Archival Screening: A Retrospective on WGBH and Experimental Television, 1968-1970

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The WGBH Media Library and Archives team has begun hosting quarterly archives screenings in 2019 as part of the WGBH Insiders Screening Series. Last week’s screening offered a unique look into WGBH’s role as one of the first public media stations to explore television as an artistic medium. Over 100 members and guests screened segments from video art works created between 1968 and 1970, including What’s Happening, Mr. Silver?; Madness and Intuition, The Medium is the Medium, and Violence Sonata.

Panelists included:

• Fred Barzyk, the original producer of WGBH’s series New Television Workshop

• George Fifield, Founder and Director of Boston Cyberarts Inc.

• Aldo Tambellini, Multimedia artist who created work for WGBH/Public Broadcasting Laboratory’s 1969 production called The Medium is the Medium

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From left to right: Peter Higgins, Ryn Marchese, Fred Barzyk, and George Fifield


The event was moderated by Ryn Marchese, Engagement and Use Manager for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, and Peter Higgins, Archives Manager at WGBH Media Library and Archives. Digital Archives Manager Leah Weisse curated an exhibit of relevant production and promotional materials to provide context to the evening’s focus. MLA thanks Elizabeth Hagyard for her support and collaboration on the event, as well as other staff in events, legal, marketing, and engineering, and WGBH volunteers who helped make the night a success!


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Leah Weisse, WGBH Archives Manager


Event slide deck:

Diving into the Digital Humanities at WGBH

By Kenny Whitebloom

In case you happened to miss the news: through a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we’ll be publishing our full catalog of the Media Library and Archive’s holdings online later this summer.

We’re seeking students, scholars, and filmmakers to enhance our records with valuable metadata on a variety of levels. From filling out a short survey describing item(s) used, to mining the catalog and curating an entire online collection, scholars will play a crucial role in helping to make the WGBH Digital Library a resource suitable for research purposes.

This goal — to validate the legitimacy of audiovisual materials for scholarly research — is really part and parcel of a broader movement in academia towards open access and the use of non-traditional mediums, a disciplinary movement known commonly as the ‘digital humanities’.

A brief and by no means complete definition of this burgeoning field can be understood as something like: the use of information technologies to analyze and interpret the humanities and other interdisciplinary subjects. Brett Bobley, the Director of the NEH’s relatively new Office of Digital Humanities (ODH), wrote in 2008 that the digital humanities embraces such topics as:

…open access to materials, intellectual property rights, tool development, digital libraries, data mining, born-digital preservation, multimedia publication, visualization, GIS [Geographic Information System], digital reconstruction, study of the impact of technology on numerous fields, technology for teaching and learning, sustainability models, and many others.

In many ways, the purpose of these new tools and methodological approaches is to make sense of the past decade’s digitized deluge; to organize, annotate, and interpret the masses upon masses of digital material now available to scholars online.

As a result of these new modes of investigation and new areas of support, many tools have been emerging for the individual scholar to utilize. Omeka, developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History & New Media at George Mason University, allows users to publish and arrange unique cultural heritage objects like photographs, maps, and text into digital collections. The Library of Congress’ Recollection tool, which essentially does the same thing, places its emphasis more on interactive timelines and maps. The Institute for the Future of the Book and the University of Southern California produced a tool called Sophie which lets users create shareable multimedia documents or, as the website suggests, books.

These are merely three tools amidst an expanding litany of others, many of which are currently in the works, but the common thread here is that the process by which original research is collected, interpreted, and published, once a solitary activity between author and text, has now become a collaborative, interactive experience.

But still: what do the digital humanities and other digital publishing communities actually produce? In many cases, projects considered to be within the digital humanities rubric are multimedia compendiums of text, audiovisual material, and sometimes user input on a specific topic or work. The Princeton Dante Project, for instance, is an annotated electronic text of the famous 14th century epic poem complete with images, audio, philology, commentary, and a variety of lectures. Others, like Columbia University and Vassar College’s ‘Mapping Gothic France,’ fuse images, texts, charts, and historical maps to create a spatial representation of historical trends and events. Crowd-sourced projects such as University College London’s ‘Transcribe Bentham’ and the New York Public Library’s ‘What’s on The Menu?’ invite users to transcribe digitized primary source documents so as to make them digitally searchable, and therefore accessible.

