In January 2019, the Society of American Archivists launched Season 1 of its new podcast, Archives In Context. Created primarily by members of SAA’s Publications Board and American Archivist Editorial Board, Archives In Context offers “in-depth and dynamic conversations about archives and the people behind them.” Naturally, we on SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness were very excited for the release of this podcast — as it dovetails quite nicely with our goal of promoting the value of archives and archivists — so to learn more about SAA’s welcome entry into podcasting, we jumped at the chance to interview Archives in Context hosts Bethany Anderson, Ashley Levine, and Nicole Milano, as well as producer Colleen McFarland Rademaker, for a feature on our ArchivesAWARE blog.
ArchivesAWARE: The mission of Archives in Context is to share archival literature and technologies and the people behind them. Why a podcast format?
Nicole: I’m a New Yorker, and my commute involves a crowded subway where I’m often sandwiched between a group of people. Listening to a short podcast can often be my own “moment of Zen” on those daily commutes! I’m not alone in this; many of us listen to podcasts at various points during our busy days. Our group thought that having a podcast for some of the many conversations archivists are already having would allow others to listen in!
Ashley: Podcasting is an excellent way to efficiently convey complex subject matter in a fun, accessible format. Archivists work everyday to make records more accessible, so the free, easy-to-use podcast just makes (archival) sense.
Bethany: I love listening to podcasts and I especially enjoy interviews with authors of books. It’s fascinating to find out the story behind a book or technology and learn more about authors’/creators’ influences. As a team, we thought a podcast would be a great way to highlight the intellectual products of our profession and learn more about the archivists who create them. As Nicole notes, we are already having a lot of these conversations in person, so this is an opportunity to bring these conversations to the broader profession.
ArchivesAWARE: What perspectives/interests do you bring to the podcast as a host?
Ashley: I bring a digital archival perspective to the podcast, from my professional archives work in the arts, and am particularly fascinated with photo and A/V concerns. I’m also a proud Lone Arranger, so I love to hear about how other professionals approach working with limited resources.
Bethany: As reviews editor, I often get to learn about readers’ perspective on a publication, but this podcast is an opportunity to learn more about the authors and what led them to write these publications. I’m always interested in learning about their writing process, understanding what that looks like, and what inspires people to write.
Nicole: In my role as an educator, I think a lot about how our professional literature helps to inform the next generation of archivists, in addition to bringing a medical archivist perspective to the podcast. I’m also a proud (former) Lone Arranger, so I agree with what Ashley said about working with limited resources!
ArchivesAWARE: What do you hope listeners gain from the podcast?
Nicole: I hope listeners feel inspired by the important work in our field to preserve the past and move us into the future. Archivists from across the country are involved in an incredible variety of projects. The podcast introduces listeners to some of these individuals and their projects, but also offers a “learn more” option with additional links.
Bethany: There are so many great ideas, projects, and publications coming out of our profession. I hope listeners not only have the opportunity to learn more about this scholarship, but also have the chance to learn more about their colleagues. I hope that we gain a few listeners from outside of the archives profession too!
Ashley: I hope listeners come away with a greater appreciation for the variety and interdisciplinary nature of archives work, and of the wonderful archivists working to preserve our collective past.
Colleen: I hope the podcast will help our listeners keep up with things happening around the archival profession. We are fortunate to work in a profession filled with creative and interesting people who generously share themselves and their ideas. The podcast is another avenue (alongside conferences, print publications, and blogs) to get to know those people and the great work they’re doing.
ArchivesAWARE: How did you get from initial idea to launch? How did the logo and theme music come about?
Colleen: It took a lot of conversations and a few project proposals to get from initial idea to launch. The core idea — to create a podcast by archivists for archivists — changed little, but our thoughts about how best to execute that definitely changed a lot over time. My initial concept was a fantasy-themed podcast called Archlandia, featuring different categories of archivists, like “Dragon Slayers” and “Wizards.” Fortunately somebody else had already claimed that title and we never went there!
Nancy Beaumont, Teresa Brinati, and both the SAA Publications Board and Editorial Board provided important feedback and encouragement with each iteration of the project proposal. And Nicole, Ashley, and I teamed up with Bethany and Gloria when they proposed an American Archivist Reviews Portal podcast.
The logo and theme music were created by a professional designer and professional composer, respectively. We didn’t want to DIY these elements of the podcast because (1) they’re really important, and (2) it’s equally important to support the work of professionals, whatever their field is.
ArchivesAWARE: Who’s on your team?
