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Belfer Archive awarded $505,000 grant from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

December 22, 2010

Pamela Whiteley McLaughlin
(315) 443-9788

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded $505,000 to Syracuse University to support the positions of director and sound archivist for Syracuse University Library’s Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive. The library will work closely with The College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Visual and Performing Arts, the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs to integrate Belfer resources into their scholarly work and to make it easier for scholars to discover and use audio resources in a digital environment. The award also provides funding to equip a smart classroom in the Belfer facility.  

“Syracuse University is grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for this generous grant,” says SU Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric F. Spina. ”By rebuilding the leadership, we will rekindle the involvement of faculty here and nationally in this exemplary research archive. This award will enable us to reach our goal of making Belfer’s treasures broadly available for teaching, research and listening.” 

The Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive at SU is a significant research repository that documents the history of American recorded sound. The collections have grown to more than 500,000 recordings, making it one of the nation’s foremost audio archives. Belfer’s extensive collections and playback equipment represent a wide range of audio recording history, from the earliest experimental recordings on tinfoil, to cylinders, Edison Diamond discs, 78-rpm and 45-rpm recordings and a variety of audiotapes. The collections are especially rich in popular vocal and instrumental music and include classical, jazz, marches, novelty, comedy, folk, country, ethnic and experimental genres. 

In addition to music, the Belfer collections also contain recordings of political leaders, poets, philosophers and famous actors, as well as early radio broadcasts and unreleased discs from major recording companies. Famous voices include Thomas Edison, George Bernard Shaw, Amelia Earhart, Albert Einstein, Margaret Bourke-White, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Albert Schweitzer and Benjamin Spock.  

The director, who will teach in one or more of the Belfer’s constituent academic departments, will promote the innovative use of the collections in research and teaching and will have an established reputation in the history of recorded sound and/or in the policy, law and economics governing the use of recorded sound.  The archivist will be responsible for providing access to Belfer’s recordings, selecting appropriate discovery tools (including MARC cataloging, EAD finding aids and new methodologies) and devising new delivery methods.  

The dean of the library, Suzanne Thorin, comments that the new state-of-the-art classroom will help to ensure that the Belfer Archive becomes a recognized campus center for research and teaching in the history of recorded sound. Mellon funds will be the catalyst for University investment in renovating this space, which will double the capacity of the existing classroom and make available technologies that will enable faculty and students to experiment with historical and new recorded sound.

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