Nismo Club Wed, 23 Nov 2022 15:17:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Nismo Club 32 32 Boston research center creates model to preserve history Wed, 23 Nov 2022 15:17:05 +0000

The corner of Massachusetts and Columbus Avenues was once something more than flat land. It used to be more than just another in a long list of mixed-use development sites with condos in Boston.

For South End residents, it was the Harriet Tubman House. Founded in the early 20th century as a stand-alone space for and by black women on Holyoke Street, in 1975 it became a community center run by United South End Settlements until it was sold in 2019 to help to keep the organization afloat. Eventually it was demolished.

The house was an integral part of Boston’s black community, but its centuries-old history — the kind not told in museums or textbooks — was also in danger of being lost with demolition. Fortunately, the building’s history and the memories of the community were saved thanks to the hard work of the residents who came together under the I Am Harriet coalition, USES itself, and the resources and ingenuity of the Boston Research Center.

Students pose for the camera during an after-school computer lesson at Harriett Tubman House, a community center in the South End which has since been demolished. United South End Settlements records (M126), Northeastern University Library, Archives and Special Collections

Through a unique collaboration between the Northeastern University Library, the Boston Public Library, and community organizers and leaders, the BRC created the Harriet Tubman House Memory Project to help digitally preserve and tell the story of not only the site, but also of the community that existed around him. And the South End isn’t the only Boston community that has been able to work with the BRC to tell its story. The BRC has worked with community groups in East Boston and Chinatown to create hubs of innovative local history archival projects.

“The archives of the rich and powerful, the institutional archives, the places with resources and power, tend to be preserved – that’s how it is forever,” says Dan Cohen, dean of libraries and vice provost for information collaboration at Northeastern. “For the first time, we are able to rectify the gaps, the really unfortunate gaps, that occur in historic preservation and access because we have a better view of what is important to save. …And we have new ways to make sure we can help expand access to the world so that everyone can have access to these materials.

The project began as a collaboration between the Northeast Archives and Special Collections and the Digital Scholarship Group and the BPL. Dory Klein, community history and digitization specialist at BPL, says this kind of partnership between public and private libraries is not abnormal, “but it doesn’t happen as frequently as it should.”

For Northeastern, the partnership amplifies the reach of the university’s archives, which focus on the history of Boston’s underrepresented communities, through more than two dozen BPL branch libraries. For BPL, this is an opportunity to build web-based projects that would have been impossible without Northeastern’s digital expertise and infrastructure.