SAA 2014 with the Dance Heritage Coalition

Society_of_American_Archivists-logo-F571E1CF13-seeklogo.comThe Dance Heritage Coalition Fellows cohort of 2014 reunited once again in Washington, DC for the Society of American Archivists annual meeting of August 2014. I was overjoyed to see the rest of the fellows again, and catch up. I was lucky enough to be in DC for the whole 13 week fellowship, so I did get to meet up with Kat, Libby, and Heather Darnell at various points in the summer. There was so much to talk about – everyone’s fellowship placements at larger institutions and smaller dance companies, technical information about digital archives, processing work, outreach, and building relationships with coworkers and artists! And experiences in new cities and repositories were very interesting. I felt very connected to all the fellows, through following their blogs, and hearing from them on Facebook (in a group Ailina set up after our first week in Chicago), but the conference was the perfect opportunity to exchange our experiences and I am so grateful to have been a part of it!

The first meeting I attended with the rest of the cohort was the Performing Arts Roundtable, where we learned about the dance archives projects at the Oregon Multicultural Archives from Natalia Fernandez and punk zine projects in the DC area at three different repositories. These projects were very exciting and interesting and showed that dance and performing arts archivists work across many different libraries and archives, with goals to represent the dance community as well as many cultures, ethnicities, and subcultures.

AM2014-web-logo1The setup was similar at the Native American Archives Roundtable that Friday. There were announcements and updates from members that gave me a really good idea of how the roundtable supports its members, and how it fits in to the greater organization. The rest of the time was for presentations – Dr. Kim Christen-Withey gave a presentation on the Sustainable Heritage Network which strives to create and sustain connections between tribal libraries, archives, and museums, sharing resources and knowledge online. Christen-Withey brought up examples from the summer workshop Association of Tribal Archives Libraries and Museums conference (ATALM) where attendees used hands-on workshops to learn and discuss shared issues in their home institutions. We heard again from Natalia Hernandez from the Oregon Multicultural Archives and Elizabeth Joffrion from Western Washington University on their study of how tribal and non-tribal institutions can come together and build successful partnerships. I was struck by many parallels and overlap between cultural heritage concerns and issues that dance companies and artists face.

"Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything." - Library of Congress Great Hall, where the reception was held.

“Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” – Library of Congress Great Hall, where the reception was held.

I attended many sessions during the conference week, and I will describe a few of the standouts here. The session that Kat Bell facilitated on the last day of the conference “When Communities Perform Their Own Documentation: The Dos and Don’ts of Building a Community / Family Documentation Project,” was a great use of the “fishbowl” discussion format, where speakers sit in an inner circle of the room, leaving extra chairs for people to jump in with their own examples or questions. We heard from a great many projects at many different repositories on the challenges and opportunities of community archives projects. And it was great to hear Kat talk about the DHC fellows work and artist-driven archives to a large audience. I attended a morning session on “Getting Things Done with Born-Digital Collections” which offered practical advice, tools, and case studies from several institutions. Though all the archivists had done amazing work, they stressed that there is no perfect way to deal with born-digital collections and that each archivist must do the best they can with the resources they have. Other themes were building good relationships with IT staff, being able to explain the importance and urgency of your work, training staff, and demystifying the process of born-digital records programs.

I also attended a session called “Weighing in for the Balance: Indigenous Researcher Perspectives on Using Non-Native Archives,” which brought presentations from Navajo historian Zonnie Gorman and Dr. David Lewis manager of Cultural Exhibits and Archives at the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde in Oregon. Gorman shared the story of her research at NARA about the original 29 Navajo code talkers in WWII, and her discovery of George Clinton the “30th man.” This inspiring research narrative was followed by Lewis’s long work of collecting, reclaiming, and sharing the history of Oregon tribes from state and federal repositories through the Southwest Oregon Research Project (SWORP). These two speakers were tied together further by words of encouragement and a call for further projects and research that support indigenous archives research from Guha Shankar from the American Folklife Center and Jennifer O’Neal from the University of Oregon Libraries. Another conference highlight was presenting a student poster on the Oneida Nation Film Preservation Project (through the Tribal Libraries Archives and Museums project in Wisconisn) with my project partner Emily Swenson, along with many other talented LIS students presenting their research. All the DHC fellows stopped by the poster to hear our short talk and give their support!

