Bryn Mawr Teach-In on Race, Higher Education, Rights and Responsibilities

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Teach in crop

On Tuesday, November 18 from 7 to 9pm, I will join members of the Bryn Mawr community for a Teach-In on Race, Higher Education, Rights and Responsibilities in Thomas Great Hall. The Undergraduate Dean’s Office has sponsored this evening of presentations and conversations around the following topics:

  • History of the Confederate flag and its current repercussions in U.S. society and politics, Sharon Ullman, Professor of History and Director of Gender and Sexuality Studies
  • Race and higher education, Monica Mercado, CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow and Director, The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education
  • Bryn Mawr’s history with regard to race and diversity, Florence Goff, former Associate Chief Information Officer and Equal Opportunity Officer
  • Navigating the rights and responsibilities of free speech, Mary Catherine Roper BMC ’87, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Pennsylvania
  • Well-being, accountability, and living in a diverse community, Reggie Jones, Counseling Service Director, Student Health Services

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Margaret Hall and Bryn Mawr: On the Front Lines of the Great War

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Margaret Hall

Elizabeth in Special Collections

Elizabeth Reilly, Class of 2014, at work in Special Collections

Veteran’s Day is observed every year on November 11th to commemorate the anniversary of the end of World War I, one of the pivotal events of modern history. As a women’s college, Bryn Mawr did not send students or alumnae into direct combat in the early twentieth century — an era before women entered battle alongside men — but members of our college community were very much linked to the turmoil in Europe.

Recent Bryn Mawr College graduate Elizabeth Reilly spent the summer of 2014 researching materials related to World War I in Bryn Mawr Special Collections. As part of her work Elizabeth immersed herself in the papers of Margaret Hall, Class of 1899, who volunteered with the Red Cross near the front lines in France. Using a wide range of sources, including Hall’s correspondence, photographs, ephemera, a bound manuscript that Hall herself compiled upon her return, and other resources from Special Collections, Elizabeth created a digital exhibit, using Omeka, that captures Hall’s unique story almost a century after the fact. Elizabeth’s project is now available on the Greenfield Digital Center website:

Margaret Hall and Bryn Mawr: On the Front Lines of the Great War

By drawing on the full resources of the college archives, Elizabeth weaves together several stories and perspectives into a rich narrative. Her exhibit incorporates findings from alumnae files and records, personal correspondence, ephemera, and published sources to build a biography of Hall’s WWI experiences that also highlights the experiences of other Mawrters volunteering in Europe and at home on Bryn Mawr’s campus.

The Bryn Mawr "Patriotic Farm,"

The Bryn Mawr “Patriotic Farm,”1910s.

Elizabeth also reflects on what it means to research physical materials in an age of digital methods and tools. Calling for an incorporation of both approaches, she writes, “navigating and learning from archival collections online can be invaluable in our present digital information driven culture. But,” she argues, “they should be used alongside physical collections whenever possible.”

Margaret Hall and Bryn Mawr” is the latest student-produced digital project published on the Greenfield Digital Center‘s website, combining archival research and digital writing methods. On both our main site and our blog, we strive to support and publish student work that interrogates the relationship between women’s history and the digital world.

Do you have feedback on this project, or suggestions for new areas of research? Leave a comment below!

Call for Papers: Women’s History in the Digital World 2015

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Women’s History in the Digital World 2015, the second conference of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education, will be held on the campus of Bryn Mawr College on May 21-22.

We aim to bring together experts, novices, and all those in between to share insights, lessons, and resources for the many projects emerging at the crossroads of history, the digital humanities, and women’s and gender studies. Continuing a conversation begun at our inaugural meeting in 2013, the conference will feature the work of librarians and archivists, faculty, students, and other stakeholders in the development of women’s and gender histories within digital scholarship.

Opening keynote, Women's History in a Digital World, 2013 at Bryn Mawr College.

Opening keynote, Women’s History in a Digital World, 2013.

The conference will feature a keynote address by Claire Bond Potter, Professor of History and Co-Director of the Humanities Action Lab at The New School for Public Engagement.

Panels will be scheduled during the day Thursday, May 21, and the morning of Friday, May 22; a projects showcase and digital lab will offer opportunities for unstructured conversation and demonstrations.

We invite individual papers or full panel proposals on women’s and gender history projects with a digital component, investigating the complexities of creating, managing, researching and/or teaching with digital resources and digitized materials.

All thematic areas, geographies, and time periods are welcome: this is a chance to share knowledge, network, and promote collaborations that locate new possibilities.

To submit a proposal, please send the following information by email to greenfieldhwe@brynmawr.edu:

  • complete contact information including current email and institutional affiliation, if any;
  • short (150-200 word) biography for each presenter; and
  • abstract (s) of the proposed presentation (500 words for single paper, poster, or demonstration, or 1,500-2000 words for panels of 3 papers)

The deadline for submissions is Friday, January 16, 2015.

For updates, follow the Greenfield Digital Center on Twitter @GreenfieldHWE and the conference hashtag, #WHDigWrld.

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Women’s History in the Digital World is organized by The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education with the support of Bryn Mawr College Libraries and The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon for Women in STEM: Resources and Results

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Reading up on women in STEM.

Last Wednesday at Bryn Mawr Special Collections we hosted an evening dedicated to improving Wikipedia entries on women in science, technology, engineering and math. Reflecting our commitment to countering the skewed gender imbalance on Wikipedia, the event was the second Wikipedia edit-a-thon sponsored by the Greenfield Digital Center and built on the success of the #7SistersWiki gathering held in March 2014 for Women’s History Month.

Mary Mark Ockerbloom introduces key concepts.

Mary Mark Ockerbloom introduces key concepts.

The edit-a-thon drew a group of nineteen, including faculty, staff, and students from four local institutions. Nine participants had never edited the site before. We were joined by Mary Mark Ockerbloom, Wikipedian in Residence at Philadelphia’s Chemical Heritage Foundation, who opened the session with a lecture that proved useful to experienced and novice editors alike. Mary shared her best practices for writing and editing entries, reminding us that ”people don’t want something new in Wikipedia, they want what is known.”

Slides and video from Mary’s talk can be viewed with the following links:

  • What is Wikipedia? A guide to Wikipedia culture and best practices
  • How to Edit: A guide to setting up an account and getting started as an editor

Attendees created one new article on physicist Elaine Surick Oran (Bryn Mawr College Class of 1966), which has been nominated to appear in the ”Did you know” section (DYK) on the Wikipedia Main Page. Additionally, we began several other new entries for important Mawrters, including WWII cryptographer Julia Ward (Bryn Mawr College Class of 1926) and mathematician Marguerite Lehr (Bryn Mawr College Ph.D. 1923). Other participants edited existing records to reflect Bryn Mawr connections and archival collections.

The group prepares to edit.

The group prepares to edit (must haves: laptop chargers, snacks).

To follow the conversation on campus, we captured tweets from the event in a TAGSexplorer visualization tracking the hashtag #BMCwiki, and in a Storify. We were also excited to see our tweets intersect with the work of #GWWI 3, The Global Women Wikipedia Write-In organized by Postcolonial Digital Humanities during the week of October 20.

The Greenfield Digital Center looks forward to hosting our next edit-a-thon during Spring 2015, as part of the Art + Feminism Wikipedia event collective. Stay tuned for details!

Additional Resources

“Gender and Generations”: Oral Histories of Colleges and Universities at OHA 2014

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Greetings from Madison, WI!

Picture perfect: Fall break in Madison, Wisconsin.

It’s fall break at Bryn Mawr, and I’ve been traveling to share work with colleagues at the Oral History Association’s annual meeting in Madison, Wisconsin. As someone who has been teaching, advising, and doing oral history research for just over two years, this was my first visit to the OHA, and it was an energizing meeting of scholars and other practitioners from around the country. The conference was an opportunity to think critically about the stories we collect and who tells them; given our work at the Greenfield Digital Center, I was excited to spend a lot of the conference talking about (and listening to) histories of higher education, and women’s higher education in particular.

I had been invited to present at the OHA by American Studies scholar Carol Quirke, who is documenting the founding years of her institution — SUNY College at Old Westbury — with the site Experiments. Together with CUNY oral historian Sharon Utakis, our panel, “Places of Privilege, Places of Struggle: Oral Histories of Activism and Movement Building in the University” considered how oral history projects with the stated purpose of collecting evidence of social movements on campus “live” in University collections, and how they might inform current campus conversations. My paper, drawn from projects I previously directed at the University of Chicago, focused specifically on pedagogy, and what it means for oral history interviews to be the meeting point between past and present LGBTQ student activists. As the project Closeted/Out in the Quadrangles: A LGBTQ History of the University of Chicago enters its fourth year of work, and as I’ve moved on to Bryn Mawr, I find myself more and more compelled by the idea of college campuses as intergenerational sites of history and memory, with possibilities for current students, alumnae/i, faculty, and library staff to work together in expanding the scope of what counts as campus history.

Kate Eichhorn, The Archival Turn in Feminism: Outrage in Order (Temple University Press, 2013)

Kate Eichhorn, The Archival Turn in Feminism: Outrage in Order (Temple University Press, 2013)

I couldn’t help using the conference as a place to share the oral histories Brenna Levitin, Class of 2016, collected this summer as part of her digital project “We Are/We Have Always Been”: A Multi-Linear History of LGBT Experiences at Bryn Mawr College, 1970-2000. Brenna’s research will continue on next year, as will other projects chronicling less-known stories in Bryn Mawr’s past. As I noted in my conference paper, I have reason to be hopeful for continued engagement with these new histories. Our work is indebted to the worlds of feminist and queer archiving as they have expanded and spread into institutions like the university and independent collections over the past few decades. “For a younger generation of feminists,” Kate Eichhorn writes in The Archival Turn in Feminism, “the archive is not necessarily either a destination or an impenetrable barrier to be breached, but rather a site and practice integral to knowledge making, cultural production, and activism.” Her premise can be illustrated, on a small scale, at the university and college archives where I’ve worked: our classes and programs can draw new audiences — students involved with campus organizations — who feel that we might offer a productive space in which to explore an activist and social history.

