Given By President Thomas: Legacies of Power in the Library Collection

Bookplate from PR85 .P22 1894

Bookplate, PR85 .P22 1894, Canaday Library, Bryn Mawr College.

My project began while I was making the Bryn Mawr history survey last month. I work at Carpenter Library and (until recently) Canaday, and I spent a lot of time looking at the books in the library collection. As you probably know, we have a lot of older books dating to the college’s founding and before, and many of these books have elaborate bookplates detailing the history of their donation. These books and their bookplates said a lot about the college’s history, and the types of things that have been memorialized.

My interest was especially sparked by the earliest books to enter the Bryn Mawr Collection, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Given the current campaign to rename Thomas Hall, I thought it was important to address the other ways that M. Carey Thomas is memorialized at Bryn Mawr and the many ways her legacy continues to shape the school. Although we may never open either of the two books I’m showing here (or the hundreds like them), her legacy is absolutely everywhere, from bookplates to the one above, books formerly in the Deanery library, to books like the one below that were procured by Mary Garrett. This school clearly needs to have a conversation about her and the oppression on which Bryn Mawr was built, and I want to make these books a part of that conversation.

Bookplate from PA3952 .S3 V.1 in Canaday

Bookplate, PA3952 .S3 V.1, Carpenter Library, Bryn Mawr College.

These books and bookplates present a lot of complexities about campus memory and public history. They are in a strange place between public and private — closed within books that are exclusively accessible to people within the college community, but also meant to be handled by generations of students.

I wanted to focus on bringing them into the open, not just to show previously hidden aspects of our history but also complicate our relationships with objects that we take for granted.

As was obvious from last class, I care a lot about the materiality of objects and their historical importance, and I think these books have a lot of value because they reveal something about the way that power structures and painful histories (including M. Carey Thomas’s legacy of white supremacy) shape the types objects that we interact with everyday. None of this presents a solution, or even addresses what my project would be. Really I just want a space to have these types of conversations, and realize the ways that money and power impact things like book buying policies.

A few years ago Haverford did an exhibit about the early library collection (link) and I’m thinking along those lines, but I want something that will more directly address Thomas’s legacy and the founding of the college as it relates to books and the library.

Bryn Mawr’s Legacy in Primary Education

For years, I have been fascinated by the connection Bryn Mawr has as a college with its neighboring primary/secondary schools. Both the Baldwin School and the Shipley School were started with the promise of preparing and sending their graduates to Bryn Mawr College for an education of a lifetime. There are traditions and academic philosophies of Bryn Mawr that both preparatory schools adopted in the hopes of not only mimicking Bryn Mawr, but embodying it. These practices not only shaped these schools in many ways, they also managed to stick in ways that they didn’t at Bryn Mawr or conversely fall to the wayside in ways that haven’t occurred at Bryn Mawr.

"Photography by"

Baldwin School Marching-In Dinner Blazer, 2015

Bryn Mawr College Blazer #2

Vintage Bryn Mawr College Blazer

I am proposing a project that explores the links and ties that Bryn Mawr has historically had to Baldwin and Shipley, displaying the history between the three institutions as well as the significance of Bryn Mawr’s influence on these schools that still display aspects of Bryn Mawr’s history that Bryn Mawr itself has lost. I would like to do this by highlighting the traditions of Baldwin’s Ring Day (where 10th graders receive their class rings), the Marching-In Dinner (where 11th graders receive their class blazers in colors that mirror Bryn Mawr’s class colors), the 12th graders ringing of the school’s bell/gong upon graduation, Banner Day (where the 9th graders come up with a banner to represent their class year), the creation of class songs during students’ time at Baldwin, and the donning of white dresses by students during special occasions including graduation. Additionally, I would like to examine the traditions that Baldwin has developed in its own time as a school and determine whether or not those traditions were influenced by the school’s decision to become a day school. In the case of Shipley, there is hardly any evidence in its public presentation that it was ever a girls boarding school, much less a feeder school to Bryn Mawr. Keeping this in mind, I would like to explore the history of the Shipley School, its original philosophy and mission, and determine the impact that the school’s decision to become a coed non-boarding college preparatory school has had on its mission statement, persona, and acknowledgment (or lack thereof) as a former all-girls school with traditions. From there, Shipley and Baldwin can be compared and contrasted in their decisions to go coed and stay single sex respectively, and how those decisions have impacted their ties to Bryn Mawr physically and philosophically.