Myself and Emily Swenson next to our research poster!

Myself and Emily Swenson next to our research poster!

As a cohort, we were able to meet past DHC fellows and partners at the conference, as well as DHC staff who work with the Digitization Hub in at the DHC offices in DC. This was a great opportunity to hear what possibilities are in store for the future of the DHC. Thanks again to the DHC for  providing us with the fantastic combination of education, connections, and inspiration found at SAA 2014!

One more shot from inside the Library of Congress!

One more shot from inside the Library of Congress!

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Processing the Thimey Collection at the Historical Society of Washington, DC

The Historical Society of Washington, DC

The Historical Society of Washington, DC

Another project I had for the summer was to work with Anne McDonough at the Historical Society of Washington, DC (HSW). I was there two days per week for the last six weeks of the Dance Heritage Coalition fellowship, splitting my time between HSW and the American Folklife Center. Our goal for my short time at the HSW was to improve the accessibility of dance collections, since HSW staff have many collections projects to work on, and don’t have much time to dedicate to dance and movement collections.

 

After surveying dance-related collections identified by a previous DHC fellow, we decided that it would be best to focus on the Erika Thimey collection, a large collection of papers, photographs, LPs, audio/visual materials, and a few objects. Erika Thimey was a modern dancer and choreographer who lived and worked in Washington, DC from 1939-2006, known for her pioneering work in children’s dance and sacred or liturgical dance.  She also taught dance at Howard University for over a decade. This collection is very important to dance in Washington, DC and I was glad to learn more about Thimey’s legacy!

A previous DHC fellow had processed some of the collection, created a finding aid, and partial contents list. We quickly discovered there was processing work to be done, as well as adding content to the finding aid and inventory. I worked through about 16 additional containers, sometimes applying an MPLP (More Product, Less Process) style of processing, and sometimes going into more item-level detail when necessary – with audio, videotape and film materials.

Thimey file folders

Thimey file folders

Children in dance class

Children in dance class

Sacred dance performance photo

Sacred dance performance photo

I created a few new series and added these descriptions to the finding aid, and edited the whole document to reflect changes. I added a complete content list of new materials, adding to the existing documentation and restructuring the finding aid. My favorite series, and the part of the collection that still needs work, is the collection of photographs from Thimey’s career as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher. There were many beautiful prints, mostly black and white, of individual dancers and group performances. This collection will be very useful to researchers now that it is more fully processed and described.

A few pamphlets and flyers for local dance companies found in the Thimey collection.

A few pamphlets and flyers for local dance companies found in the Thimey collection.

Dancer photo

Dancer photo

Performance photo

Performance photo

Along with the completed finding aid and processed collection, I also provided recommendations for preservation and future digitization of the collection. These are steps that I could not help with over the summer, but will hopefully be worked on in the future as relationships between the HSW and DHC develop! Another collection for dance research is the large Mary Day collection consisting of books, photographs, correspondence, magazine and newspaper articles, programs, business records, publicity materials, scrapbooks, and memorabilia related to Day’s early career as a dancer and her work with the Washington Ballet company and Academy.

Finally, a big thank you to Anne McDonough, Laura Berry, and the rest of the staff and volunteers at the Historical Society of Washington, DC! Everyone was very welcoming and helpful with the DHC project, and went out of their way to give me advice and help every step of the way! Great people and projects going on at this institution, make sure to visit in person or check out their website or follow on facebook or twitter!

