Check out our interview with APH Alum Maggie Schreiner!

1) How did you first become interested in Public History?

I first became interested in Public History as a community organizer in Montreal, where I worked at a community kitchen and in solidarity with a local indigenous community. These organizations and campaigns had frequent turnover in membership, and therefore frequent loss of institutional and political memory. I often found myself assuming the role of historian, and became interested in learning techniques for creating historical memory in social justice organizations.

2) What has your career trajectory looked like?

After being out of undergrad for a few years, I moved to New York to start the Masters Program in Archives and Public History at NYU. At the same time, I began working at the Tamiment Library and Wagner Labor Archives as a graduate archival assistant. This was a natural fit for me because I had a background in communist history, and this work experience led me to become interested in the intersection between archives and public history. I graduated from the Archives and Public History Program in 2012, and have since worked at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Tamiment Library. Recently I accepted a new position at the Queens Library, where I will be working on a grant project funded by the Knight Foundation. In partnership with the Metropolitan New York Library Council and the Brooklyn Public Library, the “Culture in Transit” team will bring mobile scanning kits to branch libraries and small cultural heritage institutions to digitize materials from the communities these institutions serve. Digitized materials will be shared through local digital archives and through the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). I’m looking forward to this project as a way of bringing together my interests in archives, digitization and public history.

3) Can you tell us about the purpose and mission of the Interference Archive?

The Interference Archive is an all-volunteer run community archive that explores the relationship between cultural production and social movements. I was the primary organizer for the archive’s current exhibition, We Won’t Move: Tenants Organize in New York City. The exhibition examines the history of the tenant movement between the 1940s and the present. In addition to highlighting the diverse array of tactics employed by tenant organizers, the exhibition situates the fight for affordable housing within racial and economic justice struggles. I worked with a group of six other volunteers to do research at ten archives and to conduct outreach to over a dozen tenant organizations from across NYC. The exhibition displays flyers, posters, photographs, newspaper clippings and audio recordings, and strives to connect current campaigns with historical organizing. We timed the opening to coincide with the expiration of New York’s rent laws in June 2015.

We created a programming series to accompany the exhibition. We have hosted “Know Your Rights” trainings, film screenings, and panel discussions. We have had great conversations exploring the connections between policing and gentrification, and the roles and limitations of lawyers in the tenant movement. The success of these events has made it clear that New Yorkers are looking for spaces to discuss and learn about their changing communities and their rights as tenants. We also produced an amazing catalog, which brings together the historical content from the exhibition and pairs it with tenant resources, such as a directory, glossary and guide to the organizations who contributed to the show.

4) What are the challenges and benefits of working at an all-volunteer archive?

At an all-volunteer institution people are all donating their professional labor, and have diverse experiences and skills. We worked with an amazing designer, Greg Mihalko, to put the show and catalog together, and many people brought their knowledge and talents to the project. However, it is challenging balancing work and volunteer projects.

5) Have you had any mentors working in the field who influenced you?

I have a number of mentors, many of whom I met as a student in the Archives and Public History program. A few of these people are Melitte Buchman (NYU), Bix Gabriel (International Coalition of Sites of Conscience), and Prithi Kanakamedala (Brooklyn Historical Society, where I interned on the In Pursuit of Freedom project and learned a lot about exhibition development). And of course Peter Wosh has always provided me with advice and guidance both during the program and since graduating.

6) How do you stay connected with other alums?

I have stayed connected to other APH alums who live in NYC through social functions and through working on common projects. I also see alums at conferences like SAA and MARAC, which are great for keeping in touch with people in the field.

7) What advice would you give current students embarking on a study of Public History?

Do internships and get diverse work experience to figure out your interests. Take advantage of opportunities and keep options open because you never know what doors they will open professionally.

8)What are some of your other interests?

I play the drums and enjoy baking.

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Victoria Harty’s Internship at Brooklyn Historical Society

Armed with a notebook and a pencil, I spent most of my internship at the Brooklyn Historical Society in their research library, pouring over fire insurance atlases. Part of a larger project for a new offsite satellite location on the Brooklyn waterfront, my role was to trace the industrial development of the waterfront. Knowing very little about Brooklyn’s history and even less about the geography, the task before me seemed daunting. Fast forward eighteen weeks and I now possess an intimate knowledge of every fire insurance atlas in BHS collection from 1855 to 1941 for the neighborhoods of DUMBO and Vinegar Hill, can visually picture the development along the waterfront in a time-lapse sequence that plays on a loop in my mind, and rattle off obscure and interesting facts about the major industrial companies and manufacturers on command.

