Archives and Special Collections

Sourcery partnership receives $805,000 Andrew W. Mellon Grant

A partnership of various libraries and archives, led by Greenhouse Studios at the University of Connecticut and including the Northeastern University Library, has recently been awarded a $805,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The two-year grant will support the continued development and outreach of Sourcery, “a mobile application that streamlines the scanning of remote of archival materials, provides better connections between researchers and archivists, and offers new and more equitable pathways for archival research.”

According to Greenhouse Studios: “Sourcery is an open-source web application that expands access to non-digitized archival sources. The app, developed by Greenhouse Studios and supported by the non-profit Corporation for Digital Scholarship (CDS), is accessible on any device connected to the Internet. Sourcery provides archivists with a streamlined reference scanning workflow, payment processing services, and analytics on document requests. It provides researchers with a single interface for placing document requests across multiple remote repositories–a practice that has taken on new urgency during this time of limited in-person access to collections.”

Northeastern University Library is one of three partner repositories from which researchers can request documents. The others are Hartford Public Library and the University of Connecticut Archives and Special Collections. A fourth repository—Folger Shakespeare Library—will join the partnership upon completion of a renovation in 2023.

The grant is the second awarded to the group for the Sourcery project, after an initial Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant in 2020.

Overcoming the Paywall: Radical empathy and making the Gay Community News accessible to all

When Jackson Davidow was looking for information on Boston’s gay community in the 1970s, he knew where to go.

“I’ve long been interested in the relationship between queer politics and queer art, particularly in Boston in the 1970s, a point at which the city was a crucial hub of gay discourse, activism, nightlife, and sex,” said Davidow, a postdoctoral fellow in the “Translating Race” Lab at the Center for the Humanities at Tufts University. Gay Community News “was grounded in the political, cultural, and social environments of Boston. For that reason, it is an invaluable resource for researchers who study gay and lesbian life and liberation in Boston and beyond.”

Scan of the January 12, 1974 issue of the Gay Community News. It includes the headlines: New Gay Bills; UNH Saga Continues; and Maine Gays Attacked
The January 12, 1974, issue of the Gay Community News, one of its first published.

Gay Community News (GCN) was started in 1973 by eight Bostonians seeking to create a community voice for gays and lesbians in the Boston area. Originally published as a 2-page mimeographed sheet, the newspaper grew to have a national and international audience by the late 1970s and became one of the longest-running and most progressive national newspapers in the gay community. It was a natural place to start to gather the information Davidow needed. Issues of the GCN and records from its parent organization, the Bromfield Street Educational Foundation were subsequently donated to the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections (NUASC).  

While today’s researchers can contact many archives by email and receive scans of collections remotely, there was a time when physically visiting an Archives was only possible for those who lived in or could travel to the area. To provide more access to collections in the 1980s and 1990s, some Archives made arrangements to microfilm high use portions of their collections. In recent years those microfilms have been digitized and are offered via subscription to libraries — usually at a high cost — and then made available to the students and faculty affiliated with that university, a practice commonly described as “paywalling.”

The August 2-8, 1987, issue of the Gay Community News. Its front page is an image of protesters standing in front of the U.S. Capitol with the headline "DC-Active! Coming out center stage to march on Washington"
The August 2-8, 1987, of the Gay Community News.

Unfortunately, this means that the many of the volunteers who wrote and edited articles, turned the crank on the mimeograph machine, or paid to advertise a queer night at a local club no longer have access to the content they created. It’s a trend that Giordana Mecagni, Head of the NUASC, knows all too well. Troubled, she recently published “Tear Down This (Pay)wall!: Equality, Equity, and Liberation for Archivists” in the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies. The piece describes the negative effect paywalled archives have on institutions, archives, and researchers, and focuses on the GCN.

“Having the Gay Community News behind a paywall results in uneven access, where affiliates of universities can access the resource but members of marginalized groups within the queer community may not,” Mecagni wrote.

“Paywalls restrict who has access to archival materials. Many scholars are independent and unattached to academic institutions, or attached to academic institutions that do not have the money to subscribe to special historical resources,” Davidow added.

The NUASC recently completed an effort to made the Gay Community News freely available to anyone by re-scanning the GCN with help from the Boston Public Library’s “Library for the Commonwealth” program. This program provides free scanning services to Massachusetts libraries who have unique materials they want to share widely  and freely. Now researchers, students, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, writers, and anyone else can browse through 26 years of the GCN to get a glimpse of the gay community in Boston and around the world.

