Changes to U.S. Copyright Office Could Impact Public Historians

On April 26, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to transform the Register of Copyrights from a position responsible to the Librarian of Congress to a political appointment chosen by the President and confirmed by the Senate. If passed by the Senate, this legislation could impact public historians and others who rely on the Library of Congress to represent the interests of educators, scholars, librarians, and archivists when administering copyright law.

The James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress houses the U.S. Copyright Office. 2011 U.S. Government photo by the Architect of the Capitol.

The “Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017,” or H.R. 1695, passed the House with bipartisan support on a vote of 378 to 48. Proponents claim that the legislation will help modernize the Copyright Office, which has been overseen by the Library of Congress since 1870. The text of the bill, however, does nothing to update the Copyright Office’s systems or procedures — it simply gives the President rather than the Librarian of Congress power to appoint the Register of Copyrights. Critics of this change, including the American Library Association (ALA), the Society for American Archivists (SAA), and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), argue that it would further politicize the copyright office and elevate the influence of entertainment industry lobbyists over other copyright system stakeholders.

The U.S. Constitution authorized Congress to grant copyrights “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” Courts have interpreted this clause to mean that copyright law must balance the rights of authors and creators with the public’s fair use of copyrighted works to advance art and science through research, education, and other fields. Locating the Copyright Office within the Library of Congress, a research institution, helps keep the administration of copyright law accountable to its constitutional mission.

Historians, archivists, librarians, and others rely on the Register of Copyrights to maintain the official historical record of copyrighted materials, as well as tools like the Fair Use Index that compile legal decisions on the use of copyrighted works for education and research. The Register of Copyrights is also responsible for recommending exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s prohibition against circumventing copyright protection systems. Under current law, the Register must consider the “use of works for nonprofit archival, preservation, and educational purposes” among other factors in granting exemptions — a consideration  that may determine whether historians in future years can access electronic sources published with software based copy-protection or D.R.M.

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Chicago Open Archives

In the same spirit as Open House Chicago, Chicago Open Archives welcomes the public to tour over 30 cultural institutions around the city. Chicago Area Archivists hosts the event that runs from October 6 to October 8, 2016. Visitors have the opportunity to take part in behind the scenes tours and will have access to several places that are normally off limits to the public. Along with tours, visitors can engage with librarians, archivists, and museum curators. Other events include film screenings and exhibit talks.

Please note that in order to tour and/or participate in some of the events, preregistration may be required. Registration closes at midnight on October 4, 2016. There may be admission fees at some of the institutions. Check out the Chicago Open Archive website to learn more about the event and participating cultural institutions.

A+ for LGBTQ Organization: The Gerber/Hart Library

Last Friday, I pedaled my butt to 6500 N. Clark Street to visit the Gerber/Hart Library, Chicago’s premier LGBTQ research space. At first I wondered if I was at the right building, as construction equipment and workers occupied the ground level, but the second floor was attractive and very open for business. An exhibit on LGBT music and a community bulletin board/table, offering free materials such as The Windy City Times, greeted me before I even entered the library. Once inside, I received an enthusiastic welcome from the staff member who offered a tour of the library, exhibits, and even the archives and special collections. The space was bright and inviting, equally embracing its academic mission and community-development role.

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Public History as It Happens: Grant Writing for a Historical Society (Part 1)

Graduate students in public history at Loyola University recently launched “The Public History Lab,” an initiative to increase community interaction and service. The PHL offered to the nearby Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society volunteer student labor and advice ranging from collections management to membership development and programming. One area of focus is grant writing. This series of posts follows the process of beginning a grant application from scratch. And hopefully concludes with news of success!

Targeting a Grant

As Grant Project Coordinator, my first task was to identify some feasible grants for RPWRHS. Factors for this feasibility include: relevance to the institution, realistic expectations for submitting a competitive application, and the extensiveness of an application in relation to our available labor. I knew, generally, of collection assessment grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Unfortunately the deadline had not only passed, but it also appeared that RPWRHS may not qualify as primarily a “museum.” But only a bit more searching led to the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded “Preservation Assistance Grant for Smaller Institution.”

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So, tell me about Frank Holmes…

Public history MA student Jessica Hagen reconstructs portions of man’s rich life, using documents found during her NARA-Chicago summer internship.

7358 S Pulaski

Okay so, I had a super fun find while refoldering and adding admiralty cases to the database a few weeks ago. Admiralty cases, remember, are those relating to the Great Lakes and are heard in federal court, specifically the Northern district of Ohio, Eastern division (Cleveland).

