Chose Your Own (History) Adventure: A Day in the Life of (You)

My idea for the campus history project centers around making the campus history accessible to everyone and also forcing us to reflect upon how we use our spaces currently. I propose to make the entire campus an exhibit. Instead of having an exhibit in the library that nobody will visit, I want the exhibit to be available to students, faculty, staff, and other community members as they go about their daily lives. That means that means that there will not be any special access to spaces allowed during the exhibit. For example, dorms will not be open for faculty members, and students who don’t usually go to the back of the dining hall kitchens will not be allowed there. This exhibit is meant to be for the people who already inhabit these spaces. This means that community members must evaluate why they or others do or do not have access to certain spaces, and what that means for the community. For example, what does it mean that there are certain spaces that are not accessible to students in wheelchairs? Exhibits that are not in accessible locations will be marked as such.

As for what will be included in the exhibit, I want to have profiles of 10 or so community members, past or present. Each profile will follow where the community member spent their time, with objects and writings. People participating in the exhibit will have the option of following one profile at a time, of course only accessing spaces they already have access to, or choosing their own path. It would hopefully be engaging to choose your own path, or just go about your day normally, and see what histories you encounter.

I do  not have anyone specific in mind, and I don’t think this exhibit needs to be about anyone who made extraordinary accomplishments. I believe that everyone has a story that is interesting enough to be told, and so we do not need to focus on who was the first or who did it best. I think that brings two benefits. The first being that we will be able to hear stories that we don’t normally hear about. The second being that I’m hoping this exhibit will inspire students and other community members to donate their belongings, whatever is wanted, to Special Collections. By seeing the exhibit of normal yet extraordinary people, others will hopefully think that they too can donate what they have, because they are also important. This exhibit is for, first and foremost, for community members. For them to learn a bit of their past, and the history of the institution, but also to feel empowered to contribute to that history themselves. And for them to know that they are already contributing to that history, but just need to document 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.

Still not a fan of M. Carey Thomas

I had a conversation about M. Carey Thomas last week (or several conversations, which isn’t surprising), about the name change of TGH and the fact that all we do is talk about M Carey Thomas! So I wanted to acknowledge that some people, and I to a certain extent, think that the M. Carey Thomas example is often overused and sometimes seems to be something that people can talk about to seem radical and cool without truly engaging in what it means to be oppressive. But not all conversations about her are like that. And I also think she’s just a perfect example for what I’m thinking!


After reading everything for this week, and also reading through everyone’s posts, my feelings about changing the name of TGH have shifted. As recent as early this semester, I did not know how I felt about the issue. I could no confidently support nor object to the idea that the name of TGH should be changed. Most of the reasons for changing it was because M. Carey Thomas was extremely racist, which I of course don’t like. But a lot of the reasons that I heard about not changing it was that it would erase the memory of racism on our campus and we wouldn’t think about it as much. Which I could also see happening.


However, a couple of weeks ago a friend came up to me and shared an idea that she heard. In an effort to subvert the space, we could have a memorial of sorts to honor the women of color who have made lasting impacts on our campus, or who went off and did great things in the world. Perfect! I thought. Especially because one of this student’s concerns was that if we changed the name of TGH we would lose a lot of funding. Which I think is valid. But going back to Sofi’s question of, who are these memorials for? and the question of, what is an institutions values? I am not sure that we could justify glorifying the oppressive mindset of a woman just because we want another old white woman’s money. Are we glorifying this old white woman’s racism too? Though I still want scholarship money for students, so I’m not fully convinced that that is the most important point for myself.


But to the other point about losing our campus history, Gwendolyn’s post got me thinking. We are arguing that it is important to commemorate this woman because it highlights all the injustices of this campus’ past. But couldn’t we achieve the same thing through commemorating a person who actively fought to change the policies and the structures that M. Carey Thomas put in place? I’m not sure if this is a novel idea but I feel like I haven’t heard it a lot! We can have multiple histories, and the only way to learn about oppression doesn’t have to be through the lens of the oppressor! I am quite distressed that this is the current model that we fall back on. I am also upset that money controls so many of our decisions, but I suppose that could be a whole other post.


I’m super frustrated because I wrote my whole post but now I have to write it again because my internet stopped working when it was processing and now I have to write it again! Write things down on paper, kids.

Anyway, I was just struck by the way the enslaved people were humanized in this book, in a way that was very refreshing! I feel like I never was able to experience elsewhere. Especially after reading the second chapter, the reminder that these were people who were once children, and had emotions, and yet were just thrown overboard as garbage was stunning. And I think it is so easy to think about the history of slavery and not actually think about how these were human beings. The way it was written was marvelous. I think it is insulting to write about slavery and not bring in perspectives like these. Especially when talking about how elite education is directly related to slavery, I think it’s essential to say exactly why it is horrible. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Really I Got Just What I Was Asking For (Thanks!)

I’m typing this after watching one minute of Dean Spade’s speech, because I am floored by the introduction. What great context! I feel like this is a great way to frame the conversation and hold the space. I’m intrigued and grounded, which can only be a good thing!

Three minutes in, I also like the the framing of colleges and universities as political projects.  I think there is a great deal of talk about ‘neutrality’ at Bryn Mawr. I think people don’t realize that it is impossible to be neutral, and especially in this environment everything is inherently political, so we  might as well take the time to steer our actions in a direction that we like (aka supports marginalized groups).

And just before the ten minute mark I love how he put context to his context, by talking about how important it is to have everyone be on the same page, and for everyone to know what type of language is being used in the situation, and what that means. Not only is it effective, it also acknowledges that everyone is coming from a different place and different education, so while one person might think it’s obvious and a waste of time, another person gets to engage with the conversation more fully!

