“I never knew what I might find in the boxes”: Temple University student David Polanco on Archives and Teaching

This blog post has been written by David Polanco, one of two Temple University students who discovered Bryn Mawr Special Collections last Fall as part of the Greenfield Digital Center’s third year participating in the Cultural Fieldwork Initiative organized by Greenfield Digital Center Advisory Board member and Temple University historian Christine Woyshner. David spent his semester researching the history of women’s sports and women’s colleges — a topic of continuing relevance to both students and the general public.

David Polanco looks through the 1905 Bryn Mawr yearbook (photo by Monica Mercado)

David Polanco looks through the 1905 Bryn Mawr yearbook (photo by Monica Mercado)

My field experience at Bryn Mawr College Special Collections was a great one. They manage extensive collections of art, artifacts, rare books, manuscripts, and photographs, and also have a wide-ranging digital archive on the history of women’s education, and resource guides. The Greenfield Digital Center’s online gateway has digital primary resources, instructional activities, and opportunities for teachers and students.

One of the reasons why Bryn Mawr was my top choice [for the Cultural Fieldwork Initiative placement] was because of the chance to learn more about women’s education. Women’s history usually gets lost in the shuffle when teachers teach U.S. History classes. Women are a huge part of the fabric of American history and Bryn Mawr College is a great resource. Continue reading

Call for Papers, Berkshire Conference on Women’s History

Histories on the Edge/Histoires sur la brèche

Toronto: May 22-25, 2014

Proposals due: January 15, 2013

The sixteenth Berkshire Conference on Women’s History will be held in Toronto on May 22-25, 2014. The University of Toronto will host the first Canadian “Big Berks” in collaboration with co-sponsoring units and universities in Toronto and across Canada.

Our major theme of Histories on the Edge/Histoires sur la brèche reflects the growing internationalization of the Berkshire conference. It recognizes the precariousness of a world in which the edged-out millions demand transformation, as well as the intellectual edges scholars have crossed and worked to bridge in the academy and outside of it. The conference in Canada prompts engagement with critical edges – sharpening, de-centring, decolonizing histories. Edges are spatial: impenetrable borders, stifling or protective boundaries, and spaces of smooth entry. Edges are temporal; they also evoke the creative and the avant-garde. Entangled in the idea of edges are rough encounters, jagged conflicts as well as intimate exchanges. It speaks to the alternative spaces the “edged-out” have carved for themselves and to efforts made to create a common ground, or commons, on which to make oppositional histories.

As a nation-state shaped by imperialist histories and its own colonial dynamics, Canada itself sits on the edge of a powerful if, perhaps, waning American empire. Like other white settler societies, it is a colonial state that has operated through dispossessing First Nations peoples, guarding the edges of white citizenship, and endorsing patriarchal models of assimilation; yet, this history unfolds and is resisted in myriad ways. Its historical trajectory, on the edges of empire, includes colonization first by the French with the resulting ongoing Francophone presence, and later the British. Its distinctive features include socialized medicine, same-sex marriage, and official but contested multiculturalism. On Anishinabe land, Toronto, a creative, cosmopolitan, and contested city, is both “home” and “elsewhere” for many of its diasporic residents. What better place to consider edges as sites of hope, excitement, and possibility but also of danger, displacement, struggle, and exile?

Because change so often emerges from edges, however slowly, painfully or partially, we invite “on the edge”
histories of all locales and time periods. We invite in particular histories of the Caribbean and Latin America, Asia and the Pacific, Africa and the Middle East, and Indigenous, francophone and diasporic cultures around the world. We welcome papers that focus on bodies and objects on edges of all kinds. The theme also invites work that queers gender and sexual binaries. How can we historicize emergent, residual, and ongoing gender constructs such as ‘masculine’
and ‘feminine’ as well as gender performances, sexual practices, and social identifications that challenge binary modes of gender and sexuality?

Our theme encourages critical reflection on how gender works. Gender has its many ragged edges: where private and public spheres, and masculinity and femininity, have been defined and redefined; where class, gender, race, ethnicity, nation, kinship, sexuality, and ability/disability have interacted. So, too, is gender on the edge of debate: a term in need of scrutiny to expose its uses, contradictions, strengths, and weaknesses.

The theme respects feminist theory and praxis as a critical stance in need of constant interrogation. We invite work on western and non-western feminisms and scrutiny of feminisms within the context of historically shifting power relations and international alignmentare positioned, seek to destabilize the centre and authorize the margin? Or sharpen our critique in a world that, now, as so often in the past, stands seemingly on the brink?

We encourage comparative or transnational panels organized along thematic lines, even in the case of the more regionally-based subthemes. We especially invite conversations across centuries, cultures, locales, and generations.
Proposals will be vetted by transnational subcommittees of scholars with expertise in particular thematic fields. All proposals must be directed to ONE of the subthemes and be submitted electronically.  In formulating your proposal for one of the subcommittees, you are NOT required to address every topic in the thematic thread. Please list a second choice of subtheme, but do not submit to more than one subcommittee.

