We’ve Got the Archive Fever… Achoo!

Awww! via Aureusbay on Flickr:

My plan was to try to bounce between three great conferences happening in the city this weekend: the Media Histories: Epistemology, Materiality, Temporality conference at Columbia, the Memory conference at The New School, and the Mapping New Media symposium at the Bard Graduate Center. Alas, I missed the mapping symposium (thanks to the wonderful Tanya Toft for generously sharing her notes with me!), which left me to spend two days thinking about universal libraries, archives, drawings, paperwork, medium-specificity, seriality, temporality, memory, preservation, epistemology, materiality, and myriad related “ities.” What a luxury! It’s rare that I can spend a whole day — let alone two — thinking about the ideas that most captivate me. Still, I must admit: all that archive fever is enough to give one an archive headache! (groan)

But wait: it’s actually such references to “archive fever” that trigger a slight uneasiness. Over the past couple years I’ve noticed that a lot of people are appropriating Derrida’s phrase to refer to a supposed infatuation with archiving — a passion for assembling and sorting and storing; a compulsion to do things like organize houseplants in retired card catalogues (which I’d totally do, by the way, if I had a card catalogue sitting around); a tendency to refer to our hard drives and junk drawers as “archives.”  “We’re cuckoo for collecting!”

But that’s not what “archive fever” is about, really.


Derrida’s lecture is titled Mal d’archive, which, Carolyn Steedman argues, would be much more appropriately translated as trouble…, misfortune…, pain…, hurt…, sickness…, wrong…, sin…, badness…, or evil of the archive, rather than the “faintly comic ‘fever’ of the English translation.”[1] But even if that off-the-mark title translation escapes us, Derrida’s description of the mal d’archive in the book’s Exergue should clue us in to the fact that this mal isn’t some cutesy fad: it’s an “irrepressible desire to return to the origin” — one linked as much to the pleasure principle [2] as it is to the death drive.

Not so cute. I’m not cuckoo for that.


[1] Carolyn Steedman, “Something She Called a Fever: Michelet, Derrida, and Dust” The American Historical Review 106:4 (October 2001): 1159-1180.

[2] Side note: principle/principal are homophones that lend themselves to funny mix-ups. Consider, for instance, what a Pleasure Principal would be. I bet that’d be a popular job 🙂


Archive This!

via Fillip:

After endless tinkering with readings and assignments, a hard-drive crash, a five-day wait for a new drive, four Time Capsule restorations, countless Javascript errors, hours upon hours on the phone with Apple Care — and still no resolution! — I’ve managed to complete what I think is a rather lovely syllabus for Libraries, Archives, and Databases. This could be the final version — although, given my tendency toward obsessive niggling, I imagine I’ll make a few final changes.

Check out the website, too!


By George, I Think I’ve Got It!

This guy provides “book solutions.

Oh, that guy? He’s Thatcher Wine. He helps people create libraries full of books they’ll never read.

But enough about him! I’ve finally managed to pull together a full draft of my “Libraries, Archives, & Databases” syllabus! I”m still weighing some reading options, and I have yet to nail down the assignments — but at least I’ve got all 15 weeks, and two field trips, mapped out. I can’t even begin to tell you how long it took me to get to this point.

If you’re enrolled in the class, I welcome your feedback. Even if you’re not enrolled in the class, I’d love to hear your comments.


Getting Organized

I updated my WordPress theme last week and discovered that it has a lot of great new functions on the back-end — but that the update introduced a few blips on the front-end. That pesky “search” box is hanging out under “links” and “zotero” up top, and the second of my two sidebars doesn’t seem to want to be beside the first one. I hope we’ll get these issues fixed soon.

In other news: after six solid weeks of reading (and rereading tons of material I read a decade ago, while researching my book), and one solid week of playing around with various syllabus configurations, I’m happy to say that I think I’ve nearly finalized the first five weeks of my 15-week Libraries, Archives & Databases class. The weeks that remain will be dedicated to archives (3 weeks); databases (3 weeks); a design activity; a “flex week,” where we tie together loose ends and investigate students’ interests; and student presentations. I’ve got all the material for those final 10 classes; my problem is that I’ve got too much great stuff to choose from. Over the next few days I’ll be whittling away at my list of potential readings, screenings, and field trips.

I’ll post below what I’ve got so far, and within the week I hope to post the rest. Things are starting to take shape over at the new course website, too.

JANUARY 25: Introductions + Historicizing Information Overload


FEBRUARY 1: Ordering Media’s “Innumerable Species”
[will need to cut some of the following]

  • Michel Foucault, Preface to The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage Books [1970]1994): xv-xxiv.
  • Georges Perec, “Think/Classify” In Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (New York: Penguin, 1997): 188-205.
  • Roy Boyne, “Classification” Theory, Culture & Society 23:2-3 (2006): 21-30.
  • G. G. Chowdhury & Sundatta Chowdhury, “Organizing Information: What It Means,” “Ontology” & “Information Organization: Issues and Trends” In Organizing Information: From the Shelf to the Web (London: Facet Publishing, 2007): 1-15, 172-85, 213-24.
  • Clay Shirky, “Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags” (2005).
  • Excerpts from David Weinberger, Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder (New York: Holt, 2008).
  • Excerpts from Alex Wright, Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008).



