Baltimore History Live!

UB History Alive in Archives

UB Associate Professor of History Nicole Hudgins begins a series of history-related interviews exclusively for the UB Post. The series will feature men and women whose personal or professional lives can help us learn more about the Baltimore area’s fascinating history. Here, the first interview in our series, UB Archivist Aiden Faust answers questions about our campus history, UB’s special collections of local history, and the importance of preserving our archives.

faust1_EDITED_COLOR.jpgAiden Faust is the archivist at UB.
Photo by Nicole Hudgins

Nicole Hudgins: This afternoon I was leafing through the first UB yearbook [The Reporter ran from 1928 to 1974].  Have you ever looked at it?

Aiden Faust: Yes, although the copy I’ve used is the online version, which is part of Langsdale Library’s digital collections.

NH: Yea- I’m looking at the digitized version, too (of course!).  It’s striking to me how un-diverse the students and faculty were back then.  Progress is so “relative,” I guess, in the sense that, at the time, UB was striking out into new territory by providing higher ed for adults at night (albeit 99% white men). As a historian, I… know that back in the 1920s a woman had to be very self-confident to pursue a law or business degree, since middle-class girls were expected to devote themselves to marriage and motherhood.  For Americans of color, even more so… there was the understanding that such paths were “not for them…”

AF: Yes. I’m looking at the “University of Baltimore” book published by Tom Hollowak in the Arcadia “College History Series” in 2000. A photograph of the 1929 freshman class of the evening School of Business shows a class of 29 students; of those, 4 are women. By 1978, the University opened a Women’s Program in Management, which offered both a certificate program and an MBA degree. But there’s half a century that passed between those two dates!

NH: Progress was slow but it accumulated over time. Young students sometimes don’t realize, or forget, that the right to pursue a profession was a long, hard-won fight for anyone who didn’t look like those 1929 freshmen. The Reporter yearbooks expose the American social climate in black and white.  I’m really intrigued by UB’s history stretching back to the 1920s. Can you offer any “secret” bits of history that UB folks don’t know but should? The University actually lived through a lot of American history!

AF: My area of specialization is the Baltimore Regional Studies Archives—our expert on the University Archives, which contains the institutional records and history of UB, is my colleague, Fatemeh Rezaei. That said, there are many places where Baltimore history and UB history overlap in the archives. One example is BRISC, the Baltimore Region Institutional Studies Center. BRISC was an archive run by a UB urban sociology professor named Ted Durr. Dr. Durr’s vision of Baltimore records being used across academic disciplines and open to the public made him a leader in the archival community—not just locally, but nationally. With his associates, he developed an early software program called ARCHON to describe BRISC’s records and make them searchable. Although BRISC was forced to shut down during the Reagan-era funding cuts of the 1980s, the majority of the archival collections were transferred to Langsdale Library, and today comprise the core of the Baltimore Regional Studies Archives in Special Collections. So, that’s my bit of “secret” UB history, I guess. I wrote a short library blog post about it a few years ago, which includes a great audio interview with Mr. Durr.

NH: What sorts of interesting things would we find in BRISC, for example?  You had sent me a grant opportunity for students to study structural inequality in the region []. Is there anything in BRISC that could provide someone with research project material?

AF:  BRISC documented what I’d describe as institutions of American liberalism—organizations concerned with things like education, health care, housing, social welfare…  Some examples of our collections that are representative of BRISC’s mission are: the Planned Parenthood of Maryland Records, the Greater Baltimore Committee Records, the Health and Welfare Council of Maryland Records, the League of Women Voters for Baltimore City Records, and the Maryland Churches United Records.

NH: I get the sense that inconsistent funding leads to many archival projects ending up at loose ends.  Archivists have to prioritize and make tough decisions.

AF: BRISC, like many other archival programs, relied on external grant funding to operate. This doomed its operations when government support for cultural heritage, arts, and humanities waned. Archivists must be able to advocate for their records programs to build strong bases of support within their parent institutions. Sustainable archives cannot depend upon grant monies to perform core programmatic functions. That said, grant funding does allow archivists to accomplish projects that add value to their programs, like digital projects, conservation treatments, environmental controls, events and programming, and increased online access. Institutional support for core functions and grant support for innovative projects are both essential.

NH: Have you ever run into anything down in the archives that really surprised you?

AF: I was really impressed with oral history interviews in the Baltimore Voices Company Records.  When I first started at UB [2008], I was working on a project to digitize the original cassette tapes of those interviews.  The process of transferring the audio is done in real-time, so I’d hear the audio as it was being converted to digital.  I was surprised to hear high-quality conversations documenting the experiences of steel, auto, and garment factory workers. Labor history is a major part of Baltimore history, but local archival sources for labor history can be hard to find. I was very pleased to see we had more documentation of workers’ experiences in the Baltimore Voices Company collection than I realized.

