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Program Slides: Hidden Stories, Inclusive Perspectives: Describing Photographs of Jewish Refugees in Shanghai

Presentation slides from the ALCTS Metadata Interest Group Program at the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in Orlando are available below as an attachment (pdf). 

Hidden Stories, Inclusive Perspectives: Describing Photographs of Jewish Refugees in Shanghai   

Presenter: Rachel Wen-Paloutzian, Loyola Marymount University


When a collection of over 600 photographs and negatives was discovered in the backlog of Loyola Marymount University LMU Library’s Department of Archives and Special Collections, there were moments of surprise, intrigue, and fascination. While information about the collection is limited, the pictures have presumably been taken by Werner von Bolternstern, a photographer and avid postcard collector, who donated the collection among many others to LMU. The Werner von Bolternstern Shanghai Photograph and negative Collection offers rare visual records and remarkable documentation of life in Shanghai, China, from 1937 to 1949. Besides Shanghai urban landscapes, historical  architecture, and street scenes, the photographs offer a unique glimpse into the community of Jewish refugees living in Shanghai at the time, including social life, businesses,  community events, and government documents of Jewish refugees who fled the Holocaust.

Through contemplating various strategies for developing accurate and inclusive metadata, this presentation will discuss the research and creation process of descriptive metadata for the Werner von Bolternstern Shanghai Photograph and Negative Collection. It will highlight ethical and political questions in terms of how to appropriately describe the photographs and how to create sensible description out of uncertainty. As the presentation will evaluate controlled vocabularies and subject headings, especially for images of people who might or might not be Jewish refugees, it illustrates the importance  of metadata in historical identification and narratives. Part of the research for metadata creation is to understand the historical and social context of these images, not making a conclusion but opening the door to more meaningful conversation on this topic.  Further, this presentation will explore two strategies to ensure inclusiveness and enhance description: the strategy of crowdsourcing with the community of Jewish refugees who lived in Shanghai during the 1930s and 1940s, as well as the strategy of maintaining  a balance between description and interpretation in order to sensitively represent diverse communities from different perspectives. Perhaps the most important strategy for increasing cultural inclusiveness of metadata is to be open and flexible, as we treat metadata as dynamic living narration of stories and perspectives.