FEBRUARY 8: Libraries: From Ur to Madison Ave.
Field Trip: Morgan Library, 225 Madison Ave @ 36th Street – to be confirmed

  • “Library” Oxford English Dictionary (2010).
  • Matthew Battles, Excerpts from “Burning Alexandria, “ “The House of Wisdom” & “Books for All” In Library: An Unquiet History (New York: W.W. Norton 2004): 22-81, 117-155.
  • Skim Library Bureau, A Handbook of Library and Office Fittings and Supplies (Library Bureau, 1891).
  • Charles E. Pierce, Jr., “Private to Public: Opening Mr. Morgan’s Library to All” In Paul Spencer Byard, et. al., Eds., The Making of the Morgan: From Charles McKim to Renzo Piano (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008): 21-32 or Paul Spencer Byard, “Becoming the Morgan Library & Museum: A Historical Interpretation” In Paul Spencer Byard, et. al., Eds., The Making of the Morgan: From Charles McKim to Renzo Piano (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008): 109+.
  • The Morgan Library & Museum, “McKim Building Restoration.”
  • Holland Cotter, “Let There Be Light, and Elegance” New York Times (28 October 2010).

FEBRUARY 15: Idiosyncratic Libraries

  • Georges Perec, “Brief Notes on the Art and Craft of Sorting Books” In Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (New York: Penguin, 1997): 148-55.

The Warburg Library

  • The Warburg Institute Library and Classification Scheme.
  • Excerpts from Philippe-Alain Michaud, Aby Warburg and the Image in Motion, Trans. Sophie Hawkes (New York: Zone Books, 2007) or Dorothée Bauerle-Willert, “On the Warburg Humanities Library,” Trans. Mark Walz, In Susanne Bieri & Walther Fuchs, Eds., Building for Books: Traditions and Visions (Boston: Birkhäuser, 2001): 253-267 or Giorgio Agamben, “Aby Warburg and the Nameless Science” In Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, Ed. & Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000).
  • Anthony Grafton & Jeffrey Hamburger, “Save the Warburg Library!New York Review of Books Blog (1 September 2010).

The Prelinger Library

  • Megan Shaw Prelinger, “To Build a LibraryBad Subjects 73 (April 2005).
  • Gideon Lewis-Kraus, “A World in Three Aisles” Harper’s (May 2007).


Saturday, February 19: Optional – but highly recommended! – field trip to the Reanimation Library

FEBRUARY 22: The Future Library
Screen In-Class: Holmes Films, The Librarian, 1947; Alain Resnais, Toute la Mémoire du Monde, 1956

  • Anthony Grafton, “Future ReadingThe New Yorker (5 November 2007).
  • Anna Klingmann, “Datascapes: Libraries as Information Landscapes,” In Susanne Bieri & Walther Fuchs, Eds., Building for Books: Traditions and Visions (Boston: Birkhäuser, 2001): 406-23.
  • Robert Darnton, “Can We Create a National Digital Library?The New York Review of Books (28 October 2010).
  • Geoff Manaugh, “The Atomized LibraryBLDGBLOG (11 February 2010).
  • Netherlands Architecture Institute & Netherlands Public Library Association, “Architecture of Knowledge


And here’s all the stuff I’ve cut from the assigned readings, but which I’ll probably try to incorporate into my presentation or the class discussion:

Week 2: Barbara Fisher, “The Dewey DilemmaLibrary Journal (1 October 2009); Elaine Svenonius, “Information Organization” + “Bibliographic Languages” In The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization (Cambridge, MA: 2000): 1-14, 53-66; Couze Venn, “The Collection” Theory, Culture & Society 23:2-3 (2006): 35-40.

Week 3: Jan Assman, “Libraries in the Ancient World – with Special Reference to Ancient Egypt,” Trans. Robin Benson, In Susanne Bieri & Walther Fuchs, Eds., Building for Books: Traditions and Visions (Boston: Birkhäuser, 2001): 51-67; Thomas Augst & Kenneth Carpenter, Eds., Institutions of Reading: The Social Life of Libraries in the United States (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007); Thomas Augst & Wayne E. Wiegand, Eds., Libraries as Agencies of Culture (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002); Lionel Casson, Libraries in the Ancient World (New Haven: Yale 2001); Roger Chartier, “Libraries Without Walls” Representations 42 (Spring 1993); Alberto Manguel, “The Library as Space” [on Diderot’s Encyclopedie] The Library at Night (Toronto Knopf Canada, 2006): 81-89; Sean Cubitt, “Library” Theory, Culture & Society 23:2-3 (2006): 581-606; Henry Petroski, The Book on the Bookshelf (New York: Vintage, 1999); Daniel Heller-Roazen, “Tradition’s Destruction: On the Library of Alexandria” October 100 (Spring 2002): 133-153; Fred Lerner, The Story of Libraries: From the Invention of Writing to the Computer Age (New York: Continuum, 1999); Alberto Manguel, “The Library as Myth” [Tower of Babel & Library of Alexandria] The Library at Night (Toronto Knopf Canada, 2006): 6-34; Shannon Mattern, Morgan Library Notes; Konstantinos Sp. Staikos, The Great Libraries: From Antiquity to the Renaissance (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press & The British Library, 2000).