After sixteen minutes I need Dean Spade to come to Bryn Mawr. How clever and funny! But I’m also being reminded of a conversation that I’ve had about the new Dean of the College. Thinking of who we want to hire, I had a conversation with a staff member who made the distinction between someone who will make diversity and social justice (because I think diversity without social justice is useless) not a priority, but inherent in everything that they do. This echoes thoughts that I heard at the diversity conversation between the Board of Trustees members and students. Which was that we should not make diversity a goal but a value, so it cannot be put aside for something else. Also that just makes it more effective! We already have so many systems in place. We should be change them instead of adding peripheral distractions. I think that can also be related to archival work. Why have a “diversity box?” Ww can be so much moe effective and so much more progressive if we are ALWAYS thinking about these things when we are archiving instead of just doing a “general” meaning white history and then only getting people of marginalized groups later, as if they aren’t meant to be there.




Some Context Please?

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!

Working in and outside the system

After briefly attempting to stalk Rodney G.S. Carter on Google, I failed to find a picture of the man who wrote a very interesting article about silence in the archives. By stalking him I was trying to find out a little more about his identity. I’m sure for a lot of reasons it may not be important, but I was curious as to why his analysis of silence seemed to end at, “While we must extend the invitation to work with and include all groups, we much recognize that there are groups who code to work outside the archive. It is essential that archivists not undermine the right of groups to keep their own silence” (pg 233). And while I understand this argument and see its value, I wish there was a call for people in marginalized groups to join the archives, so that when there are gaps there is no question whether or not the archivist will do a good job of telling their story. They can fill the gaps themselves.

I say this about SGA, and I say it about most anything else; we need to work inside and outside the system. It’s great that some marginalized groups are creating their own system for archiving their history. But what happens when people are only looking at mainstream archives? If there is a gap in Bryn Mawr’s archives, I don’t want to see us complacent with just another archival method. I want to see us hire someone who will do the job and do it well. I think that means we need to get more people in the system, but also call for accountability from those in the system. I don’t think just “not knowing” or feeling like they just don’t have the “experience” is good enough anymore. There must be people out there who are willing to teach and help and contribute.

I don’t know who Rodney G.S. Carter is. From what he wrote I can only assume he’s writing from a place of privilege. So instead of him just saying that we should respect silences when they’re wanted, I wish he was also holding his hand out to help those who still need to get their foot in the door.

How (and why) do we portray our histories?

Something I was thinking about when we did our first exercise on the board was the idea of “conserving” a certain image of Bryn Mawr to appease conservative white fathers. Or perhaps we uphold a certain image of Bryn Mawr so alums will still give money. I could see how some people see that as being shady or dishonest. But as somebody who works in the Admissions office, I have a very different view of “withholding” information.

When I give tours, I have to paint an honest, but still pretty, picture of Bryn Mawr. My job is to sell the school, because we want a lot of students to apply. So sometimes when catastrophe strikes Bryn Mawr (i.e. Somebody puts up a confederate flag and the entire campus is talking about it) I don’t bring it up. Or if it does come up, I talk about how the community works together to solve the problem and save the day. Which is sometimes an exaggeration but most of the time is rooted in truth. From my experience there are always conversations, formal and informal, about campus events that give me hope and help me heal.

Which may not be accurate for some students. So am I justified for “lying” or editing the truth? I want more students of color and other underrepresented students on this campus. And I doubt I’ll get that if I go around saying how racist and oppressive everything is. I know from when I was a prospective student that I would have run in the other direction if I knew that students were putting up confederate flags. So I question if it is in our best interest to portray the cold hard truth always and everywhere. I worry when I see articles about Bryn Mawr that are meant to shame the institution that do not also end with a positive note of students and administrators coming together to make things right, we’ll get what we exude. So if we want more students who will come to Bryn Mawr who will   make campus a better place, is it in our best interest to make it seem like nobody cares?

This reminds me of Filene’s thoughts on “outsiders.” I see administrators and tour guides as the “professionals,” because they are the ones providing the official image of Bryn Mawr, while students who give outside interviews that end up in articles as the outsiders. What should we compromise and what can we learn from each other?


“Is Bryn Mawr defined by the two people who put up the confederate flag or by the hundreds of people who responded in outrage?”- Sofi Chavez

How Religion Shapes History

Just thought I’d finish a post I had in my drafts and editing it to make it more relevant…

I found it interesting at the beginning of the semester that for and institution that prides itself on not having a strong religious background, we have a lot of special rituals and traditions. We give offering to Athena, we have the friendship poles, we participate in Lantern Night and Hell Week. We have these rituals and traditions to create community and connections. Which is also the point of religion, in some sociological definitions. However actual religion is often dismissed on campus, as we discussed the other day. Just thinking about it, for some people, it is a sin to worship Athena. I love the concept of Athena and participate in offerings often, but I’m not sure how often the college thinks about the religious needs of some students, and the implications that some college actions have on their religious identity. Even thinking about the Chapel, I had never heard about it before class. And I did a lot of research on Bryn Mawr before I came. It’s very interesting to think about the current state of the Chapel as a representation of how Bryn Mawr views religion, and I’m interested in what the college has planned to remedy that. I know the limited space on campus is a big problem, so I doubt we’re going to another Chapel any time soon. But I wonder how the college plans on fixing a problem that they haven’t addressed. And I suppose that is why we’re all here, right? Because the whole concept of history is that we can learn from our mistakes, but only if we address them?