Poetics of the Archive, Part 1: “Lost to time”

The Saint Mary’s University Archives recently welcomed students in ENGL/ACST 3307: The Poetics of the Archive to examine records in our collection. This course asks students to respond creatively and critically to archival materials, and we are excited to share excerpts from an assignment in which records in the SMU Archives were the objects of study. This is the first in a collection of 4 excerpts from student assignments, collected by Teaching Assistant Claire Yurkovich, an MA student in the Women and Gender Studies program.

Continue reading “Poetics of the Archive, Part 1: “Lost to time””

Take A Look Inside the Lynn Jones Collection for African Heritage Month

Dr. Lynn Jones has loved collecting and sharing stories about her community since she was a child. When she was around 8 years old, she became curious about the articles and other “exciting things” her mother collected on the kitchen table of their family home in Truro, Nova Scotia.1 The joy she found in exploring her mother’s collection quickly turned into a lifelong passion for scrapbooking and collecting material of her own interest.2 Now, after more than 50 years and a career as an athlete, politician, activist, and community worker, Dr. Jones has collected thousands of news clippings, meeting minutes, programs, reports and other material documenting Black life.

Continue reading “Take A Look Inside the Lynn Jones Collection for African Heritage Month”

Lest We Forget: Preserving our Audiovisual History

Canadian Officer Training Corps students at Windsor Street Campus, ca. 1940.

Did you know that October 27th was World Day for Audiovisual Heritage?

If you didn’t- well, now you do! As Remembrance Day draws near and we spend time reflecting on the past, it’s worth considering how we as a society preserve our collective history.

Unlike books and journal articles, audiovisual (AV) materials can be difficult to access. They’re also more challenging to preserve. Luckily, through Saint Mary’s, you have access to audio visual heritage materials via the University Archive. The physical Archives are located on the third floor of the library, but you can access some materials online through the institutional repository.  

Here’s a quick Q&A with Hansel Cook, the librarian responsible for archives and special collections, on the status of audiovisual materials at SMU.

Q: What are audiovisual (AV) materials?

A: You can broadly describe AV material based on either the output format – audio, video, and photos being the obvious ones, of course – and the transmission medium, which includes digital files, as well as tapes, film, CDs, and a whole lot more. You can make the case that the definition of AV material could be expanded to include many more non-text formats, from video games to 3D printer files!Even if they are not the same thing, they have many of the same preservation and access concerns. 

Q: Why is the preservation of audiovisual materials important?

A: The two big concerns with AV material are: 1. decay of the physical medium, which includes things like video tapes becoming unplayable, and 2. loss of transmission standards, specifically, the inability to read the format even if the file itself has not decayed. This could be because it is using a piece of software that is not readable by current standards (how many people can open a WordStar word processing document?), or because the player/reader itself is obsolete (anyone own a Beta tape player these days?). 

Q: What are the challenges to accessing audiovisual materials as part of our documentary heritage?  

A: One of the solutions to access is also one of the solutions to preservation: transfer the AV material to a new, more-accessible digital format before the physical medium decays to the point that you can no longer read it. The challenge is that you still need to make decisions on transmission format and medium, which may make it easier to access the material now, but is it archival? How long will this new medium last? 

Other challenges include much larger file sizes, and the fact that every time you digitize something you may lose some of the authenticity of the original format. For example, oral history interviews transferred from a cassette tape format into a digital format are, in theory, more accessible, but are you losing anything in the way of authenticity? Did the fact that most cassette tapes record in 30-minute chunks play any part in how the original interview was conducted, and would you know that from a digital file? 

Q: What contributions can audiovisual materials make to research (as opposed to print materials like books or journal articles)?

A: AV material is an important primary source, and one that, due to the preservation issues mentioned above, has a higher chance to be lost through decay than more stable formats (like most paper). Also, AV material is, for lack of a better word, flashy! It’s an easy way to get people interested in your collection or in a topic and can be shared via social media and other formats to increase awareness, in a way that print materials cannot. If a picture is worth 1000 words, a video might be worth even more… 

Q: What audiovisual materials are available through the Patrick Power Library Archives?  

A: Most of our AV materials are related to the University itself, and includes oral history interviews with past staff, faculty and students, and video tapes of convocations and other university events. Much of our material has been digitized for the Institutional Repository, including old sports films from the 1960s of football and basketball games, as well as our entire University photo collection. 

There is so much to explore at the University Archives. You can visit the University Archives section of the institutional repository and take a trip to the past at Saint Mary’s University through audiovisual materials! This includes SMU’s involvement in the World Wars. AV materials in the Repository include an oral history interview with C. Anthony Law, the first curator of Saint Mary’s Art Gallery, who enlisted in the Canadian Navy in 1939 and went on to become one of Canada’s most prominent war artists. More information on Tony Law’s collection can be found at MemoryNS. You’ll also find a documentary on Stanisław Swianiewicz, a former Professor of Economics at Saint Mary’s, who served in the Polish army in World War Two and is the only known survivor of the Katyn Forest Massacre.

If you’re interested in learning more, or have additional questions, feel free to connect with a member of the Research Help team at the Patrick Power Library.

Five significant items from the Lynn Jones collection

Did you know that the Saint Mary’s University Archives is home to the Lynn Jones African-Canadian & Diaspora Heritage Collection? The Lynn Jones Collection documents the lives of Lynn, her family, and over 50 years of African, African Diasporic and African-Nova Scotian heritage and history.

We’re honoured to start our new blog by highlighting five items from the Lynn Jones Collection that speak to the history, lived experience, and activism of African Nova Scotians, at home and abroad.

  1. Campaign Poster for Nelson Mandela (1994). Lynn Jones travelled to South Africa as a Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) election observer for the South African election which saw Nelson Mandela elected President as the country’s first black head of state, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. 
  1. Cover of First Edition of GRASP Periodical (1970). GRASP was a publication of the Black United Front. Also known as The Black United Front of Nova Scotia or simply BUF, it was founded in 1965 by Burnley “Rocky” Jones among others. 
  1. Article on History of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children (Charles Saunders, Daily News, 1996). In the 2010s the home came under fire when many former residents came forward with allegations of abuse they experienced during their time at the home, which ended in a class action lawsuit, and an apology from the Premier of Nova Scotia. 
  1. Flyer “Save the North End CEC” (1996). When the federal government announced they were closing the Canadian Employment Centre in the North End of Halifax, a group of activists including Lynn Jones fought against the decision, which they felt would have a negative affect on the local community. This included a media campaign, protests, and occupation of the offices. 
  1. Soldier’s Service Book for Victor Herbard Jones, uncle of Lynn Jones (1940). These books contained details of wage payments from the army, as well as training, vaccination and other related records. 

For more information on the collection, visit https://www.smu.ca/academics/archives/lynn-jones-african-canadian-collection