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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Jessica Holden connects students to the university archives

Colin Tsuboi
Research archivist Jessica Holden shows off archives from the UMass Boston collection. Photo by Colin Tsuboi / Mass Media Staff.

When the doors of the fifth floor of Healey Library prop open, a set of charming china welcomes guests in. These are the doors to the Archives Research Room. The space is filled with wide tables and small reading lamps with green lampshades, like those in Bates Hall of the Boston Public Library. In this space, the materials from the thousands of boxes held in the remainder of the fifth floor and part of the eighth are available to be explored.

Jessica Holden, the reference archivist, sat down to talk about her role in the department, what differentiates the archives from the rest of the library and what collections they host.

Holden studied English at the University of Georgia and pursued a Master of Library and Information Science at Simmons University. While attending Simmons, she interned at UMass Boston’s archives department, loved it and desired to stay.

But what are archives? A common question is whether archives are the same as a library or more like a museum. Well—as Holden explains—museums, libraries and archives all overlap, since their common purpose is to hold information with historical research value at the disposal of anyone interested in exploring it.

Most archive collections contain a multitude of paper-based resources and, for the most part, are not fully on display. However, this does not mean they are secret in any way. Archives are available to the public to study and examine up-close in person. Similarly, archives only hold primary sources. This means that all their materials are original copies of first-hand sources, as opposed to libraries that hold secondary or tertiary source materials. In other words, while archives would hold the original copies of sources like audio recordings, photographs, postcards and letters, a library would hold resources, such as textbooks, that would transcribe or copy these primary sources.

At UMass Boston there are over 300 collections, each composed of hundreds of boxes. These fall under two broad categories—the University Archives and Special Collections. The University Archives hold records related to UMass Boston and its two predecessors, the Boston Normal School and Boston State College. For example, it holds records of a majority of the issues of The Mass Media since its inception in 1966. The Special Collections, on the other hand, is a broad archive that contains records of community organizers, urban planning records and a collection of rare and special books.

One of Holden’s favorite collections is the Carol McEldowney Papers. It is composed of original journals from Carol McEldowney, an anti-war and feminist activist. McEldowney wrote four collections of manifestos that explore different facets of her life. One of them is the Hanoi Journal where McEldowney narrates her experience going to North Vietnam illegally during the Vietnam War. She wanted to see the conflict with her own eyes and, as a result, her journal provides a unique perspective on the war, giving the reader a new lens to understand it themself. The University recognized the value of her journals and published them in 2007.

The archives department holds the original journal written in 1967, while the library holds a copy of the published book. The original journal is gracefully bound in a slim paper folder, written on thin onion paper that still fiercely holds McEldowney’s inner thoughts as she made sense of the world of war.

Although archival work mostly occurs in the vaults—processing and caring for the materials—Holden’s work as a reference archivist brings the materials to the community. She is the liaison that connects the public with the documents by opening the boxes from the reserves and displaying the materials in the Archives Research Room. When an interested party arrives, she guides the guest or guests through the material, providing information about the history of the source. Holden’s English background and familiarity with the material helps it come to life. Additionally, the university uses Holden herself as a resource, encouraging professors to request instruction from the Archives.

When classes visit the archives, Holden has a conversation with the professor beforehand about the class’ current topic and their goals for exploring the archives. Usually, introductory composition classes come in to explore the meaning of primary source material. In this case, Holden usually refers them to the rare and special books in the collection.

For instance, there is a unique copy of a special edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” with original prints by famous Spanish painter Salvador Dali with the painter’s signature. Holden noted that the prints, brightly colored and outlined in black ink, look almost psychedelic. The edition was published in 1969 and reflects the Psychedelic movement between the ’60s and ’70s, as well as Dali’s signature surrealist work. Similarly, Holden can bring out eye-catching postcards from their bicycling collection. These charming cartoons encourage civilians to save national resources and bikes.

A special collection that moved from the vault to the streets of Boston recently is the Massachusetts Hip Hop archive. This archive houses vibrant images by Jhon Nordell, a photographer who captured the vibrant life around the Boston hip-hop scene during the early 1980s. The exhibit is near South Station,  in Dewey Square Plaza on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The Hip Hop archive also maintains the sounds of the Boston hip-hop scene in the form of over 300 demos of local artists collected by Magnus Johnstone. He was the DJ and founder of “Lecco’s Lemma,” a radio program that propelled hip-hop in Boston and strengthened the community of artists creating the genre.

What gives all these materials meaning is the people who explore them. By exploring the records of those who have been here before them, students can find use in the archives by using primary source material to expand a research essay, or on a broader scale, by enhancing their connection with the university and the city of Boston.

Holden encourages all members of the UMass Boston community to explore the digitized materials at openarchives.umb.edu, and if interested, come explore them in-person at the Archives Research Room. To do so, students must schedule an appointment by emailing [email protected]. The space is available from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

“The student body is wonderful. I really enjoy watching students use the archives and get excited about what we have,” noted Holden. “I hope that I have helped connect more [of them] with the archives.”

About the Contributor
Colin Tsuboi, Photographer