Digitizing Public Media at the Center for Public Television & Radio at University of Alabama: An On-the-Ground Report from PBPF Fellow Hannah Hurdle

Working on my fellowship for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting and the University of Alabama’s School of Library and Information Studies has not only been an amazing learning opportunity, but it has also connected me with some great people from all over the United States. I gained valuable experience digitizing both U-Matic and BetacamSP tapes, working with decks (TBC machines, monitors, and other machines), as well as using the Archival Management System, and learning how to create access files. However, when I started this fellowship, I was anxious and thought I might have gotten myself in over my head. Even so, with a lot of patience, and even more troubleshooting, I was able to accomplish all that was required for the fellowship and go beyond what I thought I was capable of.

Hannah’s digitization station at CPT&R

While the material I digitized came from two different collections, and included several stand alone specials/documentaries, all fifty individual pieces highlight either a notable figure from Alabama, a significant event that occurred in the state, or discusses aspects of Alabama’s past. One of The University of Alabama Center for Public Television and Radio’s past series I digitized material from was The Alabama Experience. Some of the programs I digitized include:

Dance of Identity: Dyann Robinson

This program explores the life and career of social commentator, artist, and performer Dyann Robinson. It highlights her time on Broadway, her career as a dance instructor at Auburn University, her work establishing and running the Tuskegee Repertory Theatre in Tuskegee, Alabama, and her passion for dance and performance.

Roses of Crimson

This program looks at The University of Alabama Crimson Tide’s 1925 season and how it triggered a sensation in college football in the South. It highlights early Alabama teams/seasons, major players in the 1925 season, the Rose Bowl game between the Crimson Tide and the Washington Huskies in 1926, and the results of the victory for the team and for football in the South.

I’m in the Truth Business: William Bradford Huie

The program looks at William Bradford Huie who was a well known and popular investigative reporter and author. He is also well known for his checkbook form of journalism and for breaking the story on Emmett Till’s murder. The piece includes information on Huie’s life, death, and work especially highlighting his time in the military, the stories behind many of his books, where he got inspiration, and more.

Finding Refuge in Alabama

The program focuses on refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia who now reside in three Alabama towns: Irvington, Opelika, and Bayou La Batre. It looks at their lives in Alabama, their struggle to integrate or remain distinct, the challenges of keeping up their culture and traditions, their lives before in their home country versus now in the United States, and more.

A Season with the Forgotten Farmers

The program follows John Henry Travis from Hale County, Alabama and Rev. John Ward from Perry County, Alabama as they prepare and harvest their farms for the 1996 season. The piece highlights their life and work as African American farmers in the Black Belt, which stretches across Alabama and Mississippi. The piece also covers what got them into farming, how farming works (equipment, planting, etc.), issues that come with farming, harvesting, and more.

Uptown & Country

I also digitized some programs from The University of Alabama Center for Public Television and Radio’s Uptown & Country series. One of the programs is called A Woman’s Place. This episode of the series follows the lives of women who have jobs in careers traditionally dominated by men. Another episode is called A Living Legacy. This episode highlights the Bellingrath Gardens located south of Mobile, Alabama near Theodore. It provides a brief history of the gardens and gives viewers a tour of the grounds as well as the former home of Walter Bellingrath and his wife Betsey Morse-Bellingrath who created the gardens in 1932.

These are just a few of the programs I digitized for my special collection. Overall, I am proud of the special collection I was able to produce for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, and I look forward to other people being able to enjoy and experience the material I have been digitizing and cataloging. Prior to this fellowship, I did not have any experience in digital archival work. I am appreciative of this experience since it gave me the opportunity to get my feet wet in this career field while also having support from the staff at WGBH Boston as well as the SLIS staff at the University of Alabama.

This blog post was written by Hannah Hurdle, a University of Alabama Public Broadcasting Preservation Fellow at the UA Center for Public Television and Radio.

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