Rugby, Women’s Athleticism, and Institutionalization at Bryn Mawr

I am using my thesis on the Horned Toads, the Bryn Mawr-Haverford women’s rugby team, as a starting point for this project.  For my thesis, I have interviewed 16 current and former Horned Toads players about their experiences, had informal conversations with the current athletics director and head athletic trainer about their experiences working with the team, and researched the team’s history in the Bryn Mawr College archives.  However, at the end of the day, all of this research putting together a history that isn’t comprehensively documented anywhere else isn’t going to be seen by many people–just me, my advisor and second reader, and whoever I choose to send it to.  I think, though, that the history of the Horned Toads is a relevant history for Bryn Mawr College to grapple with publicly.  Even though most students don’t play on the Horned Toads, the team has been prominent in Bryn Mawr culture throughout most of its history (arguably up until about the time any of us started at Bryn Mawr), to the point where one of my interviewees from the late 2000s said that Bryn Mawr during her time there had three social institutions: Radnor, the Pems, and rugby.  Additionally, thinking about the history of the Horned Toads as a case study is a valuable way to interrogate larger questions that I think are relevant for Bryn Mawr’s campus history.  First, I think it’s important to think about the role of athletics at our DIII women’s college, where athletics often receive little attention.  What can be gained from centering an often-silenced part of Bryn Mawr’s history?  Additionally, what does looking at the history of rugby at Bryn Mawr illuminate about larger ideas about women and sports?  Second, I think that looking at the history of the rugby team is a valuable way to get at questions of the tensions between what I’ve begun to term student agency and administrative oversight.  The Horned Toads’ history, as I find in my thesis research, has been defined by two main trends–desiring and actively working for greater institutionalization into the athletics department, and resisting restrictions put upon the team by the athletics department.  What can understanding the history of the Horned Toads in this way illuminate about larger patterns of student-administrator interaction at Bryn Mawr, and how student agency is promoted and/ or limited in other spaces?

I see Erin Bernard’s history truck as a model for this project.  I want this public history project about the Horned Toads to be truly created by community members, not just available for them to see.  I would want to invite all members of the Bryn Mawr community to participate in oral history interviews and contribute artifacts related to the team–this way, I hope to put together a picture of the Horned Toads’ history that isn’t just from team members’ perspectives, but explores how the team has interacted with all aspects of Bryn Mawr life.  I also want to think through the potential of objects (Schiavo) and places (Hayden) as ways of exploring the Horned Toads’ changing institutionalization.  In some ways, it’s possible to represent the team’s history through spaces and objects they gain access to or lose.  Prior to the 2000s, the team practiced on Haverford’s dedicated rugby field, but then Haverford decided that they needed the field for something else and took it away–now the team practices on the field behind the Graduate School of Social Work, which they have to share with local kids’ football teams.  When the Horned Toads became more institutionalized into the Bryn Mawr athletics department in the mid-2000s, they gained access to spaces they hadn’t been able to utilize before, such as the trainer’s room.  This institutionalization also brought access to objects that signify athletic status on Bryn Mawr’s campus–the green Gatorade water bottle and athletics t-shirts–and gained the team access to the athletics banquet where, like the varsity athletes, they are given gifts to commemorate their athletic involvement.  However, access to these objects and spaces normally afforded only to varsity athletes doesn’t signify complete institutionalization for the Horned Toads (they are still not a varsity team and don’t have access to all athletics resources), so I’m interested in exploring the potentials and limitations of objects and places as representations of social changes.

For my image for this post, I chose a picture of a comic about the rugby team printed in the September 1987 issue of the College News (less than a year after the team’s founding).  The comic prompted the entire team to write a letter to the editor, published in the next issue of the College News, simultaneously objecting to the team being portrayed as all about drinking and defending their right to drink after a game and still be considered athletes.  Tensions over alcohol consumption as part of athletic practice have been central to the Horned Toads’ relationship with the athletics department, and also get at larger questions about the role of alcohol and sport in constructing hegemonic masculinity.  I see this comic as simultaneously representative of student perceptions of the Horned Toads and the Horned Toads’ struggle for institutionalization over its 30 year history.College News 9:87 Comic

