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"We Are/We Have Always Been"

A Multi-Linear History of LGBT Experiences at Bryn Mawr College, 1970-2000

Brenna Levitin, Author

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I began this project because I felt there was a severe lack of official acknowledgement of Bryn Mawr College's LGBT history. Even acknowledging this void, I expected to find LGBT-related material in our archives; however I was disappointed by the amount of silence I found. As I viewed Bryn Mawr as an historically LGBT-friendly school, I expected to find plenty of LGBT-related material in our archives. I found some, but few were student-authored, and there was very little infrastructure for navigating the archives with an LGBT lens. I began to blog about the excavation process, and continued to write about my progress through the end of my internship.

My first blog post centered around a great find from the Bryn Mawr College archives: a poem from the 1988 Pluralism Issue of the Alumnae Bulletin. In it, an alumna wrote about Bryn Mawr’s lesbian heritage, complete with subtle references to our history and second President, M. Carey Thomas. I analyzed the poem here.

Soon after, the archives proved to have many fewer articles related to our LGBT history than I had thought. Born of this setback was my struggle with archival silence. I “led” an unconference session at PhillyDH@Penn about archival silence, where a group of archivists, students, and professors discussed how to bridge the silence gap, and how to represent it in the final exhibit. I wrote about the value of this collaboration and its results here.

My next post was linked directly to the previous one; I discussed how perhaps the biggest result of the unconference session was the conviction that Omeka, a digital exhibition builder, was not the right tool for this job. After discussion with my supervisors, we decided to try Scalar, the multi-linear mapping tool in which you are currently reading. Read about the decision here.

Up until early July, the majority of my material was sourced from Bryn Mawr's archives. In early July however, the project underwent a major shift to focus on collection of new material, specifically through solicitation of personal interviews and full oral histories. This new testimony indicated the use of Scalar because of the difference of perspectives and experiences which I encountered from interview to interview. This switch in focus was also aided by the Greenfield Digital Center's new Director, Monica L. Mercado, who arrived fresh from co-directing University of Chicago's Closeted/Out in the Quadrangles oral history project. 

Finally, I wrote about formatting within Scalar. The exhibit went through multiple iterations with drastically altered connections between pieces of content. I used color-coded Post-It notes to track the changes. I wrote about one of the final paths here.

Titles were hard! It took many sleepless nights of banging my head against a wall before I came up with anything, and then many more before anything good appeared. I eventually returned to the site of my first blog post, the poem by Judith Masur '68. Her first line spoke to me, reminding us that this project is first and foremost about how intrinsic LGBT identities are and have been to Bryn Mawr’s history. “We Are/We Have Always Been” is thus the perfect title for my project, and I am proud to quote an alumna for the name of this piece.

When I think of the end of this project, I don't see a discrete moment. Completion doesn't resonate with my perception of the project, especially as I will continue it in Spring 2015, but I do feel that I've hit a marker. The end of Summer 2014 marked a discrete moment, if not a discrete end, in the history of the project. There exists a complete exhibit, usable by alumnae/i, community members, and scholars alike. I have excavated histories which were previously buried both in our archives and in people's memories.

I hope that you find in this exhibit what you need, whether it be a tangible connection to generations past or an acknowledgement of your lived experiences. This is not an end; this is simply the first in a series of many contributions to the ongoing project of telling complex histories of Bryn Mawr.
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