Kelly Sartorius, Deans of Women (Palgrave, December 2014)

Kelly Sartorius, Deans of Women (forthcoming from Palgrave, December 2014)

In between giving my paper Thursday and presenting at Saturday’s oral history community showcase, I was excited to grab a seat at Friday’s standing-room only panel, “Current Feminist Practices of Oral History,” featuring a comment by Sherna Berger Gluck — whose 1991 edited collection Women’s Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History is still used in women’s history classrooms. If, as Gluck contended, feminist oral history originated as a radical experiment, how are we still experimenting in our research and teaching? Kelly Sartorius, from Washington University in St. Louis, gave an important example of how oral history interviews can drive a research agenda. In her presentation “From a Life History into the Archives,” she argued for a “feminist life history approach.” Sartorius charted how she used the worldview of one narrator, University of Kansas Dean of Women Emily Taylor, to guide her work in the archives, and move away from the “waves” metaphor usually used as shorthand for mainstream feminist activism in the U.S. context. If we often talk about student protesters as the leaders in “second wave” feminist agitation on campuses, Sartorius’s research recovers the work of feminist university administrators, working with and for student activists in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Her new book, Deans of Women and the Feminist Movement: Emily Taylor’s Activism (Palgrave, December 2014) will certainly be on my winter break reading list.

University of Wisconsin students in the Historical Society Library reading room, 1904.

University of Wisconsin women students in the Historical Society Library reading room, 1904.

Before leaving town, I also had a chance to stop in to the Wisconsin Historical Society, where I followed up on my research into Catholic women’s education at the turn of the century. I found exactly what I was looking for in the library’s historical pamphlets collection, with the added bonus of finding traces of women’s education history throughout the Society’s halls. Like other midwestern “land grant” universities, the University of Wisconsin admitted women “to the full advantages of the University” in the 1860s. (Having just filed my course proposal for next semester, when I’ll be teaching histories of women’s higher education in 19th and 20th century America, I was excited to see a turn-of-the-century photo of women students at work prominently displayed next to the reference librarian’s workstations!)

Although my Madison sojourn has come to a close, readers can still view our conference discussions on Twitter with the hashtag #OHA2014. The call for proposals for next year’s meeting, “Stories of Social Change and Social Justice,” was announced in the conference’s printed program; in the meantime, the Oral History Review will be recapping other important conference conversations. Given our ongoing project to digitize Bryn Mawr oral history interviews (currently languishing on cassette tape) and support new interviews conducted by our students, there’s much more to come.

“We Are/We Have Always Been”: A Multi-Linear History of LGBT Experiences at Bryn Mawr College, 1970-2000

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Early days of the May Hole celebration (1980s) courtesy of Deb Rowan, Class of 1990.

Early days of the May Hole celebration on May Day. Photograph courtesy of Deb Rowan, Class of 1990.

Over the summer, Tri-Co Digital Humanities Initiative intern Brenna Levitin (Class of 2016) began new research into histories of LGBT individuals and communities on campus. What started as a simple question — do materials exist in the Bryn Mawr College Archives to document LGBT life? — led us to new donations from alumnae/i and a rethinking of our digital tools.

We’re pleased to announce that Brenna’s project is now online, accessible through the Greenfield Digital Center’s website:

“We Are/We Have Always Been”: A Multi-Linear History of LGBT Experiences at Bryn Mawr College, 1970-2000

We Are/We Have Always Been” uses college newspapers, ephemera, photographs, oral histories, and informal interviews to show pieces of a fragmented history that continues to develop in the present day. In doing so, it highlights the multi-linear nature of the narratives that make up personal and institutional memory.

Brenna Levitin '16 asks, how do we study lesser-known aspects of Bryn Mawr student life?

Brenna Levitin, Class of 2016.

Brenna’s project departs from the form of past exhibits published by the Greenfield Digital Center in that it is built on a platform called Scalar, rather than Omeka. With its flexible approach to narrative, Scalar allowed Brenna to situate parts of the story within and beside one another, in addition to traditional sequential relationships. Brenna’s documentation of this work, including her summer blog posts, lives on as a broader reflection on process; Greenfield Digital Center Assistant Director Evan McGonagill also considered how we might begin to think about the “T” in LGBT histories, particularly in the women’s college context.

We also encourage readers to visit “History of Gender Identity and Expression at Bryn Mawr College,” created by Pensby Center summer intern Emmett Binkowski (Class of 2016) to recognize Mawrters with diverse gender identities. Along with the digital exhibit “A Point of Difference” — recently completed by Alexis De La Rosa (Class of 2015) and Lauren Footman (Class of 2014) to document histories of students and staff of color — these projects reflect the Greenfield Digital Center’s commitment to research that tackles the diverse and challenging histories of Bryn Mawr College and its many communities.

Brenna will return to the Greenfield Digital Center in Spring 2015 through Bryn Mawr’s Praxis program, which will provide an opportunity for her to continue pursuing oral history interviews with alumnae/i and community members.

Comments? Questions? We welcome your thoughts below, or via email to greenfieldhwe@brynmawr.edu.

Hidden Libraries, Hidden Histories: The Story of the BGALA Library

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Since May, Brenna Levitin, the Greenfield Digital Center’s TriCo DH summer intern, has been hard at work tracking down the histories of LGBT individuals and communities at Bryn Mawr between 1970-2000. To catch up with her work, read Brenna’s thoughts on one of her first finds, her consideration of silence in the archives, and her approaches to using digital tools to address the silence, including reflections on making the Digital Center’s first Scalar project. We look forward to launching Brenna’s project, We Are/We Have Always Been, next week–stay tuned!

BrennaLevitin

Brenna Levitin, Class of 2016

Let’s hear it for victories! Although much of the past four months has been spent sighing over a lack of LGBT archival material, I recently had a great realization which partially solved the mystery of the disappearance of Bryn Mawr’s BGALA Center Library. I first heard about this mystery from Robin Bernstein, Class of 1991, the creator of the library and its first keeper. She told me about how she painstakingly shaped it over three years, only to have it disappear a few years after she graduated. She mourned the multi-hundred-volume library for years, until, to our excitement, I physically ran into the collection in Canaday Library a few weeks ago! Here’s a short retelling of the library’s saga.

In her sophomore year, Robin Bernstein asked the Bryn Mawr Women’s Center to use their empty back room as a physical space for BGALA (The Bryn Mawr-Haverford Bisexual, Gay, and Lesbian Alliance). After the students in charge agreed, Bernstein began to create a physical space for the club within the Women’s Center, located on the upper floor of the Campus Center. To fund decoration and set-up of the space, Bernstein wrote a grant and received $1,000, in addition to the money BGALA received from general SGA budgeting. She took approximately $1,500 to the Owl Bookshop on campus and to Giovanni’s Room–the famous bookstore in the Philly Gayborhood–and bought as many books as possible. After carting everything back to campus, BGALA members rubber-stamped everything “The Bryn Mawr/Haverford Bisexual, Gay, and Lesbian Alliance.”

BGALA Library stamp, found in Lesbian Plays (New York: Methuen, 1987-1989), Canaday PR 1259.L47 L4 1987 v.2.

BGALA Library stamp, as seen in Lesbian Plays (New York: Methuen, 1987-1989), Canaday Library Rainbow Alliance & Women’s Center Collection, PR 1259.L47 L4 1987 v.2.

Bernstein lovingly curated the library for the next three years, watching as it grew with each year’s funds. By the end of her senior year, the library contained over 1,000 books, audiotapes, and magazines. The summer after Bernstein’s graduation in 1991, the books were removed from the BGALA Center and relocated to a room in the Denbigh dormitory. Previously, the BGALA library was unstaffed, functioned on the honor system, and was heavily used. After their move, no one knew where to find the books, and so they saw less use as the years went on.

After approximately 1993, institutional memory fails to recall where the books lived. In fact, Bernstein and I believed the books to still be missing when I found them, by chance, living in Canaday Library as an official collection. By working backwards and talking to library staff, I was able to piece together part of their journey post-Denbigh.

Layers of library history, as seen in Anthony Burgess,The Wanting Seed (New York: Ballantine Books, 1964), Canaday Library Rainbow Alliance & Women’s Center Collection, PR 6052.U638.

Layers of library history, as seen in Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed (New York: Ballantine Books, 1964), Canaday Library Rainbow Alliance & Women’s Center Collection, PR 6052.U638.

The next time that anyone saw the BGALA books was in 2003, when members of the Rainbow Alliance came to then-Coordinator for Information Acquisition and Delivery, Berry Chamness, in Canaday to ask for help. The Rainbow Alliance (the new name for BGALA) was losing the space where they stored the library, and wondered what to do to save the books and keep them accessible. Since Fall 2004, what is now known as the Rainbow Alliance/Women’s Center Collection has lived as a discreet collection in Canaday Library, and can be found on the shelf closest to Quita’s Corner by the back window on the first floor.

Library 1

Library 2

The Rainbow Alliance & Women’s Center Collection is now catalogued in TriPod and shelved on the first floor of Canaday.

I’ve put together the history above from personal accounts and some library sleuthing, but there are still pieces missing from the puzzle. What happened to the books between 1992 and 2003? Were BiCo students aware of the books as a resource, and who was responsible for them? If you have a piece to add to the puzzle, please email greenfieldhwe@brynmawr.edu or comment below! I’d also love to hear from anyone who remembers the library in any of its incarnations.

Interested in the Rainbow Alliance/Women’s Center Collection holdings? We’ll be sharing our favorite books on the Greenfield Digital Center tumblr this fall!

Looking Back, Thinking Ahead: The Greenfield Digital Center Summer Recap

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Summer already feels long behind us, as recently returned Mawrters and their professors get back into the swing of things and the weather cools. Now that everyone is settling in for the new semester, it’s an ideal time to catch up on what you missed over the past season of activity at The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center! We had an eventful summer, both finishing old projects and pushing forward on new ones, and, of course, we welcomed our new Director to campus. Here’s a recap of what we’ve been up to and a preview of some things we’ll be sharing soon:

MonicaMercadoOfficial

  • Monica Mercado arrived in July and immediately hit the ground running. Already she has been through new faculty orientation, CLIR training, an ArcGIS workshop, and more—and somehow found time to return to the University of Chicago to graduate with her PhD in August.
  • The 2013 Pensby Center interns, Alexis De La Rosa ’15 and Lauren Footman ’14, put the finishing touches on their digital exhibit exploring the experiences of students and staff of color on campus. In addition to Lauren andAlexis De La Rosa and Lauren Footman Alexis’s research documenting a history of diversity at Bryn Mawr, results from Alexis’s survey to alumnae about their experiences, and original photography of students and spaces on campus, the exhibit includes a series of new oral history interviews that tell the stories of faculty, staff, and students who were impacted by issues of race and class during their time at Bryn Mawr. The digital project A Point of Difference was released in July and can be viewed hereContinue reading

“Where We Are…”: Adventures in Mapping Bryn Mawr History

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Bryn Mawr College driving directions (n.d.) in Bryn Mawr College Campus Maps on Triptych.

