Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New Exhibit - "Hidden Histories: Treasures in the Archives"

There's a new exhibit up in the Archives displaying various photographs and objects from our social media sites, Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, and this blog! We at the Archives take accountability seriously; we believe that we have a responsibility to the Mount Holyoke community and public to explain our curation process. This blog post will answer questions some may have about our exhibit as well as explain our intent in choosing various themes.

What is the theme of the exhibit?

"Horse Girls" and "Transcontinental Journey" exhibits
Jennie Ochterski: "The Archives Assistants love to show off our amazing collections, whether through posting about lesser-known events in MHC’s past (secret societies and famous horse women!) or choosing pictures relevant to a specific day in history to display. This current exhibit contains the original photographs from the last month of blog posts as well as others that help tell the story of Mount Holyoke College’s rich and fascinating history.

We are working on decentering whiteness in the Archives by recognizing the unique contributions and legacies that women of color have at MHC. In this exhibit, we feature several photographs of women of color and of various historical events pertaining to race dialogues with faculty. The overarching theme of the exhibit is “Hidden Histories: Treasures from the Archives” which speaks to the Archives’ commitment to education and community building through social media outreach. We choose blog topics based on what we think the Mount Holyoke community should know about: controversial sororities, beautiful May queens, a cross-country road trip, and racial diversity on campus." 

How do we choose which photographs to feature on our social media sites?

The Archives' tumblr site
Megan Haaga: "There's no one particular way that any of the Archives assistants chooses a photograph to post on Tumblr or Pinterest. Sometimes we encounter interesting photographs in our regular research. For instance, I have been organizing the Buildings and Grounds records of the college, which contain many beautiful photographs of the campus, and realized that there were many buildings which had burned down, leading to our Fires-themed Pinterest board. Other Archives Assistants work in Accessions (materials which we have received but do not yet have a permanent home), and the papers of Mount Holyoke's Presidents.

Sometimes, however, we find inspiration for our posts by exploring the stacks of the Archives - some discoveries include a centenary box time capsule to be opened in 2037, and Mount Holyoke's very own Flying Club for teaching women aviation! If we don't find our photos in our own research or the stacks, we can use the Archives & Special Collections Digital Images database to browse for images by subject, type, date, location, and other keywords."

How did the themes emerge?

A close-up of "Horse Girls"
Jennie Ochterski: "The themes in my portions of the exhibit stemmed from enthusiastic responses on our social media sites. The 'Horse Girls' case on the ground floor of Dwight was compiled from the Archives' ever-popular MHC horse pictures.  The original photograph of Elizabeth Ham, for example, garnered over 90 likes and reblogs on tumblr, a micro-blogging site. Connecting the past to the present is critical in the Archives' social media outreach and resulted in a horse exhibit primarily focused during the 1940s-1950s. Mount Holyoke has long been known for our strong equestrian program, which currently includes Equitation, Dressage, and Western riding teams. The featured photos highlight the fashions and daily activities of those who we lovingly refer to as 'horse girls.'

Two students in a class, circa 1970s.
This photograph was featured on our Tumblr and in our exhibit.
The photographs including women of color were selected from the Archives’ Digital Images Collections as part of the ongoing process of decentering whiteness in the Archives. What this means to us is recognizing and celebrating the legacies students of color have at Mount Holyoke and engaging in dialogues about institutional racism in archiving. Our intent is not to other or exclude women of color from the other portions of the exhibit, but to demonstrate that the photographic record of our more diverse student body begins in the mid 1960s. While before 1964 MHC had only 39 women of color amongst its graduates, the number increased to 220 by 1975. These photographs represent the daily life of multiple women, including pictures from the classroom, cultural houses, and around campus."

Megan Haaga: "I have always found the pictures of Mount Holyoke's May Queens to be incredibly beautiful, and we have featured them on Pinterest and Tumblr before. I decided to create one section of my exhibit based on May Queens because I think that the tradition of May Day and May Queens is visually stunning, and it also has an interesting history. May Queens were chosen by a secret ballot of all students as the 'fairest' senior, and there were even sometimes rules stating that she had to be blonde in even years and brunette in odd ones. The May Day tradition dates back to 1896, starting as a fundraiser for the Dramatic Club, but the first fully sanctioned May Day was held in 1901 for President Mary Woolley’s inauguration. The pageant featured plays and pantomimes with elaborate themes and large casts. 

The "Presidential Socks" blog post
My other two sections of the exhibit evolved from LITS blog posts. My first LITS blog post was about socks that I found in President Richard Glenn Gettell's papers, donated to him by Carol Sweeney Benson, class of 1961. She had originally knitted them for her boyfriend whose initials were 'RG', but after he 'jilted' her, she sent them anonymously to the President. My second LITS blog post was about Mount Holyoke's sororities - five Greek letter secret societies, lasting from the 1880s until 1910. Each society invited a select group of first year students to join their ranks. Once the incoming members had gone through an initiation ritual, they had access to the perks of being in a society: a separate, exclusive room for each society, special connections to the society's alumnae, banquets, and their own songs. President Mary E. Woolley did not approve of the societies, feeling they were undemocratic. By November 27, 1910, President Woolley announced the ban on secret societies, after a majority of students and faculty voted to disband them."

What were the challenges of putting together this exhibit?

"A Transcontinental Journey"
Jennie Ochterski: "Well, for one thing, we refurbished the exhibit cases by adding brand new green velvet backing! The measurements were more difficult than the exhibit itself! But in all seriousness, situating myself as a white archivist curating an exhibit about women of color at Mount Holyoke was and continues to be a process.  This blog post and the descriptions on the physical exhibit were created to aid the Archives in being as accountable and transparent as possible to the MHC community. I, and we at the Archives, welcome and encourage comments, critique, and feedback about our community presence."

The "May Queens" exhibit
Margaret Stanne: "A challenge I faced was the fragile state of the pages in the journal. As they are just glued into their binding (which is really just a folder) I could not just open to a page and scan it like I wanted to. I had to choose what page I wanted very carefully. I wanted to capture the girls personalities but also show some of the more interesting photos within the journal."

Check out the exhibits located in both the MEWS in LITS and the ground floor of Dwight Hall at Mount Holyoke College! Please don't hesitate to leave comments on this post, speak to us in the the Archives, or ask us a question on our tumblr! (We've enabled anonymous messages in case you'd prefer to be nameless.) 

We'd also like to thank our co-workers, especially Caro Pinto, Leslie Fields, and Patty Albright for their aid and advice in constructing our exhibit. Margaret would like to thank Kim Holmquist and Charlotte Wolter for their interviews and information for her Transcontinental Journey blog post. 

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