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The oldest public collection of radical history completed a digital archive of over 2,000 posters. The Joseph A. Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan Library announced this month that its posters on anarchism, civil liberties, feminism, labor, and other political movements are online for the first time.
“It’s not enough for us to preserve the artifact if people cannot see it,” Julie Herrada, Labadie Collection curator, told Hyperallergic. “Posters are a difficult format because they are fragile and can only withstand so much physical handling, so providing access to these materials while keeping them safe is a complicated process, or it was, until the technology and resources became more readily available to us.”
While all of the posters were scanned at high resolution, they appear online as thumbnails with navigation to zoom. The posters are just a portion of the material in the Labadie Collection, which includes pamphlets, journals, political buttons, and other ephemera, some of which is also in the library’s digital collections. The collection’s strongest holdings are in anarchism, and go back to founder Joseph A. Labadie. The Detroit-area labor organizer, anarchist, and author had the idea for the social protest archive at the university in 1911.
“He knew the importance of these materials and wanted people to use them and learn from them,” Herrada explained. “Since that time we have honored the tradition of collecting and providing access to materials that document ‘history from below’ and fill in the missing stories of our past.”
Many of the posters are visually striking: a 1988 poster for a Toronto “Anarchist Unconvention” has ladies reminiscent of Matisse’s “The Dance” turning around cracking columns; a 1982 March for Peace & Justice poster in New York features colorful legs of different people emerging from a white dove; and a 1996 Boston rally poster to defend rent control has raised fists illustrated as apartment buildings.
The collection moves from one political extreme to the other, from French anarchists proclaiming: “Worse than Hitler, Stalin, and Franco: the Nuclear,” to Industrial Workers of the World attacking the Ku Klux Klan. With material going back to the early 20th century and spanning to today, it’s an essential public archive on radical history around the world, and now it’s finally available to that global audience.
View the digitized posters from the Labadie Collection online at the University of Michigan.