Final Steps at the American Folklife Center

American Folklife Center Logo

American Folklife Center Logo

Greetings! In this post I will share what I have been wrapping up at the American Folklife Center. The main focus of my last 6 weeks at the AFC has been to create a topic guide to dance and movement collections found at the AFC. This was a large task – I ended up with other 20 pages of content! I closely followed the format of other topic guides found on the AFC website, listing the collection title, identifier, brief description, and catalog link. The Dance and Movement Collections guide will be available soon under the topic guide link.

An example of an entry in the guide:

Square Dance Legislation Collection (AFC 1984/024)
Administrative materials, correspondence, dance publications, newspaper articles, as well as legislation documentation from the 98th Congress to designate the square dance as the national dance.
Catalog Record: http://lccn.loc.gov/2004695189

Photo: Legong dancers perform to a gamelan ensemble, Bali, 1941.

Legong dancers perform to a gamelan ensemble, Bali, 1941. (Fahnestock South Sea Collection. Photo by Howard M. Kincheloe)
http://www.loc.gov/folklife/guide/dance.html

To create this guide, I did research on the American Folklife Center collections. I knew right away about some materials in the Alan Lomax collection because of my previous project, but I knew there would be much more to find. I used the library catalog and internal collections database to do keyword searches of “dance” “dancing” and “performance.” This gave me many results to include. I also manually searched through the paper card catalog and subject files, for anything that might be a more hidden collection. In the subject files, I found Michelle Forner’s work from 1996. Michelle was a DHC intern working on several collections to improve access. I made sure to include all the collections she worked on, and even her presentation! One wonderful resource that I was given is the AFC’s Illustrated Guide, which has an entire chapter on dance. After I had assembled a long list of collections, I made sure to double check what I had put together. I did remove collections that were only documenting dance music, because I wanted the focus to be on dance and movement. The collections remaining include video, photographs, audio, and manuscript material. I also included the American Folklife Center’s Homegrown concerts that feature dance. These are available for streaming online, such as this webcast of the Kalanidhi Dance Company, a traditional Kuchipudi dance company based in Maryland.

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Beta version of Global Jukebox from ACE. http://www.reimaginechoreometrics.com/

In addition to the topic guide project, I also had the chance to be involved in a few more Choreometrics activities. I attended a meeting with Anna Lomax-Wood and Don Flemming of the Association of Cultural Equity (ACE) to discuss our progress on the Choreometrics collection this summer and hopes for the future. It was a pleasure to meet people involved in wonderful projects, and finally talk in person. We discussed the Choreometrics film data, cost estimate for digitization (pretty steep with so many important films), and what the possibilities are for the future of the collection. We talked again about the new Global Jukebox, Lomax’s vision for a map of human expression through music, dance, and language. Read more about Lomax’s vision here on ACE’s website, and potential uses here on the University of Maryland’s Re-imaging and Re-imagining Choreometrics blog. I also did some work in identifying sources for Choreometrics film information in the manuscript materials – hopefully the next fellow, intern, or archivist working on this project will find this information useful!

My last day at the Folklife Center was bittersweet, I am sad to leave so many wonderful people and projects in DC. I have learned so much about cultural heritage through folklife and ethnographic collections, and I really appreciate how dance and movement is very entwined with culture and not seen as separate. There was a wonderful concert on my very last day – Carlos Núñez and his celtic band from Galicia, Spain. It was a very energetic performance of music and dance, including a slideshow and readings of Lomax’s work in 1950s Galicia recording folklife and traditional music. I even got to see some of my favorite Folklife Center coworkers up on stage, playing the accordion and singing along with the band.

I am definitely sad to leave such a great work environment, but will continue to be inspired by the projects going on at the AFC!

