Unsung Founders Memorial

I really enjoyed reading Remembering Forgetting: A Monument to Erasure at the University of North Carolina by Timothy J. McMillan. I found parts of the section be eerily parallel to that of Bryn Mawr, and our numerous monuments around campus that go without true public explanation of their pasts (for example; Thomas Great Hall, the now-removed bust in Canaday, the coffin in the cloisters). Although the article did include some photographs of the memorial, I thought it would be interesting to dig up some other ones to share with everyone.


Taken from: http://imgur.com/dNlKL8U

Taken From:

Taken From: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/j9Wtx0M0L9Y/maxresdefault.jpg

Taken From: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/j9Wtx0M0L9Y/maxresdefault.jpg

Taken From: http://www.unc.edu/files/2012/08/ccm1_032465.jpg

Taken From: http://www.unc.edu/files/2012/08/ccm1_032465.jpg

The article did mention that due to people sitting on, or near, the monument, they would have a tendency to brush their feet up against the people figurines below the table. You can see the wear in the first and third photographs, and you can see how people sit around the table in the second photograph.


I found this interesting, but also heavily symbolic. One of the main purposes of erecting this monument was to give a voice to the silenced peoples of the past, specifically black enslaved individuals upon who’s labor the university was created. Interestingly enough, in present times, the symbolic figures are being worn back down into featureless, indistinguishable, masses. Timothy J. McMillan already addressed the three kinds of figures depicted in the memorial, but the physical wearing down of the statues, I think, is painfully ironic. Yet again, you have people of color, specifically black people, who are being broken down by the casual use of white people.


I think this points us, once again, to much larger issues. Although this memorial was intended to create a physical space where people could meet and talk about racial issues that stem from a problematic past, instead we have a table that goes without proper recognition, and is used, and worn down, until the faceless masses blur together once again, putting us in exactly the same position in which we began- oppression and silencing of the past.

The Troubled Past/Present/Future of America’s Universities

I think that a lot of students take the history of their institution as something that happened in the past, having no pertinence to their lives today. The history should remain in the past, right? I would disagree. I think time, and the horrors of the past, are given a pass over because people are able to separate themselves from the system in which they were created from. If something happened a hundred years ago, I had nothing to do with it, so it’s easy to blame someone else for the bad things that have come out of it. Craig Steven Wilder’s entire book rests upon the fact that institutions of higher education not only were dependent on slavery for economic and social stability, but they became houses where racist ideology were mass produced and distributed. It is so easy to simply say, “But that was then, and this is now!”- but I think that would be a great mistake on several ideological levels. Without acknowledging the structure of an institution, you are not able to fully grasp the pathos of the establishment.

Two instances in the reading really fascinated me (aka creeped me out). In the epigraph of chapter three, Wilder includes a stanza from a poem to George Berkeley, reading, “If you made me your wife, Sir, in time you may fill a Whole town with our children, and likewise your villa. I, famous for breeding, you, famous for knowledge, I’ll found the whole nation, you’ll found a whole college.” This makes my skin crawl. Not only is it equating a women’s worth on her ability to have children, but the idea that two people will be procreating only in order to pass on their ideological beliefs unsettles me. I think that a large portion of education rests on being exposed to different mindsets, even ones you vehemently disagree with. By saying that Berkley will ‘found a whole college’ from this creepy procreative process makes me think that he would only be passing on his thoughts and beliefs, which would only further racism and systematic oppression.

Another instance that made me uncomfortable was on page 94, where Reverend Smith talked about ‘educating the Native children.’ Wilder writes, “In these Schools, some of the most Ingenious and Docile of the young Indians might be instructed in our Faith and Morals, and Language, and in our Method of Life and Industry, and in some of those Arts which are most useful…To civilize our Friends and Neighbors; – to strengthen our Allies and our Alliance; – to adorn and dignify Human Nature; – to save Souls from Death; to promote the Christian Faith, and the Divine Glory, are the Motives.” He’s literally saving that they are going to kidnap Native American children, teach them to believe the things that the colonizers believe, and then return them to their families, in hopes that the children will uproot their families, and either indoctrinate them to what the English believe, or use another kind of force to change the ‘sympathies of these nations towards the English.” Someone kidnapping children in order to change their beliefs in order to return them years later, only to try to uproot a system? In an attempt to save their souls? These are children! I know that time has given us a shield for these horrors, but can we try to image it, and recognize how horrible these things were??


