Making Advances Workshop

  •  

    Touching Correspondence: Archive Visit during Making Advances Mellon Workshop

    Author: Paula Kupfer, PhD student in History of Art and Architecture and Making Advances Workshop participant

    One of the postcards shows a hunky man with dark eyebrows and long black hair, dressed in a vibrant red sweater. His left hand grasps his belt, the intensity of his gesture matched only by the fiery look in his eyes. The backdrop—a pink wall with three small pictures in kitschy frames—crowns the humorous earnestness of his pose. The other postcard depicts a hand-colored black-and-white reproduction of Jesus: his hair, highlighter orange; his sleeves, highlighter blue; his torso, highlighter pink. A caption reads: Sagrado Corazon de Jesus (Sacred Heart of Jesus). 

    These postcards were sent by artist and photographer Nan Goldin (b. 1953) to her friend, the artist Greer Lankton (1958–96), and are part of the Greer Lankton archive at the Mattress Factory, which we visited during the Making Advances Mellon Workshop in early May. Lankton is remembered for her hand-sewn dolls, installations, and autobiographical work reflecting her life experiences as an artist and a transgender person who also struggled with drug addiction. Goldin is best known for her Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a series of personal photographs mostly from the 1970s and 1980s, of her life and friends in Boston, New York, Berlin, and elsewhere. The pictures reflect moments of ecstasy and pain, in particular highlighting the ravages that the AIDS crisis inflicted on her community. Ballad offers an intimate, diaristic view of Goldin’s life; she would present it as a slideshow, often in nightclubs, accompanied by a soundtrack created by her and her friends.

    On the back of Jesus, Goldin wrote, from Mexico, in 1982: 

    Dear Greer, a belated valentines card for you, my sweet. . . . Still living a lazy existence, reading a lot, swimming, cooking + cleaning, eating only fruit + veggies for a while. It must be a modern Mexican miracle—this sudden domesticity I’ve fallen into. Still, it’s difficult to be a woman down here. It’s like walking past one enormous construction site all the time. It’s very repressed sexually especially this area. . . . Women can’t drink in the cantinas or play pool in the halls or do much alone. But actually there seems to be a new breed of woman coming up seems more independent. Mardi gras carnival is starting so we’ve been going to all these town events—the crowning of the child queen, the crowning of the lady queen. Marceled hairdos à la colonial Spain, banana curls with tiaras or else Carmen Miranda drags. . . . We’re still planning to come back March 10. Will write if changes. Love to Michele. Miss you! Want word from NYC.” 

    On the back of the handsome man in red, sent from Germany in 1984, Goldin wrote: 

    Dear Greer, this is one of the sex symbols of Turkey. We stayed in Little Turkey in Berlin—like the Lower East Side. Lived in a house with 40 people, a printing press, carpentry factory, dinners for 40 every night. A real little socialist state. Spent all the $ I brought on sekt—the link between wine and champagne—so I have not much to show for it and not even sure how many memories. Did make some good connections workwise. . . . Did 2 slideshows at cinemas, one in Berlin, one here in Wuppertal—sort of like Pittsburg [sic] except w. Pina Bausch company here. No amour this trip. Coming back in time to do the Diane B shot so get ready! Can’t wait to see Art Forum and yr new work. Love xxx Nan” 

    Although I knew of links between the two artists—Lankton appears in many of Goldin’s photographs from the 1970s and ’80s, perhaps most famously in Greer and Robert on the bed, NYC, from 1982—the discovery of these two postcards was particularly affecting. Doubtless it was the sweetness of the tone in both, but also the surprise of reading first-hand words by an artist who so often speaks through images. Reflecting the sort of intense personal character of both Goldin and Lankton’s work, these postcards embody a material link between the two women, a form of tenderness relayed through handwriting, a traveling piece of cardboard that speaks of their connection, trust, and a form of care that spanned geographic distance.  