Bryn Mawr College driving directions (n.d.) in Bryn Mawr College Campus Maps.

Maybe it’s because I’ve only been here for two months, or maybe it’s just nostalgia for my own college days, but with Customs Week at Bryn Mawr wrapping up, and classes getting underway, I’m feeling sympathy for new students and faculty navigating campus. Even with ten days living in a Pem East single as a CLIR Fellow under my belt, I still keep a copy of the current campus map in my bag and bookmarked on my iPhone. (At least I’m no longer confusing Taylor with Thomas!)

I’ve also been thinking a lot about maps after taking my first introduction to ArcGIS mapping software last month, as part of a Mellon-funded Tri-Co Environmental Studies initiative organized by Swarthmore College. Over three days, I joined nearly twenty Tri-Co faculty members interested in the possibilities of organizing spacial data. With most of us new to ArcGIS, the workshop opened with two basic questions:

  • What kinds of spacial questions do you encounter in your research?
  • What kinds of spacial questions do our students encounter in their classes?

To put it another way, maps can tell us where we are, but can they tell us who we are?

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Scalar: A Digital Take on Physical Space

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This piece originally appeared on the blog of the Tri-Co Digital Humanities Initiative, who have sponsored Brenna Levitin (BMC ’16) as our intern this summer. In addition to the two posts she has published on the Tri-Co DH site, Brenna has published regular updates on this blog. To catch up with her summer work, read her thoughts on a find in the 1989 Alumnae Bulletin, her consideration of silence in the archives, and her approach to using digital tools to address the silence.

Mapping Scalar paths in post-its

Using post-its to map Scalar paths

When I last wrote, I optimistically assumed that July would be for oral histories and August would be for creating the exhibit. In reality, oral history work has bled over into August, and I’ve actually been building the exhibit since mid-July. I also described the analog/digital split in my project, which has evolved; as August has worn on, I’ve simultaneously handled our first donations of alumnae/i materials (flyers, photos, etc) while drafting the actual pages of the exhibit.

As the first Scalar project undertaken at Bryn Mawr Special Collections, I am conscious of my duty to document the process. Scalar has offered me enormous freedom to design the exhibit in any multi- or non-linear way that I wish. That freedom is not without a price, however; non-linear documentation means that pages can fall through the cracks; technically contained within the exhibit but unlikely to fall within the viewer’s path. Recently, I struggled to decide how to organize the exhibit in a way that would not imply that this history is complete while still showcasing every possible morsel of information that I gathered. Continue reading

Academic Libraries in a Digital World

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CLIR logoEarlier this month, I spent 10 days at the Council on Libraries and Information Resources/Digital Library Federation (CLIR/DLF) postdoctoral fellows orientation seminar, an experience many of us fondly termed “library boot camp,” and others “Hogwarts School of Data Curation and Wizadry,” given the setting here at Bryn Mawr. In its tenth year, the CLIR/DLF postdoctoral fellows orientation gave twenty-seven new fellows (the biggest cohort yet!) an introduction to theories and methods in library and information studies, and data curation. As recent Ph.D.’s in fields ranging from comparative literature to biomedical informatics and everything in between, we’ll be taking a diverse array of positions in academic libraries across North America.

Our 2014 summer seminar agenda lives online at the CLIR website, and many of the presenters made their slides and notes publicly available, including:

CLIR DLF fellows tour Thomas Great Hall.

CLIR DLF fellows tour Thomas Great Hall (photo credit: Meredith Beck Sayre)

Do you see a theme? Data, data, data. There’s a lot of it. For the non-scientists in the room, Allan Renear, Dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign stated it bluntly: “Humanists have really difficult data challenges.” Luckily we had help:

How much has changed, I thought, as we toured Bryn Mawr’s Thomas Great Hall (once, the College’s main library, now, a campus gathering space). Or has it? Seminar leaders Elliott Shore and Lauren Coats reminded us of the role of libraries as service providers, even when the kinds of services needed are changing.

Still, I couldn’t help wondering, who are we serving?

Continue reading

LGB(T): the problem of gender identity in a historical narrative

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Last week a comment by G Ragovin on Brenna Levitin’s most recent blog post raised a crucial point, which I believe warrants a response and a call for further thought:

Really really hoping that this winds up being LGB and T, rather than LGb. I’m aware that sometimes discussing trans or gender non-conforming folks adds whole new dimensions to work that genuinely are beyond the expertise or time that a researcher has available, but also that the history of gender non-conforming folks and LGB folks is deeply intertwined, difficult to pull apart because of the ways identity categories have shifted.

G’s comment reminded me of a couple of aspects of this project that we have not yet addressed on the blog, including how we are grappling with the slippery nature of identity categories over time, and how we plan to represent gender non-conforming subjects in the final product(s). Studying avenues of gender- and sexual deviance in relation to a changing mainstream always poses dilemmas when performing research on historical queer subjects: to excavate stories from the past for a contemporary audience sometimes involves acts of translation that suggest false equivalencies and elide important aspects of historical context. Past lgbt-flagprojects have taught me the difficulty of researching queer subjects in the nineteenth century,1 a challenge that G alludes to: “you can ask (and this may not be a useful question for gaining insight into past lives, but you can ask) would some 19th and early 20th c. inverts take to the terminology of the contemporary trans community, if they knew of it?”

Any researcher will be confronted with various dimensions of cultural change that make it difficult to draw clean lines between eras when working on queer subjects in the past. These include, among others:

  • Evolving vocabularies for describing identity categories
  • Shifting politics of identity categories, such as harsher or relaxed stigmas
  • Changes in the practices that would mark one as a sexual/gender deviant
  • Differences in how people document their sexual and gendered identities in ways that are readable to the future.

As G alludes to in their comment, the inclusive term “LGBT(Q)” tends to be applied very broadly despite the fact that trans* people tend to receive secondary recognition and that their perspectives are often markedly different from cisgender non-heterosexual individuals. In her work on this project for Tri-Co DH, Brenna is striving to incorporate voices beyond Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual, but G was right to suggest that this aspect of the project presents an extra challenge.2 Though less obscure to us than those of the 19th century, even queer histories from the last few decades often resist direct mapping to present-day vocabularies.

transgender-umbrella


Transgender Umbrella page from the GENDER book. (cc) www.thegenderbook.com

In our first oral history interview, we asked our interviewee to comment on recognition of LGBT subjects in the College’s academic course material. He prefaced his response by remarking that “the B[isexual] and T[ransgender] dimensions did not figure, in ’89.” He acknowledged that there were transgender students as well as faculty members on campus at the time, but we have not yet been able to make contact with them in order to establish details or accounts of their perspectives. We have managed to be in touch with multiple transmen who identified as lesbians when they attended Bryn Mawr, and at least one is participating in the project. To what extent do their accounts represent a trans* student experience at Bryn Mawr? Certainly their experiences must be treated as valid and authentic, and yet they will never be able to furnish us with a sense of what it would have been like to navigate the social and academic waters of Bryn Mawr as an out member of a trans* community—nor should they be lumped in with a more generalized lesbian experience, even though they were active participants in lesbian and bisexual communities.

We’re interested in representing a variety of individual experiences without tokenism; a mentality of trying to check all the boxes should not be, and is not, our guiding strategy.   Yet it remains a challenge to balance the responsibility of inclusion with an awareness of the complexity of identity and the shortcomings of the vocabularies that we use to describe them. While questions remain about how to frame the contributions of our participants, we will continue to grapple with creating space for authentic T[ransender] voices in this work while leaving room for fluidity both in cultural and personal histories.

Footnotes

1A classic example of this problem from Bryn Mawr history is the personal life of the school’s second president, M. Carey Thomas. It is well known that she spent most of her life with female companions with whom she was emotionally intimate. However, no source provides perfect clarity on the exact extent of her physical intimacy with either Mamie Gwinn or Mary Garrett, her two long-term partners. Thomas lived in an era in which the convention of the Boston marriage made formalized romantic friendships between women socially acceptable, but such partnerships obviously existed in a different social context from current-day same-sex relationships. Because of her reputation as a staunch feminist and a forward thinker across many fronts, it can be tempting to view Thomas’s associations with Gwinn and Garrett as proto-lesbian relationships. However, to do so is problematic both because it insinuates details of physical intimacy that the historical record cannot confirm or deny, but also because it privileges sexual activity as a marker of legitimacy.

2For excellent recent work on the gender and gender non-conforming individuals at the College, see 2014 Pensby intern Emmett Binkowski’s project History of Gender Identity and Expression at Bryn Mawr College

Silence in the Archives, Part II: New Paths

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For Brenna’s previous reflections on this topic, see Silence in the Archives, Part I: Inviting Inquiry.

Brenna Levitin '16 asks, how do we study lesser-known aspects of Bryn Mawr student life?

Brenna Levitin ’16 in the College Archives. How do we study lesser-known aspects of Bryn Mawr student life?

Since my unconference session at PhillyDH@Penn, I’ve spent many hours mulling over ways to represent a project which each day becomes more complex. Because of the silence of our archives on the topic of LGBT life at Bryn Mawr, my project now relies heavily on personal accounts, discovered both through oral histories and informational interviews with alumnae/i and members of the faculty and administration.

Oral accounts are notoriously tricky: often narrators mix up names or dates, and personal narratives color everything. It’s the job of the historian (or historian-in-training) to interpret the narrator’s stories and to position them within both the overall narrative and the narrative of their life. It’s important to think critically about what might have shaped a person’s narrative so that we as historians do not naively accept everything we are told: we may hear two accounts which are factually divergent but represent equally valid experiences.

As I slid down the archival silence rabbit hole, it became clear that Omeka, the technology which The Greenfield Digital Center typically uses to create digital exhibits, would not be able to contain a decentralized, testimony-based project such as this one. My supervisor, a more experienced digital humanist than I, suggested an alternate program: Scalar.

scalarlogoFor those unfamiliar, Scalar is an open-source, online tool which allows scholars to build non-linear or multi-linear multimedia “books.” So far, Scalar appears to be a better tool for this project because it can showcase oral histories alongside blocks of text and images. I am especially enchanted by Scalar because it allows items to annotate or comment on other items, a great way to represent many, divergent stories, and because it allows multiple paths. As I build the exhibit, I’ll be able to specify not only an overall, linear path, but also a path which contains major events held by LGBT student groups or one with all of the reported instances of homophobia.

