#SaveSweetBriarsHistories

Mundelein College Classics students, n.d. from the Mundelein College Collection at the WLA.

Mundelein College Classics students, n.d. from the Mundelein College Collection at the WLA.

When I first heard that the Board of of Directors of Sweet Briar College (SBC) in Virginia voted to close the women’s college due to “insurmountable financial challenges,” all I could think about were the similarities of the situation to Mundelein College. As a Graduate Assistant at the Women and Leadership Archives, which holds the Mundelein College Collection, I am incredibly familiar with the plight of women’s’ colleges.

Mundelein was a Catholic women’s college founded and operated by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVMs). The college opened its doors in 1930 and offered students a liberal arts education for over 60 years. In 1991, Mundelein “affiliated” with Loyola University Chicago. Like many women’s and small colleges, Mundelein ran into financial troubles in the 1980s. Enrollment was steady, but not growing. The college had over $4 million in debts and needed to upgrade buildings and equipment. Salaries were low and had been that way for a while. The college either had to make major staff cuts in an effort to reorganize a more fiscally sound school or consider a merger with a university willing to take on Mundelein’s debt

Mundelein College students protest the affiliation.

Mundelein College students protest the affiliation.

On March 19, 1991, Mundelein announced that it was in negotiations with its next-door neighbor Loyola University Chicago about a merger or affiliation. While the administrators of both schools emphasized the commonalities of the Catholic institutions and benefits of affiliation, students saw it differently. They marched with banners and signs in front of the Skyscraper chanting “Save our college!” and “60 more years!” A group called Concerned Students for Mundelein initiated a letter-writing campaign to tell alumnae what was going on and ask for their help in preventing a Loyola takeover. At the Board of Trustees meeting to vote on the affiliation, students wearing black with red armbands staged a sit-in.

On April 15, 1991, Mundelein College and Loyola University Chicago administrators signed an agreement that created “Mundelein College of Loyola University.” It happened so quickly that many students and alumnae felt blindsided.

The Mundelein Student Government Statement of Position makes this clear; the students write that the trust between Mundelein students and the administrations and boards of both institutions must be established. Mundelein students had chosen to go to a small, women’s college and were being thrown into a university that resembled more of a state school. Also, as expressed in by Mundelein Student Government representatives in their Statement of Position, many Mundelein women did not feel welcome at Loyola, based on a history of the use of terms like “mundle bundle” and the “girls’ school next door” by Loyola students, creating the perception among Mundelein students that Loyola did not encourage women and minorities to take on leadership positions of power and authority.

Alumnae also felt angry and cheated by the college and its board. Alumna Jane Trahey knew that Mundelein was experiencing financial difficulties, but she didn’t know how bad it was: “I wanted to sue the Board because I think they were negligent. They didn’t pursue all possible avenues. I don’t understand how they could have looked at the financial situation and studied the balance sheets for the last five years and not said ‘Something is seriously wrong here and we have to act now.’ Mundelein graduates never had to opportunity to rally the cause, to raise the money, to keep the college alive. I think we could have done it.”

Protest at Sweet Briar.

Protest at Sweet Briar.

When the Sweet Briar College announced its decision to close to students, faculty, staff, and the world in early March, many of the reactions were similar to those at Mundelein. Students felt blindsided. Both students and faculty took action with a sit-in protest at the President’s house where they waved signs protesting the closing of Sweet Briar. Although many of the students present at the sit-in acknowledged their lack of control over the situation, they felt the need to voice their dissent.

Unlike at Mundelein, alumnae and faculty have taken their cause to the next level. Shortly after the closing was announced, alumnae formed Save Sweet Briar to stop the college from closing and “provide accurate information to students, faculty, and alumnae about the true financial condition of Sweet Briar College and the viable alternatives to closure.” Currently, their goal is to raise money to fight the closure. The fund has had $5.2 Million pledged, $10.2 Million pledged over 5 years, and $1 Million donated.