Anyway, the first case I opened on Tuesday morning after I got to work was number 3206, “In the Matter of the effects of Frank Holmes, deceased seaman, late a member of the crew, A. W. Osborne.” Evidently, Mr. Holmes drowned on July 30, 1934 (sad). His effects stayed with the case because his family (if he had one in the states) was never located. The master of the steamer, W. G. Coles, sent a statement and Holmes’ personal effects to Vance & Joys Company, a vessel agent for the Wilson Transit Company, on December 23, 1934. In his personal effects were several neat…

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Plans for Summer 2013

PH Students
Loyola Chicago Public History students at Historic Pullman, Chicago
Photo by Greg Ruth

What do public history grad students do with their summers? Learn about the exciting internships and projects that students are undertaking across the country and beyond.  Be sure to check back over the summer and  fall for students’ reflections on their work.  To read about what our students did last summer, click here and here.

Anne Cullen, Second Year Public History Masters Student: After a whirlwind summer in New York City last year, I plan to stay put in Chicago this time around. I’m currently employed as a Public History Consultant at History Works, Inc. and a Project Assistant on the Chicago Community Trust Oral History Project, both of which will continue into the summer months. In June I’ll also be partnering with the Women and Leadership Archives to curate an online exhibit using materials from the Mundelein Collection. Since I’ll be finishing my degree this May, I can’t wait to spend my newly-found free time on the Lake Michigan beach reading for pleasure.

Chelsea Denault, First Year Public History PhD Student: This summer, I am headed to “The Best Island in the World” (thanks National Geographic!), Nantucket! I’ll be working there as a Public Programs and Visitor Experience Intern at the Nantucket Historical Association. Over the summer, I will help the NHA staff run their summer programs, including family art classes, evening concerts, lectures & cocktail nights, and – the community favorite – a (very) dramatic reading of Orson Welles’ play “Moby-Dick Rehearsed” in the NHA’s Whaling Museum. I will also be working on a yet-to-be-determined individual project (look for the big unveiling on my blog!). When I’m not caught up doing public history-related work, I plan on spending my New England summer enjoying clambakes, harvesting quahogs, whale watching, and learning how to sail!

William Ippen, Second Year Public History PhD Student: I plan to devote most of my time this summer to completing my dissertation proposal, along with the occasional backpacking trip. In the realm of public history, I will be collaborating on a National Register nomination with Devin Hunter for The Plant, a self-contained vertical agricultural complex occupying the historic Peer Foods building in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. The project will pioneer new avenues for industrial preservation and public history sustainability. I will also continue my work as a member of the NCPH Task Force on Sustainability and Public History. We are currently developing a white paper to be presented at the 2014 NCPH Annual Meeting in Monterrey that will address the intersection of public history and sustainability, the issues therein, define the role of the task force, and recommend NCPH policies and practices regarding sustainability. Sustainability will be that meeting’s theme, and members of the task force will be organizing panels and roundtables around that theme.

Maisie O’Malley, First Year Public History Masters Student:    I plan to spend this summah dropping my R’s, eating lobstah, and having a wicked good time interning in Boston.  I will be splitting my time between the South End Historical Society and the Boston College Archives.  I will primarily intern at SEHS, where I will work on a variety of projects geared toward the preservation of the South End’s historic built environment.  At BC, I will work on the Emmett Larkin Papers.  Larkin, a prominent Irish history scholar, is famous for his work on the role of the Catholic Church in Ireland after the Great Famine.  During my free time I’ll be taking advantage of all the history Boston has to offer, so check out my blog about life in the “Hub of the Universe”!

Laura Pearce, First Year Public History Masters Student: This July I will be heading to Poland through a Fellows Program from the Auschwitz Jewish Center for an intense three-week experience learning about the Holocaust and Jewish heritage in Poland.  The other Fellows and I will visit Kraków, Warsaw, Łódź, Treblinka, and Oświęcim (Auschwitz) as well as South-Eastern Poland. We will meet with local leaders, learn about the areas Jewish heritage and pre-war Jewish culture, hear what life was like under the Nazis and Communism, and explore the state (or lack thereof?) of Jewish communities and memory in Poland today.  I’m especially excited for a workshop with collections and education staff at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum!  In August, after I return to the states, I’ll begin my fall internship with the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.  While a focus on the Holocaust won’t make this a particularly upbeat summer, will without a doubt be engaging and educational to say the least.

