Founded in 1802, the U.S. Library of Congress is one of the world’s largest repositories of human knowledge. Now, a new initiative backed by a $15 million grant seeks to expand the National Archive to include diverse experiences. NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano speaks with Dr. Carla Hayden, the first woman and first African American Librarian of Congress about the project.
Founded in 1802, the Library of Congress or LOC is one of the world's largest repositories of human history and knowledge, storing tens of millions of items available to the public.
Now, a new initiative backed by a $15 million grant seeks to expand the National Archive to include diverse experiences and to help better understand America's past.
NewsHour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano spoke with historians, including Carla Hayden, the first woman and first African American Librarian of Congress about the project.
William F. Hooley:
Four score and seven years ago…
Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address. The papers of Clara Barton and Benjamin Franklin. Those are just a snapshot of the 171 million historical items preserved at the Library of Congress, and available for study, both online, and on-site in Washington DC.
Franklin D. Roosevelt:
Yesterday, December 7, 1941 a date which will live in infamy…
But there are more stories and more histories of groups that have been underrepresented in American history.
Carla Hayden is the Librarian of Congress, and would like to see a change in what resides in the annals of history.
What we'd like to encourage everyone to think about is the fact that they have stories of value.
That is why the LOC is inviting archivists from underrepresented communities of color to add to the National Archive and offer fresh perspectives on the Library's existing resources.
Announced in January, the multi-year initiative called 'Of the People, Widening the Path' is supported by a $15 million investment from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Foundation is also a funder of NewsHour.
This grant will allow us to work with communities to think about what will a historian one hundred years from now, what do we need to start collecting now to make sure that they get the full story?
Applications are now being accepted for the program's three components: funding community-based documentarians, providing paid internships and fellowships, and finally, investing in a range of digital projects with a focus on Black, Latinx and indigenous voices.
We hope that more people will get excited about the fact that they can make history and look at history that we already collected in a different way. To delve into collections, learn archival methods and be the future researchers and documentarians.
Guha Shankar, a specialist with the Library's American Folklife Center, says this call for new and diverse voices will provide the next generation of archivists with a more complete version of American history.
The way in which historical materials can expand public consciousness of our shared history, I think is really important. But for specific communities, it means the recuperation of cultural knowledge, which was denied them.
He points to the Library's "Born into Slavery" collection, produced in the mid-1930s by the Works Progress Administration's Federal Writers Project. It is the world's largest collection of first-hand accounts, photos, and recordings of formerly enslaved people.
Well, just tell me what your name is.
My name is Fountain Hughes.
Shankar points out that these interviews were not documented by stakeholders within their own communities.
Some of the fieldworkers were overly zealous in terms of translating the idioms into these very less than less than accurate ways. So there's a sense that these people really are illiterate in the way in which they're portrayed in the narratives. Then certain narratives don't even bother with trying to transcribe or capture the words of the interviewees, it phrases the interview in the words of the interviewer.
Independent historian Sandra Arnold is using the photographs from the 'Born into Slavery' collection as part of a public participation project she's created on Instagram called 'Sacred to the Memory'.
When you read the narratives, you don't get a sense that they were able to express themselves the way that they wanted. While I was at Brown, actually as a graduate student, I became aware of the photographs. I just I fell in love with the photographs and I thought that the photographs spoke more about the individual's experiences in slavery than the type written narratives.
Arnold seeks to shed a new light on the lived experiences of the individuals profiled by delving into the collection's 500 photographs.
You see a woman cooking, you see a man, possibly fixing his car, standing in front of his car, you see an individual standing on their farm. You see an individual doing things that normal everyday people did then, and now, that humanizes them. Because I think a lot of individuals, unfortunately, who were slaves in our country, they're not humanized. Slavery itself is not humanized.
Curators at the Library would like to see more projects like Arnold's independent 'Sacred to the Memory'.
What we have here is a unique opportunity to explore the historical richness and diversity of American public life.
As Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden sees the 'Of the People' initiative as a continuation of her duty.
The Library of Congress has been since 1802, when the first Librarian of Congress was appointed, responsible, and saw as its mission of collecting history and culture of America, of this country as the National Library. And it is important for the Library of Congress to continue to collect history. History never stops. So I'm just really carrying on and making sure that we go into the next decades with more voices and more history being told.
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Ivette Feliciano shoots, produces and reports on camera for PBS NewsHour Weekend. Before starting with NewsHour in 2013, she worked as a one-person-band correspondent for the News 12 Networks, where she won a New York Press Club Award for her coverage of Super Storm Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast in 2012. Prior to that, Ivette was the Associate Producer of Latin American news for Worldfocus, a nationally televised, daily international news show seen on Public Television. While at Worldfocus, Ivette served as the show’s Field Producer and Reporter for Latin America, covering special reports on the Mexican drug war as well as a 5-part series out of Bolivia, which included an interview with President Evo Morales. In 2010, she co-produced a documentary series on New York’s baseball history that aired on Channel Thirteen. Ivette holds a Master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in broadcast journalism.
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