Scholars, archivists partner on public media history project

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More than a dozen scholars and public media archives are collaborating on a project to explore public media’s history and preserve the field’s historical assets.

The Public Media Research Project will look to “map the history of public broadcasting in the U.S.” and seek out important content in public broadcasting archives, according to a memo by Josh Shepperd, director of the Radio Preservation Task Force, which is partnering on the project.

Shepperd cited an “urgent need” for the project as “historical recordings are disappearing at an alarming pace due to material obsolescence and degradation of physical formats.”

Sixteen faculty members from universities across the country are participating, along with the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, the Fresh Air Archive, the University of Maryland National Public Broadcasting Archives, the Studs Terkel Archive and NPR’s Research, Archives & Data Strategy team. Current is also a partner. [Update: The archives of WNYC and WBEZ will also participate in the project.]

As part of the project, which will begin next year, scholars will develop a “comprehensive map of policies, events, proto-experiments to public broadcasting, and of course figures and content,” Sheppard said in an email to Current. The research is expected to lead to academic publications, presentations at national conferences, and a “public history” to make the information more accessible, Sheppard said. AAPB and NPR will also plan a day at next year’s Radio Preservation Task Force conference devoted to discussing preservation of noncommercial media.

Having academics and archives working together in a “holistic process” is essential, Shepperd said, because the “research provides incentive for the preservation of recordings; and preservation actions provide new and important historical content for academic research and classroom education.”

The project has no upfront funding, but scholars will devote time to development. “In that way it’s closer to a consortium project you’d find at universities, but with equal participation from archives, which is unusual,” Shepperd said.

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