This article was written by Joy M. Banks, Program Officer, Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR)
The seed of an idea was planted in October of 2018 when I attended a session at the annual Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, & Museums (ATALM) meeting that focused on the United Nation’s (UN) declaration of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. During the session, ideas were shared by the speaker and attendees on ways to celebrate and bring attention to the diversity and endangerment of the world’s Indigenous languages. Was there some way Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) could broadcast important preservation work taking place in cultural organizations?
Over the course of some months, the idea of the podcast began to form. Ultimately, this was a platform CLIR intended to use to discuss many important topics. In theme-based seasons, Material Memory explores the effects of our changing world—from digital technologies to the climate crisis—on our ability to access the record of our shared humanity, and the critical role that libraries, archives, museums, and other public institutions play in keeping cultural memory alive. To introduce the audience, CLIR produced Episode Zero, “Keeping Cultural Memory Alive: What is at Stake?,” featuring an interview with CLIR’s President Charles Henry and exploring how the podcast topics fit in CLIR’s mission.
Recognizing the extreme precarity of audio and/or visual recordings of Indigenous languages, our first season was framed around the UN’s declaration. We combed through the funded projects of our Recordings at Risk and Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives regranting programs for potential interviewees. Supported by a broad definition of Indigenous languages, we easily found six worthy projects to feature, each with their own unique challenges.
Our first set of episodes was released in December of 2019. Episode 1, “The Ethics of Access,” features an overview of the challenges of digitizing and trying to make available Indigenous language materials, navigating complex cultural mores. In Episode 2, “Connected to the Legacy,” we hear from staff at the Amistad Research Center who worked to preserve the field recordings of Lorenzo Dow Turner, African-American academic and linguists. Turner made important connections between the languages of West Africa and those spoken by African Americans living in the low countries and sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia. Episode 3, “The Duty of Memory,” features staff from Duke University who received funding to save the most damaged recordings from Radio Haiti, a popular and persecuted radio station that captured the news and lives of the Haitian-Creole people.
Season 1 trailer:
Episodes 4-6 are in final production now and will focus on projects to preserve the Iñupiat language in Utqiaġvik on the North Slope of Alaska, the popular Indians for Indians Radio Hour broadcast from Oklahoma University, and the diversity of A/V materials that capture Native voices and song at the Autry Museum in Southern California.
Our sincere hope is that sharing the work of these projects will inspire others to open their closets, reach out to their communities, and find at-risk audio and/or visual materials capturing Indigenous language materials. Each passing day puts these materials at more risk, not just from material obsolesce and decay but also from the loss of those individuals with the knowledge to offer translation, transcription, and cultural description for future generations. Visit the Material Memory website for show notes, links to project outputs and social media, transcriptions, and more. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform so you don’t miss a single episode.