And I couldn’t be more excited.

The research process was frustrating, thrilling, and mostly intriguing. I spent hours with the atlases in the library, going block by block from the Brooklyn Navy Yard to Fulton Street from the East River into York Street. My notes reflected the changes in the area as coal sheds, stables, and small warehouses, were replaced by big name coffee companies, shoe factories, and paint companies, among a number of other national manufacturers and industries that called Brooklyn home. Compiling the research was monotonous at times, but in the end I had compiled a 70 page database from thirteen different atlases that chronicled the industrial growth of Brooklyn from the Brooklyn Navy Yard to Fulton Street.

Atlas of the City of Brooklyn, G.W. Bromley and Co., 1893

But I had to make the research useable. Coding the companies by type – warehouse, manufacturer, other industry, utility, and community development – was the first step in building a profile of the neighborhoods. The coding led to an index of every company and a note of every atlas they appeared and what they produced. Throughout the course of the project I was aware that I wasn’t going to be at BHS for the duration of the projection and other staff members and researchers would have to use my research. By creating these indexes, along with a master list of each company and their category, the research now held meaning for more than just myself.

Now I had a multicolored word document and a spreadsheet with numerous tabs. From the first leg of my research I was able to figure out who the big players on the waterfront were and from there I began writing short company bios, filled with fun facts and quirky little details, which built the narrative of why these companies were so important to the development of Brooklyn. Some of my favorite odds and ends were things like the National Licorice Company, which was headquartered in DUMBO in the early 20th century, invented Twizzlers candy which later became a subsidiary of Hershey’s. Or that E.W. Bliss Co., the largest contractor of warheads and torpedoes for the United States Navy, built cars for commercial sale in 1906.

My internship at Brooklyn Historical Society, not only taught me about the history of the waterfront, which was expressed through my research and resulting analysis, but also a worthwhile learning experience. Public history is one of those professions that’s loosely defined and changes from venue to venue. While the semester is ending and my internship has come to close, my experience at BHS helped shape my understanding of public history and my own skills and goals as an emerging professional in the field.

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Charlie Morgan’s Internship at Guantanamo Public Memory Site

This semester I have been working as an intern at the Guantánamo Public Memory Project (GPMP). GPMP was first launched in 2009 by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience but is now a part of the Humanities Action Lab (HAL) at The New School – more on that later. In 2012 GPMP worked with ten partner Universities, including NYU, to teach a simultaneous course on the “long history” of the US Naval Base at Guantánamo. Each class produced a panel, or in some cases two, that went towards an exhibition that opened in the windows of the Kimmel Center in December 2012 and has now travelled to fifteen Universities in the United States, has been abroad to London, Istanbul, and Brighton, and has been seen by over 500,000 people.

At this point it may seem slightly confusing as to why I am working on a project that was largely focused on creating an exhibition that was long ago finished. Isn’t the project over? Absolutely not. The idea behind GPMP was to create a national dialogue around Guantánamo. At the same time that the exhibition opened a website was launched and it forms a focal point through which to collect further artifacts and stories for the project. Collection is also organized by institutions that take on the exhibition; GPMP will next be displayed at the University of South Carolina and students there have already travelled to Guantánamo itself to interview base residents. This semester I was primarily working on how to archive the GPMP digital and physical collections but also how to make these collections accessible.

Merrill Smith protest

GPMP stores its physical collections at Columbia University and they consist mostly of artworks, for example those created by Haitian refugees detained at the base between 1991 and 1994. The majority of the collections are digital and can be found at the Digital Library of the Caribbean. These digital collections are diverse but predominantly consist of family photographs taken by military dependents on the base before they were evacuated during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and oral histories conducted with individuals who have had some sort of connection to Guantánamo. This then encompasses though who remember the base fondly, for example the military families or those who worked at the base, and those who have extremely negative memories, for example refugees detained at the base or those detained as part of the War on Terror.


Within the photographs and the interviews the subject, at least in terms of location, is the same, but they represent very different types of historical sources. The individuals interviewed were very much aware that their story would be going on the historical record; they were either contacted by or made contact with, GPMP, they were interviewed by a student involved with the project, and they gave consent for their interviews to be shared. On the other hand the family photographs were likely never intended to be viewed by anyone without a direct connection to the people being photographed. Throughout the semester the nature of these sources I was dealing with interested me and I wrote two blog posts about it that will be going up on the GPMP website soon.