Why I (Still) Think Dean Spade is Super Cool

I first saw Dean Spade at a talk at Bryn Mawr last year. Before he even began to talk to us about his presentation topic, he took a moment to reflect on the Native American land that Bryn Mawr was located on. He reminded us of the privilege that we had to be in that space, and that the things that we could take from that space could open other doors for us. He told us not to ignore this privilege, but to recognize it, and to use our resources to make effective change in order to help others. Then, he began his presentation. I had never, in my entire college career (life even), had a presenter begin by having us recognize the basic foundations upon which we stood.

In the vimeo of Dean Spade speaking at Barnard College, he begins his presentation in the same way. I’m going to use this blog post to do a self-reflection on the fact that trans folk have been excluded from educational opportunities in the context of Bryn Mawr until recently (and arguably still are today).

Only recently has Bryn Mawr opened its doors to trans women. That decision, even, had been hotly contested within the administration. I would argue, even more so, within the student body. I remember I once heard a group of students talking (I was totally ease dropping), saying something to the extent of “A Women’s college is meant for women, so I think this whole thing is ridiculous.” Something even more shocking was “I wouldn’t feel comfortable with them on campus.” This sort of transphobia ranges from mircoagressive to down-right prejudice. Who are we to place a value judgement on someone’s life in order to deny them an education? Bryn Mawr was created to give women (white, cis-gendered, traditional age, wealthy) an education because they were seen to have less opportunities to receive an excellent education. Key words: they were seen to have less opportunities to receive an excellent education. Why does this fundamental doctrine not ring true of other people- people of color, trans folk, non-traditional aged students, students from low income families. Are we not all entitled to an education that can change the way we think, the way we live, for the better? Simply on a moral stand point, I would find it hard to turn away someone searching for an education based on something as silly as their identity- I would rather focus my attention on people who have been systematically opressed and who do not have the same opportunities.


On the Margins of History

Let me preface this by an acknowledgement of how witty I thought this title was. Not only will I be discussing the metaphorical margins of history (through Bryn Mawr’s Summer School for Women Workers), but through the very physical margins of archived evidence. Where to begin…

I think that one of the most interesting links that I’ve been noting through out numerous pieces of artifacts were the notes written in the margins. In documents, it’s very common for me to find handwritten anecdotes on the original paper. For example, when I was looking at the archives in the John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives I came across underlines of words, doodled smiley faces, and handwritten names. What do these hand written notes mean? What was the significant to the original owners? These little things mean nothing to me. I can only guess at what importance they played in the lives of others. In some instances, it seems obvious- a heart next to a name suggest a relationship of endearment. But what about when I can’t read the text? What am I missing?

This was exactly my thoughts when I was reading the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry 11 Letter Boxes 7 feet 2 inches linear 2 Flat Boxes 3 feet linear. On the very first page, on the bottom left margin, is a note that begins with ‘No.’ (1).  The line that was bracketed off reads, “The Summer School syllabi, housed in boxes 4, 5, and 6, were transferred from the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, in February 1985.” (2) The rest of the ‘No’ is unreadable. Does the writer know something that I don’t know? Obviously, they were trying to contradict something within the bracket, and had made a hand written annotation in an attempt to write the wrong. Unfortunately, I can’t read what they had written. Could my understanding of history have been altered by the note that I don’t have access too?

Naturally, this lead me on a hunt. After googling the Sophia Smith Collection, I found two records of Bryn Mawr’s Summer School for Women Workers in their database- Eleanor Gwinnell Coit Papers (1913-1974) and Mary van Kleeck Papers (1849-1998). The Eleanor Gwinnell Coit Papers seem to contain information on her work with the American Labor Education Service, as well as education associations and councils. (3) The Mary van Kleeck Papers seem to include “a significant amount of material relating…(to) Bryn Mawr Summer School for Student Workers” (4). Both sets of papers are available thorough the Sophia Smith Collection. Regardless, the little marginal notes from my organizational box achieve papers led me on a small hunt for missing information- it arrived in the form of two women who had written on the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Student Workers, and were involved with its educational processing. Granted, I never learned what the “No” was in reference to, but I felt like I had made a small discovery instead.



(1) “File #3456: “Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry Finding Aid.pdf” Omeka RSS. (Accessed February 10, 2016. http://greenfield.brynmawr.edu/files/show/3456.) 1.

(2) “File #3456: “Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry Finding Aid.pdf” Omeka RSS. (Accessed February 10, 2016. http://greenfield.brynmawr.edu/files/show/3456.) 1.

(3) “Eleanor Gwinnell Coit Papers, 1913-1974: Collection Overview.” Eleanor Gwinnell Coit Papers, 1913-1974: Collection Overview. Accessed February 10, 2016. http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/sophiasmith/mnsss229_main.html.

