The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) is one of CCDI’s 2023 Libraries, Archives, and Museums recipients. The team began their project this past April and recently presented at CCDI’s 2023 Summer Fuse event in Washington, D.C. Selena Bemak, team lead, is the Programs and Communications Coordinator for HSP. She is working in collaboration with Katy Bodenhorn Barnes, HSP’s Director of Genealogy Services and Programs, and Kris Myers, HSP’s Manager of Grants and Foundation Relations.
HSP is receiving $44,250.36 in support of their project, “Resurrecting Voices: The Philadelphia Black Experience.” For their project, they are developing a podcast that will serve as an entry point for Black family history researchers seeking to learn more about their ancestors’ experience in 19th and 20th century Philadelphia. By combining podcast interviews, HSP’s collections, and Library photographs, newspapers, and more, they hope to tell a vibrant story of the lives and experiences of Black Philadelphians.
Olivia Dorsey, a Program Specialist for the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative, interviewed the team to learn more about their project plans.
Congratulations on receiving a CCDI Libraries, Archives and Museums award! Can you tell us about your project?
Selena: Our project is a podcast titled “Resurrecting Voices: The Philadelphia Black Experience.” Based on research from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP)’s collections and the Library’s digital collections, “Resurrecting Voices“ will delve into significant events, influential figures, and lesser known stories that have shaped the Black community in Philadelphia during the 19th and 20th centuries. We hope to record up to five episodes, with topics such as Philadelphia in 1838, William Still and the Underground Railroad, the Great Migration, and Dox Thrash and the WPA Art Studio. The project will expand upon past and ongoing projects at HSP. The first episodes of the podcast are slated to air in the fall of 2023 and will continue into 2024 against the backdrop of HSP’s bicentennial anniversary.
As the Programs and Communications Coordinator at HSP, I will serve as both the project lead and primary host of “Resurrecting Voices.” Our Director of Genealogy Programs and Services, Katy Bodenhorn Barnes, will co-host select segments with a genealogical perspective. We are also receiving support from our Manager of Grants and Foundation Relations, Kris Myers.
Do you plan to include any notable collaborators, local historians, artists or community members as researchers or guests in your podcasts?
Selena: Yes, a key part of this project is being able to collaborate with local public historians and genealogists who are already researching and educating the public on some of these narratives. We will be hosting colleagues from Black Docents Collective, the African American Museum in Philadelphia, and the African American Genealogy Group as guest speakers on the podcast.
We look forward to continuing our partnership with these groups, now on a new platform for us. Last year, we held a walking tour with the Black Docents Collective on the Philadelphia Black Metropolis. It was an amazing success, but we were only able to bring about two dozen people on the tour. This podcast will allow us to bring these historical narratives to a much wider audience through an evergreen format.
HSP is a leading center of study for ethnic communities and 20th century immigrant experiences. Can you share how you plan to incorporate your own expansive archives with the Library’s materials to discuss Black history in Philadelphia?
Selena: HSP’s collection includes more than 21 million manuscripts, books, and graphic images, which, coupled with the digital collections from the Library, will serve as the framework for the historical narrative in each podcast episode.
The collections of HSP and the Library complement one another nicely. Several of HSP’s collections, such as the Pennsylvania Abolition Society papers and the Leon Gardiner collection of American Negro Historical Society records, document the experiences and representations of African Americans from the colonial era to the 20th century. Our research process will draw from these, as well as from the Library’s’ digital collections. Some of the Library collections we will incorporate include collections from the Prints and Photographs and Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. HSP will also use some of the Library’s audio-based collections, such as the Voices Remembering Slavery: Freed People Tell Their Stories Collection as a tool for understanding the oral history process. Together, the archives of both HSP and the Library offer comprehensive source material on which the podcast will be based.
What do you think it is about storytelling and oral mediums that can make history so engaging to people? How will your podcast tap into that?
Selena: Storytelling feels so much more personal. Although the histories we are telling are grounded in scholarly research, the podcast format allows us to tell them in a meaningful way, steeped in thoughtful conversation, with reverence for the lives of the people we are discussing.
Katy: The storytelling format makes history less abstract. It allows the listener to more easily connect and put themselves into the narrative. It’s one of our oldest and most universal practices as a species!
What excites or inspires you the most about the work you’ll be able to achieve with the CCDI award?
Katy: The act of remembrance and keeping memory alive through genealogy is meaningful to me. I’m looking forward to the challenge of using a new medium to do that.
Selena: The whole project is so exciting to me. But I think what inspires me the most is that the public will be able to use this podcast in several ways: they can use it for research, but also to start the journey of uncovering their ancestry. I hope our listeners will be able to close their eyes while they listen to “Resurrecting Voices“ and picture a bustling, brilliant Black population in historic Philadelphia.
The third round of the CCDI Libraries, Archives, and Museums opportunities are now open. What advice do you have for those who are interested in applying?
Kris: What is a dream project that you’ve always wanted to do? The CCDI program may very well be the place to realize it. For HSP, producing a podcast was a long-term goal – something that we knew would reach new audiences (maybe even make us trendy) but also something we knew little about. So this opportunity is a chance to do something new and learn as we go.
For those applying for a CCDI award, think about how you would approach your dream project and then start exploring both online and through conversation, especially talking with other institutions that have used new platforms or methods of outreach. We’ve learned so much – from equipment to engaging audiences, to resourcing great content and other podcasting tips and tricks and we look forward to learning more as we progress!
Application Open until Sept 7, 2023: Apply Now!
Are you a library, archive, or museum looking to create a project that centers communities of color and uses the Library’s digital collections? Check out the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative’s award opportunity: www.loc.gov/programs/of-the-people/represent/libraries-archives-museums-application/.
CCDI will select up to three Libraries, Archives, and Museums projects for awards of up to $70,000 each.
Applications are open until Sept 7. APPLY NOW!
CCDI is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path program with support from the Mellon Foundation. This four-year program provides financial and technical support to individuals, institutions and organizations to create imaginative projects using the Library’s digital collections and centering one or more of the following groups: Black, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and other communities of color from any of the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and its territories and commonwealths (Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands). Learn more about CCDI here.