Researchers like Davidow are thrilled.

“The digitization of GCN helps scholars and community members learn about and revisit these important histories,” he said. “During my research for my recent essay in The Baffler, ‘Against Our Vanishing,’ I talked with many people involved in GCN, and everyone was thrilled to learn that the full run is available online.”

The GCN is available to access digitally through the NUASC’s LGBTQIA+ History Collection.

Restoring Agency with Subject Analysis: Daniela Saunders and the Freedom House Inc. Collection

The Freedom House digitization project has been an ongoing effort to make the archival records of the Freedom House Inc. Records available through the Digital Repository Service (DRS). Initially begun as a photograph-focused endeavor in 2007, the project has expanded to the print records of the collection with the aim to make broadly accessible the documentary evidence of Freedom House’s activities in community activism and urban renewal in Roxbury during the mid-to-late 20th century.

Introduction
Part of the digitization process includes the creation of metadata for each record so that people can find an individual item with the sea of documents. Metadata is the identifying information of a record, such as its title, author, creation date, and other components.

Recently, archivists have placed greater emphasis on the subject heading aspect of cataloging records.1 Archivists now recognize that the creation of subjects and descriptions as access points to a record is an inherently biased activity that can influence how one approaches and perceives the record itself and the topics it contains. While these access points are extremely helpful in improving search results, these pathways are created by archivists, i.e. people. Since archivists create metadata, the data reflects our perspectives, thereby making it imperative that we be mindfully aware of our unconscious biases. We must do the necessary self-evaluative work about ourselves, the power dynamics in which we function, and the multifarious impacts of our decisions on various groups.

Records are created within certain settings for certain purposes—whether political or social—and an archivist inserts the meta-narrative layer of collecting and making accessible those records. There is power in that process and traditionally the process has privileged dominant social systems, which then reinforces social inequities. The myth of neutrality in subject cataloging has led to subject headings that can reinforce biases, stereotypes, and offensive representations, as well as misrepresent and alienate marginalized communities. For instance, a reclassification project at GBH recognized the negative false equivalence of police only interacting with criminals in their legacy subject term “Law Enforcement & Crimes,” which they have changed to “Legal System.”2

Recently, many archivists have risen to the challenge of acknowledging the persistency of power dynamics and are actively seeking to infuse their metadata creation with inclusion, diversity, and social justice practices. I myself have recently undertaken the ethical reasoning behind the use of certain subject headings to achieve descriptions that not only increase searchability and accuracy but also are respectful and empowering to subjects previously ignored. It is my hope that by developing cultural competency, the records will be more accessible to the communities reflected in their content, which may be one small step towards actively dismantling oppressive systems.

The Collection and Daniela Saunders
As I digitized the Freedom House Inc. Records, I stumbled upon an eye-opening folder about the Police-Community Relations Committee. The records from this folder of items from 1960 to 1966 document a growing awareness in Roxbury of police-community relation issues. At the time, there were community memories of problems and instances a decade prior. Back in 1952, the murder of Rabbi Zuber sparked meetings calling for community action. However, the initial uproar dwindled and while close relations and neighbors continued to fight for change, it was a small endeavor.

Scanned image of a paper reading: "Co-operating Organizations: International Association of Chiefs of Police, Massachusetts Police Chiefs Association, Massachusetts Department of Probation, Massachusetts Youth Service Board, Massachusetts Department of Correction, Boston College Law School, Northeastern Region, National Conference of Christian and Jews. Purpose: The basic purpose of the Institute is to help improve communication between police and community leaders through the discussion of problems of concern to police, other law enforcement agencies, and public and private community agencies. Specifically, the TALKS AND DISCUSSION WILL BE IN THE AREAS OF HUMAN RELATIONS PROBLEMS, POPULATION CHANGES, JUVENILE-ADULT RELATIONSHIPS, THE POLICE ROLE, THE ROLE OF COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS, AND IN RELATED AREAS.
Mission statement from “Program of Police – Community Relations Institute with notes about National Conference of Christians and Jews police – community relations, March 29 and 30, 1960.” February 29, 1968. Freedom House Inc. records (M16_B030_F1015_004) Northeastern University Library Archives and Special Collections Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts Box 30, Folder 1015

Some larger efforts did persist, including a Police-Community Relations Institute Conference held in 1960 that connected with religious organizations to discuss the relations between mass media, social work agencies, the judicial court system, civil rights, legislation, and the police. However, the improvements called for in the decade of discussions did not become sweeping real-world improvements. As a result, over the course of a year between the summers of 1962 and 1963, there were a number of stranglings of women in the greater Boston area.3

