Dead History?

Many people have mentioned the sign commemorating the summer school near admissions, which is also how I found out about it.  It is interesting to me that while that sign is there commemorating it, very few people talk about the summer school or the significance of it.  I think maybe part of it is that many people (especially domestic students) aren’t as familiar with the context surrounding workers, strikes, and immigration during this period in the U.S. As a result, the fact that there was a summer school for women workers held on Bryn Mawr’s campus loses significance. It wasn’t until recently in one of my other classes about tourism, that I personally learned more about American labor movements in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Most of my classmates in a class of 20-25 students also did not know about this history.  This leads me to ask what then can be done to remedy the archival gaps and gaps in knowledge so that our campus history can be told in such a way as to give voice to groups that are typically silenced?  The online exhibition is a step in the right direction (and I enjoyed it), but I think that sort of medium typically attracts people who are already interested in history and campus memory to a certain extent. How do we engage with other audiences who in all probability would be interested in this history if it was presented to them in an interesting manner?

The sign is another medium with which to tell the story of the women workers at Bryn Mawr and reminds me of a conversation that I had with one of the librarians at the Barnes Foundation (which I went to for a project for the aforementioned tourism class) in which she told me about how many visitors that come to the Barnes are frustrated because there are no informational plaques next to the art.  She referred to these plaques as “tombstones” and talked about them in the wider context of what people expect to experience in a museum. Namely that they expect to be able to go through an exhibit and read the plaques and then leave (her description). I think some of these expectations are very similar to what people expect history to look like. Some of these expectations I believe result in a static experience when I think that art and history should be experienced in a dynamic and multifaceted way because they are living disciplines.  In light of that conversation, I now think that commemorative signs like the one for the summer school can sometimes be “tombstones” because they more often than not just serve as a dull marker for fascinating events.

2 thoughts on “Dead History?

  1. Also the fact that we sing Bread and Roses, but we talk about it as a senior song instead of a song about labor (But also I think Bread and Roses can still be relevant to us even though most of us aren’t a part of the labor movement, but I’m sure the meaning and importance is very different.) I’m curious if the women of the summer school started singing Bread and Roses because of the traditional Bryn Mawr Students or if the traditional students got it from the Summer school students.

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