    Goldin is credited with inaugurating a new aesthetic in photography—her off-the-cuff, bright-flash, richly colored representations of her own life represented a new possibility within the realm of fine art photography. Her life was her art—raw, joyous, painful, sexual, tender. She had this in common with Lankton, whose work and archive—a deeply moving, deeply human collection of photographs, photo albums, diaries, and letters—bears testament to the troubles and joys of her unusual life and its translation into artworks. These postcards fall into the same spirit: they are sincere, disarming, and funny. 

    Thinking of Greer Lankton and Nan Goldin feels urgent today. Not only because of new threats against the lives and rights of transgender people. Or because of Goldin’s admirable and ongoing activism in response to the opioid crisis in the United States—of which she herself has been a victim—and the complicity of art institutions. But also because the radical vulnerability they offer the world through their art and archive is deeply political and necessary today. The more stories of pain and alterity—but also joy and euphoria—are shared with others, the more art may serve a form of much-needed empathy. Sometimes such reminders come in inconspicuous forms, such as that of postcards. 

    Learn more about the Making Advances Workshop here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Students Shaping Zine Collections

    Author: Kate Joranson, Head, Frick Fine Arts Library and Making Advances workshop co-leader

    On October 14, undergraduate gender studies students met up with me at the PGH Zine Fair at the Union Project to purchase zines for our growing collection at the Frick Fine Arts Library. This activity grew out of my partnership with Julie Beaulieu, faculty in the Gender Studies and Women’s Studies Program. Our partnership began during the Making Advances workshop in May 2018, when we spent a week exploring local collections, considering how we might activate these collections through student engagement.

    As a librarian, I believe that library and archival collections are strengthened when they are shaped by many voices. I invited Julie’s students to join me in building the collection to ensure that a diverse range of LGBTQ+ perspectives, narratives, and imagery are the foundation of the collection. 

    When purchasing zines, we purchase 2 copies whenever possible, so that we have one copy that can be checked out like a traditional library book, and another copy that is preserved for future scholars and artists. We want to honor zines as democratic multiples that connect people and ideas through wide circulation while also preserving zines as locally-produced artifacts of this moment in history. By engaging students in this process, they learn about the history of zines and alternative publishing, participate in unpacking the power dynamics that are at work in traditional collection practices, and see their vision shape the materials that will be available to future scholars and artists. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Rural Queerness and the KKK

    Author: Nick Marsellas, PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition in the Department of English and Making Advances Workshop participant

    The project of whiteness in America has always been a project of gender and sexual oppression as well. One can see this quite clearly in the way that violence based on race, sexuality, and gender intertwines in the pages of local Pittsburgh newspaper Planet Q (“Planet Queer” until August 1995). I came across this newspaper in Pitt’s Special Collections of local underground presses during Pitt’s Making Advances workshop. Planet Q provided a radical voice for Pittsburgh queers, publishing articles on local and national politics while rejecting the assimilationist energy of national newsletters like The Advocate that were also publishing at the time. Digging into these local papers can offer us a glimpse of the more radical, leftist, rural politics that are left out of queer historical narratives that build on assumptions of the cosmopolitan, white, affluent queer.

    Michael Hames-García, in his chapter “Queer Theory Revisited,” critiques queer activist histories for what he sees as their invisible whiteness: “gay liberationism and lesbian feminism [have been made to] appear to be developed by whites without significant participation from people of color, with the consequence that their histories can be told without reference to works by people of color.” (24-25). The way that current genealogies of queer activism are written is not only false, Hames-García argues, but also whitewashes the importance of queers of color in developing the theories and practices of resistance that would eventually be translated into “queer theory.”