(4) “Mary Van Kleeck Papers, 1849-1998 : Collection Overview.” Mary Van Kleeck Papers, 1849-1998 : Collection Overview. Accessed February 10, 2016. http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/sophiasmith/mnsss150_main.html.

The Erasure of History and the Eerie Face of Smith

Composita of Smith 1886

Composita of Smith 1886

“In the winter of 1885/1886 a group of Smith College women created a tangible symbol of their college friendship.  The forty-nine members of the senior class had their individual photographs taken.  The negatives from these images were then merged at a local photography studio to create a single composite portrait of the class.  Given her own identity/name “Composita”, the Class of 1886 carried the image of this woman and “classmate” with them throughout their long and rich history, until the final member of the Class died in 1964.  What is the story of Composita, and how does this single act of creating an individual identity from many tell us about friendship within the Class?”

“Composita of Smith.” Smith College Archives. 2011. Accessed February 04, 2016. https://smitharchives.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/composita-of-smith/.


Carter writes in Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in Silence*, “Identity is extremely important for every group, particularly, the marginalized who feel the need to assert a strong identity in the face of the power structures that attempt to stamp them out.” Nothing to me screams this better than Composita. In our Educate a Girl? You Might as Well Attempt to Educate a Cat! reading, Young talked briefly about the photograph that the students of 1886 created and gave an identify to. I thought this was immediately captivating, and sought after the image. I found it on the Smith Digital Archives (citation above, with clickable link provided). The young woman above is the creation of the combined faces of the senior class of 1886. I find this photograph, and the idea behind it, very powerful because students have created this fictional character that combines physical aspects of each of them, as well as combining their emotional aspects, into this unifying figure that they can all connect to and rally around.

Women, especially women who sought after an education during this time period, were continuously fighting agains the odds to advance themselves. By creating a fictional character that they all were a part of, they were creating a history for themselves, and for their cause. With the erasure of women in significant archival spaces, I found that the 1886 class had a made a important, yet silent, message, as the author from the online archive writes, “By taking their composite photograph and imbuing that image with a collective personality, by keeping Composita “alive,” the memories of the Class remained viable and their experiences at Smith validated.” They didn’t use words per say to get their ‘voices heard’, but rather, they used silence- silence in the form of an eerie photograph, standing for unity and a desire for higher education of women.

The Importance of Physical Objects in Public History


Something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is physical objects in Public History. I’m taking another class where we’ve been talking a lot about the physical monuments in relation to the memory of dead Presidents, and the interplay between the lifeless physical object and the alive passerby. With all of those things bubbling in my mind, it turned me back to Bryn Mawr’s own physical objects- namely Athena.

When my friend Anna Kalinsky class of 2015, a recent Bryn Mawr graduate, came back to campus, one of the first things she wanted to see was Athena. What makes this so? This culture that we have within our own community places value on this inanimate statue. It’s not even the original statue! Since 1996, the ‘real’ Athena has rested in Carpenter library, with a cast taking her rightful spot in Thomas Great Hall. Undergraduates frequently give this cast of Athena ‘offerings’, as if she was a real deity that had some profound impact on the way our lives could play out.

I think that the role of physical objects in public history is fascinating, mostly because the objects are given importance by the society/community in certain contexts/spaces. Otherwise these objects would just remain objects! For example, with our own Athena, no one to my knowledge leaves the ‘real’ Athena offers. The interplay between the space of Thomas Great Hall and the cast of Athena creates this perceived importance that the community responds to. If one of these elements were to be altered, the discourse would change entirely.

Anna Kalinsky '15 and Athena posing for the camera.

Anna Kalinsky ’15 and Athena posing for the camera.

History in Public Syllabus, v.1

The syllabus for History in Public is now online; registered students will have access to the reading list shortly.

I have deliberately left space in the syllabus to pursue new interests as they develop over the semester, also leaving open the possibility for additional guest speakers and site visits. Taking inspiration from Jesse Stommel’s digital studies course, we will revise and re-write the syllabus as we go, and, as Jesse suggests, discover what we’ll learn together as we learn it, questioning what we’ll do even as we begin to do it.

Finally, please note that the course is not intended to offer a comprehensive history of Bryn Mawr College; instead, I have chosen moments in time that are especially fruitful for thinking about the intersections of race and gender in the archives, as we explore possible ways of sharing those histories in public. I will continually add to (and crowdsource!) the Research Resources and Digital Collections page to aid students in their exploration of Bryn Mawr’s history.