I also handled all the incoming inquiries that GPMP received. These ranged from artworks that were being donated to the project, to consent forms that needed to be translated from Haitian Kreyol, to individuals that wished to be interviewed for the project. It was a great insight into how projects live on beyond their projected endpoint. With that in mind it’s worth mentioning the work that GPMP has spawned. The project has served as a model for the newly formed Humanities Action Lab and this year it’s first project was launched: a public history of mass incarceration in the United States. The project will follow a similar format to that of GPMP, classes will be taught – this time at over 20 Universities – and each will create a panel for an exhibition. If the Guantánamo example is anything to go by it will be well worth visiting.


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Deborah Shapiro’s Internship at the American Social History Project

As an archives student at a public history internship site, I had a rather atypical internship experience. My internship took place at the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, where there were no Paige boxes in sight, let alone archivists. Nevertheless, as I conducted a survey of ASHP/CML’s body of institutional records, I managed to learn quite a bit about archives and project management, and face down a few trials along the way.

The American Social History Project was founded in 1981 out of efforts to bring an understanding of social history to non-academics. For over thirty-five years they have engaged in publicly-oriented historical scholarship, curricular and professional development, documentary film production , andsoftware, database and web design, among other educational initiatives. They have been at the forefront of social history education in the public realm since the 1980s, yet only recently have ASHP staff members recognized the importance of preserving their own history. Beginning in January, I was brought into the ASHP offices to conduct a records survey, to help establish intellectual and physical control over their records, and to provide recommendations for ongoing short-term storage, retention, and disposition.

When I arrived at ASHP, my first step was to figure out the institution’s internal organization. I conducted some informal interviews with staff members, read old grant proposals and annual reports, and had a tour of ASHP’s variously located file cabinets, shelves, and boxes.

Next, I moved on to the inventory. For a few days I was content to intensively examine every folder in every file cabinet. I hadn’t gotten through even one file cabinet before coming to the stark realization of just how many linear feet I had left. Partially panic and partially logic drove me to adopt a more minimal “processing” style. I learned to quickly identify a set of related records, date it, eyeball an extent measurement, and move on to the next unit. My newfound understanding of ASHP’s institutional structure was extremely helpful in helping me identify a “shorthand,” a framework that would allow me to use as general terms as possible while still conveying intuitive and familiar information to ASHP staff.

In addition to my initial concerns about the sheer bulk of the collection, I also faced the challenge of the diversity of its formats. As a public history organization operating toward the start of the digital boom, ASHP pioneered the use of digital pedagogical methods. Evidence of this activity can be found in spades, or rather in 8.5 TB of born-digital documentation stored on ASHP’s servers. As a novice in the field of digital forensics, I turned to NYU Digital Archivist Don Mennerich for help; given the great bulk of ASHP’s digital holdings, his advice was to BagIt.

Around 1,000 audiovisual items are also part of the nascent ASHP/CML collection. After consulting with NYU Preservation Archivist Fletcher Durant, I undertook an item-level survey of the room I now call the “audiovisual closet”: three hundred magnetic and optical audiovisual items including audiocassettes, Betacam SP, U-matic, MiniDV, and VHS tapes. While all those items are free of mold and most have labels and secondary housing, I soon learned that they are just the tip of the audiovisual iceberg. Evidently, audio and video recordings are also stored in numerous staff offices, not to mention in the off-site Manhattan Mini Storage unit whose suggestion of diminutive size did nothing to assuage the loss over my plans for an item-level AV inventory.

I produced two “deliverables” for the American Social History Project. One was the inventory spreadsheet I compiled over the course of the semester; the other, a consulting report replete with preservation and records management recommendations, as well as an inventory converted into prose and suggestions for pursuing donor relationships with archival repositories. The consulting report was a valuable counterpoint to the labor-intensive survey I have been conducting this past semester, enabling me to enhance my understanding of audiovisual preservation and the management of born-digital documentation.

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Sophie Glidden-Lyon’s Internship at New York Historical Society

For the last three months I have been treking to the New-York Historical Society on the Upper West Side, where the head archivist Sue Kriete has been generous enough to take me under her wing. N-YHS, the oldest historical society in New York, and the second oldest in the country, has a huge backlog of collections and a very interesting history. It was founded in 1804 by a group of “gentleman historians” who wanted to preserve history in the broadest sense. The Society did not develop a concrete collecting policy until late in the 20th century, and consequently they have amassed enormous backlog. While the backlog is considerable, their collections are also diverse and fascinating. With so much work to be done the Society is glad to have NYU interns.