    One might assume that there has always been a substantial rift between white queers and people of color, but this was not always the inevitable, or even most likely, conclusion. The trajectory of early queer activism could be traced through both institutional and individual patterns of white supremacist violence against queer people just as easily as it could through poststructuralism and battles for legal rights. Many early scholars talk not about the importance of visibility and institutional recognition but about sanctioned and unsanctioned state violence at the hands of the police and the AIDS epidemic. There is relatively less mention of the KKK as an institution of homophobic violence, likely because those early scholars who are traditionally understood as inaugurating queer theory were writing in and about cities rather than the more rural sites of conflict where the KKK posed a threat (though queer people were certainly aware of this violence as well). In fact, archival evidence suggests that queer people (both white and people of color) had far more in common with other marginalized groups in the 90’s than with the institutionalized whiteness that seems so fundamental to the typical genealogy of queer activism today. The newspaper showcases the imprecise violence of white supremacists, among whom the KKK featured heavily but not exclusively. A few of the acts of violence reported in Planet Q are as follows:

    • In Montana, the KKK mailed a flier on gay pride weekend that urged the public to “wear surgical masks outside for protection from airborne transmission of the AIDS virus. (June 97)
    • In Arkansas, two men beat and strangled a black cross-dresser and pled a trans-panic defense, though they also scrawled “KKK” in blood on his wall. (Aug 97)
    • In Minnesota, a gay bookstore was vandalized for the fourth time in six months, with the words “fag,” “KKK,” and “187” (the police code for murder) spray-painted on the store’s window. (May 98)
    • In Alabama, a gay man was killed and his body set on fire by a “racist skinhead” who frequently wore a KKK t-shirt. (Apr 99)
    • In California, two brothers with white-supremacist ties shot and killed a gay couple after committing a string of arsons at three synagogues. (Aug 99)
    • In New York, the skull and pulverized bone fragments of a 19-year-old murdered by his white step-father were found with his social security number, a racial epithet, and a derogatory term for gays scrawled on the skull. (Mar 00)

    Not only did Planet Q record higher-profile national violence, but it also chronicled the ongoing violence and intimidation occurring here in Western Pennsylvania. A right-wing preacher and local chapter of the KKK joined together to harass, damage property, and threaten violence against Johnstown’s “alternative” bar, the Casa Nova. These acts of intimidation, which lasted over three years, resulted in a variety of creative resistance efforts like the “Burn in Hell” bus trips from Pittsburgh to Johnstown and the fire-eating Lesbian Avengers, who came up from Washington DC to perform in the Casa Nova parking lot. Rather than providing assistance, it was believed that the police chief was running the plates of Casa Nova patrons and passing that information along to members of the KKK.

    After three years of intimidation and protest, the owners were forced to sell the Casa Nova in April of 2000. The experience of Western PA queers – witnessing the nationwide terrorism of the KKK and experiencing it firsthand at home – forces us to rethink queer activism’s origin stories. Tracing local grassroots resistance and activist work reveals a different set of priorities than what we are usually taught about (white) queer history. The queer publishers and readers of Planet Q knew the importance of racial solidarity – not from a sense of charity or obligation but out of the very practical sense that, for both people of color and white queers (and certainly queers of color), the same people wanted us dead.

     

    Citations:

    Hames-García, Michael “Queer Theory Revisited.” Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader, edited by Michael Hames-García and Ernesto Javier Martínez, Duke University Press, 2011, pp. 19-45.

    Planet Queer, Pittsburgh PA, c1994-2000.

    Further Reading:

    Compton, Julie “Why Are So Many White Nationalists 'Virulently Anti-LGBT'?” NBC News, 21 Aug. 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/why-are-so-many-white-nationalis.... Accessed August 27, 2018.