Jessica Hagen, First Year Public History Masters Student: I’m going to be spending my summer as an archival intern at the National Archives and Records Administration regional office here in Chicago. I am going to be working on a variety of projects this summer, some alone and a few with another intern (yay group projects!). I am also the graduate student intern at the University Archives and Special Collections at Loyola, and I am looking forward to employing the archival techniques I have learned at LUC to my work at NARA Chicago. I am  anticipating that I will learn so much more throughout this summer as well. I am super excited about this experience and cannot wait to get started! I’ll be blogging throughout the summer so if you like archives, old documents, entertaining stories about experiences with the public, or are curious about why keeping records of the past is important, check it out. I will also be actively documenting my internship throughout the summer on my twitter machine with the hashtag: #SummertimeChiAtNARA. (For those of you familiar with the twitter, yes, I do realize how stupendously long that hashtag is. I will probably be amending it sometime during the summer, but I will put that update on my blog as well.)

Navigating the Past from our Pockets : Instagram and Public History

Anyone that knows me personally knows I’m quite the nerdy hobby photographer. Just read my archives on this blog to find out for yourself. So, when I caved and finally purchased my first smart phone last December, I immediately uploaded Instagram and started snapping away. For those of you scratching your heads and asking, “Insta-what?”, Instagram is a smart phone app (now also available on iPads) that functions like Twitter for the aspiring photographers of the world. You snap photos, add filters, and can share your photos with other Instagrammers who “follow” your feed. In turn, you can follow others, too.

With Web 2.0 now all the rage, a variety of history-related apps are available for our smart technologies. From the Library of Congress Virtual Tour to Historypin to Oregon Trail, history is literally right inside our pockets and purses. Smart phone technology has in many ways democratized access to history and history-related resources like never before. Which leads me back to Instragram. As a public historian, over-eager photog and smart phone user, I find these three worlds colliding on my iPhone 5 all the time.  In their photo-sharing ways, Instagram users are also sharing, shaping and navigating the past. So, how do we explore history with Instragram? How do I?

Below are just some of the ways. I’ve included my original captions with the images. To follow my Instagram happenings, you can follow my account annie_cullen on your smart technology or take a peek at my online profile here. Disclaimer: yes, I take too many pictures of my cats.

Instagramming History
Dream bathroom. #cuneomansion #oldshit #latergram #publichistory @zhenshchina

Instagramming History
Last set of books for the last semester of graduate school.

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The Archive Blitz

Over the past few years, autumn has meant archive time for me. Notwithstanding a soft spot for falling leaves, I can’t help but be drawn to yellowing records this time of year. The chance to take on new projects, visit new repositories, and work in new collections seems a harvest festival of sorts. By far the sappiest of my seasonal rites and research analogies comes from another fall tradition—that is, American football.

I used the “archive blitz” to help me move past one of the biggest challenges historians face. The reality of limited archive time forces researchers, especially less experienced researches like me, to broach questions with not necessarily intuitive answers. What material is required to help solve my research problem? How do I prioritize the essential material when there is so much interesting but nonessential material in this collection? When is enough really enough? More completed projects and more hours in the archive give seasoned historians confidence in approaching new collections on a time crunch, research skills sharpened through steady work over many years. In the throes of a semester though, I found an aggressive approach to these questions helped me move forward when I wanted to linger over every record, folder, and box.

My game plan scheduled an unrelenting number of archival trips into several chunks. The awareness of an appointment at another archive the next day motivated me to comb a collection for the essentials. Sometimes, I visited two different archives in the same day, eating lunch in transit. With a more structured and ambitious approach to archive time, I better prioritized what was most useful for my projects before, only if time allowed, looking for stories in unexpected places. Trying to move quickly helped me attack my research question with more focus. I stopped saving the best documents for last, wasting time optimistically poking around for evidence that was seldom there. I started pursuing the real leads with more relentlessness.

This fall, I bring up this approach to once again psych myself up for time in the archive. Despite the aggressive strategy last year, I found myself making additional trips to the archives. These extra visits happened because I came across more material than anticipated and because research questions evolved as the project progressed—both good things. Having said this, I attribute these positive developments to starting fast, and only later slowing down and really digging in. Whereas in past terms my projects had their respective archives relatively close together, this time around I’m working in archives with both great distances between each other and a real trek from where I live. Time to see if the archive blitz works as well on the road as it has at home.