By ABBY GROTKE
The Library of Congress marked its first major digital acquisition of September 11, 2001, materials with the addition to its collections of the September 11 Digital Archive (http://911digitalarchive.org). The September 11 Digital Archive is a joint project of the City University of New York Graduate Center's American Social History Project and George Mason University's Center for History and New Media—two institutions that have explored the intersection of history and new media for more than a decade.
To mark the acquisition of the September 11 Digital Archive, the Library of Congress hosted a daylong symposium, "September 11 as History: Collecting Today for Tomorrow," on Sept. 10. The Library's Coolidge Auditorium was filled with historians, scholars, students, museum curators, Library staff, representatives of government agencies from Washington, D.C., and New York City and other interested citizens, including contributors to the archive.
Diane Kresh, director for Public Service Collections, opened the symposium by speaking of the Library's collection as "comprehensive, taking advantage of our overseas offices, professional and personal networks, and acquisitions channels to ensure broad and diverse coverage. It is, finally, a collection that embodies all manner of creative responses, both traditional and unconventional that factually documents and creatively interprets the events of September 11."
She continued: "The Library of Congress' decision to create the September 11 Collection … offered [Library staff] the unanticipated opportunity to experience catharsis through hours of examining and evaluating incoming material, including a 400-lb section of twisted, pitted steel from the upper floors of the World Trade Center; to work through complicated feelings and emotions; to memorialize, pay tribute, renew faith in mankind and pay homage to the resilience of the human spirit. An unusual spirit of collaboration emerged between the Library and the creative community as it recognized the Library's commitment to building the archive."
Jesse H. Ausubel of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation welcomed the audience and spoke of new ways to create, preserve and make history available. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which has had a longstanding interest in fostering the use of the Internet to collect and preserve the past, provided the funding that launched the September 11 Digital Archive.
Stephen Brier of the graduate center of the City University of New York introduced and moderated the first of three panels. Tim Borstellmann, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Melani McAlister, The George Washington University; Craig Steven Wilder, Dartmouth College; and Ronald Walters, University of Maryland discussed the topic "How Historians Will Write the History of September 11."
The second panel focused on "The Internet and Collecting the History of the Present" and was moderated by Roy Rosenzweig, George Mason University. Speakers included Harrison "Lee" Rainie, Pew Internet & American Life Project; Abby Smith, Council on Library and Information Resources; Linda Shopes, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; and Daniel J. Cohen, ECHO Project, George Mason University.
The subject of the third panel was "Collecting the History of September 11." Jessica Wiederhorn, Oral History Research Office, Columbia University; James B. Gardner of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History; Greg "Fritz" Umbach, September 11 Digital Archive; and Kresh discussed their institutions' collecting activities. This panel was moderated by Joshua Brown from the graduate center of the City University of New York.
Michael Kazin, professor of history at Georgetown University, ended the symposium with an address titled "12/12 and 9/11: Tales of Power and Tales of Experience in Contemporary History." He attempted to "juxtapose the historical impact of events that took place on two highly significant days in the recent past … to raise what I hope will be a few provocative suggestions about what we—as historians, archivists and citizens—might think about what occurred."
"9/11 is a date we know all too well and will commemorate for the rest of our lives," continued Kazin. "But the consequences of what occurred late one evening nine months earlier may loom even larger to future historians who try to explain how the nation and the world w ere affected by the terrorist attacks. On Dec, 12, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court, by the margin of a single vote, reversed a ruling of the Florida Supreme Court and, in effect, handed the presidency to George W. Bush. … Is one of those stories more significant, more worth telling than the other kind? How might we bring the two kinds of stories together—those of high politics and of popular experience?"
Following Kazin's speech, the Library marked the formal acceptance of the September 11 Digital Archive into its collections. Deanna Marcum, Associate Librarian, Library Services, accepted the gift on behalf of the institution.
The archive, which contains more than 130,000 written accounts, e-mails, audio recordings, video clips, photographs, Web sites and other materials, documents the attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C., and western Pennsylvania and their aftermath. These materials offer a wide spectrum of opinions and perspectives, ranging from recordings of Manhattan residents' voice mails on the morning of September 11 to drawings by children from Los Angeles depicting the attacks. It is the largest digital collection of September 11-related materials in the United States, and it also serves as the Smithsonian Institution's designated repository for digital objects related to the attacks. The availability of these materials in the Library of Congress will prove invaluable to future historians and researchers.
"As with other collective historical events," said Eric Foner, Columbia University DeWitt Clinton Professor of History, "the memory of September 11 will be an essential part of historical understanding in the future. By preserving the raw material of history—which now includes evidence recorded in digital form—the September 11 Digital Archive will help contribute to subsequent generations' understanding of the past and, therefore, of themselves."
For instructions on how to submit your story to the September 11 archive, visit the "Witness and Response" exhibition Web site at www.loc.gov/exhibits/911.
Abby Grotke is digital projects coordinator in the Public Service Collections Directorate, Library Services.