Guest Post on American Folklife Center Blog

Check out my blog post featured on the AFC’s blog Folklife Today!

http://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2014/07/lomax-choreometrics-collection/

I’d recommend following Folklife Today if you haven’t already. They have frequent posts about archives, folklife, oral history, and culture! Here are a few more recent posts that I enjoyed reading:  Getting serious about collecting and preserving digital culture, Photographs of the Freedom Summer movement in the Alan Lomax Collection, and Coffee Houses: Folk Music, Culture, and Counterculture.

 

 

Next Summer Projects – HSW and AFC

American Folklife Center Logo

As I finish up my last week working on Choreometrics materials at the American Folklife Center, I am excited to announce that I will be staying on part-time for the rest of my DHC fellowship! I will change gears and focus more broadly on all dance and performance collections at the AFC. My major project will be to design a topic guide for dance collections, available for researchers on the AFC website. I hope to make the excellent dance collections found in the AFC archives more visible, and show that dance is an important part of Folklife.

While I will be wrapping up my intensive work on Choreometrics, I will be able to stay on as a contact point our external partners (UMD/LIMS, ACE) this summer. This is an added bonus for me, as the Choreometrics materials have a long road ahead of them, and it is always hard to leave a project unfinished. This way I will be able to know what activities are going on with Choreometrics for a little while longer.

Historical Society of Washington, DC

Historical Society of Washington, DC

The rest of my time will be at the Historical Society of Washington, DC working on a project with Anne McDonough, the collections manager. I will be starting at the HSW next week, learning more about their collections and planning a project for the summer. More on this piece of my practicum soon! Other possible projects this summer are to meet with dance companies to expand contacts in the DC area for the Dance Heritage Coalition.

 

Finishing up Choreometrics – Week 3-6

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Choreometrics film cans.

Learning about Alan Lomax, Forrestine Paulay, and Irmgard Bertrand’s work on the study of world dance through Choreometrics has been a wonderful experience this summer. The first half of my Dance Heritage Coalition Fellowship has ended, but the Choreometrics digitization project will have many people working on it for quite a bit longer.

In the past six weeks, I have made a lot of progress with Choreometrics materials in the Alan Lomax collection. Here are a few highlights of my work this summer:

  • I created priorities for digitization of film and paper Choreometrics materials. Not an easy task with such valuable material and shifting project goals. I created a tiered system for both film and paper materials, documents that can be changed as needed to suit the needs of all partners.
  • I improved metadata for the Choreometrics film libraries. I changed how the Access tables are organized so that film can now be searched and sorted quickly across libraries. I added metadata when possible, and investigated sources that more descriptive information about the film can be found.
  • I worked on the paper collections, refoldering and further processing sections of the choreometrics materials.
  • I communicated with Choreometrics partners: The University of Maryland and the Association for Cultural Equity are also very interested in presenting the Choreometrics project on an online platform, essentially bringing Lomax’s hopes for Choreometrics to light. The institutions (American Folklife Center, ACE, UMD, and DHC) are embarking on a partnership to secure funding for this massive project.
  • Todd Harvey and I presented some of the Choreometrics materials in an AFC archives meeting to highlight the American Indian materials in multiple formats within the Alan Lomax collection. After seeing so many Native American dance clips in the Choreometrics collections, and with the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums conference (ATALM) coming to DC next year, we thought it was important to share and explore this subject in a staff meeting. We showed three video clips, paper materials relating to the clips, and a map showing many different North and South American Indian materials – created from item level data about Lomax film and audio (created using CartoDB).
IMAG0723

Newly refoldered Choreometrics papers!

I really enjoyed working on all of these projects to improve the description and organization of Choreometrics film and paper collections. I will be staying at the American Folklife Center for the next six weeks, but only part time. I will be able to assist on any Choreometrics questions or small projects that come up, but my main project will be creating a dance-related collection guide to go on the AFC website! More on the rest of my summer in the next post, thanks for reading!