Week 4: Alberto Manguel, “The Library as Order” The Library at Night (Toronto Knopf Canada, 2006): 36-63; Jennifer & Kevin McCoy, “Every Shot, Every Episode”; Chris Cobb’s “There Is Nothing Wrong In This Whole Wide World” color classification]; PRELINGER: Melanie Feinberg, “Classificationist as Author: The Case of the Prelinger Library” [unpublished manuscrip]
; Megan Shaw Prelinger, “On the Organization of the Prelinger Library”:; Marie L. Radford, Jessica Lingel & Gary R. Radford, “Alternative Libraries as Heterotopias: Challenging Conventional Constructs” Paper presented at Library Research Seminar V, University of Maryland, College Park, October 6-9, 2010; WARBURG: Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, “Gerhard Richter’s Atlas: The Anomic Archive” In Charles Merewether, Ed., The Archive: Documents in Contemporary Art (MIT Press 2006): 85-102; Alberto Manguel, “The Library as Mind” [Warburg Library] The Library at Night (Toronto Knopf Canada, 2006): 198-212; “Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas,” Frieze 80 (January-Feburary 2004).

Week 5: Robert Darnton, “The Library in the New AgeThe New York Review of Books (12 June 2008) [history of writing, books; inherent instability of texts; unreliable news; editions of canonical texts; library as citadel of learning;  incompleteness of record created by Google Books; shore up the library]; Robert, Darnton, “The Library: Three Jeremiads” The New York Review of Books (23 November 2010): [cost of journals; “settlement” btw Google Books and academic library partners; proposal for National Digital Library]; Holmes Films, The Librarian, 1947


Libraries, Archives & Databases

Lori Nix, Library, 2007

Libraries, Archives & Databases is a new graduate seminar I’m teaching in the spring. I posted the course description last week, but here it is again:

“There has been more information produced in the last 30 years than during the previous 5000.” We’ve all heard some variation on this maxim. As U.S. publishers add 250,000 printed books and close to 300,000 print-on-demand books to our libraries each year; as we find ourselves wading through over 200 million websites; as we continue to add new media – from Tweets to Apps to geo-tagged maps – to our everyday media repertoires, we continually search for new ways to navigate this ever more treacherous sea of information. Throughout human history we have relied on various institutions and politico-intellectual architectures to organize, index, preserve, make sense of, and facilitate or control access to our stores of knowledge, our assemblages of media, our collections of information. This seminar looks at the past, present, and future of the library, the archive, and the database, and considers what logics, priorities, politics, audiences, contents, aesthetics, physical forms, etc., ally and differentiate these institutions. We will examine what roles the library, archive, and the database play in democracy, in education, in everyday life, and in art. Throughout the semester we’ll examine myriad analog and digital artworks that make use of library/archival material, or take the library, archive, or database as their subject. Some classes will involve field trips and guest speakers. Students will have the option of completing at least one theoretically-informed creative/production project for the class.

I think it’s important to point out that this is not a research skills class. I’m not going to teach people how to use a library or build a database. Instead, we’re going to talk about the politics and aesthetics and ethics of organizing information…or media…or data…or knowledge — these four terms are not interchangeable, and we’re going to talk about that, too — through these different intellectual architectures. And given my interests, we’ll of course talk about some physical architectures.

As usual, I’ll be working on the syllabus through the winter break, but I thought I’d share some of my initial plans, for students who might be considering the class and for people who might want to offer recommendations.

Thomas Harrison’s Ark of Studies, from

The tentative reading list includes: Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (WW Norton 2004); Roy Boyne, “Classification” Theory, Culture & Society 23:2-3 (2006); Joke Brouwer & Arjen Mulder, Information Is Alive (V2_NAi 2003); John Seely Brown & Paul Duguid, The Social Life of Information (Harvard Business Press, 2000); Vannevar Bush, “As We May ThinkThe Atlantic (July 1945); Lionel Casson, Libraries in the Ancient World (Yale 2001); Roger Chartier, “Libraries Without Walls” Representations 42 (Spring 1993); Sean Cubitt, “Library” Theory, Culture & Society 23:2-3 (2006); Robert Darnton, “The Library in the New Age” New York Review of Books (June 2008); Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (University of Chicago 1996); Okwui Enwezor, Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art (Steidl/ICP, 2008); Mike Featherstone, “Archive” Theory, Culture & Society 23:2-3 (2006); Hal Foster, “An Archival Impulse” October 110 (Fall 2004); Michel Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge, Trans. Smith (Harper & Row [1969]1972); Daniel Heller-Roazen, “Tradition’s Destruction: On the Library of Alexandria” October 100 (Spring 2002); Gideon Lewis-Kraus, “A World in Three Aisles” [on the Prelinger Library] Harper’s (May 2007); Library Bureau, A Handbook of Library and Office Fittings and Supplies (Library Bureau 1891); Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night (Knopf, 2006); Lev Manovich, “Database as a Genre of New Media” AI & Society 14:2 (May 2000): 176-83; D. T. Max, “Final Destination” New Yorker (June 2007); Charles Merewether, Ed., The Archive: Documents in Contemporary Art (MIT Press 2006); Henry Petroski, The Book on the Bookshelf (Vintage 2000); Daniel Punday, “Ebooks, Libraries, and Feelies” Electronic Book Review (February 2010); Ingrid Schaffner & Matthias Winzen, Eds., Deep Storage: Collecting, Storing, and Archiving in Art (Prestel 1998); Sven Spieker, The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy (MIT Press 2009); Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Duke 2003); Eugene Thacker, “Database/Body: Bioinformatics, Biopolitics, and Totally Connected Media SystemsSwitch 5:3; Couze Venn, “The Collection” Theory, Culture & Society 23:2-3 (2006); Victoria Vesna, Database Aesthetics: Art in the Age of Information Overflow (University of Minnesota Press, 2007); Anthony Vidler, “Books in Space: Tradition and Transparency in the Bibliotheque de France” Representations 42 (Spring 1993); and maybe some of my own stuff. I’ll have to sort through these library links, archive links, and classification links, too.