This multi-linear capacity means that not only are we not tied to one narrative, something which history struggles to accommodate at the best of times, but we are also free to portray the richness and diversity of the LGBT experience at Bryn Mawr. Some people loved college life, others didn’t; some were head of the Rainbow Alliance while others stuck to their tight-knit foursome. Every time that I send an email to a community member to request an interview, I include the fact that I’m not just looking for one universal, positive, “gay Bryn Mawr” experience. It’s important to me to amplify the voices of all; for without those voices, our tenuous connection to our history as an LGBT institution would fray irreparably.

Silence in the Archives, Part I: Inviting Inquiry

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When the Digital Center’s TriCoDH summer intern Brenna Levitin ’16 last wrote about her project, she was in the early stages of researching Bryn Mawr’s LGBT history. Recently, Brenna’s focus has shifted to methods for acknowledging silence in the archives, and she is now looking at ways to use her final exhibition project to represent—not fill—that silence.

I’ve begun this blog post four times, each hoping that this iteration will be the one that gels—the one that sums up archival silence in just the right way. I’ve realized, however, that perhaps the problem is the subject matter itself. Archival silence is not an easy topic: each interaction illuminates a single page of history and three blank books. Perhaps that’s why this blog post has been hard to write; after all, writing about what does not exist is difficult and an overwhelmingly foreign task to a fledgling historian.

Historians are intimately familiar with silence; one of the first things which my historian major advisor reminded me to think about for this project was silence. Anyone who attempts to write from physical archives knows the weight of the silence contained within; anyone using oral histories acknowledges the silence from those who did not, would not, or could not volunteer.

My project uses what little the physical archives contains alongside oral histories, cross-referencing the two in an attempt to provide the fullest picture of Bryn Mawr’s LGBT history possible. Even if I am able to confirm the veracity of the information, I still need a way of representing the silence. A truly complete image of history will never be reached for any subject, especially not for any study of minorities. Archives are writ by the victors, not the marginalized sexual minorities.

PhillyDH@Penn via Technical.ly Philly

PhillyDH@Penn via Technical.ly Philly

Last month, I explored this topic in an unconference session at PhillyDH@Penn. An animated group discussed visualizing archival silence and its inherent problems. We discussed how to make silence not just noticeable, but enticing; in a physical museum if viewers are invited to uncover something, they are often more likely to look at it. Moreover, the physicality of uncovering actively involves them in the process. They don’t simply gaze passively at a blank space, wonder about it for a moment, and move on; instead they boldly take action, resulting in questioning their assumptions about history as a process and about the preservation of minority culture.

This method of inviting an action or inquiry of an empty or blank space also queers the act of disseminating history. By doing so, not only do we move away from static installations built of text and images; we provoke critical thought about the historical process. Readers are thus encouraged to think as historians, to critically consider the landscape of history as subjective and fluid. As we elucidate the history of queer experiences at Bryn Mawr, my hope is that we also illuminate the historical process. To me, digital humanities is all about making academia accessible. To illustrate archival gaps by revealing the silences and amplifying the voices of queer community members is a worthy goal.

Next week, Brenna’s post will discuss the search for a technology to help document her findings and visualize silence.

Technology and Feminism: Rethinking our Digital Tools

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June and July have been busy months so far for the Greenfield Digital Center. Rather than a slowing of activity, the departures of students and faculty members from campus have left us free to reach out and connect to broader communities of feminist and digital scholars. I have recently attended several events and programs, including the Digital Humanities Summer Institute in Victoria, British Columbia, Philly DH at Penn, and the “GLAM Day Out” LGBTQ Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia.

GLAM_Day_Out_poster_SmallerThere have been equally exciting developments happening closer to home, as well. Our regular followers will recall that we are hosting summer intern Brenna Levitin with funding and programmatic support from the Tri-Co Digital Humanities Initiative, and, of course, we welcomed Monica L. Mercado as the Digital Center’s new Director on July 1st.  The last two months have brought a flood of new ideas, people, and potential research.

With new projects underway and a new leader in place, this summer seemed like a perfect transitional moment to do some reflecting on theory and methodology. We have now been using the same tools (Omeka, WordPress, and a handful of others—for two years, and I felt it was time to renew my consciousness of the relationship between the technology we use and the content we produce. When I enrolled in Feminist Digital Humanities at DHSI, my interest in the course was inspired by the idea that it might help me ground a more thoughtful approach to how we use technology to further feminist and historical inquiries at the Greenfield Digital Center.

Continue reading

A Point of Difference: Diversity at Bryn Mawr College

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A Point of DifferenceLast summer, Bryn Mawr’s Pensby Center interns Alexis De La Rosa ’15 and Lauren Footman ’14 began research on histories of diversity on campus, with a particular focus on students and staff of color. Their research took many forms: surveys, new photography, and oral history, as well as research in the College Archives. We’re pleased to announce that their project is now online, and hosted on the Digital Center’s website:

A Point of Difference: Diversity at Bryn Mawr College

Alexis De La Rosa and Lauren Footman

Alexis De La Rosa and Lauren Footman

Over the past year, Alexis and Lauren have reflected on the origins of their project. More recently, Digital Center Associate Director Evan McGonagill considered how we document the experiences of students of color in our archives and institutional histories–what she called building an archive of change. In the conclusion of their exhibit, Alexis and Lauren write:

We hope our work will just be the beginning of an ongoing institutional commitment to research, acknowledge, and document the experiences and contributions of marginalized communities on campus, and join us in celebrating this rich history.

We view this research as necessary, and just the beginning of what we imagine as more projects linking student interest in the history of Bryn Mawr College to our diverse communities. We’re looking forward to continuing these conversations on campus, and in our digital spaces.

Do you have historical knowledge or personal information about diversity on campus in the last twenty-five years (or beyond)? Share your experiences in the comments below, or contact us on Twitter @GreenfieldHWE or by email: greenfieldhwe@brynmawr.edu.

A New Start: Monica’s First Days at the Greenfield Digital Center

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On July 1, 2014, Monica L. Mercado joined Bryn Mawr College Libraries as the CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow and Director of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education.

Last week, I unpacked my boxes, learned how to read the SEPTA train schedule, and arrived on campus, eager to dig into Bryn Mawr Special Collections and the resources supported by the Digital Center.

Exploring Bryn Mawr's campus.

Exploring Bryn Mawr’s campus.

This month I’m getting up to speed on our NEH-funded planning grant, already underway, which is supporting the development of a collaborative digital portal with the libraries of Barnard College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Vassar College, Wellesley College, and the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. [You might have seen the project announced on Technical.ly Philly last month.] This portal will make available materials documenting the first generation of students at the colleges once known as the “Seven Sisters,” and we hope it will offer researchers new access and insights into the experiences of women at our institutions in their founding years and beyond.

I’m also interested in considering how the Digital Center and the College Archives can document more recent histories of women’s education. This summer, we’re lucky to have TriCoDH summer intern Brenna Levitin (BMC ’16) at the Digital Center. Brenna is currently investigating queer histories of Bryn Mawr for a future digital exhibition, mining the College Archives, and beginning an oral history project that we hope will continue after her internship concludes.

Monica's summer reading: A Book of Bryn Mawr Stories (1901)

Monica’s summer reading: A Book of Bryn Mawr Stories (1901)

I’m already energized by sharing a workspace with Brenna and the College Archives’ other student workers, who are happy to answer all my questions about campus! Moreover, advising students like Brenna doing new research in women’s education history has been a terrific introduction to the wealth of materials housed in Bryn Mawr’s archives (and already digitized), but also suggests to me ways in which the Digital Center can be part of a conversation about collections development, and how we document the last few decades of student life.

Although it may be the middle of summer, we’re busy planning for the year ahead. With the greater College community, we’re looking forward to the formal inauguration of Bryn Mawr’s ninth President, Kimberly Wright Cassidy, on September 20, for which I’ll be creating my first digital exhibition. And as I prepare my upcoming course on women’s education history for the Bryn Mawr College History Department, I’ll be reviewing how the Digital Center can serve as a more robust repository of ideas for college-level teaching in women’s history.

We’re also beginning to think about a second conference, building on the success of last year’s meeting, Women’s History in the Digital World. In many ways, my own introduction to digital history was facilitated by the connections I made at that inaugural conference, and I hope to use the Digital Center as a platform to reach audiences new to digital projects in women’s and gender history, as well as to support the work of a growing group of historians, archivists, and digital humanists who are making possible the future of the feminist past.

As part of getting to know the Bryn Mawr community, I’ll be working closely with Digital Center Assistant Director Evan McGonagill to continue to build relationships with College alumnae/i as well as scholars engaged in the growing field of digital history. Through our website, this blog, and other social media,including tumblr and Twitter, as well as events on campus, we hope you’ll continue to follow our work.

Veritatem dilexi: Lesbian

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BrennaLevitin

Brenna Levitin, Class of 2016

Welcome to summer! We have partnered with the Tri-Co Digital Humanities Initiative  this year to sponsor a Greenfield intern to conduct historical research in the college archives for a digital project. Brenna Levitin, class of 2016, is a Gender and Sexuality Studies major and will be spending the summer excavating some of the history of queer individuals and groups on campus at Bryn Mawr. In just over a week in the archives Brenna has covered an immense amount of material and has already uncovered some interesting finds. Here, she shares a poem written by an alumna from the class of 1968 that was published in the 1989 Alumnae Bulletin. Look for more posts from Brenna as the summer continues!


Bryn Mawr is often associated with lesbians by the world’s collective conscious. This association and its accompanying veracity have, however not always been publically acknowledged by the college itself. When looking through the archive, LGBT sentiments most often crop up in student publications. These newspapers, zines, and booklets give passionate voice to the oft-marginalized lesbian[i] students.

In 1989, the Alumnae Bulletin published “The Pluralism Issue,” which gave voice to those alumnae/i who felt marginalized on campus. The editors sent out a call for submissions of writing about the minority experience throughout Bryn Mawr’s 104 year history. Most wrote about the lives of racial and ethnic minorities, but a vocal section described living as lesbians on a campus simultaneously approbative and hostile to homosexuality. Responses came from far—class of 1939 and near—class of 1989, from anonymous submissions with vague graduation dates to those who confidently outed themselves.

One submission was the following poem, written in 1989 by Judith Masur ’68. The poem discusses the experience of a lesbian living within the predominant heterosexual culture of Bryn Mawr. Though awareness of sexual minorities is a fairly recent event, Masur elegantly weaves the tale of lesbianism throughout all of Bryn Mawr’s history, from M. Carey Thomas to the present.

