet study and room 440 will be open for collaborative study in Curry. There will also be study breaks with coffee and positive vibes in Campus Crossroads on 4/20 from 10-11AM and 4/23 fro m4-3PM. Drop by and say hi!


Throughout all of Finals Week, be on the lookout for goodie bag giveaways, free coffee study breaks, and positive sentiments from library staff. From all of us here at Snell Library and Curry Student Center, we wish you the best of luck on your finals!

Posted in: Serendipity


2018 Call for CERES Classroom Proposals

Posted by: Sarah Sweeney


Call for ProposalsIt’s that time of year again – time for the CERES Call for Proposals! This year the Digital Scholarship Group is looking for faculty to submit project proposals for classroom use of the CERES Exhibit Toolkit in Fall 2018 or Spring 2019. The deadline for proposals is April 30, 2018. 

Deadline: April 30, 2018

Apply here 

The CERES Exhibit Toolkit is a WordPress plugin and theme developed by DSG staff. CERES is used to create websites that dynamically integrate images, text, video, and other digital materials into complex scholarly narratives and exhibits, while keeping those base digital materials preserved in a long-lasting archive. Visit our projects page for a full list of sites and exhibits that have been built using CERES.

Classroom use of CERES might take many forms, including:

  • Having students contribute exhibits (singly or in groups) to a long-term cumulative project that might persist from year to year: for example, focusing on a particular set of archival materials
  • Having students work on curating a set of archival materials relating to an existing CERES project: for instance, adding georeferencing information to enable the creation of dynamic maps
  • Having students contribute exhibits to one of the existing CERES projects that invites contributions, such as the Early Black Boston Digital Almanac

To support classroom use of CERES, DSG offers training for faculty and teaching assistants in using CERES, and can visit the class and provide instruction or lead discussion about the exhibit-building process and tools. We have an extensive set of supporting materials including step-by-step instructions, how-to guides, and sample assignments. We are also happy to work with faculty on planning out syllabi and lesson plans that make imaginative use of these digital tools, at whatever scale works best for the learning objectives of the course.

We are happy to meet with anyone interested in submitting a proposal to talk about possibilities. For more information, please contact us at dsg@neu.edu.

Apply here. We look forward to working with you!

Posted in: Library News and Events