American Folklife Center Weeks 1 & 2

A view of the capitol from right outside the Library of Congress

A view of the capitol from right outside the Library of Congress

It seems like such a long time since I first arrived in Washington, DC! I have settled into my shared studio apartment, figured out the Metro, am no longer suspicious of the Library of Congress tunnels, and have made a decent number of visits to the zoo to see lion cubs and pandas!

Library of Congress Jefferson Building, on a rare rainy day.

Library of Congress Jefferson Building, on a rare rainy day.

I arrived at the American Folklife Center on June 2nd, and already felt at home on the first day (it helps that there are folklore books everywhere and a few Midwesterners on staff). The Folklife Center’s mission is to “preserve and present American Folklife,” with documentation ranging from paper archives, to audio visual materials, to art and material culture like textiles. Staff members help users with archives research, host lectures, and plan other public programming. There are three other interns working at the Center this summer: a folklorist, an ethnomusicologist, and digital preservation specialist. We all happen to represent the many different areas that the American Folklife Center covers. The AFC has many interesting projects and collections, and I am thrilled to be a part the Lomax collection team this summer! The Folklife Center’s work on Civil Rights History, preserving digital culture, the Local Legacies Collection, and collaboration on StoryCorps are just a few highlights of current projects.

The curator of the Lomax collections, Todd Harvey, hard at work at the reference desk.

The curator of the Lomax collections, Todd Harvey, hard at work at the reference desk.

For the next four weeks, I will be at the Folklife Center working with Lomax Collection curator Todd Harvey to improve description and access to Alan Lomax’s dance performance style collection known as Choreometrics. In this section of the Lomax collection, there are over 70 archives boxes of paper materials, and over 3,500 film elements. I will provide a very brief background on Alan Lomax and the Choreometrics project, but be sure to follow the links at the end of this post for a more on Choreometrics.

Choreometrics film collection at the American Folklife Center (over 3,500 film elements!)

Choreometrics film collection at the American Folklife Center (over 3,500 film elements!)

A Lomax reference book and Rhythms of the Earth, a collection of Choreometrics films.

A Lomax reference book and Rhythms of the Earth, a collection of Choreometrics films.

Alan Lomax was a folklorist and collector of folk music throughout the 20th century. His long career included the collection and study of folk song, as well as other forms of expression like dance and language. These areas of study eventually led to Lomax’s concept of cultural equity “which Lomax understood as the importance of giving all cultures a valid forum in the media and in educational curricula for the meaningful display of their arts and values” (Association for Cultural Equity). Choreometrics was a system where performance style could be observed and compared cross-culturally. Working with Irmgard Bartenieff, Forrestine Paulay, and others, Lomax developed a coding system (based on Laban Movement Analysis) by which specific aspects of dance movement were observed and rated. Lomax brought together a large sample of film clips of dance representing cultural groups from around the world and used the Choreometrics coding system to rate and compare. Lomax created educational films using these same clips to illustrate his theories about dance, culture, movement, and work across cultures.

From the Alan Lomax Collection at the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Used courtesy of the Association for Cultural Equity.

Unidentified dancers and drummers. From the Alan Lomax Collection at the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Used courtesy of the Association for Cultural Equity.

A few of my projects so far are improving metadata for film collections, rehousing portions of the paper collections, establishing priorities for future digitization, and communicating with external partners. It has been challenging to sort through endless records in Access tables, but I really enjoy getting information about the collection into a useful and meaningful order. Interns before me, including Bertram Lyons have done a fantastic job cataloging A/V materials at the item level, and paper materials at the folder level. I am also enjoying the communication between so many groups interested in preserving and providing access to Choreometrics. We have been in contact with the Association of Cultural Equality and the University of Maryland Reimaging and Reimagining Choreometrics Project, who both have a part in the future of the choreometrics materials.

From the Alan Lomax Collection at the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Used courtesy of the Association for Cultural Equity.

Woman bleaching linen on beach. From the Alan Lomax Collection at the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Used courtesy of the Association for Cultural Equity.