 Poemp19

The first reference, to Bryn Mawr’s motto, is repeated twice.

Veritatem dilexi

Veritatem dilexi: Lesbian

“Veritatem dilexi” means I delight in the truth. Which truth is left ambiguous, but is implied to be the existence of lesbians at Bryn Mawr. It is easy to see how lesbianism can be an eternal truth of Bryn Mawr: from M. Carey Thomas’s journals, to Applebee’s eponymous column, to the open mic nights of today, literary expressions of lesbianism are threaded through our history like one strand in a complex tapestry.

The second stanza makes blatant reference to M. Carey Thomas and her partners, Mamie Gwinn and Mary Garrett, who lived together with Thomas (at different times) in her on-campus residence, the Deanery.

The President’s ‘friend’
The First Dean’s ‘companion’

Lesbianism as it is now understood did not exist in the 1890s, either as perversion or as fact of life. Gwinn and Garrett were explained as Thomas’s dear friends and companions, words which inadequately summed up their relationships as romantic and likely sexual partners.

M. Carey Thomas is referenced again later:

What was it she said
About marriage and failure?
Maybe we got it right the first time

The anonymous “she” is Thomas, often misquoted as saying that only Bryn Mawr’s failures marry. Most likely, the quote was closer to, “Our failures only marry.” The poem wonders at the common misconception, inquiring whether the mistaken Thomas quote is perhaps the correct one. Written when marriage equality was not even a star on the horizon, the poem implicates heterosexual marriage as failure. Those who married men, failed. Perhaps the ultimate failure is, as a school, to erase the rich history of lesbians at Bryn Mawr.

This post is the first of a series concerning the history of LGBT presence at Bryn Mawr College.


[i] We use lesbian here because we are primarily discussing time periods where other non-heterosexual sexualities were not yet understood. We acknowledge and affirm the existence of bisexual and pansexual students on campus, and we hope that these remarks will be understood as addressing them, and any other woman-lovers, as well as the named lesbians.

Sharing Student Writings Across the Seven Sisters: History of Women’s Education Open Access Portal Project

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As we announced last week, we recently learned that our grant proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities has been successfully funded. For interested and curious members of the community, here are more details of the project:

The one-year planning grant we received is for an endeavor spearheaded by The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education to lead a collaboration between the schools once known as the Seven Sisters, which include Bryn Mawr College, Barnard College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Vassar College, Wellesley College, and the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. We have proposed to develop a shared approach to cataloging and providing access to digital versions of letters, diaries, and scrapbooks of the first generations of students of all seven schools.

The Seven Sisters schools were at the forefront of advanced education for women in the United States, educating many of the most ambitious, socially conscious, and intellectually committed women in the country. Going to college in the early years was not only an intellectually and socially awakening experience for these women, but it also provided an occasion for most of them to engage in extensive letter writing to family and friends, and to keep diaries and scrapbooks that preserved their impressions, ambitions, and memories of these first years of independence from home. Large numbers of these student writings are now preserved but siloed in the libraries of the seven schools, where they constitute an unparalleled and only partially tapped resource for the study of a wide range of women’s history issues over the last century and a half. The collections include discussions of race and class, political reform and women’s rights, sexuality and body image, the experience of being Jewish at predominantly Protestant institutions, interactions with students from Europe and Asia, and the experience of living through wars, the pandemic of 1918-1919, and the Depression.  This funding will allow us to make our collections more widely accessible to researchers and the general public through the development of a common search portal featuring digitized and transcribed facsimiles and an agreed-upon set of metadata and shared thematic vocabulary standards.

Currently, public use of the collections is impeded by their dispersal across the seven campuses and by the limited status of digitization of the items. The research value of these materials would be greatly increased by the ability to consider them as a whole body, rather than as associated fragments. The goal of this project, therefore, is to offer access to the papers through a single portal focusing on the experiences of students at women’s colleges. Since the value of a shared portal depends upon an agreed-upon set of standards for cataloging, taxonomy, transcription and digitization, a major part of the project’s work will be devoted to developing these standards.

The grant will fund one year of extensive planning between the schools, at the end of which we hope to embark on a program of digitization and transcription of student writings to be made accessible through the new portal. A longer-term goal is to implement a structure capable of accommodating digitized contributions from a wider group of institutions, further expanding the scope and utility of the aggregated collection.

Though the original visionary of the project, Jennifer Redmond, has since moved on, we look forward to working with Monica Mercado when she arrives in July to direct the Greenfield Digital Center in this next exciting phase of our work!

Bryn Mawr #7SistersWiki Edit-a-Thon: a Photo Story

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EditingCropLast week we successfully hosted our first Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon! After holding a test run and gathering advice from many experienced Wikipedians during early 2014, we convened a group of eighteen on Tuesday evening in Bryn Mawr’s Canaday Library to learn the ins and outs of editing from Mary Mark Ockerbloom and help close the Wikipedia gender disparity in honor of Women’s History Month.

Editathon sources

Sources for editing, heavily featuring the work of Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz

Planning began months ahead of time, and in the days and weeks leading up to the event we solicited ideas for new pages and articles to improve from those who planned to attend. We then collected a variety of printed sources to aid us in editing and creating that content, lists of records from Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections that could be linked to existing articles, and web sources for reference.

2014-03-25 16.17.15

Mary introduces Wikipedia

Mary opened the event with an informative talk detailing the key Wikipedia principles and culture, and methods for basic editing. Video footage of the talk is available at the bottom of this post, and slides are available here. After the presentation, we began editing our articles. Experienced Wikipedians moved around the room assisting those who were new to editing.

IMG_3324 (2)

Katy Holladay, Leigh-Anne Yacovelli, Joelle Collins, and Mary Mark Ockerbloom editing

Outcomes of the event: the Bryn Mawr Seven Sisters Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon was attended by 18 people, including seven staff members, four Bryn Mawr students, and seven local Wikipedians. Six attendees were new to editing the site.

The content we worked on is listed on the event page: together we created five new articles, two of which are public and three of which are currently in progress. We improved twelve existing articles and uploaded eleven images to Wikimedia Commons. We also created a Commons page for Bryn Mawr, so that all of the official College images we upload to Wikipedia can be centrally gathered and marked with an “institution template” that provides information about Bryn Mawr.

The most important outcome was empowering all 18 users to better contribute to the site as a resource for all. And, of course, Kimberly Wright Cassidy is no longer without Wiki-recognition! The page is very basic right now and we encourage everyone to add information to expand, improve, and interlink the information written there.

IMG_3331

Jeff and Elizabeth Guin from PhillyDH edit deviously

Happy editing!

National Endowment for the Humanities Funds the History of Women’s Education Open Access Portal Project

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Student_studyingBryn Mawr has just been awarded a $39,650 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for its “History of Women’s Education Open Access Portal Project,”  being run through the Greenfield Digital Center. This will be a one-year project to plan and conduct pilot work for an online portal to archival sources pertaining to the history of women’s higher education in the United States, and it is being done in collaboration with the special collections departments of the other Seven Sisters Colleges: Barnard, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, and the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.  We will be posting much more about this exciting project in the coming months!

Women’s History Month 2014: Shaping Our Own Historical Narratives, and an Edit-a-Thon

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Happy Women’s History Month!

PemArchSnow

Pembroke Arch in the Snow, via the Bryn Mawr College instagram

Here at the Greenfield Digital Center every month is women’s history month, but March is the #WmnHist-est month of all! This year we are celebrating by highlighting examples of women actively participating in the creation of the historical narrative. Rather than focusing exclusively on achievements of women in the past, we are encouraging women today to use their voices in the present to be agents of the historical record through whatever means are available to them. Our goal this month is to engage in actively shaping new narratives of the past, and to create opportunities for others to participate as well, so that we can move into the future with a richer self-understanding.

Recently I have been reflecting on the value of “activist, purposive” historical work, inspired in part by my participation in the History and Future of Higher Education (#FutureEd) MOOC, coordinated by HASTAC and led by Professor Cathy Davidson at Duke University. Davidson introduces this concept in order to shift the focus of historical work from the study of a static past to useful application in the present. Historiography tells us that there is no one historical truth: our understanding of the past is shaped by countless filters and biases. Therefore we must approach the study of history with awareness of our own filters and a clear idea of how we want to use knowledge of the past to shape our present and future. An “activist, purposive” history is one that approaches the past with questions about how we got where we are in order to empower ourselves to make changes that will take us where we want to go next. The Greenfield Digital Center proposes that we make March, 2014, a month of active explorations in history that give us the tools to execute important changes in our communities.

WIKIPEDIA: FILLING OUT THE HISTORICAL RECORD.

Hilda Worthington Smith: click here to view the Wikipedia article draft

Hilda Worthington Smith: click here to view the Wikipedia article

First, we are excited to announce that we will be hosting our first public Wikipedia edit-a-thon for WikiWomen’s History Month on Tuesday, March 25th, at Bryn Mawr College. In January we dedicated a blog post to reflecting on the value of using Wikipedia to write women back into history. (We also hosted a trial run edit-a-thon in which I began an article on Hilda Worthington Smith, which has now been finished but not yet approved for publication. Update: the article has been approved and posted!) Rather than having a narrowly defined theme like the Art + Feminism edit-a-thon that took place last month, this event will use the holdings of Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections to educate any user who is interested in learning the basics of editing Wikipedia, no experience necessary. Our iteration on the 25th will be one of several such events organized between the Seven Sisters Colleges:

How to host an edit-a-thon: always provide snacks!

How to host an edit-a-thon: always provide snacks!

  •  Barnard, Mount Holyoke, and Smith kick it off on Tuesday, March 4th (that’s today!). Join them in New York, South Hadley, or Northampton.
  • Radcliffe follows on March 12th in Cambridge.
  • Bryn Mawr wraps it up on the 25th: Our event page is a work-in-progress, but check it out now if you’re interesting in seeing a list of some of the articles that we will be working on improving.

Use hashtags #7sisterswiki and #WikiWomen to discuss the events and support those who are participating!