    Hobson, Emily K. Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left, University of California Press, 2016

    Learn more about the Making Advances Workshop here

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Shack, during the workshop, at the Senator John Heinz History Center

     

    Classification systems and critical cataloging

    Author: S.E. “Shack” Hackney, PhD student in the School of Computing and Information and Making Advances Workshop participant

    This summer I had the privilege to view and conduct research with the collections of a handful of the excellent libraries and archives across Pittsburgh as a part of the Making Advances workshop. Day after day, we were presented with the highlights of each collection, curated especially for our interests by diligent librarians and archivists. As a student of Library and Information Science myself, I am always interested in how professionals in the field choose to present their work directly when given the choice, but also in the systems of knowledge that work to give the public access on a daily basis. My own research touches on the ways that knowledge organization systems affect the ways that marginalized communities are able to describe themselves, and I wanted to write a little bit about the issues at hand within the formal fields of Cataloging and Classification within LIS.

    Classification systems are used by libraries and librarians as a way to sort books and other library holdings into related groups. This practice is fundamental to what makes a library different from a storeroom of books, and while there are many classification systems used worldwide, the two most prevalent ones are the Library of Congress Classification/Subject Headings (LCC/LCSH) and the Dewey Decimal System (Olson, 2001, p.641). These classification systems divide all potential areas of knowledge into sub-groupings, and then provide descriptions and related terms for each grouping. The practice of applying these grouping to items in a library’s collection is called cataloging, and translates the broadness of a classification system into the individual practice of a cataloger, and the item she is cataloging. However, any classification system is an imperfect representation of the knowledge system it adheres to, and choices must be made which necessarily reflect the priorities, worldviews and opinions of the people who make them. This often becomes transparent over time, as “acceptable” terminology shifts with social consciousness, but is also dependent on the interpretations of library users, as they seek materials within the collection.

    Activist catalogers have continually raised issues with the ethics of flattening a complex and ever-changing world into a functional classification system. Sanford Berman in particular has called on the Library of Congress to erase or amend offensive subject headings, and the publication of his treatise Prejudices and Antipathies systematically outlines parts of the LCC that are outdated or offensive. He notes in the introduction to Prejudices that, “the LC list can only ‘satisfy’ parochial, jingoistic Europeans and North Americans, white-hued, at least nominally Christian (and preferably Protestant) in faith, comfortably situated in the middle- and higher-income brackets, largely domiciled in suburbia, fundamentally local to the Established Order, and heavily imbued with the transcendent, incomparable glory of Western civilizations” (Berman, 1971, p. 15). Berman’s work over the past forty plus years has resulted in changes to more than 140 of the headings that he suggested should be amended, and he continues to advocate for further additions and revisions (Knowlton, 2005, p.127-8).

    Catalogers working today, such as Barnard Zine Librarian Jenna Freedman, also struggle to apply headings to works that do not fit the standardized ideal of materials collected by libraries. Freedman’s work with zines in particular, and her struggle to find appropriate headings, reflects the narrowness of scope that the authors of the LSCH had (and continue to have) in mind when creating subject headings. Freedman notes that “A typical LC excuse for its offensive headings is that their job is to serve members of Congress, so the headings they choose reflect Congressional language and culture,” however, she continues, “The works I'm cataloging, zines, are usually created by women, and young women at that. They are often created by queer women, and in smaller numbers they're by women of color, people outside the gender binary, and women with disabilities. The zines are typically informed by an anarchopunk political and social ethos that I would venture to say is not highly represented in the House of Representatives.” (Freedman, 2016).

    Melissa Adler explores the difficulty of finding materials related to gender and sexuality, both in her own experience, and through the example of the work of queer theorist Eve Sedgwick, whose writings span literary criticism, poetry, and personal essay and whose subject headings fail to capture the nuance of her work (Adler, 2017). Adler raises questions of access, wondering “why wouldn’t this literary memoir [Sedgwick’s Dialogue on Love] be placed in the section that seems to be trying to collocate her work under her name?” (Adler, 2017, p.95). But in addition to collocation and access, Adler explores the potential censoring effects of classifying works by queer authors with such headings as “Sexual Perversion” and “Deviance.” How then, Adler argues, can a classification system claim to be unbiased and neutral when homosexuality continues to be associated with criminality? In this case, the LSCH itself is taking a moral stance through its application, and that stance is one that asserts that non-heterosexuality is immoral.

