Arthur Howe, Jr.: From Watertown to the World with AFS Online Exhibition from the AFS Archives

Nicole Milano
Head Archivist and Historical Publications Editor
AFS Intercultural Programs

In my role as Head Archivist and Historical Publications at AFS Intercultural Programs, I oversee a fascinating collection of historic material dating as early as World War I, when AFS was created as a volunteer American ambulance corps serving alongside the French military. Today, AFS is a non-profit, international intercultural learning and student exchange organization headquartered in New York City, with offices in more than fifty countries.

The Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs (AFS Archives) was founded in 1980 to serve as a center for research and as a repository for the records, photographs, and memorabilia from the organization. In the last several years, the AFS Archives has greatly increased access to its archival collections, due in large part to the success of a 2010-11 NHPRC basic processing grant that allowed for basic intellectual and physical access to all of our World War I and II archival material. This new level of accessibility has led to several-hundred research requests each year. Our researchers are varied, from AFS partner offices and grandchildren of our wartime volunteers, to academic researchers and museum curators, who are using the collections in a number of exciting ways.

In 2014, Arthur “Art” Howe, Jr., one of the most influential individuals in the history of AFS, passed away at the age of 93. Art was an AFS ambulance driver during World War II, and a director, vice president, president, and life trustee of the AFS student exchange programs created in 1946. He also was also dean of admissions at Yale University, among his many other roles. Listing his series of titles and accomplishments simply doesn’t do him justice, however. As archivists, we usually don’t know the creators of our collections, but in this case I was fortunate to have met Art several times. He complimented his rich professional life with an enthusiasm for volunteering and helping others. Art fought for diversity and inclusion among the institutions he participating in, including being the first to call for admission of women into Yale’s undergraduate program in 1956. He also sought to create a more peaceful and just world through his work with AFS, and was one of the influential voices in the creation of the AFS secondary school exchange program.

Arthur Howe, Jr., 1943. Photograph by Loftus B. Cuddy, Jr.
Arthur Howe, Jr. in 1943. Photograph by Loftus B. Cuddy, Jr., courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs.

AFS sought to commemorate Art in several ways, including establishing an endowment fund in his name to provide scholarships to deserving AFS students; an international AFS award for outstanding volunteer families, named for Art and his wife, Peggy, another longtime AFS volunteer; and a project to preserve, digitize, catalog, and create access to his archival collection in the AFS Archives.

The archival project was made possible thanks to generous donations from individuals around the world, many of whom knew or worked with Art in some capacity over the years. Through their incredible support, I was able to hire one of our former interns, Elena Abou Mrad, to assist the AFS team during the course of the project. We were also able to work with the fantastic team at the Center for Jewish History in New York City on the digitization of 2,065 unique photographs and documents as part of the project.

The Arthur Howe, Jr. Collection in the AFS Archives documents the impactful life of an AFSer who had, in his own words, “a burning desire to do what one could” to make the world a better place. The collection consists of correspondence, administrative files, media, memorabilia, and other papers related to Howe’s long association with AFS. The collection also includes a significant amount of photographic material, which primarily depicts his volunteer activity in North Africa and the Middle East during World War II, including camp life, ambulance maintenance, group photos, individual AFS volunteers, British military personnel, local civilians, scenery, and occasional visits to cities and archaeological sites, among other subjects. The photographs also document his service as a volunteer with the AFS exchange programs after World War II, including visits to local AFS chapters. In addition to this collection, the AFS Archives contains official administrative records and photographs related to his presidency.

AFS ambulance drivers evacuating Tobruk Hospital in Libya in 1942. Photograph by Arthur Howe, Jr., courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs.

While providing access to Art’s collection through traditional archival processing and digitization was a very important component of this project, it was also important for AFS to make his story and his collection more easily accessible to our international audience. A large number of these individuals cannot visit our research site in person, and many are unfamiliar with traditional archival finding aids. The solution was an online exhibition intending to demonstrate the indelible impact he made on the organization.

In May 2017 we were extremely pleased to launch Arthur Howe, Jr: From Watertown to the World with AFS! This online exhibition enables visitors to follow in the footsteps of Art on some of his many adventures with AFS, discovering the world through his eyes and words. Using an interactive map feature on the open-source StoryMap platform, along with many of the newly-digitized photographs and documents, visitors to the exhibition will learn more about Art, a lifelong and passionate AFSer who had a significant impact on people and communities around the globe.

Arthur Howe, Jr. in Damascus, Syria in November 1965
Arthur Howe, Jr. in Damascus, Syria in November 1965. Photo courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs.

In order to publicize the exhibition, we shared the news with international staff via our intranet and are coordinating with our marketing team to create posts on social media over the next six months. We also included mention of the project in the Spring 2017 issue of the AFS Janus magazine, a publication of the AFS Archives which is read by more than 4,000 recipients around the world, and are exploring other options to help share Art’s story, which resonates strongly with us today.

Driven by his desire to help others, Art traveled the world, discovering new cultures and meeting new friends, while embarking on important work with AFS. For him, interacting with different people around the world was a way to promote open discussion, mutual understanding, and ultimately, peace.

