Collections Continue to Grow in September 11th Digital Archive

The fifteenth anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001 is upon us. We see that the legacy of those events continues to live on in current political debates, foreign and domestic policy-making, as well as for the families who lost loved ones on that day and in the conflicts that followed.

Collection Highlight: Boston FAAWe at RRCHNM continue to expand the resources in the September 11 Digital Archive (911DA) as individuals and institutions want to share their collections with us. For example, retired Federal Aviation Administration employee Brian Sullivan donated a collection that offers insight into passenger safety prior to and on September 11, 2001 in the form of reports, guides, testimonies of Federal Aviation Administration employees and airport workers, meeting minutes, memos, transcripts, and affidavits. Graduate student Alyssa Fahringer scanned and described the items in the Boston Federal Aviation Administration Filings collection.  The Center also recently received digital scans of visitor comment cards contributed at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in 2011. Alyssa is adding those items this fall.

As RRCHNM continues to maintain and add collections, we are also working to improve computational access to these 150,000 digital items. With support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Omeka team is developing plugins that will help users to mine the texts available in the site, and others like it build in Omeka.

Individual items contributed to 911DA have rich personal stories to tell that call for a close reading of the text or examination of contributed images. In some cases, a more powerful story emerges by examining the aggregate, with the promise of surfacing larger insights through “distant reading,” an analytical procedure by which researchers evaluate large bodies of text in the aggregate as a way to discern otherwise opaque patterns and meanings. To enable both close and distant reading, simple annotation and word analysis plugins are in development. The Omeka team will use the vast collections of 911DA as a case study to demonstrate the benefits of using the new plugins and to publish new insights found in this corpus of materials.

Anniversaries offer time for us to reflect and think back on events from the past, and we again ask for you, your family members, your students to share how your life has changed since September 11, 2001. If you recently visited the September 11th Memorials in New York, the Pentagon, or Shanksville we want to hear about your experiences. By collecting reflections at this commemorative moment, we hope to further the life of the September 11th Digital Archive as one that not only includes the most immediate reactions to the attacks, but also shows change over time as individuals reflect at different points in the post-9/11 world.

Collection Highlight: Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center Interviews

Image of Beirut from MEMEAC website
Image of Beirut from MEMEAC website

The Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center (MEMEAC) Interviews is a collection of seventy-one transcribed oral history interviews conducted between June 2002 and June 2003 at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. This collection reveals how Middle Easterners and those of Middle Eastern descent coped and dealt with the backlash aimed at the immigrant community, particularly the Middle Eastern community, in the post-9/11 world.

Twenty-five men and forty-three women were interviewed for the collection. Many were young, as the average age of the interviewees was twenty-nine. Each interviewee was asked a specific set of questions, beginning with their background information. Many respondents self-identified as Pakistani, Arab-American, Indian, Afghani, Bengali, Egyptian, Palestinian, Lebanese, Iranian-American, or Syrian. Most respondents stated their religious affiliation was Muslim, although others identified themselves as Catholics, Hindus, Druids, and atheists. After going through the background information, the interviewer asked the respondents about their experience on 9/11, including where they were when the attacks happened, how they reacted, and how they felt when the terrorists were identified as Muslim. Respondents were then questioned as to whether their feelings towards the United States had changed, if they had experienced variations in their levels of political awareness since 9/11, and if they feel a sense of belonging in the United States. Many respondents felt that there was a change in the treatment of Middle Easterners after the attacks, and some respondents personally experienced backlash.

Interviewees were also asked if they felt that Middle Eastern organizations supported them by adequately addressing the changing attitudes towards the Middle Eastern community in the US after 9/11, and if they had joined any of those organizations. The interviewer asked each respondent how they think members of their communities can work to improve relations between various ethnic and religious groups, and many thought that education, dialogue, and outreach would be helpful. One of the final questions the interviewees were asked was how the United States can resolve the problem of terrorism directed against it, and some of the responses included: having the federal government promote, create, and maintain isolationist foreign policies; re-assesing America’s policies concerning the Middle East, especially those regarding Israel and Palestine; increasing America’s awareness of problems facing the global community; and gaining an understanding of how American policies are perceived around the world.