Reflecting on Museums Through Museum Exhibits

This week’s readings about Fred Wilson’s exhibit “Mining the Museum” reminded me of a museum exhibit I visited at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which collects and exhibits modern art.  According to the museum’s website, the exhibit, called “how far how near”, “centers around the key question of how museum collections and exhibition policies historically and today are limited and challenged in relation to geographical emphasis.”  The exhibit featured a variety of works by African artists in an attempt to broaden the Stedelijk’s traditional focus on European art, and many of those pieces of art explicitly addressed questions of if and how cultural classification is possible in a world increasingly dominated by globalization.  (To read more about the exhibit, visit the website:

Like the Stedelijk’s “how far how near” exhibit, Fred Wilson’s “Mining the Museum” attempted to use a museum’s collections, exhibited in a museum space, to interrogate the norms and definitions of the museum itself.  Lisa Corrin’s article “Mining the Museum: An Installation Confronting History” says that “Mining the Museum” wasn’t the first time an artist had “created a museum-critical work for a specific institution”, and I’m sure, in the two decades between “Mining the Museum” and “how far how near”, many artists and museums developed exhibits designed to critique the very museums in which they were displayed.  Corrin’s article clearly shows how “Mining the Museum” was a powerful experience for both outside viewers and the museum itself to consider how ideas about history are created through seemingly impartial museum exhibits.  Similarly, when I visited “how far how near”, I was forced to consider the geographical biases in the Stedelijk’s collecting policies, which I might not have been as aware of otherwise.  The exhibit also made me wonder about whether our cultural and geographical categorizations of art and artifacts are as simple as we like to make them seen.  Does it really make sense to categorize an object, especially in the modern era, as from a specific place in a world increasingly dominated by globalization, where ideas and materials flow regularly between places?

While Corrin’s article highlights the potential of exhibits like “Mining the Museum” for redefining the concept of museum itself, I also wonder what limitations may arise from using a museum’s collections to try to critique the museum itself.  How critical can you truly be of the museum, either an individual one or the larger concept, when your work uses a museum’s collections and exists in a museum’s spaces?  What benefits and drawbacks are there from critiquing an institution from within, in contrast to from the outside?  I also wonder if diversifying a museum’s collections and exhibits, while making the museum more inclusive and self-reflective, also serves to bolster the institution of the museum, and ultimately keep intact all of its potentially oppressive and exclusionary policies.  If a museum was founded to collect only European works, or to steal and exoticize art and artifacts from non-European countries, can those histories ever be “corrected”, even if collecting policies are changed and representations are expanded?  In other words, can the museum–or any other institution founded in oppression and exclusion–ever escape its own history?

The Potential of Sampling for Historical Research

While reading “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era” by Roy Rosenzweig, I was surprised that many historians wouldn’t want to preserve all of the materials of the digital era because, since historians are used to working with a scarcity of sources, such an abundance of sources seems overwhelming.  While reading the article, I was fascinated by the different methods of preservation of digital materials available and eager to learn more about how digital records could be preserved.  To me, preserving more materials automatically seemed better, because even if not everything is relevant at least then you have everything available to decide what is relevant.  However, I’ve never been trained in historical research methodologies and I didn’t realize, until reading this article, that historians are expected to look at every source available on a topic instead of using sampling techniques.  As a sociology major, I’ve been trained to use different sampling techniques as part of different research methodologies and to interrogate the benefits and limits of each sampling technique.  While I suppose that sampling can never be as complete as using every available source, sociologists are used to working from an abundance of resources, since oftentimes we study groups of people who are still alive and therefore are rarely able to talk to every member of a group.  Sampling works for the discipline of sociology because sociologists assume that, given an adequate sample size in relation to the population of the group being studied, the diversity of views and experiences of a group will be represented.  Would historians feel comfortable making the same assumption–that views and experiences are repetitive enough within certain groups that sampling is a more than adequate way of portraying a group or event without being overwhelmed by information?  Or is the discipline of history more concerned with studying the lives and interactions of individuals–embedded in social context of course, but still focused on different people’s actions and impacts–and therefore wouldn’t buy into sociology’s tendency to view people in the aggregate?

