Forty years ago the University of Baltimore established the Baltimore Regional Institution Studies Center, a repository of the history of modern Baltimore as chronicled in the records of institutions and memories of individuals. Working out of old Howard Hall, BRISC spent the next dozen years gathering archives which today reside in Langsdale Library’s Special Collections.
The founder of BRISC, Sociology Prof. W.Theodore Dürr, became an advocate for archives preaching to many urban institutions which had never considered the fate of their records that “good efficient records handling constitutes not only good procedures for any organization but also prepares the way for good history.” By 1976, the Center had acquired records of many of the city’s foremost institutions, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Baltimore Committee, the Citizen’s Planning & Housing Association and twenty others.
BRISC’s Associate Director, Langsdale Library’s Adele Newburger, attested to the use of records after they were made available in the BRISC Archives:
First is the academic researcher, “perhaps a doctoral candidate. This person might dig through all the records dated 1929 from the United Fund, the Association of Commerce and the Maryland Council of Churches, to study the immediate impact of the stock market crash on Baltimore.
Second is the institutional researcher, often from “the organization that has deposited its materials with us – using its own records to write the history of its organization.”
Third is the individual researcher with specific questions ranging from the findings of commissions on Criminal Justice or on Government Efficiency and Economy to the details of architectural drawings and specifications. (University of Baltimore Newsmagazine, Fall 1976)
From 1977 to 1980 under the auspices of BRISC, partnering with city agencies and community groups, the Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project conducted oral history interviews with residents of seven city neighborhoods and workers at the Port of Baltimore. The oral history project led to a theater production in cooperation with the Baltimore Theater Project, Baltimore Voices, which was presented in about three dozen venues throughout the city. It also led to a book, Baltimore People, Baltimore Places.
All of these projects depended on grant money from agencies like the National Foundation for the Arts & Humanities, however, and funding from those sources dried up in the 1980s. As a result, BRISC ended its work and closed the archives in old Howard Hall, which the university sold to neighboring Maryland General Hospital. (The city acquired the building in 1998 and it is today the Eubie Blake Cultural Center and National Jazz Institute.)
The BRISC archives were dispersed to storage in various spaces around campus, including a sub-basement of the Lyric Opera House, before gradually migrating to Langsdale. Here, they joined many related collections, beginning with that of WMAR-TV News, which arrived in 1984, and continuing through to the fruits of the Baltimore ’68: Riots and Rebirth Conference which marked forty years after the 1968 Baltimore Riots. Forty years after the founding of BRISC, in Langsdale Library as in Howard Hall, archives are made available to address the needs of the academic, the institutional and the individual researcher.