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Capturing the American Experience Through Queens:

QUEENS COLLEGE LAUNCHES UNPRECEDENTED “MEMORY” PROJECT TO RECORD STORIES OF BOROUGH’S DIVERSE POPULATION FOR WEBSITE

--Will Culminate in an Interactive Digital Archive;Interview Subjects Range from 92-Year-old Flushing PioneertoEarliest South Indian Residents--

FLUSHING, NY, November 11, 2010—In 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that there were over two million people residing in Queens, the most ethnically diverse county in the nation. An unprecedented new project underway at Queens College aims to tell their stories— one conversation at a time.

The Queens Memory Project, a collaboration of the Queens College Libraries’ Department of Special Collections and Archives and the Archives at Queens Library, will serve as a living hub of collective memory. Among its goals are to record borough history as it is happening and empower residents from all ethnicities and walks of life to document their life in the borough.

“History is on the street corners,” says Professor Benjamin Alexander, director of Special Collections and Archives at Queens College. “Like Queens itself, this project is complex and dynamic. We’re not doing traditional archiving of materials from the past. Instead, we want to engage the historical process of Queens in real time and create a website that captures the borough’s democratic, pluralistic history. There has never been a project like this, which aims to capture ethnographic change on such a huge scale. It’s very exciting.” Alexander is the co-author and co-editor, with Jeannette Bastian, of Community Archives: The Shaping of Memory (Facet Publishing, 2009).“The Queens Library is very pleased to be a participant in this project,” says John Hyslop, Digital Assets Manager, Archives at Queens Library. “This collaboration will give the citizens of Queens the ability to document their neighborhoods through digital sound, photographs, moving images and more.  With web-based access tools, researchers from around the world will have access to this documentation.  This is a grand opportunity to demonstrate how the people of Queens make it one of the most dynamic places in the world.”

The project began as an independent study project for Natalie Milbrodt, then a Special Collections and Archives Fellow in the Queens College Libraries and a master’s degree candidate in the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. Focusing on Flushing, Milbrodt conducted oral history interviews with 20 residents in the Waldheim neighborhood, a small enclave less than a mile from downtown Flushing. A recent $25,000 grant from the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) enabled her to establish the collaboration with the Queens Library. The grant will fund the digitization of archival records relating to subjects discussed during the oral histories. The combined images, interviews and digitized records will form the first-ever digital archive of contemporary and historical records of life in the borough. The project will culminate in an interactive website that will harness Web 2.0 technology, allowing users to further contribute to the collective memory in the borough.

The Queens College and the Queens Library collaborative was one of four partnerships in the New York/Westchester region that METRO recognized for digitization projects designed to expand access to important collections of historical and rare materials.

“Support for this project will allow us to enhance public access to existing records of historical and contemporary life in Queens neighborhoods, providing a record of change in development, population, community lifestyles and identities,” says Milbrodt, now project manager for the Queens College - Queens Library collaboration.

Milbrodt’s work reflects Queens’ ethnic spectrum. Subjects include 92-year-old Annalou Christensen (née McQuilling), whose parents purchased the lot for their home in the early 1900s from parceled farmland. Annalou’s family has a long history in America, including a McQuilling who fought in the Civil War. Christensen shared reminiscences of her parents receiving ice deliveries and seeing neighbors rent out rooms in their mansions for extra income during the Great Depression. Milbrodt also spoke with Nilda Tirado, who lives with her mother Carmen Miranda and her sister Rosa Tirado. The sisters, who bought their house in the 1970s and were among the first women in the area to be given mortgages, discussed their early efforts to be accepted as the first Puerto Rican family in the area. Devotees of the largely South Indian Ganesha Temple, a vibrant community whose temple is currently undergoing tremendous expansion, were another focus. Interviews and photographs document an annual ritual in which temple members pull a sacred statue of the Hindu deity Ganesha through the streets of Flushing on a chariot.

The digital archive will eventually expand beyond Flushing. It will combine neighborhood-specific historical and contemporary photography, maps, news clippings, and other documents with oral history interviews of current residents. Ultimately, the archive will serve as a site for collective memory where individuals and organizations can share their own photos, maps, blogs, ephemera, and notes related to the community. For an example of what the project’s future website will look like, visit http://www.philaplace.org/, developed by software firm Whirl-i-Gig, another partner on the Queens Memory Project.

The nearly 20,000 students enrolled in Queens College of the City University of New York (CUNY come from over 150 nations and speak over 90 native languages, creating an extraordinarily diverse and welcoming environment. Each year Queens College has been cited by The Princeton Review as one of the nation’s 100 “Best Value” colleges. More info on Queens College is available at www.qc.cuny.edu.
         


 
 

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