Getting to know a collection is always interesting, but the Choreometrics collection has so many levels of fascinating information – from the raw footage, to the work of coding, to Lomax’s analysis. The first week, I was able to view Lomax’s four documentary films compiled in Rhythms of the Earth. Whether you watch for Lomax’s theory and analysis, or simply the range of dance and movement film clips from many cultures, the films are simply captivating. I was particularly inspired by segments from Alaskan Yup’ik tribes in the film The Longest Trail, drumming and dancing with hand-held fans. I watched clips from the same time period in the Our Universes exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian, with an elder dancer explaining the significance of each dance movement. Seeing this exhibit made me think about dance as an important part of understanding culture, especially when given the care and context of NMAI’s respectful community-curated exhibits. Lomax’s work can be used in so many ways, especially if digitally preserved and shared with respectful context and proper permissions. I am excited to continue working on the Choreometrics project, and plan for the future of this important cross-cultural dance footage.

Until next time! Thank you for reading!

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Choreometrics resources:

Performance Style Research at the Association for Cultural Equity: http://research.culturalequity.org/home-psr.jsp

Summary of Choreometrics: http://research.culturalequity.org/psr-choreo.jsp

Review: http://tvmultiversity.blogspot.com/2010/11/review-of-dance-and-human-history.html

First Post and DHC Orientation Week May 2014

 

Hello! And welcome to my blog about my experiences with the Dance Heritage Coalition fellowship this summer! I am one of eight fellows selected to do work with dance legacy materials at archives around the U.S. My host archive is the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. I will be working on choreometrics materials in the Alan Lomax collection, trying to understand the collection and resolve connections between descriptive databases. More on this when I actually start the work!

 

Our one-week session of DHC orientation and training took place in Chicago, IL from May 26th to May 30th. For me, this was the step between finishing up my Library and Information Science degree in Madison, Wisconsin and starting my work at the American Folklife Center in Washington, DC. It was a good transition between these two big events in my life, even though the week in Chicago was intensive and exciting! We had a chance to get to know the other fellows in the program, as well as Libby and Imogen from the Dance Heritage Coalition. We had the opportunity to meet with archivists and artists in the Chicago area. Part of what the DHC does is to join the missions of dance companies and archival institutions together, to make materials more likely to last and preserve dance history.

Bill explains his records management techniques to the DHC 2014 cohort.

Bill explains his records management techniques to the DHC 2014 cohort.

One visit to a dance company was our trip to the Natya Dance Theatre office in downtown Chicago. This Bharata Natyam based dance company was established in 1994 and is directed by Hema Rajagopalan. Here, we met with Bill, the company manager, to speak about the company’s records and preservation goals. Bill has the unique talents of being a highly organized and efficient manager, while still understanding Hema’s artistic vision, and being a studio artist himself. We were able to see exactly how the company’s records were created, stored, and used. We learned that video is a huge part of what is produced by Natya Dance Theatre, and there are serious concerns when it comes to preserving this digital video.

 

CFA

Chicago Film Archives

 

On another side of town, we went to the Chicago Film Archives to see records that are no longer in everyday use, but are preserved for the historical record and the study of film. The Chicago Film Archives houses and provides access to films that represent Chicago and the Midwest. Nancy Watrous, the Executive Director of the CFA, gave us a personal tour of the film vaults and work areas. We learned about their history, their policy to digitize film on demand for research purposes, and some of their most prized dance collections. This was an excellent opportunity to see the Chicago Film Archive’s inner workings and understand how they see their footage of Chicago dance history.

IMAG0678 IMAG0679

 

Both of these experiences will be very helpful as I start my work with Alan Lomax’s choreometrics moving image materials at the Library of Congress, American Center for Folklife. Thanks for reading and keep an eye out for my next post!

 

DHC 2014 Fellows out for lunch! Ailina and Lotus not pictured.

DHC 2014 Fellows out for lunch! Ailina and Lotus not pictured.