REVISITING, REWORKING, RETELLING OUR OWN NARRATIVES

While we prepare for the edit-a-thon at the end of the month, we will be practicing a different type of “activist, purposive” history throughout March. As we have discussed in this space, the act of uncovering the history of diversity at the college has been a recent topic of focus here. The role of prejudice in Bryn Mawr’s institutional history can be difficult to piece together, partially because during the early years of the college, cultural assumptions about what constituted prejudice looked very different from how they are today. This makes prejudice invisible but implicitly present in all of our early history, but as it became a topic of national conversation over the course of the twentieth century the sense of awareness shifted. We are now beginning to dedicate more energy to uncovering these more recent threads of our history, rather than treading back over increasingly familiar stories of M. Carey Thomas’s racism (the 1916 speech extolling white supremacy, the sly exclusion of talented black student Jessie Redmon Fauset).

Moving beyond a conception of prejudice that is stuck in the past

Moving beyond a conception of prejudice that is stuck in the past

Though they are still important, dwelling too much on the shortcomings of an individual figure in our very early history is simple and safe, and may come at the expense of exploring more recent stories that require attention and accountability in the present day. Part of our work this year for Women’s History Month will be highlighting and publishing work, such as that of the Pensby Interns, that reflects actively on our recent history and incorporates the experiences of students, faculty, staff, and alumnae, to create a richer picture of who we are as a community. This new content will include a digital exhibit, several oral history interviews from alumnae, staff and faculty, and the results of a survey on diversity that was conducted over the summer. Explicit in this project is the question of what we can do to address the rifts that still exist more than 125 years after the College’s founding.

Watch this space over the course of the month as we reexamine key moments in the history of the College with an eye towards change in the present, and join us at our Wikipedia edit-a-thon to exercize your voice in the public record!

Don’t forget to spread the word: use #7sisterswiki and #WikiWomen and follow us on Twitter @GreenfieldHWE, and Tumblr at http://greenfield-digitalhistory.tumblr.com/.

“College Tackles Racism and Classism” in 1988: Learning From a Quarter Century of Conflict over Campus Diversity

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HeadlineWhile browsing through a copy of the Summer 1988 Alumnae Bulletin this month, I came across an article in the “What Goes On” column of campus updates entitled “College Tackles Racism and Classism.” Noting its relevance to recent conversations in the college community, I perused the pages to get a sense of the climate of the college around these issues in the ‘80s. In doing so I learned about an event in the college’s history that reveals visible roots of our current dialogues on the topic of diversity.

Flipping through the Alumnae Bulletin in Special Collections

Flipping through the Alumnae Bulletin in Special Collections

THE ARTICLE. The piece begins by setting the scene: “On the morning of Tuesday, April 19, students, faculty, and staff filled Goodhart auditorium to capacity for an all-college convocation on racism and classism….The convocation was in response to a statement, written by two undergraduates and signed by more than 400 members of the college community, which asserted: ‘[E]ven though the administration may have fooled itself into thinking that it is actively opposed to racist and classist prejudices, it certainly has not fooled us,’ and went on to cite examples of prejudice from students quoted anonymously.” The story then includes several quotations that illustrate students’ encounters with prejudice on campus (shown in a graphic below), as well as describing demands brought by the student body and the response of President McPherson. I followed the trail to The College News–the paper known in its current iteration as the Bi-Co News–and read further coverage of the petition and the convocation incident in the April 8th, 1988, and April 22nd, 1988 issues, which are available on microfilm in Special Collections.

Perry House

Perry House

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF. Stumbling upon this outcry of frustration1 from a past generation of students felt like déjà vu. It brought to mind a period during my freshman year in spring, 2007, a similar campus-wide crisis around the handling of race and class. The headline printed at the beginning of this post will also remind many of the more recent dialogues around the loss of Perry House,2 which have been both painful and productive. Feeling a disturbing sense of resonance between the 1988 episode and the various others that have occurred in years since, I was led to the question: are we reliving our own history over and over again? Are we cycling through the same ruptures with every new generation of undergraduates, losing all of the healing and the learned experience every four years?

MEASURING PROGRESS. The challenge of assessing how far we have moved forward since 2007, 1988, or 1885 is in the fact that campus climate on issues like these is always diffused across the beliefs, behaviors and tacit cultural knowledge of a diverse and fluctuating group—making quantifiable analyses elusive. I made a first attempt at numerical measure by turning to the course catalog. Students in 1988 called for an increase in classes featuring non-Western populations and minority groups. My rough comparison between the course guides from spring 1988 and spring 2014 shows an increase of almost 30% in classes that fit that description (from 28 to 36).3 The change is good to see, but I would speculate that it is also indicative of a globalizing national culture and a general shift towards more inclusive worldviews, rather than being reflective exclusively of attitude changes at Bryn Mawr.

A less scientific angle is to analyze whether the institution is doing a better job of supporting dialogue and accountability around issues of racism and classism. Part of the impetus for the 1988 convocation was that a group called the Minority Coalition (made up of several sub-groups of minority students’ associations) submitted an impressive list of demands for institutional action. These included increased enrollment of minority students and hiring of minority staff and faculty, more focus on non-Western populations in the curriculum, designated spaces for minority groups on campus, and support for programs and inclusive conversations addressing race and class.

Mary Patterson McPherson, the sixth President of Bryn Mawr College

Mary Patterson McPherson, the sixth President of Bryn Mawr College

In response, President McPherson established an Affirmative Action Advisory Board and directed the Deans’ Office to organize a series of anti-racism workshops to be held each fall. These measures, though far from “fixing” the problem, seem in retrospect to be the seeds of an important shift: they acknowledge the responsibility of higher level administration to foster institutional self-awareness and accountability, and they attempt to remove some of the “burden…[ from] the students, particularly the minority students, to call the college to task,”4 a concern that was expressed at the convocation. They create sustained infrastructures to address the problem, rather than relying on an approach of issuing too-little-too-late responses to eruptions on campus.

It appears to me that, since the outburst described in the article, the administration has taken a stronger lead in creating, supporting, and fostering discussion of diversity on campus. This page contains a short history of appointed positions and offices of diversity, beginning with the actions taken by President McPherson in 1988 and continuing through the formation of the Diversity Leadership Group and the Diversity Council and the 2004 founding of the Office of Intercultural Affairs (recently re-branded as the Pensby Center).

2013 Pensby Interns Lauren Footman and Alexis De La Rosa with Pensby Center Director Vanessa Christmas

Pensby Interns Lauren Footman and Alexis De La Rosa with Vanessa Christman

Despite the loss of Perry House, the school has also designated more physical and digital space to the topic. The Multicultural Center (now also referred to as the Pensby Center) was constructed in 2001 but didn’t come into greater use in the community until 2003-4,5 when it was the site of regular conversations around diversity led by faculty members Anne Dalke and Paul Grobstein, from which an archive and forum still exist on the web space Serendip (the series continues today at the Pensby Center; attend the next one this Thursday, February 27th, at 12 noon.) Since a main concern of the students in 1988 was that support for cross-cultural learning and awareness was too often initiated by the student body, it is significant that these conversations were convened and led by faculty members, involved participants from all sectors of the community, and took place in an institutionally endorsed space.

MicroaggressionsComposite

DIVERSITY AT THE COLLEGE TODAY. Though I am admittedly missing some historical knowledge about diversity at the college between the 1950s and late 80s, the 1988 episode strikes me as a turning point to which we can trace many institutional structures and cultural values that endure today. From the creation of President McPherson’s Affirmitive Action Advisory Board we can draw a line through the Diversity Leadership Group and the Diversity Council to the founding of the Office of Intercultural Affairs. Pensby currently fosters both regular conversations and opportunities for deeper engagement with the issues through programs like the Pensby Internships.6 Students also continue to play an active role in stirring conversation, raising awareness, and calling Bryn Mawr to hold itself accountable. One example of a grassroots student-led project that is open to the whole community is Leverage: The Zine (find it on Facebook, Tumblr), which documents microaggressions on campus. And, yes, the microaggressions still happen–though we may have moved forward since 1988 in many ways, prejudice and problematic language continue to exist in our community. And students are still angry. I sent the statement above from the 1988 petition (“the administration may have fooled itself into thinking that it is actively opposed to racist and classist prejudices, it certainly has not fooled us”) to Pensby Intern and recently elected Vice-President of SGA Alexis De La Rosa, asking whether she felt that the bitterness of those words still accurately represents students’ attitude towards the administration and its attempts to foster diversity at Bryn Mawr. She responded:

AlexisLauren-300x207_000I do think that there are students on Bryn Mawr’s campus that felt/feel that way. It is not easy being a student of color at Bryn Mawr when you feel like you are not represented within SGA, the faculty of the college, and even administration. I think that feelings of resentment built up for many students that rose to the surface last year, and although students rallied together around the issue of Perry House, emotions ran very high. The biggest complaint I heard from students last year was that they felt silenced; their thoughts and opinions were not being heard. I do however think that there was a major (positive) shift the moment President Cassidy and Interim Provost Osirim took over. President Cassidy immediately addressed student concerns and apologized for the college’s past mistakes, which had not been done before in a way that seemed sincere to students of color.

REFLECTIONS ON PROGRESS, AND BUILDING THE ARCHIVE OF CHANGE. To review documents like these and see so many instances of crises and outbursts over the same issues can feel like a community failing. I return to my original question: does it mean that we aren’t learning from our past mistakes, that history is repeating itself? My personal answer is no, for several reasons:

  • First, my review of the history suggests that we have made significant progress. While some of the comments and complaints can feel chillingly familiar to the 2014 reader of an article written as early as 1988, I believe that the Bryn Mawr administration now does a much better job of weaving diversity education into the fabric of the student experience. It is now recognized as an institutional priority rather than an inconvenient issue to be neglected until the pot boils over.
  • Second, the country and the world are changing at their own pace. We live within permeable walls here, and we cannot expect to be impervious to influence from problems in the greater culture. This effect is magnified by the fact that the majority of our community members are only present for four years at a time, and a new group of students must begin their social education every year from scratch. Racism and classism will remain present at Bryn Mawr as long as it exists beyond, and while we cannot untether ourselves from the slow pace of global change, we can hope to lead it.
  • Third, the nature of historical research is that sometimes only the big eruptions make it into the record, and many day-to-day realities slip past undocumented. If the pattern of growth were a smooth line of progression rather than one punctuated by episodes of conflict, we might have a less rich repository to draw on today while tracing these histories. Perhaps, therefore, it is a productive model of change rather than a failing to see so many crises written about in the College News and the Alumnae Bulletin: the conversations that are big enough to happen in public are the ones that form the narrative we look back on in the future.
A page from the Pensby Interns' digital exhibit, a timeline of diversity at Bryn Mawr College

A page from the Pensby Interns’ digital exhibit, a timeline of diversity at Bryn Mawr College

Building upon the third point, there is another effect that makes me think that episodes of rage and fierce debate have a productive function for our self-awareness and learning. Though I cannot speak for those who were here in 1988, I can say that the pivotal events in 2007 and in 2013 inspired students to both look back to the historical record and to deliberately create new material for the archives so that present lessons could be preserved for future eyes. In 2007, two students reacted to the events by “gathering stories of discrimination from current students and pertinent stories from The Bi-Co News and Bryn Mawr College archives in order to aid Bryn Mawr’s institutional memory,”7 and a play by People IN Color in 2008 used materials from Special Collections to generate a more reflective account of the SGA rupture and create new dialogue around the incident. Today, the ongoing work of the Pensby Interns draws on historical information held in the college collections while simultaneously generating new accounts of Mawrtyr experiences of diversity in the form of an oral history project, a survey to alumnae, and a digital exhibit consolidating their findings which will be published imminently on our website.