On January 5, 1963, 16-year-old Daniela Saunders was murdered in an alleyway between Warren Street and Elm Hill Park, just a few blocks from her home. The next day, 500 members of her community met with Otto P. Snowden and Freedom House to discuss what underlying social problems led to the tragedy. Initiated by a small group of mothers voicing the need to prevent such violence, the meeting expanded to the 500-person turnout. Many individuals voiced their perspectives on the issue:

  • Dewey Duckett outlined the general disinterest of the Boston Police Department Division 9 towards the community it was supposed to protect. He talked about how “the local police had clearly evidenced an incapacity to understand or respect either the local citizens themselves or their simple desire for minimal adequate protection.”4
  • Attorney Benjamin Johnson called for the creation of a 100-person auxiliary police of community members.
  • Mrs. Leona Tynes cited the practical issue of poor lighting facilities.
  • Mrs. Oswald Jordan recalled the aftermath of Rabbi Zuber’s murder and described the emotional toll of these types of meetings over the last decade since they had not led to any actual change.

At the end of the meeting, the goal was set to create a committee to meet with city officials, namely Commissioner Edmund L. McNamara, Captain Paul Sullivan, and Sergeant Kelly of Division 9. The other four main suggestions were to add foot patrolmen; ensure that police answered complaints with courtesy instead of their current lack of sensitivity; increase the effort to improve problem areas; and fire police that demonstrated bias towards the black community.

Scanned image of a report that reads: As a result of all of the foregoing, the following suggestions were made: 1. That foot patrolmen be assigned to certain designated trouble spots in the area such as: Warren St., Humboldt Ave., Blue Hill Ave., Grove Hall and Seaver Street. 2. That police take steps to clean up known areas of houses of ill repute and illicit operation. 3. That the police commissioner order policemen to answer citizens' complaints promptly and courteously. 4. No policeman be retained on the force who fails to accord Negroes the same prompt, courteous protection which is due all citizens of Boston. The people were specifically concerned with the attitude of the police toward the Negro citizens of Roxbury and their laxity in the performance of their duty. Four of the many cases presented which graphically illustrate these concerns will be cited now. The meeting adjourned at 11:50 p.m.
Suggestions from “Report from special community meeting about police issues, Daniela Saunders and Rabbi Zuber murders, and race relations held January 6, 1963.” January 6, 1963. Freedom House Inc. records (M16) Northeastern University Library Archives and Special Collections Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts Box 30, Folder 1015

Another meeting held January 8, 1962, at the Jeremiah E. Burke School further expanded the four main issues. About 1,500 citizens gathered to demand change. Kenneth Guscott, representing the NAACP, called for a Villante Committee similar to what the Peace Corps created in Harlem. Police Commissioner McNamara personally attended this meeting, although he was met with objections when he attempted to downplay his former neglect by referring to his personal connection with a black member of the police force.

The various efforts aimed to “promote a better understanding between the protected and the protector.”5 The end goal was a positive coordinated action program formulated and carried out by neighborhood associations in affiliation with the local police. Along with Mayor John F. Collins and Commissioner McNamara’s immediate pledges to increase training in criminal investigation and compulsory attendance of courses at Northwest University and the FBI National Academy, the events led to long-term communication between the Roxbury community, city officials, and the police. The Freedom House Inc. Records reflect and display these sustained efforts.