Also unlike Mundelein, the closing of Sweet Briar College has made it to the courts. The Commonwealth of Virginia filed suit to keep Sweet Briar open. Additionally, a group of faculty and staff filed a motion supporting the lawsuit.

Although Mundelein College no longer exists, its records still do. Established in 1994, the Women and Leadership Archives grew out of the need to preserve Mundelein’s records and expanded to collect the papers and records of individual women leaders as well as organizations. What will happen to Sweet Briar’s records once the college is gone? I emailed John Jaffe, the Director of Integrated Information Systems/CIO at Sweet Briar, and he said that if the college closes “there are plans in place to consolidate all records of the college into the existing archives. In addition, the entire archives will be moved to a senior research level institution in the Commonwealth where they will be preserved and made available to scholars.”

The Chung Mungs at Sweet Briar, 1965. Archival Photos from Mary Helen Cochran Library. CC BY-NC

The Chung Mungs at Sweet Briar, 1965. Archival Photos from Mary Helen Cochran Library. CC BY-NC

Unlike Mundelein College, Sweet Briar is closing in the digital age and the college’s history is documented online. It has two Tumblrs (one officially sponsored by the Tusculum Institute at SBC and one unofficial site run by an alumna). Papers about the history of the college written by SBC students in courses called “Doing Sweet Briar History,” “History of Sweet Briar,” and “Practicum in Sweet Briar History” are available on the SBC library website. An Omeka site with archival photos from the Mary Helen Cochran Library makes it its mission to provide widespread access to archival photos and similar photos are available on the library’s Flickr. Once Sweet Briar closes, what will happen to these digital resources? The unofficial Tumblr will continue as long as the alumna running it receives material to post, but who, if anyone, will manage the other sites? Will Sweet Briar’s website still exist once the college is gone or will it only live on through the Wayback Machine? If another archive takes SBC’s physical collections, will they also maintain the digital footprint of Sweet Briar?

In addition to its archives, Sweet Briar has a museum and the college itself makes up a district listed on the National Register of Historic Places with 22 contributing structures. The campus also contains a slave cabin that is open to the public and a slave cemetery with 60 graves. While it may not be possible to #SaveSweetBriar, I hope that we can #SaveSweetBriarsHistories.

0a621f2Mollie Fullerton is a Graduate Assistant at the WLA and is finishing her last semester of her MA in Public History at Loyola University Chicago. In addition to sharing authority, she enjoys biking, making/eating pie, and playing the musical saw.


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.


Sister Safety

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Exploring the files of Sister Mary Carmelyn McMahon

Exploring the files of Sister Mary Carmelyn McMahon

As part of our Women’s History Month activities, I worked on creating a display showcasing materials from the collection of Mundelein College, a Catholic women’s college that was once located next to Loyola. The exhibit focused on two of Mundelein’s art professors and two students who went on to have successful art careers. This was another great opportunity to find new things and learn more about life at this unique college for women.

As I researched the art professors of Mundelein, I found interesting details on the life of Sister Mary Carmelyn. Sister Mary Carmelyn McMahon was born in Missoula, Montana in 1905 and taught at Mundelein from 1934 to 1954. Sister Mary Carmelyn designed several of the college’s Christmas cards and even illustrated the Graduate Pledge, which was taken by seniors at every commencement ceremony.

Sister Mary Carmelyn working with the Safety Council

Sister Mary Carmelyn working with the Safety Council

The Mundelein College Graduate Pledge, created by Sister Mary Carmelyn

The Mundelein College Graduate Pledge, created by Sister Mary Carmelyn

While inspiring students in her role as a teacher, Sister Mary Carmelyn discovered something else about which she was passionate. She began the College Safety Council at Mundelein in 1943 and spent her time learning and sharing ways to prevent accidents on school campuses and beyond. In the 1940s, she dedicated much of her time to the Red Cross and was appointed to serve on many safety councils, including the Education Committee of President Truman’s Conference on Highway Safety. She even taught the other BVM’s to swim. I wish we had a photo of that to share!

