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Celebrating National Archives Month

This week in North Philly Notes, Margery Sly, Director of the Special Collections Research Center at Temple University Libraries helps usher in October as National Archives Month

ArchiveFeverWhere do the authors, historians, and scholars who write the books get their material?  Where do they find the raw material of history? Archivists would say ‘in archives, of course.’ And during the month of October, archivists celebrate American Archives Month, which is designed to give us the “opportunity to tell (or remind) people that items that are important to them are being preserved, cataloged, cared for, and made accessible by archivists.”

Long before our role and terminology was hijacked and bastardized by techies (‘archive’ never used to be a verb), Word’s spellcheck (which doesn’t recognize ‘archives’ as single noun), and the general public, archivists have been collecting, preserving, and sharing the content of every kind of information-bearing form and medium the world has produced. From papyrus and cuneiform tablets, to legal documents in Latin with great wax seals, to onion skin and thermo-fax, to born digital material, we work to ensure that the record and its content survives and is available to the widest possible number of users. Archivists and the materials we preserve are in it for the long haul.

Perhaps long ago when archivists documented only the work of governments and ‘great white men,’ archives could legitimately have been described by the still popular adjectives ‘dry and dusty.’  Instead, for decades, we’ve been working hard to document diversity.

Historians will acknowledge the work of historian and archivist Mary Ritter Beard, who founded the World Center for Women’s Archives (WCWA) in 1935. While that initial project was not a success, it led to the creation of two national women’s history collections in 1940: the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College and what became the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe College. Beard’s path-breaking book, Woman As Force In History: A Study in Traditions and Realities (1946) reiterated her belief that women are the co-creators of history and excoriated male historians for their disregard of that reality.

BeardIn 1967, the History Department at Temple University conceived of the idea of building an Urban Archives, documenting the social, economic, political, and physical development of the greater Philadelphia region throughout the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. These archives reflect the history of our urban region through a wide variety of organization records, including those that served or were established by immigrant and minority populations. Collections range from the Nationalities Service Center  founded in the 1920s to serve new immigrants to the Friends Neighborhood Guild  founded in 1879 and still serving the residents of East Poplar. The addition of the Philadelphia Jewish Archives collections in 2009 added even more content to the rich holdings at Temple.

A few years later, in 1969 at a time of social, Temple library staff created what became the Contemporary Culture Collection—documenting counter culture movements throughout the United States by gathering underground, fugitive, and non-traditional materials  Archives of organizations such as the Liberation News Service and the Safe Energy Communication Council  help us document social, political, economic and cultural history as it pertains to minority groups, the counterculture, and the fringe.

Both these focuses, now a part of Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, continue to grow in depth. And often we acquire new collections that cross the urban and counterculture boundaries. One was the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force records. More recently, we became the archives for Occupy Philadelphia. That collection is both rich and deeply hybrid in format: flyers, posters, minutes, clippings, e-mail, born digital, ephemera, newsletters, photographs, sound and video recordings. This is the reality of archives—and the sources for this and future generations’ research.

To borrow a quote from the Society of American Archivists: “The relevance of archives to society and the completeness of the documentary record hinge on the profession’s success in ensuring that its members, the holdings that they collect and manage, and the users that they serve reflect the diversity of society as a whole.”

Jewish athletes, unheralded no more

In this blog entry, Doug Stark, author of The SPHAS, celebrates the achievements of basketball ‘s greatest Jewish team.

Many people are familiar with Hank Greenberg, the great slugging first baseman for the Detroit Tigers. Nearly as many people are aware of Barney Ross, the great boxing champion. Both were two of America’s best athletes in the 1930s. Both were Jewish.

By contrast, few if any individuals have heard of Shikey Gotthoffer, Inky Lautman, Cy Kaselman, Moe Goldman, Red Rosan, Red Wolfe, Petey Rosenberg, and Gil Fitch. And yet, these individuals comprised the greatest Jewish basketball team, the SPHAS, the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association. The SPHAS were contemporaries of Greenberg and Ross and they were the best professional basketball team in the 1930s.

 

The SPHAS: The Life and Times of Basketball’s Greatest Jewish Team chronicles the true story of the team from their humble beginnings as a club team in 1918 to their rise as American Basketball League champions seven times in the 1930s to touring with the famed Harlem Globetrotters in the 1950s. When the SPHAS first started playing, World War I was nearing its completion. By the time the team finished in 1959, Wilt Chamberlain was first entering the NBA.

The book tells the true story of the team on and off the court, as the players challenged racial stereotypes of weakness and inferiority as they boosted the game’s popularity.

Basketball in those days was a Jewish sport and the SPHAS represented thePhiladelphiaJewish community. On Saturday nights, SPHAS games were followed by dances at the Broadwood Hotel. Young Jewish singles attended the games, met, danced, and became American. One of the players, Gil Fitch had an orchestra that played at the dances, and big band singer Kitty Kallen had her start singing at SPHAS games.

Much has been written about Greenberg and Ross as well as the Original Celtics, Harlem Globetrotters, and New York Renaissance, three teams that competed against the SPHAS in the 1930s. I found it curious and a big omission that the SPHAS had not been significantly documented since their records and achievements are comparable to those other three teams. My goal in writing this book was to delve deeply into the team’s history and to show its arc from the days when basketball was played in cages to when dunking became popular.

One of the challenges in researching a book like this is that the team had not played a meaningful game in 70 years. Many of the players from the 1930s, the team’s heyday, had long since died, and tracking down family members was sometimes difficult. Newspapers proved to be the best source, although sports articles in the 1930s were more a recollection of the game rather than sports features that included quotes from the players. I also found it curious that the Jewish press rarely if at all covered the SPHAS. Hank Greenberg and Nat Holman (basketball player and coach with City College of New York) passed for sports coverage.

Visit the author’s website at http://www.douglasstark.com/

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