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April 09, 2018 College of Arts and Humanities | Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities

The project is co-directed by the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NIH) has awarded the University of Maryland (UMD) a grant to develop a comprehensive online collection of early educational public radio content from the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB).

The project, “Unlocking the Airwaves: Revitalizing an Early Public and Educational Radio Collection,” is a collaboration between the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) in UMD’s College of Arts and Humanities and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW). Co-directed by, Stephanie Sapienza, project manager at MITH, and Eric Hoyt, associate professor of media and cultural studies at UW, the research team also includes partners in the Wisconsin Historical Society, UMD University Libraries , the American Archive of Public Broadcasting and the Radio Preservation Task Force.

As the forerunner of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and its arms, National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), the NAEB served as the primary organizer, developer and distributor of noncommercial broadcast production and analysis between 1925 and 1981. These broadcasts, mostly stemming from university and public school-run radio stations, provide an in-depth look at the engagements and events of American history, as they were broadcast to and received by the general public in the twentieth century.

According to the project’s lead advisor, Josh Shepperd of Catholic University and the Radio Preservation Task Force, “The National Association of Educational Broadcasters recordings provide valuable context into cultural, political and less-studied educational discourses going back to the New Deal.”

The NAEB systematically preserved its history across over a hundred boxes of documents and 5,000 reels of tape, but the organization split its archive, depositing its papers in Wisconsin and the recordings in Maryland. Archival audiovisual media has been collected and maintained separately from other kinds of primarily textual archival sources, and these ‘split’ collections mean that researchers must often discover and manually reunite audiovisual collections and their related materials if they want to understand a broadcast not just as an audiovisual object, but as a medium that relays information within a set of historical contexts (time, place, related events, etc.). “Unlocking the Airwaves” will reunite the split NAEB collections, develop an open and comprehensive web portal for them, and tell the story of early educational and public broadcasting.

By coordinating the expertise of archivists, humanities researchers, and digital humanists, “Unlocking the Airwaves” will deliver enhanced access to important, mostly hidden, archival audiovisual materials by linking split hybrid paper/audiovisual collections together, and providing a search engine for the linked collections, enabling users to simultaneously search both the documents and sounds of the NAEB. The resulting resource will finally realize the potential of the collections of the NAEB for exploration and study by educators, scholars, journalists, documentarians, genealogists and the broader public.