I also wonder if some historians engage in forms of sampling already, without labeling it as such.  I’m thinking, for example, of Erin Bernard’s Philadelphia Public History Truck.  When she goes into communities, she makes an effort to talk to as many people from as many groups as possible, but I can’t imagine that she talks to every person in a community, and I don’t think that’s her goal.  Instead, she seeks to capture the experiences of different groups in a community by interviewing and sharing individual stories that espouse those experiences and viewpoints.  That’s pretty much what I’m doing for my sociology thesis interviews–not talking to every member of the group, but interviewing enough diversity of members that different experiences based on social locations are represented.  I wonder what, if any, sampling methodologies Erin uses when deciding who to interview?  I imagine her process would fall, at least partly, under what sociologists would call snowball sampling–having people you’ve already interviewed refer you to future people to interview.  I know that her historical research process is different from historians working solely with archival records, but I think that sampling–not necessarily in a strictly sociological way, but having historians develop their own sampling techniques that fit their research approaches while still reducing the amount of potentially repetitive sources they have to go through–has a lot of potential to help historians deal with the problems of abundance without sacrificing record preservation.

The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Relying on Student Agency

In the article “‘Cataloguing Fever’ Strikes Student Organizations’, from the February 12, 2004 edition of Bryn Mawr Now, the origins of the partnership between students and Bryn Mawr Information Services to catalogue the books of Rainbow Alliance and Sisterhood is described in the following way:

“”Before Information Services became involved, we wanted to make sure this would be the students’ project, rather than the library’s project,” Goff [Associate Chief Information Officer] says. “Once we got a commitment from the students, we provided a little seed money to kickstart the process. We funded a certain number of student-worker hours for each organization, with the understanding that they would find additional funding if the cataloging couldn’t be finished in one semester.””

Bryn Mawr–like a lot of other colleges, I imagine–continually celebrates student agency.  Students are told, time and time again, that we should take initiative and follow our passions, and that the college will support us in our endeavors.  The times that the college doesn’t live up to that promise aside–and there are plenty of those times, but I’m not going to discuss them here–there are a lot of amazing initiatives organized and executed by students, with the support of college faculty and/ or staff, and there is a lot of privilege in being in a space that provides students the resources they need to realize their ideas and passions.  However, I want to push back on this unquestioning celebration of student agency, not because student agency isn’t vital or powerful but because, too often, encouraging students to take on projects relieves the administration of the responsibility to take on those projects themselves.  The quote above, about making sure that the cataloguing project would be the students’ project rather than the library’s, seems at first aimed at promoting student agency and control–and perhaps it was meant that way–but it rubbed me the wrong way because I interpreted it as yet another instance of the responsibility for preserving and publicizing experiences of marginalized students being thrust upon those same student populations.  Black at Bryn Mawr, for example, is an amazing project and testament to student initiative and achievement, but why did it take students to start that project instead of the administration proactively committing institutional resources to researching and publicizing the histories of black students, staff, and faculty at Bryn Mawr?  Similarly, a lot of the campus public history projects detailed on the National Council of Public History’s campus history as public history working group page seem driven by a faculty member, or students, or both, but with no real initiative taken by the administration to publicize the hidden histories of marginalized groups.  I in no way want colleges to limit student agency, but relying exclusively on student agency not only relieves the administration of its obligation to make the college a more accessible and just place for students; it also ensures that these projects never exist on a long-term basis, because student agency is by definition transient.  Students attend this institution for, on average, four years and then leave, and if a student leaves without another student to carry on their project–as too often happens–then the project is dropped, and students 20 or 30 years later addressing, far too often, the same issues are left to almost reinvent the wheel.  This lack of continuity isn’t students’ fault though, and it shouldn’t be solely students’ responsibility to make sure that attention is paid to the experiences of marginalized groups at Bryn Mawr, or anywhere else.  It should also be the responsibility of the administration, who actually have the resources and continuity to carry on these projects long-term.

Going into my final project with these reflections, I want to think about the ways in which I can design a public history project that effectively establishes students and the administration as partners, neither suppressing student agency nor relying on it as the driving force.  What would such a partnership look like, and how can students work with the administration to convince them that such a partnership is valuable?

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.

Interfacing Between the Micro and the Macro

I was surprised when I read that the Swarthmore Afro-American Students Society (SASS) chose to end their sit-in at Swarthmore College in 1969 before the administration had met their demands, mainly related to increasing black enrollment, because the President of Swarthmore, Courtney Smith, died of a sudden heart attack.  Reading this astonished me because the death of a college’s president, in the middle of protests over demands he was refusing to meet, seemed so unlikely, both in its timing and its unforeseen impact on SASS’ sit-in, that I had a hard time believing it happened.