As an intern I was given three small collections to organize that had been in the Society’s backlog for years. The first collection contained three boxes of papers belonging to George McAneny, a reformer, preservationist and New York civil servant in the 19th century. His collection contained correspondence, press clippings, material from events given in his honor and awards. It told the story of a man deeply devoted to the city and to civic reform. He assisted in the consolidation and streamlining of the burgeoning subway system, battled against Robert Moses to protect Castle Clinton in Battery Park, and drafted zoning bills that would later aid in historic preservation efforts. While sifting through the papers I discovered that his son Herbert also had a presence in the collection. The collection was passed on to N-YHS from the Princeton New Jersey Historical Society, where Herbert McAneny had once served as president. In the papers were a number of photographs, correspondence and books that had made it into the George McAneny material. Organizing this collection presented me with the challenge of arranging this varied material, and deciding which materials should be maintained. Ultimately, the McAneny material was given its own series reflecting the passion for preservation exhibited by George McAneny.

The second collection I managed documented a 1980’s preservation effort to turn the area around the Flatiron Building into a historic district. Known at the Ladies’ Mile, the area contains a number of former department stores that were once the center of the female driven consumer culture of the Gilded Age. The collection, the Drive to Protect the Ladies’ Mile, was given to N-YHS by the New York Preservation Archives Project (NYPAP). NYPAP was created to help save material related to the preservation movement in New York, but is not a repository itself, and consequently, the material primarily concerns the people who did the preserving and their efforts. Made up mostly of letters of support, research and administrative material, this collection would be very helpful to researchers interested in historic preservation, but not necessarily of interest to historians of architecture or consumer culture.

Lastly, I worked on the small photographic collection given to N-YHS by photographer Jane Hoffer, who spent four years between 1975 and 1979 interviewing and photographing female police officers in the field. The end result was a rich collection of prints and transcripts that give a lot of insight into the world of policewomen, especially during a time when they were relegated less and less to traffic divisions and desk work. As the only collection with any kind of original order, it was by far the easiest to arrange, however, it contained the least contextual information, so I had to dig a bit deeper. I interviewed Jane Hoffer herself, who is still a working photographer in New York. She provided the information I needed to situate the collection in a broader historical context. Without Jane’s input, I would not have known that a bound photo essay in the collection had been made independent of any exhibits. She also informed me that the photographs had been shown at two galleries and a museum before arriving at N-YHS, and that a selection of photographs from the same project are housed at the New York City Police Museum.

Each collection raised a unique set of problems and questions. The small size of the collections along with Sue’s invaluable guidance enabled me to conquer these challenges. I have described the specific challenges each collection raised, but they also presented me with issues in housing and contextualization. Ultimately, I learned two major lessons from my time at N-YHS. The first: experience is the only way for me to encounter the problems that crop up in processing. I can’t anticipate the kinds of questions a collection will present to me. I can’t anticipate them from a classroom. At N-YHS I was not only able to tackle those problems, but working with Sue allowed me to ask the questions I couldn’t answer on my own. It has set me on the road to preparedness for larger projects, and has certainly given me a framework for the kind of thinking needed to sort out these questions in a way that provides the best, most accessible and appropriately contextualized collections. The second lesson I learned is that N-YHS is a very unique organization, which has experienced the ebb and flows of archival practice over two centuries of collecting. I was given the chance to visit other departments, sit in on meetings and take part in the kind of events that inform the institutional culture at N-YHS. As an intern at a large, reputable institution in one of the most museum and library dense cities in the world, I was afforded a glimpse into the work it takes to maintain such an enormous repository. I saw first hand the way in which the archives, as a department, functions within the larger institutional framework and the direction they are headed in for the future.

Event Program from the George McAneny Papers

Event Program from the George McAneny Papers

Siegel-Cooper Guidebook from the Drive to Protect the Ladies’ Mile Collection

Siegel-Cooper Guidebook from the Drive to Protect the Ladies’ Mile Collection

 Sergeant Barbara Collins from the Jane Hoffer “On the Beat” Photography Collection

Sergeant Barbara Collins from the Jane Hoffer “On the Beat” Photography Collection




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