I really wanted to like Geoffrey Bowker & Susan Leigh Star’s Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences (MIT Press, 1999), but I just don’t think it’s going to work out.

We’ll also look at work by Cory Arcangel, Erica Baum, Dexter Sinister, Mark Dion, Angela Grauerholz, Ann Hamilton, Candida Hofer, Primary Information, The Atlas Group, Raqs Media Collective, Gerhard Richter, Martha Rosler, Danny Snelson, Molly Springfield, Tris Vonna Michell, Aby Warburg, Peter Wegner, and many others.

Danny Snelson, Testimony — From
From Welcome to the Machine:

I’d like to arrange field trips to the newly renovated Morgan Library, the Reanimation Library, and perhaps a crazily unorthodox archive of some sort. I’d also like to invite Rick or Megan Prelinger to visit us; Rick told me at that conference this past weekend that they’d stop by if they’re in town in the spring.

Other suggestions?


From Post Offices to Radiograms: Local Primary Resources on Urban Media History

“Newsstand, 32nd Street and Third Avenue, Manhattan. (November 19, 1935),” Berenice Abbott: NYPL Digital Gallery:

I’ll be asking students in both of my fall grad classes to work with primary resources in local libraries and archives. I’ve been spending a lot of time this summer sifting through everything — figuring out which collections could be especially useful, which contain lots of great graphic or audio-visual material that we could use in our online projects, which are underexposed and deserve a little attention, etc. I’ll keep a list of resources I’ve uncovered that could inspire a student project:


New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives

Search the catalogue and finding aids to find appropriate resources, then contact the division to make an appointment. Photography typically isn’t allowed in this division, but each student in our class has been given special permission to take up to 20 photos (you must wait until the end of your research visit, and photograph everyone at once), and to use a limited number of photos in our online project (typically, you have to pay for reproduction). If you plan to use material in this collection, please speak with me first.

Chester F. Carlson Papers: “Chester Floyd Carlson (1906-1968) was an American patent attorney who invented xerography in 1938.” Collection consists of correspondence, technical papers, writings, personal and financial papers, photographs, ephemera, and printed matter. General correspondence reflects Carlson’s philanthropic interests; technical correspondence, laboratory notebooks, patent files, and other papers relate to his invention of xerography and to its commercial development. Other papers include family correspondence, diaries for 1928 to 1968, financial papers,speeches and other writings, scrapbooks of printed ephemera related to xerography, and photographs of trips to the Soviet Union and India. Also, papers relating to parapsychology and to the economic development of Guyana, 1966-1968.

Map of Parisian Pneumatique Network – NYPL SIBL

New York Mail and Newspaper Transportation Company Records: I’ve already combed through this collection. “The New York Mail and Newspaper Transportation Company was the original contractor in 1898 for mail delivery by pneumatic tube between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The company later became a contractor for tube service between post offices within Manhattan. In 1953 pneumatic tube service ended in New York and the company’s contract was canceled.”Collection consists of correspondence and documents pertaining to the New York Mail and Newspaper Transportation Company’s delivery of mail in New York City using pneumatic tubes, and of U.S. government publications concerning mail delivery in New York City and nationwide. Records, 1897-1957, include contracts, Post Office Dept.orders, reports, plans, proposals, photographs, and clippings. Government publications, 1898-1955, are hearings, investigations and reports produced by Congress or the Post Office Dept. ***********************************************

New York World’s Fair 1939-1940 Records: “The New York World’s Fair of 1939 and 1940, was held in Flushing Meadows in the Borough of Queens. The non-profit Fair corporation was formed in 1935 under the guidance of business and civic leaders, and financed through federal, state, municipal and private funds. The Fair commemorated the 150th anniversary of Washington’s inauguration in New York City and took “Building the World of Tomorrow” as its central theme. Participants included close to 60 nations, 33 states and U.S. territories, and over a thousand exhibitors, among them some of the largest corporations in the United States.”…”The records of the New York World’s Fair 1939 and 1940 Incorporated present a comprehensive view of all aspects of the Fair including construction, maintenance and demolition of Fair facilities; planning and development; architecture and landscaping; displays and exhibits; government participation; publicity and public relations; amusements, entertainment and concessions; legal and financial affairs; the import and export of goods; labor relations; and public safety and welfare. In addition to correspondence and memoranda, the collection consists of reports, minutes, financial and legal records, architectural plans, design drawings, sound recordings, brochures, leaflets, press releases and other promotional materials, notably over 12,000 photographs of the Fair, its exhibits and visitors.”

