In September 2017, we convened as The City Amplified Working Group, a collective of oral historians, artists, archivists, and scholars engaged across (primarily) New York City on projects that deeply honored and valued community engagement and the public humanities. We met regularly for one year to discuss, collaborate, and examine how radical archiving practices can amplify the rich range of oral history and place-based research projects flowing across the city. While “amplify,” and all of its semantic variations, are increasingly being adopted into current public humanities discourses, our working group members have long been doing this work. I was humbled to be joined by an exceptional range of colleagues, mentors, and peers who contributed their time, wisdom, and energy, and represented organizations such as The Laundromat Project, Interference Archive, Buscada, City Lore, South Asian American Digital Archive, Urban Democracy Lab, Brooklyn Historical Society, NYU Archives, JACK, Bronx Music Heritage Center, American Social History Project/ Center for Media and Learning, and of course, the City University of New York. Our gatherings were driven by three critical questions: what does radical archiving look like in practice? How do we engage with issues of reciprocity, transparency, and accessibility when we work with a “community” (broadly defined) or neighborhood? And, how can the City University of New York, a public institution that has long served this city’s residents, act as a space to connect, foster, and grow resources, future collaborations, and other forms of public engagement.
The City Amplified also represented the umbrella name for a larger public humanities project that brought together three interconnected elements: our working group, education, and community outreach. It included an independent studies opportunity for Lauren Capellan (AA Bronx Community College CUNY, CUNY BA) to work with The Laundromat Project at their Hunts Point, Bronx location in Spring 2018; an internship opportunity for Ugeita Tewari (AA Borough of Manhattan Community College CUNY) at the South Asian American Digital Archive who co-organized a public program in Richmond Hill, Queens which included community story circles, and readings by celebrated authors Gaiutra Bahadur and Rajiv Mohabir in October 2018; and, a semester-long oral history workshop series with a final culminating listening party, for 12 artists and scholars from The Laundromat Project family and CUNY community (a collaboration with The Laundromat Project and The Center for the Humanities at the GC, CUNY) and led by respected oral historian, educator, and archivist Sady Sullivan in both Fall 2018 and Spring 2019.
As part of the group’s commitment to skills sharing and transparency, Sady Sullivan and Maggie Schreiner offer a glimpse into their decade-plus experience in oral histories and archives in “If You’re Thinking About Starting An Oral History Project,” which can be found at the back of this publication. It is intended as a free resource for a public audience, so please copy, share, and distribute. Finally, three core malleable themes— community building, listening, and honoring memory —represent the organizational flow of this publication. It is a natural extension of the collective’s approach to our professional work and in our celebration of one another.
Assistant Professor, History, Bronx Community College of the City University of New York Faculty Co-leader, Archives, Mellon Seminar on Public Engagement and Collaborative Research