While these contributions to the archive of institutional memory may not prevent conflict from returning, they do mean that future Mawrtyrs will be able to read each moment of learning as part of a larger story of growth. It is our responsibility to learn from our own history and document the struggles of our present so that the importance of diversity can be an essential part of every Mawrtyr’s Bryn Mawr education.

 

Do you have historical knowledge or personal information about diversity on campus in the last twenty-five years (or beyond)? We would love to have your contributions. Share your experiences in the comments below, or contact us directly by tweeting @GreenfieldHWE or by emailing greenfieldhwe@brynmawr.edu.

Footnotes

1 Tracing the story back to the College News, that particular week also featured articles sexism and anti-racism at Haverford: see articles “Haverford Women Fight Against Community Sexism” and “March Responds to Racism“. Evidently, racism and classism were felt pervasively by certain students at the bi-co and the topics were being regularly addressed in public.

2 Concerns about the financial neglect of Perry House are also raised in the 1988 article.

3 Measuring against the spring yields a conservative estimate of improvement: fall 1988 featured only 21 courses offered, which compared to the course guide of spring 2014 would stretch the increase to over 70%.

4 Paraphrase of a statement by Joyce Miller, Director of Minority Affairs, excerpted from the 1988 Alumnae Bulletin.

5 History according to Vanessa Christman, Assistant Dean and Director of Leadership and Community Development.

6 We have been collaborating since this past summer with Pensby Interns Alexis De La Rosa and Lauren Footman and will be presenting some of their work later in the week. Watch this space!

7 I have not heard what the status of this project is and whether the collection survives in any accessible form; I have reached out to one of the students to find out and will update this space if I get more information.

The Greenfield Digital Center Announces New Director

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Long-time followers of the Digital Center will recall that after her two years of outstanding leadership, our former Director, Jennifer Redmond, elected to depart last fall in order to pursue a position in the Department of History at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. After a carefully considered search, we are eager to announce that we have found our next Director and we are excited to welcome her this coming summer!

MonicaTalkCrop

Monica Mercado at the ASA Digital
Humanities Caucus, November 2013

Monica Mercado will complete her Ph.D. in U.S. Women’s History at the University of Chicago this spring. With a background in women’s history, museum studies, and archives, Monica is already deeply engaged with many of the subjects that are germane to the work of the Digital Center. Her previous topics of focus have included, among others, religious history, feminist and queer history, the history of the book, and women’s educational history and practices. (For examples of Monica’s recent work, see the links at the bottom of this post.) Her work has often interrogated the extent to which marginalized voices are either preserved or silenced both in their contemporary environments and in the historical record, a topic that increasingly informs the work that we are doing here at the Digital Center and which we intend to pursue further.

We first became acquainted with Monica through our inaugural conference last spring, Women’s History in the Digital World, at which we convened nearly one hundred scholars, students, independent researchers, archivist, librarians, technologists and others who were engaged with digital work in the fields of women’s and gender studies. She has remained one of a vibrant group of conference attendees who have continued to converse, through social media and other outlets, about the crucial presence of scholars in these disciplines in digital spaces. Monica agreed to share some words here:


mercadoOver the last year I have found the Digital Center to be an incredibly useful resource for my work with University archives in Chicago. Women’s History in the Digital World introduced me to new colleagues across the humanities, in academic departments, libraries, archives, and elsewhere, who are building exciting new projects in women’s and gender history using digital tools and contexts.

I am thrilled to join the Digital Center as its next Director, and to continue the work that makes Bryn Mawr an important place for taking seriously the future of women’s history. I look forward to organizing programs building on the Digital Center’s inaugural conference, reaching out to both existing audiences — from whom I have learned so much — as well as to audiences new to digital history — students and more advanced scholars who can look to the Digital Center’s online portal as a resource for developing new projects, or figuring out social media in the age of the #twitterstorian. Some of my most rewarding experiences at the University of Chicago have resulted from creating opportunities for undergraduate students to get involved first-hand with archives and community history, and I hope to expand upon these opportunities online and in the classroom at Bryn Mawr, where I will design and teach courses for the Department of History. And as a Barnard alumna, I’m eager to pursue new research and collaborative ventures that further uncover the histories of women’s education in women’s institutions.

See the links below to learn more about Monica and her work. We look forward to welcoming her in July, 2014, and opening a new phase of exciting work for the Digital Center.

Monica’s blog: http://monicalmercado.com

“A Desire for History: Building Queer Archives at the University of Chicago” (2013)

University of Chicago LGBTQ History Project tumblr (2012-present)

Religion in American History blog (contributor, 2013-present)

On Equal Terms? The Stakes of Archiving Women’s and LGBT History in the Digital Age (presented at Women’s History in the Digital World at Bryn Mawr College, March 2013)

‘On Equal Terms’ – Educating Women at the University of Chicago (co-authored with Katherine Turk, 2009)

 

Writing the Collective Record: on Delving into Wikipedia

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Bryn Mawr Special Collections is jumping on the edit-a-thon bandwagon!

Staff members participating in the edit-a-thon, January 10th 2013

Staff members participating in the edit-a-thon, January 10th 2013

This past Friday, we held a small trial run Wikipedia edit-a-thon: a gathering at which people work on adding to or editing articles on the encyclopedia website, often organized around a specific topic. The goal of the endeavor is multifaceted: we want to add information pertinent to our collections in order to increase awareness of our holdings; to improve general knowledge by enhancing existing articles with additional information; and to add to the global body of accessible knowledge on women and women’s history. I have begun writing a new article for Hilda Worthington Smith (not yet posted), a Bryn Mawr alumna who played a lead role in The Summer School for Women Workers in Industry in the 1920s and ’30s. Other colleagues added new articles, improved existing articles by adding links to our holdings, and interlinked between articles. This initial trial helped us to to gauge the challenges, feasibility, and possible benefits of holding similar events in the future with a broader group of participants.

Courtesy Wikipedia.org

Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Why Wikipedia? Surely there are other channels by which we might accomplish these goals–channels that are more reputable, or more specialized. Our alumnae, for instance, would be more likely to read about highlights from our collections through the Alumnae Bulletin, researchers can find us through networks of finding aids and citations, and anybody with an internet connection can browse the Triptych and Triarte databases to view the art objects, images, and documents that we hold. But the draw of Wikipedia isn’t specialization–it’s precisely the opposite.

With the abundance of information available on the internet growing every second, people are relying increasingly on powerful aggregators like Google and sites like Wikipedia which provide a centralized source for general knowledge. This is valuable and useful, but also cause for concern. As the amount of information covered by these tools grows, they take on the illusion of completeness. The phenomenon is summed up aptly by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales with the “Google test: ‘If it isn’t on Google, it doesn’t exist.’” (If a tree falls in a forest…) If it doesn’t exist on Wikipedia, the public perception is that it must not be very important.

Professors are notoriously uneasy with their students’ reliance on Wikipedia, and have been known to decry its democratic structure as a free-for-all for self-appointed journalists spreading unreliable information. While the concern may be overblown (the site actually has strict rules about citation and regularly cleans out content of poor quality), it is true that Wikipedia is only as reliable as those who participate in writing and editing it. Like all sources, its assertions should be interrogated rather than blindly accepted. The legitimate fear is not that it is fallible, but that its readers will forget that it is so. Once we recognize it as an incomplete, WikiGlobesoccasionally inaccurate, and highly mutable record, the conversation becomes much more interesting. If it is not a record of “everything,” what is it a record of? The diagram on the right is my interpretation of what it looks like to begin to refine our understanding of Wikipedia’s relation to wider cultural knowledge. I have never spoken to a person who actually believes the statement in stage 1, but my perception is that many people are stuck at stages 3 and 4. Versions of the statement in stage 5 have recently emerged at the center of dialogue in feminist and digital communities about the role that Wikipedia plays in our cultural knowledge, the assertion among feminists being that it both reinforces systemic problems and also provides opportunities for reform, which it becomes our responsibility to take.

While Bryn Mawr Special Collections will use the site to provide better access to our collections in general, the edit-a-thons also align particularly with the mission of The Greenfield Digital Center to build recognition of women in digital spaces. It is important to ensure that women and minority voices have a presence on Wikipedia, simply because it is so many people’s main reference for information–otherwise we risk losing sight of them entirely. Last Fall, our former Director Jennifer Redmond led a history class through the process of improving the Wikipedia article for M. Carey Thomas, demonstrating the incompleteness of what some view as the “official” record and the importance of taking the steps we can to fill in the gaps.

Filipacchio_OpEd

Filipacchio’s New York Times Op-Ed

The volume of the conversation around gender in Wikipedia rose to a new pitch in April 2013 when Amanda Filipacchi noticed a disturbing trend: Wikipedia editors were gradually moving women from the general “American Novelists” listing to a marginal sub-category called “American Women Novelists,” leaving the original list, with name still ungendered, exclusively male. This observation raised crucial questions about the visibility of marginalized groups and the responsibility of editors and others to consciously address these problems. Her article, and the flood of ensuing coverage, brought new focus to a conversation about the under-representation of women on the site–both as subjects of content and in their roles as contributors. (A useful summary of the conversation can be found here.) The dialogue became an opportunity to reflect on the systemic nature of sexism, and the insidious feedback loop between structural problems in society and sources like Wikipedia: culture reinforces its imbalances by creating a record that reflects them, replicating the existing flaws like mutated DNA as it constantly remakes itself in the image of the problematic record. In other words, rather than a record of the world itself, Wikipedia serves as a mirror of our worldview with the power to either perpetuate or transform the problems it contains.