But while this individual turn of history is surprising and tragic and important, what it got me thinking about more is the various levels on which history can play out.  In the case of BCM, there’s individual campus movements–as documented, for example, on Black at Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore’s Black Liberation 1969 archive–and then there’s looking at the overall trends of BCM movements on the national level, which Ibram H. Rogers does effectively in The Black Campus Movement.  Obviously the individual and national, micro and macro, levels of history are not at all separate, but I do wonder about the complexities of having conversations about individual change on individual campuses when those campuses exist in a national context, and having conversations about movements on a national level when individual cases can be so idiosyncratic.

The course of Swarthmore’s black campus movement was altered by the surprising death of its president; understanding how President Smith’s death affected SASS’s activism is key to understanding Swarthmore’s history, but probably wouldn’t make it into any book on the scale of Rogers’.  When compiling resources for projects like Black at Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore’s Black Liberation 1969 archive, how can one balance the need for national context with the attention to individual turning points?  How can campus activists advocate for change on their campuses that is rooted both in their individual campus’ history and a national or international context?  If one is looking to archive student activism at a specific college or university, like Jarrett Drake is at Princeton, what role can archives play in mediating between the micro and the macro of history?  Should college archives just document materials relating to their college, or should they attempt to archive materials that help illuminate a broader context?

Some of these questions feel like they should have simple answers, but the more I think about the readings for this week, the complicated interconnectedness of the national BLM movement and specific cases at Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr with their specific contexts and turning points, I’m not so sure where the line can be drawn between one college’s history and the history of a national college movement.

Representation Isn’t Radical, But It Matters

While I agreed with much of Erika Doss’ “Memorial Mania”, I was frustrated at her discussion of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Monument, specifically her dismissal of disability activists’ demands that the monument publicly acknowledge Roosevelt’s disability by showing him using a wheelchair. Although Doss seemed, in other sections, sensitive to reasons why different marginalized groups might demand representation, she seemed outright dismissive of the disability activists who advocated for a statue of Roosevelt using a wheelchair, saying things like, “disability activists… insisted that Roosevelt’s memorial more blatantly commemorate their own interests” (35-36), and quoting another scholar as saying, “Yet, Schudson cautions, rights consciousness also “legitimates individual and group egoism and emphasizes at every turn the individual, self-gratification over self-discipline, the economic over the moral, the short term over the long term, the personal over the social”” (37). I agree that demands for representation of individuals from different groups are rooted in identity politics and fail to address structural discrimination or create radical change–as Mason B. Williams says in “The Crumbling Monuments of the Age of Marble”, “Discussing individuals and (where warranted) removing names is good—but it is just a start. The crucial next step is to rethink and reinvent the ways the nation commemorates.” However, being so completely dismissive of a marginalized group’s demand for representation, and going so far as to imply that it’s self-gratifying, ignores the importance of representation for communities so often denied it. Representation is a form of individual empowerment for those who need to be able to look at the world and see people like them represented and celebrated, and a way of challenging larger discourses that invisibilize the experiences of marginalized peoples. In some cases, representation, by raising awareness of a marginalized group’s existence and breaking down stereotypes about them, can even start conversations that lead to more radical change in the future. Of course how representation is done matters, and representation alone is not the answer. But dismissing representation of marginalized groups as a form of self-gratification looks quite similar to arguing that only the voices and narratives of the privileged and powerful deserve to be heard, and I can’t see how that’s a way toward radical change at all.

Education: One of the Master’s Tools Or the Great Equalizer?

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” — Audre Lorde

I was fortunate enough, by complete accident, to purchase a copy of “Ebony & Ivy” in which someone had not only underlined key points, but made several insightful comments in the margins.  At the top of page 136, where Wilder discusses how several slaveholders donated supplies and slave labor to the building of the College of Rhode Island, the previous owner of my copy wrote, “Is the university one of the master’s tools?  If so, this presumably represents an exception to Lorde’s famous assertion…”

On the Community Day of Learning, during the opening session, I engaged in conversation with a staff member and a faculty member.  As we talked about class, both asserted the idea, that I’ve heard time and time again, that education is the “great equalizer” — that the goal is to get everyone access to the same quality of education, because once everyone can attend an elite educational institution like, say, Bryn Mawr, they will automatically have access to equal opportunities and therefore equality will be attained.

There are, of course, myriad problems with this view of education as the automatic route to equality.  In a session I helped facilitate for the Community Day of Learning, on cultural, social, and symbolic capital, we explored how, even when students from marginalized groups gain access to a place like Bryn Mawr, they are often unable to attain the same opportunities as their peers from more privileged backgrounds because they don’t possess the knowledge, connections, and ways of being that, while never explicitly taught at Bryn Mawr, are required to gain access to many opportunities that are supposedly open to all.

