Handheld Campus History


Campus Map circa 1885 found on Triptych

Campus Map circa 1885 found on Triptych


For my final project, I am examining history tour apps and proposing one for Bryn Mawr. This semester I have been fascinated with discussions we have had about expanding the narratives of spaces, layered histories, and alternate history exhibitions.  I see a thoughtfully designed history app as a potential way to represent contrasting and often conflicting histories about spaces.

I think a tour app hypothetically can interact with a wider variety of campus visitors than traditional tours.  I am aiming to design something that a casual visitor, a dog walking local, students, and others with varying degrees of interest in Bryn Mawr’s history can all use.

I originally thought about modeling my tour app on SPARK’s Movement’s “Women on the Map” project which uses Google Maps to alert users “when they are near places where women made history.”

After meeting with Monica, and as a result looking at few other projects such as the “Histories of the National Mall,” the StoryCorp app, and Harvard’s campus tour app, my proposed app has morphed.  Now I want to include elements from all of the aforementioned projects to create something that will suit Bryn Mawr, allow for a plurality of stories and experiences to be told while being more accessible to users.  I plan to examine and evaluate the projects Monica suggested along with the Philadelphia Maps and Walks app to see what works and what doesn’t.

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.

Clickbait History

The issues raised this week are really interesting to me and I think they encapsulate a lot of our discussions this semester.  I went to the history alum panel last week and one of them was a Park Ranger. She talked about having essentially two minutes to make an intervention and teach a visitor about American history.  She said that her goal as a result was to just spark interest in a facet of American history not commonly taught in American public schools.

I was reminded of this comment while doing the readings for this week’s class in that most of the history I encounter on the internet has all the qualities of a clickbait article–something catchy and sensational with little substance that will attract interest.  I started thinking about it and realized that in many ways, this approach isn’t that different from most other approaches to history that we’ve studied and discussed this semester.  History and the stories that we tell do not exist in a vacuum and as a result, they have to be marketed and made accessible for our audiences.

What the BMC alum-now Park Ranger is doing every day with history, what Rebecca Onion does, and what happens with grant-writing all have the same basis in making history pertinent and interesting to the public (whoever that is).  The difference is that they don’t stop after hooking their audience and do offer substantive, historical work.  While I agree that the internet does have a habit of decontextualizing and taking things out of context, that isn’t really that different from how non-historians treat interesting historical facts, pictures, or artifacts.  As a result, blaming the internet for this decontextualization isn’t necessarily very helpful.  It is instead a symptom of a wider, more pervasive problem with how history is viewed.  I think that its great that there are people like Rebecca Onion and public archives online like collegewomen.org that can be more legitimate resources that can intervene and help introduce people to cool history and to the historian’s craft.

We’re All in This Together (well some of us, anyway)

I’m really glad that we read the minutes and descriptions of some other campus history projects happening across the country because I now feel like we aren’t alone. Knowing that there is a community of dedicated people out there that share common goals for their institutions fueled by a desire to recognize elements of campus histories that are purposefully glossed over or ignored gives me hope for our future. I think the questions raised in all of the breakout sessions were very pertinent to Bryn Mawr and reflect many structural issues such as the short time students (and faculty) are on campus and lack of administrative support.

I think the addition of the Giesking reading about students’ navigation of space was interesting and very relevant considering our previous class discussions about the physical spaces on campus that we inhabit and how they shape our experiences.  It is interesting to me to consider how disrupting traditional spaces not only can physically change the landscape but as a result, the institution’s narrative.  I really liked the ideas for a display in Princeton’s student center that Jarrett and Sofi’s friend (whose name is escaping me at the moment!) talked about a few weeks ago, and I think its because I like the idea of transforming/challenging the traditional use of physical space that keeps with the typical narrative of “who goes to Princeton.”  By adding a display of student activist efforts, they would be making a physical intervention which not only would be accessible to a wider range of people (prospective students, staff, faculty, current students, etc.) than a paper or class discussion but would also serve as a tangible reminder of darker histories and stories not popularized.

Living History

I really enjoyed reading Ebony & Ivy and I really liked how at the forefront slave narratives and indigenous narratives were in this book. This may seem very obvious, but I feel like often these stories are told only to ‘check the box’ so to speak and it was very refreshing to study these stories so directly. I think that Wilder really challenges the typical way that the West defines itself, namely without regard for racism, slavery and colonialism and how these practices have defined (and continue to define) and shaped many institutions (including those of higher education) (Trouillot 98).

