Recordings of Brandeis alumnus given to archives

September 20, 2019

Brandeis alum and activist Abbot “Abbie” Hoffman ’59 may have been a prominent protestor against the Vietnam war in the 1960s, but his work went largely undocumented in the Brandeis Archives. That was until August 2018 when a Brandeis University archivist was offered hours of audio tapes featuring Hoffman. 

Hoffman was a self-proclaimed “activist and social organizer” who was involved in various social movements from the ’60’s to the time of his death in 1989. He had an active voice in the Civil Rights Movement and protested against the Vietnam War and corruption in American politics. 

Hoffman was also the founder of the Youth International Party—an American radical youth group which fought for free speech and anti-war movements in the 1960s. For as much change as Hoffman sought, however, there were very few documents regarding him in the Brandeis Archives in the Robert D. Farber Library Archives and Special Collections where his photo hangs in tribute to his work. 

This changed in August 2018 when Maggie McNeely, Brandeis University’s archivist, was offered hours worth of reel to reel audio—a form of tape recording—and casket tapes featuring Hoffman and secondary accounts of him and his work. 

The tapes were recorded by Stuart Hutchinson, a friend of Hoffman and a broadcaster who was also involved in social activist movements. These recordings consist of one-on-one conversations between Hoffman and Hutchinson as well as a four part miniseries titled “Dear Abbie,” which was made by Hutchinson as a tribute to Hoffman after his suicide in 1989, according to McNeely. Much of the material that now sits in the university’s archives was likely never heard by the public, McNeely said. 

“It’s mysterious. We don’t really know what we have,” McNeely continued.  

Keith Armonaitis, who had been in possession of the materials since Hutchinson’s death in 2012, offered these tapes to McNeely. Armonaitis and Hutchinson met after their involvement in the movement to impeach former President George W. Bush, according to a BrandeisNOW article released regarding the tapes. Armonaitis said that he decided to pass the ownership of these recordings to the university after learning of Hoffman’s wish for his personal materials to return to Brandeis after his passing.

The process for preserving these tapes and making them available to the public is quite tedious, McNeely said.

“AVs can be really intimidating. It takes a lot of time to go through them,” McNeely said. 

After Armonaitis donated the tapes last year, the university had to select which tapes would undergo digitalization first. The university eventually decided upon the four part “Dear Abbie” series, seeing as it pertains most to Hoffman and his legacy. The reel to reel audio was packaged and sent out to be digitized. It’s a risk having these reels digitized because the university doesn’t know what will be on them, if anything, or if they are still intact. 

“There’s a risk in everything you do. You just hope it ships well and processes,” McNeely said. 

The university also had to secure copyright of the material to be shared publicly so that it could be made available via streaming online rather than having to visit the archives in person and listen to the tapes there, McNeely said. Both Hutchinson’s widow and Armonaitis granted the university permission to publicly share these documents via streaming services. 

“Getting it out as soon as possible is really important,” McNeely said. “I know people will be interested,” McKneely continued, “Student activism is one of the most visited collections in the archives.”

Currently, the archivists are testing a new system where they could potentially share digitized archives as an alternative to sharing through the Brandeis Institutional Repository. The hope is to have these recordings be available online on either platform by early next semester, McNeely said, starting with the “Dear Abbie” series.

Currently the archive team is going through the digitized footage to create “broad strokes,” which sum up the footage that will be made available to the public along with the recordings themselves, said McKeely. Though the material is not yet available online, it can be accessed in the archives section of the Farber Library. 

Making these tapes publicly available is giving both Hoffman and Hutchinson’s work a second life, where students can trace back the roots of activism in the university’s alumni.

Menu Title