Mental Mapping Bryn Mawr

Bryn Mawr Now: Cataloging Fever’ Strikes Student Organizations and (Re)constructing women: scaled portrayals of privilege and gender norms on campus made me stop and think for a second about how the two pieces were related….

Coming from my background as a traditional aged student who has lived (and will live) all four of my undergraduate years on the Bryn Mawr Campus, I was thinking about how my privileges have effected the space that I inhabit. How does my body navigate Bryn Mawr? The first thing I thought about was my physical ability- for the most part, I can get around BMC pretty well. I have access to most of the spaces on campus, and I can get around without help. But do I actively use all of the spaces that I can arguably get into? No- and that’s where our social stratification begins. The things that I chose to do/am given the ability to do on campus affects the spaces on campus that I view as ‘mine.’

I think about the spaces that I inhabit to be ‘mine’- that is, I feel a partial ownership for them. For example, being an HA, whenever I see trash on my hall I pick it up. It may not be my trash, but it’s ‘my’ space, which I feel responsible for. In opposition, I thought of the time when I was SGA secretary- I had access to the SGA Offices in the SGA House. I would go into the office space when I needed to get away and do work, but I also would occasionally feel like that space wasn’t ‘mine.’ Upon reflection, I think this is because only few students have the access to this space, and because of the limited access (although I had more accessibility to the space) I had less claim to the space. Communal space is founded on living together, and taking care of things together, whereas spaces that only support limited access by certain students are given as a privilege, which I know is a temporary space. This temporary space, to me, doesn’t feel like it’s mine, in contrast to a space that I have to share with a larger group of people. This expands my mental map of Bryn Mawr significantly, rather than spaces I am actually ‘in charge of’ or have ‘ownership’ of.

As I was teasing out this idea of space and my mental map of Bryn Mawr, I was also playing around with the idea of ownership. What does ownership mean in the context of a undergraduate narrative? One thing that I thought of was May Day gifts, which tied my thoughts back to “Bryn Mawr Now: Cataloging Fever’ Strikes Student Organizations.” Although student organizations have an interest in cataloging items such as books, the greater Bryn Mawr population contributes to a cataloging project that (I would argue) the vast majority of them don’t know that they are participating in- May Day Gifts. Each May Day gift comes with a list of the previous owners, and occasionally a little note with it. It is up to the owner to find a new owner who will hopefully pass on the item to another student, who will pass it on to another, and so on. Although this is a process that wasn’t addressed in the article, I still think that it has value in regards to our campus culture, and how we find value in such items.

Institutional Support and Resistance

While browsing the website of the History Truck, I was interested in the contradiction between the truck’s ideology and funding sources, a problem certainly not unique to it that plagues all non-profits. Currently in Philadelphia there is a huge campaign against Temple University’s new stadium which will further gentrify North Philadelphia. Community members and students are coming together to protest this, and I noticed that the truck held an event discussing the issue.

This is interesting because I wonder what the margins of acceptable opinion are for getting funding from Temple, and how the truck interacts with activist campaigns. Does it try to be non-partisan? This is kind of what the title and description suggests, but the free breakfast program folks are Black power activists and are included in this panel. I am curious as to what extent the non profit industrial complex impacts the truck and its actual ability to fulfill the mission of “Connecting neighbors who would have never built a relationship otherwise” and “Empower communities to work together to address issues within neighborhoods.” The truck seems like an inherently activist project according to its mission statement, but how that works in practice is always fraught. Can they directly support and tell the stories of anti-gentrification activists? How has gentrification affected the people who run the truck? A lot of times folks involved in historic preservation are also gentrifiers, as one can see in the history of Eastern State Penitentiary’s preservation. I am also interested in how the fire exhibit deals with the legacy of the MOVE bombing, and why they pick certain neighborhoods and subjects to visit and document.

The most interesting element of the truck for me is that it is a truck. Displaying history in motion is a really fascinating idea, because history moves and changes. In a museum environment it seems sterile and static. I also think the truck shows a real concern for the community, because by necessity it involves outreach and community relationships. It reminds me of library on wheels project, sort of. We talked a lot about the space of the archive, and how it changes the experience, but this is an even more dramatic space than Bob’s archive or the one I worked in. How do you tell stories in such a small space? How many people even fit into the truck? I can’t imagine too many, which makes it personal and intimate. Overall, the project seems really visionary and changes the experience of visiting a museum completely through both space and content, but I am skeptical of most non profits in practice and the truck is no exception.