Citizens for a Quieter City Records, 1950-77: “Citizens for a Quieter City, Inc. was founded in New York City in 1966 by Robert Alex Baron (1921-1980) as a non-profit, voluntary organization dedicated to the reduction of urban noise. Its objective was to develop information about the injurious effects of noise, the methods of controlling and reducing it, and the education of the public to the importance of its abatement. Baron, a theatrical manager, founded a predecessor organization, the Upper Sixth Avenue Noise Abatement Association, in 1965.”…”Collection consists of correspondence, minutes, diaries, financial records, photographs, printed matter, audio and video tape recordings pertaining to Citizens for a Quieter City and the Upper Sixth Avenue Noise Abatement Association as well as Baron’s papers as a theatrical manager. Correspondence, 1966-1974, is with officials of city, state and federal agencies, civic and community organizations, and manufacturers of construction equipment and noise abatement devices. Minutes and by-laws section contains minutes of the board of directors and of the technical committee, and by-laws of the organization. Diaries and notebooks, 1970-1973, consists of desk diaries and memoranda by Baron. Complaint center problem reports, 1969-1972, contain complaints received from the public; financial records include invoices, ledgers, balance sheets, audit reports, bank statements, and other items; and noise pollution inquiry, 1970-1972, consists of forms summarizing the nature of inquiries received. Upper Sixth Avenue Association records, 1965-1966, include correspondence, minutes and reports of Baron. Theater papers, ca. 1950-1960s, consist of his records as general manager of Theatre Tours. Also, photographs of Baron and photographic slides; printed matter; audio and video tape recordings of conferences, television shows and public events in which Citizens for a Quieter City participated; and some oversize materials, such as scrapbooks and publicity posters.”


The Mid-Manhattan Library Picture Collection and the New York Public Library Print Collection and Photography Collection

You’ll find a lot of material online, in the NYPL’s Digital Gallery. The NYPL has kindly given us permission to use this material for our project free of charge.

But there is of course a great deal that hasn’t been digitized — and, unfortunately, because the print and photography collections are organized, for the most part, by printmaker or photographer, it’s difficult to search for specific “content” or subject matter. If you’re interested in searching for non-digitized prints or photos, please contact the appropriate division via its website and speak with its archivist or curator.

Here’s some material from the Digital Gallery:

NY Post Office 1875: NYPL Digital Gallery:
Morning Start of the NYC Mail Carriers in their New Uniform: NYPL Digital Gallery:
New York Post Office, 1893: NYPL Digital Gallery:
“Removal of the postal matter and archives to the new Post-office, Saturday, August 28th, 1875: NYPL Digital Gallery:
Printing House Square, 1866: NYPL Digital Gallery:

Interior of New York Post Office, 1857

Ladies’ Window at the Post Office, 1871

Loading Up the General Office, New York, 1875

Telegraph Apparatus, Old Fire Headquarters, Mercer Street, 1887: NYPL Digital Gallery:

Postal Workers Sorting Letters, 1899

Western Union Telegraph Building ([1870?-19]25?)

Newspaper Row, 1900

Radio Row, Cortlandt Street, Berenice Abbott, 1936

Radiogram Operating Room


New York Public Library Map Division

Some maps are available in the Digital Gallery (again, we are permitted to use this material for free), and many others are listed in the catalogue, but many maps have been neither digitized nor catalogued online. To find these maps, you’ll want to speak with the Map Room staff and consult the in-room “dictionary” catalogues, which you can search by subject or by location (I recommend searching by borough; vol. 7 is dedicated entirely to NYC).

Here’s how it worked for me: I scanned through the on-site catalogue:

…and found this:

…which I requested via a call slip:

…and, three minutes later, found myself looking at this (my iphone camera cannot fully capture its awesomeness):


They’ve got lots of City Maps: “Maps and atlases documenting the urban environment throughout the world represent a core strength of the collection, with the historical New York City map holdings among the deepest and most heavily used anywhere. With more than 2,000 sheet maps and 18,000 atlas map sheets illustrating the city and its five boroughs before 1922 (often to the building level), this collection is a critical support to many researchers of the local environment.” The staff recommends the Perris, Bromley,Robinson, Hyde, and Sanborn (on-site only) maps, and the Fire Insurance, Topographic, Zoning and Property Maps of New York City.

Here’s some stuff from the Digital Gallery:

Map Showing the Telegraph Lines in Operation, under Contract, and Contemplated, to Complete the Circuit of the Globe ([1867)?
New England, New York, New Jersey, Pensilvania (sic) Post Map: NYPL Digital Images


New York Historical Society

Search the catalogue (NYHS materials are included in Bobcat) and finding aids to identify relevant material, then make an appointment to use any of the special collections. If you plan to take digital photos of your research material, you’ll need to submit a form and pay a $15 fee. The Society has kindly granted us permission us to use our own research photos in our mapping projects.

Andreas Feininger Photograph Collection, 1939-54, 1970-84: Series III: New York in the 1970s and 80s: “Photographs focus on a variety of subjects, the largest of which are Times Square; Graffiti; Signs, Murals, Posters, and Billboards; and Reflections. Many of the photographs of graffiti feature a life-sized black painted figure Feininger refers to as “Shadowman,” painted in a variety of locations and variations on buildings and walls. Photographs of signs, murals, posters and billboards depict everything from hand-painted signs in foreign languages to explicit posters for strip clubs. Photographs on security and vandalism reflect Feininger’s descriptive annotations on his photographs of a security gate and locked and vandalized bicycles. Feininger’s photographs depicting construction, fire escapes, reflections, and water tanks focus on structure and pattern in the architecture of the city. The largest group of photographs depict the Times Square area, especially the signs for sex shops, strip clubs, and theaters of the 1970s and 1980s.”