There are of course many more reasons why education does not serve as a great equalizer, but I think Wilder, in “Ebony & Ivy”, introduces one that I hadn’t fully considered before — that higher education in America was a racist project, built upon slave labor and meant to sustain white superiority through the production of a body of “knowledge” that claimed to justify white domination.  A quote from “Ebony & Ivy” that really stuck with me, from page 182, is: “Atlantic intellectuals operated under social and economic constraints that limited and distorted the knowable.”  Thomas Kuhn, in his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, argues that the production of scientific knowledge is cyclical — knowledge is produced within a paradigm until enough evidence builds up to overthrow that paradigm, and then there is a scientific revolution and a new paradigm, that incorporates the new “facts” but is likely incomplete in other ways, comes into being. Since knowledge produced in the early years of the American academy came into being in a paradigm of white supremacy, evidence or facts that contradicted that paradigm were literally unknowable.  Even though our scientific and academic endeavors don’t operate in the same paradigm now (although that obviously doesn’t mean we’ve overthrown white supremacy, in the natural sciences or anywhere else; it just looks somewhat different), everything we have now in American academia — not only the buildings and the wealth, but the knowledge itself — is founded upon the ideology of white supremacy.  How can something that is both built by the master’s tools and one of the master’s tools itself ever be the “great equalizer” that we, at an elite academic institution that prides itself on being “liberal” and “diverse”, so desperately want to believe it is?

I want to believe that there is hope for academia, that there is a way to revolutionize and radicalize this fundamentally racist project, but reading “Ebony & Ivy” gives me yet more evidence that this hope is probably misplaced.  I don’t think I’m going to give up hoping though, and I wouldn’t want to. We need to walk a thin line between not hoping too much, lest we ignore all of the structural injustices impeding progress, and hoping just enough, so that we are spurred to join with our communities to work for equality. Universities likely can’t be made places of justice but, as long as we think there’s even the slightest possibility of that future, at least we will continue to be motivated to change them.

Bryn Mawr’s Summer School: Answers and Questions

Before engaging with the documentary and readings for this week’s class, I don’t believe I had any real awareness of Bryn Mawr’s summer school for women workers in industry.  I had seen the blue historical sign up next to admissions–probably most of us have–and had read it, but the sign failed to impress upon me the full importance and legacy of the summer school.  The documentary and readings on the summer school answered a lot of questions I didn’t even know I had about how the summer school was formed, what students’ and faculty members’ lives were like at the summer school, and the events that led to its closing.  However, now that I’ve learned far more about the summer school than what one historical sign could ever tell, I find myself with yet more questions.

First, I wonder about the lives of maids and servants at Bryn Mawr’s summer school.  I can count on one hand the number of things I learned about their lives from this week’s materials–they didn’t have to make summer school students’ beds or serve them food like they would have for year-round students, and the summer school students one year demanded that the maids receive better living quarters because they were living on the top floors of dorms, which were (and continue to be) notoriously hot.  I wanted to know, firstly, how the administration responded to that request, but I don’t believe the documentary or readings provided an answer.  More generally, I found myself frustrated that, when given materials aimed at uncovering silences in Bryn Mawr’s history in a course dedicated in part to exploring uncovering silences, only some silences were finally given voice.  Was there so little material on maids and servants because that material doesn’t exist in any archives?  Are we just not trying hard enough to find that material?  Why, when so many former summer school students and faculty came together for a reunion and were interviewed about their experiences, did they barely discuss the roles maids and servants played?  Did they talk about this subject more, but the interviews weren’t included in the documentary?  Why was only one former summer school maid interviewed, and only given about 5 seconds of screen time?  How were the summer school maids and servants hired?  Did they also work at Bryn Mawr year-round?  If making students’ beds and serving them in the dining halls weren’t their responsibilities, what were?  Did they do work similar to what our housekeepers do today?  I suppose the best way to answer some of my questions might be to go into the archives myself, to do my best to uncover these silences, but it saddens me that the people who have already undertaken efforts to tell the stories of Bryn Mawr’s summer school seemed to have relatively little concern for the lives of maids and servants there.

