On Interesting Archives Online, or “They Save That? Huh.”

I’ve come across many interesting institutions during my online wanderings and always poke around to see if they have an archival presence, either online or in real life. Arranged alphabetically, here’s a not-quite-an-A-to-Z of archives online that are illuminated pixels in the grand picture that is American life.

Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. – Yes. THAT Alcoholics Anonymous. No, it’s not just a church basement operation. The site has a timeline of AA history and some audio clips; the story Bill W. shares about losing his pants is a fun one. The actual AAWS archive is housed in NYC and, no, no one checks your Friend of Bill W. cred at the door if you want to look around the exhibit space. Bonus: The site includes their scope and procedure statements, collection management policy, and notes on preservation.

Boeing – In anticipation of their 100th anniversary, the airplane manufacturer has a (archive-ish) subsection on their website highlighting the company’s history with short, well-made videos. My favorite was the one on the Boeing seamstresses who sewed airplane wings.

Cornell Hip Hop Collection – This isn’t just a collection of materials on the birth of Hip Hop; it’s the preservation of life and culture in The Bronx during the late 70s and early 80s when the Boogie Down was all but written off. It was small-scale, local, and definitely New York. Check out these party and event flyers and photographer Joe Conzo’s photo archive to revisit (or become acquainted with) the world that led to the birth of Hip Hop.

DC Punk Archive  – Washington, DC, had a punk scene? Totally. Minor Threat didn’t just magically pop up in front of CBGB once or twice. The DC Public Library Special Collections has a small, but growing, collection of recordings, photographs, and ephemera from local punk bands dating back to the mid-70s. They even host shows to highlight the local indie music scene. Shake the stacks, indeed.

Eastern State Penitentiary – When one thinks of scary, freaky places that one wouldn’t want to be alone in at night, one might conjure up an image of Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP). But it’s far from scary — Steve Buscemi voices the audio tour! How scary could that be? I love this place. And the archive put its collection management policy and finding aid online. Totally the opposite of scary. Bonus: ESP hosts the annual Storming of the Bastille celebration (read my post on the event here), where the ghost of Edith Piaf tells the tale of the French Revolution with cabaret performances and thousands of Tastykakes flung from the prison’s roof.

What’s scary about a dilapidated prison that has people flinging Tastykakes off the roof? Not getting one of those airborne confections.

Grateful Dead Archive – I’m throwing this in here because my big cousin’s a Dead Head. Members of the hippie band responsible for spawning all those tie-dyed bear car decals donated their papers to University of California-Santa Cruz in 2008. In addition to the Dead Central exhibit space in UCSC’s McHenry Library, digitized materials can be accessed on the fan-driven Grateful Dead Archive Online.

Hoover Institution – Like war, revolution, and social upheaval? Enjoy reading up on the cultural collateral damage that comes with those three things? Also have a yen for peace? Then this is the archive for you! The Hoover Institution’s archive collects materials on war, revolution, and peace in the 20th and 21st centuries. The political poster database is absolutely my favorite part of the online archive, but the Hoover Library and Archive YouTube channel is also a gem. The video “Who Owns History? The Use and Abuse of the Hoover Archives,” below, is a must-see.

Internet Archive – This should be everyone’s go-to time killer. Go there. Now. Watch a film. Listen to some music. Play a game. Cringe at your high school blog. Wrap yourself in the digital preservation of history. I’ll wait.

Japanese-American Relocation Digital Archives –  If you’ve seen George Takei’s show, Allegiance, and want to learn more about the internment of Japanese-Americans during WW2 or never even knew such an event occurred until you heard about his show (or if you just want to learn more about a dark and over-looked part of American history), this is a great resource.

Keith Haring Foundation Archives  – As a New Yorker who grew up literally seeing Haring’s art everywhere, it’s cool to know that his studio lives on.

Lloyd’s of London – Another archive-ish site. And, okay, so it’s not American. But the British firm insures Americans! Ever hear about athletes getting body parts insured, like Troy Polamalu’s hair? Lloyds is the company that underwrites all those policies. The history section covers the firm’s background and it’s Catastrophes and Claims area provide more than a few “Huh. I did not know that” moments. There’s also a YouTube channel focusing that includes old films of British royalty.

Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church – Founded in 1794, Mother Bethel is one of the oldest African-American churches in the US and the first African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church. Its collection reflects the growth of the A.M.E. denomination, it’s membership, and the growth of the local African-American community. The site provides two things that I wish more archives had online: finding aids and request forms. Filling in the blanks: easier for the researcher, easier for the archivist.

Oregon Wine History Archive – An archive. For wine. God bless America.

Perdue Museum and Archives  – Fall down the Tumblr rabbit hole, see some interesting ephemera, and learn about the most famous family in chicken.

Sears Archives – My grandmother always had a copy of the Sears Catalog on the coffee table when I was a kid. If you’ve got a similar experience, relive the innocent joy of browsing through pages of stuff you’d never buy on the retailer’s archive of merchandise catalogs and DIY homes.

Trinity Wall Street – Trinity has been sitting amidst the hubbub of New York City life since 1697 and its archives contains a trove of information on the growth of the church and the city around it. Of note is the subsection on Alexander Hamilton: Founding Father of the United States, former Trinity pew renter, current cemetery inhabitant, and inspiration for the hottest show currently on Broadway.

United States Marine Corps Archives – It’s mostly finding aids, but my grandfather was a Marine, back in the late 50s, and I included this because of him. He would watch the bootcamp scenes in Full Metal Jacket and giggle.

WNYC Radio Archives – Concluding with a final New York-centric archive is the radio archives of WNYC, a public radio station that’s the NYC home of NPR, BBC World Service, and all those sonic goodies the intellectual class loves. The site has historic audio and articles on preservation. Go for Jimmy Hoffa; stay for the symposium on Communist brainwashing. Good times.


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