Understanding Campus History: A Final Project Provocation

With Erin Bernard, March 2016.Monica's notes, 29 March.Mapping Chinatown North, 29 March.FullSizeRender











“I cannot assume that I have solved any problems by asking questions and listening…but I can say I am attempting to shift the type of resources that future historians have to understand this moment in time in Philadelphia.”

— Erin Bernard, “Of angels, doves, and oral history: Ethics and trucking in Philadelphia,” Art & the Public Sphere 4.1-2 (2015): 109.

What would it mean to replace “Philadelphia” in this sentence with “Bryn Mawr College,” and how might your projects reflect that?

Whose Story?

Professor Mercado and I spoke earlier this week about our upcoming visit to the Philadelphia History Truck and about other Philly based initiatives. I was explaining a story about the Gloria Casarez mural on 12th and Locust in which the Philly Mural Arts Program censored the design so as not to include the word dyke as a part of the “Philadelphia Dyke March” (PDM) banner featured in the mural. As a long time PDM activist (who maintains our organizational memory) it personally feels like an ESSENTIAL part of the recorded history of this mural. Professor Mercado casually mentioned the process of push and pull about what contextual information needs to be documented & where. Why do I feel like that needs to be documented while at the same time not having the organizational structure to maintain a public record?

The omission of “dyke” felt so important to me as Gloria’s vision for founding of PDM was as a radical collective who have reclaimed “dyke” for almost 20 years. But what if it only means something to me? What if the larger movement wouldn’t really gain much from adding half a letter on to a mural that is already a major accomplishment. Why am I so concerned? Am I just imagining that omissions like these are signals of the deep foundational injustice within my own LGBT community? I have been replaying this notion of irrelevance to the larger story over and over this week and the readings certainly spoke to my internal ethical dilemma. What if no one even notices the altered history of the mural. Who are you accountable to and what say do you really have when someone other org is funding your work? Public historians like Bernard seemed to often struggle with how to comfort and simultaneously empower change makers in the face of their invisible emotion work.

Gloria's Mural

Part of Gloria’s Mural edited post production to get ride of “Dyke March” Continue reading

Wall Text and Objects

In reading “Making Meaning from Things in History Museums” I found myself questioning a lot of the statements made about history museums. For instance, Schiavo citing Conn states, “Museums—some of them anyway—may not need objects anymore, but without objects we may miss the delights and surprises that come with looking.” I think many history museums actually find the objects in their collection central to the work that they do. Perhaps the objects do not drive the stated mission of the museum, but they often drive the work of the curators and general staff of the museums. Often, exhibitions or programs are designed because the museum staff has great pride in a particular item in the collection that they want to showcase to the public.

I did appreciate in this article the discussion of wall text. Last year, I worked to design an exhibition at Bryn Mawr. The majority of time spent in this class was writing and editing wall texts. I agree with this article that reading ideas on a wall is not as exciting as visually understanding concepts through object interaction, as an “object wall” facilitates (Schiavo 51). In my class, I was often the only one arguing for little (or no) wall text. I think that usually it is the case that those who love the research surrounding the objects assume that putting that research on the wall is best. They do not believe that without the “lengthy labels with didactic lessons” there is actually more room for meaning making. I think the audience is there at the museum for the objects, not really for the lengthy content. They can get that anywhere now with technology. The objects are what make the museum special. We are visual creatures who would rather be shown something than told it.

Haha Cultural Appropriation is still not okay?

In Of angels, doves and oral history by Erin Bernard, he says, “How can we grapple with our own aesthetic intentions and the needs of our community relations?” Which made me think about a conversation I had about the relationship between artists and cultural appropriation, which was prompted by the picture below.