Nested within the Organizations collection, the MEMEAC interviews would be of interest to those studying the experiences of the ethnic Middle Eastern community in the early twenty-first century; the work of Middle Eastern organizations and Middle Easterners’ perceptions of those organizations; and profiling at airports in the wake of increased security measures. The Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center website provides insight into the Center’s mission, goals, resources, scholastic programs, and more.

Collection Highlight: Sonic Memorial Project

Radio Row in the 1920s
Radio Row in the 1920s

The Sonic Memorial Project is a collection of over nine hundred items that describe the history of the World Trade Centers (WTC) and surrounding neighborhood through archival audio, radio broadcasts, interviews, ambient sounds, voicemails, and music. Led by National Public Radio’s Lost and Found Sound, the Sonic Memorial Project was a collaboration of radio and new media producers, artists, historians, and people from around the world.

The items in this collection vividly illustrate the history of the physical space the WTC inhabited. The area that later housed the WTC was first known as Radio Row when City Radio opened in 1921, and grew to encompass six blocks of downtown Manhattan. Irving Simon, a Radio Row store owner, describes the variety of objects available for sale in the area, which became the largest place in the world known for selling radios and electronic equipment. In 1966, the stores were bulldozed to make way for the WTC. Mohawk ironworkers were hired to construct the towers and Peter Stacey and Kyle Beauvais describe the dangers of the job. In order to help the public understand the plans for the WTC, construction guides were posted at the site to answer questions and give tours. The guides discuss what an average workday was like as well as the meaning of their work in multiple interviews.

In 1971 construction on both towers was complete. Voicemails and interviews within the Sonic Memorial Project describe how the WTC became a site of engagements and marriages. Dr. Elizabeth Grill describes her proposal at the Windows on the World, a restaurant located on the top two floors of the North Tower. In 1996, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council allowed empty offices to be used as artist studios, and the artist-in-residence program attracted many artists to the WTC. Don Bracken was one of those artists, and describes his time working in his studio.

In addition to telling stories of love and art at the WTC, the Sonic Memorial Project documents the events of September 11, 2001. The Project includes radio transmissions from New York’s Fire and Police Departments, as well as accounts of the day. Robert Snyder recalls his morning commute and the “confetti” that confronted him when he got off the PATH train at Broadway. Ken Van Auken, an employee at the WTC, left a voicemail for his wife after the plane crashed into one of the towers. The Project also includes recollections of the aftermath of 9/11 and the various ways people dealt with the tragedy. Marc Wilson wrote a prose poem based on slips of paper he found at Ground Zero. Items in the collection also discuss the Fresh Kills landfill, which was a sorting place for one-third of the rubble from Ground Zero. Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke at the 2008 closing ceremony.

Located within the Audio Collection, the Sonic Memorial Project would be useful for anyone interested in the history of the physical space and the WTC itself, and those interested in the sounds of the WTC and surrounding neighborhood. The original Sonic Memorial Project website has more information about the project and the World Trade Center website provides a comprehensive history of the WTC.

Collection Highlight: Boston Federal Aviation Administration Filings

pleaseremoveyourshoesAfter the events of September 11, airport security came under severe scrutiny. Investigations launched with the purpose of determining how terrorists could have passed through security checkpoints. As a result of investigations and the passage of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created and became responsible for the screening of airline passengers.

The newly-added Boston Federal Aviation Administration Filings collection provides insight into passenger safety prior to and on September 11, 2001 in the form of reports, guides, testimonies of various Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees and airport workers, meeting minutes, memos, transcripts, and affidavits. The testimonies of James Miller, Jr., Theresa Spagnuolo, and Stephen J. Wallace detail the activities of Mohammad Atta, one of the hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the North Tower. Before the attack, Atta and another man were seen taking videos, pictures, and notes of security checkpoints throughout Logan Airport. The documents also detail standard operating procedures for pre-9/11 security at airports as well as at Massachusetts Port Authority. Please Remove Your Shoes is a documentary that discusses the failure of the FAA and the TSA to adequately protect airline passengers. This collection reveals the flaws within the security systems at airports both prior to, during, and after the events of September 11.