Our team consists primarily of members of both the SAA Publications Board and the American Archivist Editorial Board. We had three hosts in Season 1, including Nicole Milano, Ashley Levine, and Bethany Anderson. Colleen McFarland Rademaker is our podcast producer. We also had two contributors to Season 1 — Chris Burns from the Committee on Public Awareness and Gloria Gonzalez of the American Archivist Reviews Portal.
ArchivesAWARE: Season 1 is out and features some great conversationalists. What surprises did the conversations reveal? Or what challenges did you encounter along the way?
Ashley: I was generally pleasantly surprised at how in-depth and nuanced the conversations were, despite the time constraints of the podcast format. We had to be really careful when editing these episodes (because all the content was so fascinating!!!). During the first (remote) interview (with Kären Mason) technical difficulties slowed us up a bit, as we tried navigating different conference software for recording remote interviews, avoiding noisy air conditioners, etc. I found conducting remote voice interviews more difficult in general due to the lack of nonverbal cues from the interviewee, and that in-person interviews went the smoothest.
Nicole: I really appreciated having the dedicated time to sit down and talk to Kären Mason, Cal Lee, Anthony Cocciolo, Karen Trivette, and Dominique Luster as part of this podcast, in an effort to help others know more about them. We were able to learn about their thoughts on the profession and, importantly, how our work as archivists impacts the world around us. As Ashley mentioned, we experienced some technical difficulties along the way, and we quickly realized how patient and helpful they all were as we navigated those issues!
Bethany: I’m honored that I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Michelle Caswell, and it was fascinating to learn more about her research for Archiving the Unspeakable. I really enjoyed the conversation and it deepened my appreciation for her book. One of the biggest challenges for me as an interviewer was trying to limit the number of questions I asked Michelle, but I wanted to make sure that we explored the many facets of her book and the complex histories of the mugshot photos from the Tuol Sleng prison in Cambodia. One can’t read this book and not be emotionally impacted by the stories behind the photos and their afterlives; to hear Michelle talk about the affective dimensions of the book and her writing process reinforced, for me at least, the importance of acknowledging the emotional aspects of archival work.
ArchivesAWARE: When might we expect Season 2? Any hints about who we’ll hear from?
Colleen: That’s a great question! I can share that we will be talking with Teresa Brinati, SAA’s fabulous Publications Director. For those who don’t know Teresa, you are in for a treat! SAA has a number of new books coming out in 2019, so you can be sure that we will interview some of those authors. We’re finalizing our list of interviewees, so stay tuned…
ArchivesAWARE: Besides Archives In Context, what podcasts do you listen to?
Bethany: One of my favorite podcasts right now is Nerdette, but I also like listening to the New York Times’s The Argument, The Electorette, Radiolab, Lady Science, and Distillations from the Science History Institute.
Nicole: I regularly listen to The Daily and This American Life. My podcast rotation over the last few years has also included Serial (Season 1 only. Sorry, Sarah Koenig!), The Dream, 2 Dope Queens, Gladiator, S-Town, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and The Bowery Boys.
Ashley: I have the WNYC lineup on my regular rotation (Brian Lehrer, All Things Considered, Fresh Air, etc.), as well as music podcasts, including Mathcast.
Colleen: I enjoy The Memory Palace by Nate DiMeo and Hidden Brain by NPR’s Shankar Vedantam. I was also a huge fan of METRO’s More Podcast, Less Process and New England Museum Association’s Museum People.
Bethany Anderson is the university archivist at the University of Virginia. She also serves as the reviews editor for American Archivist and has a master’s degree in Information Studies with a specialization in Archival Studies and Records Management from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s in Near Eastern Art and Archaeology from the University of Chicago.
Ashley Levine is the archivist and digital resource manager for Artifex Press, a New York City-based company dedicated to publishing digital catalogues raisonnés. He holds an MA in archives and public history and a BA in history from New York University. Ashley is the editor of SAA’s Lone Arranger Section newsletter, SOLO, as well as Chair of SAA’s Visual Materials Section’s Cataloging and Access Committee. Ashley is the director of advocacy for the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York (ART) and a member of the Concerned Archivists Alliance (CAA).
Nicole Milano is the head of the Medical Center Archives at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine and a visiting assistant professor at the Pratt Institute and New York University. She has served as a member of SAA’s Publications Board since 2012. Nicole received her BA and MA from the University of Florida and an Advanced Certificate in Archives from New York University.
Colleen McFarland Rademaker is the Associate Librarian, Special Collections at The Rakow Research Library, The Corning Museum of Glass. She serves on the Society of American Archivists Publications Board (2014–2020) and as treasurer of the Midwest Archives Conference (2018–2020). Colleen received a BA in German and history from the College of Wooster, an MA in history from Cornell University, and an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.