    Similar issues arise when discussing the experiences of people of color, whose language and self-descriptors are absent entirely from the vocabulary provided by the classification system, and are likely to be cataloged by librarians who likewise lack access to the appropriate vernacular (Olson, 2001).

    While activists such as Berman and Freedman advocate for changes to the Library of Congress, other LIS scholars debate the ethics of erasing the controversy and complications within classification systems. Emily Drabinski considers cataloging and classification systems from the perspective of queer theory, which argues that categories are permeable and in continuous flux. Drabinski suggests, then, that no classification system will ever be perfect or unbiased, and that the work of librarians should be not to erase past offenses, but to highlight the gaps within the system, and to engage in “dialogue with patrons that will help them tell the troubles of those schemes. Users can be invited into the discursive work of both using and resisting standard schemes, developing a capacity for critical reflection about subject language and classification structure” (Drabinski, 2013, p. 107).

    Cataloging is often considered some of the driest, most tedious work within the field of librarianship. It is also lonely, technical work, and it can be easy for the cataloger to feel separated from the world as she attempts to apply labels to its documents. However, the ethical issues related to the creation of classification systems and their application through cataloging are deeply pervasive, and affect not only the internal workings of a particular library, but also the lives and social understanding of each patron who seeks to find themself represented in the stacks. Librarians must be aware of how these technical decisions to play out, and whose voices are privileged at in the systems they apply, and likewise researchers in all fields need to be aware of the systems of power at play that influence which materials they are able to access, cite, and circulate.

    References

    Adler, Melissa. (2017). Cruising the library : perversities in the organization of knowledge. New York : Fordham University Press.

    Berman, S. (1993). Prejudices and antipathies: A tract on the LC subject heads concerning people. Jefferson, NC : McFarland & Company, Inc.

    Drabinski, E. (2013). Queering the catalog: Queer theory and the politics of correction. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 83(2), 94-111. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/669547

    Freedman, J. (2016, March 27). Can I quit you, LC? Lower East Side Librarian. Retrieved from http://lowereastsidelibrarian.info/lcsh/quityou

    Knowlton, S.A. (2005). Three decades since Prejudices and Antipathies: A study of changes in the Library of Congress Subject Headings. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, Vol. 40(2), 123-145. DOI: 10.1300/J104v40n02_08

    Learn more about the Making Advances Workshop here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Workshop participants at the Greer Lankton exhibit at the Mattress Factory, It’s all about ME, not you (2009)

     

    Religious Thought and Queer Representation in the Making Advances workshop

    Author: David Givens, PhD student in the Department of Religious Studies and Making Advances Workshop participant

    A primary goal of the 2018 Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh: Making Advances workshop was to help participants appreciate and connect historic materials related to sex, sexuality, and gender identity with challenges individuals and society currently face around these issues. Visual representation is a powerful means of exploring identity, belonging, and desire within complex social systems of meaning; my participation in this workshop has greatly enhanced my capacity to connect these systems and narratives within the evolving struggles that sexual and gender minorities continue to confront. The museums, archives, and libraries we explored throughout Pittsburgh curated representations of visual politics, material embodiment, and the power of sexual and gender expression in ways that will continue to influence my own research and writing .  

    My initial interest in this workshop stemmed from its confluence with my own dissertation research. For the past several years, I have explored the ways people seek to understand aspects of their identities online as both spiritual and LGBTQ-identified individuals and communities . The complex signifiers frequently referenced by online actors include the traditions of saints combined with the fluidity inherent in contemporary understandings of gender and sexuality. This overlap between my research and the objectives of the workshop fostered additional perspectives on, and critical distance for, issues of representation and visibility over time, including the ways that images are utilized to create and maintain narratives that shape, explain, or defend aspects of personal and group identity.  

