Goldman Berkman Environmental Scan

It is important for a researcher, before entering any project, to understand fully what is available on the topic they are proposing. The web, while increasingly making it easier and easier to find information, also helps to saturate a topic with both reputable scholarly work as well as not. An environmental scan was performed on the state of documents, materials and information regarding Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman and their legal case surrounding their deportation and related court cases.

Web Presence

Emma Goldman has a substantial presence on the web. When her name is googled, Goldman returns with 766,000 hits as well as 100,000 image hits. Alternatively, Alexander Berkman has much smaller presence, returning with only 114,000 hits and 24,800 image hits. The most exhaustive site that appears containing documents for both Goldman and Berkman is the UC Berkeley’s Emma Goldman Papers project website [(http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Goldman/)] which has a comprehensive collection. The site makes available samplings of primary documents consisting of speeches and pamphlets written by Goldman as well as correspondences to and from Goldman. Furthermore, the site has interpretive exhibits as well as timelines helping to create a wide-ranging historical narrative of Goldman. While the site contains a rich sampling of documentation regarding Emma Goldman, it contains very few documents pertaining to Alexander Berkman. From a design standpoint, the UC Berkeley Emma Goldman Papers site has been very poorly constructed. It looks amateurish, lacking a sophisticated information architecture organization, rendering it hard to navigate. Additionally, it is hard to read text as size and format are not consistent and the search engine is outdated and confusing, making the site hard to explore. And again, it should also be noted that Alexander Berkman is not one of the main components of UC Berkley’s study and only shown on the periphery.
UC Berkley’s Goldman Papers does contain some overlapping documents to the proposed NYU Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman Paper Project; however they do not duplicate efforts. Since the Goldman-Berkman Papers Project proposes to be much smaller and more specific, the documents provided are much more detailed and exact regarding the deportation, associated legal case and involvement in the No Conscription League. The papers Berkley provides are much more general, telling a much more broad narrative. In fact, UC Berkley’s site and the Goldman-Berkman Papers site will complement each other very well. A viewer/researcher can receive a broader more complete life story of Emma Goldman from UC Berkley and a more specific topical understanding of both Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman from NYU. The NYU site will allow for further more detailed research into a specific time period. Another site that has primary source documents available is the Anarchy Archives (http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/ANARCHIST_ARCHIVES/goldman/Goldmanarchive.html).
The Anarchy Archives is a site published by a faculty member at Pitzer College. While the site is associated with curriculum and classes at the Pitzer (as well as the Claremont College consortium) it does not seem to be related to any institute or initiative at the college. The site offers a plethora of primary source documents, everything from speeches to pamphlets to correspondence. Like UC Berkley’s site, the Anarchy Archive contains a general broad narrative of Goldman’s career and work, but the specific time period and events surrounding her deportation and court case are not covered in detail. And, like UC Berkley, the design of the site is amateur at best. It lacks any consistent design and has a poorly developed and thought-out information architecture system. Again, the NYU Project would be a good addition to the Anarchy Archive as it will provide a more detailed and thus more comprehensive understanding to the larger story for viewers/researchers.
The next site, PBS-American Experience (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/goldman/index.html), is a web component to their television series American Experience which profiled Emma Goldman. Compared to the other sites this site is by far the most interpretive of all the sites, consisting mostly of historical narratives with some primary source documents. This is also the most well designed and best looking site. It is easy to navigate and because it is not terribly document heavy, the documents they do have, are easy to find. The site has some documentation and discussion of the deportation of Goldman and Berkman, but mainly it just gives a general overview of what happened. It has very little specific information relating to Berkman.
The Marxist Internet Archive contains a collection of writings done by Emma Goldman. The site gives very little contextual information about Goldman’s work, but does provide a rich sampling of transcribed writings by her. The site is not overly-designed; it is very simple and straightforward. There is nothing on the site that would overlap with the NYU Goldman-Berkman Papers Project. As with the other sites, the NYU Papers Project provides a more detailed account of a specific and important time period in Goldman and Berkman’s lives.
The Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA) has a great sampling of primary documents. Most of the documents are materials that are available on other sites, but what sets JWA apart from other sites is its ability to balance both primary source documents with sound interpretive work. The site is well designed, simple and easy to read, allowing for easy navigation and use. JWA has two brief articles regarding Goldman and Berkman’s deportation and their involvement in the No Conscription League. The articles are great introductory essays and would serve as a great place to add a link to NYU’s Goldman-Berkman Paper’s Project.

Current State of Historical Research Using Goldman-Berkman Collection

The documents and materials to be digitized for the NYU Goldman-Berkman Papers Project are known mostly to scholars of anarchy and Emma Goldman. If one does a search on the subject and digs through available materials, they will eventually find Tamiment Library Finding Aid describing the material. This is not ideal. With so much primary source as well as secondary source material available it is pertinent that an authoritative site be available. The site would work towards making a collection digitally and publically available. By digitizing these documents, the field of available research options broadens considerably. Because the majority of the collection is comprised of legal documents it pertinent that the materials be digitized in such a way to allow for greatest ease of use.

Other Sites

Other sites that provide digital versions of archived legal documents provide transcriptions. The Center for Columbia River History (http://www.ccrh.org/index.htm) is a good example of a web site that digitized legal documents (http://www.ccrh.org/comm/river/legal.htm). The documents have been transcribed and thus are searchable and easy to read. Because the Goldman-Berkman Paper’s Project is relatively small, documents can be named by court case and date and listed. The associated search engine would be able to search for case name, date and/or topic/person.

Conclusion

While there is considerable documentation on the web pertaining to Emma Goldman there is not so much for Alexander Berkman. The digital collections that are available on the web all contain a wonderful trove of information and materials. For the beginner researcher to the more advanced scholar, authenticated primary source documentation is easily obtainable. What is lacking in the web presence, and what the NYU Goldman-Berkman Papers Project would make present, is a more specific, topical approach to Goldman and Berkman. There is a lack of scholarly evidence and discussion regarding the specific time period of Goldman and Berkman’s deportation. Digitizing the Goldman-Berkman documents would create a more comprehensive and robust web presence.

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