1991 solar eclipse footage from NOVA

We’re getting ready for this month’s solar eclipse and thought we’d share this historic footage from the WGBH vault! In July 1991, NOVA recorded the particularly long six and a half minute total solar eclipse atop the dormant volcano Mauna Kea, the location of a major astronomical observatory in Hawaiʻi. The footage, originally shot on 16mm film, was featured in NOVA’s 1991 documentary Eclipse of the Century and has been digitized and preserved by the WGBH Media Library and Archives.

Shakespeares in the Alley (And the Nobel)

Congratulations to Bob Dylan on his 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature!

For a refresher on the impact the singer-songwriter-poet has had on American music, politics, and culture, check out some of the original interviews from “Shakespeares in the Alley,” episode three of the acclaimed 1995 series Rock & Roll. “Shakespeares” looked at the influence of both Dylan and the Beatles on rock and roll, and at the depth and originality of Dylan’s songwriting.

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Al Aronowitz: “Bob will remain, see, to me, when I first met Bob I quickly fell in love with his work. I mean he became, I, I felt as if I was hanging out with somebody who was like a new Shakespeare, nobody had, to me nobody had done so much to change the English language since Shakespeare.”

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Al Kooper: “And sometimes Bob would start writing, and everybody’d just leave him alone in the studio. And we’d go ping-pong or eat or something, and he’d be in there, sometimes he’d sit in there for six hours writing a song.”

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Robbie Robertson: “And then pretty soon I realized, you know, when I talked about influences like he talked about influence, that it didn’t matter to him that much at all. He really didn’t care if we knew about what he had done in the past because he was thinking about something new anyway.”

1st reel of legendary James Brown concert returned to ‘GBH

James Brown performing at the Boston Garden in 1968.

The Media Library and Archives has long been in possession 2nd and 3rd reel of the 1968 James Brown concert, an event credited with keeping the peace after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It wasn’t until a few months ago that members of our stock sales team discovered that the original 2inch videotape of the first hour of the concert, missing all these years, was in storage with the James Brown Estate. As part of the licensing agreement for the upcoming documentary on James Brown, the stock sales team negotiated the deposit of a preservation quality digital surrogate into the WGBH Archives.

To share this recent discovery with other WGBH staff, the MLA arranged for a screening of the “lost reel.” Employees took time out of their busy schedules to relive a famous night in Boston history. The screening included the best of the “lost” first reel, which had lots of technical sound difficulties. This included a rare performance of Brown singing “If I Ruled the World” and James Brown addressing the audience in a unique moment. In addition, a second James Brown performance of “Going to Kansas City,” as well as powerful words from Brown, City Councilor Thomas Atkins, and Mayor Kevin White screened from the later reels.

One of the employees who attended was WGBH Jazz Gallery’s Al Davis, who was at the concert in 1968. Davis was kind enough to get up and share a few words with his fellow employees. He spoke of how his mother wasn’t sure she should let him go to the concert. He was ultimately allowed to go and headed down to the Boston Garden on the Orange Line. The event was very meaningful to him, especially since James Brown was such an important mentor to young black students at the time. Davis also recounted how under the urging of James Brown and others the crowd truly did remain peaceful after the concert.

You can watch clips from the concert, like this part of James Brown’s tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Interview With Marvin Minsky

Marvin Minsky, cognitive scientist and founding member of the MIT Media Lab, has been called the “Father of Artificial Intelligence.” His work, including some alongside fellow Media Lab founding member Seymour Papert, has been extremely influential in the study of artificial neural networks, especially building machines with the capacity for commonsense. One of Minksy’s most well known works is The Society of Mind, published in 1988, which is also the name of a course he teaches at MIT.

Just two years after the publication of The Society of Mind, Minsky was interviewed for the WGBH production The Machine that Changed the World. In the interview he summarizes his book:

The society of mind theory is basically that in order to make a machine with the kind of versatility and resourcefulness that we take for granted in people, a good way to do that is to package into that machine a lot of different ways to represent knowledge and a lot of different ways to exploit it.  And this leads to a certain difficulty, is there a central place in this mechanical brain that’s in charge of everything and knows everything. And I think what I show in the book is that that really can’t be, because if different kinds of knowledge are represented in different ways, then the parts of the brain, the parts of the machine that’s doing all this really can’t communicate with each other very well.  And so you get a very different picture of identity. And I can’t explain it briefly, but it’s a three hundred page book and in it I think I show all sorts of new ways to explain problems that have bothered psychologists and philosophers for a long time, like what does it mean for a machine to be conscious.

The interview was over an hour long, and a full, unedited version has been digitized and made available. Minsky discusses much more than his recent publication, answering questions across a range of topics, including:

–       the history of research on the workings of the human brain

–       history and development of AI research

–       common sense knowledge in humans and computers

–       religion

–       impact of computer development on AI and cognitive science

–       science fiction


NYU Scholar Feasts on Vintage Joyce Chen Cooks Episodes

Iconic WGBH Cooking Show Host the Focus of Research by Prof. Dana PolanJoyce_Chen_Cooks_Logo

As an early pioneer in cooking shows, WGBH produced groundbreaking series such as Julia Child’s the French Chef and Joyce Chen Cooks. As a result, the WGBH Media Library and Archives is a treasure trove of classic culinary television footage and the first stop for scholars studying the cooking show genre. Dana Polan, a professor of Cinema Studies at New York University has returned to the Archives to study the work of an iconic WGBH host and once again, the footage in the Archives is at the center of his research.

