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Digitizing a Piece of History from the AIDS Epidemic

December 23, 2019

[Travis Johansen] So, the NAMES Project, which started in San
Francisco in that 80’s was sort of the impetus behind the AIDS Remembrance
Quilt. In 1994 when the quilt came to the University, it was on view at the Goergen
Athletic Center. It really took over the whole space. University Health Services
spearheaded the initiative to put this panel together when the quilt came to
the University to be on view it’s a 12 by 12 foot panel and it’s just covered with
handwriting and names of people who were honored and remembered. “I think it’s like
folded in half and in half and in half.” [Lisa Wright] We were approached by Rare Books to image this large banner and I started wondering if we would be able to shoot the entire
thing and then digitally stitch it back together piece by piece. Because it’s 12
feet by 12 feet, it can’t be done obviously in one, so we we had to break
it up into pieces and then try and put the pieces back together.
[Travis] Linda Dudman, who donated the quilt to Rare Books and Special Collections and
the University Archives, basically just packed it up after it was on view for
three days in the field house and she just took it home and held on to it for
about twenty years and then I think when she was moving she found it and thought
I should probably donate that to the University. [Lisa] I definitely remember the AIDS crisis and sort of just this uncertainty and
this fear. Seeing this and seeing you know, people’s actual writing about
people they lost, even though it wasn’t that long ago I think it does feel
somewhat distant and it’s, it’s just framed differently now. It’s like a time
capsule. [Travis] Digitization of collection material serves many purposes. One aspect
is preservation. If you can get people images of collection material, then you
know, they have to handle it less. It’s also about accessibility and you know,
getting the collections up in online and getting them out there so that people
know what we have here. [Lisa] Visually trying to keep our place in the quilt was
really difficult and just getting complete coverage of it. In addition to
trying to align the signatures and writing and ephemera that are in there, we also
have to contend with being able to line up the actual fabric itself. We’re hoping
to then see if we can somehow use the tiling program to put it in an online
format so that you can zoom in on various parts of it and be able to look
at it up close and personal. This takes something that’s really big and makes it
somewhat accessible. You can read it, you can spend time with it, you can actually
sort of have a more meaningful interaction with it. [Travis] You’re looking at it,
you know you take it in and you understand how important and how
impacted people were by AIDS, but when you actually get up close to the panel
and you see the sorts of things that people were writing, it’s really
heartbreaking and it really you know, it’s really touching.
[Lisa] We’re obviously thinking about the technical aspects, but it’s really hard
not to get drawn into what’s actually on there and it is, it’s overwhelming
there’s there’s a lot of grief and a lot of pain there’s definitely hope in there,
but it’s also you know it’s a memorial.

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