Archive for the ‘Readings/Discussions’ Category


The Reverend Howard Moody — who owns his sermons?


 In the process of collecting items for my digital exhibit on the Judson Memorial Church I’ve come across an interesting copyright dilemma that I want to share with all of you. Hopefully my experience will help those in similar situations, and (with enough blog promotion) perhaps even future students of digital history!

Diverse in their missions, histories and congregations, Greenwich’s religious institutions stand as testaments to the transformations and invariabilities of the Village. As I know from first hand experience working with the Judson Memorial Church archives, churches play a crucial role in the many histories of Greenwich, and their records offer incredibly rich fodder for students of the Village. But as we all know (or are quickly learning), creating a digital exhibit is not simply about determining a thought-provoking topic, unearthing valuable archival items to digitize, or structuring all of these disparate elements into a cohesive display. A crucial component of any digital or physical exhibit is navigating the slippery (some might say slimy) realm of copyright laws.

 I’m sure that by this point we’ve all experienced the joys and frustrations of securing permissions for the more elusive items in our own exhibits. In my work on Judson, I’ve stumbled upon a particularly confusing copyright issue just begging for a constructive debate. While digging through the boxes of the Judson archives, I discovered the Rev. Howard Moody’s startling sermon “Humanizing the Hooker” (see my earlier blog post if you’re interested in discovering more about this dynamic community leader). Interested in scanning this document for use in my own digital exhibit, I contacted the Judson Memorial Church and received institutional permission. But as I prepared to mount the document to Omeka, I was filled with doubt.  As creator of the document, does Moody himself own the rights? Should I proceed with the permissions granted by the institution, or should I contact Moody’s estate? After all, if the creator in question were a professor and the document a lecture, my publication would undoubtedly require permission from the professor herself. How is a sermon, then, any different than a lecture? How does a clergyman differ from a professor? Who owns the rights to Moody’s sermons?

Although by and large copyright law recognizes the creator of a work as the author, and therefor lawful copyright holder, there are a few exceptions to this rule. The 1976 Copyright Act distinguishes a class of works as “works for hire.” Defined as either “a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment” or “a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work…” a work made for hire is considered by law to be authored by the employer (which can be an institution, or an individual) rather than the employee (Works Made for Hire 1).

 As an “employee” of the Judson Memorial Church, should Rev. Moody’s sermons be considered works for hire? The public debate surrounding similar cases suggests that there is no easy answer. Blogging for Christianity Today, Richard R. Hammar, an attorney specializing in ecclesiastical legal issues, argues that the majority of sermons produced by clergy are works for hire. Hammar reasons that because sermons are most likely created on church property, by a church employee, during church work hours, as a primary function of the occupational duties of a minister, they fall solidly within the scope of employment. Therefore, all rights to sermons are reserved by the church (Hammar). Following Hammar’s counsel, Moody’s “Humanizing the Hooker” is a work made for hire, and Judson Memorial Church owns the copyright.

 Yet not everyone agrees with Hammar’s logic. The legal firm Yates & Yates, a “creative counsel for top-tier authors, artists, and creative organizations,” hosts a four part blog series on their website entitled “Who Owns the Pastor’s Sermon?” In part four, Matt Yates summarizes his argument that the sermon lies “outside the course and scope” of the pastor’s employment (Yates). According to Yates, by definition a sermon cannot be deemed intellectual property until “reduced to a reproducible medium” (Yates).  As many clergy deliver their lectures off the cuff and without a recorded component, the production of a sermon is not akin to the creation of intellectual property. Yates concludes that the scope of the pastor’s employment is to “preach, teach and lead the flock, not create intellectual property assets for the church to own and exploit” (Yates).

 Ultimately (and frustratingly) the slippery slope of copyright law provides no clear answer to my Moody dilemma. I for one don’t find Yates’ logic entirely convincing. But I am also troubled by the implications of Hammar’s conclusion. If we understand a sermon as a work for hire, then a minister who leaves her post at one church to work at another would retain no rights to her own creations. Anyone who has experienced the force and beauty of a well-composed sermon will find this lack of accreditation disconcerting.

 Time to open it up for debate – what do you think? Are sermons works for hire that belong to the church, or are they the intellectual property of their creators? Should this issue continue to be handled on the level of individual church policy, or should broader steps be taken to secure the rights of church employees?


