Libraries’ fall exhibition focuses on Black Utopias

crisis_cover news graphicSyracuse University Libraries’ fall exhibition, Black Utopias, opened on Thursday, October 8 in the Special Collections Research Center gallery on Bird Library’s sixth floor. An opening reception will be held on October 15 from 5 to 7 p.m. The show will run through Friday, April 15, 2016.

Co-curated by Dr. Joan Bryant, associate professor in the African American Studies Department, and Dr. Lucy Mulroney, interim senior director of the Special Collections Research Center, the exhibition commemorates the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, the best-selling narrative of one of the most prominent men of the Civil Rights era.

This anniversary holds special significance for Syracuse University because the Libraries are home to the records of Grove Press, the avant-garde publisher of the Autobiography. Grove hailed the book as one of its “most important” publications. The first printing of 10,000 copies sold out before it was released in October 1965.

“Black Utopias” takes the personal transformations that form the narrative arc of Malcolm X’s Autobiography as the framework for exploring a range of utopian visions that have shaped Black American life. Although utopias are, by definition, the stuff of dreams, the examples presented in this exhibition are firmly rooted in historical experiences of subjugation, inequality, and injustice.

The exhibit will feature the handwritten letter that Malcolm X sent to Alex Haley during his pilgrimage to Mecca, as well as other unique and rare materials from the collections. It includes documents by little-known individuals and such prominent figures as W.E.B. Dubois, Langston Hughes, Madam C.J. Walker, James Ford, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Other events associated with the exhibition include an exhibition tour and brownbag discussion with the curators on Friday, October 23 from noon – 1:30 p.m. and marathon community readings of The Autobiography of Malcolm X for Banned Books Week on September 29 from 2 to 6 p.m. in the Peter Graham Scholarly Commons in Bird Library, on September 30 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Coulter Library at Onondaga Community College, and on October 1 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Beauchamp Branch Library, located at 2111 South Salina St. in Syracuse.

For more information, contact or call 315.443.2697.

Lecture and performance by visiting artist Shaun Leonardo

shaun_leonardoShaun Leonardo will present Identity & The Invisible Man on Thursday, April 9 from 2 to 3:30 p.m.  in the Peter Graham Scholarly Commons in Bird Library. He will also lead a participatory performance on Friday, April 10, 2015 from 5 to 6:00 p.m. at the La Casita Cultural Center, 109 Otisco Street, Syracuse. Both events are free and open to the public.

Shaun Leonardo will speak on the shape-shifting qualities of identity in the “New World” and the fluidity permitted within the construction of American identity by younger generations, relating his own art practice to colonial and post-colonial histories of the Dominican Republic from the Special Collections Research Center. Leonardo’s work asks: How do I see myself? What does it mean to consider one’s self through multiple identities? When and how are these identities felt to be seamless or celebrated? When and how are they felt to be invisible or manipulated?

In Friday’s participatory performance, Leonardo will call on audience members to join in developing a narrative on identity that draws inspiration from the artist’s own family history, while tying each person in the room to one another and thereby forcing participants to reexamine their self-perceived identities. The performance will incorporate recordings of SU Professor Sydney Hutchinson’s Music in Latin America students’ readings of literature that Leonardo selected from among SCRC holdings.

Shaun Leonardo is a multidisciplinary artist who uses modes of self-portraiture as a means to convey the complexities of masculine identity and question preconceived notions of manhood. The portraits take the form of cutout paintings, drawings, and sculptures, and are also brought to life through performance. He received a BA from Bowdoin College, an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, and has received awards from Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture; The New York Studio School; Lower Manhattan Cultural Council; Art Matters; New York Foundation for the Arts; McColl Center for Visual Art; Franklin Furnace; and The Jerome Foundation. His work has been presented internationally with recent solo exhibitions in New York City.

La Casita is a vibrant cultural, artistic, and educational center supported by Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences and the Office of the Chancellor.