Two scanned pages of a document reading: Outline on Various Phases of Police Activities I. REASON - The need for a singular approach to a singular, many faceted problem of law enforcement, calling for the concerted efforts on the part of the many City departments, to bring about a coordinated action program as viewed by the man on the scene. II. PURPOSE - To contribute towards the above-mentioned coordinated action program, in outline form, positive constructive suggestions with an accent on the POSITIVE approach, rather than via negative destructive criticism. III. GOAL - A New Look Program IV. OBJECTIVE - Through a smooth cohesive combined movement of various City Departments in conjunction with the Police Department, to come forth with plans insured of maximum efficiency with a minimum amount of expenditures on the part of those involved. A. Coordination EXAMPLE NO. 1: Fire Dept. with Police Dept. a. Reduce number of false alarms; by pinpointing the trouble areas, operational City costs will be lowered, as each fire alarm, false or otherwise, costs the City approximately $600. EXAMPLE NO. 2: Sanitation Dept. with Police Dept. a. Law enforcement (A tow-way street). Strict enforcement of the sanitation laws; picking up all complaints of littering, improper disposal of trash from windows into lots or backyards and so forth. (In this way, the police will get to know the people he is dealing with; whether poor and law-abiding or poor, without regard for law and order). EXAMPLE NO. 3: Police Dept. with Social Agencies (UCS) a. Referral reports to be made where repeated calls complaining of disorderly conduct, and the like, bring the patrolman into family groups where it is very obvious that the home environment is so out of line as to very definitely evidence its adverse effects in the conduct, attitude, attire and educational status of the numerous children therein. This would also include where there was pointed neglect in the feeding, housing and guidance of these unfortunate youngsters, and where there was physical and mental distress of one kind or another. b. A short Referral form would put this case immediately under investigation of a social agency who will then endeavor to educate and guide the faulty member. c. This kind of follow through between the Police and the Social Agency would, in a definite way, meet the need on the home base, of preventative medicine in areas of juvenile delinquency, tuberculosis, etc. B. Cooperation - People and the Police Dept. a. Volunteer Police 1.) Strengthen the Auxiliary Police Branch, enlist more volunteer police. Recruitment requests to be made under advisement. C. Police Structure a. Expand subordinate levels of command 1.) Form a fine network for all trouble areas, starting right from the blocks to the streets, from the streets to the neighborhood, from there to the areas from areas to districts, from then on up to the precincts. (Auxiliary assistance.) 2.) Inspectors - A systematic step to insure the effectivity of a program of this type is through periodic inspection. If the crime rate has increased in one section, the responsible person, whether on a block level, or street, neighborhood, area, district or precinct, pinpoints the location and troubleshooters give a 24-hour kind of watch--he cleans up, makes his referral reports to said responsible person who does the same right on up to the man in the station under whom he falls. The total summation is then given to the head man--the Captain. This in no way changes the structure as it now stands but rather it puts subordinate authority under certain officers as appointed by the Captain of the station; this delegation of authority gives added strength to police operations, it means a sorting out of the problem that should be in the field of Sanitation Authorities, a Social Agency, Domestic Court, Truancy Dept. and irons out the hopeful method
Pages from “Outline on various phases of police activities.” April 28, 1964. Freedom House Inc. records (M16) Northeastern University Library Archives and Special Collections Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts Box 30, Folder 1015
Scanned newspaper photo of Daniela Saunders with the caption reading: DANIELA M. SAUNDERS, 16, MURDER VICTIM Suffered Terrifying Death in Dark Roxbury Alley
Photograph from “Photocopy of newspaper article, Neighbors of slain girl hit lack of cops.” (Boston Record American), January 7, 1963. Freedom House Inc. records (M16) Northeastern University Library Archives and Special Collections Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts Box 30, Folder 1015

Daniela Saunders’ Impact
The events of Daniela Saunders’ murder and the aftermath from Roxbury’s community response are integral components to the larger historic narrative of the police-community relations documented in the Freedom House Inc. Records. Her story may be limited to a folder in this vast collection but her impact disseminates through many boxes. So many activities were initiated by her tragic demise.

However, most metadata elements do not provide space for Daniela. She wasn’t the author or creator of the records, she was not included in the title of the records, and her name was often eliminated in the documents themselves. Within the records of Folder 1015, Daniela was more of a ghost, a whisper, trickled throughout the newspaper articles, letters, meeting minutes, and reports. She may have been the impetus for change, but she didn’t have agency in these metadata components.

Additionally, in the larger historic narrative, Daniela has been forgotten. She is currently not listed as one of the Boston Strangler’s 13 victims despite the connection to the “Phantom Strangler” made in 1963.6

Scanned image of a newspaper article reading: "Responsibility for the death of Daniela Saunders lies on the shoulders of every Roxbury resident. For it can be truly said that she is dead because she lived in Roxbury.
Quote from Kenneth I. Guscott, NAACP in “Photocopy of newspaper article, Peace Corps urged to aid hub police.” 1963. Freedom House Inc. records (M16) Northeastern University Library Archives and Special Collections Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts Box 30, Folder 1015

When making the metadata for items in Folder 1015, I wanted to allow Daniela to regain her own agency in being remembered. The power of remembering is enormous—it becomes public memory and informs current events. Therefore, archival records provide an opportunity to bear witness to an event when it has been lost to time. I knew I needed a way to provide a pathway to Daniela and link her to these records. I produced these conditions by making Daniela a Name Subject Heading, a practice that we are not often implementing in the Freedom House Inc. digitization project. Due to the large scope of the collection and the logistical issues of maintaining authorized subject headings over 83 containers, Name Subject Headings for individuals are a rare occurrence.