Preference will be given to discussions of any topic across national boundaries, including for the regional subthemes, with special consideration for pre-modern (ancient, medieval, early modern) periods. However, single papers and proposals that fall within any single nation/region will also be given full consideration. As a forum dedicated to encouraging innovative, cross-disciplinary scholarship, and transnational conversation, we invite submissions from graduate students, international scholars, independent scholars, filmmakers, educators, curators, artists, activists, and welcome a variety of perspectives.

The organizer of the paper, panel, roundtable or workshop is responsible for submitting all of the material.

Types of Sessions: (to submit a proposal, you will be an “author” on the submission site)

Individual Papers: The submission file should include your name, paper title, and a 250-word abstract.  Please also submit a short bio.

Panels: Three papers (20 minutes each), a chair, and a separate commentator. (We will also consider 2 or 4 papers). The submission file should include the author, title, and a 250-word abstract for each paper as well as a panel title, the organizer’s name, and a 500-word summary abstract.  Please also submit a short bio for each participant.

Roundtables: Four to six presenters and a chair who may also act a facilitator.  The focus is on collegial discussion within the group and between the group and audience. The submission file should include the roundtable’s title, the organizer’s name, a 500-word summary abstract, and a list of the participants with a brief description of their contribution to the roundtable. Please submit a short bio for each participant.

Workshops: Six to nine pre-circulated papers, with a chair and a separate discussant. (We will consider up to 10 papers.) Papers will be due April 30, 2014 and will be pre-circulated by posting on a website accessible to all the conference registrants.  The submission file should include the author, title, and a 250 word abstract for each paper as well as a workshop title, the organizer’s name, and a 500-word summary abstract. Please submit a short bio for each participant.
Both participants and audience will engage in a focused conversation.

Submit to ONE of the Subthemes (on the
submission site, these themes are called tracks)

*Borders, Encounters, Borderlands, Conflict Zones, and Memory

*Empires, Nations, and the Commons

*Law, Family Entanglements, Courts, Criminality, and Prisons

*Bodies, Health, Medical Technologies, and Science

*Indigenous Histories and Indigenous Worlds

*Caribbean, Latin America, and Afro/Francophone Worlds

*Asia, Transnational Circuits, and Global Diasporas

*Economies, Environments, Labour, and Consumption

*Sexualities, Genders/LGBTIQ2, and Intimacies

*Politics, Religions/Beliefs, and Feminisms

*Visual, Material, Media Cultures: Print, Image, Object, Sound, Performance

Access the Submission Site on the
Berkshire Conference website:


Reflecting on the place of single-sex education today, Emily Adams ’14 says ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way’…

Emily Adams, Bryn Mawr College Class of 2014

In this post, guest blogger Emily Adams, BMC ’14 reflects on the issue of single-sex education, arguing for the necessity to examine the corporeality of femininity in its fullest sense. Drawing on an essay she wrote for The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education Undergraduate Essay Competition this year, Emily explores her thoughts on the often contentious topic of single-sex education today.

Emily Adams is an English major with minors in Russian and Spanish. She has spent the summer interning at a non-profit mental health organization in San Francisco. This fall she will be studying abroad in St. Petersburg.

Feminine Bodies: The Physical Presence of Women’s Colleges

The world is consumed with interest in female bodies. They serve as a constant source of fascination, revulsion, concern and controversy. In pregnancy and childbirth, women’s bodies are worshipped as the origin of life. Through miscarriage, they are condemned as scapegoats for premature death. Nearly ninety percent of those who suffer from eating disorders are women. Teenage girls worldwide are more likely to engage in self-injury than any other demographic. Through Eve, women are even blamed for the genesis of shame and the subsequent covering of the human body. It is clear from these statements that, in much of the world, prospects for women are not overly optimistic. However, at a handful of colleges across the nation, women have been working for over a century to overturn Eve’s sin and reclaim the female form.

It would be absurd to believe that women’s colleges are free from these body-centric obsessions, that the mere existence of a single-sex environment somehow transforms an institution into a secure bubble in which all of the world’s ills can be cured. Single-sex colleges serve, not as a protective sphere to shield students from these issues, but as a stable center from which to confront them. For a young woman leaving high school, undoubtedly self-conscious about her body and her mind, it is an incredible experience to enter a women’s college, a place where every classmate, every friend, and every leader on that campus is another young woman in the process of self-discovery like herself. It is life-changing. The greatest education students of these institutions receive is in coming to accept the female body not only as the center of great suffering, but also unimaginable grace, beauty, and strength.