Many of the arguments brought up in Ebony & Ivy build on the themes that we have been discussing in class this semester. The history of oppression of indigenous peoples in this volume is incredibly important to the narrative that Wilder constructs and throws Dean Spade’s comments at the beginning of the talk we watched last week into sharper relief.  The question of native peoples is one that Wilder addresses throughout Ebony & Ivy which I think is incredibly important because many of those stories are silenced or told in such a way as to make natives passive subjects.  The very human framing of this volume I think is revolutionary in many ways because it does not hold slavery or racial oppression at a clinical arm’s reach (typical of many high school textbook, etc.) and instead engages with the horror in a productive way.  One of the things that Wilder does is list the slaves of the people he introduces by name even when they do not ‘directly’ figure into the events he is examining, which I honestly found very moving.

Issues of marketing and funding, as we discussed on the first day of class, are not only interesting topics of discussion in the present day, but also I think important areas of historical analysis. Funding of early American institutions was of paramount importance to early college trustees and presidents and often depended directly on slavery and the profits of it. In Ebony & Ivy, Wilder discusses the funding of Dartmouth and William and Mary and how their “Indian colleges” were eventually closed because of lack of funding because of rising tensions between the colonists and Britain, a lucrative source of funding (Wilder 168).  As we have discussed, Bryn Mawr and other similar institutions engage in active marketing which does not always reflect the values of the students or the current climate on campus.

Filling the Silence

While watching Dean Spade’s talk at Barnard I was constantly reminded of Silencing the Past and the readings we did the week we visited the William Way Archives and the Library Company.  I think that he underscored the importance of institutional memory and in archiving activist movements in a similar way to how we have been discussing these issues in class.  I think that this is where public history is especially important because without it how are we to remember and learn from past movements?

I think that Ebony and Ivy in many ways (thus far in my reading) is doing what Silencing the Past did with the Haitian Slave Revolution for higher education and slavery/colonialism. This is also similar to what Dean Spade did by discussing the history of the indigenous peoples native to the actual land that Barnard sits on which challenges the traditional way of telling the stories of higher education in the U.S.  Namely, Wilder is reexamining the role of colonialism and slavery to the formation of and continuation of institutions of higher education in the United States. Like the Haitian Slave Revolution, I think that this history has also been silenced.  In many ways I think that how colleges and universities have defined themselves and their histories is reminiscent of how Trouillot discusses the silencing of the Haitian Revolution,”the silencing of the Haitian Revolution also fit the relegation to a historical back burner of the three themes to which it was linked: racism, slavery, and colonialism. In spite of their importance in the formation of what we now call the West…none of these themes has ever become a central concern of the historiographical tradition in a Western country” (Trouillot 98).  These same three themes have also been put on the back burner where race and higher education are concerned. I look forward to seeing how Wilder handles these topics considering the tradition of silence around them.

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.

Creating History (People believe what they want to believe)

Trouillot’s book and Filene’s article crystallized many of the ideas that have been in the back of my mind this year. Many of the concepts introduced and explained in the book are similar to the ones that we discussed in Exploring History (the required seminar for history majors).  In the first class, Professor Kurimay had us brainstorm and discuss the differences between social memory and history and if history as an academic discipline should be categorized as part of the humanities or as a social science (or both).  She pushed us to define both categories and in doing so, I realized how much stock I placed in the idea of ‘proof’ and how it related to producing professional history.  I had always believed that the answers were in the archives and that enough research or enough thoughtful interpretation would allow us to expand the historical narrative to include the histories of marginalized groups.  After this year, I now believe that my previous faith in the archive and in professional historians was misplaced.  Instinctively I think I understood Trouillot’s point, “When reality does not coincide with deeply held beliefs, human beings tend to phrase interpretations that force reality within the scope of these beliefs.  They devise formulas to repress the unthinkable and to bring it back within the realm of accepted discourse” (Trouillot 72).  Or as my grandmother would say, “People believe what they want to believe.”  This leads me to ask: How then do we produce history that challenges, changes and engages our audiences when we understand how imperfect our sources and methods are and with the understanding that our work has been and will be interpreted through many biases?