Feininger Collection, Box 6, Folder 41: Graffiti

Arthur Weindorf Subway Collection, 1903-45, 1973-74: “The Arthur Weindorf Subway Collection spans the period from 1903-1974 and primarily contains photographs and photostats of drawings, models, and maps created by Arthur Weindorf during his tenure at the Public Service Commission. Also included are photographs taken by Public Service Commission photographers during the construction of the New York City subway system. The collection is divided into six series: Drawings and Models; Subway Maps and Posters; Clippings; Subway Construction Photographs; Miscellaneous Materials; and Negatives.”

Weindorf Subway Collection, Box 1, Folder 3

Bella C. Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera, ca. 1700-present: “Collection of mainly 19th and 20th century advertising ephemera. Formats in the collection include American trade cards, lottery tickets, handbills, labels, broadsides, calendars, billheads, price lists, advertising fans, and other materials of history and popular culture. Media range from rough woodcuts to chromolithographs.”

Landauer, Box 1, Folder: “Signs & Sign Companies”

Landauer, Box 52(?), Folder: “Electricity: Telephone”

Billboard Photograph Collection, 1918-34: “The photographs appear to have been taken to record which advertisers bought billboard space at 13 sites in Manhattan and two sites in the Bronx, New York City. The views focus on signs but also show surrounding buildings, elevated railroads, and street activity at such heavily traveled intersections as Broadway and Seventh Avenue (Times Square), Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, Sixth Avenue at 27th Street, Eight Avenue at 110th Street, 125th Street in Harlem, and Third Avenue at 166th Street in the Bronx. The same sites appear repeatedly, sometimes monthly,during the 1920s and into the Great Depression. The photographs reveal changes in both the neighborhoods and in the advertising for many products, among them Chesterfield cigarettes, Wrigley’s chewing gum, and Pepsodent toothpaste.”

Browning Photograph Collection, 1918-52: Series I: “The Advertising subseries primarily focuses on billboards and other large signs, many of which were taken around the Times Square area. Several of these advertising photographs also appear in Browning’s photomontages…. Television and Radio consists of photographs of microphones, equipment, studios and broadcasters from the early days of radio and television. Theaters includes a few grand Broadway theaters of the era, but focuses heavily on the great movie palaces of the late 1920s and the 1930s, such as the Earl Carroll and the RKO Roxy Theatre. A heavy focus on interiors, and especially art-deco design elements, is evident. Also included are some views of burlesque and less legitimate venues, such as the Salon des Arts. Several theaters in this subseries were heavily documented by Browning, probably working on commission; some construction progress views are included.”

Browning Photograph Collection, Box 1, Folder 1
Browning Photo Collection, Box 20, Folder 198, “Crowd Listening to Election Results”

James Boyd Collection of New York City Etchings, 1861-1940: Includes etching of NY Telephone Building; it’s worth scanning through the rest!

Etchings, Box 4, Folder 60, NY Telephone Bldg, Woolworth & Tranportation Bldg

Stereograph File, 1855-1964: “Over 800 photographers and publishers created the work represented in theStereograph File…. Another significant amateur was Alfred T. Loonam, whose stereographs of New York in the 1950s and 1960s capture modern skyscrapers, expressways under construction, and the emerging television industry.”

Stereographs, Box 44

Charles Gilbert Hine Photograph Collection, 1883-1908: “Platinum, cyanotype, and albumen prints of various Manhattan locations dating from 1883-1908. Views of streets, buildings, businesses,monuments, theaters, billboards, posters, celebrations, and scenes of everyday life are included.The collection also contains a three volume set of photograph albums which portrays Broadway from north to south and includes historical essays and clippings.”

Lantern Slide Collection, 1860-1942: includes lantern slide photos of libraries, publishing buildings, Printing House Square, others.

Lantern Slides, Box 54, NewYork-NYC-Manhattan-CommercialBuildings-Publishing


New York University Libraries Special Collections and Archives

Begin by searching the finding aids to identify relevant material, then make an appointment to visit. You’ll need to get permission before using a digital camera to photograph material. Reproducing material is a bit more complicated: you’ll need to obtain the Fales Librarian’s permission and contact the copyright holder (Fales staff can help you determine who this would be) and perhaps pay “rights to use” fees.

Guerilla TV Archive, 1965-97: “The Guerrilla TV Archive contains files, publicity information, audiocassettes, printed materials and photographs relating to Deirdre Boyle’s research for the book Subject to Change: Guerrilla Television Revisited and some materials related to her work on other publications and projects including Hong Kong Cinema, Video Classics, and Video Preservation.” Series 1 / Box 5 / Folder 163 contains material on the relationship between cable TV and cities (including some interesting documents on infrastructure at Roosevelt Island). Folders 164 and 165 contain material on public access television and the development of cable in NYC.

I wasn’t able to pre-screen the following, but they might contain some useful material:

Richard Hell Papers, 1944-2003: “The Richard Hell Papers consist of comprehensive documentation of Richard Hell’s career as a poet, novelist, author, publisher, musician, and filmmaker. Materials include personal journals, manuscripts and materials relating to the publication of several works, correspondence, clippings, reviews, posters, photographs, film, video and audio materials and objects and artifacts. In addition the collection contains financial and legal documents pertaining to Hell’s publications, and musical career. The materials span 1944-2003 with the bulk of the material covering 1969-2003.”