NH: Absolutely. Years ago when I started at UB [2009] I took a trip to the Museum of Industry and was totally floored by the reality that Baltimore, and Baltimoreans, used to make stuff! The capital industries that you mentioned, but also dozens of smaller concerns making umbrellas, bottle caps, food processing, and the like.  Like many U.S. cities, Baltimore is still in the process of reinventing itself now that industry is mostly gone.

AF: The Baltimore Museum of Industry is a great example of one of Baltimore’s cultural heritage institutions that runs an archival program.  It’s critical that local archivists work together to document history through archival collections.  In the professional literature, this is known as cooperative collecting, and it’s done through communication and developing policies at our individual institutions that acknowledge the collecting scopes of other local archives.  This is an area I’m working on right now, and our department’s collection development policy acknowledges both our collection focus, the overlap we have with other programs locally, and our commitment to working together.

NH: What would you consider to be some of the “treasures” in UB’s special collections?

AF: The Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project was a public history project conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Those interviews are definitely a treasure for social historians.  I also consider the collection of local photographer Robert Breck Chapman to be a crucial documentary resource.  Breck started his photo career in Baltimore City with Great Society anti-poverty programs in the 1960s, and he worked his way through the Department of Housing and the Mayor’s Office under Kurt Schmoke.  But there are so many strong, important collections here—the YMCA collection, the Citizens Planning and Housing Association collection, the Empower Baltimore Management Corporation collection, the Walter Sondheim papers, the Chester L. Wickwire papers… I could go on and on.

NH: Yes—the Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project, although it has some frustrating gaps in the transcriptions, offers a peek into Baltimore as a city of immigrants and immigrants’ children. In the past, I had my students gather information from those interviews connecting Baltimore neighborhoods to European history (Poland, Ireland, Germany, etc.).  The course that all history majors take, “The Historian’s Toolkit,” taught by Dr. Nix, asks students to dig into their own ancestry in order to situate their families in a larger history.  Students are surprised by what they can find in the local archives!

NH: Do you ever get documentary filmmakers or PBS coming to SC for photographs or film?

AF: Our moving image collections get a lot of use by filmmakers and documentarians of all varieties.  Photographs are most often used by researchers publishing books, although we had an independent record label request an image for a record cover recently!

NH: Can you give an example of one of the films in the collection getting used in a documentary?

AF: Actually, Special Collections maintains a list of books, films, and other resources created using archival material from our collections.

One example from this list is “All the King’s Horses: The Story of Gwynn Oak Amusement Park,” a documentary film made by longtime WJZ-TV cameraman, Pete O’Neal. Mr. O’Neal used news footage from the WMAR-TV film collection in Special Collections to tell the story of the desegregation of a local amusement park. The carousel that sits on the National Mall outside the Smithsonian is actually from Gwynn Oak Park.

NH: Working amongst those materials, I would nominate you as someone who has a broader perspective on our institution.  Based on what you see, what do you perceive as UB’s most enduring identity?  Its mission for Baltimore?

AF: The University of Baltimore is Baltimore’s University! Our school is an important part of the city, and our programs help meet the needs of the city and its residents.  Special Collections reflects that vital connection between the city and the University.  I love running a public archives about the history of modern Baltimore, right here in the heart of midtown.  Our work with the UB campus, local community researchers, and guest scholars from around the world helps put UB on the map as a research destination.  It also helps build and share knowledge about Baltimore that connects local history to broader historical narratives of national significance.

NH: Very nice.  Maybe we need a Baltimore Studies program?

AF: Yes! Our archives do a good job of documenting local institutions, as well as some neighborhoods and protest organizations. But I would still like to see the lives of more people, as well as grassroots groups and social movements, added into our archives.

NH: In large part, my love for the historical profession comes from encountering these lives tucked away in the archive—men and women who struggled and vanished but left a trace for us to see!  I always sort of wonder to myself:  a hundred years from now, will anyone discover that I existed?  You and your colleagues in Special Collections play an important role in saving Baltimore lives from oblivion.

AF: Archival programs will continue to evolve over time, with new materials and new interpretations of existing collections, in order to remain relevant.  Our job is to keep these programs sustainable for the duration.

NH: Thanks for sharing your knowledge today, Aiden, and letting us get to know Special Collections better.

AF:  Thanks for asking good questions!  I always love to talk about the collections.

Pages from “The Reporter,” a UB yearbook that ran from 1928–1974.
Images from the Special Collections Archive at UB

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