- Stories of the City:Newark, Newest Americans, and Hyperlocal Forms of Digital Public Humanities
Newest Americans introduces itself as a digital project telling "Stories from the Global City."1 Institutionally supported by Rutgers University–Newark, the digital project aims to "generate fresh narratives and insights about our emerging minority majority population and the nation it is transforming."2 The tools it selects to tell these stories are multimodal: while Newest Americans borrows the structure and layout of a magazine, its features materialize in the forms of short documentary films, annotated digital maps, oral histories, spoken word poetry, blogs, graphic novels, and mixed-media mosaics. Its methodologies are invested in pluralities: its narratives are polyvocal, its images of place juxtapose archival materials from the past with records of the city in the present day, its collaborators are made up of academics, journalists, filmmakers, students, artists, and neighbors.
In the late 1990s, over one hundred oral histories were gathered in the Krueger-Scott Oral History Collection, perspectives of "African American Newarkers who had migrated to the city between 1910–1970, as well as those whose local roots spanned generations."3 These important documents of local history were collected in preparation for Newark's Krueger-Scott African American Cultural Center, a long-planned revitalization of the "Krueger Mansion" (named after the building's original builder and owner, nineteenth-century brewery owner Gottfried Krueger) once owned by Louise Scott, a local African American "beauty culture entrepreneur and millionaire."4 Unfortunately, the proposed Cultural Center never materialized, and the oral histories were shelved and forgotten, placed in shoeboxes at various Newark cultural institutions.5 [End Page 301]
In 2008 Samantha Boardman, then a doctoral candidate at Rutgers–Newark, came across a collection of cassettes containing oral histories of African American Newark residents, "part of an unaccessioned collection at the New Jersey Historical Society archive."6 Boardman, in collaboration with "the efforts of the Rutgers University–Newark Center for Migration and the Global City—in partnership with the [Rutgers Newark] Graduate Program in American Studies, Dana and Alexander Libraries, Newark Public Library, Newark Museum, New Jersey Historical Society and Randforce Associates," worked to digitize, index, catalog, and archive this collection.7 Digitization work began in earnest in 2011 and involved a large team of American studies graduate students writing item summaries and metadata content, working with Krista White, a digital humanities librarian at Rutgers–Newark, to move materials into the Rutgers University Community Repository. The Krueger-Scott Oral History Collection went live in 2016, a launch timed to coincide with "We Found Our Way: Newark Portraits from The Great Migration," a physical exhibition of photographs and other materials related to the oral history collection, curated by Boardman.8
The time, labor, and collaboration involved in the digitization, preservation, and publication of the Krueger-Scott Oral History Collection is worth documenting as a demonstration of how long and involved this important work can be, efforts that are not always part of the scholarly records of academic publication, scholarly activities that are often devalued or de-emphasized in graduate training contexts and tenure evaluations. Archival materials are an important component of Newest Americans, as past histories of Newark and its residents documented in the Krueger-Scott Oral History Collection are remediated, recontextualized, and ultimately reinvigorated in several projects published by the initiative.
The project's director, Tim Raphael (who is also director of the Center for Migration and the Global City at Rutgers University–Newark and an associate professor of theater in the Department of Arts, Culture, and Media), has noted that one of the aims of Newest Americans is to do the work of "activating the archive." Identifying a "fetishization of archives" that privileges collection and preservation but often ignores "how you actually get those archives out into the hands of people in ways that are useful to them," Raphael and his collaborators are invested in moving beyond "the province of scholars" in the work of curating, interpreting, and even remixing archival materials...