Sounds and Moving Images of Greek Shadow Theater

Project Summary

Submitted by David Elmer of Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature.

The Whitman / Rinvolucri Collection, part of the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature (MPCOL), comprises puppets, recordings, films, still images, and printed materials relating to the Greek Karaghiozis shadow theater tradition and collected between 1962 and 1971. We seek funding to support the digitization of the audio recordings (85 tape reels) and films (8 reels) in the collection, so that these materials may be incorporated into the MPCOL’s existing digital holdings and delivered to students and researchers through the MPCOL’s website and TED database. To facilitate discovery of these materials, a collection-level HOLLIS record will be created directing researchers to the MPCOL website. A planned redesign of the MPCOL website, anticipated for late 2014 or early 2015, will include the creation of a page devoted to the Whitman / Rinvolucri Collection, with a complete catalogue of the recordings and links to deliverables.

Audio reformatting will be done at Harvard’s Audio Preservation Studio. Reformatting of films will be outsourced to National Boston.

Digitization of the audio and films will be the first step in a longer-term project to increase access to the collection as a whole. The Rinvolucri puppets have recently been conserved and rehoused by library staff. Photographs of the puppets will be integrated with other digital materials. The still photographs and printed materials will likewise be digitized and integrated with other holdings. The long-term goal is to transform the Whitman / Rinvolucri Collection into a unique, media-rich archival resource for students and scholars.

Amount requested is $31,500.

Expected Results with Partial Funding

The project can be scaled according to the level of funding received. With partial funding, we will make a prioritized selection of materials for digitization, beginning with the 8 film reels. We will digitize as much as our funding allows, and these materials will be incorporated into MPCOL’s existing digital holdings.

Estimated Follow-on Activities and/or Costs

DRS storage costs for digital audio will be paid for by MPCOL’s existing arrangement with our library partner, the Center for Hellenic Studies, which currently pays all annual fees associated with MPCOL’s deposits in DRS. When DRS begins accepting video files, the digitized films will likewise be deposited in DRS, and the storage costs paid for by CHS. In the meantime, digital video will be stored and backed up on local servers or hard drives. Storage costs for this temporary storage, not anticipated to exceed $1,000, will be covered by MPCOL. A research assistant paid by MPCOL will compile all necessary cataloguing information and metadata. Design and implementation of a dedicated page for the Whitman / Rinvolucri Collection on the MPCOL website will be included in an overall redesign of the MPCOL site anticipated for late 2014 / early 2015 and paid for by MPCOL. MPCOL has budgeted $10,000 for website redesign and project assistants.

Benefit to Harvard Scholars and Patrons

For the first time in decades, this project will make available to students and scholars at Harvard and elsewhere a unique collection of recordings and moving images documenting the Karaghiozis shadow theater tradition. Because of their advanced age, these materials have not been available for auditioning / viewing for many years. MPCOL has for some time been obliged to deny requests for access to the recordings, in spite of the fact that we receive several requests each year. There has also been interest on the part of Modern Greek instructors at Harvard in incorporating the recordings into their classroom instruction. The proposed project will enable the collection to be used in Harvard classrooms and to be made available to researchers at Harvard and elsewhere.

Ways the Project Supports Cross-Unit or Cross-Discipline Activities

The Whitman / Rinvolucri Collection has an inherently inter-disciplinary appeal. The materials are of interest to theater scholars, folklorists, anthropologists, and scholars of Greek language and culture. They have numerous points of intersection with holdings in Harvard’s Theatre Collection. Furthermore, with the MPCOL qua archive gaining increasing attention among media archaeologists, the materials would contribute to scholarly conversations in media and sound / visual studies.

Resources the Sponsoring Library Can Support or Will Need Support For

MPCOL and its library partner, the Center for Hellenic Studies, will provide full financial support for the following components of the proposed project: long-term storage in DRS for audio files and, eventually, for video; temporary storage for video files until they can be deposited in DRS; redesign of the MPCOL site with the creation of a dedicated page for the Whitman / Rinvolucri materials; cataloguing of the Whitman / Rinvolucri materials and entry of cataloguing information into MPCOL’s TED database. MPCOL will employ a research assistant to perform any and all project tasks not directly associated with the reformatting performed by APS and National Boston. The project will be managed by Professor David Elmer, Associate Curator of MPCOL.

Other Approaches to Achieving Goal or Result

If the project is not funded, digital preservation of the Whitman / Rinvolucri recordings and films will have to wait until such time as MPCOL can find other sources of funding.

Risks if Proposal is Not Approved

The Whitman / Rinvolucri recordings and films are now more than 40 years old. As they have not been auditioned or viewed in many years, it is presently unclear whether any of them have now degraded to the point where they are no longer playable. They are in need of immediate preservation. If the proposal is not approved, they are at risk of further deterioriation, with the possible consequence that they may become unsalvageable.

Additional Information

This project is co-sponsored by Dan Hazen.

The amount of funding requested ($31,500) is based on cost estimates provided by David Ackerman at APS and by National Boston.

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