Happy Women’s History Month!
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.
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:
- 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.
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).
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!