Keeping Images Alive, a lecture and workshop in the Brodsky Series

Gary AlbrightConservator Gary Albright, will present a lecture in the Brodsky Series for the Advancement of Library Conservation series entitled The Intensification of Photographs: Observations from Recent Research and Practice on March 26 at 5 p.m. in the Peter Graham Scholarly Commons on the first floor of Bird Library. The lecture is free and open to the public, with a reception to follow.

As cultural objects, photographs require special care. They react aggressively to the climate and can suffer from inherent problems as a result of their chemical composition. Albright’s program will familiarize participants with the construction and unique problems of photographs and offer practical advice on their preservation. He will also cover current storage standards and factors to consider when preparing a photographic exhibition. The focus of the sessions will be on black and white, however other aspects of photography will be addressed as time permits.

On Friday, March 27, Mr. Albright will lead a daylong workshop to familiarize participants with the construction of photographs. The workshop is free and open to the public, but advance registration is required. To register, contact Barbara Brooker at or at 315‐443‐9763.

Gary Albright is a conservator of paper and photographs in private practice. During his career, he has treated a diverse array of objects, including the Emancipation Proclamation, a Honus Wagner baseball card, Ansel Adams’ photographs, and working drafts of the Constitution of the United States. He is a graduate of the Winterthur Museum/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. He has served as senior paper and photograph conservator at the Northeast Document Conservation Center, Andover, MA, and conservator at the George Eastman House, Rochester, NY, where he taught in the the Advanced Residency Program for Photograph Conservators. Albright has been a visiting professor at the State University of Buffalo, the University of Delaware, and Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.


The Brodsky Series for the Advancement of Library Conservation combines a public lecture with a hands-on workshop. Supported by William J. (65, G68) and Joan (67, G68) Brodsky of Chicago, Illinois, the series offers programs that promote and advance knowledge of library conservation theory, practice, and application among wide audiences, both on campus and in the region.

A Social History of Your Car’s ‘Check Engine’ Light

Kevin BorgCritical Connections Public Lecture and Mini-Seminar
Kevin Borg (James Madison University)

Public Lecture: January 22, 2015 / 5:00 p.m. / Peter Graham Scholarly Commons / Bird Library

Mini-Seminar: January 23, 2015 / 10:00 a.m. – Noon / Special Collections Research Center / Bird Library

(Both events are free and open to the public, but advanced registration is required for the mini-seminar. To register, contact or at 315-443-2697)

Rare is the motorist today who is not baffled by what to do when their automobile’s “Check Engine” light comes on.  We depend on our cars yet have little understanding about how they work or what to do when they fail.  So when that light comes on, even though we can detect no new noise, vibration, or other sensorial manifestation of trouble, we take the car to a mechanic.  But what does this light mean? Why is it there and why is it not more helpful?  This presentation will explore the interwoven social, technical, political, and environmental histories that converged to create this ubiquitous and ambiguous warning light, and in the process will show that the social, personal, political, and economic meanings of complex consumer goods do not end with their creation or with their use.  Their repair is also fraught with meaning.

For more than a decade Dr. Borg has been studying and writing about automobile repair, auto mechanics, and the creation and maintenance of sociotechnical hierarchies in American auto repair shops. In these shops consumers have interacted with workers whose technological knowledge is crucial to motorists’ needs but whose social status has long been stigmatized.  By the latter half of the twentieth century the social friction caused by this asymmetry of social class and technical knowledge between consumer and mechanic was layered over with increasing consumer frustration with the poor quality of the cars manufacturers sold them in the first place.  At the same time politicians responding to the growing consumer and environmental movements brought new, very public, attention to the business of repairing cars, ultimately mandating new cars display a “Check Engine” light in the instrument panel.  This presentation will argue that the “Check Engine” light is a symbol of the limitations of late-twentieth century consumer and environmental advocacy.

The presentation will close with a call for additional histories of the cultures surrounding the maintenance, repair, and durability of other artifacts and products as a means to help shift attention from our myopic fascination with the inventors, producers, and consumers of new things.  Understanding how we make things continue to last and work—and the social meanings we construct around those processes—might help us glean some wisdom for approaching our current global environmental situation.

Critical Connections Mini-Seminar:

“Using Geospatial Technologies to explore the history of Automobility in Syracuse, New York”

Lately, Dr. Borg has been exploring ways to use geospatial technologies such as Google Earth and ArcGIS to research and teach local and regional history in the late 19th and early 20th century.  This mini-seminar will explore how we might apply these techniques to the history of automobility in Syracuse NY in the early twentieth century by digitizing, georeferencing, displaying, and analyzing Sanborn insurance maps, city directory data, and other sources.  Participants are encouraged to bring their laptops, loaded with Google Earth, to the session and work with the spatial data provided.

Specialists in media preservation visit Syracuse University for three-day event

There are tens of thousands of audio and videotape recordings in storage all over the Syracuse University campus–speeches and lectures, performances, athletic events, WAER and Orange TV programs, original faculty and student research, and archival recordings in the SU Libraries’ Belfer Audio Archive and Special Collections Research Center. Many of these tape recordings are rare or unique, and they document sounds and images of significance to the University and to our greater cultural heritage. Professional media specialists predict that such fragile formats have, on average, only about 15 years of playtime left.

Please join us in a series of events focused on media preservation and scholarship. A Syracuse Symposium panel discussion on November 5 from 2–4 p.m. in the Peter Graham Scholarly Commons in Bird Library will center on the challenges and looming crisis of media preservation, with perspectives from Mike Casey, Chris Lacinak, and Grace Lile, three leading experts in the field. A Critical Connections Lecture and Mini-Seminar features Tim Brooks G’69 (Newhouse) examining African American artists at the birth of the sound recording industry. His work highlights the impact of media preservation on 21st-century scholarship.

Syracuse Symposium Panel Discussion
Witnessing Archival Preservation: Perspectives on Preserving Tape-based Media Recordings

November 5, 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Peter Graham Scholarly Commons, Bird Library, First Floor
Reception to follow

Mike Casey, Director of Media Preservation Services, Media Preservation Initiative, Indiana University
Chris Lacinak, Founder and President, AVPreserve
Grace Lile, Director of Operations and Archives, WITNESS

This event is co-sponsored by Syracuse Symposium™ in the SU Humanities Center

Critical Connections Lecture and Mini-Seminar
African Americans and the Birth of the Recording Industry

Public Lecture: November 6, 5:00 p.m.
Peter Graham Scholarly Commons, Bird Library, First Floor

Mini-Seminar: November 7, 10:00 a.m. to noon
Lemke Seminar Room SCRC, Bird Library, Sixth Floor

Both events are free and open to the public, however advance registration is required for the mini-seminar. To register, contact Barbara Brooker at or at 315‐443‐9763.

About the speakers

Tim Brooks G’69 (Newhouse) is a former television executive and a researcher of early recording artists and phonograph history. His multi award-winning book, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919, was the first to document this subject, and the companion CD, Lost Sounds, won a 2007 Grammy award for “Best Historical Release.”

Mike Casey is the Director of Media Preservation Services for Indiana University’s Media Preservation Initiative. He has authored or co-authored a number of vital documents outlining best practices for audio preservation. He authored the “Indiana University Media Preservation Survey” report and was principal author of the follow-up report.

Chris Lacinak founded AVPreserve in 2006 to enable organizations to maximize the usability of their content. He is a former Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of VidiPax, a moving image and sound preservation reformatting facility. For six years, he taught at NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation graduate program.

Grace Lile is an archivist with over 20 years’ experience working with film and video collections. Prior to joining WITNESS in 2003, Grace spent nine years at CNN and two years at the Worldwide Television News Archive. Grace is actively engaged in efforts to support human rights archiving and documentation.