Second, I was struck, in the documentary, by the singing of Bread and Roses juxtaposed with the strikes and demonstrations Bryn Mawr summer school students and faculty participated in.  Ever since learning the history of Bread and Roses as a song of the labor movement, I’ve felt somewhat uncomfortable singing it at Step Sing, as if we have appropriated this song, largely ignorant of the decades of labor organizing behind it, as a recognition of the culmination of our college lives, so different from the lives of the women whose experiences are told in the song.  However, I don’t know when, or why, Bread and Roses became the senior song at step sings.  Watching “The Women of Summer” made me wonder if it somehow came to Bryn Mawr through the summer school students and their labor activism?  If this were true, I would feel, when I sing Bread and Roses at step sing, that at least I am calling on a history of students here, consciously remembering and celebrating their struggles.  But of course most students still would sing the song not knowing about the summer school, and I wish more people knew about the powerful organizing in which summer school students and faculty (and maids and servants?  Again, we don’t know) engaged.

Archivists and “Preppers”

The readings for this week, especially Kimberly Springer’s article on Radical Archives and the importance of current-day activist groups making sure their materials are preserved for the future, reminded me of an article I read on Buzzfeed about “preppers”, people who build their lives around being ready for a crisis that fundamentally transforms life as we currently know it.  The link to the article is here, in case anyone is interested, but I’ll summarize it as well:

The article focuses on Lisa Bedford, the “Survival Mom”.  Lisa and her family live what might seem like an ordinary American suburban lifestyle, but Lisa has also stocked a bunker in her home with supplies for her family to survive for five years.  She also runs a website, “The Survival Mom”, which tells people things to do in their daily lives that will make them more ready for disaster.  In contrast to more militaristic and offense-oriented, mainly male, survivalists, Lisa’s survival strategies are distinctly more defensive, focused on keeping one’s family alive in the face of any kind of disaster.

On first glance, an article about preppers may seem to bear little relationship to all of the articles we read this week about archives, and I agree that there are many differences, but I’m more interested in exploring the similarities, and examining what a prepper philosophy might illuminate about archival work.  Springer’s article about radical archives struck me as different from the rest of the readings, and indeed the focus of many archives, because its emphasis is on preserving materials of the present for the future, as opposed to preserving materials of the past.  The collection policy for the LGBT Archives at William Way Community Center, for example, said that they don’t collect born-digital material with any regularity, which indicates to me that they are not yet focused on preserving LGBT-related materials from the present, many of which are digital.  In contrast, Springer focuses on suggestions for activist groups to take control over making sure their current digital materials are accessible in the future, even as technology rapidly changes and old file formats can no longer be opened.  I was especially struck by her recommendation that activists back up all of their files on three different hard drives stored in three different protected locations.  Although Springer is focused on the survival of records and movements, not of individual people, her concerns seem to overlap significantly with Lisa Bedford’s and other preppers’- we are too currently dependent upon the technology and conveniences of the present, and falsely act as if though they will be eternal.  Therefore, if we want to preserve something, whether it be ourselves or our movements, we need to prepare for when the world inevitably changes, be it through gradual technological progressions or a massive disaster.  Like Bedford, whose philosophy pushes up against an American way of life that fails to acknowledge its ephemerality, Springer’s archiving of the present pushes up against a view of archives that sees them as repositories of “history” or “the past”, a time mistakenly thought of as wholly separate from the present day.  On first read it seems silly, and even paranoid, to back up all files on three separate hard drives, or to prepare a bunker to sustain your family for five years- but when forced to reckon with the fleetingness of our current ways of existence, it starts to make perfect sense.

Reading about preppers, one of my main problems was that their philosophy assumes a certain amount of affluence.  While you don’t have to be rich to do what Lisa Bedford suggests on her Survival Mom blog, you do have to have enough disposable income to be able to stockpile extra supplies, and enough time to devote to setting up and maintaining a bunker.  The same criticisms, I think, can be leveled at Springer’s suggestions for preservation of activists movements’ materials.  While it is far less expensive, and less time consuming, to convert and back up an organization’s digital materials than it is to prepare an entire bunker, there is still an assumption that people involved in those movements have the time and resources to step back from their work, think about what is worth saving for the future, and take steps to preserve it.  Traditional archives are often built around the idea that the people who created the materials didn’t find them worth archiving- it’s people who come after, whose job it is to create archives of the past, that have the time and resources to do that preservation work.  I do think that Springer’s suggestions are important, and worth implementing if at all possible, but it’s also important to remember that sometimes it’s all a person, or a movement, can do just to exist in the moment.