Ringing the Bell Baldwin

Commencement Reception & Bell Ringing at Baldwin School, 2015

In terms of implementation, I am envisioning  a physical exhibit at Bryn Mawr that displays the history between the three schools. Due to Baldwin and Shipley’s close proximity yet younger environment age-wise, I would like to put on smaller-scale exhibits in each school that would be mainly for members of those schools’ communities as opposed to the general public. It would be great if they had a hands-on, interactive quality to them. Ideally, I would like to establish a walking tour that goes to historically significant spaces on each school’s campus in regards to traditions, such as the Cloisters and Taylor Bell on Bryn Mawr’s campus, and crafts a narrative between the schools. If there was time and resources, I would work with Bryn Mawr Special Collections and the historians at Shipley and Baldwin to craft an online exhibit, similar to Black at Bryn Mawr, and an archival collection that could be used to compile facts and photos of relevant articles from the three schools. Also, I would interview Provost Osirim, an alum and Board of Trustees member at Baldwin, for an anecdotal look into Baldwin and her opinion on how it compares to Bryn Mawr. I would contact the Shipley School to see if they have anyone currently working there or any alumni who attended Bryn Mawr as well who could speak to their experience at both schools.




From the Classifieds: Bryn Mawr through the War Years (1939 to 1945)

My project is directed at those who are interested in understand who BMC is understood by people who have never gone here, historically. By looking at those who placed ads in the college news, we can see how perceptions of BMC students changed as WW2 progressed:

  • If I could design any way to create this project I would make it a mixed art and history show piece, because I believe there is an inescapable connect between ads and art.
  • This would be a showcase the people who are entered in WWII, Bryn Mawr, Newspapers, Art, or just generally curious could come and enjoy this.

Continue reading

The Flower Petal Project

Below is a photo that I took of one of my favorite hobbies- drying flowers. I have always collected and dried/pressed flowers when a significant event in my life has taken place. These flowers are a physical representation to me of my memories, good or bad. By creating an activist project that focuses on claiming physical space in order to become visible with experiences of harm, I hope to draw on my own personal feelings on the importance of physicality with memory, erasure, forgetting, and healing.
Angela Motte

I am a firm believer in the importance of bringing to light erasure in history, especially if the group of people who are being silenced are oppressed by the mainstream culture. Tying together activism and history is a large part of why I plan to pursue history in other forms of higher education. I am a believer in restorative justice, and closure through group organization. One of the projects I am working on at Bryn Mawr is a new organization on campus- Students Against Sexual Harm (S.A.S.H.). Although this group is new, I have found that students have a deep connection to this topic. Whether students were themselves sexually harmed, or if someone knows of a student who has experienced harm, it is a difficult topic to navigate because of the content. I feel that because of this, students have not been given the space to bring to light experiences that they have had. As Bryn Mawr is a historically women’s college, our undergraduate experiences with sexual harm tend to be overlooked because it is assumed that ‘girls won’t do that,’ or that ‘those things only happen at co-educational schools.’ I want to combine a public history project with a healing experience for students who feel that they need a space of memory on campus. I feel that the public history project brings about real and significant change if it creates a voice for an underrepresented subject that is intrinsically influential to our student body.

This project relates to public history because it deals with memories of the community. My intended participants is the students of Bryn Mawr College, although the viewers would be the public at large. This project would trace the history of sexual harm on Bryn Mawr’s campus, dating back to The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act), or earlier, depending on the cases. It would also address the history of sexual harm on campus, and the legislature that followed to protect students. I would additionally trace the specific actions that Bryn Mawr has taken to combat sexual harm. Continue reading

Proposal for Interpretive Labelling for Every Object in Canaday

As Monica mentioned in class, my project has had a slightly different trajectory than most. I came into this class in January with an idea of what I wanted to propose, something that was born from my senior thesis and the protests at various universities (including our own) that occurred this past November.

The specific impetus of my idea was the removal of the bust of Woodrow Wilson that previously sat (stood? was stationed?) on the first floor of Canaday Library. It had disappeared with no explanation sometime in late November or early December, and while I could only assume its removal had something to do with the protests regarding Wilson’s legacy at Princeton, it took me until mid-January to get an explanation of the specific situation that led to its removal.

I was frustrated by the bust’s removal because I felt, particularly in opposition with the laudatory sign about Wilson that stands behind Denbigh, that this bust would have offered us a chance to challenge Wilson’s legacy, rather than avoiding or denying it, by labelling the bust with details about Wilson’s life and the problematic agenda he advanced. As the petition to rename Thomas Hall began to circulate, I started to wonder whether a plaque of some sort could also be attached to M. Carey Thomas’s bust on the third floor of Canaday to a similar purpose of problematizing her legacy. Wandering around Canaday also made me realize that any number of the items on display– busts, artwork, you name it– is unlabelled, leaving students with no understanding of who these people or what these artifacts are, and why they matter to the College.