Creative Time Archive, 1973-2006: “Founded in 1973, Creative Time is a public art organization based in New York City. The organization has a history of commissioning, producing, and presenting public artworks of all disciplines. The material in the collection document all aspects of the creation, exhibition, and reception of these commissioned artworks, as well as invaluable financial records that reflect how the organization has sustained, promoted, and financially supported its mission.”

David Wojnarowicz Papers, 1954-1992: “David Wojnarowicz was a painter, writer, photographer, filmmaker, performer, and activist. He made super-8 films, created the photographic series “Arthur Rimbaud in New York”, performed in the band Three Teens Kill 4 – No Motive, and exhibited his work in well known East Village galleries. In 1985, he was included in the Whitney Biennial, the so-called “Graffiti Show”. He died of AIDS on July 22, 1992. The David Wojnarowicz Papers includes journals, correspondence, manuscripts, photography, film, video and audio works, source and production materials, objects, and ephemera.”

Martin Wong Papers, 1982-1999: “Born Martin Victor Wong in Portland, Oregon on July 11, 1946, Wong was raised by his Chinese-American parents in San Francisco. Wong was involved in performance art in the 1970’s, but focused almost exclusively on painting after moving to New York in the early 1980’s. The self-taught Wong, whose work showed a distinct gay sensibility, became a respected, renowned and prolific painter in New York’s downtown art scene. He also cultivated both working and personal relationships with graffiti artists and enthusiasts in that scene. His compositions combine gritty social documents, cosmic witticisms, and symbolic languages that chronicle survival in his drug-and-crime-besieged Lower East Side neighborhood. In addition to his painting, Wong also experimented with poetry and prose, much of which he recorded on long paper scrolls.”

Fales also has old issues of Punk and East Village Eye magazines (search Bobcat).

See also the Tamiment Library‘s excellent labor history materials, including collections of media industry unions’ records and the NYU Archives’ Washington Square Park Image Collection (1850-1990).


The Paley Center for Media

All of these materials are available for viewing/listening at the Center, but none can be used outside the Center. In on other words, we can’t use any of this material in our mapping project, but it’s still worth checking out! Read about the Scholars Room here.

New York Telephone: Business [Commercial] (Dennis Hayes & Associates, Young & Rubicam Historical Reel, 1977-97): “In this commercial for New York Telephone, documentary style footage features businessmen throughout the New York area who stay connected to the business world with New York Telephone. The announcer adds that New York Telephone helps businesses with voice and data networks and offers many additional cost-effective services for businesses big and small. Slogan (supered and in jingle): “We’re all connected. New York Telephone.””

New York Telephone: Deli Man [Commercial] (32nd Annual Broadcasting Awards, 1991): “In this commercial for NYNEX, a telephone company representative visits Katz’s Deli on New York City’s Lower East Side. In honor of the occasion, deliman Marvin Waldman has created a replica of NYNEX’s regional calling area on a serving platter. “The lox is Long Island,” he explains, “the gefilte fish is Westchester and Rockland, and the pickled herring is the five boroughs.” Slogan (in jingle): “We’re all connected. New York Telephone.””

New York City Tourism Promotion: I Love New York at Night (I Love New York Campaign, 1977-89): “In this commercial for the New York State Department of Commerce, Beverly Sills explains that “at night in New York, all the stars come out.” She stands beside the fountain in the plaza at Lincoln Center, surrounded by performers from the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, Radio City Music Hall’s Rockettes, and cast members of popular Broadway shows including “They’re Playing Our Song,” “Evita,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” The announcer points out that special discounts are currently available on 23 Broadway Show Tours. In conclusion, Sandy Dennis, as “Peter Pan,” adds that she loves New York at night because “there’s something in the air.” Slogan (in jingle): “I Love New York.” Supered: “I Love New York at Night Show Tours.””

And of course there are the digital resources available through the Library of Congress and the Internet Archive (see in particular the Prelinger Archives material.


Finds at the National Archives

From the Post Office Department records, National Archives and Records Administration:

Morse Signature
Samuel Morse had excellent penmanship.
International Pneumatic Tube Company Promotional Literature
Most pneumatic tube system maps were removed from the files for “security reasons.

At NARA II in College Park:

The “no bags” rule meant I had to cart this crap around all day.

Archival Souvenirs

From the Western Union collection at the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History:

For Mom & Dad:

Indexed Map of Western Union Telegraph Lines, Pennsylvania. Click for larger image; Bellefonte’s right there in the center!

For Dave:

Indexed Map of Telegraph Lines, Illinois

For Sue:

Switchboard at Marquette, MI, 1919

Other Finds:

Rear of Switchboard, San Antonio, TX, 1918

“Every time an incision is made in the pavement, those noisy surgeons expose ganglia that are tangled beyond belief.” -E.B. White, “Here is New York,” 1949.

