Sunday, June 26, 2016

6/20/16 - 6/24/16

I have officially started on the digitization that is the lion's share of my capstone project. I finally gained the nerve to start putting the Boder spools on the machine after several days of testing with the test spools. One of the test spools didn't make it.

Godspeed, test spool, we hardly knew ye.

Losing this spool bummed me out. I hadn't a chance to digitize it and sort of feel like I am responsible for destroying history. This spool contained numerous sermons and services of some sort of Protestant church from the 1950s. (The fault does not really lie with me, they had far too much wire on the spool and it began spilling over the sides, it was not salvageable. Also, my dating of the spool comes from mentions of the Korean War currently happening.) But breaking things gives me confidence and I started in with the Boder spools on Tuesday.

The Boder audio collection is broken into three parts. The main one would be the Holocaust recordings, when Boder traveled Eastern Europe in 1946 collecting stories about the Holocaust from those in refugee camps after being liberated. The second selections of recordings are from Kansas City in 1951 after the great Kansas City Flood. Boder's main interest was in displaced peoples. The final portion of recordings are completely different from the other two. This one had no information in the finding aid or the papers and is simply labeled "Sylvia Case Study." The spools are dated over the course of several years. As I wanted to test each portion of the collection right off the bat I chose to do one from each to compare their condition and content.

The first spool I did was from the Holocaust spools. To my surprise however, it had nothing to do with the Holocaust (at least as far as I could tell).

This is the first spool.

It can be difficult to read, but both the canister and the paper on top of the spool say "Woman with Broken Arm / Veteran with divorced parents. April 18/46". My thinking is that all of his recordings from 1946 are in here, not just the Holocaust ones. As a result we may have less of the Holocaust materials than we had previous thought.

(Something I am still wondering: Boder's recordings were so obscure that they were not known of by major researchers for a very long time, they did not come to light until some copied transcripts were found and then the duplicate spools were found at the Illinois Institute of Technology. But we had the original transcripts since Boder's death in the mid-60s. Sooooo, why didn't the U of A get the limelight when that story broke in the early 2000s?) Anyway, rant over.

This spool has just what it says. The first interview seems to be a fairly depressed older lady who had recently broken her arm. She does on at length about her children, particularly her youngest son (born in 1918) who is about to get married to a woman she does not particularly like.

The second interview is with a WWII veteran who is experiencing "nervousness." I am inclined to think he was dealing with PTSD. The interview revolves around his 4 years in the Army and also his parents divorce while in the service.

Overall the audio quality is fairly good. But there are large portions where the speech is all but unintelligible.

The second spool that I digitized was the first of the Kansas City Flood spools.

I love clear labeling. Even after 60 years.

These interviews reminded me much of the first spool that I digitized, however with these I know the exact context. What is on the spool does not completely reflect the labeling, it begins with a woman and then goes into the interview with Rodreguez. The label does note, however, that the beginning of the spool is missing. The questions Boder asks mostly have to do with how people escaped, what they took with them, where they went, and what the response of the government was. Like the first spool the audio was fairly good with some sections where everything was just garbled.

First Sylvia spool

The final portion of the collection was a giant mystery to me. And boy do I love mysteries. These 16 spools, called "Sylvia Case Study" are the only things in the Boder collection that no one has much of an idea on. In Boder's papers I have found no mention of a Sylvia nor of any case studies whatsoever. Also, the finding aid only says something to the effect of "Sylvia- 16 spools," not the normal item level descriptions that many of the 1960s finding aids have. I found this all incredibly odd as they start in 1951, go through 1953 with the last labeled 1956. This is obviously something that Boder worked on for a great deal of time . . . but he never wrote about it (or we didn't get those papers)? I understand that certain things would be sealed or redacted as when the collection was accessioned in 1960s Sylvia very well could have been alive and in her late 30s.

I have digitized and thoroughly listened to the first two spools and I think this is a mystery I wholehearted would like to pursue if I get the okay from the museum. So, Sylvia is the name of a patient that Boder began seeing in 1951 (possibly starting in 1950, I am not sure yet).