    A prime example of the workshop’s enrichment of my work on the evolution of LGBTQIA artistic and symbolic representation was the Greer Lankton exhibit and archive at the Mattress Factory; specifically, the recreation of her Chicago apartment, It’s all about ME, not you (2009). The space was anchored around a series of three personal shrines to the most important role models in Lankton’s life: Candy Darling, Patti Smith, and Jesus.  The latter was comprised of traditional Catholic images of Jesus, Mary, and a few female saints, but the central image of Jesus had been altered to accentuate the fullness of his lips and suggest lipstick; other images of Jesus were superimposed with stylized representations of the artist herself. Lankton’s playing with the gendered representation of Jesus in what would be read as traditional, holy portraits creates powerful statements on the transmutability of gender expression and identity, questioning the role of physical bodies and their characteristics (or others’ perceptions thereof) in maintaining and articulating one’s sense of self.  It is also a striking combination of religious and camp imagery; portraying a genderqueer Jesus with lipstick, or the stylized face of the artist herself combined with images of Jesus, offers an interpretation of the relationship between self and the divine that is at once a subversive political expression and a clear representation of a larger ontological narrative. 

    Serious playfulness with religious imagery is hardly unique to Lankton, and immersion in her work has opened new avenues of exploration in my dissertation research: for instance, how subjects in digital communities are engaging saint imagery or figures from classical works to construct new narratives that speak to contemporary LGBTQIA experiences. Moreover, Lankton has inspired me to identify and assess online postings of home shrines to “queer saints” (and some “Gay Gods”) in my work as well.  

    Many people with whom I’ve discussed my research express surprise that subjects are creating narratives and images online in which saints speak to LGBTQIA experience. Personally, I don’t find it surprising. I see the ongoing influences—both for better and for worse—of religion and spirituality throughout American society, including within this workshop. At the Frick Fine Arts Library Special Collections I noticed parallels between the (nonreligious) zines created by lesbian and queer authors/designers and the digital spaces I research; their political, cultural, and sexual expressions reflect some of the same sentiments I now study in communities online. Zines physically manifest the democratization and expansion of queer free speech, untethered from traditional publication constraints and institutionalized censorship. Seeing these contemporary underground materials, many predating the Internet, has supported my own inclusion of “in-between” precursor narratives for saints, most notably the semi-underground following surrounding Judy Garland during the 1950s and 60s.

    Echoes of religious thought ran deep through the images and narratives of the workshop, including connections between time and place for representations of embodiment—of physicality-as-sexuality.  Seated mostly-nude male spreads of the 1950s (for health and fitness, of course) in Hillman Special Collections juxtaposed strikingly with 16th century images of the seated, risen Christ with a barely concealed erection in the Falk Library Rare Books Collection.  This illustrated to me the power of the sexualized gaze in all its contexts.  

    In the University Library Archives Service Center we saw documents describing how women’s religious organizations organized home care ; in the Detre Library and Archives at the Heinz History Center, there were numerous records of religious groups supporting the early work of the Pittsburgh AIDS Taskforce. In the Andy Warhol museum, a small display about Warhol’s family discussed the artist’s deep and lifelong commitment to Roman Catholicism. In Deana Lawson’s exhibit in the Forum Gallery at the Carnegie Museum, I couldn’t help but notice the crosses subtly worn by nearly every single subject. 

    My point in highlighting these details is to demonstrate how my own thinking about these multifaceted topics has been expanded. These collections have helped me connect in more nuanced ways to the complex and sensitive interactions that occur among expressions of sexuality and gender identity, and various roles that religious institutions and individuals beliefs can play in those spaces . This workshop demonstrated tangible ways our society has advanced LGBTQIA discourse and representation over time—as well as ways it has not. And alongside those developments, it is clear that religion and spirituality continue to play both outsized and subtle roles as well. 

