Columbia University Libraries/Information Services (CUL/IS) has received an award of $150,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize field notes and linguistic surveys from the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry (LCAAJ) archive.
The LCAAJ archive is an extraordinary resource for research in Yiddish studies that can shed much valuable light on language, ethnography, literature, folklore and music, anthropology, linguistics, Germanic and Slavic studies, and aspects of Central and East European history. The archive consists of over 600 interviews conducted between 1959 and 1972 with native speakers of Yiddish during a long-range comparative study to document the effects of physical, linguistic, and cultural channels and barriers on the geographic fragmentation of the Jewish and diverse non-Jewish populations that coexisted in Central and Eastern Europe before World War II. The LCAAJ project collected its interviews at essentially the last moment, when a diverse body of native speakers was still alive, aiming to address both the challenge of an endangered linguistic and cultural legacy, and the special potential that Yiddish provides for studying language and cultural contact and change.
The two-year project funded by NEH will digitize approximately 140,000 pages of interview answer sheets that contain data from the interviews, carry out optical character recognition (OCR) and mark-up to enable their content to be searched and manipulated, and will make all the digitized content freely available to scholars on the Internet on a Columbia website. This source for historical, literary, or anthropological research, and for the study of languages in contact, and the evolution and differentiation of language communities, will then be available to a worldwide community of scholars.
"The Atlas archive is a treasure-house of voices from a vanished world, bearing irreplaceable—heartbreakingly irreplaceable—information about Jewish life, language, and culture," said Jeremy Dauber, Atran Professor of Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture and director of Columbia's Institute of Israel and Jewish Studies. "It needs to be shared with the world, and we're delighted—and honored—that the National Endowment for the Humanities is enabling the Libraries to do so."
The written materials accompany more than 5,700 hours of recorded interviews that CUL/IS has already digitized through generous support from NEH, private foundations, the New York State Conservation/Preservation Program, and EYDES (Evidence of Yiddish Documented in European Societies, a project of the German Förderverein für Jiddische Sprache und Kultur), through which the audio is publicly available. The long-term goal is to eventually link the written content to the audio recordings of the interviews, and make the entire audio and written corpus available to students and scholars in an integrated form.
The interviews contain a wealth of comments about Jewish culture and history from a place and time that is largely out of our reach today. Bringing the LCAAJ archive into the digital environment will increase exponentially its value to historians of Jewish Studies and European history, linguists, anthropologists, and students and teachers of Yiddish.
Columbia University Libraries is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 13 million volumes, over 160,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, and graphic and audio-visual materials. The Libraries employs more than 400 professional and support staff and hosts over 4.7 million visitors each year. The website of the Libraries is the gateway to its services and resources: library.columbia.edu.