These documents are a part of the September 11 Digital Archive Collected Reports, which are within the Online User Contributions to September 11 Digital Archive Project. Brian Sullivan, a retired FAA agent, contributed these documents and Please Remove Your Shoes. This collection of documents would be of interest to anyone conducting research into the infrastructure of airport security pre-9/11, the creation of the TSA, and 9/11 litigation and investigations.

Collection Highlight: Reports

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The popular response to 9/11 was overwhelming. The events, and what to do in their aftermath, consumed the America’s national conversation for months, if not years, afterwards. But while much of the outpouring was that of individuals grieving or trying to come to terms with what had happened, scholars, researchers and other organizations were attempting to put together more formal assessments of the changes brought about that day. The 9/11 Digital Archive collection of reports offers a partial view of the outpouring of material that sought to provide more formal guidance to a distraught nation.The collection pulls together largely unrelated reports from numerous non-profits and think tanks.

This collection, unlike others in the archive, is unified by form rather than source or topic, tending more towards white papers and published articles. The organizations represented include official government publication, ethnic lobbying groups, economic and business concerns, and national security think tanks. The reports cover a wide range of topics, rarely overlapping, and offer insight into the effect of 9/11 on the activities of many different segments of American life. Some of these are from professions seeking to address new concerns in the communities they served, like psychiatric associations seeking to give their members the tools to deal with a new influx of trauma patients or those providing literacy and English language services to New York City’s poor and immigrant populations, who disproportionately felt the effects of the dislocations of that September. Others are from groups attempting to establish the extent of the damage that had been done, looking for numbers to gauge the economic damage, or the backlash against ethnic groups perceived as sharing responsibility for the attacks.

Collection Highlight: The Mark Ragsdale Flyer Collection

539object The year following the attack on the World Trade Center was tumultuous for the city of New York. Placed at the epicenter of events that many Americans felt continued to defy understanding, residents also struggled to make sense of what had happened. The Michael Ragsdale Flyer Collection provides a glimpse into some public discussions that played out on street corners and telephone poles.

Flyers gathered daily by Mr. Ragsdale offer us insight into the myriad of issues that concerned New Yorkers. On these pages we see reactions from institutions, advocacy efforts from anti-war groups, and efforts to help people cope with the potential mental health consequences of the attacks.  Many sought to address public confusion and ignorance about the events and causes and attempted to diffuse growing tensions between different groups throughout the city and the country.

Through the fliers, we can see that much of the debate focuses on the merits and justice of using force in retaliation for the September 11th attacks. Heavily represented in the collection are anti-war fliers, together with items from religious organizations and advocates for public servants (fire, EMS, law enforcement, and even postal workers).

Those interested in visual culture and propaganda will find the collection of advocacy posters a useful resource. The artistic construction of these fliers offers insight into design in the early 2000s. While some are hand-drawn, many reflect the increased availability of home computers, image manipulation software, and online images This includes fliers that repurpose older art, make use of clip art, or remix older art with digital photography. While a few demonstrate professional design skills, most are clearly the product of passionate amateurs using the traditional form of a broadside to engage New Yorkers in conversations about their post-9/11 lives.

Collection Highlight: Records of the Madison Area Peace Coalition

Guest post by Benjamin Schneider, Graduate Research Assistant, RRCHNM

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, there was tremendous uncertainty about how America would respond to what had happened. As discussion shifted to the likelihood, and then inevitability, of a military response, anti-war groups organized to try to stop it, including the Madison Area Peace Coalition. justicenotwarThe bulk of this collection reveals the group’s advocacy work, from organizing teach-ins, rallies, and collaborations with other affiliated groups. Other materials include opinion pieces and news articles as well as more general responses to the changing political situation.

