American Social History Project

  American Social History Project (ASHP) uses a variety of resources and formats to bring stories of the American past into the history classroom. In particular, ASHP examines the daily lives and work of ordinary Americans, and the impact those Americans have had in shaping society.The digital database HERB is one example of a teacher resource ASHP has created. Named for labor historian and ASHP co-founder Herb Gutman, HERB contains primary source documents, classroom activities and other teaching tools for grades 7-12.

Internship Spring 2015

Deborah Shapiro: 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.

Internship Spring 2012

Heather Wilson: As an intern at ASHP this past semester, I became quite familiar with HERB. Although I had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects throughout the semester, I mainly worked with Education Directors Ellen Noonan and Leah Potter to create two instructional bundles (or, units) for 7th and 8th grade social studies teachers that are aligned to the Common Core Standards. One bundle teaches about the Great Depression and the New Deal, and the other about manifest destiny and the Mexican-American War.

This image of a “Hooverville” in Seattle in the 1930’s shows one effect of unemployment during the Great Depression, and is one of the primary source documents in the 8th grade instructional bundle on the Great Depression and the New Deal.

The process of collaboration – internally and externally – has been vital to the success of the project. In partnership with the NYC Board of Education, and with much feedback from a focus group of teachers, we created bundles containing a sequence of lessons, primary documents, worksheets and graphic organizers, performance tasks and rubrics. As part of my internship, I added vocabulary supports to primary documents and made secondary documents to contextualize the primary source material. I also spent time making worksheets, and creating and revising rubrics to help teachers assess student work.

In addition to work on the bundles, I attended multiple teacher workshops run by ASHP to get a sense of how teachers implement the resources that ASHP produces. Throughout the semester, I learned a lot about history education and the ways in which educators can make the past accessible to and exciting for younger learners.

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