Works Cited

 Hammar, Richard R. “Who Owns a Pastors Sermons?”  Christianity Today. 19 September 2011. Web. 28 October 2012.  < http://blog.managingyourchurch.com/2011/09/who_owns_a_pastors_sermons.html

“Works Made for Hire Under the 1976 Copyright Act.” United States Copyright Office. September 2012. Web. 28 October 2012. <http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ09.pdf>

Yates, Matt. “Who Owns the Pastor’s Sermon? Part 4.” Yates & Yates. 21 July 2012. Web.  28 October 2012. < http://yates2.com/blog/2011/07/who-owns-the-pastors-sermon-part-4/

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As the idea of a ‘digital humanities’ continues to gain popularity and currency, an increasing range of novel digital technologies are being applied to humanities-related research and education.

The New York Times recently reported on one new application developed to mine the database of billions of books scanned by Google. Developed by Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel, a software program searches Google’s database in search of large patterns in the development of language and ideas. In this way, the rise and fall of certain words in relation to each other can be shown.

Although fascinating and exciting on some levels, I can’t help wondering if the net result will truly become a rich source of new knowledge or if it will be yet another force discouraging the actual reading of books.

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About two decades ago, Margaret Hedstrom gave some suggestions about how to approach the reigning new technology of her day – electronic records. In order to more legitimately and proactively participate in the development of new technologies and the policies that govern them, archivists need to do more and better research, she warned.

Grounding her analysis of in the history of technology, Hedstrom advises researchers to avoid the extremes of both technological determinism and social determinism. Instead, researchers are advised to take the middle-ground ‘social construction of technology’ perspective, and she illustrates how very specific and productive research questions can be generated from within this perspective.

Hedstrom also has levels very serious criticisms against much of the research being undertaken by archivists at the time. She identifies a general lack of rigor in theory and method, which has produced findings of limited value.

It would be interesting to see how far archival science has come in the twenty years since the publication of Hedstrom’s warnings, especially in the context of a society and profession that have only become more intertwined with digital technologies.


Margaret Hedstrom, “Understanding Electronic Incunabula: A Framework for Research on Electronic Records,” American Archivist, 54 (Summer 1991), 334-354.

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I was fortunate enough, in my first semester of graduate school, to have both of my classes feature major research projects on the very area my school was located in—the historic Greenwich Village. The characters I came across in my own research were fairly incredible. Where should I start listing them? With the almost-presidential nominee whose company sank a boat that helped spur the panic of 1857? The group of rowdy artists who dressed absurdly and liked to make fun of their own creations? What about the indicted former bank mogul, or better, the star witness who had a heart attack and died on the stand at his trial? The outspoken 19th-century journalist who created the women’s club movement, and oh, happened to spend time in my hometown?

And that’s just my stuff. Looking at the exhibits going up on Omeka as I write this, it looks as though I’ll be learning about everything from writers to jails to speakeasies to squatters. The lists for the village, it seems, are never ending. And now as I walk around the Village, to class perhaps, or to Tompkins Square Park, to a neighborhood pub, or to the library, I’ll try to remember all of those who walked before me. It is their efforts to change the world in some way that have made the Village the historically-rich place it is today, and it is their stories that have educated and entertained me in the most wonderful way over the past four months.

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According to a Wall Street Journal article, Children’s Aid Society, which has served Greenwich Village since 1892, is yet another venerable institution looking to move out of the Village.

Children’s Aid, located on Sullivan Street, is a non-profit that runs nursery and early education programs for under served youth. When the society was opened in the late 19th-century, Greenwich Village was a burgeoning area of New York,  with the wealthy having left the area after the yellow fever scare had ended. But with the area’s recent gentrification, all that has changed.

As Children’s Aid President and CEO Richard Buery told the WSJ, “Our mission is to support low-income families in high-poverty communities and so we have to place our limited resources where the need is the greatest…we can reinvest the money from the sale of the Sullivan Street buildings into services in needier areas such as Harlem and the South Bronx.”

Buery’s assessment seems somewhat fair. The Greenwich Village of 2010 is filled with high rents and pricey shops, private houses and celebrity residents. Assessment aside, the situation is a tragic look at an ever-higher creeping cost of living. Longtime, lower-income residents are slowly pushed out every year as their rents rise and their resources vanish–to name a few recent examples, the community center Greenwich House closed in 1998, St. Vincent’s Hospital closed its doors this past year, and now, in the near future, the Children’s Aid Society may be moving out.

Sad news for Villagers to receive during the holidays.  Hopefully the Children’s Aid Society, wherever it ends up, will be able to continue to serve communities with its generous programs.

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Listing 5.1 on page 70 of SAMS Teach Yourself HTML and CSS in 24 Hours reveals the source code for a web page depicting a Dorothy Parker poem. The poem’s three stanzas are aligned diagonally across the page, while its title and author are centered above it.

The code uses internal attributes to realize this alignment; there is no necessity for the code to go search for alignment instructions on a style sheet. (Does code search? I have always found the anthropomorphisizing of technology disconcerting; the code doesn’t “want” to do anything.)

