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City Archives Awarded Recordings at Risk Grant

The Boston City Archives is thrilled to announce that it has been selected as the recipient of a $39,155 Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources. The grant will fund "Preserving Boston’s Voices: Digitizing the Boston 200 Community Oral History Collection", a project to digitize oral history recordings of Boston residents collected as part of the Boston 200 Neighborhood History Program in the 1970s.

The Boston 200 oral history recordings document a remarkable cross section of Boston’s diverse communities, social movements, and neighborhoods. The interviews give voice to individuals and communities often excluded from “official” narratives of Boston’s past. Interviews shed light on the lived experiences of Bostonians located in a wide variety of social and cultural locations ⁠— from Black opera singer, Roland Hayes, to Syrian-American grandmother, Rita Moussali, to architect and suffrage advocate, Florence Luscomb. The collection includes oral histories of several notable figures about whom few records exist, including Dr. Jessie Gideon Garnett, Boston’s first Black woman dentist and Wilhelmina Crosson, a Black Boston Public School teacher, who developed the City’s first remedial reading program and advocated for Black history education.  The interviews with Garnett and Crosson represent the only known first person narratives about their experiences, aside from quotes in newspaper articles. This project allows Bostonians and international researchers alike access to these invaluable histories. 

The oral histories were collected across Boston neighborhoods, and include a diverse range of community members. The transcripts show interview subjects discussing immigration, the Great Migration, labor movements, the Boston Police Strike, the Great Depression, both World Wars, the Civil Rights Movement, housing issues, and the effect of urban renewal on Boston's neighborhoods. 

“The Archives is proud to be awarded the Council on Library and Information Resources Recordings at Risk grant,” said City Archivist, John McColgan. “Since its establishment in 1988, the Archives has built a dynamic program for managing and caring for Boston's documentary heritage. Consistent with our mission and goals, this project will ensure the preservation of at-risk historical information and make it available to the public. Saving the Boston 200 Oral History recordings and making them available will furnish an invaluable resource for both scholarly research and local public history initiatives in Boston.” 

The original cassette tapes will be digitized by the Northeast Document Conservation Center and the recordings will be made publicly available in the City’s digital repository. The project will be completed by May 2023. 

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