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Sara Bijani

Sara Bijani

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May 7, 2016

Announcing the (Soft) Launch of the Finally Got the News Digital Audio Archive

May 7, 2016 | By | No Comments

I feel hesitant to describe this phase of the Finally Got the News audio reel archive as a “launch” of the project, simply because my aspirations for the collaborative and interpretative dimensions of this work won’t be completed until later this summer. The archive itself, however, is in a highly functional and sharable state. Rather than describing the project in full (I’ll save that for a later post this summer), I’ll use this announcement to walk through the functionality of the digital archive, available at: http://newsreeldetroit.matrix.msu.edu/blackstarproductions/.

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Sara Bijani

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April 22, 2016

Reel to Reel Archive Construction and OHMS

April 22, 2016 | By | No Comments

As I’ve put this project together over the past several months, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about the ideal shape of a digital archival. The more time I spend with the audio reels that form the base of my archive, listening to them over and over as I digitize and transcribe them, the more I feel they deserve to be presented with as little intervention as possible. To this end, my website has evolved into two fairly separate entities. On one end is the archive, where the collection of audio reels will eventually be reproduced in total with as little narrative intervention as possible. On the other end is the mediated environment that I have been referring to as the “galleries,” where I will publish short interpretative essays that situate the audio reels within their various historical contexts.

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February 26, 2016

Marxists, Anarchists, and American Digital Archives

February 26, 2016 | By | No Comments

I’ll start with a story. This project began with the very broad objective of constructing a recyclable content management interface with OHMS incorporation, to be reused at a later stage in my dissertation project. I stumbled into the Finally Got the News content I’ve incorporated in this iteration of the build entirely by chance, but I was drawn into the material by a story.

In the early 2000s, my advisor—a labor and gender historian—was researching a project on masculinity in the American automotive past at the Reuther Library when one of the archivists handed her a VHS copy of Finally Got the News. The archive had been given a stack of these VHS tapes, to be distributed to anyone interested in Michigan’s labor past. This was the revolutionary ethic of film activism that drove the creation of this project in the 1970s, and that ethic had been kept alive by efforts of this sort for decades. Today, the internet helps to keep this activism alive, with the full length film hosted on Youtube for anyone to watch and download and share.

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January 30, 2016

Simulacra and Simulation and my Journey into the Third Order of Copyright Law

January 30, 2016 | By | No Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to protect a representation these days. Anyone remember reading Baudrillard? I remember reading that whole treatise on simulated reality years ago and associating the whole thing with war and television. These days, I’m pretty sure he was thinking about copyright. Just kidding. I’m pretty sure he was thinking about high modernity and everything that travels with it, including copyright. “Capital, which is immoral and unscrupulous, can only function behind a moral superstructure,” a hellish and mundane everyday space from which rules of ownership and entitlement emanate, along with all the other things that make the late industrial age go round.[1]

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December 9, 2015

Archiving Oral Culture

December 9, 2015 | By | No Comments

I’ve been taking my comprehensive exams over the course of this semester, which provides a strange and exhausting opportunity to really step back and think about the state of my field of research, as well as the ways that field has historically been presented to students and scholars from outside of the field. The overlap between reading for these exams and planning a project for the CHI fellowship has provided me with some interesting perspectives on the problems of teaching recent American history, as well as some useful perspective on the potential value of new archival resources in the classroom, particularly around audio and visual content. The traditional print sources that historians favor make up an increasingly small part of the cultural archive available to those of us who study the very recent past, and I’m excited to have this opportunity to try my hand at building a more accessible means of accessing these multilayered sources. Oral histories, in particular, interest me. “True” oral histories—collaboratively constructed narrations of a person’s life history—provide a deeply dimensional and rich resource for historians, provided that they are treated as something more than a flat and flawed transcription of an audio file. Unfortunately, the practical exigencies of real time work with audio files leads most historians to lean heavily on these transcripts. Text files are searchable, making them efficient to catalogue and reference in research. Audio files are unwieldy and extremely difficult to effectively “skim,” making them unpopular with any scholar on a deadline. The “Oral History Metadata Synchronizer” software—primarily developed by Doug Boyd and the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries—offers a potential solution to the practical problems of academic research with oral histories.

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November 18, 2015

Thinking Precarity in the Digital World

November 18, 2015 | By | No Comments

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending and presenting some of my research at the National Women’s Studies Association’s annual conference. I’m still processing all of the wonderful difficult conversations I was witness and participant to in this space, but Sara Ahmed’s keynote speech at the conference resonates through all of it. Ahmed approached the conference theme of precarity through a long meditation on “Feminism and Fragility,” with persistent metaphors of breaking against walls. According to Ahmed: “So much is, so many are, involved in a breakage.” Despite their social nature, these walls are often invisible to those who aren’t pushed into them, leaving the meanings behind stories about breaking against walls often unintelligible to those who don’t share the experience. Believing in these walls is feminist work, as is honoring the expression and knowledge of those who reveal the walls we don’t see. Ahmed presents clumsiness—meaning an awareness and embrace of the “bumpiness” of equality—as the basis of a queer ethics. “Smoothness,” in this formulation, is a form of violent adjustment to a world with walls that are positioned to break one’s self. These walls harden history, and histories then themselves become walls. Ideas of the past become themselves the agents of breakage in the present.

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September 25, 2015

CHI Fellow Introduction: Sara Bijani

September 25, 2015 | By | No Comments

I am a historian of the contemporary United States, with research interests in the areas of gender and political culture. This fellowship presents an exciting opportunity to learn methodological skills that will strongly enrich my future work, as the temporal and social dimensions of my research are well suited to the unique narrative structures that digital scholarship provides. More specifically, my dissertation project explores the interactions of activist coalitions, federal urban policy, and municipal governance in the late 20th century United States. Within this context, I study the intersections of formal politics and outsider identities in large municipalities, with an emphasis on those coalitions and politicians whose activism reshaped structures of governance in several large cities during the culture wars of the 1980s. I am principally interested in a small wave of women who were elected to mayoral offices in large U.S. cities during the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the local coalitions that made these elections possible. I argue that these women mayors in the late 20th century U.S. demonstrated a spectrum of sensitivity to sex, gender, race, and other identity based experiences of injustice that cannot be simplistically reduced to their own individual sex identity, but that also cannot be entirely disassociated from the situated cultural experience of being sexed in a particular time and place. Uncovering these experiences—many of them retained by living people—requires the development of a toolkit that incorporates but goes beyond the archival methods traditionally employed by historians.

I recently completed an intensive and inspiring two week summer institute in oral history at Columbia University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics, where a fair amount of the workshops emphasized the unique challenges and opportunities of digital curation within oral history archives. As Doug Boyd compelling (and repeatedly) warned the fellows at this institute, the promise of digital access is still very much a work in progress for most archives, as the sheer volume of the collections makes accessible curation extremely difficult. As a CHI fellow this year, I hope to develop a pilot version of a recyclable digital gallery interface for oral history collections here in the Michigan State University libraries. Recognizing that this is a very lofty goal, I do hope to produce something that will add to the library’s ongoing digital initiatives in a useful and meaningful way. Stay tuned to find out what that looks like!

[image: A “pro plan” delegate at the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas clipped from the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year. “The Spirit of Houston: The First National Women’s Conference: An Official Report to the President, the Congress and the People of the United States.” Washington: U.S. Government. Printing Office, 1978.]