In the process of creating my sample unordered list, I used the “div” tag in order to center my main heading. The “div” tag is convenient in that it delineates a sub area of text to receive formatting. I then realized that I had other headings within the body of my document that I wanted centered but they were surrounded by alternating blocks of text that were left-aligned. I dreaded the task of adding a “div” tag every time – a clunky solution.

Thankfully I had designated each of these headings to the same tag, “h1,” so I just added a “text-align” tag to the code in my linked style sheet with the result that all the headings snapped in place.

I’m sure there’s a better way to do it but I was thrilled that it worked nonetheless.

All of this reminds me of a Steve Martin routine that pops into my head from time to time – plumber’s convention – it’s not on You Tube unfortunately.

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Pouring through the Squatters Rights collections at Tamiment, I have become immersed in 1980s East Village squatter culture and so I was amused to find this article in the New York Times Real Estate section:


The former enclave of squalid turmoil is now being trumpeted for its “seemingly endless supply of cafes, restaurants and bars. The block of St. Mark’s Place just west of the park has restaurants specializing in sushi, vegan food, crepes, Thai, hot dogs, hummus and dumplings, among others.”

The recent tumultuous decades of anti-gentrification protest are lightly summarized in this benign paragraph: “The neighborhood abounds in community gardens, often on vacant lots. Civic activism remains a popular pastime; the East Village Community Coalition is the most prominent group. Neighborhood campaigns in recent years included one to preserve St. Brigid’s Church, on Avenue B, that proved successful. Another, to stave off developers at a former public school and community center on East Ninth Street, remains unresolved.”

Civic activism remains a popular pastime? I’m not sure how Jerry “the Peddlar” Wade would react.

The state of the neighborhood is summed up in the subsection “What You’ll Pay”: [A Corcoran Real Estate agent explains that]…a typical price for a one-bedroom walk-up co-op unit near the park cost about $600,000. Two-bedrooms, which are rarer, trade at “a serious premium,” she said. So do units in the Christodora…The last four apartments there, she said, have sold for around $1,200 a square foot.”

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Appearing in this week’s New York Times Magazine is an article that takes an opposing view to the widespread notion that our generation’s attention spans are decreasing as our tie to technology is increasing. The author rejects the premise that attention spans can be altered by technology, arguing instead that we are each individually absorbed or bored with whichever activities are naturally appealing or unappealing. Another key point supposes that having a long intense attention span isn’t necessarily a benefit at all, and that possessing the ability to multi-task carries its own unique advantages. In the end, the author argues that an “attention span” is a figment of our modern imagination. The underlying concept here is that content and form function together as the driving force of attention. Even if we take attention span to be a myth, attention itself is very real. I think this applies to digital history in that we must make history in such a way as to attract the attention of as many people as possible from within our chosen audience. I think the central idea is to make history that is engaging, accessible, and visually attractive on the screen.



(Week 13 entry)

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This week I’d like to share an article from the Nov. 16, 2010 New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/17/arts/17digital.html?_r=1&src=tptw

The article smartly examines how the next big idea in the humanities is not really an idea at all, but rather a method. With so much data being produced and being made accessible, those in the digital humanities fields need new and better methods of data evaluation, data organization, and data accessibility. Other relevant topics the article touches on include mapping and digital archives.

(Week 12 entry)

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Such is the title of a November 14, 2010 article by New York Magazine, in which NYU President John Sexton’s plans to expand NYU are detailed. Writer Gabriel Sherman takes a fairly critical stance, but does offer both pro-development and dissenting viewpoints.

The article should be interesting to anyone in this class, as well as any of the master’s candidates in the NYU Archives and Public History program. As members of this program, we’re in a unique position. We work very closely with the Greenwich Village Historic Preservation Society, who form the main opposition to NYU’s expansion plan, and yet we are students at the offending institution. Where should our loyalties lie?

As Catherine pointed out in an earlier blog post, the Bohemian village of yore no longer exists today-struggling artists coming to New York now move to affordable neighborhoods like Bushwick. Yet it is still a beautifully preserved part of the city, and were NYU to get permission from the Landmarks Committee to build on a landmarked site (The plan to build a hotel near the I.M. Pei Silver towers has since been dropped), it would set a dangerous precedent.

On the other hand, controversy erupts with almost any significant new construction occurs in a city. Sherman points out that Village residents hated the Pei towers when they were first commissioned in the 1960’s, but the towers were awarded landmark status in 2008.

What say you, class? Should NYU curtail its expansion plans in the city? Should we accept construction and change as part of the natrural path of a major city? Will, as the article says, downtown become a college town?

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