While the collection offers substantial material to any researcher interested in American attitudes towards war and use of force, it also offers a number of less orthodox avenues for inquiry. Those interested in historical memory and the legacy of the Vietnam War will find lengthy discussions within MAPC of how opposition movements to US involvement in Vietnam shaped their efforts and understanding of the post-9/11 world. For those interested in politics, the collection offers good source material tracing MAPC’s affiliations and efforts to build coalitions and highlight the then growing though tentative connections between the anti-war left and the libertarian movement.

Discussion of race and religion in America also feature prominently throughout the collection, particularly as it pertains to Americans of Middle Eastern heritage and practicing Muslims. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the members of MAPC were deeply concerned that these communities would be targeted, and actively sought to organize for their defense.

The MAPC collection is one of many we will highlight that will give researchers a more nuanced look at the responses to the September 11 attacks.

The Collections Within

How did we collect these 150,000 digital stories, emails, documents, images, audio and video recordings, and digital animations that comprise the September 11 Digital Archive?

Many items were contributed directly through the Archive’s contribution form from individuals interested in sharing their experiences. We also collaborated with scores of organizations to save and publish materials they collected.

Soon after the Archive launched, the team collaborated with major cultural institutions, including the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, American Association of Museums, Museum of the City of New York, Brooklyn Historical Society, The New-York Historical Society, Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center at CUNY, and Museum of Chinese in America.

We also contacted nationally-important institutions including the American Red Cross, Service Employees International Union, Fire Department of New York, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, U.S. Department of Justice, and National Guard and accessioned collections from their archive. All collections are available for browsing.

While collecting materials from large organizations was very important, we also reached out to smaller ones, including the SEPT11INFO discussion group, TomPaine.com, the Independent Press Association, the Madison Area Peace Coalition, Global Kids, New York City P.S. 721, and Asociación Tepeyac de New York.

Additionally, the Archive is responsible for three important collections of digital materials. The first and largest of these is Here Is New York (HNY). In response to the World Trade Center tragedy, and to the unprecedented flood of images that resulted from it, a unique exhibition of photographs was displayed in a storefront in Manhattan’s SoHo.

Subtitled “A Democracy of Photographs,” the collection contains nearly 7,000 high-quality images. Anyone who had taken pictures relating to the attacks was invited to submit images to the gallery, where they were digitally scanned, printed and displayed on the walls alongside the work of top photojournalists and other professional photographers. Following its run in SoHo, the exhibition traveled to twenty locations around the world.

Smaller in scale, but no less unique, the Sonic Memorial Project is a collection of digital audio related to the history and collapse of the World Trade Center towers. Shortly after September 11th, National Public Radio’s Lost and Found Sound series brought together radio producers, artists, historians, archivists, and the public broadcasting community to collect and preserve audio traces of the World Trade Center, its neighborhood, and the events of September 11th. The Sonic Memorial Project launched a toll-free telephone line and asked the general public to record stories and make audio contributions. The result is a collection of nearly 800 first-hand audio recollections and historical audio recordings, among them recordings of weddings atop the World Trade Center, sounds of the Hudson River waterfront, recordings of law offices and cleaning crews at work in the buildings, an interview with the pianist at Windows on the World, and voicemail messages from people who worked in the World Trade Center, including several recorded during the attacks.

Finally, Ground One: Voices from Post-911 Chinatown provides an in-depth portrait of the ways in which the identity of a community, largely neglected by national media following September 11th, has been indelibly shaped by that day. Made possibly through a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Archive team partnered with the Museum of Chinese in America, the Columbia University Oral History Research Office, and New York University’s Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute to conduct 30 interviews with Chinese and Chinese-American citizens of New York’s Chinatown, a community in the shadow of the WTC towers.

We will be merging all of these special collections, some currently saved in different databases, into one unified archive. For now, browse the collections individually to discover some remarkable sights and sounds captured in 2001.