Nicole Milano 2015-04-01 11:04:30
Paris, the City of Light, provided an illuminating setting for a series of events kicking off the centennial commemoration of AFS Intercultural Programs in November 2014. Over the course of one week, more than one thousand AFS staff, alumni, and volunteers converged for an alumni reunion, two symposiums at the UNESCO world headquarters, and a gala reception. As the only archivist in the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs (AFS Archives), I tapped into the centennial celebrations to internally advocate for the value of the archives, showcase collections, and highlight the organization’s fascinating history. The Birth of AFS AFS Intercultural Programs began as the American Field Service, a voluntary ambulance and camion corps founded in Paris during World War I by A. Piatt Andrew, a former director of the US Mint. Andrew and his fellow volunteers felt a strong need to aid France years before the US military entered the war; their dedication is easily illustrated through their wartime motto: “Tous et tout pour la France” (“Everyone and everything for France”). In April 1915 Andrew negotiated with the French military to set up American ambulance units near the front lines. These units later became known as the American Field Service (AFS), and the volunteers went on to evacuate more than a million casualties in both World Wars. Following World War II, AFS volunteers from both World Wars launched a secondary student exchange program intended to perpetuate international friendships in peacetime. Today, the organization now known as AFS Intercultural Programs is a nonprofit intercultural learning organization focused primarily on student exchange, with offices in more than fifty countries. Prepping for Paris I have been working with a team of fantastic interns over the last few years to prepare for the anticipated increased demand of the archival material for the centennial. In 2010 AFS received a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, which they used to hire me to help “modernize” the archive. As part of the ten-month project, I worked with other members of the project team to create a website (www .afs.org/archives), install Archon, process and arrange 175 cubic feet of archival material, create internal and external policies regarding use, and facilitate access through fifty-six newly created finding aids. More recently, we worked with the Internet Archive to digitize 2,500 images from World War I. The newly digitized material was promoted through news articles on our website, social media, and through the intranet used by international staff. To generate excitement for the events in Paris, I worked with the AFS marketing team to create an interactive timeline (afs.org/timeline/) and launch a social media campaign counting down one hundred stories from AFS history in the one hundred days leading up to the events in Paris (centennial.afs.org/100/). In Paris the archival material was used in traditional ways, from merchandise to a panel exhibition, and through more creative ways, including a slideshow of historic images displayed behind a live string quartet at the AFS Global Intercultural Learning Symposium at the UNESCO headquarters. I also set up an AFS Archives display in the “marketplace” on alumni day, which allowed us to explain our work and encourage donations of new archival material. Centennial Highlights The most popular historical highlight displayed in Paris was a reconstructed World War I ambulance. This independent project was initiated by an antique car specialist who used the archival resources at AFS and other repositories to accurately reconstruct the Ford Model T ambulance and identify the paint color and type of wood used to construct the ambulance bodies on top of imported chassis. The ambulance quickly became a centerpiece for hundreds of photographs taken during the centennial events. The archival material showcased at the centennial sparked interest from AFS staff around the world, some of whom are now requesting use of the archival collections for the first time. It has been exciting to see videos in Spanish and Italian using historic film footage, brochures featuring archival photographs in Dutch, and history quizzes created for AFS volunteers in Russian. AFS will continue the centennial commemoration through 2015, including involving current AFS students in a time capsule project. Through these activities the AFS Archives will play a central part in the promotion of the organization’s history and plans for the future.
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