    Learn more about the Making Advances Workshop here

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Inside Title Page of Sue’s Date Data Journal

     

    Where are the Children? Finding Sue in the Senator John Heinz History Center Archive

    Author: Brittney Knotts, PhD student in Critical and Cultural Studies in the Department of English and Making Advances Workshop participant

    Let me start by saying, I study children’s culture—but, I am not interested in the culture that adults assume children use or in the culture that we often attempt to thrust upon them. Rather, I am interested in what children do to shape and create culture. I am interested in how they write, converse, play, and work, as well as how they subvert a lot of the ideas handed to them by adults. Perhaps not surprisingly, the voices of actual children aren’t always the loudest in the archive. But, of course they aren’t—and this is what I expected. While parents may momentarily hold on to the art or writing of their children, or we may covet out our own childhood diaries and notes, what place do these voices occupy in archives that house important historical documents and rare texts?

    Because of this, when I took part in the University of Pittsburgh’s “Making Advances: Sex, Gender and the Politics of Images” workshop this summer I was ready to look at sex education guides from the 20th century, specifically those made for girls. I was not disappointed; Pitt’s University Library Systems have a great collection of sex and etiquette guidebooks and the Heinz History Center holds a fascinating record of the first implementation of sexual education in Pittsburgh public schools. I had all but given up on finding the voice of a child in a Pittsburgh archive.

    Enter the amazing archivists at the Senator John Heinz History Center. I seriously can’t say enough good things about the archives and archivists at the Thomas & Katherine Detre Library & Archives. First, the archives hold about anything you could think of related to Pittsburgh’s history. Second, the archivists are amazingly attentive. I started this workshop interested in sex education materials. Not only did the archivists have boxes pulled, but they also pulled a single box about a young Pittsburgh girl that they thought might be interesting. Since I am specifically interested in girlhood, the staff thought the memory books of a teenage girl would be of interest. And they were.

    The box was a donation by the Weiss family of albums and family memorabilia. Buried under a family album and a book of family trees, I found Sue Chottiner’s book of “date data” and (what appears to be) a briefly kept memory book spanning from 1956-1957. Sue appears to be a teenage girl at the time that she kept these notebooks. There is something special about holding someone’s past in your hands. The pages, which were never meant to be preserved for half a century, have begun to crumble and the folded papers taped or glued therein have started to fall out. This is how children can exist and be preserved in archives.

    The date book appears to be a mass-produced book with both blank pages and date review templates to fill out. The book provided Sue with prompts such as “This is where we met,” “Off-the-cuff comments,” and “Places where we’ve gone.” My favorite response to “off-the-cuff comments” was her assessment of her senior prom date, Jimmy, as “a great kid and good dancer.” Along with these blank writing spaces, there are check boxes offered to assess her date’s personality as well as “how he rates when it comes to dates.” For Jimmy, Sue checked off personality boxes for “jazzy dresser,” “good time Charlie,” and “big brain.” However, she did not rate him. It appears that Sue only used this book twice to keep data on her dating life.

    While her dating data book offers a snapshot of Sue’s dating life, her memory book gave an overview of a complex and social girl. Sue attended Emma Kaufmann Camp in 1953 (and potentially other years). From the camp she preserved a marriage certificate to Jimmy (yes, the same Jimmy from senior prom it appears), addresses of several friends, and a song book. She was active in the Jewish community, often keeping bulletins, song books, and memorabilia from her friends’ Bar Mitzvahs. She also documented her school life with schedules, notes from teachers, and awards and certificates she earned. Sue commemorated her life thoughtfully and with purpose. She took her work seriously, equal to any writer that we consider worthy of study.

    While I find these artifacts fascinating, piecing together Sue’s life is difficult. Her organization is counterintuitive to me, and I find her handwriting difficult to read at times (I imagine Sue would say the same about my organizational methods and handwriting). But I must remind myself that this writing isn’t for me. It was never meant to be. As Carolyn Steedman reminds us in her work on children’s story writing, we must “look for what the writing does for the writer, not what the writer does to it, nor what it does for us” (99). This is worth keeping in mind when thinking about the scrapbooks of Sue. She seems to have used these memory books for documenting her own life, for not only keeping track of her favorite moments but also for making a claim that she, in fact, was here.