A World War II poster warning about one of the many safety hazards of the workplace.

A World War II poster warning about one of the many safety hazards of the workplace.

This sudden concern for accident prevention seems out of the blue, but Sister Mary Carmelyn was actually just doing her patriotic duty. In the midst of World War II, factories increased production to provide supplies. Meanwhile, workplace accidents and injuries also increased. The National Safety Council, with the support of President Roosevelt, launched a national campaign in 1941 to teach ways to avoid accidents in industries, homes, schools, and on the road. Citizens could support the war effort by preventing carelessness that would waste resources or result in injury to much needed workers.

Sister Mary Carmelyn participated in the movement that spread these safety lessons to all areas of life. She promoted the 3 E’s of accident prevention: Education, Engineering, and Enforcement. She also wrote an article for Safety Education Magazine explaining the forgotten “R” in safety, religion. “Knowledge of skills,” Mary Carmelyn wrote, “plus the realization and acceptance of man’s relationship to his fellow men and his Creator, will…direct the knowledge toward…attitudes of safe living.”

Exploring Sister Mary Carmelyn’s records in the Mundelein College Collection provided the opportunity for me to learn more about national events during World War II. Through the archives, I was able to see one fascinating woman’s participation in broader patterns of history.

Caroline blog photoCaroline Lynd is a Graduate Assistant at the WLA and is working on her Master’s in Public History at Loyola University Chicago. She spends her spare time caring for her pufferfish, interpreting dreams, and watching cheesy movies.

 

 


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.


Musings on Mundelein College and the Selma March

Mundelein College students in Montgomery, Alabama.

Mundelein College students in Montgomery, Alabama.

For the past few months we have been researching Mundelein College’s role in the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama as well as the march itself in preparation for the anniversary and the accompanying events this March. After researching Selma, writing blog posts and web features, and attending related events at Loyola, we wanted to use Selma as a starting point to talk about broader issues of race, gender, and representation in archives and elsewhere.

JENNY: Within our archives Selma is a challenging topic to research. Although we have historic persons as well as organizations who participated in Selma and other events of the Civil Rights movement, the vast majority of material is photographs. Small amounts of other material that relates to the history of the civil rights movement can be found – but is generally integrated into other collections such as Mundelein College and that of scholar Suellen Hoy. These two collections contain relevant material on Selma, but also represent other important strengths of the Archives, particularly the history of women in the field of education.

Despite our many strengths, like every historical institution, the WLA has gaps. When thinking of this for our collections, we do not have much material that relates to hispanic women and there is also little that relates to the history and presence of various Asian populations in the midwest.

MOLLIE: But how do you even begin to collect? We don’t have a slew of people knocking down our door desperate to donate their personal papers or organization’s records on a daily basis. Many people don’t even know that archives,  much less the WLA, exist. Often class or educational levels can play a role in a person’s knowledge of archives, which could lead to somewhat homogenous donors and collections. How can archivists reach out to fill in these gaps?

Mahalia Jackson, 1962. Photo taken by Carl Van Vechten.  Carl Van Vechten photograph collection, Library of Congress.

Mahalia Jackson, 1962. Photo by Carl Van Vechten. Carl Van Vechten photograph collection, Library of Congress.

JENNY: Taking inspiration from the Civil Rights movement, who are some Black women leaders or activists in the Civil Rights movement who could be part of ours or another archive’s collections? Why have I not learned about them? Take for example, Mahalia Jackson. Born New Orleans in 1926, Jackson was a nationally-renowned gospel singer who worked for 40 years in the music industry. She also actively participated in the Civil Rights movement, singing at multiple national rallies and events, but this portion of her history is overshadowed. I found Jackson’s page on Wikipedia, as well as entries on biography and music history sites. Much of the information I found was brief, noting two to three paragraphs of accomplishments and referencing her association with more publicly known figures of the Civil Rights movement. Wikipedia’s page has background on her childhood and youth, her career, her activism in the Civil Rights movement, as well as her death and legacy.

