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.
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.
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.
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.