However, with the addition of this metadata component, Daniela’s story becomes accessible to the public. She is no longer a passive victim, marginalized and obscured, but is now an active agent at the forefront of police-community relations in 1963 Roxbury. People can now find the records related to Daniela and they can situate her contribution within the larger Freedom House and Roxbury narratives.

Additionally, the records can give the public a resource for holding historical agents accountable. The 1960s were fraught with many issues between communities of color and the police nationwide. The events of 1963 in Roxbury become a part of that larger context.

Scanned newspaper photograph of Boston Police Commissioner Edmund McNamara leaning forward and listening to a large group of citizens. The caption reads: McNAMARA AND CRITIC - Boston police commissioner listens to complaint of a finger-shaking Roxbury resident while others await their turn.
Image from “Photocopy of Boston Globe article, 1000 in Roxbury jeer McNamara.” (Boston Globe), January 9, 1963. Freedom House Inc. records (M16) Northeastern University Library Archives and Special Collections Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts Box 30, Folder 1015

Finally, by recognizing Daniela and the events of 1963, I hope that the records and their metadata have an enduring impact on our current society. Police brutality, racism, abuse, systematic oppression, and unnecessary force are all topics that we see in the news every day. Past calls for better training and systematic changes to the police force are similar to present-day news stories. We are constantly exposed to the reality of this violence and our nation collectively feels an emotional toll possibly similar to the one described by Mrs. Oswald Jordan in January 1963. Maybe these historic records can help inform our present discourse. By knowing what happened in the past, maybe we can make more informed decisions, and ultimately, be the change we strive to see.

For more information about police-community relations in the 1960s, you can visit the folders on Police-Community Relations Committee, 1960-1966; Police-Community relations, 1960-1966; and Police-Community Relations Conference of the National Consortium for Continuous Improvement in Higher Education (NCCI), 1966. These folders 1015-1017 are newly available on the DRS website here.

1A non-comprehensive list of recent literature includes, Jillian Ewalt, “Toward Inclusive Description: Reparations through Community-Driven Metadata,” NEA Newsletter 46, no. 2 (April 2019): 4-7; Rosale de Mattos, “The Representation of Archival Information in Controlled Vocabularies: The Context of the Archival Institutions in Rio de Janeiro,” Knowledge Organization 47, no. 7 (2019): 548-557; Samuel J. Edge, “A Subject “Queer”-y: A Literature Review on Subject Access to LGBTIQ Materials,” Serials Librarian 75, no. 1-4 (Jul-Dec 2018): 81-90; Gracen Brilmyer, “Archival assemblages: applying disability studies’ political/relational model to archival description,” Archival Science 18, no. 2 (Jun 2018): 95-118.
2Miranda Villesvik and Raananah Sarid-Segal, “Making Metadata Inclusive to Marginalized Voices” (presentation, Archives for a Changing World, NEA Spring Conference, Virtual, March 27, 2021).
3The Boston Strangler continued to murder young women in the Boston area until 1964. For more information, see Ronald Lettieri, “Boston Strangler.” Salem Press Encyclopedia (2019); Jess Bidgood, “50 Years Later, a Break in a Boston Strangler Case,” New York Times, July 11, 2013; Paul Hoblin, Boston Strangler (Unsolved Mysteries). Abdo Publishing, 2012; Susan Kelly, The Boston Stranglers: The Public Conviction of Albert DeSalvo and the True Story of Eleven Shocking Murders. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Pub. Group, 1995.
4“Report from special community meeting about police issues, Daniela Saunders and Rabbi Zuber murders, and race relations held January 6, 1096.” January 6, 1963. Freedom House Inc. Records (M16). Northeastern University Library. Archives and Special Collections Department. Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts. Box 30, Folder 1015.
5“Outline on various phases of police activities.” April 28, 1964. UASC identifier: M16_B030_F1015_005. Freedom House Inc. Series 3: Programs. Sub-Series B: Urban Renewal. Neighborhood Associations. Police-Community Relations Committee, 1960-1966.
6Jack Thomas, “Victims of the Boston Strangler,” The Boston Globe, July 11, 2013. https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/07/11/victims-boston-strangler/CwbsZlSNcfwmhSetpqNlhL/story.html

Archives Research Project Included in “The Teaching with Primary Sources Cookbook”

Take 2 library professionals.
Add 25 high school students.
Mix in a specially curated collection of archival materials.
And let simmer over a 90-minute class period.

Cover image of The Teaching with Primary Sources Cookbook, edited by Julie M. Porterfield

This is the recipe Reference and Outreach Librarian Molly Brown and Arts, Humanities, and Experiential Learning Library Regina Pagani have perfected while working with students and teachers from the Boston Public Schools over the past few years and it is now included in The Teaching with Primary Sources Cookbook, a collection of first-hand accounts from librarians, archivists, and other educators who use primary sources to teach information literacy skills to various audiences.


Brown and Pagani’s project is detailed in chapter 28 and titled “A Potluck of Expertise: Inviting Boston Public Schools’ Juniors to Use Northeastern’s Archives and Special Collections’ Pantry to Build Their Recipes.” They detail an ongoing project they have developed with BPS educators Chris Madsen and Katherine Petta where students work in groups to write a biography of an activist who advocated for racial equality in Boston’s public schools, using primary sources from the Archives’ vast social justice collections.

Regina Pagani and Molly Brown teach a class of students in the Archives Reading Room
Regina Pagani and Molly Brown (standing) lead Lucy Maulsby’s architecture class on a lesson in archival research, similar to the types of classes they teach to BPS juniors. Photo courtesy of Mary Hughes.

The chapter provides a detailed account of the project, with suggestions for ways to alter it based on different archives’ collections. The 2021 edition of The Teaching with Primary Sources Cookbook, edited by Julie M. Porterfield, is available through the American Library Association.

To learn more about the different ways Brown, Pagani and other Northeastern University Library staff members have utilized the Archives’ unique collections to teach primary source research to students at Northeastern and at the Boston Public Schools, visit the Teaching with Archives page.

CRRJ Archives Helps Bring Justice to Racially Motivated Crimes

As the broader American public has recently begun seeing the social, economic, and political impact of historical injustices in the United States, one thing has become clear—we don’t all have the same understanding of the events that brought us to this place. All too often, violence has been used to enforce boundaries on where people could live, work, and exercise their right to vote. Bringing that history to light and working toward justice for the victims of violence and their communities is imperative to achieving true equality for all.

The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) at the Northeastern University School of Law does this work, conducting research and supporting policy initiatives on anti-civil rights violence in the United States and other miscarriages of justice during the period of 1930-1970.

CRRJ Website Screenshot

CRRJ has come to serve as a resource for scholars, policymakers, and organizers involved in various initiatives seeking justice for their crimes. Since its founding in 2007, CRRJ has amassed thousands of investigative records about racial violence—death certificates, police reports, and Department of Justice and NAACP files, along with their own interviews and investigative reports. Those records reflect that hidden history, and CRRJ, in partnership with the Northeastern University Library, is taking the next step toward making this historical information available and accessible to victims’ families, researchers, and journalists through the CRRJ Burnham-Nobles Archive (BNA). Containing the records of over 1,100 violent incidents, the BNA is centered on record-keeping as accountability for past racial violence and its ongoing effects today.

Burnham-Nobles Reading Room Website Screenshot

The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project Burnham-Nobles Archive consists of two main parts: a collection of the evidentiary records compiled by law clinic investigators, and a database of information captured from those records, both provided to users on a dedicated website.

As you might imagine, such a larger project requires the work of many. I was hired as Project Archivist in February 2020 to help transition CRRJ’s case records from a collection of individual cases to an aggregation of information from which patterns might emerge—about the victims, circumstances of their deaths, and the justice systems which failed to bring alleged perpetrators to account. Based in the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections (UASC), I work as the bridge between the legal staff of CRRJ and the staff in the Northeastern University Library. Being part of the UASC allows me to access the expertise of colleagues with experience with other collections and digital processes.

Alongside UASC, many NU library staff are directly involved in bringing the project to life. These include the staffs of Resource and Discovery Services and the Digital Scholarship Group, as well as staff in other departments who have contributed their expertise through consultations.

We began our work by looking backward and forward—what structures and information we have to work with, the collection as it exists in the Digital Repository Service (DRS) and within CRRJ, and what structures of CRRJ’s ongoing work and library structures we can construct which might support the archive in the future.

While we have many tangible successes we can point to, underlying all that we have accomplished is a genuine sense of collaboration and an approach to our work through the lens of CRRJ’s mission of justice and respect for the victims of racially motivated homicide.