MOLLIE: Although Mahalia Jackson has a pretty decent Wikipedia page in terms of length, it is by no means complete. But unlike many other women, she actually has a page, which let Jenny learn about her in the first place. Like almost all Wikipedia articles about women, Jackson’s article is subject to gender bias. In the section on her Civil Rights activism, the article focuses on her relationships with Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King, Jr. rather on how Jackson herself contributed to the movement. Gender bias on Wikipedia can take many forms ranging from total exclusion of women to a bias in the way the article is written.

Archives are spaces where stories like Jackson’s reside, but they are also places of interaction. We want visitors to come and engage with, look at, touch (when appropriate), and discover the materials in our collections. But because barriers (getting there, navigating the finding aids, finding the time etc) often restrict people from engaging one-on-one with the collections, we have to ask ourselves how to tell the stories of the women in the archives. With Selma, we told the story of Mundelein College and their role in the march. Public programs contextualized the stories found in the archives while blog posts and web features made it available to a wider audience. But did we tell a complete story? Did we tell a good story? As an institution that collects and makes available women’s stories, gender bias issues found on Wikipedia are not as much of an issue for us.

At the March 12th Mundelein Remembers Selma event, panelists reached out beyond Mundelein’s story to talk about broader issues of race, gender, and religion during the 1960s and participants in the march recounted their personal experiences. Was it a good story? Yes – it was engaging and interesting. Was it complete? No. But no story can be one hundred percent complete and coherent. Archivists and public historians need to acknowledge the gaps in their collections and stories and work to close them through exhibits, general interactions with visitors, or Wikipedia edit-a-thons.

JennyJennifer Pederson is a Graduate Assistant at the Women and Leadership Archives. She will be graduating in May 2015 with a M.A. degree in Public History. In her spare time she enjoys stumbling upon public art and reorganizing her apartment.

 

0a621f2Mollie Fullerton is a Graduate Assistant at the WLA and is finishing her last semester of her MA in Public History at Loyola University Chicago. In addition to sharing authority, she enjoys biking, making/eating pie, and playing the musical saw.


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.


Exploring a Tumultuous Time in an Idyllic Place

Piper Hall

Piper Hall

For the majority of my time at Loyola University, Piper Hall was a subject of mysterious beauty. It is unlike any of the other buildings on campus. The beautiful stone mansion sits overlooking Lake Michigan and during the warmer months it is surrounded by numerous flowers and greenery. Even before I set foot inside its elegantly furnished parlor, I was cognizant of a deep historical aura surrounding the building. Now, during my last semester at Loyola, I am able to explore not only the building but its history and the connections to the past it houses. On the very top floor of Piper Hall sits the Women and Leadership Archives, a warm place for researchers to delve into the past of Mundelein College and explore the lives of important women in Chicago. It is here that I have chosen to do my history internship.

I first began working on developing online resources for History Fair students; however, after comparing many archives’ materials I found that the Women and Leadership Archives was already ahead of the curve. I then discovered from talking with Nancy Freeman, the Director of the archives, that the WLA had a special story to tell in light of the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma, Alabama. As an historian, I love researching and sharing stories that need to be heard. So I dived in with the intent of creating a comprehensive exhibit to honor the 28 Mundelein delegates who participated in the Selma March.

College Students, Selma March, 1965

College Students, Selma March, 1965

I used Mundelein’s Skyscraper Newspaper as my first resource in understanding the context, motivation, and story of the Mundelein delegation. From the newspapers I discovered contrasting viewpoints, personal narratives of college life in the 1960s, journals of those who went to Selma, and important facts about the journey. As a female college student sitting in the same classrooms as the Mundelein college students back in the 1960s, I cannot help myself from comparing my experience from those told in the newspaper. Theirs was a time of passion and expression; mine a time of quiet contemplation and self-discovery.

The next step in my research will be interviewing one or two women who participated in the Selma March. This is an exciting step, for it will give my research new life and meaning. These women’s experiences are important to preserve and can be used to better understand women at Mundelein in the 1960s. It will also give us insight into the experiences of female college students in Chicago and perspective into the roots of prominent women today. Oral history is foreign to me but I am excited, albeit a bit nervous, to better understand the role of the interviewer and to add important stories to the collection at the WLA.

I look forward to continue being inspired by the beauty that is Piper Hall, and through the resources it houses, to better understanding life at Mundelein in the 1960s. As a culmination of my time at the Women and Leadership Archives, I hope to produce an online blog exhibit that accurately imparts to the reader the tumultuous and expressive feeling of the 1960s, while telling the story of a group of Mundelein students who so vehemently wanted to march for racial equality.

Intern Elyse Spring 2015Elyse Voyen is an undergraduate intern at the WLA and is studying History, International Studies, and French at Loyola University. In her free time she knits colorful socks, eats as much interesting food as Chicago has to offer and dreams of camping in the middle of nowhere, Minnesota.

 


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.


Exploring a Treasure Trove of Women’s History

March 8th, 2015, the day before we returned from our mini vacations was International Women’s day. Actually, the beginning of our spring break (the start of March), Women’s History month, began the celebration of women in their progress toward the fight for equality and commemoration in their achievements throughout leadership positions. As I reflect I think of my internship at the Women’s and Leadership Archives (WLA).

20150313_135922

“history’s organized treasure trove”

Archives, also known as, history’s organized treasure trove. Archives have gotten a pretty bad reputation as being a collection of dusty recorded paperwork. My first day at the WLA I was unsure about archives, specifically, I was worried about damaging these important items I was so delicately handling. I walked into this internship with an interest in the field of archiving and a passion for history. The WLA called out to me in my search for the perfect internship. An organization dedicated to collecting, preserving, and recording the contributions of women and their leadership activities was something I felt was fascinating. I wanted to take my last semester at Loyola to contribute and learn from this organization.

During my time at the WLA, I have encountered an array of historical materials. I had the privilege of holding Mercedes McCambridge’s Oscar from 1935 when she acted in the film All the Kings Men (she was also considered for the role of Roz in Monsters Inc.). I was able to listen personal accounts about the 1960’s Civil Rights Era from Loyola’s most well known celebrity, Sister Jean, along with other important faculty and staff who ran Mundelein College before it’s affiliation with Loyola University Chicago in 1991.

Deborah's Place2Currently, I am working with a very special collection called Deborah’s Place. Deborah’s Place, established in 1985 by Patricia A. Crowley, OSB, and her Mother, Patricia C. Crowley, who fought to end the cycle of female homelessness in Chicago through a continuum of housing options, comprehensive support services, and opportunities for change provided by dedicated volunteers and staff. Deborah’s Place has now been serving the Chicago land community for the past 27 years.

As I sat in the WLA on my Monday afternoons, sifting through these important documents, I found myself looking into the stories and files of each participant. Deborah’s Place is truly a treasure trove because of the various documents that the WLA has in possession. While my work is compiling and organizing each of these documents from the finding aid, I stopped myself and delved deep in reading reports about the health of each individual that utilized Deborah’s Place. From the various expansions of Deborah’s Place to the struggle to find funding, this archive tells a story of how passionate these women were in fighting for female rehabilitation and survival.

My experiences with Deborah’s Place have been nothing but engaging and enriching as I build my knowledge in attaining skills that transcend outside the classroom. I have been blessed to get a glimpse into the hardships of running a women’s shelter and the heart wrenching experiences of the participants. As I continue my internship at the WLA I know I hold a much stronger appreciation for women everywhere.