Previously Polan visited the WGBH archives while researching his book Julia Child’s The French Chef (Duke University, 2011). This time around, he’s studying another famous female chef, Joyce Chen, who also used the WGBH airwaves to teach the public how to cook ethnic dishes in their own kitchens.  Joyce Chen, emigrated to America during the Chinese Revolution. After becoming a successful cookbook author and Cambridge restaurateur, she hosted Joyce Chen cooks on WGBH from 1966 to 1967. Polan’s latest work focuses on Joyce Chen within the context of the Chjnese emigré culture and its attempts to craft a version of Chinese cuisine that would appeal to urban professionals in the U.S.

Currently, eleven of the episodes Polan used in his research have been digitized and are available online to the public. These include Joyce Chen Cooks Peking Ravioli and Joyce Chen Cooks for Fussy Eaters. The vintage footage of these episodes allowed Polan to study the nuances of Chen’s personality and the techniques that made her a trailblazer in the history of television cooking.

Recently, Professor Polan presented his work at NYU’s 2014 Feast & Famine seminar series hosted by NYU’s Food Studies program. Additionally, he is working on a critical essay about Joyce Chen that will be published soon on Open Vault.

Throughout his research, Professor Polan, took extensive notes while viewing each episode. The summaries, program logs, and select descriptive metadata he provided to the Archives have made the series content much more accessible and discoverable by other researchers and scholars.

As a public media station, WGBH’s Media Library and Archive serves as a free resource to researchers and scholars as well as the general public. The Archives contain more than 500,000 audio, video, and related assets from WGBH’s more than 60 years of broadcasting

To search the digital collection of almost 4,000 video, audio, and related materials, click here. If you have inquiries about other assets in our collection, contact us at archives_requests [at] wgbh [dot] org, and consider a visit to the archives.

More Nuclear Interviews from the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project

By: Sadie Roosa

Interested in even more interviews about nuclear weapons and policy? Our War and Peace in the Nuclear Age collection contains 328 original footage interviews with world leaders, policy makers, scientists, and activists who played a critical role during the Cold War era. The interviews were for the 13-part miniseries that aired on PBS in 1989, which means that they were conducted between 1986 and 1989. While many of them give an in-depth look at the history of nuclear weapons, some of the interviews discuss the contemporary nuclear issues the world was facing at the time. This timing gives immediacy to some of the arguments, like in this interview with Barney Frank but it also leaves no room for looking back at the Cold War era from a removed standpoint.

We’ve recently come across a fantastic resource in the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project. “The Nevada Test Site Oral History Project at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is a comprehensive program dedicated to documenting, preserving and disseminating the remembered past of persons affiliated with and affected by the Nevada Test Site during the era of Cold War nuclear testing.” This project consists of interviews with more than 150 people, totaling 335 hours, conducted between September 2003 and January 2008. Searchable transcripts of these interviews are available, along with selected audio and video clips. The oral history format of the interviews allows for longer answers and more explanation from the participants, which often leads to very interesting stories. Since these interviews were conducted around 20 years after the ones on Open Vault, they allow for more perspective and comments on later developments in nuclear policy.

The UNLV project overlaps with our Open Vault collection. Both contain interviews with Sidney Drell, Richard Garwin, Cecil Garland, and Herb York. If you were intrigued with anti-MX Missile activist Cecil Garland’s gruff personality in the Open Vault interview, check out the UNLV interview with Garland for more on his background and philosophy. He even tells some of the same stories in both interviews. This UNLV interview is also great if you want to hear more from Richard Garwin, one of the most important scientists in developing the hydrogen bomb, discuss his earlier involvement in nuclear research working alongside Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe, and Edward Teller. Garwin goes into great detail about the development of many technologies he discusses in War and Peace, like the U-2 surveillance plane and diagnostics nuclear tests.

If you have a moment, do check out the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project.

From the American Archive: President Nelson Mandela

Today, South Africa and the rest of the world mourn the loss of Nelson Mandela, the revered South African president and anti-apartheid revolutionary who spent 27 years in prison. Serving as South Africa’s first black president, he ended apartheid, the government platform, which for nearly five decades had enforced racial segregation, denying non-whites any economic or political power. During his five-year presidency, Nelson Mandela led his country to democracy, tackling racism, poverty, and inequality, and fostering reconciliation.

Upon hearing news of his death yesterday, we contacted our American Archive partnering station WHUT, located on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. Today they have given us permission to share with you a video from the American Archive, featuring President Nelson Mandela at Howard University in October of 1994, the day on which he received an honorary doctorate degree from the university.

“Our cause became your cause, and so shall it remain, for us to work together to improve the quality of life of especially black people, and other disadvantaged communities — in South Africa, in Africa, in the United States, and other parts of the world.” –South Africa President Nelson Mandela, upon receiving an honorary doctorate at Howard University, October 7, 1994

WGBH Remembers Mary Feldhaus-Weber

The WGBH community notes with sadness the passing of Mary Feldhaus-Weber, former WGBH Rockefeller Artist-in-Residence, who died Sun, 10/6. She was 73. As an artist-in-residence in the late ’60s, Mary created several award-winning works, which aired as episodes on Rockefeller Artists in Television, the predecessor to The WGBH Project for New Television. You can see short clips of Mary’s work on Open Vault, “I Wish I Might” featuring dance performances by members of the Boston Ballet, and “City Motion Space Game” the majority of the work was filmed in a WGBH studio.

A memorial service for Mary will be held at the Brady & Fallon Funeral Home, 10 Tower St. (opp. Forest Hills MBTA Station), Jamaica Plain on Sat, 11/2 at 11 am.

To learn more about Mary and her work, please read this post from the WGBH Alumni website.