At the WGBH Media Library & Archives, our “Participatory Cataloging” digital library project aims to accomplish a mixture of the crowd-sourced and self-published works, as scholars and students contribute metadata to our catalog while curating collections of their own along the way.

For information on more tools and projects related to the digital humanities, head over to the ODH’s website and take a look at the July 2011 batch of grant recipients, or their library of previously funded projects. There you’ll find projects in which institutions are working on tools for computational analysis of film and other audiovideo materials, mobile apps that let users view musical theater multimedia, social network-like environments that allow scholars and students to share bibliographic information, and many, many more.

Along with the materials currently available for citation and sharing on this web site, we hope that researchers will soon take advantage of our full catalog, creating new and interesting scholarly products and helping us to increase the access points into our collection.

Robert the Intern's Story: WHDH-TV Card Catalog

by Robert Johnson

One of the most interesting things about working on the WHDH-TV collection was being able to read about news stories in Boston during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Each of the estimated 39,000 cards in the WHDH card catalog corresponds to one piece of 16mm film footage (occasionally more than one) that is located in one of 2,300 film cans. Each can holds multiple reels of film, however, and each reel apparently can be composed of many different pieces of footage spliced together. Nobody is quite sure yet because we haven’ t yet been able to look at all of the reels of film.

I have been transcribing some of these cards into a database in order to make them searchable and sortable. Perhaps my favorite index card I transcribed was the one about a “bizarre kidnapping and hold-up attempt” at the Brockton Fair in July of 1970. The next card was for an interview with a seven-year-old kid about the hold-up. Was he the victim? The culprit? I have no idea. I would love to be able to watch the actual film for these two cards.

There were also a dozen or so cards about Judge Brogna, who was implicated in a bribery scandal in late 1971/early 1972 and later censured for accepting phone calls from a fellow judge (who himself was disbarred for accepting bribes) and not reporting them. According to news articles I found online he was never accused of being offered or accepting a bribe. Nonetheless, the governor of Massachusetts at the time asked him to resign. He refused.

There are also more than 20 cards about two robberies involving Brink’s trucks: one in 1968 and the more famous one in 1950 (The Great Brinks Robbery, as it is known). Boston University the topic of many cards, as was Boston City Hospital and the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Senator Edward Brooke had lots of cards, too, as did Francis X. Bellotti and William Baird. Can you tell I was in the “B” drawer? One of the Bellotti cards referred to him as a “victim of Harold Stassen syndrome” and I did not understand the reference until I learned that Stassen was a politician known for his numerous failed bids for president of the United States.

There are also a number of cards about the NASA, the Apollo 11 mission and astronauts. And plenty of celebrities: Alan Alda, Carol Burnett, Cid Ceaser, Imogene Coca and Doctor Spock. As someone born more than a decade after WHDH-TV ceased to exist, there were many occasions when political figures both local and national were unfamiliar. I often found myself doing research that may not have necessarily had any impact on the database I was building but certainly helped me understand what many of the news stories were about. Someday, when all of these card describing the collection are digital and online, I can only imagine the value they will offer to students and researchers alike!



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Mellon Project Report: Media Digital Library for Scholars

The WGBH Media Library & Archives completed a digital library prototype project in December, 2009. With funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we worked closely with three scholars to discover how they would want to search, access and make use of archival moving image materials online. (This project built on an earlier Assessment for Scholarly Use.)

The prototype is still live at though you will notice that many of the features developed there have since been further refined and integrated into this site.

The project also included sustainability research conducted by Ithaka’s Strategy and Research team.

Read the final project report, detailing work accomplished, lessons learned, and future directions for the MLA online.

We welcome your comments and suggestions!