Intern Adam Spring 2015Adam Mogilevsky is currently a Spring Semester intern at the WLA. He is a Senior who will be graduating with a BA in History. When Adam isn’t doing homework, he is usually found in the Jewish space on campus, Hillel, engaging in the community.

 


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.


Constant Vigilance: The Art of Disaster Preparedness

Oh, no! You walk down the darkened stairway to the archives. About two inches of water sit at the bottom of the staircase and the level rises slowly as more water flows out under the door. What do you do? Should you open the door, turn on the lights, and rush in to save the patriarchy-crushing SisterSerpents stickers? Let out a blood curdling cry for help? Fetch your water wings? Send up the bat-signal? Run? Or should you consult your handy Disaster Preparedness Plan?

Every day

Floods RAVAGE Cities,floodingFires DESTROY Buildings,fireZombies ATTACK,zombies2and Sinkholes SWALLOW museums.cars

While that may sound a little dramatic, the tiniest roof leak or mold outbreak has the potential to cause a great deal of damage to collections. Last semester Nancy, the WLA Director and my supervisor, who is also on the Loyola Libraries Disaster Preparedness Committee, asked if any of the graduate assistants would be interested in helping the committee. When I expressed perhaps too much enthusiasm at the mention of disasters, I was given the task of helping draft an updated disaster plan for the Lewis Library.

Since then my life has been devoted to constant vigilance.

constantvigilanceI’m not exactly sure why I find disasters so fascinating. The first time I really remember thinking about disasters was in an undergraduate class called Geocinema where we watched natural disaster movies, such as Magma: Volcanic Disaster and Tidal Wave: No Escape, critiqued the science, and wrote our own geologically-sound screenplays. As I watched bad movie after terrible movie, I remember wondering why these characters were so dumb. Most of them were scientists – how could they be so illogical? Why didn’t they just make a plan and stick to it? Probably because it is surprisingly difficult to create a plan, keep it updated for when disaster strikes, and execute it flawlessly.

Unlike Corbin Bernsen playing a former weapons specialist in Title Wave: No Escape, who has no plan, but ends up teaming up with lady scientist Julianne Phillips to save coastal towns from a barrage of brutal tidal waves, I do have a plan. But I understand why Corbin and Julianne don’t; the Lewis Library Disaster Plan was challenging to write and will be even harder to keep updated. After wading through heaps of information on disaster recovery, I found that keeping these three points in mind made the Disaster Plan easier to write.

1. Find a focus. Although the Disaster Preparedness Plan puts human safety before collections, it focuses on the aftermath of the disaster, not the eye of the storm like Corbin and Julianne are forced to deal with. Although emergency instructions are a part of the plan, it was difficult to balance the inclusion of vital instructions for human safety and the assessment and salvage of damaged materials.

Although the content is different, Minor Zombie Emergency and Major Zombie Apocalypse have the same layout, making it easy to identify important information.

Although the content is different, “Minor Zombie Emergency” and “Major Zombie Apocalypse” have the same layout, making it easy to identify important information.

2. Organization is vital. Even when all of the important information is present, it won’t do you any good if you can’t quickly find what’s relevant to you. I looked at disaster plans compiled by other archives, libraries, and museums to find a simple, user-friendly layout. By using the same layout for each disaster situation you can easily tell that wet books should be dried or frozen within 48 hours to prevent mold growth, whereas microfilm and motion picture film need to be rewashed and dried within 48 hours.

3. Keep it relevant, useful, and updated. Phone numbers change, businesses go belly up, knowledgeable staff retires, collections move. The last complete Loyola University Libraries disaster plan is from 2007; it acknowledged that the plan needed to be updated yearly, but daily work often takes precedent over long-term planning. A disaster plan should be a living document, changing with the institution, but how do you accomplish that? I’m not sure. I can write that the Disaster Preparedness Committee will update the plan yearly, but that won’t make it happen. Maybe a monthly email to the committee with the “constant vigilance” gif would help.

