As I was reading the digital exhibit for the Summer School I realized how important it is to have context for the things we find in archives. Thinking about the racist past of Bryn Mawr, it was hard to look at the exhibit and not yearn to see more/any African Americans. And I was like, “of course Bryn Mawr is slacking again!” But also I wanted to appreciate what a big impact this must have had, considering access to education was so different back then and the perception of European immigrants was also very different.
This reminds me of last semester in Social Theory, which is a super intense crash course in the theories of the first major theorists of sociology, when our lovely TA provided context as to why all these theorists were writing about religion in the way that they did. And the context provided helped us remember that in the 1900s in Europe, Jews and Christians were considered to be of different races. There was a student in the class who tried to compare it to the struggle that Black people faced at the same time, which was not only offensive but also unnecessary. Which I don’t say to put that student on spotlight but to say that even without that comparison, I understood the situation, and don’t think that putting things in context needs to be complex or long or a book, but can be very simple and quick. What our TA said could not have been more than a paragraph but it put everything in perspective and helped my comprehension so much. And I think in the case of archives this helps us get the most of the material that we’re looking at!