As NYU Abu Dhabi celebrated its tenth year of existence in 2020. The Library Archives and Special Collections Department wanted to commemorate the occasion with a project that would not only look back at the past decade, but also preserve memories of the early years of this institution for future generations.
That sentiment gave birth to the NYUAD Memory Project
. The project aims to create an online archive of memories and experiences through interview sessions which record the thoughts, memories and experiences of community members, thereby charting the history of our young university.
“With the difficulty of accessing or obtaining certain types of records, let alone whether such records even exist, oral histories can often fill in the gaps in the record and provide insight into details or nuances of an institution's history that might otherwise be overlooked,” shared Librarian for Archives and Special Collections Brad Bauer, who proposed the project.
The idea of collecting and archiving oral history is not new to NYUAD: in 2014, the Library team conducted a similar campaign
where they interviewed community members that lived in the old Sama Tower campus. There are also other, external oral history projects to look to for inspiration, such as StoryCorps
or Queens Memory
. All of these, along with the university’s ten year anniversary, contributed to the Memory Project’s genesis.
One of the people spearheading the Project’s implementation is Assistant Academic Librarian for Archives and Special Collections Lauren Kata. Kata had worked with oral histories before coming to NYUAD, so she was quickly asked to help organize the Memory Project.
“As archivists, it’s important for us to preserve the past through archival records. But then there is always going to be this intangible knowledge that you can really get at in the best way through oral history interviewing,” she explained.
While the interview records and other audio files are currently restricted for specific access, Kata hopes that one day they can make the entire collection available to the community.
So far, the project has recorded 40 interview sessions, including seven student groups and five students who recorded their own “DIY” interview.
. While the Library originally planned for in person interviews, the pandemic forced them to adapt to virtual interviews. Kata, who conducted several of the 28 Zoom interviews, believes that the switch to an online format helped make the project more accessible.
“The ability to provide the space to reflect [on] Zoom and getting access to community members … even across time zones … so really, for me, it’s been a lot of positives,” she noted.
Kata also emphasized that she had a talented team of Archives and Special Collections student assistants who helped make the Memory Project a reality.
Ian Hoyt, Class of 2021 and one of the assistants, recalled his experience: “I found it very rewarding to listen to founding members of NYUAD share their experiences in the early days and see how the university has changed (or not!) since.”
Thais Thomas, Class of 2021 and a fellow student assistant, also found her work on the project worthwhile. “I learned so much about the history of the institution which I think is so important now as we look back on our ‘mini’ legacy over the past ten years. It gave me immense access to the lives of people who I thought were so different to me and whose stories I would have probably never heard if I hadn't engaged with the project,” she reflected.
Some community members who participated in Memory Project interviews noted how it helped them reflect on their campus life. “We’re so young and things are changing, so it’s so nice to see a record and be able to relive some of our memories on campus,” shared Zain Mustafa, Class of 2020.
Tori Mondello, Class of 2022, shared Mustafa’s sentiment: “It brought up a lot of memories I hadn’t thought about in a while. By reflecting about my time here, I realized just how much of an impact NYUAD has had on me.”
While the Project was originally intended for NYUAD’s ten year anniversary, its success has made organizers enthusiastic about its future.
“I am legitimately so excited for when these interviews are published and everyone else can hear about the good old days, or the unique struggles of marginalised groups on campus, about our relationship to Abu Dhabi and about the lives the uni has touched across the globe,” shared Thomas.
However, their work is not finished.
“Every interview leads into another story possibility or another group or another person,” explained Kata.
The team plans to continue conducting interviews and collecting memories throughout the semester and beyond.
Máté Hekfusz is a staff writer and Data Editor. Email him at email@example.com.