If Corbin Bernsen and Julianne Phillips kept these points in mind, maybe they could create a plan for the next time tidal waves start destroying the coast.

0a621f2Mollie Fullerton is a Graduate Assistant at the WLA and is finishing her last semester of her MA in Public History at Loyola University Chicago. In addition to sharing authority, she enjoys biking, making/eating pie, and playing the musical saw.


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.


The Archives from a Public History Outsider’s Perspective

The world of archiving, before I came to volunteer at the WLA, was a field that was completely foreign to me.  I am a graduate student in poetry, and although there is a certain appreciation and study of the past that come natural in writing and studying poetry, I had never thought about where, why, or what we might keep papers and artifacts in safekeeping.  In fact, I have virtually no background in archiving or even public history.  I had decided to become a volunteer because of my general enthusiasm for women’s history and leadership that had been cultivated from my experience of completing my undergraduate degree at an all-women’s college.  I had trust that whatever I gained from exposing myself to the archiving environment would provide me with a different vantage point from which to view not only my writing, but the context of my field of study in general.

Entrance into a discipline that you are completely unfamiliar with can be, to be honest, a little unsettling (especially to your ego).  While my tasks have mainly revolved around writing up content for the website and helping with social media posts, I soon found that there were still many opportunities to interact with the materials of the archives themselves.  Knowledge that is taken for granted by any student who has taken a simple public history course was information that I had to be instructed in.  But I was unsettled not by just my lack of foundational knowledge, but also by my lack of understanding of the true nature and goals of an archive.

The WLA is located on the 3rd floor of Piper Hall.

The WLA is located on the 3rd floor of Piper Hall.

Approaching as a poet, my first instinct when I come across an old photo or document is to think: How cool!  How can I interpret this and what kind of emotions/ideas does it evoke that makes it relevant?

Thinking as an archivist, however, urges me to think beyond my immediate instincts. What is the document’s context?  What is the story of the people involved in it?  How/why did it survive?  There are always connections and stories present even in the least conspicuous of records. The world has been constructed almost entirely by unsung heroes, but the information surrounding them and their stories are in existence, and still able to speak to us—as well as advise us. In this way, the archives hold a sort of tangible relevance that is nearly unique to the field.  Here you can hold not just the documentation of history, but the actual cogs and gears, so to speak, which make up the working totality of the present.

I understand that may sound a bit dramatic, but it’s very true.  My main appreciation for the field has been at how dedicated one must be to making these things available for public discovery and research at the same time as preserving them as best as it is possible.  There is definitely a search for deeper understandings of the present (which really can be called an understanding of reality) present in archiving, but more impressively, there is the effort to make this understanding public and influential in the making of the future.

In thinking about relevance to my personal field of study, I see mirrored desires.  Poets like to think they are trying for a deeper understanding of reality that is relevant to the past, present and future.  In fact, ideally, I think the point is to share that understanding with others.  However, in my experience, this is where the poet usually fails.  They tend to be lofty or cryptic (I mean this as endearingly as possible), often aiming their understanding to be shared with a distinct circle of peers.  In this respect, my vision for my own studies has been altered.  Those in the archiving field have the sole knowledge and practice to preserve and decode artifacts; however the goal of their work is not to explore this knowledge for themselves, but to make its relevancy clear to the public and those in all sorts of fields of study.  My time volunteering here in the archives has not only given me insight into a different way at looking public history, but it has also made the importance of their goals very clear to me. I would love to see my field of study put the same amount of effort into sharing the understanding that has been cultivated with a much wider audience.

BrittanyBrittany Tomaselli is a Poetry MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago where she works as a graduate instructor of Writing and Rhetoric. In 2013-2014, she volunteered at the Women and Leadership Archives, Loyola University Chicago.

 


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.