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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

2011 Digital Witness Symposium

Symposium explores the power of the archive for human rights media

Aug. 26, 2011, by Kelly Rodoski

Following its successful inauguration at last year’s Illuminating Oppression: 8th Annual Human Rights Film Festival, the Digital Witness Symposium returns this year on Friday, Sept. 16, at 10 a.m. in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium in Newhouse 3. This year’s symposium, funded by the Digital Humanities research cluster of the Central New York Humanities Corridor, focuses on the power of the archive for human rights media, highlighting projects related to African American history, AIDS activism and the Holocaust.

“This year, we have invited guests who could speak to the importance of building and using archives in diverse forms of human rights activism,” says Roger Hallas, associate professor of English in The College of Arts and Sciences and co-director of the Human Rights Film Festival. “All of the projects highlighted in the symposium demonstrate how historical documentation, whether archival images or witness testimonies, remains a vital resource for engagement in the human rights struggles of the present.”

“We were thrilled by the response to our first Digital Witness Symposium last year,” says Tula Goenka, associate professor of television-radio-film in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and co-director of Illuminating Oppression. “Since social media and other digital technologies are so rapidly transforming how we learn about and engage with human rights issues around the world, students, faculty and community members are clearly eager to critically understand the dynamics behind these changes.”

The speakers at the symposium will be:

Sam Pollard, filmmaker, editor and professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, who will discuss recording African American history in the award-winning documentaries he has co-produced and edited, including “When the Levees Broke,” “4 Little Girls” and “Eyes on the Prize.” Pollard’s professional accomplishments as a feature film and television video editor and documentary producer/director span almost 30 years. His first assignment as a documentary producer came in 1989 for Henry Hampton’s Blackside production “Eyes On The Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads.”

Pollard received an Emmy award for one of the episodes in this series. Between 1990 and 2000, he edited a number of Spike Lee’s films: “Mo’ Better Blues,” “Jungle Fever,” “Girl 6,” “Clockers” and “Bamboozled.” Pollard has also edited and coproduced a number of Lee’s documentaries, including “Spike Lee Presents Mike Tyson,” the Academy Award-nominated “Four Little Girls,” and “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.”

Jim Hubbard, filmmaker, archivist and activist, will discuss the ACT UP Oral History Project, which he co-founded with Sarah Schulman. The project is a digital collection of interviews with surviving members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, New York, the renowned activist group that achieved concrete changes in medical and scientific research, insurance, law, health care delivery and graphic design, and introduced new and effective methods for political organizing. Hubbard has been making films since 1974. Among his 19 films are “Elegy in the Streets” (1989), “Two Marches” (1991), “The Dance” (1992) and “Memento Mori” (1995).

Hubbard’s films have been shown at film festivals around the world. “Memento Mori” won the Ursula for best short film at the Hamburg Lesbian & Gay Film Festival in 1995. He co-founded and is president of MIX–the New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film/Video Festival. Under the auspices of the Estate Project for Artists with AIDS, he created the Royal S. Marks AIDS Activist Video Collection at the New York Public Library. He curated the series “Fever in the Archive: AIDS Activist Videotapes from the Royal S. Marks Collection” for the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Lydia Wasylenko, a librarian with Syracuse University Library, and Samuel Gruber, lecturer in the Judaic Studies Program in The College of Arts and Sciences, will explore the history of the Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive and illuminate how its collection of more than 52,000 Holocaust testimonies in 32 different languages has became a global tool for human rights education. Wasylenko is Syracuse University Library’s subject librarian for economics, history, classics, and German and Slavic languages and literatures, areas in which she develops collections and provides research assistance.

Since 2008, Wasylenko has also been the library’s primary liaison to the Shoah Foundation Institute and the public contact person for users of the Visual History Archive, which is fully accessible only at Syracuse University and 29 other sites around the world.

Gruber is an art and architectural historian, and expert and activist in the documentation, protection and preservation of historic Jewish sites and monuments. Since 2001, Gruber has been the Rothman Family and Holstein Family Lecturer in Judaic Studies at SU, where he is also curator of the Plastics Collection at the Syracuse University Library. He is also director of Gruber Heritage Global in Syracuse, a private consulting firm; and president of the not-for-profit educational International Survey of Jewish Monuments (ISJM).

This event is free and open to the public.

Illuminating Oppression: 9th Annual Human Rights Film Festival is part of Syracuse Symposium 2011: Identity, and is presented by the SU Humanities Center and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. The symposium is made possible through major funding from the Central New York Humanities Corridor, an Andrew Mellon Foundation initiative.

Public parking will be available for $4 on the morning of Friday, Sept. 16, at University Avenue Garage.