The person I was having the conversation with was struggling with the idea of cultural appropriation being a bad thing in the context of art. She thought it was a shame that there were so many beautiful things in the world that artists should be able to use. She asked if an artist donated money to a cause relevant to what that artist was interested in, would it then be appropriate to appropriate their culture? My own personal belief is that the idea that the artist’s desire for a certain aesthetic over the legitimization that objects and symbols in culture have more value and importance than an outsider may know, comes from a misunderstanding of power and privilege. Which leads me to these pictures:


The first one is Tyra Banks from an America’s Next Top Model photo shoot, and the next is from a photo shoot that Kylie Jenner did for a magazine. Why they thought these photos would be appropriate, I don’t know. And though I doubt Kylie and Tyra were trying to make art that would for the purpose of preserving public history, I think this is a gross reminder that as artists entering somebody else’s community, there can be serious damage done if there is no care to do the art ethically and with respect and understanding. I believe Hayden talks about acknowledging power and structural inequality, but I believe the methods he speaks of, like body memory, can sometimes be used in questionable ways. Added with Schiavo’s idea of how to make meaning in museums, a lot of things could happen.

I had difficulties adding pictures to this post, so I had a friend help me out. After seeing the second picture of Kylie, she told me about a museum that she went to where one of the special exhibits they hosted was about disability. In order to see the exhibit, you had to be in a wheelchair. There were a lot of winding paths to take, and the idea was you would see how hard it was to be in a wheelchair. But, my friend pointed out, will that experience really show you how it’s like to be in a wheelchair for the rest of your life? Does sleeping outside for one night show you what it’s like to be homeless? (Tyra said she was inspired to do her photo shoot after she spent one night outside to see what it was like to be homeless. She says she now really understands.) However it is possible that experiences like these create more awareness, which is desirable. But is it worth it?

A quote from Hayden, “Citizens surveyed about history will often speak disparagingly of memorized dates, great men, “boring stuff from school” disconnected from their own lives, families, neighborhoods, and work.”, pg 45-46. Which made me write in the margins, “Is history that doesn’t serve to help people understand their own lives and lived experiences worthless?” Which brings us back to the question, who are we making history for? Is it for the people who are able to walk around exhibits and need to “experience” “oppression” in order to learn, or is if for the people who already know what that oppression feels like?

I’m pretty sure Hayden and Bernard would agree with me, so I don’t really know who I’m arguing against. But here we are.

Objects and Oral Histories

In “Object Lessons: Making Meaning from Things in History Museums”, Laura Burd Schiavo discusses the power of using objects to help people connect with history and experience wonder and discovery on their own terms, as opposed to having a meaning and narrative-driven text-based historical experience that “feels like work”.  In contrast, from what I could discern about Erin Bernard’s Philadelphia Public History Truck from the website and articles, the truck’s exhibits are driven primarily by oral histories–text and narrative–as opposed to objects, and yet the truck has a similar objective of helping people connect with history.  While of course I don’t think that objects and oral histories are mutually exclusive ways of facilitating a connection with history, and I think the best exhibits would ideally combine both, the different focuses of Schiavo and Bernard leave me wondering about the potentials and limitations of objects and oral histories for public history projects.  Schiavo talks about how objects can prompt a viewer to reflect on their own past history with that object and therefore facilitate connection, but oral histories are a way of prompting viewers who hear those histories to reflect on others’ pasts, which I think is at least an equally worthwhile goal–history should be about learning about others’ communities as well as our own.  How can objects be combined with text or narrative or oral history to facilitate both an individual and interpersonal connection with history?  Additionally, if an exhibit relies primarily on objects, is it leaving some people’s stories out, people who don’t access to creating or owning certain objects, or people whose objects aren’t preserved over time?  But if an exhibit relies primarily on oral histories, is it only showcasing the experiences of people who have access/ feel comfortable talking to the oral historian/ feel like their experiences are worthy of being recorded?  I’m looking forward to visiting Bernard’s Philadelphia Public History Truck on Tuesday and hearing more about her process–I think it’s a wonderful project and I’m curious to hear if and how she incorporates objects, and how she tries to reach as wide a swath of a community as possible when conducting oral histories.

United in Digital Activism

Last night, I attended the Tri-College NAACP’s annual gala and found myself relating the guest of honor, Professor Anthea Butler, of the University of Pennsylvania’s words to this class. Something that came up when I read Jarrett Drake’s piece for last week about starting an activist archive up at Princeton was that student activist narratives can be hard to come by if they haven’t actively been sought out. Even though student activism has been a powerful force in shaping the United States’ history and discourse around politics, the controversy surrounding activism can make it deemed unfit for the archives. There’s also controversy around what form the archiving of activism takes.