So, in a paragraph, the proposal I submitted to Canaday was: “This proposal recommends that the Bryn Mawr College Library & Information Technology Services provides interpretive labelling for all artifacts currently or recently on display in Canaday Library. It provides a survey of what Canaday’s current layout is and contrasts it with the labelling system used in Carpenter Library. Furthermore, it offers two examples with suggested label texts: one bust currently on display and one that was recently removed, with research done on the people they depict and the history of the artifacts. The proposal argues that such an undertaking would offer members of the Bryn Mawr community—staff, students, and faculty alike—a chance to more fully engage with the history of the College.”

For my sample labels, I drafted descriptions that could go next to the M. Carey Thomas bust and where the Woodrow Wilson bust once was. I submitted the proposal two weeks ago, and have a plan to meet with the library about it at the end of the month. Also included in the proposal were photographs of various unlabelled artifacts around Canaday, including one of the shelf on the Canaday A floor that used to host President Wilson. There are still scratch marks on that bookshelf, because the bust is quite heavy and there was some trouble moving it. This is the image I chose to represent my project, because it speaks to the absence of historical explanation, and to the fact that while we may not want to acknowledge it, traces of history remain all over campus.

WW Remnants

Wilson, Emotions, & History

I know this is blog is later than necessary but before we met I wanted to get some thoughts out. At first I thought this weeks readings were disconnected and struggled to draw clear conclusions between them. I spent a few days thinking about Fred Wilson’s exhibit and was hit with an answer finally when scrolling through my facebook feed I saw this:

Screenshot 2016-04-19 11.51.10

The caption reads “No this is not a rock concert, this is a Bernie Sander’s rally in New York & no media coverage”.

This is not New York, this is Paris. More specifically this is Place de la Republique on the day two million people gathered together after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Place de la Republique is also where the November attacks took place and the central statue in upper left corner of the picture has functioned for over a year as a memorial to the victims of these attacks. Just past the statue is my partner’s apartment where he (and I on FT) listened to the sounds of terror that November night. When I last visited Paris a few weeks ago, I saw the physical transformation of the square from a place of community into a quiet place of shared grief. How does this relate to archives & public history? I’m getting there, bear with me.

Around the monument were tons of pictures, cards, drawings, poems, and biographies of the victims. The sight was so harrowing for me that I couldn’t speak let alone take a picture. The stories of the Parisians whos grief I share and who could have been my love were overwhelming and I felt them. While laying my rose at her feet, I asked my partner what was to become of all of these things, who does this memorial belong to? Without blinking he said “to the Paris archives of course”. And with that, my fears were calmed and my raw emotion was transformed into a history that I felt was going to be kept safe.

So back to Bernie (or really his supporters)… when I saw this picture I was struck with pain and anger. How dare someone take an image of shared grief and appropriate it to fit a narrative of cultural & societal erasure? I was so hurt and so was Salman. He was shaking his head and I was trying to reason with the uncontrollable hurt but I when I closed my eyes all I could see was Wilson’s whipping post and chairs. I immediately realized that what hurt so much was that I had transformed my own personal pain into a manageable burn by thinking of it as a shared, safely kept history. I soon realized that all the readings this week have to do with emotion. The emotion that Wilson felt curating, the emotions he aimed to illicit by illuminating pain that was never safely kept or allowed to be shared, even the emotional connection that Thigpen created with Mary by guarding her personal history and telling her story.

Though I still dont have concrete ideas about what academic conclusions I can draw from the readings, I am certainly happy I was able to contextualize the pain from that meme and realize how minimal my experience of erasure was in comparison to the thousands of years other’s have had to endure in silence.


Paris terror attacks 830433-repu

Whose history is objective?/ Ugh, Fred Wilson is so smart….

One of the most striking images from Fred Wilson’s exhibit, “Mining the Museum,” was the empty pedestals for Benjamin Banneker, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass. It’s amazing to me how Wilson carved out silence, and made erasure visible. He made the process of erasure visible also, as he juxtaposed the empty pedestals with the busts of Henry Clay, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Andrew Jackson. He makes it clear that erasure does not simply mean not including or honoring the history of African-Americans. Rather, it is the honoring of white heroes at the expense of African-Americans. Similarly, in the staging of the silver and the slave-shackles, Wilson forces the viewer to put these objects in conversation with one another. Wilson disallows the viewer from seeing these histories of labor as separate from each other. Wilson is able to do this because he curates from a particular point of view, which is his personal history. I love his work because he demonstrates that “objective” is negotiable. There is this notion that museums are objective, but when Wilson curates from his personal history, he illustrates that his perspective is true and trustworthy, also.

I loved the visitor’s handout that accompanied the exhibit, also. In particular, I appreciated the questions, “For whom was it created? For whom does it exist? Who is doing the telling? The hearing” and “Where are you?” The questions about storytelling and audience made me think about Memorial Mania and the question of who the memorials are supposed to help grieve, and whose healing they’re intended to facilitate. I appreciated the question, “Where are you,” because it demonstrated an understanding that the exhibit would not only reach across time, but across space, as well.

What were you taught about it?

I really enjoyed the “Mining the Museum” exhibition and like Sophie, it reminded me of the History Truck and the exhibits that Erin created. (Was this the artist that she mentioned being inspired by?) I loved the thoughtful juxtaposition utilized throughout and the mixed media (period chairs, paintings, shackles, busts) which resulted in a rich, stunning exhibition. I wish there had been pictures of the eventual exhibit on Mary Richardson Walker, because I am curious as to how they decided to organize it and how the text they probably created framed her story. I am really interested if they mentioned that certain parts of her diary were not to be read by anyone save a close friend or relative.

I am not very surprised by the negative comments surrounding Fred Wilson’s exhibit considering the lack of public education about slavery. In Exploring History today we talked about American memory surrounding slavery. In the articles we read there was a general consensus that public schools generally don’t teach slavery in a critical way and that very few Americans have an accurate view of the scope or horrific nature of it. With this in mind, I think that Wilson’s exhibit did a wonderful job of confronting these preconceived notions in a powerful way by using artifacts and objects from the period. The questions posted in the elevator were appropriate for all viewers regardless of background and served as a good general guidelines honestly applicable to engaging critically with museum exhibits.  From the point of the individual viewer contextualizing and understanding how history is produced, I think the question “What were you taught about it?” a helpful question and maybe one that should be added.  Encouraging visitors to specifically situate their reactions and experiences into their existing structures of understanding, I think is important and necessary when making historical interventions.

Fred Wilson and Montage

The work of Fred Wilson seems to me like the three-dimensional equivalent to Eisenstein’s theories of montage. Montage, according to Eisenstein, is the juxtaposition of two or more images that are in conflict. One type of montage is idea-associative montage, in which two shots clashed together give way to another meaning, focused on an individual person or object. The conflict of the shots gives meaning. Though these two methods of creating meaning from clashing objects are similar, the point at which they diverse is not merely spatial.

Kenneth Haltman states “the longer and harder one looks, the better one sees; the better one sees, the subtler the connections one finds oneself able to make” (Haltman 5). The ability to look closely and look back is what makes Wilson’s work so successful in reexamining artifacts. Michael Baxandall, who is mentioned in Haltman’s essay, once wrote, “what I want to lay emphasis on is that the viewer, moving about the space between object and label, is highly active. He is not a passive subject for instruction.” This is what Wilson’s work and any successful museum does is make the viewer an active participant in the narrative being constructed. Haltman labels the actions of the viewer “intellectual detective work” in which we “see articulation and deduce patterns of use; we see interaction and deduce relationship; we see expression and deduce reception” (Haltman 5). In Mining the Museum this detective work comes from the juxtaposition of historical objects which make us reconsider what their purpose was and is today.

Haltman also allows us to consider the feeling of polarities as a metaphor. Wilson realizes this idea in his work as does Eisenstein in his use of montage. Wilson also speaks to polarities making for more complex understanding in this video on beauty and ugliness.

Historical Expectations vs. Reality

While Thigpen’s research into the life of Mary Walker is fascinating, it seems slightly odd that she was so surprised to discover Mary’s more “conventional” side. As a 21st century historian with access to Mary’s writings – which she read before examining her personal affects – Thigpen began her relationship with Mary with more information than Mary’s contemporaries would have had. A 19th century individual who was not already Mary’s “near and intimate friend” would never have seen the diaries in which she expressed her dissatisfaction with domestic tasks. Mary seems to have hardly wanted her deepest feelings to be made public, even requesting that one diary be burned rather than be read by a stranger. Instead, she would have made her first impression using the very things that Thigpen found surprising: her clothing, her ability to perform household activities, and so on. There was never a reason to assume that Mary did not sew or dress like other women of her status simply because she did not write as much in her journals. On the contrary, such things were so commonplace in the 19th century that Mary probably did not think they merited a detailed description. While a dress and a thimble do not seem to reflect Mary’s primary interests as much as her writings do, her contemporaries would have found these writings far more indicative of Mary’s “complexity” than the fact that she sewed and raised children. We in the 21st century are always looking for historical figures to stand outside the conventions of their time (hence the popularity of the “Edith-Anne” sampler), but to what extent are we framing history according to what we hope to find in it? Although it is important to consider Mary Walker as an individual rather than simply a product of her time, it would be equally unwise to let 21st century expectations separate her from her historical surroundings.