Con Ed Cables & Air Pipes at 4th Ave and 19th St. (just 4 blocks from where I now live)
Above-ground Telegraph Wires, Near the Old Western Union Headquarters @ Broadway, near Fulton

“Outside, alone on a delivery run, the uniformed messenger served as both visual advertising and as the direct customer contact for the telegraph company. Boys were to appear neat, speedy, polite, and responsible, with ‘Clean Hands and Face,’ ‘Uniform Pressed and Spotless,’ and ‘Cap Squarely on Head’…” -Gregory J. Downey, Telegraph Messenger Boys: Labor, Technology, and Geography, 1850-1950 (New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 68.

Cincinnati Telegraph Operators Say, The New No. 6 Remington Typewriter is “The Machine” for Western Union!

Into the Archives

I’m looking forward to two weeks of archival work at the NYPL here at home, and at the Lemeleson Center, the National Archives, and the Postal Museum in D.C. In reviewing NARA’s policies for visitors, I stumbled across, and was impressed by, their Digital Vaults.

I’ve logged a good number of hours in various archives — but I’m a bit nervous about this trip. This time, it’s not only about me and the “content”; it’s also about my ability to handle a bunch of other technologies.

Over a decade ago, when I was working in libraries’ institutional archives and architectural offices’ company archives, my research typically involved a staff member either wheeling out a cart full of boxes full of dusty documents, or leading me into a storage room, where I was given free rein to dig through filing cabinets. Depending upon the institution’s policies (or lack thereof), I either took notes on my laptop or with pencil and paper. Some places allowed me to make unlimited copies; in those cases, I’d typically copy anything that looked remotely relevant, then review my stack of Xeroxes later that night or when I returned home after days or weeks on the road. Back then, everything was on paper. All my archival material for my first book filled at least 10 3″ 3-ring binders.

I’ve visited other archives since then — but they all seem to have had rather restrictive reproduction policies. In some places, I was permitted to take only loose leaf paper and a pencil with me into the reading room. Other places allowed laptops. But, as far as I recall, nobody allowed cameras, scanners or digital recorders. Consequently, I missed out on earlier experiences to develop my digital archival (i.e., in-the-archives) research skills.

It’s not as if I was oblivious to the ways that digital technologies had been transforming research methods — particularly archival research methods. I had been using a citation manager; maintaining a database of notes; evolving a system for storing and classifying my pdfs, images, etc. The first “Making History Podcast,” from 2007, reassured me that, at least in my PDF’ing, OCR’ing, annotating, resource-organizing, and citation-managing, I was making good use of available software and hardware. Recently, several presentations at the “Past’s Digital Presence: Database, Archive, and Knowledge Work in the Humanities” conference at Yale addressed the use of digital technologies in the archives. I found Shane Lundrum’s “Camera, Laptop, and What Else?: Hacking Better Tools for the Short Archival Research Trip” particularly enlightening…. And, I must admit, intimidating. My research process sure wasn’t that regimented, and my research packing list rarely contained anything more technologically advanced then a cellphone.

I have a decent publication record — including a book with a good press and several book chapters and peer-reviewed articles — yet the relative lack of technological sophistication of my research methods for some reason made me question the effectiveness of those methods. (I think reading too many ProfHacker posts and listening to too many Digital Campus podcasts has somehow convinced me that early tech adoption is obligatory — as is the deep integration of technology into one’s teaching and research.) It made me wonder if I was missing out on something important because I don’t know how to write Applescript…and I don’t “get” Tweets…and I occasionally even have a hard time setting up a tripod. If this is where research is heading, if this is the kind of research I have to prepare my graduate students to do, am I falling behind?

Initially, my current project was only feeding into these concerns. Most of my previous archival work focused on texts — flat, static, docile paper documents. This time, I’m working not only with manuscripts and maps and blueprints, but also with archival audio, video, and film. Things with moving parts and plugs. Reading the National Archives’ policies for self-service audio and video copying left my head spinning. BNC connector? SUM jack? Awhoza? Awhatza? The list of crap I’d have to schlep down to D.C. on Amtrak seemed endless: I imagined myself rolling up to the archives in College Park, MD, with a UHaul full of recorders and cables and hard drives; the logistics of transporting all this stuff baffled me. Another issue was that I owned few of the tools they recommended — so my internal cash register was anticipating a pretty hefty bill at B&H.

Then Kevin and Jen, godbless’em, came to the rescue. Despite having a brand-new baby, they took some time to introduce me to a few audio and video recorder options, showed me how to record and upload, etc. I’ve chosen equipment for which there isn’t too steep a learning curve, but is still “robust” enough for me to maybe, someday, grow into it (I’ve always wanted to do more audio recording, so I decided to get a recorder that’s a bit fancier than I really need right now — so I can eventually learn how to use all those other features). Now I’m a bit less freaked out. I’m heading over to B&H tomorrow to do some damage.

And soon I’ll head into the archives with some shiny new geegaws in my toolbox. I just hope that all these gadgets don’t get in the way of my engagement with, and enjoyment of, the archival material. I don’t want to be so stressed out about, say, adjusting the resolution on my videorecorder or the gain on my audio recorder that I forget to engage with the content of the film or radio show I’m dubbing…or forget to appreciate that Holy crap, I’m watching something that maybe nobody has seen since 1933. If you ask me, that’s way more awesome than “super bit mapping” and Applescript.


Infernal Archive: Medial States of Matter in the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision

Infernal Archive: Medial States of Matter in the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision,” The Archive Special Issue of FlowTV (May 21, 2010).