    Now I wonder what other children may be whispering in archives, waiting for someone to discover their histories, their lives, their memories. Perhaps I may start to reconsider my own research objectives and the places my research may lead. Most importantly, the child must be at the forefront, and I must give them the space to speak.

    References

    Steedman, Carolyn. The Tidy House: Little Girls Writing. Virago Press, 1987.

    Learn more about the Making Advances Workshop here

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • At Rare Books and Special Collections in the Falk Library of Health Sciences

     

    The Body Performs: Anatomy Atlases and Early Modern Drama

    Author: Courtney Colligan, PhD student in Theatre and Performance Studies and Making Advances Workshop participant

    “Come, strumpet, famous whore! Were every drop / Of blood that runs in thy adulterous veins / A Life, this sword – dost see’t? – should in one blow / Confound them all.” Soranzo’s dragging of Annabella in an Early Modern “shaming” display in ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore uses specific bodily language to describe the desired action of the speaker. In many Early Modern and Restoration plays, specifically revenge tragedies, imagery of the body, of bodily anatomy, reflect the growth of scientific knowledge of the human form.

    But all of this may seem a bit obscure at the moment – let me rewind. I was honored to be part of the 2018 Making Advances workshop, focusing on performances of gender and identity on the Early Modern Stage. Aware that this research interest is quite focused, I entered the workshop with an open mind, focusing on broadening my other research areas of Museum Studies and contemporary performances of gender on stage. Yet on May 3rd, when the group visited Rare Books and Special Collections in the Falk Library of Health Sciences, my Early Modern geek-brain nearly exploded (an appropriate exaggeration as I did see engravings of semi-exploded brain). Original copies of Juan Valverde de Amusco’s Anatomia del Corpo Humano (1560), Andreas Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem (1543/1555), and William Cowper’s The Anatomy of Humane Bodies (1737) exposed not only the inner-workings of the human body, but revealed the language spoken when describing bodies on the Early Modern and Restoration stage (which then continued into the 18th century). The descriptions used to describe the diagrams, the complex drawings, and the meticulous engravings were eerily familiar to certain phrases used in violent revenge tragedies like Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy or the above quote from John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Might the playwrights of this time have been familiar with these anatomy atlases?

    Yes. I must say that this discovery is not “new” but noted in scholarly works on Renaissance Drama. However, this discovery was entirely new to me, despite having taken many courses on Shakespeare, Revenge Tragedies, and the socio-political landscape of Early Modern England. Rather than allowing this discovery to sink into the easily defeated mindset of “ah, another scholar has already done it” I aim to use this knowledge to explore the actual physicality of the mutilated bodies on stage. Since this discovery, I have come to realize that many of the works on the relationship between anatomy atlases and Early Modern drama explore the history of the transmission of these texts or offer a literary analysis of the atlas and drama. Instead, I am interested in how the language used by Soranzo describing Annabella’s body was physicalized on the stage. Furthermore, as audiences of this time attended dissections of human bodies by the Barber-Surgeons, complete with stage design and blueprints, how might this type of medical theatre bleed (pun intended) into the works of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Webster? What relationships would an audience member who attended both performances see?

    The experience of the Making Advances workshop allowed me space to let my mind intellectually wander, to question, and to be surprised. Allowing individuals in higher education to explore and attend stimulating spaces outside of their main area feeds the human desire of curiosity and exploration. This in turn leads to the creation of new ideas and connections; by removing the burden of “being right” or producing knowledge to meet a deadline, I believe we all might find ourselves on new, but exciting paths forward.

    Learn more about the Making Advances workshop here

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh