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Material Memory

Author: CLIR

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We live in the age of information, but how often do we think about what has been lost—or nearly lost? From memories left on discarded machines to the voices of ancestors trapped on obsolete media, we are losing parts of human history each day.

In theme-based seasons, Material Memory explores the effects of our changing environment—such as digital technologies, the climate crisis, or global human displacement—on our ability to access the record of our shared humanity, and the critical role that libraries, archives, museums, and other public institutions play in keeping cultural memory alive.
6 Episodes
In this episode of Material Memory, we talk with a staff member at the University of Oklahoma who has been working to preserve the recordings of the Indians for Indians Radio Hour program, a long-running broadcast that started in the 1940s at the university’s WNAD station. We’ll hear about the show’s founder, the complications of dealing with a well-used collection of many different Native voices, and the process of providing access to this important historical resource about tribal life.
Not Even in the Dictionary

Not Even in the Dictionary


Iñupiaq dialects—spoken by people in the northernmost parts of Alaska—are considered  “severely endangered,” with about 2,000 native speakers of these dialects alive today. In this episode of Material Memory, we chat with the people who are preserving, transcribing, and translating collections of audio and video recordings of Iñupiaq dialects. They discuss the joys and challenges of preserving the history and culture of the people for the next generation.
The Duty of Memory

The Duty of Memory


Radio Haiti, the nation’s first independent radio station, gave people a voice in speaking out against government oppression while speaking up for human rights and democracy. In this episode of Material Memory, we talk with the Duke University Libraries staff who have been working to preserve a large collection of tapes of programming broadcast before government forces destroyed the station and its documents. We hear about the recovery of the audio and its importance in Haitian history.
In this episode of Material Memory, we talk to experts at the Amistad Research Center who are working to digitize the audio field recordings of African-American academic and linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner. His work established a connection between the languages of West Africa and African Americans living in the low countries and sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia. We listen to some of these recordings, discuss their importance, and hear how they bridge the distance between time and place.
The Ethics of Access

The Ethics of Access


How can recordings of indigenous languages be made accessible to the communities they represent? In this episode of Material Memory, we talk to experts about the ethical considerations and complexities of providing broad access to recordings that may be culturally sensitive—sacred sounds, songs and language—and why it’s important to reconnect people to their own content. One lesson? The story doesn’t end once something is digitized.
Kathlin Smith introduces the Material Memory podcast in a conversation with CLIR President Charles Henry about the threats to our cultural record and what is at stake if it's lost.
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