Arthur Howe, Jr. pointing to Iran on a globe during his AFS presidency in 1967.
Arthur Howe, Jr. pointing to Iran on a globe during his AFS presidency in 1967. Several years later he traveled to Abbasabad, Iran to give a speech about AFS and its role in international education. Photo courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs.

Visit explore Arthur Howe Jr: From Watertown to the World with AFS, or to learn more about the AFS Archives!

From the Listserv: Digitization from Scratch

Ashley Levine
Archivist/Digital Resource Manager
Artifex Press
Editor, SOLO

Dear Collective Wisdom,

The Lone Arranger Section listerv brought us another lively discussion this past spring, when a member of our community asked about digitizing his institution’s archives, from square one:

My predecessor, also a member of my community, has asked me a couple of times if I am going to put our paper holdings in a digital format. Has anyone ever attempted this? I shudder when I think of the man hours involved in such a project.

I was admittedly taken aback by the general nature of the question. How can such a complex topic be unpacked within the confines of an email list? I was pleasantly surprised, however, with the immediate and robust responses from fellow lone arrangers. The majority of respondents stressed the importance of realizing that digitization is a multilayered, as opposed to “one and done” process, and that stakeholders should be aware of the complexity of creating reliable, stable, and accessible digital records. We concluded that digitization transcends simply scanning a document—it involves metadata collection, longterm file storage and preservation, adequate IT infrastructure, (sometimes) full text rendering via OCR, etc. Just because something is scanned doesn’t make it automatically accessible. In general, the lone arranger community agreed on some basic questions to ask before beginning the digitization process:

  1. What types of materials will be digitized?
  2. What kind of scanner will be employed, and will the machine suffice for the materials selected for digitization?
  3. What kind of metadata is available, and how will this metadata be captured?
  4. Where are will the digital files be stored? What kind of IT infrastructure is available for storage? Does this involve the use of external hard drives, local servers, cloud storage, etc.?
  5. What digital preservation measures will be employed, to protect against file degradation and obsolescence?
  6. Why are the materials being digitized in the first place? What are the stakeholder’s expectations for the digitization project?
  7. Will the digital surrogates be made accessible to the broader public? How?
  8. Will the metadata and digital images be managed in a database, content management system, or digital asset management system? Will this require purchasing/developing additional software?
  9. Will text documents be made full-text searchable, and will OCR software need to be employed? What about handwritten documents? Does the archive have the resources for manual transcription?
  10. Are there adequate resources to digitize in-house, or will the project be outsourced? Have assessments of external vendors for quality and cost been accomplished?

Have we missed anything important on this list? Are there lone arrangers out there who have embarked on a digitization project from square one? Please share your insights and experiences by commenting below!


From the Listserv: Lone Arranger Guidelines For Hiring Interns

Ashley Levine
Archivist/Digital Resource Manager
Artifex Press
Editor, SOLO

The Lone Arranger Section listserv generates exciting conversations and contributes to the collective professional discourse, and this spring was no exception. Sarah Chilton, the Senior Research Librarian at the Brookings Institution Library, asked the Lone Arranger community about best approaches for hiring and employing an intern, and specifically about position descriptions, internship objectives, and others’ experiences supervising interns as a Lone Arranger.

The Lone Arranger community provided helpful suggestions for developing a meaningful, mutually beneficial internship. Sarah consolidated and summarized the results of the responses, finding that:

-Everyone agreed that internships could be a worthwhile experience.
-The internship should be designed to include professional level work with clear educational objectives.
-The Archivist, student and faculty supervisor must agree on expectations in advance, and maintain communications throughout.
-The Archivist needs to clearly describe processes, check back frequently at first and then allow for independent work once the student has demonstrated they understand what needs to be done.
-The intern should gain exposure to various aspects of archival work.
-Ownership of a discrete project is preferred.
-Digitization projects attract more student interest.

Are there any further words of wisdom for lone arrangers looking to hire an intern? Does anyone in the lone arranger community have other takeaways about supervising interns? Please post any and all thoughts in the comment section below!

Join Us In Portland! 

Julia Corrin
University Archivist
Carnegie Mellon University
Vice Chair, Lone Arrangers Section
Society of American Archivists

Do you have expectations for this year’s Lone Arranger’s meeting in Portland? Are you worried that we won’t meet them? Fear not! Following our business meeting, we’ll be taking time to out discuss the power and peril of expectations and how to better manage them.

As archivists, we’ve all had to deal with expectations, both reasonable and unreasonable. Why isn’t it digitized? I thought when I volunteered I’d be doing something different!  What do you mean you don’t have any photos of Andrew Carnegie riding a bicycle on the beach in the winter?! Our panel members will reflect on times they’ve had to manage these kinds of expectations and methods they’ve developed for dealing with them. We will then have the chance to break out into small groups to commiserate and brainstorm.

So please join us, and our panel members — Dominique Luster, the Teenie Harris Archivist at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Amber D’Ambrosio, the processing archivist and records manager at Willamette University, Melissa Gonzales, archivist at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and Caitlin Wells currently the Collection Services Librarian for Special Collections at the University of Michigan – on July 26th for friendship, emotional support, and practical solutions for Lone Arrangers.