Courtesy of Postcolonial Digital Humanities, http://dhpoco.org

Courtesy of Postcolonial Digital Humanities, http://dhpoco.org

The Importance of Participation: the best way to fix it is to get our feet wet and address the matter at the source of the controversy, and organized efforts like The Rewriting Wikipedia Project are taking the reigns. The under-representation of women, gender non-conforming individuals, people of color, and others on Wikipedia is a site-specific manifestation of a universal problem. By adding to and editing Wikipedia, therefore, we address two areas in need of change: we fill in the gaps that exist between the site and our culture, adding in those who have been left out of the encyclopedia but have achieved recognition by society outside the digital realm. (Examples include the women mentioned in this article who have won prestigious STEM awards but go unrecognized on Wikipedia). Additionally, in adding in those who have been neglected either on the site or in general society, we take steps towards correcting those lacks in the culture itself, from beyond and before Wikipedia: we reassert the importance and visibility of the marginalized, affirming their place in history and their right to be known. Because of its open structure, Wikipedia is more than just a mirror of the status quo: it is also a potential locus of powerful change.

Therefore, edit! Setting up a Wikipedia account is easy. Learning the editing protocol is a little bit more of an investment, but can be easily covered within an hour. By taking an organized approach to adding information into the site we can support each other as we learn how to edit, ask questions about material and learn about the collections, and make a difference in the visibility of Bryn Mawr’s remarkable collections and of women’s accomplishments in history. Edit-a-thons have been picking up all over the world, with growing frequency in past years, and we plan on holding another one in March to coincide with a Seven Sisters series of edit-a-thons for Women’s History Month. In the meantime, we will be publicizing and participating in events like the upcoming Art and Feminism edit-a-thon* on Saturday, February 1st, in order to continue to get our feet wet and learn the ins and outs of the site.

If you’re interested in getting involved with a future event, please write to us at GreenfieldHWE@brynmawr.edu and follow us on Twitter! @GreenfieldHWE

*Update: remote participants are more than welcome at edit-a-thons, but if you’re in a major city chances are good that you could participate in the Art and Feminism edit-a-thon in person. More fun and usually free food! Check this page for a full listing of participating organizations to see if there is someone hosting a gathering near you.

A new beginning for the Center…

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This blog post brings news that is both sad and exciting for me… after a very productive, educational and inspirational time as Director of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education, I will be moving on as of September 25th 2013. I will be taking up a new faculty post at the National University of Ireland Maynooth in the history department. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Bryn Mawr and have learned a lot, getting to immerse myself in the world of digital humanities while pursuing my love of women’s history – bliss! I will be able to continue my work blending digital humanities with pedagogy in my new role and look forward to integrating much of what I’ve learned here.

I especially enjoyed connecting with so many wonderful colleagues on Twitter, some of whom I was lucky to meet in person at the Women’s History in the Digital World conference last March (for a report on the conference click here).  The digital repository that resulted from the conference continues to remain popular: it now holds 42 records, which have been downloaded a total of 482 times to date. I do get to remain connected to the Center, however, as I will be joining the Advisory Board. In this capacity I hope to help advise the new Director and to assist in moving the Center on to its next phase of development.  The Center has been my focus over the last two years and I am delighted to be able to remain a part of its future. The Center’s growth has been tremendous – we now have 1252 items on the site, and since its launch in September 2012, the website has been viewed by over 41,000 people. The blog, Educating Women, has had over 25,000 page views and continues to attract new followers – be sure to keep up to date with news from the Center by visiting the blog regularly.

This news means that the role of Director is open and ready to be filled by someone willing to take on the exciting challenges of running a digital center. If you are interested in progressing the work of the Center, or you know someone who would be ideal for the role, be sure to share the job description and encourage them to apply. You can find all details related to the application procedure here in this document and we have announced it on Twitter and some of the major academic listservs – please feel free to share it on your own networks.

SmithHildaWorthington

Hilda Worthington Smith, Director of the Summer School for Women Workers

SummerSchool15 (2)

Students and teachers at the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers

As part of my work since returning from maternity leave I have completed two new research based exhibits for our site which are being finessed in their formatting but will appear in the next few days. These had been on my to-do list for quite a few months and I am delighted to have completed them at last! The first, looking at the Summer School for Women Workers that began at Bryn Mawr College, looks at the history of this labor education initiative that was subsequently replicated by Barnard College among others. The Summer School was an idea conceived by M. Carey Thomas at the end of her tenure as president of Bryn Mawr College. As the exhibit reveals, she was inspired with the idea of utilizing the prestigious college campus for education programs for factory workers after hearing of the news that Britain had passed suffrage legislation. Thomas’ sense of feminism led her to ponder how women who had achieved social and political change (such as suffrage) could assist their sisters. The Summer School was directed by Hilda Worthington Smith, a Bryn Mawr alum and social work pioneer. The school was the subject of a documentary, The Women of Summer by Rita Heller (available for viewing if you have access to the VAST Academic Video Online database) and was also featured in the Taking Her Place exhibit as an example of the history of Bryn Mawr in opening the campus up to non-traditional groups or students who were not conceived of in Joseph Taylor’s original plan for the college.

No_So_Ladylike_Afterall

M. Carey Thomas

The second exhibit is on M. Carey Thomas herself. I talked about this research as it was in progress at the Women’s History in the Digital World conference and the Mediating Public Spheres: Feminist Genealogies of Knowledge conference and produced this reflective piece on her and on using the Omeka exhibit format. I was interested to study Thomas from multiple angles in an attempt to reveal different truths about her, positing that there is no single ‘Truth’ to be known about her (or anyone). For this exhibit I used her own words from different periods of her life, the words of her close friends, professional associates and colleagues all of which offer different insights into her personality. I have also featured her published writings on topics in women’s education, many of which appeared as a result of public speeches she gave and illustrate her profile during her lifetime as one of the foremost advocates of women’s access to education and the professions. You can access the exhibit by clicking here on the Center’s exhibit collection (it will be live in a few days).

A final reflection on the current state of women’s history in the US wraps up this post. Having spent much time over the last few months processing membership applications to the Coordinating Council for Women in History, I was struck by the breadth of interests that members have. On the application form members are asked to fill out three key words that represent their historical research interests, and this Wordle represents the responses members have given:CroppedHistoryWordle

Just for fun, I also used Tagxedo to represent these key words as a map of the United States:

CCWH

A review of these terms affirms my own view that women’s history is a vibrant and eclectic space, and is a strong counterpoint to those who seek to pigeonhole historians who focus on women of the past. The Center has had a wide breadth of interests since its inception, and in the future it will continue to promote diversity in the narratives it highlights in women’s education in the past. As the Center enters its new phase of growth I hope all of you will continue to support its mission to get women’s history, particularly narratives that focus on education, noticed in the exciting sphere of digital humanities.

Thank you to all of you who have interacted with me in my work at the Center, its growth is also due to your interest and promotion.

This Wednesday: Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon for Women in STEM

Wednesday, October 22nd
Canaday Library, Bryn Mawr College

4:00pm Introduction to Wikipedia
5:00 – 7:30pm Editing Session

Learn how to write articles, add images, and update citations on Wikipedia.
(Or come for the snacks.)

Bring a laptop to Canaday Room 205 this Wednesday for a Wikipedia editing session and an instructional lecture from Mary Mark Ockerbloom, Wikipedian in Residence at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. We will be working on articles related to women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, in honor of the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace. You are also free to edit based on your own projects and interests–but we’re especially interested in adding more women’s history to Wikipedia.

See our previous blog post for more background information. Further details of the event and potential article projects can be found on the Wikipedia event page.

No experience necessary!

Snacks will be provided!

Bring a laptop!

Questions/RSVP to GreenfieldHWE@brynmawr.edu

New Ada

Upcoming Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon, October Edition: Ada Lovelace and Women in STEM

Join the Greenfield Digital Center and Bryn Mawr College Special Collections for our second Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon!

Our first edit-a-thon this past March was a collaboration with the “Seven Sisters” colleges for women’s history month. This time around we’re riffing on the theme, with a twist for October: we will be focusing on using materials from the College archives and manuscripts collection to enhance articles on women in technology in honor of Ada Lovelace Day and American Archives Month.

New Ada

Who was Ada Lovelace?

Ada Lovelace was a female mathematician who lived from 1815-1852, and is often described as the world’s first computer programmer. Though computers as we know them today obviously did not exist in her time, Ada is credited with writing the first algorithm for a programmable machine—Charles Babbage’s “Analytical Engine,” a theoretical design that would later form the basis for the first computers built in the 1940s. In today’s male-dominated programming culture, it can come as a surprise that the first person to program a computer was a woman. However, Ada’s contribution was merely the first in a long history of innovations and advancements by women in computing that have been omitted from the dominant historical narrative of technological development. (NPR did a recent piece highlighting Ada’s work and tracing the history of women in computer programming. Listen here.) Women are discouraged from participating in technology today both by a culture that actively excludes them, and by the erasure of the long history of female involvement in and contributions to the field—an act of willful cultural ignorance that obscures potential role models from young women who are interested in pursuing work in computing. This is reflective of similar problems in the larger world of male-dominated STEM* fields. Every October, Ada Lovelace Day brings an opportunity for us to recognize the achievements of women in STEM.

Wikipedia Edit-a Thon 2014: Ada Lovelace and American Archives Month

Mary Mark Ockerbloom

Mary Mark Ockerbloom

At 4:00pm on Wednesday, October 22nd, Mary Mark Ockerbloom will join Bryn Mawr College staff, students, faculty, and members of the public in Canaday Library, Room 205 to give an instructional lecture on Wikipedia editing practices. The introduction will be followed by an editing session from 5:00 – 7:30 in which attendees can work on articles individually or in groups. The focus will be on women in STEM in the College archives, but participants are invited to bring their own projects or use the College collections to improve an article on any topic. Bring an idea, bring a friend, and bring a laptop and charger for editing. RSVP (optional but encouraged) on the Wikipedia project page or by emailing GreenfieldHWE@brynmawr.edu.

There is absolutely no experience necessary, though it is recommended for new editors that you create an account prior to the event. Attendees may feel free to come and go as needed. Snacks will be provided.

Can’t make it in person?

Participate remotely! Work on a suggested article from this list, watch our progress and document your own on the etherpad document, and use the hashtags #BMCwiki, #ALD2014, and #ArchivesMonth!

Want to learn more about archives and the digital record? Come to our Personal Digital Archiving Day on Thursday, October 23rd—learn how to save your digital materials long-term!

PDADFloppies

Remember these?

*Science, Technology, Engineering and Math