My interest was peaked as soon as I began listening to Sylvia's story (which I am trying to tie together as I would assume -- and I probably shouldn't -- she was suffering from bi-polar disorder and borderline personality disorder and is very much in a manic, possibly even psychotic, state in the first spool). She was turning 25 in August of 1951, meaning she was born in 1926. She grew up very poor in Chicago to parents who divorced when she was young and by 1951 was living in the Loop area, which I have determined was the heart of the arts and music scenes at the time and Sylvia was apparently very much a part of this community.

Another community she knew (but claims to not take part in) was the heroin community. Upon a bit of research I found that in 1951 the heroin epidemic in Chicago was reaching its peak due to the supply of the drug by Lucky Luciano's gang. Sylvia was also obsessed with getting a job at a newspaper and her knowledge of Chicago newspeople is astounding.  While her story is so far very sad and tragic I feel some connection with this person from 65 years ago.

These spools are intriguing for so many reason; their focus on drugs and music at the time, the lack of recommendation of medication or hospitalization (it just seems odd for 1951), for the context of Chicago in the post-war era, and for male female relations at the time.

Ultimately, I would like to know who this person was. I'd like to find a picture. Just knowing what happened to her after these spools would be fascinating.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

June 13-16

Alright, well after a week of not being able to do much on this project I now have the wire recorder that Jamie Newhall built out of the old one (it's actually quite impressive, this franken-recorder). I have also quickly discovered what a massive pain in the butt this format is to work with. The test spool that I have been using to learn the process of using this machine is breaking once every five minutes or so while rewinding, but this has afforded me the chance to become an expert in splicing broken pieces together. Another major issue is that the wire comes off the play head easily if the play head is moving in a different direction than the wire is spooled. I have also found in the test spool several foot in length of unattached wire. This allows me to test some things I might have to do to the Boder spools to get every iota of information off of the wires.

Below is a video showing the overall operation and a closeup on the play head with the wire running through it. This is the machine as it is "rewinding" (which is really reversing the spools and having the machine fast-forward), so there is no audio right now and it is moving faster than usual.

One thing that I did not really think about previously is the fact that on one spool there might be several different recordings, but some have either been spliced in backwards or it was used with no discrimination as to what is forward playing and what is backward playing. As a result on the test spool alone there are recordings that will play properly and then the next recording will play backwards. I must say, I am very glad I have computers to remedy this as it would be a major pain finding what sections play forward or backward and try to cue the recordings manually.

This is now where the fun begins. Over the next few days I will become more familiar and comfortable and will also perfect the digitization method. Starting next week I will begin the digitization of the Boder spools. There are too many to finish in this project alone, so I will mostly focus on the Holocaust survivor spools, but will also give some time to the other two collection of spools.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

May 31 - May 3

I've switched to a weekly format at this point as in the next few days the digitizing point of this project will be beginning. So, this week was mostly learning how to deal with the spools that are broken, at least the possibly salvageable ones. In a previous post I showed this photo:

When I removed the paper and looked at this spool earlier I felt like this would be one of a few spools that may not be repairable at all. However, the broken wires were looped around each other in an attempt to keep everything together (I suppose that is what the paper was for as well). So this indicated to me that at some point someone perhaps thought this was repairable. I spent about an hour untangling the mess of broken wires until I had the broken pieces all separated out from the intact wire that is still spooled. In the end I had four separated wires of varying length. One length was quite long at maybe 7 feet, the others were much shorter.

I made no attempt to splice these yet in the hopes I can find a way to run those bits through the wire recorder to determine the order they would go in. It seems that push to shove I could just splice them back together in an unknown order and then get them in the right position after they are digitized. 

With what I learned here I think there is really only one spool that will not be repairable. Just for fun I am going to post a picture of that spool before signing off. My next step should be familiarizing myself with the wire recorder and then beginning digitization. 

Unfortunately I could not get the canister open on this horribly destroyed one (it was a bear to open the other day even). So I can't show the full horror show inside this container. However, just seeing all of the wires poking out should show the state of disrepair. If I can get this open again and if I can even peel away the mess of loose wires I doubt there would be much to salvage. I'm saving this for last in the digitizing process as I am sure I am in for a major headache.