Professor Butler talked about the controversy surrounding the digital activism of the present, and how it has been unappreciated and devalued for its presence on the internet. Things like tweets with hashtags and Facebook posts have been ignored as relevant to activism or a social movement by many old-school activists and scholars who engage in activism due to the quotidien and seemingly simple nature of it all. The fact of the matter is though that activism is evolving to fit in (ironically) with the digital age. It makes sense then that it won’t take the traditional twists and turns that the public is used to seeing. Public planning and organizing isn’t necessarily happening in physical spaces, online spaces can be more accessible to wider amounts of people. Things like hashtags or group events for actions aren’t petty and mundane, they’re the keys to the way current social movements are running and paving the way. Hashtags have activated and elevated the Black Lives Matter Movement. If we as a public decide that hashtags are too trivial to catalogue, however, when documenting and archiving this as well as other current social movements, we’ll be leaving out a substantial piece of activist narratives and essentially silencing those who are the backbones of the movements. Activism has taken on a new form in the digital age, are archivists ready for this?

By the public, not just for the public

I was incredibly struck by Dolores Hayden’s descriptions of revolutionary changes in attitudes to public art, and the way it reflects the potential of future public history projects (including the History Truck). Hayden describes how previously public art has been defined as “art that is accessible to the public” but that now it is being recategorized as “art that has public content” (Hayden, 67-68). I appreciated Hayden describing these two sometimes conflicting meanings of the word public, especially because its a word we use so often in this class but haven’t had the chance to really challenge yet. Even though Hayden is specifically describing art, her point is much broader about combining accessibility with representation. Public art and history aren’t just for the public, they’re about the public.

I’ve been thinking about public art a lot lately because of a discussion that I’ve seen online about the incredibly racist paintings in the Minnesota state capitol back home (, for those of you who want to know more. there’s also an online petition that has very few signatures but was written by a great organization that should get a lot more love). Until reading Hayden, I never really broke down the idea of public art in general, and her terminology and definitions are helpful for me in thinking about the various ways that the current public art in the capitol is not serving the people it’s meant to be for. Right now the art in the MN state capitol is accessible to the public, but the white supremacist content means that art isn’t really public.

The Philadelphia Public History Truck is attempting to be both accessible to the public and with public content. More than that, it is also trying to be publicly created and curated, going a step beyond even Hayden’s definition to be by the public, not just for and about them.  This seems very ambitious, but it’s also a exciting way to move forward. Can we take this attitude into discussions of things like the art in the MN state capitol? When replacing the current paintings, can the new works go even further and be not just accessible to the public, about the public, but also by the public?

Recent History and Ancient History

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

I was incredibly taken with the art done by Edgar Heap of Birds, mentioned in Hayden’s reading. The idea behind his work is to force the viewer to focus on the sign by grabbing their attention with backwards letters, and then to remind them that the land we all stand on is not ours but belonged to a native tribe. He’s done work all over the place– my quick search turned up examples done in Oregon, California, and my home state, Illinois.

We’ve seen other ways that you can bring Native Americans into conversation in everyday discussions: namely, Dean Spade’s insistence on first recounting the history of the land he’s speaking on, regardless of whether or not others would deem it “relevant” to his talks. But how would this look when we apply it to a project like Erin Bernard’s?

The premise behind the Philadelphia History Truck (which, I should say, I think is an absolutely brilliant project) is that the stories within current communities of Philadelphia matter. But on some level, that limits us to the span of human memory. How do projects like this take into account the history from an era before any living person can remember?

Sometimes the landscape itself will help solve this problem. My grandfather, for example, grew up in Germantown and can remember the buildings that had bullet holes left over from the Revolutionary War dotting the landscape that he played in as a child. In moments like that, oral history can lead to an investigation of an earlier period. It is easy to say that a community member remembers physical evidence and use that as a jumping point to get to the archives and to layer multiple stories on top of each other. But what do you do in the case of Native Americans, where the evidence of the people who lived here before us has been almost completely wiped off the map? How do you tell that story? Should you tell that story, or is the History Truck not the place? Is it too much of a burden to place upon the shoulders of an already beleaguered community? And who gets to decide?

I don’t have answers to any of those questions (though I welcome yours!). But I do think we have a moral obligation to consider the problems they pose, particularly in the case of Native Americans, and I wonder how projects like Erin Bernard’s can be grafted to show multiple layers of history at once.