“Raising the Volume” is a cross-departmental initiative to transform Soul of Reason, a historically and culturally rich 1970s radio program on Black and Latinx culture, into a collaboratively curated collection as data. The show’s host, Dr. Roscoe C. Brown, Jr., served as the first Director of the IAAA and the recordings are part of the records of NYU’s Institute for Afro-American (now African American) Affairs (IAAA), housed within NYU Special Collections. Soul of Reason showcased unique and vital conversations with leaders, politicians, writers, activists, and artists of African descent in New York City during the civil rights and Black Power and Arts movements that spanned nearly two decades.
The recordings had already been digitized and uploaded to the Libraries’ preservation repository, and streaming copies of most of the audio files are embedded in a media player in the online finding aid. In tandem with plans for automated captioning and transcription and inspired by Tanisha Jones’ 2003 NYU Moving Image and Preservation Masters thesis, Getting to the soul of Soul of Reason: A Case for Preservation, the NYU Division of Libraries and the NYU Institute of African American Affairs collaborated on a series of events in 2020 inviting community members to correct auto-generated transcripts of digital audio files of the radio program. In transcribing, volunteers learned about everything from the Black Theater Alliance to the history of Weeksville, from the NAACP’s program to recruit and train Black lawyers to the impact of Harlem Urban Development Corporation. Volunteers—including the program host’s own daughter—were encouraged to contribute their knowledge and lived experience to the task.
With additional support from NYU Data Science and Software Services, the project was able to host a Junior Data Scientist in extracting names of places and people as structured metadata to aid in collection discovery and new scholarship.