Studying at a women’s college means being able to lift weights in the gym without competing with male bodybuilders. It means walking into any class, whether it’s computer science or French literature, and knowing you won’t be the only woman. It means being certain that your peers will not take your gender into account when evaluating the merit of your opinions. It means watching the Vagina Monologues and later discussing at the dinner table which monologue rang true for you. Would these conversations take place at co-ed schools? Possibly. Would they invoke the same levels of pride, honesty, and sincerity? Probably not.

A single-sex education means being surrounded by bright, passionate, involved women— not just in classrooms, but at work, at mealtimes, and in the dorms. It means entering into an enormous sisterhood which extends across all fifty states and most nations of the world, which encompasses several generations of intellectual women and will hopefully grow to include several more in the coming years. It means realizing in the middle of a lecture that, one hundred years ago, a young woman just like you was sitting in that same chair — learning just as you are, rediscovering herself in new and fantastic ways like you — and taking a moment to bask in the glory of our collective history.

For that woman, as well as the millions who have come before and after her in the history of women’s education, every day of her college career was a celebration of her femininity. The simple fact of being at a school filled entirely with women was an affirmation of the power of her gender. She greeted every day with the realization that she was surrounded by people who understood and appreciated what it means to be a woman, what it costs to be female in a male world, and what it takes to change that world for the better. And whether all of those women went on to be rocket scientists or mothers or both, they carried that knowledge with them for the rest of their lives. They knew that, just as their gender should never define them, it should also never be forgotten. They never forgot, and neither will we.

With that in mind, I declare that to live as a woman is the most difficult and most beautiful way to live, and that to spend four years learning with other women is the very best way to understand what that means. I, along with countless others, wouldn’t have it any other way.

For editorial policies on guest blogs please see http://greenfield.blogs.brynmawr.edu/sample-page/

Berea and Bryn Mawr College: Virtual collaboration in the History of Women’s Education

Courtesy of Berea College Special Collections and Archives

We here at The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education at Bryn Mawr College are delighted to let you know about a new collaborative initiative between us and students at Berea College. As you know from our Mission Statement we are dedicated to creating resources, discussion and teaching across the wide spectrum of interesting narratives in the history of women’s education and the connection with Berea college is our first foray into connecting with other universities and institutions interested in exploring their own stories of women’s educational experiences in the past.

Former CLIR (Council on Libraries and Information Resources) fellow and editor of the wonderful history of Bryn Mawr College, Offerings to Athena, Dr. Anne Bruder, is now a professor at Berea College in Kentucky. She has been introducing her students to digital methods in historical research and as part of her class students worked on producing an Omeka based exhibit which we will proudly feature on our site. The site is due to go live in a beta version later in June and this exhibit, ‘At School, at Work, at Play: Gender Complexities at the First Southern Coeducational College’, will be among our first (but not of course our last) experiments into building collaborative relationships with those working on the history of women’s education. This fits with the aim of the Digital Center to reach out beyond the walls of Bryn Mawr and to encourage and facilitate links with other institutions that have interesting histories to share about women’s education in the past.

Berea College's first class. Courtesy of Berea College Special Collections and Archives

Berea College was founded on religious principles that stressed equality between people and advocated for the right for all to be educated. It recognized that not all students would have the economic means to obtain higher education, and thus it provided labor opportunities to help students pay for their education but also to gain valuable work experience (for more on the history and the mission of the college see Berea’s website). The students’ exhibit details the gender dynamics in its student population, academic program and behavioral expectations. As the exhibit details, from the inauguration of the school in 1855, there was a distinct definition of gender roles envisaged for its staff and student population. For while Berea provided educational opportunities for both men and women there are many examples of Berea encouraging and even enforcing specific gender roles on its students. Men were directed to pursue vocational education that would equip them to earn a living while women were encouraged to purse courses of study that would enhance their abilities within the home or traditionally female careers. Berea also provided opportunities for students to pay their way through college with work, and the same gender divisions again emerged in the college’s labor program. Its positions for men and women were decidedly different, re-enforcing the woman’s role as mother and the man’s role as provider.

Courtesy of Berea College Special Collections and Archives

As detailed in the exhibit, while Berea was known for racial equality, it still upheld traditional gendered expectations of men and women undertaking higher education. This is in contrast to the emphasis within Bryn Mawr College on female students attaining the highest academic standards comparable to the Ivy League colleges for men, with a diminished emphasis (in comparison to other women’s colleges) on domestic science. Although many students from Bryn Mawr College did marry (some before finishing their degrees) M. Carey Thomas was particularly concerned that Bryn Mawr be perceived as a serious site of academic study for women. Students here did not make their beds or attend to other domestic duties in the early decades of the college, relying on maids and porters for assistance in the dorms.

We are thankful to Dr. Bruder, her students, and the staff of Berea College Special Collections and Archives for their help in putting together this exhibition. Keep checking this blog for details of when the exhibit is made live!